When CM Punk won the title last year, he vowed to be a long term champion. At the time, a world champion with a long reign was very unusual on both brands – the WWE title had been passed around John Cena, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio (briefly) and Alberto Del Rio, and the World Heavyweight Championship had been passed around Christian, Randy Orton and Mark Henry. All of this undermined the credibility of the championships and the wrestlers – as it looked like there was no-one that bit better than the others who really deserved to hold the belt. While some may see this as a good thing: it shows that the main event scenes are more competitive now, the most successful period in the history of the business – the Attitude Era – featured similar circumstances between Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, Kurt Angle; it cannot be denied that long reigns make that moment when a new champion is crowned feel more special.
CM Punk has held the title since Survivor Series 2011 (November 20th), and his 196 day reign thus far is the longest since HHH’s run as champion on Smackdown during 2008. He has already seen off numerous challenges, but who will be the next WWE Champion? Here are some possibilities:
This is maybe the obvious option, considering Bryan is currently feuding with Punk, and along with Kane has a shot at the gold at No Way Out. He has been booked against Punk for house shows for the next while, so I think it’s fair to assume this feud will continue past NWO. Now there are only two ways that Bryan would be entitled to keep facing Punk – he wins the title or Punk pins Kane. Personally I think the latter is the more likely of the two. The involvement of AJ could be key too, I could conceivably see her costing Punk the title like she cost Bryan the title at Wrestlemania. Of course, Bryan has the advantage over others in this list because he is in a current program with the champion, but while he is a possibility I think Punk will beat Bryan in their third encounter, after Punk pins Kane at No Way Out, to end the feud still as champion.
The final combatant in the triple threat match, the only reason I’ve included him in this list is because he is in this match. I don’t believe he has a chance of winning the WWE title – he’s already had his last hurrah. I am, however, very interested in where his character is going. He seems to be in the midst of a turn – and at the same time he seems not to be. Take this past week’s Raw for example. He attacks Daniel Bryan – something a face would do – and then turned around and went to attack CM Punk – something a heel would do. I’m not sure of the direction Kane’s character is going in, and that’s something that I applaud the writing team for. So many times things are too predictable – part of what made Money In The Bank 2011 special was that you didn’t know what was going to happen. WWE needs to make more of those moments.
He already has history with Punk, having faced him regularly in January with Lauranitis’ support. Even though he lost his title match, he could still play up the fact that he has a decent record against the champion – beating him in 3 consecutive weeks. It looks like he will be getting a singles push – though it remains to be seen where Randy Orton’s suspension will leave him – so it isn’t too far-fetched to expect to see him back in the title picture in the near future. What Ziggler in particular suffers from is a lack of faces to wrestle while Punk finishes his current storyline. Outside of champions there are no experienced faces that could put him over. Ziggler is very much a man in championship purgatory right now, and for the foreseeable unfortunately I can’t see that changing.
The World’s Largest Athlete looks like he has cemented his place at the top of the roster by aligning himself with Lauranitis. For now he is feuding with John Cena, but where can he go after that? Punk could very well be the answer, because he continues to be a thorn in the general manager’s side. It makes perfect sense that Lauranitis would want to put one of his biggest allies up against a persistent annoyance. Also, WWE has shown sentiment in recent years by giving Kane and Mark Henry one last run on top, this could be a way of giving that to the Big Show. For me, Show is the second most likely candidate to beat Punk for the title.
It feels like ages since Cena was last in the title picture. And by his standards, it has been – his last title shot was on the 23rd of August. It’s been refreshing in some ways, but in others it hasn’t. For example, Cena still dominates WWE television, and his storylines are still pushed as the main selling point for PPVs – evidenced by the fact he has closed the show every month since Elimination Chamber; a trend that looks set to continue at No Way Out. Cena certainly doesn’t need the belt to remain the face of the WWE, but officials may feel that having him as champion would be better for business. While that doesn’t look like happening soon, if he had the opportunity to fight for the title, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Hear me out! I accept that this is extremely unlikely, but you shouldn’t be able to put anything past WWE’s creative team. Remember over 10 years ago, during the Austin-McMahon feud when Vincent won the big one? Who’s to say that won’t happen again? Laurinaitis has already shown both a willingness to get in the ring and a disdain for Punk as champion. It is perfectly plausible that he could take matters into his own hands, win the title through help in a no-disqualification match, then either gift the championship to a friend or vacate it. Perfectly plausible. Unless of course you suffer from the drawback of living in the real world.
I’m not saying this could happen anytime soon. Lesnar will be tied up with HHH up until Summerslam at least. Then I would expect to see him disappear again so as not to use up all the dates in his contract too early. However, I would expect to see him back pretty regularly from around Survivor Series through to Wrestlemania 29. Assuming the much speculated title match of Lesnar vs The Rock actually happens, I would expect Lesnar to walk in champion with a decent run as champion. And who better to win the belt from than CM Punk? He will make Lesnar look like a monster, and beating someone who has had the belt for around a year will instantly bring credibility to Lesnar in the eyes of the younger fans whose only glimpses of Brock could have been in a losing effort against John Cena and against HHH. I feel confident in saying that Lesnar didn’t come back to lose to all of WWE’s top stars. He came back to make as much money as he possibly could – and being champion would give him top-dollar billing. Putting the belt on Brock for the first time in 8 years would drastically alter the landscape of the WWE, most likely bringing a sense of intrigue to the happenings on Raw (I can’t see him appearing on many Smackdowns). It will be very interesting to see how he is treated by Laurinaitis upon his return – will he still be the golden boy, or will he be ignored? Either way, I think Lesnar being the man to finally end Punk’s lengthy reign on top is the most likely outcome.
The way things are going right now, I reckon Laurinaitis will definitely have some influence over who eventually wins the title. Who do you think will end Punk’s reign? Do you think I’ve left someone out? Does anyone think there’s even a remote chance of Laurinaitis cheating his way to the belt? Let us know by commenting, or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.