Everyone remembers their first.
In professional wrestling, firsts are historical. A competitor's first match, first win, first WrestleMania, first championship, first title defense and first pay-per-view appearance all make up a major portions of a competitor's resume. They are landmark moments in the career of every Superstar.
For Daniel Bryan, his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship defense against Kane at this Sunday's Extreme Rules will be so much more than a landmark moment. It will set the tone for his title reign in a major way and could potentially determine what kind of champion the Aberdeen, Washington, native will be in the grand scheme of things.
A great Extreme Rules match against Kane on Sunday night would reward the faith WWE management had in Bryan as it booked WrestleMania 30 around him. It would be a major step in proving that it made the correct decision and is willing to run with him as its champion for the foreseeable future.
A mediocre match, however, could create doubts within management.
To say that Bryan's title reign is off to a bumpy star would be an understatement. His honeymoon, though much deserved, was ill-timed, and the unfortunate and unpredictable passing of his father only further necessitated an absence from television. Neither of those two life events should be held against Bryan, but they are responsible for a noticeable loss of momentum.
The end of WrestleMania saw 75,000-plus fans chanting "YES!" and celebrating along with the new champion. There was no Superstar coming out of that show hotter than Bryan, and now, he finds himself in a program with Kane that is, arguably, the third-most important on the show. In his absence, Bryan has watched as the John Cena-Bray Wyatt and Shield-Evolution programs have eclipsed his in terms of fan reaction and overall importance.
Kane's beatdown of the champion did a great job at getting heat on Kane. It also interjected Stephanie McMahon into the fray, perhaps setting up her showdown of sorts with Brie Bella. However, there is still a decided lack of anticipation or excitement surrounding the impending match.
Monday night, the company will have the opportunity to make up for that, but the success of the bout will rest with Bryan come Sunday night. He is the champion, he is the most popular star in all of wrestling, and he is the man who WWE took a risk on, thanks to the undying support of the fans.
When he steps foot into the ring Sunday night for his title defense against Kane, it will be up to him to back up the support he has received from management with a stellar performance that reminds the world why he is the very best in the business today.
Anything less than a great match, and Bryan's storybook rise that culminated at WrestleMania could end much quicker than anyone could have imagined—especially with the return of Evolution, the ascension of The Shield and the tremendous work of the Wyatt Family catching the attention of management and fans alike.