Should Ryback lose at Payback, the best way for WWE to maintain his aura of dominance is to have John Cena look more like a survivor than a victor at the end of the night.
Cena can't leave the Allstate Arena unscarred. On the WWE Raw following the pay-per-view—and beyond—Cena must bear the physical evidence of his battle with Ryback.
One wouldn't come out of a fight with a mountain lion without having feared for one's life or without suffering lacerations and bruises. The same should be true for Cena. Without a word, one should be able to tell that he went through hell at Payback.
Before that though, Cena's win can be orchestrated in a way that keeps the WWE title on the current champ but leaves the audience being most impressed with the challenger.
What It Takes to Slay a Giant
Too easy of a victory for Cena hurts Ryback and ultimately hurts the company. If Cena dispatches of Ryback without enough struggle, the villainous powerhouse's stock goes down.
Ryback can no longer be made to look invincible, but the goal should be to make him look more dangerous than he ever has been before.
Maybe the first fall Cena gets over him is a fluky one. Ryback cracks his head on the ring post after charging and missing Cena in the corner, and the champ gets a quick roll-up pin on him.
Frustrated about getting pinned, Ryback goes on a rampage in the second fall. He hurls Cena into the steel steps, smashes him with a barrage of meat-hook clotheslines and puts Cena through a row of tables.
The third fall has to be built around brutality. Ryback must play the role of the destructive storm and Cena the survivor emerging from the rubble.
Undertaker and Triple H's match at WrestleMania 27 can be used as inspiration. Undertaker did keep his undefeated streak at WrestleMania alive, but he barely won.
Triple H sent his foe crashing through Plexiglass, gave him a spinebuster through a table and hit him with everything from steel chairs to Undertaker's own finishing move. The most powerful image of the match was the medical staff wheeling Undertaker out on a stretcher.
This made his battle with Triple H appear to take everything out of him, and that should be WWE's goal with Ryback vs. Cena. Should Cena end their bout with a grin on his face, his hands in the air, bouncing around the ring, the match will have done Ryback a disservice.
The Scars of War
Even if Cena is the winner, he must end up limping, wincing and grimacing at the conclusion of his clash with Ryback.
He can't just shake off the effects of their battle the next night, either. WWE has to find a way to give fans tangible evidence that defeating Ryback left Cena damaged. Cena can come out with taped ribs or his arm in a sling, but he must bear something to help sell Ryback's power.
Triple H's war with Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules 2013 left him unable to finish his match with Curtis Axel as he collapsed at ringside. The night after losing to Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, CM Punk came out to the ring clearly affected both physically and mentally by the intensity of his match.
Even if his result against Ryback is better than Punk's, he'd be better off borrowing from this moment.
Before Cena moves on to another challenger, WWE's focus should be on having Cena's match with Ryback appear to be a traumatic experience. His body must ache and his demeanor must suffer as well.
Ryback recently called himself "Beelzebub" and "Lucifer," and one does not leave a war with the devil without lasting effects.
For Ryback to remain at the rung he stands now, for him to be a legitimate challenger going forward, he must be fearsome even in defeat. To best sell Ryback as a monster in the months to come, Cena must wear the mark of his claws across his face.