Tonight, two of professional wrestling's most fearsome Superstars will face off, and with the sport's most coveted belt on the line, the stakes couldn't be higher.
At the latest addition of the WWE's pay-per-view series, Payback, reigning WWE Championship title-holder John Cena is set to take on an imposing challenger in Ryback, in what should be a wildly entertaining clash.
Though there are seven other matches scheduled for Payback, including a much-hyped tilt between Chris Jericho and CM Punk and another featuring veteran force Kane and Dean Ambrose, this belt-worthy showdown is most certainly the night's main event.
Heading into the match, here's a late look at the latest buzz surrounding the event, as well as a look at early predictions.
According to Mike Chiari of Ring Rust Radio, the predicted outcome of the Cena-Ryback meeting shouldn't really be in question, given how little Ryback has done to merit confidence in his ability to pull off the upset over the longest-reigning WWE title-holder.
To end his reign after just two months would essentially erase everything that he did to earn it. Perhaps more importantly, though, Ryback just doesn't seem to be ready for such a lofty spot in the company.
His promo skills are not befitting of a WWE Champion at this point. He plays the monster heel role and speaking isn't exactly supposed to be the forte of a monster heel, but times have changed in professional wrestling. It is incredibly difficult to reach the top unless a superstar can cut a convincing promo. Ryback hasn't gotten to that point, so look for Cena to win the match and retain the title.
It's a point that's worth noting, because as we are all aware of, the WWE's champions are, historically, personalities that don't have any trouble capturing the attention of the general public, and at least as of now, Ryback doesn't seem to fit that billing, while John Cena clearly does.
And we can only assume that's precisely why Marc Middleton of WreslingInc.com is reporting that Ryback has been scheduled to fall to Cena at Payback.
As of this week, Ryback is not scheduled to win the WWE Title from John Cena at Sunday's Payback pay-per-view. The whole idea behind the Three Stages of Hell match is that it will be used as a vehicle to get Cena over big for the summer.
Given that Cena is one of the sport's most marketable and visible figures, it wouldn't make sense for Ryback to be the challenger who ends the reigning champ's run. He simply does not fit the profile of a frontman for the WWE, so it would be shocking to see him score an upset victory over the man who has been the face of professional wrestling for years.
That being said, there are some, such as Grantland's Masked Man, that wonder whether there's a surprise in store at Payback, and he offers up a reasonably convincing theory as to why Ryback could be set to steal Cena's title.
But now he's in a feud with Ryback, the only bruiser on the roster who can match Cena in terms of muscle definition and over-the-top angst. This Monday on Raw, Cena cut one of his patented, (unnecessarily) angry, (off-puttingly) loud promos. When he shows that kind of emotion he typically wins extra hard, so is there any chance that he might lose to Ryback on Sunday? Actually, yes. Cena and Ryback seem pretty well locked into their feud for the foreseeable future, and the only thing better (in WWE-think) than saving a shocking Ryback win for SummerSlam in August would be for Cena to triumphantly regain the title at SummerSlam.
Whether this theory will hold up once the match starts remains to be seen, but either way, the WWE belt is on the line, so it's worth talking about.
Cena has to be the overwhelming favorite to retain his belt, but if he somehow loses it to the surging Ryback, look for him to regain it very, very soon.