When Seth Rollins opened Monday's WWE Raw by pacing in the ring and telling fans, "To hell with it. Let's talk about Roman Reigns," it was hard not to think of CM Punk.
Rollins' speech had a tinge of the breaking-the-fourth-wall element that Punk lived on. After WWE initially chose not to mention Roman Reigns' suspension, here was The Architect diving right into the topic. He infused reality into his promo, picking apart Reigns' apology on live TV.
The fact that Rollins made his rant on the five-year anniversary of Punk's famous "pipebomb" promo only invited more comparisons.
The parallels between Punk and Rollins, though, are elsewhere. Rollins didn't leave fans wondering if what he said was scripted or whether he was shooting from the hip. He didn't invigorate the industry the way that Punk's 2011 diatribe did.
Rollins has stepped into where Punk once stood as an in-ring performer and an overall star. The Architect has become a go-to talent for WWE much in the way Punk was before he abruptly left the company in early 2014.
In 2012, Punk was at his peak, carrying around the WWE world title on his shoulders. Rollins was one of the company's hottest prospects and the first champion of WWE's revamped developmental brand, NXT.
The two crossed paths that year in a backstage segment, each with gold in hand.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Punk is prepping for his first UFC fight. Given how contentious things became between him and WWE head Vince McMahon, it's quite possible he'll never wrestle again.
Rollins, meanwhile, has emerged as a top-tier talent. He is not a replica of Punk but has shown himself in many ways to be the second coming of The Best in the World.
A big part of Punk's appeal was that he didn't look or sound like anyone else. In a world of beefy bodybuilders and giants in spandex, here was a thin, tattooed guy who looked more like he belonged in a punk band than a wrestling ring. He was the antithesis of the WWE prototype.
Fans were drawn to that.
He was a rebel, an innovator, his own man. And whether he was playing a heel or a babyface, he was too cool to boo wholeheartedly.
Rollins exudes a similar air. He's no behemoth either, but instead a CrossFit junkie with long hair and a mug that would be right at home on the cover of a punk rock magazine.
The Architect doesn't come off as much of an insurgent of the squared circle, though.
Punk's promos often seemed to veer off-script and include real jabs. This was merely an illusion, but Punk sold it well enough to leave the crowd questioning what it heard.
Rollins' character isn't built around worked shoots like that. In fact, as ProWrestling.net pointed out, his speech on Monday's Raw suspiciously came complete with a ready-to-go graphic:
Still, Rollins is an indy darling, his background at Ring of Honor giving him a wealth of credibility among wrestling's diehard fans. Like Punk, Rollins preceded his WWE career with a ROH world title reign.
That gives him an edge over a guy like Reigns in that many of the vocal, passionate fans in attendance bought into him before he even debuted. WWE can now offer a hip alternative to Reigns, just as Punk was to Cena.
A Rock on the Mic
Rollins isn't as skilled a talker as Punk, but that's like saying an NBA player isn't as good a passer as Magic Johnson. He's still really, really good.
The Architect has developed into a highly dependable Superstar when it comes to promos.
For much of Punk's lengthy world title reign and during his last years with the company, WWE often sent him out to the ring to open Raw. Whether he had a lot of storyline to discuss or not, Punk would deliver long speeches that entertained.
And given the tough task of getting fans to boo him despite his popularity, The Second City Savior was often masterful.
Rollins now plays that role for WWE. He's indignant, cocky, compelling.
When he returned from his ACL and MCL tears this year, the audience clearly wanted to start rooting for him. Rollins deftly tore into the fans, firing off one of his best promos to date.
This has become commonplace for him.
Throughout his time as WWE champ in 2015, Rollins thrived opposite everyone from Cena to Jon Stewart. As Miami Herald columnist Scott Fishman pointed out during that stretch, Rollins went on an incredible run:
Although their verbal styles are different, Rollins' and Punk's steadiness and believability invite comparisons between the two stars.
Workhorse in the Ring
WWE knows it can ask a lot of Rollins and get a lot in return. The company has put him in a multitude of matches over the past few years. Rollins has put on an impressive show time and again.
That's just what WWE got from Punk.
While stars like The Rock and Cena brought buzz to big events, Punk was the in-ring backbone of the company for a long time. He provided a surplus of high-quality wrestling to accompany all the glitz and hype that makes up WWE programming.
Rollins has assumed that mantle in Punk's absence. Wrestling Inc noted that Rollins had more title defenses than anyone since Punk:
A look at Punk's match totals, per CageMatch.net, is a clear sign of how much WWE leaned on him:
|CM Punk Match Totals 2010-2013|
Rollins' workload in the last four years is reminiscent of Punk's:
|Seth Rollins Match Totals 2012-2015|
That's 653 for Rollins and 591 for Punk in their respective four-year stretches. To assign that much work to The Architect makes it clear that WWE has great confidence in him.
Like with Punk, WWE knows that a good number of those bouts are going to be excellent. Rollins tore the house down last year against Brock Lesnar, Cena and Dean Ambrose, putting him and Punk side by side.
Jamie Welton of Wrestling News World wrote, "With the right booking and right opponents Seth can surpass Punk as one of the best of all time in the ring."
Wherever fans stand on that argument, they can't deny that Rollins is one of WWE's best. He reminded us of that with a stellar performance at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view against Reigns.
Rollins' arsenal is more of the high-flying variety than Punk's, but he gets the same kind of result that The Best in the World did. That has to make WWE giddy.
Losing Punk must still hurt, but Rollins is one hell of a replacement.