Had CM Punk simply accepted his proposed match with Triple H, WrestleMania 30 would have been far less spectacular.
Punk's refusal of that bout led to Daniel Bryan stepping into his spot and ultimately becoming the centerpiece of an emotional and unforgettable show. His exit from WWE saved WrestleMania from being a pedestrian event as it forced the company to shuffle things around for the better.
Before Punk quit WWE in late January, the rumored card for WrestleMania had him battling Triple H. That is reportedly one of the major reasons he decided to leave.
WWE was set to have Batista, a man who had been away from the ring for four years, main event "The Show of Shows" rather than give that honor to Punk, who had been a workhorse for the company in that span. "The Best in the World" bristled at that idea and hasn't been seen in a ring since.
Had he accepted his match against the COO, it would have kept Bryan away from the world title, forcing him to stay on the undercard despite his fervent, vocal fanbase calling for him to be the top guy.
According to PWInsider, via Nick Paglino of Wrestle Zone, early plans for Bryan were for him "to face Sheamus in a WrestleMania rematch."
Punk left. WWE scrambled. Bryan got a career-altering chance.
Had Punk's absence not disrupted those plans, the WrestleMania 30 card likely would have looked like this:
- Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus
- Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena
- Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
- Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational
- Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
- CM Punk vs. Triple H
- Batista vs. Randy Orton (WWE World Heavyweight Championship)
Much of the event would be the same. The Battle Royal would have had one more spot open with Sheamus out. That wouldn't affect the event much.
It's the shift in Bryan's role and the quality of the main event that would transform the most with Punk vs. Triple H still on the docket.
There's little doubt that Punk and Triple H would have put on a stellar match. Each man's resume is overflowing with classics.
At Night of Champions 2011, the two met in a No Disqualification match. Intensity powered a brawl that saw them fight in the stands and Punk ram Triple H's head into the set around the entrance area.
WrestleMania 30 could have opened with a match much like that one.
Of course, Kevin Nash, R-Truth and The Miz wouldn't be involved this time around, but Kane and The New Age Outlaws might have had a hand in the outcome.
Punk's feud with The Authority was a good fit for his rebellious character. The insurgent clashing with the executive is an angle WWE has successfully produced in the past.
The difference between that bout and Bryan vs. Triple H is the level of drama.
WWE might have done well to build Punk and Triple H, but it wouldn't have the heart that Bryan's battle with "The Game" had. Triple H had spent so much effort demeaning, thrashing and dismissing Bryan that the bearded one shutting him up with a flying knee to the mouth was a moving sight.
Had Punk stuck around, Bryan likely would have been stuck in more of a filler role.
Bryan vs. Sheamus would have been a well-worked, hard-fought match, though. Those two proved they had great chemistry at Extreme Rules 2012, when they produced an excellent work of wrestling theater together.
It would have focused on Sheamus defeating Bryan in just 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28 and offered Bryan a chance at redemption. There's no comparing that to the "every man" battling the cocky megastar in a suit narrative that eventually kicked off WrestleMania.
Meltzer handed out high ratings, via ProFightDB.com, for both Bryan vs. Triple H and Bryan vs. Orton vs. Batista. He gave the former bout 4.25 stars and 4.5 to the latter. There is little chance the main event would have been anywhere near as good without Bryan.
He provided the emotional lightning rod.
It became the story of an underdog's ascension. The beloved warrior was seeking redemption after months of suffering. He was out to prove Triple H wrong and to reward all the patient, loyal fans who stuck with him for every face-plant he endured over the last year.
Without him, there would be little reason to care about who won the main event.
Inserting Bryan into that mix changed everything. The match became a classic rather than "a fight between two humdrum musclemen who are black holes of charisma and whose feud is a black hole of storyline momentum," as Grantland's The Masked Man described it.
WWE would have had to keep Batista a babyface going into that clash. That promised to be a frustrating enterprise as much as fans took to booing Batista. Otherwise, WWE could turn Orton face once more, a counterproductive move after trying for so long to build him as a top villain.
When Bryan was made a part of the fight, it didn't matter that there were two heels in it. He gave fans someone to root for and connect with, and his victory is one worth celebrating and remembering forever.
Triple H's hatred spilled into the main event. It looked as if he was going to cheat Bryan once more, but Bryan managed to survive, even as his odds worsened. It was a moment reminiscent of Mankind defying his disadvantages and the McMahons to become world champ years ago.
That moment wouldn't have come with Orton and Batista alone in the spotlight.
WWE eventually gave fans a preview of what that match would have looked like when it had those foes collide on the March 31 edition of Raw.
There was an intense energy between them. They worked fluidly against each other. Put on the grand stage of WrestleMania, that match could have been very good, but it would have been a significant downgrade from Bryan battling both of those men.
Like the rest of the hypothetical WrestleMania that featured Punk vs. Triple H, quality wrestling would have been held back by underwhelming storylines.
With Punk vs. Triple H still on the card, WrestleMania 30 would have ended flatly rather than delivering the catharsis and joy that it did with Bryan in Punk's place. Punk leaving forced WWE to pick up the fallen brick of its WrestleMania plans and rebuild.
What it constructed was far superior to the first draft.
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