At WWE Payback, it’ll be CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho. To many fans, that feels like a repeat of what happened at this time last year.
Well, technically speaking, it is. But if you look beneath the surface, Punk vs. Jericho is significantly different this time around.
In 2012, Punk was the babyface WWE champion. He was in the midst of one of the greatest world title reigns in company history and was in the process of establishing himself as the biggest threat to John Cena’s No. 1 spot in the last six or seven years.
Meanwhile, Jericho was fresh off his return after a lengthy absence. After trolling us early on, he quickly established himself as a deplorable and despicable heel who would do anything to embarrass, mock or even hurt the babyface Punk.
But things have changed since then. A lot.
Jericho went away for a while again, and he didn’t come back as a mega heel who called the fans troglodytes. Rather, he returned as the goofy, happy-go-lucky, fun-loving Y2J that helped him become a wrestling icon.
And when Jericho came back, he wasn’t the only one who was different. Punk was different too.
No longer was Punk the cool anti-hero of a babyface. He was a heel through and through—a guy who was and still is so easy to hate because he does anything and everything to generate heat, even if he has to mock a man’s heart attack or call himself “God.”
In a way, the Punk we’ve seen over much of the last year is a lot like the Jericho we saw around this time last year: arrogant, ruthless, slimy and reprehensible.
Yes, the script has been flipped.
Before he took his recent hiatus, Punk was the WWE’s must-see heel. Meanwhile, Jericho is still one of the WWE’s most popular performers.
The roles have been reversed, and, as fate would have it, Punk and Jericho are feuding again only a year after they last did so.
Some fans are complaining about it. They want to see fresh, never-before-seen feuds between some of the WWE’s newest superstars.
But here’s a message to those fans: Punk vs. Jericho isn’t technically “fresh,” but the role reversals we’re getting at WWE Payback make it fresh.
This script is completely different from what we got in 2012, when Punk was ridiculously popular and Jericho was one of the best heels on TV.
It’s a script in which Punk has been a heel for almost a year now, but no one really knows how the fans will react to him when he does return after a short hiatus from TV.
It’s a script in which Jericho is constantly finding ways to make himself entertaining, even though he hasn’t gotten anywhere near the spotlight in 2013 that he got in 2012.
It’s a script in which a WWE championship isn’t involved.
It’s a script in which Paul Heyman accepted a match on behalf of his client even though, for all he knows, his client may not even want to wrestle this match.
You see the theme here? It’s that things are very, very different for Punk and Jericho this time around.
This isn’t Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston for the 1,476th time. This isn’t another Wade Barrett vs. Randy Orton match. This isn’t Sheamus beating Alberto Del Rio again.
This is a feud between arguably the two best all-around performers in all of pro wrestling taking place almost exactly one year after their last one but with a whole lot of very noticeable changes—changes that should prevent everyone from saying, “Same old stuff.”
This isn’t the same old stuff.
The two main characters are the same. But the plot, the setting and the theme? They’re all very different.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!