In 2002, John Cena debuted in the WWE, surprising Kurt Angle with his athleticism during an open challenge match but eventually coming up short. The multiple-matching semi trunks and boots version of John Cena also received praise from the general of the locker room at the time—The Undertaker—as he gave Cena adulation for his valiant effort against Angle.
Cena would further put himself on the map by being a part of another impromptu challenge against the former undisputed WWE champion, Chris Jericho. Although he lost to Angle, he—unsurprisingly—defeated Jericho, cementing himself as someone to pay attention to.
Even with these two major matches under his belt, the vanilla babyface gimmick started to get old, quick. As a result, vanilla babyface turns into Vanilla Ice 2.0, using his heel turn when teaming with Billy Kidman as a launchpad to a fresh, freestyle rapping "Thuganomics" persona.
During this time, he became one of the most hated wrestlers on SmackDown, feuding with Rikishi, Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero and The Undertaker.
A few months into his heel run, he faced a rising star by the name of Brian Danielson, who was just being used as an enhancement talent to put Cena over. In the match, Danielson showed that he wanted to impress the WWE executives, even as a "jobber."
Ten years later, these two are the top names in the business.
Now, ol' Thuganomics has 13 world championships on his WWE resume—including breaking the record of the most WWE Championship reigns with 11.
After an incredibly successful seven-year tenure in Ring of Honor, his three years in the WWE have been quite enviable. On top of being U.S. champion and having one of the longest WWE Tag Team Championship reigns in history, he is also a former world heavyweight champion, winning the title just a little over a year after his television debut.
At SummerSlam, the two paths meet.
One—Cena—has become one of the most controversial names in WWE history, the resident posterboy, as well as one of the most successful. The other—Bryan—is the quintessential model of someone who has worked undeniably hard through the independent circuit to get to this moment, having an opportunity to win his very first WWE Championship.
This match should be one for the record books. At the close of Sunday, August 18, 2013, the WWE Universe will see which path truly is more successful—John Cena's notorious WWE journey, or Daniel Bryan's undaunting road to the top.
Until then—let the predictions fly.
Chris Featherstone is a writer for WrestlingInc.com.
Pancakes and Powerslams Wrestling Talk Show Tuesday Nights @ 11pm ET