Creativity and patience are the keys to tackling the WWE World Heavyweight Championship situation at WWE Payback 2014 and beyond.
It's expected that the company will strip Daniel Bryan of the title, leaving a major hole at the top of the main event scene. The two best options on handling that void include planting seeds WWE can sow later on while entertaining in the present.
It looked as if Bryan would face Kane in a rematch from Extreme Rules, when the champ told fans that he was set to undergo neck surgery. Suddenly, not only was the Payback clash in jeopardy, but the future of Bryan's career was not guaranteed.
Regardless of how minor the procedure was, the words "neck" and "surgery" combined aren't ever to be taken lightly.
WWE can't rush Bryan back, and so the honor and burden of the world championship is probably going to go elsewhere. If he can safely return to wrestling in two months, that's one thing, but, if WWE isn't sure that he'll be ready for SummerSlam, his third WWE title reign is going to end momentarily. While Bryan rehabs, the biggest question on fans' minds is what WWE will do with his gold.
One option is simply to delay the decision, allowing the Payback's current narratives to be the stars of the show.
To cram crowning a new champion and finding a suitable challenger in less than two weeks is ill-advised. Why rush into something inferior when the pay-per-view is already stocked with two marquee matches?
Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena's Last Man Standing bout and the second round of Evolution vs. The Shield are plenty appealing on their own.
There is just one Raw and two SmackDowns left before Payback. Focus on the rivalries already in motion during those shows. They can remain the two headline bouts while WWE puts a pin in deciding a new champ.
This route avoids hurrying a story along and risking making the path to the world title come off as some thrown-together angle.
It also allows for talents like Wyatt, Cesaro, Big E, Rusev and Bad News Barrett to all get more of the spotlight. With one less match on the card, all the midcard battles can go on a tad longer. The build to those clashes can get some added attention as well without a world title bout to promote.
Too often the Intercontinental Championship or Tag Team Championship matches aren't given enough hype. The lack of a world title match to promote allows WWE to change that pattern, giving other stars their due.
Crown a No. 1 Contender
Another choice is to create a match to decide who gets the first crack at the new champion.
This forward-thinking approach would allow more of the roster to compete at the upcoming show, benefited by a match with high stakes that sets up a future title match. Pit the top stars not yet on the card against each other in a Fatal 4-Way elimination match to determine who faces the champ next.
This is a place to put both Sheamus and Cesaro, their animosity elevating this showdown.
Money in the Bank can then feature two ladder matches. One determines the new world champ and one determines the next Mr. Money in the Bank.
The winner of the Payback No. 1 contender match is promised a title match on the Raw after Money in the Bank.
The delay in the championship match allows WWE some time to build them up as a bigger threat and give them some promo time in the weeks between pay-per-views. Having the championship match on Raw will boost ratings that Monday, but will also add intrigue to Payback.
The scramble to get into each ladder match could power all the Raw and SmackDown in June. Hunger for a career-changing opportunity can create new rivalries, show that emerging talent is nearing world-title status and provide a number of matches that mean plenty.
As with the first option, it doesn't name a champion right away. That's a strategy that requires WWE to look big-picture rather than have someone like Big Show be a more instant replacement.
The slow route benefits Money in the Bank, Raw and a number of stars' careers, not just Payback itself.