The present and the future will work in concert to replace Daniel Bryan on the WWE marquee while he recovers from neck surgery.
Rather than just elevate a star or two to Bryan's spot, expect the sports-entertainment giant to spread the focus of the spotlight. As WWE has done en route to Payback, the best options include offering a variety of headliners at the top of the card.
There's no real equivalent to the electric connection Bryan has made with fans.
WWE could just sit John Cena back in his throne as the company's top guy. As safe as that would be, it would feel like a step backward. Fans were ready to see how Bryan would fare as world champ, but a neck injury is forcing them to wait.
The fact that WWE didn't immediately take the belt from Bryan, instead delaying that expected outcome, is a sign that officials truly recognize his importance.
While some fans would love to see this situation as an opportunity for Roman Reigns, Big E and Bray Wyatt to take full possession of the main event scene, there's still work to be done in building those men into top-tier stars. Having them ascend the ladder alongside established veterans is the smart route.
Roman Reigns vs. Triple H
The Shield has been WWE's go-to option even before Bryan's injury.
The trio's feud with Evolution has since become even more of a headlining act with him gone. It's the match featured on the cover of Payback's match preview section, and their brawls have been front and center on each week's Raw.
That will continue in a way after the two groups are done fighting.
Expect the story to zero in on Reigns and Triple H. The Game remains one of the biggest stars in the industry, and feuding with and gaining victories over him is a surefire way to push a Superstar up a few rungs.
That's reportedly WWE's plan.
According to PWInsider, via Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc, "The main goal of WWE doing a feud between The Shield and Evolution is to push Roman Reigns as a top player and to get him into a singles match against Triple H." The COO helped Bryan get to his current lofty position when the two met at WrestleMania. Having Reigns seek his own victories against Triple H puts him in the spotlight like few rivalries can.
Pairing a proven commodity like Triple H with an emerging talent is smart and similar to the route WWE will take with Big E.
Big E vs. John Cena
When Cena is done tangling with the monstrous Bray Wyatt, there's a powerhouse-versus-powerhouse match on the horizon for him.
WWE is clearly a big fan of Big E. He held the Intercontinental Championship from November to May, a stretch that saw the company put added focus on the title. While the United States title atrophied around Dean Ambrose's waist, Big E was defending on pay-per-views against Jack Swagger, Damien Sandow and Curtis Axel.
PWInsider's latest look at 2014 win-loss records shows WWE's great confidence in the former powerlifter. Big E's winning percentage (.658) is better than Sheamus' (.632) and Cena's (.647).
While he's not ready to carry a high-profile program, pairing Big E with Cena will elevate him like it has done for Wyatt.
Besides, Cena is pulling for that to happen. According to F4WOnline, via Mike Killam of Wrestle Zone, "Cena would like to work a program with Big E at some point this year."
Expect a Big E-Cena feud to occupy a similar spot on the card to Wyatt vs. Cena. Even without a championship involved, Cena's star power makes this a marquee matchup. It'd be no surprise, then, should their collisions cap off episodes of Raw and SmackDown as well as serve as prominent bouts at pay-per-views.
Wyatt vs. The World
It's hard to find bigger prey than Cena, but Wyatt will eventually have to gnash his teeth at other men.
Beginning with his collision with Cena at WrestleMania, Wyatt has become a semi-headliner without pursuing a championship. His storyline opposite WWE's golden boy has been one of the most prominent elements of Raw and SmackDown for months.
Expect him to keep his high-profile spot even after moving on from Cena.
A battle with Sheamus is a strong possibility. The Irishman's physical style pairs well with Wyatt's, and the two have already shown they can put on a standout match together.
There's a chance, too, that WWE sends him after Randy Orton. It would require one of those men to depart from their current villainous roles, but that's certainly not inconceivable. Wyatt's charm has led to fans singing along with him and supporting him despite him being a heel.
Just as The Shield did, WWE could have him leave the dark side.
Being able to beat The Viper, Cena, Sheamus, Big Show and Bryan in the same year would give him an aura of being unstoppable. During his pursuit of WWE's top stars, be it Orton, Sheamus or someone else, Wyatt's stellar mic work will make it easy to make him a main event star.
"The Man of 1,000 Truths" has been a force on the mic in his feud with Cena.
He is among the next wave of top WWE stars stepping onto a crowded center stage. As Bryan rehabs, the old guard is going to have Wyatt, Big E and Reigns charging at it.