WWE Hell in a Cell 2012: Can CM Punk Get a Great Match out of Ryback?
With John Cena still recovering from elbow surgery, Ryback will take his place inside the Hell in a Cell and for the moment supplant Cena as the top contender for CM Punk's WWE title.
Ryback has made a speedy journey from Nexus' forgettable cowboy to jobber-destroying Goldberg lookalike to main eventer. Now he's been given a priceless opportunity.
Will this be the moment we look back on five years as the beginning of the unraveling of Ryback's career or the catalyst for his leap into superstardom?
Whether he shrines or shrivels in the spotlight will depend largely on CM Punk.
This match will be as much a test of Ryback's skills as it is a chance for Punk to live up to the elite status so many believe he's attained.
Punk has the challenging task of both making Ryback continue to look every bit the indestructible monster he has so far and making himself look like a credible champion, to justify his "Best in the World" claims.
We don't even know what Ryback and Punk's chemistry will look like. This is just one of many unknowns going into Hell in a Cell 2012.
The first question is one of endurance.
How Will Ryback Fare in a Longer Match?
Even in the early incarnation of his gimmick, Ryback's matches were marked by short bursts of high-octane power moves. He hasn't been asked to go for more than a few minutes at a time.
You just don't ask a rhino to be a horse.
The jump from squash matches to main events presents a number of challenges.
There's a real danger of him getting gassed past the 10-minute mark, so rest holds aplenty have to be written in. A bent-over Ryback struggling for air is the last image WWE wants to present at Hell in the Cell.
In addition to the issue of stamina, there have to be serious doubts about whether Ryback can tell a longer form in-ring story. It would be like asking a relief pitcher who averages an inning a game to suddenly go out and pitch seven or eight innings.
Ryback has to make that adjustment at Hell in a Cell without the benefit of slowly progressing into longer and longer matches. He also has to do all this in the glare of a major stage.
The degree of difficulty for what he's being asked to do is high. He'll have to lean heavily on CM Punk.
And a Punk Shall Lead Them
Punk has to serve as the rudder in this match.
His job will be to dictate the match's pacing. Ryback has mostly had a series of one-sided matches with the same narrative; "Hulk smash!" While that will certainly be part of what happens at Hell in the Cell, Punk will be Ryback's sherpa into new territory, into comebacks and momentum swings.
Punk served in a similar role against John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011. The result was a five-star match.
Though John Cena is clearly a far better wrestler right now than Ryback, he has heard his share of "you can't wrestle" chants for a reason. Punk has to get a significant amount of credit for how that bout turned out.
Cena has performed best when paired with upper-echelon talent, something Ryback will certainly benefit from within the cage walls.
One of the true marks of wrestling excellence is being able to draw the best from one's opponent. Both Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels could take any ham-and-egger and make them look like a stud. They mined a man's greatness no matter how deep it hid within them.
That will be Punk's assignment in the cell.
Delivering classics when face to face with Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho is one thing, but should he be able to scrape out a four-star affair with The Big Hungry, then Punk immediately moves up a notch in the WWE hierarchy of legends.
Even if he does succeed in that regard, though, both he and Ryback are dependent on the creative direction WWE decides to go with this match.
What Story Will WWE Decide to Tell?
Much will be asked of both Punk and Ryback in their main-event match, but a good chunk of its success will depend on the booking.
WWE has written themselves into a corner with this confrontation.
It's too soon for Ryback's undefeated streak to end, but too soon for him to win the title. Fans won't be happy about some cheap no-finish either.
Major creativity will be required from the minds backstage.
There has to be a way to sustain both wrestlers' momentum without it feeling like a cop out.
Vince McMahon's team may have to include some major interference from Paul Heyman or perhaps even Brock Lesnar, as some fans have predicted/hoped for.
If WWE fails to deliver on their part of the equation, it won't matter how well Ryback steps up or what magnificent ring work Punk does.
This is certainly a match with the potential to be great, but it will require a number of things to go right. The odds are not great that Ryback, Punk and WWE all do their parts.
The opportunity is there for the taking, though, for both Ryback and Punk to silence doubters, to make McMahon look like a genius and to give fans the raucous show they want to see.
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