NEW ORLEANS — Despite CM Punk’s best efforts to exploit an unusual set of rules that worked to the his benefit, The Rock would not be denied his goal of trumping The Second City Saint at Elimination Chamber and returning to the main event of WrestleMania as WWE Champion for a match against John Cena.
Enraged over Punk’s robbery of the physical WWE Title last Monday on Raw, the captain of Team Bring It had to be careful not to lose his temper and get disqualified, thanks to perilous match stipulation added last week in a last-ditch power play architected by Punk adviser Paul Heyman. The added stipulation removed the normal champion’s advantage: Per the orders of WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon, if The Rock were to lose by disqualification or count-out, the WWE Title would go back to Punk.
Acquiesced by Mr. McMahon on last week’s Raw, the new match conditions essentially doubled the number of ways The Straight Edge Savior could win back the championship gold he claimed was his all along. The sly challenger never lost sight of this boon, doing everything in his power to provoke The Rock into losing his composure and breaching WWE’s rulebook.
Punk entered the New Orleans Arena as he had entered dozens of WWE arenas in 2012, with Heyman in tow, hoisting the WWE Title gold overhead. Continuing his needling of The Brahma Bull, The Straight Edge Savior again demanded to be introduced by ring announcer Justin Roberts as “The People’s Champion.” Seemingly delusional since losing the title in an epic Match of the Year contender at Royal Rumble, Punk appeared wholly confident — if not cocksure — on what would have been day 455 of his title reign had the returning Rock not intervened.
The Second City Saint wasted no time in trying to get under the skin of The Rock, first slapping him and then, in a second, grave insult, spitting in The Rock’s face. The Great One responded fiercely by repeatedly bouncing the challenger’s head off the commentary tables. In a scene that would play out several times in the championship bout, however, Heyman distracted the official, allowing Punk to stall the real “People’s Champion” with a thumb to the eye.
As the savvy Straight Edge Savior wore down his larger opponent with a rear chinlock, the divided WWE Universe in attendance at New Orleans Arena broke into dueling chants of “Let’s go Rocky” and “CM Punk.”
The Rock bravely powered out of the hold and cornered Punk with punches. But when referee Mike Chioda warned The Rock to back off at a five-count, in accordance with WWE rules, Punk smelled opportunity and delivered a perfectly aimed knee. The challenger then followed up with a running variation of the maneuver that came within inches of catching The Great One on the button of his chin.
Punk countered The Rock’s first attempt at a Rock Bottom, spinning it into a roundhouse kick that was good for a two-count. Stealing a page from his opponent’s book, Punk mocked The Rock and nearly won the bout when he executed his own version of the Rock Bottom onto the Spanish announce team’s commentary table. Galvanized by the vocal support of his followers, The Rock narrowly avoided being counted out, a result that would have cost him the WWE Title.
Facing an uphill challenge, The Rock continued fighting back, landing a staggering right hand that appeared to dislodge one of the challenger’s bicuspids and awe the WWE Universe simultaneously. A second attempt at the Rock Bottom was again blocked, however, with Punk raining down a series of elbows on The Rock’s skull, neck and midsection.
Even when The Rock finally did hit his calling card, the Rock Bottom, Punk managed to kick out of a subsequent pinfall, giving way to a chaotic series of events.
With Heyman distracting Chioda, Punk whipped the WWE Champion into the official, knocking him from the ring and rendering him momentarily incapacitated. A second official, John Cone, entered ringside to check on Chioda, but as he was doing so, The Second City Saint dropped The Rock with a Go to Sleep and covered him. Although a portion of fans in attendance counted the pinfall, no official count was administered by a WWE official as Punk lied atop a motionless Rock. The Brahma Bull escaped a second GTS attempt and countered with a spinebuster and The People’s Elbow, which was the same move he used to reclaim the WWE Title at Royal Rumble.
Although Cone entered the ring at this point to make a count, Punk persevered and kicked out at two. In yet another accident involving an official, Punk rolled onto Cone’s ankle, causing the referee to fall to the ground in pain. With no referees watching the action, Heyman slipped the WWE Title to his client and tried to hold back the arms of a weary Rock. Punk lunged forward with the championship gold, but The Rock averted the impact and Heyman absorbed the blow. The Great One then planted Punk with another Rock Bottom. By this time, the original referee, Chioda, regained his senses, re-entered the ring and counted the historic pinfall.
With the persistent challenge of Punk finally behind him once and for all, The Rock sets his focus on April 7 and MetLife Stadium, the site of WrestleMania 29. It is there, 49 days from tonight, that The Great One will encounter the Superstar he bested at last year’s Show of Shows, John Cena, in a reprisal of the WrestleMania XXVIII main event the WWE Universe has long craved.