It had been rumored Bryan was penciled in for a title shot at Money In The Bank (h/t Wrestling Observer), and in that scenario, I stand by my belief. With the news leaking today that the smark vs. mark showdown could headline SummerSlam, my tune has changed.
If the match takes place at SummerSlam, Daniel Bryan will defeat John Cena and become the WWE Champion.
Take a deep breath. Focus. Continue.
WWE takes SummerSlam seriously. Making the Staples Center in Los Angeles it's unofficial home should tell you all you need to know. WWE has positioned SummerSlam as the second biggest show of the year and placed it strategically in the second biggest media market in the country.
If New York is "home" for WrestleMania, then Los Angeles is "home" to SummerSlam.
With this in mind, WWE looks for a big pay-per-view buy rate from SummerSlam. It books an entire Fan Axxess event and a week of events. Building SummerSlam into a major economic boom is part of the company's strategy. It would make sense for them to book a WWE Title match and main event that draw mainstream attention and are proven money-makers.
Yet, they seem to be thinking Daniel Bryan is the right guy for this spot. This is only puzzling if they don't intend on giving him the belt.
See, Cena has reached the point in his career where he is (unfortunately) above the WWE Title. It does nothing for him to have it, and he is not damaged in the slightest by not having it. CM Punk carried the belt for more than 400 days, yet Cena remained the centerpiece of all creative decisions.
His title victory over The Rock at WrestleMania was intended to be a passing of the torch moment for the company, whether you choose to believe it or not. The belt was meant to symbolize this transition, though it had nothing to do with belts and everything to do with icon stature.
Daniel Bryan, though, has so much room to grow, and he's exploded in recent months. His popularity has steadily built since losing the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28. It's hit a fever pitch thanks to a red-hot feud with The Shield that stretches back more than six months.
He receives the biggest pops of any star each week on Raw. His merchandise is flying off the shelves, and he's become a social media darling, frequently popping up on Twitter trends. And unlike Punk, he didn't need a "pipe bomb" moment to change the tide. It's been an organic growth, and it appears the WWE is finally listening to its fans.
Were Bryan to face Cena for the title at Money in the Bank, it would fail. Nobody believes that Cena is going to drop the belt in an off-brand PPV setting—especially not to a guy like Bryan. Such a title change would only happen at one of the "Big Four" PPVs, and SummerSlam is the ideal setting.
After Bryan and Orton are unsuccessful in their challenge for the Tag Team Titles against The Shield at Payback, Bryan will be forced to prove he's not the weak link. With all of that rage as motivation, he'll climb the ladder and win the Money in the Bank briefcase for the WWE Title.
Ideally, this should be the main event, and the match should be stacked with talent that can deliver a main-event-caliber performance. The match's position on the card and its competitors weigh greatly on its perceived importance.
With briefcase in hand, Bryan will formally challenge Cena at SummerSlam for the title. He knows that nobody can call him the weak link were he to defeat John Cena—the WWE franchise, the man who beat The Rock at WrestleMania—for the WWE Championship.
A pinfall victory in a clean, classic match would blow the roof off the Staples Center. Cena rolling out of the ring and walking quietly to the back would reinforce Bryan's position as a legitimate champion. That's not to say Cena wouldn't win the belt back at some point this year. I'd be surprised if he ever goes more than a calendar year without a title reign for at least the next few WrestleMania cycles.
WWE has a chance to create a truly great moment and a legitimate money-making draw. Do it, WWE. I dare you.