In hindsight it's difficult not to see this as a long-term, well mapped out master plan from WWE, designed to culminate in ‘The Second City Saint’ clashing with ‘The Great One’. It's not though. Punk is, in many ways, simply the beneficiary of good fortune. The decision was made to give him a hefty shove up the top of the card for two big reasons and it’s his hard work that’s kept him there.
The first was that Punk was very serious about leaving the company in the summer of 2011. That aspect of the promo and story were not a work. While Punk’s claim that he didn’t sign a new contract until the evening of the MITB cannot be verified it is known that he was prepared to leave WWE and go home. He’d made enough money to live comfortably. Had he wanted to remain active he could have returned to the indies and toured Japan.
Not ready to replace John Cena
The other reason they chose to push him was because he was adamant in his dealings backstage that he could be just as valuable to WWE as John Cena. Realising how burnt out Cena was becoming WWE saw giving Punk the super push treatment as a way of lightening the load of their leading man and giving him a chance to prove himself. Ultimately they wanted to create a new big name drawing card that would work full time, their only one at that time being Cena.
That Punk, the only major full-time draw besides Cena, is facing The Rock is what could make people think this has been planned all along. Rock’s only in-ring matches of the last decade have both involved Cena. He’s battling Punk because Punk has gotten himself over so well in his number two spot, not because WWE had planned for it to happen a year and a half ago.
The Cena v Rock WrestleMania bout did big business. It’s only natural that WWE would want to use ‘The Great One’ again. Punk was selected as his opponent not because there’s no interest in a Cena v Rock rematch, but because that rematch has to take place at ‘Mania. Having Rock wrestle at the Rumble is a good move because it will provide an excellent start to the build-up to WrestleMania. With Cena not an option Punk, as the number two, is the natural opponent.
Punk deserves a match with The Rock. It will probably be of a higher quality than the bout that headlined WrestleMania XXVIII. But it’s not an indication that he’s replacing John Cena, or that he’s even close. It’s still possible we’ll see that happen, but not yet.