CM Punk was the workhorse for WWE during his tenure. He was consistent and believable in his mic work. His matches were second to none. You believed every word that came out of his mouth.
He truly was the voice of the WWE Universe who had grown frustrated with the same monotonous booking of years prior.
Vince McMahon had the next Stone Cold Steve Austin on his hands with CM Punk. This time Vince McMahon did not make him mega star that transformed the landscape of pro wrestling. Vince McMahon made CM Punk character a stepping stone for The Rock to come back and blow right through on The Rock’s way to the WWE Championship.
Vince McMahon ended CM Punk at the 2014 Royal Rumble with one People’s Elbow.
This shortsighted booking has been a constant problem with WWE for years. The concept of names from the past like Bill Goldberg, The Rock, and The Undertaker coming back for one time attractions to defeat full time talent such as Kevin Owens, CM Punk, and Bray Wyatt has damaged the credibility of the full time talent.
The feud that CM Punk had with The Rock was devastating to the WWE product. It exposed The Rock as a washed up ex WWE legend who could not hang with the current crop of WWE talent. This move damaged the WWE Championship. It would take 15 months for the WWE Championship to recover from. Lastly, it was a blow to the CM Punk character which he was never allowed to recover from.
CM Punk walked out of WWE 15 months ago leaving a massive hole in the company. It can be argued that if CM Punk had come out of that feud the winner, he would have stayed and continued to carry the WWE torch.
The beginning: RAW 1000
Vince McMahon pulled out all of the stops for RAW 1000.
As the show wore on, there was a promo in the middle of the ring between CM Punk and The Rock. The Rock established that he would “magically” receive a title shot at the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. CM Punk let The Rock know that he would be facing him in that match. This promo exchange showed that CM Punk was able to hang in the ring verbally with The Rock.
The main event of the night was a match the fans were clamoring for. John Cena cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase during the main event. The match was great, as all of their matches were when they went one on one. Punk ended up retaining the title via disqualification once The Big Show interfered to cost Cena the championship. The Rock would run down to the ring to even the score for Cena. As The Rock was setting up his signature People’s Elbow finisher, CM Punk entered the ring to attack The Rock and hit him with the Go To Sleep. The lasting image you see as RAW 1000 goes off the air is CM Punk walking up the ramp and The Rock laid out in the middle of the ring.
PERFECT. The part time legend came in and made the established star look like a million bucks. This was Vince McMahon finding a winning lottery ticket. CM Punk turned heel and began his amazing run as a heel champion who was disillusioned by the current WWE fans. The Rock helped CM Punks heel turn because performing the Go To Sleep on The Rock made the turn complete. If only Vince McMahon stayed on this course.
CM Punk exposing The Rock verbally and Vince McMahons lack of belief.
“The Rock is back to win that.” CM Punk and The Rock would engage in promos leading up to The Royal Rumble. Each exchange from The Rock went something like this “I tweet at 4:00am”…”The people”…”Corny adjective to describe CM Punk”…”Trending worldwide”. These promos showed that The Rock had a few hits and he was relying on them to get through promos with a wrestler who was believable in CM Punk.
The difference between The Rock’s promos and CM Punk’s promos were drastic. CM Punk was believable in his lack of respect for The Rock verbally. The Rock was contrived and nothing felt directed towards CM Punk, it felt more designed to get the crowd to “trend worldwide.”
Regardless if you liked CM Punk at the time, The Rocks return was designed around selfish goals and not enhancing the current WWE product with his presence.
It was apparent that Vince McMahon was ready for a change. He believed The Rock was more valuable to the WWE product than CM Punk. It is my belief that Vince McMahon thought The Rock needed to be WWE Champion in order to draw a massive amount of fans to WrestleMania 29 later that year.
The Rock seemed to be more interested to appeal to his mainstream fans and promote his Twitter account than he was advancing the current WWE product. This should have been a red flag to Vince McMahon.
McMahon must have believed that Dwayne Johnson would be able to get Wrestlemania 29 on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The allure of combining the mainstream audience with the hottest movie star in the country at his biggest show of the year was to be intoxicating to Vince.
The Royal Rumble. The end of CM Punk’s 434 World Heavyweight Title reign.
CM Punk tried his hardest to make chicken salad out of chicken feces, but it wasn’t there. The Rock looked exhausted five minutes into the match. The amount of chin locks and rest holds in the match further brought CM Punk DOWN to The Rock’s level of a slow prodding match.
He was a champion that fans might not have “liked”, but his actions felt real. CM Punk had countless classic matches with John Cena in 2013 and made the World Heavyweight Title matter with those matches. The match wasn’t good and that was no fault of CM Punk’s.
The fan response to The Rock was on a totally different level. They exploded with every move he executed on CM Punk.
One Spinebuster and one People’s Elbow later, The Rock defeated CM Punk to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. That was all it took to end a legitimate title reign of 434 days.
Vince McMahon pulled the trigger on The Rock winning the WWE World Heavyweight Title after a 10 year absence and all it took was ONE PEOPLE’S ELBOW. That was the end of CM Punk as a heavyweight title contender.
Six months prior CM Punk had left The Rock laying in the middle of the ring with a Go to Sleep and looked like a million bucks. Now, CM Punk was just another guy.
The aftermath and the disappointment.
The Rock would go on to RAW and the rematch would be announced for WWE Elimination Chamber. CM Punk delivering creative promos touching on when The Rock played at The University of Miami. The Rock was absent on RAWs leading up to The Elimination Chamber.
The Rock defeated CM Punk again at Elimination Chamber, in convincing fashion, to add insult to injury to the character of CM Punk.
Everything that CM Punk had done for 434 days to add prestige to the WWE Championship was gone in one People’s Elbow. The Rock would go onto do the media rounds and make little mention of being WWE Champion.
Vince McMahon knew that The Rock was going to face John Cena at Wrestlemania 29. CM Punk was just in the way of his master plan.
CM Punk and John Cena would add one more classic wrestling match to their list with an excellent showcase on RAW on Feburary 25th 2013. If you have not seen that match I implore you to do so. This match further showed why The Rock was overmatched by CM Punk, as well as John Cena, in the ring.
Vince McMahon was too hypnotized by catch phrases and tweets trending worldwide to see that the WWE Championship had become a prop for The Rock.
The CM Punk vs The Undertaker feud lacked depth and felt rushed at the same time. The feud was lackluster no matter what CM Punk tried to do in order to make it work. Once again CM Punk was saddled with an aging WWE legend who could not keep up with him; in the ring or on the microphone.
The Rock would go onto Wrestlemania 29 against John Cena. It was a boring match where both Cena and The Rock would repeatedly use their signature moves, but it lacked the emotion needed for a WrestleMania main event. John Cena would eventually defeat The Rock to avenge his loss at Wrestlemania 28 and John Cena would become WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
To this day, I wonder what would have happened if CM Punk had been able to defeat The Rock at The Royal Rumble. Would it have been a moment similar to Hollywood Hulk Hogan doing the honors for The Rock at Wrestlemania 18? That match helped further cement The Rock as an icon.
Why wasn’t Vince McMahon thinking about WWE in the long term when he sacrificed CM Punk to The Rock?
CM Punk never totally regained the spot that he spent a whole year building for himself.
The main event of Wrestlemania 29 should have been The Rock vs CM Punk vs John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Vince McMahon didn’t believe in CM Punk, but the fans did. In 2018, Vince McMahon DOES believe in Roman Reigns and the fans don’t.