It was a long time coming, but WWE Champion CM Punk finally faced feeding time in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, battling Ryback one-on-one in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match for Punk’s WWE Title that was originally slated to go down at WWE TLC in December. Punk’s unexpected trip under the knife delayed the contest for a full month, but with The Straight Edge Superstar cleared by WWE medical officials, the champion’s brief reprieve from his ravenous challenger was finally at an end.
And make no mistake, Ryback was nothing if not very, very hungry when he finally stepped into the ring against Punk. Ryback literally came out swinging against the champion, tenderizing Punk with body shots and vicious blows from the steel steps, but Punk took advantage of the unique stipulation to fortify his counterattacks. Punk battered Ryback with chair strikes to soften him up for his signature kicks, but Ryback had a similar strategy. He matched Punk shot-for-shot with his own chair and, at one point, delivered a bone-crunching suplex to Punk that drove the champion, back-first, onto a prone ladder.
Punk rallied from the brutal assault to set up a ladder in the center of the ring, but Ryback seemed to irrevocably take control of the bout when he slammed Punk atop the ladder and then dropped him through a table, leaving the champion incapacitated and the title within reach. But right when the beast scaled the ladder, the arena lights cut out. When the lights returned, they revealed The Shield, who stormed the ring. The trio unleashed a beating on Ryback, executing the triple powerbomb and allowing Punk to scale the ladder unscathed. Against all odds, the WWE Champion survives, extending his historic reign by yet another day. Next stop: the Royal Rumble.
Finally, it’s come down to this: WWE Champion CM Punk and The Rock, in the ring one-on-one. And while the first 2013 encounter between the two (and their first faceoff since Raw 1,000 back in July) was only a verbal one, the atmosphere was still pulsating with electricity and animosity as their WWE Title bout at the Royal Rumble drew ever nearer.
Before The Rock could address the people, however, CM Punk took the opportunity to drop another “pipe bomb.” In his own words, the term has been misinterpreted since that fateful 2011 night in Las Vegas. “Pipe bomb” has taken on the meaning of a tell-all missive, but to the champion, it is simply the truth. And the truth is, despite his efforts, Punk found that life in WWE had not changed much, and claimed that talented Superstars such as himself were still subject to the whims of an audience he believed to be fickle and ill-informed. In that vein, Punk snarled that he did not succeed because of “the people” who suddenly rallied to his side: He succeeded despite the “system” that had been established to keep him and his ilk down, and the fans who supported it in the first place.
“I have beaten you,” Punk said to the Universe, the establishment, to anyone and everyone his words could reach. “I have stomped you out under my oppressive boot and I’m gonna do the same to The Rock because I don’t care if he’s back. You do not get to win.”
At that point, The Rock had enough. The Brahma Bull’s music hit and for the first time since July, The Great One stalked down to the ring and wasted little time in addressing the champion’s comments. “Twenty days,” The Rock said, addressing the number of days Punk has until the fateful WWE Title Match between the two at the Royal Rumble. “Twenty days. Time’s up.”
What followed was a proverbial clash of the titans on the microphone, as Punk’s bilious rhetoric clashed with Rock’s patented braggadocio. After a tense back-and-forth, The Rock laid his own personal truth bare. His own “pipe bomb,” if you will. “The Rock is back to entertain them, The Rock is back to stop you, and after 10 long years, The Rock is back to win that,” he said.
Punk countered with a response that had no shortage of malice, but The Great One would not be deterred. “Twenty days,” Rock warned again. “Time’s up.” And before Punk could reply, The Brahma Bull struck with a Rock Bottom, leaving the WWE Champion in a heap on the canvas and sending an unmistakable message to The Straight Edge Superstar.
Welcome to 2013, WWE Universe. It’s gonna be quite the year. Twenty days.