If WWE is setting up a Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena match at SummerSlam, the company is doing well to elevate Bryan as a legitimate threat in the meantime.
With as many titles as Cena has won, and with as many foes he has overcome, it's hard to see any of his opponents as worthy challengers. At times, it feels as if he's Mike Tyson in the late '80s—an unstoppable force toying with his opposition.
Rumors are buzzing that Bryan and Cena will face off in August for the WWE title. Wrestling Observer (via PWMania.com) reports that "the Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena WWE Title match is now planned to co-headline SummerSlam."
If this is indeed the plan, Bryan needed some monster momentum in order to seem like something other than simply Cena fodder.
So far, it's a process WWE has excelled at. No longer just plucky and novel, Bryan now seems like he has a real chance to dethrone Cena. His battles with The Shield, Ryback and Randy Orton have served as training grounds for his ultimate test.
Cena is the video game boss awaiting Bryan at the end of the level and The World's Toughest Vegan has been making his way through lesser enemies.
Surviving The Shield
It was Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins who took away Bryan and Kane's tag team titles, but it was their group that also showcased Bryan's full power.
Even in his losses to The Shield, Bryan had bursts of impressive offense. Empowered by a desire to prove that he is not the weak link, he took to clubbing each member with forearms, kicking their chests without mercy and generally going nuts on them.
In this melee on WWE SmackDown, Bryan took on The Shield mostly by himself and came out on top.
Anger, passion and vicious use of his boots led to him laying waste to the whole team and then celebrating in the ring. With The Shield being so dominant since their debut, that thrashing means plenty.
The Shield had previously beaten every super team assembled against them, earning victories over teams comprised of men like The Undertaker, Sheamus, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton and Cena himself. It was an impressive sight to see Bryan tear through them like a bowling ball smashing a set of pins.
It appears that what spinach is for Popeye is what insecurity is for Bryan.
That means that WWE can now tap into that trait as a resource when Bryan and Cena eventually collide. If people start to doubt or dismiss him, Bryan could enter their WWE title match with his emotions ablaze.
If that anger was good enough to give The Shield their first non-disqualification loss as a trio, it's certainly powerful enough to knock off the champ.
Choosing Bryan to be the man to score that final blow on Rollins and The Shield is a brilliant move. The announcers can now play this up as one of Bryan's accomplishments and as one of the reasons Bryan has a real shot against Cena.
The Strategist Slows The Monster
Bryan also showed glimpses of his Cena-defeating potential when he faced Ryback on the May 3 episode of WWE SmackDown.
Even in losing to Ryback, Bryan looked to be a wily strategist. He targeted Ryback's hamstrings, kicking them until the big man's legs started to wobble. Ryback's victory was one of survival.
In defeat, Bryan looked like a master of the mat.
This was made even more powerful when Justin Gabriel employed the same tactic on Ryback a month later. That means that Bryan essentially found and exposed Ryback's underbelly. He didn't beat him, but Bryan hurt him more than most competitors have in the past, while shining a light on Ryback's vulnerability.
This is something WWE can emphasize going forward. If Bryan was able to pinpoint Ryback's weakness, maybe he can do the same against Cena.
While Ryback attempted to outmuscle Cena, Bryan has the option of utilizing some sort of crafty plan to gain an edge. His ability to potentially outsmart Cena makes him a bigger threat.
The Goat Gnaws On The Viper
The most important step in Bryan becoming a believable challenger for Cena has been his defeat of Randy Orton.
It's not just that Bryan won a battle with Orton in a brutal, weapon-laden Street Fight, but that he looked so dangerous in the process. The submission win is huge as Orton doesn't tap out often and the victory is an attention-grabber because of Orton's status.
A fluke victory with a roll-up would have still had momentum-creating power, but Bryan looked like a beast against Orton and won in convincing fashion. He again rode his instability and anger issues to an impressive performance.
He pounded Orton with kicks, kendo sticks and suplexes. He walked into a lion's den and cranked the lion's neck back until it gave up. Bryan now looks like a warrior instead of just a mat technician.
Flash back to Bryan's early WWE days where he was billed as nerdy and when his reign as world champ was seen as a stroke of luck. He would have been uninteresting as Cena's opponent then. An underdog everyone knows won't win is not exactly thrilling.
This time around, thanks to WWE's work to build Bryan up, he is the favorite to win the WWE title Money in the Bank match and a man who looks capable of unseating Cena.
The champ's grip on the title suddenly got a lot less tight.