Will CM Punk return to Monday Night Raw when the WWE rolls into Chicago on March 3rd?
This is the burning question at the forefront of many wrestling fans' minds, eager to see the upcoming flagship show.
Many fans will also tune in simply for the crowd - as it remains to be seen whether or not the WWE has made any headway in convincing Punk to return (or if Punk's departure is not all an elaborate, very effective work).
The promise of the crowd, feverishly chanting CM Punk's name regardless of whether or not he makes an appearance, potentially booing every other angle out of the building, is an exciting prospect in of itself.
This is the event the WWE sorely needs to gain some momentum headed into WrestleMania.
It's been a difficult month, filled with ups and downs, rumors and speculation, most of which have proven fruitless. Inevitably, this Monday is the only time we'll get some real answers - either directly or indirectly. If this is a work, it's an exciting, well-executed one, and just as we'll never know how much of Punk's infamous "Shoot heard round the world" was planned beforehand and how much was a surprise even "to the people in the back", it will likely be impossible to tell at which point the lines between reality and fiction blurred in this angle.
If the WWE unintelligently attempts to ignore the situation (an unfathomable choice - but the WWE has certainly made a few of those of late), the raucous crowd will bring the show to a screeching halt, but we'll be left with another ultimately dissatisfying conclusion. This RAW cannot amount to a "Batista Bomb" - meaning it can't symbolize the phrase "Deal With It!"
It's impossible to believe the WWE brass is either bullheaded enough or dumb enough to continue on their current course of defiance against the fans - it certainly makes no creative sense to push forward with a strictly Batista vs Orton WM Main Event, but it makes even less business sense (something the WWE is certainly preoccupied with) to ignore the noise the fans are making.
Batista's definitive heel turn on Smackdown this Friday bodes well for a potential adjustment to the 'Mania main event, as a heel Orton vs. a heel Batista guarantees even more disdain from the fans (and no drama whatsoever during the match). That kind of a match is basically unheard of, unless the WWE seems to believe Orton and Batista aren't actually heels but layered characters existing in a gray area.
Late last year it was reported that Vince McMahon wanted to do away with the heel/face dynamic, after all. Might this Batista/Orton main event be the result of that moronic philosophy?
Nevertheless, the match at least needs someone people actually like to see. CM Punk could return and repeatedly chastise the fans, spit in children's faces, and give everyone the finger and people would still be overjoyed with his inclusion in the main event.
If Punk does return on Monday, that gives creative more than enough time (should he cut the worked shoots we all know he can cut) to create an exciting 'Mania main event, maybe even one of the best in history.
(Check out this excellent, convincing article on why it makes complete sense for Punk to return in some capacity: 12 Reasons CM Punk Will Return... )
We can all easily play backseat booker and Frankenstein a WrestleMania main event we can stomach. Mine would be a Fatal Four Way Elimination a la WrestleMania 2000, with Batista vs. Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk that culminated in Punk and Bryan squaring off for at least twenty minutes after an already lengthy match. And I'm not sure who I'd give the title to between Punk and Bryan in that scenario.
Or perhaps Triple H, Bryan, and Punk will compete in a triple threat match at 'Mania, and the winner pulls double duty in the main event. This could conceivably create doubt in people's mind that Bryan or Punk would even win, due to the Evolution-history HHH has with Orton and Batista (can you imagine that horrifying triple threat main event?). There is potential here for a great rivalry that resonates from a historical perspective.
Bryan and Punk represent a newer, better generation of performer. Batista and Orton represent an older, inferior generation, a school of wrestlers that certainly worked hard for the business but never managed to raise the product up to the heights of the attitude era. Bryan and Punk are The Rock and Stone Cold of this current generation - the top two wrestlers in the business as dictated by the fans (which is a shame given Punk might not last much longer). If these two are not permitted to finally take the reigns of the company at this WrestleMania, then they will exist as the greatest generation of wrestling that never really happened (at least in terms of being validated by the WWE).
We are not behind the scenes though and we're not in the moment. While our judgment might seem sound to us (and while it probably is sound), it's hard to tell what our thoughts might be if we actually had to interact with these explosive egos and these millions of dollars and these millions of angry fans every day. In such an environment, it's doubtful cooler heads will prevail and the best story can be told.
We should also keep in mind that the WrestleMania card, at least in terms of what has actually been announced, is paper thin, with only two known matches. RAW being in Chicago basically holds up the progression of all non-CM Punk-related stories, especially if it turns out he's not really there, and especially if Vince McMahon or Triple H does not immediately address the situation at the top of the show.
The show will inevitably be dedicated to the progression of other stories though, it simply has to be to set up 'Mania. This means that almost every WrestleMania story, for this show at least, will inspire nothing but disdain, or worse, disinterest. If Punk is not there, and the television viewers of this potentially riotous crowd see the hatred directed at almost every WrestleMania angle, then that doesn't look good for this year's showcase of the immortals.
That being the case, it's hard to believe the WWE wouldn't have just rescheduled if Punk wasn't going to be there in some capacity.
We also mustn't forget the specific events of The Royal Rumble. Punk was illegally dragged out by Kane, something that certainly could have been a poor setup for a feud with Triple H at 'Mania (an angle that Punk found so distasteful that he walked out). But this illegal Rumble elimination paired with the fact that Batista (a recently returned wrestler who has spent the past four years elsewhere) stepped over an entire roster full of more deserving superstars seems perfectly designed Punk-fodder.
Punk's character has every rightful reason to be included in the main event, and Punk's promos about guys like The Rock continually returning and snatching top spots away from guys like himself and Bryan can easily be applied to Batista. I genuinely find it hard to believe that Punk's Rumble elimination was strictly done to establish a 'Mania match against Triple H. It's cause for something greater, especially considering the hateful outcome of that night.
The great thing about a CM Punk return on Monday is that it almost definitely means his inclusion in WrestleMania, most likely in the main event. Such an explosive return can't be wasted on a midcard match with any wrestler. And, as always, the WWE must know that.
There's truly no telling what might happen on Monday Night Raw, Mach 3rd, 2014, in Chicago. But that just might be a date that lives in wrestling infamy.
Mark your calendars.
Go to sleep.
And then wake up, ready for a fight!
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And be sure to follow WWE2K14 veteran Maximus The Gladiator on Twitter @MaximusWrestler. Live long and prosper.