Hell in a Cell: Predicting CM Punk vs. Ryback
There's been a lot written and said about the CM Punk vs. Ryback match at tonight's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, but the first thing that must be noted is that it's an excellent main event. The bout will be no technical classic, but not only has it got more casual viewers interested in seeing the champion against by the seemingly unstoppable challenger, but it has hardcore fans (and those interested in the business side of things) fascinated by the outcome. In 2012, that's a significant part of the definition of a great main event.
As for the finish that has been so hotly debated, this writer believes that Punk will retain the title. WWE has plunged almost 12 months of work into the reign of "The Straight Edge Superstar", and it's unfathomable that that would change after a few weeks of particularly poor TV ratings. There is a bigger picture, and furthermore, there's The Rock to think of at the Royal Rumble. That's a much bigger main event than this one, and seeing Punk's shoulders pinned to the mat now would dilute it greatly. Barring an unprecedented set of circumstances, The Rock is not going to be wrestling Ryback in January.
But, if Punk is not to lose, that means that Ryback cannot win. Keeping his character strong - something that WWE has done tremendously thus far, begging the question of why they can't protect all of their newcomers to some degree - while taking a first loss will require some external shenanigans, and interference by the equally massive presence of Brock Lesnar is the obvious manner in which this can be accomplished.
If, for whatever reason, Brock is not to be used at the pay-per-view, then a run-in akin to The Undertaker's loss to Yokozuna at the 1994 Royal Rumble may have to occur. This may dent the idea that the Hell in a Cell can see no outside interference, but that has been done before - in the very first bout of its type, no less - and in comparison to beating Punk for the title, or making Ryback appear weak in losing clean, WWE will see this as the lesser of all evils.
There is the possibility of a "Dusty finish" - a general concept named after Dusty Rhodes in which Ryback would pin Punk and be presented as the new champion, only for Punk to reclaim it later (perhaps on Raw) on some kind of technicality. However, a similar finish was employed at September's Night of Champions, where John Cena was briefly able to hold aloft the belt, only for it to be returned to Punk less than 60 seconds later.
The match could also end without a finish at all, in a scenario where there is enough chaos that the bout simply cannot continue. However, to be effective, such finishes require a believable breakdown of order, and in the PG era, WWE is unlikely to want to bring too much hard-hitting realism to the fore. Also, even after the most ridiculous of conclusions, WWE matches almost always end with some sort of decision, as this negates the "refund" arguments offered by fans to pay-per-view carriers when they don't get the match that they believe they paid for.
Whatever happens, Hell in a Cell ought to be an intriguing pay-per-view. Be prepared, however, for an unpopular ending.
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