Just over one year ago, CM Punk faced The Rock in an attempt to regain his WWE championship at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. It was all but a foregone conclusion at the time that The Rock would retain and go on to meet John Cena at WrestleMania. But the telegraphed outcome aside, the two put on a very good match—and one that further calls into question plans for WrestleMania this year.
Whilst the match between the two at the Royal Rumble garnered a fair amount of criticism, not least for the finish via People's Elbow, the return match was a marked improvement in most areas. For one, the stipulation that The Rock would lose the title via disqualification or count-out was a great showcase for CM Punk's heel tactics.
Whatever you think of Punk's recent face run, he quite simply has a lot more in his bag of tricks whilst working as a heel, and in this match he's able to use a lot of them. Riling The Rock up in an attempt to win by DQ, spitting in his face, clearing the ring at the first sign of trouble—CM Punk puts on a master class as the conniving heel. That's to say nothing of Paul Heyman's ever-excellent work in Punk's corner.
However, it's not just the CM Punk show, as The Rock very capably plays his part as the veteran champion forced to rise above the tricks of his upstart opponent. Whilst both men have different styles, they meet in the middle far better in this match, and it's a lot better than their first encounter as a result.
One of the major talking points of this match in respect to the current build to WrestleMania 30 is the feeling that if Batista v. Randy Orton goes ahead, it wouldn't amount to anything more than a poor man's version of this match. Batista is a returning movie star like The Rock, but beyond a superficial comparison the two are worlds apart in terms of how big a star they are.
Similarly, though Orton is capable of antagonising a crowd, he doesn't have the same knack as Punk at being able to really work it into the fibre of a match. Enough has perhaps been said about Batista v. Orton being a flop waiting to happen, but watching this match sums the whole situation up rather well. We already saw a match-up that's very similar on paper, with much better talent involved—and even then it took them until the second time round to really get it right.
More than anything, this match makes the apparent departure of CM Punk all the more disappointing. However, looking at his position in the company one year ago—coming off a huge title run with matches against The Rock and set to face Undertaker at WrestleMania, as well as being able to stretch his legs creatively as a heel—compared to now, it's perhaps not so difficult to see why he walked out.