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The Rock takes on WWE Champion CM Punk at Royal Rumble

Attitude Era original Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will compete in his first World Title match in more than a decade when he challenges WWE Champion CM Punk, the longest-reigning WWE Title holder of the past quarter-century, at Royal Rumble on Jan. 27.

The WWE Universe has anxiously awaited The Great One’s return to the WWE Title picture since he announced his championship opportunity on Raw 1,000 last July. (WATCH) Though there was no guarantee at the time whom The Rock’s opponent would be, the always-confident Punk fired an opening salvo that night, cutting down The Rock with a clothesline before knocking him out with a picture-perfect Go to Sleep. The following week, The Voice of the Voiceless defended his actions by suggesting The Great One, having been “gifted” a WWE Title match, viewed victory at the Royal Rumble as a foregone conclusion.

Whether a real or perceived slight, the implication that The Rock places himself on a higher plane than the current WWE Champion was seemingly all the motivation Punk needed to make sure he would still have the title on Jan. 27.

In the half-year since Raw 1,000, The Second City Saint stunned WWE fans by aligning with Paul Heyman and ratcheting up the vitriol of his speech. More important than either of those details, he has — by hook or by crook — maintained possession of the championship gold. Having turned back challenges by John Cena and Ryback in recent months, The Best in the World now looks ahead to testing himself against the seven-time former WWE Champion who vowed in 2012 to regain the title.

For The Rock, an A-list Hollywood action star and third-generation Superstar who has sports-entertainment coursing through his veins, the Royal Rumble title match represents the start of a potential career renaissance inside the ring. Since March 2004, The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment has competed in only two sanctioned WWE matches, teaming with John Cena to shred The Awesome Truth (The Miz & R-Truth) at Survivor Series 2011 and overcoming the Cenation leader at WrestleMania XXVIII.

But by vying for the most treasured prize in sports-entertainment, The Rock is committing to more than another appearance as a “special attraction.” Rather, he is setting his eyes on again becoming WWE’s gold standard.

Hell-bent though The Rock may be on introducing a new generation of WWE fans to The People’s Champion, there is no discounting Punk’s deftness once the bell rings. Controversial endings to several high-profile title defenses may have tarnished The Second City Saint’s reputation in the eyes of some critics, but they have done nothing to change the fact the WWE Championship still sits around his waist. Before his seedier side came into focus in late summer, Punk spent much of 2012 disposing of WWE’s best and brightest, ranging from Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan to Dolph Ziggler and Kane. How will the WWE Champion match up against one of the pillars of The Attitude Era?

As the WWE Universe excitedly counts down the days until Jan. 27, the back-and-forth between two of WWE’s most compelling talkers is bound to pick up steam. It will not be until the Royal Rumble, however, that the trash talk gives way to the gravity of a game-changing WWE Championship bout, the likes of which hasn’t seen in years. Will Royal Rumble mark the rebirth of a championship Brahma Bull, or will it only underscore what Punk has claimed all along, that he is untouchable and in a class by himself? (HOW TO WATCH)

Debbie Wiseman Jan 12, 2013