Chris Jericho and CM Punk have advanced to the finals of the Mark Madness Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) tournament. The discussion board lit up with comments upon seeing the surprising main event. Some rejoiced. Others demanded a re-GOAT.
Both Jericho and Punk will go down as WWE greats and are already first-ballot Hall of Famers. But as the last two individuals standing in a field consisting of company-carrying giants? Punk and Jericho's place in the championship round is highly debatable.
CM Punk and Chris Jericho had similar career paths before becoming big stars in the WWE. Both WrestleMania XXVIII opponents were well-traveled before making their way to the big stage. Jericho came up in Japan and the upstart ECW promotion before landing in WCW, then WWE.
CM Punk became something of legend on the independent wrestling scene, making his imprint in Ring of Honor prior to debuting with the worldwide leader.
Both had to compensate for their undersized frames with grand personalities and/or characters. Characters which commanded attention from the supposed brain trusts that did not view them as top stars.
The mirroring tales of unlikely world champions are the very reason why the anti-establishment Internet has enshrined this tandem in this year's Mark Madness tournament.
But let's get real.
Great as they are, it would be difficult to make the case of either being the greatest wrestler of all time. The work rate (which is Internet catnip) is there, as is the star power. But the total package is not. Most notably, neither wrestler comes to mind as the first name when it comes to being the top star of their era.
When Chris Jericho reigned as WWE champion, he did so while posturing for airtime with superior stars such as Steve Austin, The Rock and Triple H. Furthermore, Jericho's lone WrestleMania main event—WrestleMania X8 against Triple H—was supremely upstaged by Hulk Hogan and The Rock.
CM Punk currently competes in an era that will forever be defined by John Cena. And during Punk's hottest run, ratings slipped.
Had this been an NBA GOAT tournament, LeBron James, BIll Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, yes, Michael Jordan would all have been ousted in favor of maybe a Paul Pierce. This alone makes Jericho-Punk a tough sell, especially given this year's theme of current wrestlers dwarfing established legacies.
There is still some merit to an otherwise controversial final. A certain grumpy, stubborn yet fickle contingent will handpick one of these two superstars as their champion. It also will be a crowd that appreciates hard-working, talented wrestlers with moxie over glitz and glamor.
A more universally-accepted GOAT could be chosen if the criteria limited entrants to those who have already retired.
For now, there is something to be said about this year's final. Come Tuesday night (Pacific Time), either Chris Jericho or CM Punk will be the man to a fanbase that is often difficult to win over.