Look back at CM Punk's year-plus reign as WWE champion. His feuds were rarely the most pushed issues in WWE. On pay-per-view, he only went on last if he was wrestling John Cena, or Cena wasn't on the card.
One time, at SummerSlam 2012, they did wrestle each other (in a Triple Threat match with Big Show), but Punk still didn't get to go on last as Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H closed the show. He was booked as a top guy, but he wasn't booked as anything close to the most important guy on the card.
Cena also got a lot more leeway in his matches: He was the guy who got shortcuts or special props. Punk wasn't the guy beating up John Laurinaitis for 20 minutes.
Punk didn't get to use blood, but Cena and Lesnar both bled heavily in the Extreme Rules 2012 main event. Punk didn't get any of the gimmicks Cena got to use in his subsequent title reign, such as an exploding entrance set or a gimmicked, breakaway ambulance that looked uncannily like the genuine article.
While Cena does still get a lot of focus (as well he should given how much merchandise he moves), Daniel Bryan is booked like a legitimate top babyface in ways Punk never came close to. Even before we get to Sunday night, it's been building and building: Punk as champion would lose non-title matches and take the fall in tag team matches.
I can't even think of the last time Bryan lost clean—I can only think of all of his screwy losses since the summer. With that in mind, I don't expect his win-loss record to deteriorate as champion, thankfully.
Plus, look at how the storyline evolved during the last Raw before WrestleMania: WWE usually has the wrestler who's losing stand tall on the go-home show, but Bryan ran wild, laying out and running off all three of his WrestleMania opponents to end the show.
Then came Sunday night. In the Daniel Bryan vs. Kane main event for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship:
- All sorts of plunder got used, from kendo sticks to a variety of tables to a wrench.
- They brawled backstage and onto a car.
- After incapacitating Kane with a wrench, Bryan loaded him onto a forklift, used it to dump him into the ring and then did a diving headbutt off the top of the forklift.
- The finish saw Kane put through a flaming table he set up before he scrambled into the ring to eat the flying knee for the pin. Yes, really.
- The match was the longest on the show, going close to 23 minutes and starting with more than enough time left on the show.
Backstage brawling. The babyface driving some kind of wacky motor vehicle. Weapons. The babyface doing a memorable big dive. The return of fire to WWE after many years.
WWE doesn't use these tricks for most wrestlers. It doesn't even use those tricks for most stars in the main event. WWE loading up that match so much says a lot about how far it's running with Bryan, and it's pretty cool to see.
This all ties in to what I wrote in my preview for this match: Bryan needs to be seen as a legitimate tough guy, not a tiny underdog who lucks into winning his matches. He got a very legitimate win over Kane where he took a lot of the match by outsmarting and outwrestling Kane.
Whenever Kane cut Bryan off, it wasn't long before Bryan found an opening and regained control. Obviously, he can't do that all the time—a brawl under "Extreme Rules" is structured differently from a regular title match—but he looks like a worthy champion who is nearly unbeatable in a fair fight.
Big difference from the guy with the "goat face," eh?