Although CM Punk's 434-day WWE Championship reign came to an end when he lost to The Rock at the Royal Rumble, he will have a chance to regain his prize at Elimination Chamber. To make things a bit more interesting, a stipulation was added that will result in The Rock dropping the title if he is disqualified or counted out. There is no question that it could totally change the complexion of the contest.
The manner in which the stipulation was added is certainly curious. Paul Heyman requested that Vince McMahon agree to such terms and McMahon did precisely that, despite the fact that Brock Lesnar attacked him a couple weeks earlier. With that in mind, both Heyman and McMahon figure to have something up their respective sleeves.
Since The Rock is a face, he certainly wouldn't get himself disqualified and it's unlikely that he would be counted out as well. That would seem to indicate that Heyman has a plan of some sort. He nearly helped Punk escape the Royal Rumble with the title as he enlisted The Shield to attack The Rock, but McMahon reversed the decision. The Rock is the one who stands to lose out due to interference this time, though.
Most fans would probably agree that The Shield, Brock Lesnar or maybe even both entities will get involved in the match at some point. Punk hasn't wrestled a clean pay-per-view match since Night of Champions and I highly doubt that he'll start now. There will be a dirty finish of some kind, but it's tough to pinpoint exactly how things will play out.
Heyman has denied any involvement with The Shield, but McMahon clearly showed a video of him admitting that he paid off The Shield and Brad Maddox to carry out attacks on Punk's behalf. Heyman can deny it all he wants, but everyone knows it to be true. If The Shield is monetarily driven, then there's nothing stopping Heyman from utilizing them once again.
My guess is that Heyman's master plan is for The Shield to attack Punk. This would result in Punk winning via disqualification and—by virtue of the new stipulations that have been added—Punk would be the new WWE Champion. McMahon agreeing to the idea without any pressing from Heyman is a telltale sign that he is privy to Heyman's plan, though.
When The Shield hits the ring, the crowd will expect them to attack The Rock. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns will instead focus their attention on Punk, however. Knowing the plot all along, a smile will come across Punk's face and he will stand still, welcoming The Shield to hit him.
Rather than doing that, though, The Shield will exit the ring, seize Heyman and triple powerbomb him through the announce table. Punk will be distracted amid all the confusion, resulting in The Rock executing a Rock Bottom for the win. Many will be puzzled about the events of the night, but once everything is explained on Raw, it will suddenly make plenty of sense.
The Shield may have a personal agenda when it comes to preserving justice in the WWE, but they are also mercenaries who are available for hire. McMahon will explain that while Heyman offered The Shield a sizable amount of money, McMahon is the owner of the WWE and he is the one who cuts the checks. Vince could then take a cheap shot at Heyman by mentioning the fact that ECW went bankrupt.
How will the stipulation affect The Rock vs. CM Punk?
I realize that this may seem like a labyrinth of ideas to put together, but it would make sense from a storyline perspective. It could also further the feud between McMahon and Heyman that would lead to McMahon's guy (Triple H) facing Heyman's guy (Brock Lesnar) at WrestleMania. As for The Shield, some might perceive their actions as a face turn, but that doesn't have to be the case. If anything, it would prove that The Shield has no allegiances and it would make the group look like an even more dangerous and destructive group.
An alternate possibility would involve The Rock outbidding Heyman for The Shield's services. I'm not sure what McMahon's status is in terms of appearing at a live show, so if he isn't well enough to be involved, then The Rock can use his considerable fortune to persuade The Shield to attack Heyman.
It wouldn't mean that The Shield is working for The Rock as it would be a one-time deal and it wouldn't make The Rock is a heel since Heyman is the one who was trying to pull the strings. Whether the former or latter scenario takes place, I fully expect someone to outfox Heyman and pay off The Shield to ensure that Punk doesn't regain the WWE Championship based on a technicality.
A lot of fans have been critical of The Rock as WWE Champion, but I've enjoyed it and am very excited for his match with Punk at Elimination Chamber. I thought their first encounter was great and the added uncertainties should make the next one even better.