The possibility of CM Punk returning not only transforms what the March 3 WWE Raw will look and sound like, it will also greatly alter the WrestleMania XXX landscape.
Minus Punk, Monday's edition of Raw in Chicago, Ill. will inevitably be a battle between fans and the performers in the ring with words drowned out, matches ignored. Instead, the possibility of having their hometown hero back after a month-long hiatus will inspire the Allstate Arena crowd to produce a pop that will put eardrums at risk.
Whom he challenges verbally or physically after that will reveal a clearer picture of the WrestleMania card. Expect him to have the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on his list of demands as he leaps from not being a part of the event to being one its marquee.
After subsisting on flecks of hope, Punk fans received some substantial news over the weekend. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via WrestlingInc.com, reported that "CM Punk is expected to return at tomorrow night's Raw in Chicago."
The report goes on to say that Meltzer's source is 100 percent certain that Punk will be back.
Jim Ross presented less certain odds, but he still seems to think Punk will return.
If The Second City Savior ends his sabbatical, it will calm brewing discontent about Punk's departure and turn it into a positive. For those fans blaming WWE for pushing Punk out, for those members of the audience long-faced about the idea of a Punk-less WrestleMania, appeasement is reportedly on the way.
Chants for Punk have been a prominent part of WWE programming since he disappeared.
Take all the emotion behind those chants, the displeasure about watching Batista ascend to WrestleMania's main event, the rowdiness of Chicago fans and their always fervent adoration for Punk, and there is guaranteed to be a thunderous reaction to the first notes of "Cult of Personality."
Expect the moment to challenge Punk's Money in the Bank 2011 entrance in terms of volume and intensity.
If WWE delays that moment, everything leading up to it will get a soundtrack of Punk chants. Batista grabbing the mic or Alberto Del Rio stepping into the ring to open the show will be like throwing sticks of dynamite into a bonfire.
Should Punk emerge from the backstage area and drink in the passionate reception, the story will then shift from the present to the future. Punk's place at WrestleMania will be determined by whom he aims his anger at.
F4WOnline, via WrestlingInc.com, offers two possibilities, reporting the following:
If Punk does return at RAW he will either replace Daniel Bryan in the match with Triple H or go into the WWE World Heavyweight Title match with Batista and Randy Orton. Punk likely isn't winning the title unless he plans on signing a new contract in July and that impression wasn't given.
If WWE promised to put Punk in the title match, it makes perfect sense that he would agree to come back.
Punk has yet to main event WrestleMania, and this would allow him to check that box on his resume. Being in that marquee position is likely more important to him than winning the championship. He's already been champ—being WrestleMania's final bout is a rarer honor.
The Triple H option is far less likely.
It was that proposed match that reportedly led to Punk leaving the company. Punk was "not happy about facing Triple H at WrestleMania," per Dave Meltzer, via WrestlingInc.com. Why would he then agree to come back if his position was still the same?
Bryan is already in the midst of a narrative against Triple H and The Authority anyway. Last Monday, he challenged Triple H in front of the Raw crowd.
As much as fans want to see Bryan win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, him seeking revenge against a man who has made his life hellish since last summer makes more sense from a storyline standpoint.
That rivalry has never reached its climax, the two principal players in that drama never engaging in a full fight.
Punk's issues with Triple H are less substantial. The COO is thought to have sent The Shield after Punk, but that doesn't compare to him snuffing out Bryan's title dreams time and time again.
It would be an awkward shuffle to trade out Bryan for Punk in that match, as WWE would have to halt the Bryan-Triple H story and restart the Punk vs. Triple H one.
That points to Orton and Batista getting some tattooed company in the title match. It's a match that needs a Superstar with the fans behind him.
Batista made his transition into heeldom official when he grumbled at fans on Friday's SmackDown.
WWE has been building Orton as the company's most hated man, and his opponent is the constant recipient from fan vitriol. The company can't have that match stay as is. Fans rooting for both opponents is one thing, but should the audience wish both men to lose, there is little reason to be invested.
Adding Punk changes that, inserting a hero into a villain-heavy fight.
The Chicago fans will have a reason to lose their voices if Punk interrupts Orton or Batista and demands to be put in the title bout. Last week, Raw seemed to set up four matches for WrestleMania.
One of those bouts could undergo a face-lift if Punk marches right to the center of the spotlight.