Last night, The Rock and CM Punk had their first face-to-face confrontation, leading to their WWE championship match at the Royal Rumble. Punk promised to keep his championship. Rock promised to lay the smack down on Punk’s candy-ass. Punk ended up eating a Rock Bottom to end the segment.
It was an intense and entertaining exchange that kicked the hype for the Rumble into high gear, but who was the real winner of this opening salvo of what promises to be a tremendous battle?
PRESENCE: The Rock looked bigger, stronger, and healthier than ever. He made Punk look physically puny in comparison; that shot about Punk looking like “Popeye on crack” had a ring of truth to it. Of course, Punk had competed in a grueling TLC match against Ryback less than 45 minutes earlier, while Rock was fresh and rested. Rock has also been living the good life in Hollywood as Punk has been globetrotting in defense of the WWE title. But, side by side, Rock dwarfed Punk and made it look like he could eat him for breakfast. WINNER: The Rock
CROWD REACTION: The Rock got the big ovation we all expected, but it wasn’t quite at the same level as it was a year ago at this time. He made the millions (and millions) of fans chant on command, but the “cookie-puss” chants petered out quickly. There’s no doubt that Rock is a mega-star, but the reception he received was slightly lacking. Rock even seemed surprised by the quiet crowd at one point. Rock got a better reaction than Punk, but the difference wasn’t as much as you might expect. WINNER: The Rock
INTENSITY: Rock raised the eyebrow, coined some new phrases to trend on Twitter, and talked about where he would place his size-15 boot. Punk stared back with steely eyes. Rock got cutesy and did his tried and true shtick, and Punk called him out on it. Perhaps the best line of the night was when Punk promised he would “kick The Rock’s ass” every time Rock deigned to make an appearance in WWE. Rock did a routine; Punk delivered passion. WINNER: CM Punk
MATERIAL: Punk’s “pipe bomb” wasn’t quite as explosive as his infamous 2011 screed, but it had a few moments (particularly when he put over Tyson Kidd and Daniel Bryan, and wondered why the millionaires in the back don’t share any of that cash with the fans). The Rock seemed off his game. He made the standard jokes and pushed the TV-PG limits a little, but he came off like he was taking Punk lightly and disrespecting the WWE title in the process. Rock even tossed the belt out of the ring at the end of the promo. I don’t think Punk would ever do that. WINNER: CM Punk
DELIVERY: CM Punk was spot-on for the entire 20-plus minutes he was out for his promo. He was passionate, condescending, well spoken, and smarmy. He brought his A-game. The Rock stumbled a few times (like when he couldn’t remember what to call Popeye’s pipe). Hollywood has affected “The Great One.” He’s become reliant on memorizing his lines. Punk, on the other hand, can improvise with the best of them, because every word that comes out of his mouth comes from his heart.
WINNER: CM Punk, by a split decision. Punk came out of this first confrontation looking a bit better than his Rumble opponent. Rock still has size, strength, and superstardom on his side, but Punk more than held his own. It wouldn’t surprise me if Punk actually came out of the Rumble as the fan favorite.