There is far more at stake for the WWE Superstars at SummerSlam 2013 than victory.
What happens on August 18 will shape the stories of future pay-per-view events, and for some rising stars, SummerSlam can change the trajectory of their careers. Championships can change hands this coming Sunday, but for men like Daniel Bryan and Damien Sandow, this event means even more than that.
As WWE heads into the last third of its pay-per-view schedule, it will do so without Sheamus, who is recovering from a torn labrum, and potentially without John Cena, who is reportedly scheduled for elbow surgery, per Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (via Geno Mrosko of CagesideSeats.com).
That spells opportunity for Bryan, Sandow and others when Night of Champions, Battleground, Hell in a Cell and Survivor Series roll around.
The narrative the match between CM Punk and Brock Lesnar takes will have an effect on an event that's not until next April.
How the Beast Bows Out
SummerSlam may be the last we see of Lesnar until WrestleMania XXX.
As reported by F4WOnline.com, via Chris Cash of WrestleZone.com, "Lesnar's latest contract is said to include three matches a year." Having faced Triple H twice this year, that likely makes the showdown with Punk his last match of 2013.
With that in mind, there is a lot at stake at SummerSlam between them.
Will Lesnar go into WrestleMania having destroyed CM Punk in his last match, or will he have last been embarrassed by the Best in the World? If Lesnar is going to challenge Undertaker next year or face someone like The Rock, it makes the most sense for him to win on Sunday.
Losing to Punk and then not being seen for several months is not the best method of creating momentum for a monster.
If Punk and Lesnar put on a classic at SummerSlam, perhaps the company considers a rematch between those two at WrestleMania and changes its plans accordingly.
Rhodes Scholar's Rising
Cody Rhodes and Sandow face off in a potential show-stealing match.
The story of their friendship falling apart over the Money in the Bank briefcase has been a fun one to follow, highlighted by a dip in the Gulf of Mexico. Like Dolph Ziggler before him, Sandow holds a contract for the world title in his hands and may have a long road ahead of him proving to WWE that he is ready to be champ.
A stellar performance opposite Rhodes will speed up his cash-in time table.
If the majority of fans are talking about Sandow and Rhodes' match after SummerSlam as much as the more marquee matchups, we could see Sandow make use of his briefcase as soon as Night of Champions. This is especially true if a fan favorite like Christian is holding the title.
Rhodes has plenty at stake here as well.
If this match feels as main event quality as their feud has, WWE would be inclined to shoot Rhodes up the rankings. Alberto Del Rio's next challenger could very well be the man with the "lovestache."
Baptism in Fire
Hype of sizable proportions welcomed Bray Wyatt onto the main roster.
He has since overseen some maulings by his "family" members and chilled fans with his creepy rants, but SummerSlam is his biggest test to date. A flop inside the flames against Kane will have WWE think twice about pushing Wyatt going forward.
Should Wyatt excel against Kane, regardless of the outcome, WWE fans should expect to see plenty more of the self-proclaimed world-eater. If his and Kane's feud gains enough inertia, we could see them battle at Hell in a Cell in the gimmick match where Kane debuted.
The Shield's first pay-per-view bout was so successful and so engrossing that it earned them high-profile matches at Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania. The same opportunity awaits Wyatt.
Fantastic work on Sunday will mean a plethora of Wyatt appearances in subsequent events.
Face of the Franchise
WWE has a chance Sunday to take advantage of the charging train that is Daniel Bryan's momentum.
If Cena is forced to miss a significant chunk of time, SummerSlam could become the beginning of a Bryan-heavy period. Bryan, as WWE champ coming out of the event, lets the company see if it has a potential new face of the franchise at its disposal.
Night of Champions and Battleground then become auditions.
Should Bryan's popularity not taper off, and should he bring in good numbers for those pay-per-views, WWE will have confidence in tagging him as "the guy." That changes the landscape that Cena returns to, adding a megastar to the mix.
When Cena comes back, a top-notch rematch between him and Bryan then becomes an option. Perhaps Survivor Series gets a boost from that battle or Hell in a Cell has these two facing off in a reprise of their SummerSlam drama.
The men who excel the most at SummerSlam could very well be the names we see on the marquee for future WrestleManias.
For Bryan, Wyatt, Rhodes and Sandow, SummerSlam is a brass ring swinging above their heads. Fans can expect to be thrilled seeing all those guys try to grab it.