John Cena, CM Punk Have Set the Stage for Post-WrestleMania WWE Title Picture

Bill AtkinsonAnalyst IFebruary 26, 2013

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John Cena may be the No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29. But CM Punk has to be the No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship after WrestleMania 29.

Punk’s match with Cena on Raw Monday night cemented that.

The latest battle in the Cena-Punk war proved to be the best between them so far. And if Cena goes on to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29 as many expect will happen, then we can expect to see more where that came from as the year progresses.

Now I know there are some out there who claim the WWE Championship contenders group is the most exclusive club in the company. The title seems to be passed around a select few Superstars, with the occasional rogue getting in because he was in the right place at the right time (Ryback) or he is a WWE legend and part-time hired hand (The Rock).

When Punk ended his 434-day reign at last month’s Royal Rumble, many people thought that he would pull the same type of program that Cena did over the past 18 months. He would stay at the top of the WWE card but just not in the title picture.

After Monday night’s classic, it would be hard now to keep Punk out of title talk, especially if the belt is around Cena’s waist.

Both men gave us probably the best match in WWE so far this year. Imagine how great the contests will be later on in the year when there is a title at stake.

First, though, there is the little matter called WrestleMania 29 that takes place on April 7 in East Rutherford, N.J. Both men have to get through what essentially will be one-off contests (Rock vs. Cena, Punk vs. Undertaker) at the massive pay-per-view. The outcomes of those contests definitely will set the table for the next great stage in the Cena-Punk rivalry.

Lord knows Cena and Punk have their fair share of detractors in the WWE Universe. But love them or hate them, Cena and Punk have an in-ring chemistry that is unsurpassed.

Sure, we all knew that Cena would win Monday night and go on to the historic rematch with The Rock for the title. But for about a half-hour or so, it did not seem to matter that the ending already had been scripted.

We witnessed something great Monday night. We saw two men go out and leave everything in the ring. We marveled at how two ring veterans could push themselves past the point of exhaustion for the sake of entertaining the 17,000 or so fans in Dallas and the millions watching around the world.

We were treated to how a main-event match should be.

Cena surprised us with his ability to go beyond his often-stale classic hero role and hit moves we had not seen from him either ever before or in a long time. You would expect someone of Cena’s build to be able to throw a Power Bomb, but did you ever think he could throw a hurricanrana?

Punk and Cena always have been masters at putting their opponents over in big matches. What makes them even more special is the fact that each can face an already great opponent—someone who is over with the crowd just by showing up—and make them that much greater.

Cena brings out the "Best in the World" in Punk. Likewise, Punk brings out the "Super" in Cena's Superman gimmick.

By the time Cena’s hand was raised Monday night, even the crowd was exhausted from exhilaration.

The only thing that could have been the cherry on top would have been having The Undertaker come out at the end to confront Punk and start the build-up for their expected match at WrestleMania 29.

But you don’t want to show all your cards right away now, do you?

Follow Bill Atkinson on Twitter at @BAtkinson1963.