It was none of these things. Obviously. It was never going to be. It was always going to be either CM Punk's WWE championship defence against Ryback or the return of The Rock. Both were good and did exactly what they set out to. The TLC clash provided a fitting end to Punk’s programme with ‘Big Hungry’, dropped further hints at a link between the champ and the justice-obsessed Shield, and gave Punk something else to brag about.
Ultimately it was 'The Great One's' face off with Punk that this RAW will be remembered for in the long run. Punk and Ryback have wrestled several times over the last several months. This match, while good, didn’t feel as important as The Rock’s appearance. It was a more familiar proposition, while the champ and ‘The Brahma Bull’ had only encountered each other on television once before.
I think the encounter between champion and challenger mostly met its considerable hype.
Punk’s solo promo was excellent. It was one of ‘The Second City Saint’s’ strongest verbal performances in months. He had a renewed purpose, namely to re-establish himself as WWE’s biggest bad guy. Everything he said was designed to ignite the crowd and get a reaction. It did. As has been the case with the Punk character for a long time everything he said was based on a skewed version of truth, which was a large part of the reason his words got the reaction they did. Nobody likes to feel they've been made a fool of, and with Punk claiming he'd done exactly that to the entire WWE fan base he's set himself up as one of the hottest wrestling villains in years.
When The Rock joined Punk things took a minor turn for the worse. ‘The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment’ got off to a good start. He naturally received a thunderous ovation and ran through some of his catchphrases to great responses. It helped that by following Punk he was able to start off by simply rebutting points that had already been made.
It couldn’t last.
While Rock’s patter initially went down well he wound up butting heads with the law of diminishing returns. The over reliance on stock phrases and nonsensical buzzwords (which Punk rightly noted could soon be slapped onto a T-shirt) raised the ire of the crowd, eventually creating a low but noticeable “Rocky sucks!” chant. The final straw for fans was seemingly a moment when Rock paused, a cue to fans to chant his name and give him some time of what he'd say next. They didn't fall for it. Good for them, I say.
The reason for this rebellion against 'The People's Champion' is fairly obvious. To be with there's the fact that a portion of any WWE audience is always going to be against The Rock because he’s not a full time member of the roster. I personally don't think this is an issue. Rock encourages lapsed and casual viewers to tune in which means more people are watching even when he's not on screen. I can see why the resentment's there, I just don't agree that it's the issue it's made out to be.
The trouble is that in Punk Rock has an opponent who doesn’t rely on buzzwords to elicit a reaction. Punk makes his point with well-constructed arguments and personal attacks on audiences. He’s naturally not always right (because he’s a wrestling villain) but his approach is compelling. 'The Great One's' catchphrase-fests are dated and simply aren’t particularly effective against a man like Punk. In comparison they're almost old fashioned.
Things improved though. Rock pulled things back together for the end of the segment, nailing Punk with a Rock Bottom from nowhere and receiving loud cheers in return. The man from Chicago rolled outside of the ring to sell the effects of the move, allowing the returning babyface to stand triumphant in the centre of the ring. That was the right move. It sent the first WWE show of the year off the air on a positive note and ensured that both men were one apiece on hitting finishers.
Can The Rock beat CM Punk at the Royal Rumble? I'm still undecided. That means that they did their jobs well.