Is Ryback ready for his toughest test at Survivor Series?
In one corner stands CM Punk, he of the WWE Championship and brazen attitude, erstwhile Voice of the Voiceless and only a few days away from having held his title for a full 365 days.
In the other corner stands John Cena, WWE’s “resident Superman,” he of the record 10 (count ’em 10) WWE Championships, infallible moral code and renewed vigor after being sidelined for a month by surgery to his elbow.
Standing between the two of them is Ryback, the unstable third element in the already shaky equation. The wildcard, the X-factor, foe to both men and, ultimately, the one Superstar of the three who might be in the most trouble come Sunday.
This is, at first glance, a questionable assertion given Ryback’s mostly unchecked rampage throughout WWE over the course of 2012. The insatiable strongman has gone from decimating ham-and-egger local competitors to challenging for the WWE Title in a mere eight months (and should have, for all intents and purposes, won the title if not for Brad Maddox). Ryback’s status as the premier monster in WWE is beyond dispute. And yet in Punk and Cena, the beast faces his toughest test to date, stepping into the ring against a man he has not yet beaten and a man he has not yet faced.
Both present an equal challenge for Ryback, who wrestles like a wrecking ball, but has yet to prove himself capable of finding a way to tear the title from Punk. Defeating Punk requires, to a certain degree, the same kind of chicanery and willingness to bend the rules of engagement (both spoken and unspoken) the champion himself exploits at every turn. Ryback has yet to display a game plan apart from the crush-kill-destroy mentality he used to tear through the ranks during his rise, but he still fell short against Punk at Hell in a Cell. Unmanning Cena requires a less intricate strategy: One must simply outlast him. But as was speculated by no less a Superstar than Mick Foley before Hell in a Cell, Ryback’s stamina has never been put to the test, even after Hell in a Cell (his most recent victory was a one-sided curb stomping of Maddox on Monday Night Raw).
Having to alternate between the two game plans could prove difficult for the beast, and that’s not even counting what Punk and Cena may have in store for him. The Second City Saint holds a relatively even record against the Cenation leader since their match at Money in the Bank 2011, which means he and Cena are almost perfectly matched. A straight-up contest between the two is controllable for them, with the variables less likely and the outcome less unpredictable. This, of course, means the ideal strategy for both Punk and Cena would be to eradicate Ryback as quickly as possible. A reluctant alliance between the two foes is not out of the question, and the big man will likely step into Survivor Series with a giant target on his back.
What it may come down to, in the end, is a matter of mentality. To put it in the simplest terms possible: CM Punk will do anything to retain his title at Survivor Series and reign as WWE Champion for a year. Cena will stop at nothing to teach Punk a lesson and reclaim the title for himself, preventing Punk from reaching the milestone. Standing in both of their ways is the unstable element, the ingredient to turn the whole situation critical, the man whose appetite for destruction has broadened to WWE Championship contendership. Cena wants to beat Punk; Punk needs to retain his championship. Ryback? Ryback, for the most part, is just hungry. And if the meal comes with a side of championship gold, so be it. If not, a decimated body has sufficed for him in the past.
If only things were still so simple. The stakes are higher, the pieces in place and the equation is primed to blow. At Survivor Series, it will reach critical mass. And Ryback may well find himself caught in the fallout.