Since the Night of Champions it seemed likely that CM Punk would once again be defending his WWE Championship against John Cena at Hell in a Cell, but the WWE threw us a curveball. Cena endorsed Ryback to be Punk's opponent instead and Vince McMahon finalized the match.
No superstar has more buzz surrounding him right now than Ryback, but there is some real concern among fans about whether or not he is ready to be in such a high-profile feud. He is a monster of a man who people can't help but be mesmerized by; however, he has some obvious deficiencies.
If there is any heel who can get Ryback over as a big-time face, though, it is Punk. He is closing in on a year as WWE Champion and can't possibly establish himself anymore than he already has, so simply wrestling Ryback in a single match will be a huge deal for the up-and-comer.
Here are the top five reasons why CM Punk will be great for the burgeoning career of Ryback.
There is no question that Ryback's best attributes as a superstar are his immense size and strength. He is a throwback in many ways as he has managed to get over with the crowd despite the fact that he has showcased no mic skills whatsoever. If Ryback doesn't come off looking like a physical threat, then he has no chance to thrive.
Luckily for Ryback, CM Punk is the perfect guy to make him look like an absolute beast. I'm not one of those guys who buys into the thought that a smaller guy shouldn't be able to beat a muscular guy since it's unrealistic, but Punk's diminutive size in comparison to Ryback is going to be very helpful when it comes to putting Ryback over.
Ryback has gotten the better of Punk on several occasions already as he foiled his attempts to attack or embarrass Mick Foley, Jim Ross and Vince McMahon. Ryback also scored the biggest blow of the feud thus far on Monday as he beat down Punk after the contract signing and hit him with his finisher to close the show.
Punk is a guy who Ryback can rag-doll and that is what the fans would like to see. Ryback isn't a technical marvel and there isn't anything pretty about him, but Punk is essentially going to act like a chew toy for the big man.
Since Ryback is either unable or unwilling to put himself over on the mic, somebody has to do it for him. It just so happens that Ryback is about to engage in a feud with the best promo man in the business in the form of CM Punk, so that shouldn't be an issue. Their match was just announced on Monday, but Punk has already made Ryback look good.
Punk referred to Ryback as "the devil he doesn't know" and called him a monster of a man. Punk is a heel, so he's obviously going to be critical of Ryback as well, but if the main mouthpiece in the company is calling Ryback a legitimate threat, then the fans are going to believe that he's a legitimate threat as well.
Wrestling ability and personas are important within the business, but the majority of fans are concerned with a superstar's mic skills more than anything nowadays. Ryback doesn't have any, perhaps by design, so Punk is basically doing the talking for himself and his opponent. That is a lot to ask, but Punk is definitely a guy who can shoulder that load.
Even if this feud ends following the match at Hell in a Cell, Punk can do a lot of good for Ryback over the next week with his words alone, and I believe that is precisely what we will see on RAW next week.
Heading into Hell in a Cell there probably aren't many fans who truly believe that Ryback is going to beat CM Punk for the WWE Championship. A disqualification or countout victory would be the best possible result, but since the match is taking place inside a cell, that simply isn't an option. The WWE has painted itself into a corner and the only way to get out of it is to hand Ryback his first loss at the pay-per-view.
I'm guessing that the WWE wanted to preserve Ryback's undefeated streak and maintain his momentum, but it can't be done. The next best option is to have Ryback lose due to outside interference. Punk has been playing the weasel-esque heel card a lot lately, so he obviously isn't going to beat Ryback straight up. The most likely scenario is that a returning Brock Lesnar rips off the cell door, beats down Ryback and helps Punk win the match.
That means a loss will still go on Ryback's record, but it will be tainted by Lesnar's involvement. If Ryback loses cleanly to Punk then it looks really bad for him and will probably kill his mojo. Lesnar sticking his nose where it doesn't belong would be a major caveat and it is something that Ryback might be able to bounce back from.
Punk's character is the ideal foil for Ryback and having him enlist outside help is going to make Ryback look that much stronger since Punk can't get the job done on his own.
Ryback can beat mid-card and low-card guys until he's blue in the face, but he is never going to be viewed as a main eventer until he goes up against main-event talent. I personally don't believe that he is ready and would rather the WWE wait to throw him into the fire, but there is no doubt that going toe-to-toe with CM Punk is going to make Ryback seem more credible immediately.
Punk is quickly becoming one of the longest-reigning WWE Champions in the company's history and his presence will help Ryback immensely. It is suddenly apparent that Ryback is in the big leagues after facing bush leaguers like Stan Stansky throughout much of his WWE tenure. Punk is going to raise Ryback's game purely by association.
John Cena has been doing something similar for up-and-coming heels for a long time, but now that there is finally a top heel on the same level, the script can be flipped. Ryback is already over with the casual fans, but some of the more serious viewers are still skeptical. Putting him against a universally respected guy like Punk will help Ryback himself earn more respect, though.
Ryback has his shortcomings, but many of them will be covered up based purely on the fact that he will be going against an elite champion.
Most wrestlers with attributes similar to Ryback over the course of wrestling history have played the monster heel role, but Ryback is somewhat of a trailblazer in that he is reversing that trend. Everything about Ryback screams heel, but he has done a very nice job as a non-traditional face and the fact that he is different has many fans intrigued.
With that said, it isn't easy for everyone to buy into Ryback as a main-event face. He needs a truly diabolical heel to oppose him and CM Punk is that guy. Punk's transformation from top face to top heel has gone a lot smoother than most expected and his crowd reaction is much more negative than it is positive.
Punk has been preying on older, weaker competition and Ryback has acted as a guardian of sorts, so the fans have really gotten behind him. On top of that, both John Cena and Vince McMahon were complimentary of Ryback on RAW and put him over in a big way, so he has the two faces of the company behind him. The WWE is doing everything possible to make Ryback an elite face option and putting Punk against him is key.
I realize that the comparisons to Goldberg are cliche, but Goldberg became a top face through unconventional means as well, and it seems like Ryback is on a very similar path.