Even with its flaws, John Cena and Ryback's Three Stages of Hell match at WWE Payback should ride increased emotion and bad blood to a match that surpasses their Extreme Rules effort.
Elements of this WWE title match are odd and ill-fitting, but there's no need to dismiss the match altogether. Firstly, there is nothing hellish about a Lumberjack match and its inclusion in the three-fall battle is a letdown. The entire Three Stages of Hell concept may lead to a match too long for these men to pull off and its length shrinks down the rest of the card.
Still, WWE has done an excellent job in building toward this clash in recent weeks.
Broken Tables, Broken Bones
The tables part of the match has inspired Ryback to start putting Superstars through tables. He first hit Kofi Kingston with a trinity of powerbombs through tables on WWE SmackDown, effectively writing him off TV. WWE has played up that the attack forced Kingston to the hospital and him to have surgery on his elbow.
Ryback would not be denied his hunger for broken furniture as he interrupted the Cena and Curtis Axel match that night by ramming Cena through a propped-up table.
Now going into Payback, the table portion of the match means so much more.
It becomes a means to have Ryback look more destructive. For Cena, going to battle with Ryback surrounded by his new weapon takes on a new level of danger. It also provides an opportunity for Cena to get a measure of revenge, as he can send Ryback through tables to avenge Kingston, Bryan and himself.
The table is no longer a random weapon. It will connect directly to Cena and Ryback's past which is also true for the ambulance, the likely location of the climax of their personal war.
Ambulance as Weapon
WWE has tied this part of the match into recent programming as well, having Ryback become obsessed with the idea of putting Cena in the hospital.
Standing atop an ambulance, Ryback challenged Cena to a match that would end with one of them inside of that vehicle. He said of the match, "It does not matter if you are standing or not, it does not matter if your heart is beating or not, all that matters is throwing the other man in the back of an ambulance."
The ambulance has become ominous as Ryback has used it as a place to collect his victims.
If WWE continues to build on this, to have Ryback use the ambulance as a threat, a weapon and a pit to toss in his fallen foes, that element of the Payback match will resonate more. It will make Cena's victory feel less certain and elevate Ryback's villainy.
More and more, hearing that siren go off is a sound announcing approaching danger.
The ambulance's part in the match is also to provide finality. Should one of these men be tossed inside it, have the doors close and drive off, the story will feel complete.
Either it will be a story of survival if Cena wins or story of the monster triumphing if Ryback wins.
The Delayed Climax
The no-contest ending to Ryback and Cena's Extreme Rules match may have garnered some boos from the audience, but it amplifies this rematch.
There was no clear winner in that Last Man Standing match, both men ending up hurt backstage.
Payback offers a chance for their rivalry to come to a head. As Cena said in his promo on WWE Raw on May 27, "Payback should be deliberate. Payback should be definitive." While WWE could have gone with far more brutal stipulations that it did, ending a three-fall match with one man inside an ambulance is certainly definitive.
Cena and Ryback get a chance to springboard from the emotion they created in their first battle and top it. Their limited in-ring repertoire will prevent them from having a Match of the Year candidate, but their intense brawl and increasingly personal story will have the sequel surpass the original.
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