The upcoming WWE Championship match between CM Punk and Ryback has become arguably the most anticipated match at a non-Big Four WWE pay-per-view since Money in the Bank 2011.
That PPV was so huge because of the WWE title match between Punk and John Cena, which many thought might legitimately be Punk’s last match with the company.
But Ryback vs. Punk is huge for a much different reason or, should I say, reasons.
It’s huge because Ryback is undefeated, because Punk has held the WWE Championship for roughly 340 days and because no one seems to be quite sure what’s going to happen on Sunday. It’s huge because the outcome of the match will have a domino effect on the WWE’s top angles for the rest of 2012 and up until WrestleMania 29 in 2013.
It’s also huge for CM Punk.
While most of the pressure is on the shoulders of Ryback, who is competing in his first PPV main event (and what is sure to be his longest match) ever, there’s also a great deal of weight on the back of Punk because he’s expected to carry the load.
Over the course of his nearly year-long WWE title reign, Punk has had countless fantastic matches with a wide variety of opponents. In fact, one could argue that he’s had the most impressive WWE Championship reign ever in terms of match quality and consistency.
Punk has put on incredible performances with a wide variety of opponents, including John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Kane, Chris Jericho, Sheamus, Big Show and even someone like Mark Henry.
He’s shown a nearly unmatched ability to work with anyone of any size and to do it well. However, he won’t have any bigger challenge than this Sunday when he attempts to have a PPV main event quality match with the unproven Ryback.
Ryback has been in the wrestling business for about a decade, but he’s only spent about six months on the main roster under the Ryback gimmick. During that span, there’s been little variation in his matches.
I don’t think he’s ever had a match that’s lasted more than five minutes. Most of his matches were only two or three minutes, and the formula of those matches has always been pretty simple, with a few signature spots in bouts that are nothing more than squashes.
It’s like Ryback has been taking nothing but easy pop quizzes on both Raw and SmackDown, and then at Hell in a Cell, he’s going to finally get that big test that he may or not be prepared for.
Whether this match fails or succeeds will depend largely on Ryback’s performance, but Ryback’s performance is going to depend largely on how well the trusted and proven veteran CM Punk leads him.
Punk has been blessed with a lot of great opponents over the last year or so—guys who have been around the block more than just a few times and/or are known for their tremendous abilities in the ring.
However, when he steps inside the Hell in a Cell structure on Sunday, he’s going to be facing Ryback, who—though he’s probably not as bad as many of us like to assume he is—hasn’t wrestled a lengthy TV match since he was “Skip Sheffield” on NXT, has never main-evented a PPV and has never competed for a World title.
The butterflies will be there for Ryback at Hell in a Cell. It’s up to Punk to make them go away and to lead “Big Hungry” to the best match of his career.
And if these two put on a show on Sunday, Punk will be one step closer to becoming a legend.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!