Since John Cena first captured the WWE title at WrestleMania 21 in 2005, the WWE has not created a bona fide main event superstar on his level. Batista was already there. Randy Orton and Edge were already established.
The company coasted on John Cena's popularity among younger fans for a half-decade until CM Punk held a public airing of grievances that George Costanza would've appreciated a few summers ago. Punk's pipe bomb promo launched him into main event circles, ultimately leading him to capture the WWE title and tally a record reign as champ.
With Punk's feuds against Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman hitting full speed, I can't help but sit back and be astonished at how Daniel Bryan manages to steal each and every episode of Raw. For the past two years, I watched Raw to see Punk. Not much else kept my attention. Bryan's performance this summer, though, has flipped that narrative, as the goat has captured the imaginations of smarks and marks alike.
It gives me chills to say this. By WrestleMania 30 this spring, I think Daniel Bryan will be a bigger star than CM Punk.
This is a tricky subject to discuss, as it pits factions of the Internet Wrestling Community against one another. I, for one, am just thrilled this conversation has the opportunity to occur. I'm a big fan of both men and, while I can't claim an encyclopedic familiarity with each man's pre-WWE careers, I recognize that Ring of Honor fans are ecstatic to see both Bryan and Punk reaching this pinnacle.
Punk shook up the wrestling world when he delivered one of the most infamous shoot promos of all time. The storyline that followed, though, didn't seem to have the full support of the front office. Jobbing out to Triple H on pay-per-view drove his unstoppable momentum into a brick wall. Even when he won the WWE title from Alberto Del Rio, the storylines that followed were never the focal point of the product.
Bryan's recent ascension is clearly the focus of the company's creative direction. With big-money part-timer Brock Lesnar and main event draw Punk engaged in a bitter blood feud, it's Bryan's push that gets the bulk of TV time. While Punk-Lesnar has major drawing power, Cena-Bryan is the primary sell for SummerSlam, the second biggest show of the year.
Even if Bryan doesn't walk away from SummerSlam with the championship over his shoulder, he is being elevated in the process. Of anybody currently on the roster, Bryan seems most logical to be this year's Royal Rumble winner, carrying a Boyhood Dream storyline like his Hall of Fame trainer Shawn Michaels once rode to the top of the industry.
Perhaps the question of who the bigger star is will be null if we were to witness Punk and Bryan follow in the footsteps of great contemporaries like Michaels and Bret Hart, or The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Were WWE to capitalize on their natural chemistry and present momentum, Punk and Bryan could become the type of rivals who define one another.
Have Punk capture the WWE title between now and the Rumble, with Bryan winning the Rumble match. Bryan respectfully challenges Punk, explaining that it's been his lifelong dream to win the WWE title and to main event WrestleMania. Punk stabs Bryan in the back, a fitting move by his character, to keep the title for himself and destroy anyone who tries to take it from him. Their long friendship means nothing. The WWE title means everything.
Bryan and Punk have given hope to a generation of hardcore wrestling fans sick of John Cena's DayGlo shirts and cheesy grin. They are a ray of hope in this wholly mediocre era of wrestling that seems satisfied with the status quo.
We have two men who have rightful claims to the moniker of Best in the World. Here's to hoping we get to see them rise to that level in both the minds of the IWC and the WWE Universe as a whole.