Or what happens when you push a guy to the moon but forget to pack him with an oxygen tank...
Wrestling is a funny business. There will always be guys who have the main event spots and those whose job it is to...well, job. But the idea of finding a main event guy is by no means an exact science. Some times it works wonders and some times...well it doesn't.
In 2012 CM Punk was the WWE Champion and had been tearing up the place in great matches. In the midst of all this Punk had begun a heel turn in order for him to be lined up to face the Rock at the 2013 Royal Rumble. He was brash, he was cocky and he was now with Paul Heyman- a pairing that made for great TV (I particularly like the way Heyman used to offer Punk his watch before Punk would say it was clobberin' time).
I have said time and time again on these articles that it was hard to boo Punk for what he did because he was being shunted around in the penultimate matches while Cena was headlining with the Big Show or John
Laryngitis Laurinitis. But one of the other problems with his heel turn was that, frankly he was so much better a talker than any face on the roster. Don't get me wrong, heels are often better talkers that their face opponents, but usually when that happened the heel would put the face over by retreating and/or dabbling in nefarious acts that would see the audience just ache to punch the smarmy prick in the face. CM Punk had this against Jeff Hardy as he openly mocked him and the crowd.
But three and a half years later, as WWE Champion, his antics seemed a lot more...forced with seemingly every Raw having CM Punk march out and threaten some wrestling luminary before John Cena would come along and save the day. Then Cena would say that CM Punk didn't deserve the championship because he was acting disrespectfully (to which I would imagine Punk would reply "Who cares?"). I understand what they were trying to do here, but last time I looked the WWE title was a wrestling title, not an etiquette contest. What CM Punk's heel run needed was a promo worker who knew where to hit the champ. A veteran who would not be so tied down by his gosh darn babyface schtick that he could actually make a good point or two.
On September 24th 2012, in a rare moment of clarity, the WWE brought back Mrs Foley's baby boy to confront Punk about wrestling against John Cena in a Hell in a Cell match that would be the blowoff to their feud.
Halfway through this promo as Foley gets in the 'zone', the camera cuts back to CM Punk's face and I can't help but thinking that deep down he's just so thankful that finally, finally there is guy with a mic in his hand who can help carry the promo with him. Foley doesn't harp on about being a disrespectful champion, he let's Punk do that with his own words. Instead he merely says that Punk's championship reign (and more importantly, his legacy) will mean diddly squat if he is remembered as a paper champion who didn't have the cojones to defend the title.
This paved the way forward for how the journey to Hell in a Cell could have panned out. Two great promo workers- one with a legacy in the structure hyping up a match that would be the blowoff to a fun feud between the heel champion and the babyface challenger.
But then John Cena had to get injured and screw everything up. But to see how, we actually need to go back in time a bit...
The week after Wrestlemania XVIII a new face appeared on the SmackDown Roster. He was big, muscular and squashed a non-descript jobber (Barry Stevens for all those interested) in all of 2 minutes. His name? Ryback.
Over the next few weeks on SmackDown Ryback would be victorious in squash matches that would last less than 5 minutes against all sorts of jobbers- sometimes two at once. This worked well as part of a TV show- as a palette cleanser, but there was no doubt that Ryback's gimmick, moveset and how he was packaged to the audience had a whiff of another performer.
To be fair to WWE, Bill Goldberg wasn't the first performer who was rocketed to the moon by great production values and being smashed over in squash matches. The Ultimate Warrior also moved up the ranks of the WWE as an more-or-less unstoppable and undefeated performer. Hell, even the Undertaker in his first couple of years was booked this way until the WWE realised that Mark Calaway was a truly unique commodity: a mobile and athletic big man.
However that did not stop Ryback being compared to the man with the 170-odd winning streak. And like Bill Goldberg and WCW eventually, the WWE decided when bereft of a real direction to throw Ryback into a WWE Title Match at Hell in a Cell because John Cena was no longer able to compete. After all, if it worked for Goldberg, why wouldn't it work for Ryback?
Well, for a few reasons, which we'll get to here.
Firstly, Goldberg and Warrior were not just shot into the main event. Goldberg was the U.S. Champion before confronting Hogan for the WCW Title and Warrior was Intercontinental Champion...before confronting Hogan for the WWE Title. As much as we poo-poo lower titles these days, there is no doubt that Warrior and Goldberg were being groomed for bigger things as they wore the Intercontinental Title and U.S. Title respectively. Ryback even today has never won a single championship in WWE. Not. One. Which made things all the more difficult in kayfabe terms because before the Hell in a Cell match Ryback ran through the Intercontinental Champion (the Miz) and the Money in the Bank winner (Dolph Ziggler) in 5 minute matches that did little to restore the title's or the case's prestige because the WWE had to rush to legitimise him in about 5 mins flat.
Secondly, is the real lack of an angle. CM Punk and John Cena had a rivalry going that really felt that it was going places and I know you can't help if Cena is not fit for the PPV. However, it would seem that the WWE had a good notion that this may happen at least 4 weeks in advance and all they could really do is retread the same damn boring ground they had done for the last several months with CM Punk dissing WWE royalty until Ryback came out and made the save.
And why is it suddenly Vince's perogative to go around and say "Hey, I think Ryback deserves a shot!" Why not legitimise his claim to the title? Throw him, Miz and Ziggler in a Triple Threat Match, have the two veterans do most of the work and then have Ryback clean house at the end- maybe by lifting both on his shoulders for a Double Shell Shock or something? That would be a way to get people behind the guy.
Because after that amazing promo by Punk and Foley, one couldn't help but think...this was the best you guys came up with?
Why not have Foley as a coach/manager for Ryback so that he and Heyman could trade barbs as well as he and Punk? Foley could tell Ryback that his winning streak is remarkable but nothing, nothing prepares you for the Cell, thus hyping up the stipulation that now means little because it is no longer a feud blowoff. Why not have McMahon be sceptical of Ryback's readiness only for Foley to convince him?
And that's even before this guy decided to get involved on Ryback's behalf.
I am not John Cena's biggest fan, but there are several things about him I respect. There is no doubt he lives for the business and that he has put in a good volume of fine matches over the years. Furthermore, this Open Challenge thing on Raw is a great way to disguise his character's stagnant nature by essentially having a feud every week,
However, there is no doubt that as a character WWE creative want to protect him and use him in all sorts of loopy ways. And one way that really makes my blood boil is the way he seems to associate himself with every single rising babyface in a way that nerfs them of any edginess or difference.
Why in the holy halls of Vahalla does John Cena have to be everywhere? All it does is remind everyone that the WWE clearly do not have any fucking faith in their rising stars. When Flair was grooming Sting, he allowed Sting to beat the holy shit out of him for 45 minutes because it made sense. It seems any time an edgy performer like a Dean Ambrose or a Ryback gets some momentum, Cena comes out and hogs the spotlight. Why do we need John Cena chanting "feed me more?"
Ryback was new and different. Cena was bland and corporate. WWE seems to have not heard of a little thing called 'brand association'.
But Cena wasn't the only superstar that really is at fault for this PPV.
I have extolled the virtues of CM Punk many many times in these articles in the past. Fact is the WWE miss him terribly and to a large extent they only have themselves to blame. However, it is interesting that Ryback had 2 Hell in a Cell matches with Punk and both were pretty bad (stay tuned when we grapple with the other in a future article!). However, Ryback did have a very good match with Daniel Bryan.
My point is that Punk is a great ring general, able to lead opponents by the hand and put them over. However, he doesn't quite have Bryan's or Seth Rollins' knack for actually making an opponent. When I think of Bryan's work I think of how he made guys like Sheamus look like a million bucks at Extreme Rules 2012, or Bray Wyatt at the 2014 Royal Rumble, or Roman Reigns at Fast Lane. Rollins, on the other hand, made another Cena/Lesnar match into something incredible at this year's Rumble and his matches with Batista in 2014 were great and allowed people to begin to recognise the Animal's work ethic and ring work.
Sure Punk has had great matches with the likes of Cena, the Undertaker, Jericho, Bryan, etc. but these were all proven performers. Trying to think of a time when he actually helped push an opponent to the next level is actually quite difficult.
One cannot help but think that a Ziggler would sell like nothing on in Earth during the match while a Flair would beg and plead while being scared for his well being. Punk, to be fair actually does quite a good job looking concerned and fearful, but you don't come out of the match thinking that Ryback took everything Punk had to offer. Instead, you come out thinking that Punk has suddenly been nerfed after the wars he fought with Jericho and Cena. I mean, he wrestled a 25 minute match with Jericho where canes, tables, fire extinguishers and more were used. All of a sudden there's a cage and he's terrified?
In fact if one had to describe the match in one word it would be 'slow'. Like, really slow. Admittedly, a lot of Hell in a Cell matches are slow and are still compelling to watch. This is not one of them as the commentators attempt to sell what is really quite a tame Cell match as a brutal encounter almost on a par with the Undertaker/Mankind match. Furthermore, though the announcers actually are fairly good (JR and JBL play off each other really well and allow Michale Cole to relax a little more in the play-by-play), and Heyman is hilarious on the outside of the Cell, there isn't a lot going on. Indeed, the Cell actually hinders this match because a little more overbooking may have spiced it up a good deal more.
Oh, apart from the ending.
Yes, it was the low blow heard around the WWE Universe and proved that the guarantee that no one will interfere in a cage match is about as useful as a marzipan dildo (to quote Malcolm Tucker). In all honesty once the WWE booked this match there was very little they could do. Some suggested they could have had Lesnar interfere, but then how would that look for the current WWE Champion? Furthermore, wouldn't the logical next step be Lesnar vs Ryback (a thrilling notion I-don't think). The Shield were better in the Triple Threat setting because it allowed Ryback to look strong again. Maybe Heyman could have smuggled an iron bar through the Cell and as Ryback had Punk up, Punk could have whacked him in the head with it. At least that way Punk would look resourceful while Ryback was just not quite good enough. This on the other hand was a total kick in the crotch.
But the plain fact of the matter is that WWE got it wrong putting Ryback in there in the first place,
The fact of the matter is that Ryback has never really climbed those heights again. Rather than give him the best opportunity to to become a main event player by giving him his own angle to sink his teeth into, creative saw him as nothing more than a sub that was thrown into the deep end with not even a inner tube to help float. What was constructed as a blowoff for a great feud became a tepid Main Event that did nothing for either man. After all, for many in the WWE, it only confirmed their own skewed opinion that the Main Event scene couldn't survive without John Cena.
And that's article 40! Next time we look at bad hips and bad guys as WCW's senseless booking makes people wonder if the Scottish are really that dumb? See you then!
The InVasion Saga
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action