Monday, January 14, 2013

Armchair Booker: Rock + Punk = WrestleMania

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It’s been a week since the Rock and CM Punk began their collision course for an epic match at one of my favorite pay per views, The Royal Rumble. I’m always a fan of the Rumble match. It isn’t an overused match, and it usually has a lot of different aspects playing at once. Next to WrestleMania this is probably the WWE’s most anticipated event. At least it is for me. This year has even more hype with the longest reigning modern era champion putting his title, and streak, on the line against maybe the most iconic member of the attitude era. Sorry Stone Cold but where’s your billions in box office money?

If you’ve been reading the internet, and I assume you do if you’re reading this, then you’ve read that 99% of the fans expect The Rock to win at the Royal Rumble. Most sites will tell you it’s going to be Rock vs. Cena at WrestleMania in a rematch of their bout from last year. On paper that sounds good, but right now John Cena has lost some of his luster. He’s still a top guy but the thought of Rock/Cena II doesn’t have the same pull it did last year. It just doesn’t have the same sizzle that will sell a pay per view like the original match did. Even worse is this one doesn’t have a whole year to build on.

After last Monday’s amazing promo duel on RAW, the WWE needs to rethink their plans. I know they do what they want but there is something to be said about leaving money on the table. Will WrestleMania have a good buy rate with Cena vs. Rock 2? Yes. Let’s face it WrestleMania will have a good buy rate with me vs. a hobo in a wing eating contest. Yet is WrestleMania a success if it is a couple hundred thousand buys less than it could have been? No. That is literally leaving millions of dollars on the table. Unless they are trying to buy a senate seat, the McMahons don’t usually enjoy throwing away millions of dollars. 

The real rematch that should headline WrestleMania is The Rock vs. CM Punk 2. After one night there is more buzz on this matchup than after a whole year of John Cena and The Rock. This isn’t a WrestleMania match. It’s a title bout for a PPV where the matchup is probably second fiddle to the Rumble itself. Right now it looks like the Royal Rumble PPV could be more anticipated than WrestleMania because of two matches. That is saying something about how big Punk vs. Rock is building up to be.

And it should continue to build.

There is nothing new about what is going on between The Rock and CM Punk. It might even be the oldest storyline in professional wrestling. It was old school when Abe Lincoln was lacing up his boots. It is called, “The Baby Face Chase”.

The Baby Face Chase is real basic. Take one super villain champion. Make it so the fans hate him so much they’ll pay to see him get his. Then take one super hero contender. Make it so that on any night the fans believe he’ll beat the villain. Then for a few months keep the villain just a step ahead of the hero as fans continue to fork over money to see each showdown. Finally during the blow off have the hero capture the title and strike down the villain all the fans have been salivating to see get beaten. It’s simple and hundreds of years later it still works. It has kept many a territory in business.

If the WWE goes the easy route, and has The Rock beat CM Punk at the Rumble, then they’ll barely take advantage of this gold mine. They could put it off and save the payoff for the biggest show of the year. Plus why wouldn’t The Rock want his triumphant victory to take place at WrestleMania. Everybody wants their WrestleMania moment. Even Hollywood megastars.

The WWE could even have their cake and eat it too. They could still get Rock vs. Cena 2, just not at WrestleMania. In fact all of this might be the best case scenario for the WWE. I’ll explain.

Having the Rock win the WWE title at the Royal Rumble has many flaws. One is that the WWE champion probably won’t appear on any of the house shows. That hurts the product. The second is that The Rock, a man who makes his living with his face, probably doesn’t want to take part in an Elimination Chamber match. It’s an unnecessary risk. Finally, it is too predictable and that takes some of the excitement out of the win. If I know somebody is supposed to win and if he wins then I’m not jumping out of my seat. If I know somebody is supposed to win and they lose, well then my certainty going down the road is a little less. That leads to big, more genuine, shocking moments.

Since this is an armchair booker article, here is how I’d handle the Rock vs. Punk from now until WrestleMania.

First I’d have the Rumble match before the title bout. It’s that big of a match. Plus when John Cena wins the Royal Rumble it sets the table for people to believe The Rock is walking out champ. Cena is the penciled in opponent for Rock at Mania. Having John Cena win the Rumble makes sense to the smart fans believing that Rock vs. Cena 2 is merely a foregone conclusion. It is the feign before the knockout blow.

In the main event match pull out all the stops between Punk and Rock. These two can have a great match. This could easily be a modern day Steamboat vs. Flair. In the end, after false finish after false finish, it is CM Punk who retains his title. It probably shouldn’t be a clean win, but nothing too cheap. Punk’s last few months have all been tainted victories. An exposed turnbuckle into a school boy with the feet on the ropes goes a long way.

The fans are shocked. The Rock lost. The Villain won, and now CM Punk is closing in on 500 days as champion. In fact if he can stay champ just past WrestleMania he’ll hit that milestone. Just more heat on the fire.

The Rock of course will want a rematch. CM Punk won’t give it to him because who wins one match a year ago, then loses at the PPV the night before, and gets a rematch? The Rock will then try to earn his way into the Elimination Chamber in a qualifying match. It’s The Rock wrestling on FREE TV, which has to boost the ratings.

To help add heat to their feud CM Punk should cost him his qualifier match. It keeps Rock out of the cage, and it keeps him away from Punk until WrestleMania. Both will protect Rock and this feud. This is when Rock goes to plan B.

John Cena is the Royal Rumble winner. He also lost to the Rock last year at Mania. He is the Boy Scout who never backs down from a fight and always is looking for redemption. The Rock wants Punk at Mania and John Cena has the key. Rock challenges Cena at the Elimination Chamber for his WrestleMania Main Event spot. The WWE gets to reap the benefits of Cena vs. Rock 2 and have a logical way for Rock to face Punk again. It also help sell buys for your donut hole PPV. That is having your cake and eating it too. (So many food references, hungry yet?)

Rock beats Cena at the Chamber PPV and Punk survives the cage. Now the two are back in each other’s face. Fans can believe Rock will be beat Punk at Mania, but after the Rumble is anything certain? The chase is in full effect. Punk has his eyes on 500 days. The Rock is set on finally getting the WWE championship he came back for months ago.

The two meet at WrestleMania and after a slew of craziness The Rock finally pins CM Punk. Hell if somehow Bruno Sammartino was being inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame and came down to lay out Punk after his comments on RAW, how big would that be? I don’t care how old Bruno is; he can still deliver a helluva right hook. No matter what, Rock winning at Mania would blow the roof off that joint.

Depending on The Rock’s commitments there are two options. If The Rock is truly done after Mania, then have him retire as champion at the following RAW. It vacates the belt and you do a tournament to crown a new champ. If he sticks around for one more PPV, you can do Rock vs. Cena 3 with John finally getting the win against the Rock after two losses. Both ideas will do good business for the Backlash PPV.

That is how the WWE should be booking their biggest feud for the next few months. It protects all the parties involved. It makes the most money at the four upcoming pay per views. It delivers the better matchup for the biggest show of the year. All things that the WWE should be striving to do.

Now we get to tune into the Royal Rumble and see if the WWE does the smart thing. Until then I’ll do the smart thing and not hold my breath.

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