Royal Rumble was not just day No. 434 of CM Punk’s historic WWE Title reign. It was also the end of his self-described “life’s work.” (VIEW PHOTOS)
With his mother, Ata Johnson, in attendance, The Rock fulfilled his promise of dethroning The Straight Edge Savior in Phoenix and reclaiming the championship he last held August 2002. But thanks to an alleged attack that transpired under the veil of darkness and seemingly had The Shield’s fingerprints all over it, The Great One’s eighth WWE Championship victory very nearly didn’t come to fruition.
Nearly 20 minutes into highly physical championship contest, which saw the tide swing repeatedly and both competitors target each others’ well-documented injuries, The Rock signaled for his patented People’s Elbow. As The Brahma Bull sprang off the ropes, however, the lights of US Airways Center went out and moments later, the familiar sound of a body crashing through the commentators’ desk echoed throughout the arena.
With the WWE Universe and, more importantly, referee Michael Chioda unable to discern what happened, Michael Cole informed the pay-per-view audience at home that The Shield had perpetrated the assault, hitting their signature Triple Powerbomb. Power was restored quickly, but by then, the only thing that was clear was The Rock sprawled over the remnants of the broken announce desk. With none of the three Shield members anywhere in sight, a grinning Punk dragged The Rock’s limp body into the ring, where Chioda counted a pinfall.
As The Straight Edge Savior and Paul Heyman began celebrating, WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon emerged on the scene to remind Punk of his order that any involvement by The Shield would result in his being stripped of the title. But before the WWE Chairman could make good on his vow, an exhausted Rock cut Mr. McMahon off and demanded the match be restarted.
“You don’t take it from him,” he said, leaning tiredly against the ring barriers ringside. “I am. Restart the match now.”
Long before the match had a reason to be restarted, however, the US Airways Center was already abuzz with the kind of big-fight excitement that is rare to come by. Punk oozed confidence from the outset, hoisting his pride and joy, the WWE Title gold, overhead during the pre-match introductions, while The Rock, brimming with intensity, bounced from foot to foot. As soon as the bell rang, the champion and challenger raged toward each other and traded blows, before the brawl rolled to the floor.
To the sound of dueling chants — “Let’s go, Rocky,” alternating with “CM Punk” — The Great One and The Best in the World smashed each other into the Spanish announce table before Punk was able to take control by working over The Rock’s midsection, exploiting internal injuries he sustained from The Shield’s ambush on Raw last Monday. A consummate ring general, Punk suplexed The Rock ribs-first onto the ring barrier, as well as over the top rope.
After springing into a dropkick that sent The Rock flying off the apron, though, the WWE Champion came up favoring his left leg, the same limb for which he underwent emergency surgery in December. Throwing caution to the wind, The Voice of the Voiceless nonetheless dove from the top rope to the floor, tackling The Rock and worsening his own knee in the process.
It didn’t take long for The Great One — WWE’s first third-generation Superstar, who JBL described as having sports entertainment “in his blood” — to detect the weakness and strike. He seamlessly reversed a Go To Sleep attempt by Punk into a Sharpshooter, but The Second City Saint deftly countered with the Anaconda Vise.
A series of reversals later, and The Rock again had the upper hand, clotheslining Punk on the floor and attempting a Rock Bottom through the Spanish announce table, only for it to first collapse under the weight and both Superstars to fall to the floor in a painful pileup.
In a gutsy performance, both Superstars were able to continue the match, and once back in the ring, Punk found his second wind, delivering a slicing roundhouse kick that nearly tore off The Braham Bull’s head. Exhaustedly, The Rock and Punk traded blows, and The Great One’s smackdown-inspiring strikes won out. Then, as The Rock launched into his famed People’s Elbow attack, the arena went black.
Before pinning The Rock, Punk yelled at an indignant Michael Cole that he had “nothing to do with The Shield.” Looking every bit like the cat that ate the canary, The Second City Saint smirked mightily after the pinfall. That is, until Mr. McMahon appeared and conceded to The Rock’s demand to restart the match and WWE official Chioda called for the bell to ring.
Enraged, Punk charged at The Rock and smashed The Great One’s face with his knee in the corner. In classic Best in the World form, the champion flew down with a savage top-rope elbow smash, but it was only good for a two-count. A second attempt at a GTS proved unwise, as The Rock countered into a spinebuster and finally hit the People’s Elbow to win his first WWE Title in more than a decade.
Though Royal Rumble marked the end of Punk’s era of supremacy — the sixth-longest reign in WWE Title history — it also completed The Rock’s circular journey from WWE Champion to box office champion and finally … to WWE Champion once more.