If you go back and watch CM Punk: Best in the World, there is a point towards the end where he claims he was going to quit the WWE because he was sick of working there. But after a phone call to Joey Mercury, he decided to stay because he thought he could make a change. As WWE Champion, he could show that you don’t always have to stick with the status quo and that a different face at the forefront of the company could turn round potential staleness. Well, after a record breaking 434 day reign as champion, he lost the title to the returning Rock who will act as a placeholder for John Cena to win it at Wrestlemania for the 11th time. The status quo.
The day after the Royal Rumble, the Internet exploded with anger from fans and outrage from marks who felt that they’d been ripped off with The Rock winning the WWE Championship. Many claimed that they were done with the company and that they would never watch a WWE program with either The Rock or John Cena as champion. Marks predicted that they would all turn off in their droves and while many of them may have held up their end of the bargain, WWE Raw has been doing gangbuster ratings numbers because non-hardcore fans are returning to the product to see The Rock, a person they recognize, as their champion.
What many CM Punk fans seem to miss is that Rock as champion is a smart business move. Wrestlemania 28 may not have been the biggest Mania ever, but it scored a 1.2 million buyrate with global sales in excess of $67 million. People did not buy Wrestlemania 28 to see Big Show win the IC title off Cody Rhodes, they did not buy it for Sheamus beating Daniel Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship and they certainly didn’t buy it for CM Punk to retain against Chris Jericho. They bought it because The Rock was returning for his first singles match and he was fighting the company’s number one babyface: John Cena. Aside from the obligatory Undertaker bout, this was a one match card – and it brought in huge money for them. As a businessman, why wouldn’t you want to book this match again to try and replicate its success?
One school of thought is that Rock/Punk II could have drawn just as much money given the chance and some good build. But the problem with this idea is that CM Punk is not a recognizable name around households of the world unlike a Rock or John Cena. This is the biggest night in the company’s year and it needs it biggest stars on top. You could also argue the law of diminishing returns means that Wrestlemania 29 won’t bring in as much as 28 and to a point I would agree with you. While I do think it will break the million buyrate mark, I don’t see it topping last year’s number because the ‘once in a lifetime’ sheen is now lost. But with Rock/Cena II now for the WWE Championship and not just bragging rights, there is a chance it could at the very least match their previous effort.
What it boils down to is business. The marks may not like the status quo, but the general audience who have been tuning into Raw seem to. WWE made a smart choice by putting their most prestigious title on arguably their biggest star to defend it against their poster child on the grandest stage of them all. All CM Punk was there for was to make the title feel prestigious again. His long reign as champion has made the title feel important for the first time in years and not just a prop that one wrestler carries around from time to time. The hot potatoing of the title (the likes of which not seen since the final days of WCW) was devaluing the belt, but putting it on a Hollywood mega star with huge drawing ability – who had to beat the longest reigning champion in decades to do it – has once again made the WWE Championship the focal point of the show.
CM Punk did make a change, it was just the change was not for him or for marks. It was for business and the status quo.