WWE: A Tribute to the 434-Day WWE Championship Reign of CM Punk

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WWE: A Tribute to the 434-Day WWE Championship Reign of CM Punk
CM Punk upon winning his first WWE Championship from John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011. Courtesy of: http://rtvwrestling.wordpress.com/

This isn't meant to rain on The Rock's parade or start a fight with The Rock's fans. I think as much as The Rock's first WWE Championship reign in 10 years is a monumental occasion for the industry, as well as his fans, the end of CM Punk's historic reign is just as noteworthy.

And, contrary to The Rock's win, which necessitates conversation regarding his outlook as champion, Punk's loss should be paid tribute to with a piece dedicated to reflecting on the finer moments of his 434-day reign as WWE champion.

To me, CM Punk had the greatest WWE Championship reign of this so-called "modern era," which I consider all the years since the start of weekly episodic programs and more frequent pay-per-views, progressing storylines and characters faster than the days of Bruno Sammartino.

Those changes made multi-year reigns artifacts of Sammartino's era, outdated in the current model of professional wrestling but still cherished for the foundation they laid.

After CM Punk won the WWE Championship from Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series 2011, he spent 434 days as WWE Champion, accumulating 13 pay-per-view title defenses, in addition to many more on television, including against opponents from whom you wouldn't normally expect such excellent matches, like Mark Henry on two separate occasions.

Of his 13 PPV matches, the ones against The Rock, John Cena, Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan stand out as not only the finest matches of his reign, but some of the finest matches of the year. I believe his match with Daniel Bryan at Over the Limit was one of the rare technical classics in WWE that might get overlooked as one of the finer wrestling moments of 2012 and of company history.

To me, through these excellent title defenses on pay-per-view, the extras on television, dozens of excellent non-title matches, hundreds of house show matches and countless promos that unnerved, entertained or sometimes even enraged us, CM Punk has become a legend.

It's been less than two years since his sudden explosion at Money in the Bank 2011, but in that time he's left a mark on the industry that will go untoppled for years, maybe even decades, if toppled it ever is.

This is the sort of legacy fans and trainees will fantasize about outdoing, the sort of legacy we'll hear about whenever the rich history of the WWE championship is discussed, the sort of legacy about which we'll reminisce when CM Punk is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at the top of his class.

Royal Rumble's always a sentimental night for me. It's a day on which I'm reminded about why I love this thing we call professional wrestling. The Rumble match in particular, with its 20-plus-year history, celebrates the far-reaching chronicles of the WWE, back to the days when fans could harass wrestlers only in person, not on Twitter.

However, last night we witnessed an event that doesn't occur once a year. We witnessed one of those events that occurs once a generation. We witnessed the culmination of CM Punk's 434-day WWE Championship reign, in which he began as the beloved anti-hero and Voice of the Voiceless, returned to his old vices of egoism and cowardice and finally lost the title, suitably after all the self-preservation tactics he'd used over the last months of his reign were finally overcome.

Which of Punk's PPV title defenses was his best?

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I could spend pages talking about the man we know as CM Punk. I could speculate on his difficult childhood, revisit his years on the independents, gossip about the political boundaries he endured in WWE or applaud him for overcoming all of that to reach the heights he's at today. But you all know those stories, and the fact that they have been chronicled is a testament to his success in this business.

Congratulations to The Rock, our new WWE champion. However, for 434 days of outstanding wrestling, promos, stories and moments, thank you, "The Second City Saint," "The Straight-Edge Savior," "The Voice of the Voiceless" and "The Best in the World."

Thank you, CM Punk.

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