After CM Punk carried Ryback to a sloppy but acceptable 10-minute match at Hell in a Cell on Sunday, Ryback appeared poised to win the contest. Before he could deliver Shellshocked to a helpless Punk, referee Brad Maddox bent down and gave Ryback a low blow, then quick counted for Punk as he covered the challenger. After the match, Ryback got his heat back and created one of the indelible moments that Mick Foley foretold when both men climbed to the top of the Cell and Ryback finally hit Shellshocked onto the cage.
While the result might have seemed surprising, it was actually right out of the script that was written over a month earlier. As I wrote six weeks ago, the day after the post-Night of Champions Raw:
“Later in the show, a new and unnamed referee- whose profile does not exist on WWE.com- factored heavily into the decision in the main event. […] After the match, Punk loudly berated the referee, who continued to argue with him even after the replay proved him wrong. Meanwhile, Paul Heyman followed Punk and the referee up the ramp to make sure that Punk did not attack the official.
Monday was not the first time in recent history that a WWE official was called to the ring to account for his actions at a pay-per-view. After Brock Lesnar made HHH tap out at SummerSlam, Heyman and Lesnar thanked referee Scott Armstrong for calling the match loosely and letting the two wrestlers have leeway with the rules. I noted at the time that it was a departure for WWE to acknowledge its referees and involve them in storylines. It is not surprising that it would lay the groundwork for Heyman’s further involvement in referee business.
One way I could see the feud developing is to have this new referee secretly co-conspire with Heyman and possibly Punk. Having him cause Punk to lose a non-title match last night draws the kayfabe attention away from a possible relationship and sets up for him to redeem himself by refereeing a Cena-Punk match at HIAC- where no other referee can get into the ring. It would make sense that Heyman pulled the strings to rig the match in Punk’s favor because he also has a vested interest in making Cena, and the traditional order that he represents, fail to win the title.”
The reason that it made sense to anticipate this development was twofold. First, it successfully got WWE where it wanted to go. Heat-backed champion CM Punk retained his title and moves on to continue his interesting mutli-faceted feud with every beloved WWE character. Meanwhile, Ryback kept his heat and even built it with a strong performance and an impressive post-match image. The same result would have fit into the feud between Punk and Cena as Punk has retained his title in progressively less defensible ways. Second, the initial referee interaction went against type. It is so uncommon for a referee to favor a face wrestler that it had to mean something, and the only reasonable thing to expect was that the other shoe would eventually drop.
The more surprising part of HIAC’s culmination was that the WWE did not call an audible when John Cena injured his elbow and was taken off of the HIAC card. Instead, they merely subbed in another wrestler to take his place. For someone who has long been treated as irreplaceable be the WWE, the replacement went off with very few bumps in the road (setting aside Ryback’s inability to sell his opponent’s moves and a heavy dose of “Goldberg” chants in the heart of WCW country). Cena could presumably jump back into his incomplete feud with Punk now that his elbow has healed. That would either mean a triple threat feud or some other diversion for Ryback to pull him away from Punk.
The next steps for Brad Maddox and the rest of the referees could also be intriguing. When Maddox made his prior mistakes on Raw, AJ lectured him about his poor performance. With AJ out of the picture, it will be interesting to see if Vickie Guerrero has a similar reaction. Her animosity toward Paul Heyman makes it more dynamic than the usual “enemy of my enemy is my friend” scenario. Furthermore, the angle seems to have a lot more depth than simply a take-off on the NFL’s replacement referee conundrum that dominated the zeitgeist at the time Maddox was introduced. With Vickie already embroiled in the AJ-Cena affair angle along with this burgeoning referee controversy, her character has more to work with as an authority figure than AJ did in her entire tenure as GM.
Big Show def. Sheamus to become the World Heavyweight Champion
I was surprised that Big Show won and I was even more surprised by how cleanly he won. Sheamus groggily kicked out of Big Show’s first KO punch (seemingly rebranded away from WMD punch these days) then delivered an impressive Brogue Kick that failed to stop Big Show. A second KO punch ended it for Big Show, and he celebrated as the rare dominant heel champion while Dolph Ziggler and his Money in the Bank briefcase were nowhere to be seen. Big Show has been a boring character for several years, in my opinion, but the passion and intensity he displayed in this feud offer promise for his title reign. Additionally, he has been built up as nearly unstoppable for several months, so having younger challengers take their swings at the giant could be a fun angle. With Kane, Mark Henry, and Big Show all getting title reigns on Smackdown in the last couple of years, the show is starting to seem like a Lifetime Achievement award. We will see if Big Show can make his reign more than that.
Kofi Kingston def. The Miz to retain the Intercontinental Title
This match was one of three on the card that I thought were outstanding matches (along with Sheamus-Big Show and Mysterio and Sin Cara-Primetime Players). Kingston sold a knee injury after an awkward fall early in the match and Miz removed the leg’s padding and targeted it for the rest of the match. Kingston struggled to put together offense thereafter, but eventually hit Trouble in Paradise with his good leg. After the match, Matt Striker interviewed him and Kingston said that the feud brought out the “wildcat” inside him. WWE has certainly identified that Kingston’s weakness was that he was too happy and not aggressive enough. The question is whether the new approach will take hold and allow his character to catch up to his in-ring ability.
Team Rhodes Scholars def. Team Hell No via Disqualification
The Tag Team Title feud will stretch out a bit longer, as I expected, though it was carried on in a way I did not anticipate. Kane got his team disqualified for attacking both members of the other team in the ropes and failing to break when the referee counted. It was a letdown of a finish, and the match as a whole had few memorable moments. Even so, I remain interested in both teams and look forward to future matches.
Randy Orton def. Alberto Del Rio
Even if the rivalry between these two merely emerged out of convenience, they managed to put on a very good match. The two creative wrestlers built several moves and counters off of exchanges on the turnbuckles. I liked Del Rio’s stomp to Orton while he was prone horizontally with his legs hooked on the second ropes. I also enjoyed the finish, when Del Rio attempted an enzuigiri in the corner and Orton dodged it to hit a mid-air RKO. Orton seems primed to challenge Big Show in the near future, but I would like to see another match or two between these compatible stars.
Antonio Cesaro got his win back against Justin Gabriel in an acceptable but uninspiring match. Gabriel’s win over Cesaro was good on Monday, but the feud warranted a bit more of a buildup… Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara had the crowd solidly behind them for their back-and-forth win over the Prime Time Players. Sin Cara took a scary bump on his head when he got caught under Titus O’Neil’s shoulder, but managed to gather himself to celebrate after the match… As expected, Eve vultured a win by delivering a splash to Kaitlyn while she covered Layla. The most memorable part of the match was that JBL’s complete disinterest in the Diva matches was made apparent by how frequently he forgot their names and details about them.