Oh boy, here we go again with CM Punk getting injured right at the worst possible time. It happened twice in AEW, and on his first televised match back in WWE, he gets bitten by the same bug.
We could analyze why that’s the case—if his body just can’t handle this anymore, if there’s some “curse” people are saying, so on—but it is what it is. I’m more interested in how this is going to affect WrestleMania 40 and what WWE can do to salvage this situation as best as possible.
The trouble is that this doesn’t just screw up one of the matches. It messes up one of the main events with the #2 belt in the company up for grabs. It forces them to readjust posters and other marketing material like media appearances, selling points that would have him on the marquee as a major draw, and it has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the whole rest of the roster as someone needs to step up to fill that void.
Let’s dive into some of the fallout of what this means, how it influences other parts of the card, and what options WWE might have to remedy the situation.
CM Punk (and Seth Rollins?) Waiting Even Longer for the Main Event Spot
Rollins was trying to work through his injury to get to this match. He’s never gone into WrestleMania with the title and defended it, and he’s never been in the main event, outside of a Money in the Bank last-minute addition to WrestleMania 31. Clearly, he really wants to do this.
One of Punk’s sticking points has always been that he wants to be in the main event of WrestleMania. Clearly, the prospect of that was a major allure in him returning to WWE. But it’s just not happening this year.
Assuming Rollins even CAN wrestle, as that’s been up in the air, he’s not going to be fighting Punk, who is going to have to wait until next year. How do you put a band-aid on this?
In my mind, Rollins can go ahead and do it this year if he’s healthy enough, but there needs to be a worthy opponent that deems his spot in the main event of night 1 “good enough” to justify him working through his injury. I’m not entirely sold that can happen this year. More on that later in this article.
When it comes to Punk, he doesn’t have to main event against Rollins or even for the championship. He just needs to headline the show. Maybe next year, WWE can convince Stone Cold Steve Austin to come back again and wrestle Punk for that dream match, considering he did a great job against Kevin Owens and Endeavor certainly would love to see Austin on the marquee again.
The trouble with that is if The Rock vs. Roman Reigns is scheduled for WrestleMania 41. You can’t really have Austin/Punk and Rock/Roman and bypass all 4 of your world titles. That is a bad look for the current roster to have 3 out of 4 people in the main event be old school acts.
But maybe Cody Rhodes is holding the title come Mania, and the match can be CM Punk versus Cody Rhodes for the WWE Championship in the main event of night 1, with Rock against Roman for night 2? And then, Punk and Rollins can have their encounter at SummerSlam or something?
When it comes to Rollins, I don’t think he has much of a chance to check off the box “headline WrestleMania” AND “walk into Mania with the title” again. It’s now or never. So he might fight for that spot regardless of who he goes up against.
And that brings us to another question…
If Seth Rollins Wrestles, Who Fills CM Punk’s Position?
WWE has a stacked roster right now. There are so many awesome talents that even the 30+ spots on this Royal Rumble card couldn’t fit all the quality Superstars out there.
But there’s a difference between having a ton of really good side dishes versus having an amazing entree for your meal.
Ricochet is great, but he’s not at the same level as Randy Orton in terms of star power. I love Johnny Gargano (one of my absolute favorites on the roster), but he’s not in the S-tier for the WWE totem pole with how they’ve booked him so far, and I couldn’t make the argument he’s just as viable an option to replace Punk and it would be an equal transition.
Rollins defending the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania means he needs the biggest opponent possible in terms of star power, and I think WWE is at a spot right now where every option is a step down, even if I personally like them better than Punk. I’m just being objective.
In my mind, you can’t just do Rollins against Drew McIntyre in yet another match and consider that “just as good”. It isn’t. We’ve seen it multiple times. There’s nothing new to it. Even trying to spice it up with a Hell in a Cell stipulation or something (which wouldn’t be good for Seth’s injury in the first place) wouldn’t do anything for me.
Damian Priest cashing in on Rollins and setting up a rematch is a dud, too. Seth already fought The Judgment Day for months. Plus, we can assume he’s dropping the title at WrestleMania so he can get surgery or heal his injury in some other way and step aside. Why take the title off him just to have a lame rematch and have him fall short, especially if he’s not walking into Mania with the title and it means 2/3 of that goal is gone with no title, no Punk and just “the main event spot”?
The only real option I can think of is Gunther. They’ve already set it up that he has Seth in his eyes and wants to win that World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
If Gunther Fights for the World Heavyweight Championship, What Happens to the Intercontinental Title?
First things first, how does Gunther win the opportunity to challenge Rollins? You would think that he could just win the Elimination Chamber, but apparently, he isn’t able to travel outside the United States at the moment as he’s applying for his green card.
That also means that if the plan was for the men’s Elimination Chamber match to be a No. 1 contender’s affair, and for Punk to win it, someone else has to win it, or the EC match has to change to something else. It can’t be to determine who fights Roman Reigns, as Cody already won the Royal Rumble and has that locked. Roman isn’t going to defend the title at that show, so that’s off the table. Rollins can’t defend at the show, so that’s off the table. What does that leave?
Maybe it is for the vacated Intercontinental Championship, and they tell some story about Gunther giving up the title in order to be Seth’s challenger. I don’t know how they’d get around to doing that, though, in a way that doesn’t sound ridiculous. Or, maybe he drops the title prior to Elimination Chamber and the IC title is on the line with the new champion defending. Even then, how and when does Gunther drop the title? And to whom?
This is all keeping in mind that WWE might have had other plans for Gunther at WrestleMania 40. But, then again, if the match was supposed to be Gunther against Brock Lesnar, and Brock is persona non grata at the moment with Vince McMahon’s lawsuit and was pulled from the Royal Rumble, we can assume he’d be pulled from WrestleMania, too. In that case, Gunther needs a new opponent for WrestleMania! And wouldn’t you know, Rollins is in need of a new opponent.
But AGAIN, what do you do with setting that up? Was Gunther even planned to win the title here, or was the plan to give it to him at Bash in Berlin?! And we still haven’t figured out how to get that IC title off him, what to do for Elimination Chamber, and how to set him up as the #1 contender.
So hear me out. At this moment, if Rollins is able to perform, wants to be the night 1 headliner and walk in with the title, has no problem losing the title, WWE has no problem putting it on Gunther, AND there’s no plans for Brock or anyone else to fight Gunther, then I think we need to do an Ultimate Warrior situation here.
By that, I mean Gunther should walk into WrestleMania 40 with the Intercontinental Championship still in his possession. He would have to win a No. 1 contender’s match on Monday Night Raw to earn that right to challenge. Then, he beats Rollins, wins the title, holds both up, and is subsequently forced to vacate the Intercontinental Championship on the Raw after WrestleMania. Going forward, we have a tournament or something to crown the new champion.
Alternatively, Gunther can continue to say he wants to fight Rollins, who can do some kind of deal where he says he’ll accept the challenge only if Gunther vacates the IC title. Maybe that’s how they get around having Gunther lose, and they can then set up the Elimination Chamber match as being for the vacated IC title, and it can get defended at WrestleMania. I don’t know who fights for it and how that plays out, but that’s a subject for another article.
Come Bash in Berlin, Gunther just headlines the show as world heavyweight champion. Maybe by then, that’s when they can do the match with Brock Lesnar, or a rematch against Rollins.
If Seth Rollins Vacates the Title, What Happens Next?
But what if WWE just says screw it, if we aren’t getting Rollins against Punk, and Rollins is already pushing through an injury, we should just have him vacate the title and rest up. Then, what happens to the World Heavyweight Championship?
If Rollins vacates it in time, that means the Elimination Chamber match should be for the vacated title to crown a new champion. My guess is the competitors would be any 6 of Andrade, Damian Priest, Drew McIntyre, Jey Uso, Jinder Mahal, The Miz, Ricochet, Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura. In all likelihood, take Mahal, Miz and Ricochet out of that and go with the ones in bold and there’s your field.
In that scenario, put the belt on McIntyre. Then, set up a match against Zayn for the belt at WrestleMania. Maybe that’s when you crown Zayn as the new champion, since Drew might not have signed a new deal with WWE yet, and finally seeing Zayn become world champion would be a nice distraction from not getting Punk vs Rollins.
Alternatively, Priest can cash in on Rollins and win the title. But if he walks into WrestleMania as champion, I can’t think of a single person who makes sense to fight him for the title except for a fallout with Finn Balor, but even that doesn’t strike me as good enough. They could just have a non-title personal feud match.
If Rollins vacates the title, is there a path for Gunther? Maybe. But remember, it can’t involve competing at Elimination Chamber. And then, if Rollins is out, who does Gunther fight, if he’s not fighting Lesnar?
What Main Events Night 1 of WrestleMania 40?
Best case scenario, if Rollins and Punk are out, and we need a new World Heavyweight Championship situation, that McIntyre vs. Zayn thing still doesn’t necessarily invite itself as being the main event of the first night in my mind. It pains me to say it, as I like both guys a lot.
Jey against Jimmy wouldn’t be worth the main event, either. That’s a big match, but it wouldn’t get my vote.
Since we can rule out Gunther against Lesnar, then I can’t think of a Gunther match that main events, either.
This would then open the doors for WWE to place another women’s match in the main event and get some good press that way. In particular, after the Vince scandal, it wouldn’t hurt them to have something positive for the women’s division to show that this isn’t an entirely sexist company.
We can assume Becky Lynch will face Rhea Ripley and Bayley will choose Iyo Sky. Between those two, if there had been more of a setup, Becky against Rhea would have been my pick. However, with the Royal Rumble win going to Bayley, it would have to be her. The justification, if anyone would ask, is that the 2 winners of the Royal Rumble matches got their true promise of “main-eventing WrestleMania.”
Does Bayley against Iyo have the same pull as Punk against Rollins? Look, no matter how big of a fan you might be, the answer is no. It just isn’t as big of a match to the casual audience and the lapsed fans. More people are fond of the men’s division in general, and both Punk and Rollins are overall bigger stars and more popular than Bayley and Iyo. But sometimes, you play the cards you’ve been dealt.
Let’s just see if WWE has an ace up their sleeve.
What do you think is going to happen now with the WrestleMania 40 card? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!