This coming Monday on Raw, The Rock will return to WWE TV for the first time since Raw 1000 back in July.
His return to WWE comes three weeks before he will challenge CM Punk for the WWE Title at the Royal Rumble. Since his championship opportunity was announced – by Rock himself – back in July, many have speculated that it will be Rock that ends CM Punk’s epic WWE Title reign, and then takes the title to WrestleMania and defends against John Cena in a rematch of last year’s ‘Once in a Lifetime’ match. The release of the Royal Rumble poster (left) did little to end such speculation.
But does The Rock have to win the title?
Is it set in stone that he will be the one to take the belt from CM Punk?
What other options do WWE have?
*Option 1: The Rock defeats CM Punk for the WWE Title and goes on to face John Cena at WrestleMania 29.
The most-expected option, this outcome was speculated on and virtually decided on by most fans as soon as the Royal Rumble title shot was announced in July. Though WWE spent a year building the ‘Once in a Lifetime’ match between Rock and Cena for last year’s Mania, the fact that the show pulled over 1.2 million PPV buys and set a record for the highest-grossing live event in WWE history ($8.9 million) gives WWE plenty of justification to run a rematch should they see fit. And whereas last year, being that the event was held in Rock’s hometown of Miami, WWE possibly felt forced into booking the feelgood Rock win, this year gives them a chance to give Cena the revenge win, as well as somewhat of a torch (and title)-passing from Rock to Cena. It is highly expected that Cena is going to get the belt back after seeing it around CM Punk’s waist all year, and having him take it from Rock would be a good way to get it there, whether the traditionally anti-Cena fans that usually attend WrestleMania agree or not.
*Option 2: The Rock gets screwed out of the WWE Title by Brock Lesnar, and seeks revenge at WrestleMania 29.
Another high of the rumour list, this one. With Paul Heyman in CM Punk’s corner, and Brock Lesnar not seen since ‘quitting WWE’ back in August following his victory over Triple H at SummerSlam, some are of the belief that WWE will bring Lesnar back at the Rumble, help Heyman’s new charge retain the title, and giving us the long-overdue rematch to the excellent WWE Title match at SummerSlam 2002 where Rock did some of the most unselfish work I have ever seen in making Brock look like a megastar. Lesnar’s WWE contract is known to be up come Mania time (unless a new one has been, or is going to be, signed), and as seen by his match with Cena at Extreme Rules last year, losing doesn’t seem to be an issue for Lesnar. Plus, as seen by Rock’s visits to Lesnar’s MMA battles in the past, the two are good friends who certainly wouldn’t mind doing business for one another. And I also believes that applies to Rock putting Lesnar over once more. If Lesnar does indeed sign a new contract, and Rock goes back to his acting day job (GI Joe 2 is due for release around the time of WrestleMania, and he has other movies in the pipeline), a Lesnar win to build him up for a title run would seem to be a smart move.
*Option 3: The Rock loses clean to CM Punk, then enters and wins the Royal Rumble match, and gets a rematch against CM Punk at WrestleMania.
A variation of this scenario, in which Punk loses to The Rock, then enters and wins the Rumble match, is already being speculated on, but what if WWE decides to go in the opposite direction? Maybe instead of having one of the biggest stars in Hollywood going into the biggest wrestling show of all-time as WWE champion, what if he is challenging for the belt instead? Does CM Punk deserve the chance to make it to Mania (which by my count would be day 504 of his title reign, incidentally) still champion, only to lose it there? Is Rock being brought in to end WrestleMania as champion? WWE could decide to reward Punk and allow him to hold it until April 7, as well as giving him the WrestleMania main event many feel the last 365+ days as WWE champion has earned him the right to have. And while most are expecting WrestleMania to be the last we see of The Rock for a while, what if Vince has talked him into one more show, and drops the title at Extreme Rules on May 19. WrestleMania will draw buyrates with or without Rock walking out as champ, but him defending the title at Extreme Rules could we give WWE license to print money.
*Option 4: The Rock loses to CM Punk, and decides there is one thing more precious than the WWE Title….The Streak.
A much-less speculated one now; The Rock loses to CM Punk, cleanly at that, and then the next night on Raw he opens the show and admits that Punk was the better man at the Rumble. So what now for the Great One? Chase the champion for one more match? Or do the one thing that no man – some after several attempts – has ever been able to, and that is defeat The Undertaker.
A quick Google search suggests the last one-on-one match between the two was at No Way Out in February 2002, a match The Rock won. Since then, everyone from Triple H to Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair to…ahem…A-Train and Big Show…have tried – and failed – to end Undertaker’s streak. And while it is getting near on impossible to make the idea of someone breaking the Streak a plausible occurance these days, there were a few moments during the epic Hell in a Cell match at last year’s Mania that it looked like Triple H might just do it. If WWE did book this match, could they have advantage that many PPV-buying fans wouldn’t expect Rock to agree to come back for WrestleMania if he were going to lose? At this point in their careers, and as much appeal as a Rock-Undertaker Mania match does have, I would consider this scenario to be the least likely to happen.
Of course, there are other ways WWE could decide to go with The Rock come April 7, but I would put these four (though admittedly option 4 is very unlikely) as the top ones. Personally, I expect The Rock to be defending the WWE Title against John Cena by the time WrestleMania rolls around. But maybe, just maybe, WWE will surprise us again. It would be nice. For now though, let’s just enjoy The Rock’s return, and his rivalry with CM Punk which is sure to give us some of the best promo work seen for years.
Finally, The Rock has come back…and business is about to pick up.