Twelve months ago, CM Punk was arguably the top guy in the WWE and headed into the Royal Rumble on a record-breaking run as WWE champion.
However, he dropped the belt to The Rock at the event—and things haven't exactly been rosy since.
Punk spent the majority of 2013 in feuds that he really didn't belong in. He was way too good to be consistently fighting Ryback on pay-per-view
His latest rivalry with The Shield has recaptured the imagination somewhat—but what is the best path for CM Punk heading toward WrestleMania? Let's take a look.
Many feel that Punk's best road would be to claim a maiden Royal Rumble victory and advance to WrestleMania to compete in the main event.
While that would undoubtedly be nice, it almost certainly will not happen. There seems to be a few guys who have a better storyline path moving toward the showpiece event than Punk—think Batista and Daniel Bryan, to name but two.
It is, however, important for Punk to shine in the Royal Rumble of 2014. The last time he appeared in a Rumble—in 2011—he entered at No. 1 and went on to last over 35 minutes. That sort of time would go on to ensure Punk shines in the event—and leaves as one of the major talking points.
We saw this past week on Raw a potential glimpse into the future, as the New Age Outlaws sold out Punk in their six-man tag match by leaving him to face the numbers game once again.
It will be lost on nobody who the Outlaws famously formed part of a stable with back in the Attitude Era—so could Punk be screwed out of a Rumble victory by The Authority?
Kane, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon all have the power to make it happen, and Kane teased a potential storyline with The Authority this past week on Raw when he had a backstage segment with Punk.
If Punk will not be going to WrestleMania in the main event, he has to be robbed of the chance—not simply eliminated like everyone else.
He is too popular a guy to be just tossed out—and it would be a great way to start his road to WrestleMania.
We've seen Daniel Bryan play the role of Mr. Anti-Authority over a large part of 2013. He did play the role pretty well, in all fairness—but it was clear Bryan wasn't the chosen guy due to his constant losing record against Randy Orton.
We were given a great tease at the end of the 2013 Slammy Awards, when all hell broke loose, leaving Punk and Triple H going at it for a brief period.
The role of an anti-Authority guy is one that suits CM Punk down to the ground perfectly. He is a guy who has always played by his own rules in the company—as his infamous "Pipebomb" promo of 2011 will testify to.
He has had some pretty good tussles with Triple H in the past, but this has the potential to be one of the best. If Punk goes after The Authority after being robbed of a chance to win the Royal Rumble, it will set up a compelling rivalry.
From the conclusion of the Royal Rumble all the way through to WrestleMania, Punk's ability to work the crowd must be used to its maximum potential if a potential feud with Triple H is to work.
We've seen on plenty of occasions just what Punk can do with a microphone in his hand. If he is inserted into a meaningful rivalry with a guy with the reputation of Triple H, then he will once again start to grow into one of the company's top stars.
He will make the crowd cheer—which will in turn add some heat onto The Authority—something they have completely lost of late. When Triple H turned heel at SummerSlam last year, the reaction he got the following night on Raw was huge.
In 2011, Punk and Triple H had a feud that really did deliver on the mic. The video on this slide was one such example, when the two started trading insults and using their vocal skills to the best of their ability. It was stunning stuff.
Punk can help to place The Authority back into a prominent storyline—and they can help him get to the top once again.
It is hard to imagine an Elimination Chamber pay-per-view without CM Punk in it this year. He is still very much a top guy in the company, despite a stale few months, and has a valid claim to be in the chamber.
However, winning the title would be an impossible feat for him heading toward WrestleMania—as The Authority will once again turn the tables on Punk.
That would be no bad thing if the WWE is trying to build a seriously huge match for WrestleMania 30. Screwing Punk two pay-per-view shows in a row may seem like bad booking, but it will provoke a thunderous reaction from Punk in the final few weeks before the big one—WrestleMania.
A guy like Punk thrives in circumstances such as these—where he is fighting for himself against a greater power. He proved that by transforming his career in the battle against Vince McMahon, John Laurinaitis and the WWE Championship back in the summer of 2011.
If CM Punk vs. Triple H does happen at WrestleMania 30, there is only really one logical winner.
It would be a massive statement of intent if Punk can overcome the odds and beat The Authority—something Daniel Bryan was never really able to do.
By the end of it all, The Authority should have enough heat to last them a lifetime moving forward as the people who run the WWE. And Punk? Well, he should have gained a stack of momentum—the kind that will catapult him back into title contention.
It could be a smart piece of booking from the WWE if done right. It could be phenomenal for Punk's career. To go toe-to-toe with a guy like Triple H at WrestleMania is the kind of thing that launched Sheamus' career in the WWE—it could relaunch Punk's.