After Vince McMahon gave CM Punk the ultimatum of John Cena or Ryback as his Hell in a Cell opponent last week, one of the fine people I follow on Twitter alluded to it being a choice between "the devil Punk knows and the devil he doesn't know."
On tonight's edition of Raw, Punk himself used those very words when addressing the crowd. It was a clever tie-in with the pay-per-view poster that depicts Punk as a devil himself.
Punk's desire to toy with the crowd cost him, though, as Vince McMahon told him he was taking too long to decide, and that McMahon would make the choice for him later in the show. Punk found himself in a predicament where his fate rested in McMahon's hand. At this point, I began bracing myself for the announcement of Punk vs. McMahon at the PPV. Honestly, I wouldn't be all that opposed.
Paul Heyman warned Punk that "you can beat Vince McMahon, but you can't win."
Punk sent Heyman to convince McMahon to change his mind - or to step into a ring for a rematch. But McMahon was having none of it. He ordered a contract signing later in the show, and at that time, Punk would learn the identity of his opponent for the pay-per-view.
The contract signing started in the overrun of Raw, which is always a good sign for the viewing audience who have already sat through three hours of the show. And the result was a surprising one.
Punk will defend the title against Ryback at Hell in a Cell. Well, this is the critical point in the Ryback experiment when he'll either step up and prove himself worthy of the push or go bust.
He nailed Punk with Shell Shock to close the show with the champ laid out and the undefeated beast standing tall.
Well, we'll see what happens. This is obviously a side effect of Cena not being fully healed, and as I mentioned, it's a critical moment for WWE's latest project. I'm not sure this will pop a buyrate, but it will certainly have people talking - for better or worse.
- Intercontinental Champion The Miz and Kofi Kingston both sounded good on the microphone, but Miz was the star of their segment, as he emulated Punk with a "shoot"-style promo. The Miz raised very valid points, though he conveniently forgot Kingston's semi-push against Randy Orton a few years ago. Kingston has potential to be a bigger player than he is, and hopefully this is the catalyst to that. Kingston got off to a good start with a non-title victory over Miz in the technical main event of Raw. The two had a good match. It was interesting to build toward their Main Event match Wednesday by giving the same match away here with a clean finish, but it makes it seem like Kingston has a chance when the title is on the line. I don't see Kingston winning the belt yet, but it will be interesting to see what happens as this will be the first week of Main Event not headlined by top stars in the company.
- Having Big Show dominate Daniel Bryan was a questionable move in my opinion. Yes, it gives Big Show something to brag about, since he and Sheamus have now both destroyed Bryan. But it's also a loss for one-half of the Tag Team Champions on the night the number-one contenders for their titles were supposed to be crowned. In order for the tag team division to be taken seriously, its stars need to be taken seriously be management. It was a nice touch having Kane save Bryan, though, even if he laughed at his partner afterward for losing. Maybe these two are going to start getting along in a nice reversal of the typical tag partner tension story angle.
- Do Primo and Epico change back and forth between being babyfaces and heels on a weekly basis? This week, they were seemingly playing babyfaces to the Rhodes Scholars' heels. Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow were slated to face Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara in the finals of the number-one contenders' tag team tournament, but Mysterio called in sick. The match was good, but the result was a foregone conclusion. It's also odd to see the Colons go from being Ryback fodder to a competitive tag match, but this was good.
- Titus O'Neil and Darren Young got back on track in the tag team division with a win over Team CoBro of Zack Ryder and Santino Marella. The match was short, as most of the first-hour bouts were, but the Prime Time Players looked good. Hopefully they continue to improve and get back into title contention soon. 3MB, Heath Slater's stable, jumped Marella after the match. They need to do something of significance in the near future, as their relevance is waning by the day.
- Wade Barrett and World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus had another really good match marred by a disqualification finish. These two work really well together, and hopefully Barrett gets a pay-per-view title match or two. Big Show interfered in the finish of the match, drawing the disqualification. This kind of reminds me of when Punk and Bryan had numerous TV matches before going on a PPV tear. Hopefully Sheamus and Barrett can capture the same type of magic.
- It was interesting to watch Brodus Clay face Alberto Del Rio, as Clay was originally called up to the main WWE roster as Del Rio's muscle. The match was really quick and Clay had very limited offense. It really seems that once Clay's undefeated streak ended, he's quickly become nothing but a plus-size jobber. This did help Del Rio look strong heading into his newly announced Hell in a Cell match with Randy Orton.
- Layla finally received her rematch against Eve for the Divas Championship, and the match was something unique for modern-day WWE. They were given a decent amount of time, and the crowd actually responded to the action with a "This is awesome" chant. Layla lost when the referee didn't see her foot on the ropes during a pin, which is becoming an overplayed finish, but it leaves things open for a rematch.
- I was glad to see Dolph Ziggler flee from the handicap match he was forced into with David Otunga and Ryback. Otunga is still technically a step up the ladder from Ryback's recent opponents, and he didn't need to take someone like Ziggler out quite yet. It would have been quite sad seeing Ziggler pinned by Ryback, so this outcome makes sense and keeps the right people looking strong (and cowardly).
- Antonio Cesaro had a glorified squash match against Justin Gabriel. While matches like this certainly make the United States Champion look dominant, I imagine how great of contests Cesaro could have with guys like Gabriel and Tyson Kidd in an environment where they were given 20 minutes and told to be competitive.
- What was the point of Kane beating up backstage interviewer Matt Striker? Is he on his way out of the company and this is their way of getting rid of him? Is he trying to make a comeback? Was this just a waste of time?
Big Show d. Daniel Bryan
Alberto Del Rio
Ryback d. David Otunga and Dolph Ziggler
Antonio Cesaro d. Justin Gabriel
Kane d. Matt Striker
Sheamus d. Wade Barrett by disqualification
Eve d. Layla
Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow d. Primo and Epico
Kofi Kingston d. The Miz
Outside of the Kane and Matt Striker "match," there was nothing inherently bad with tonight's Raw. It had a good flow to it, and while the early part had several squashes or extended squashes, the show worked in the end. I would have probably enjoyed it if I wasn't so tired due to outside circumstances, but I don't feel it's fair to blame WWE for that. Overall, it was a solid show with some real highlights, such as Barrett vs. Sheamus. Hopefully WWE can maintain some momentum building to Hell in a Cell.