When John Cena reclaims his WWE throne, the company's top stars are going to have sit elsewhere.
Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk will all be affected in various ways by Cena's return from injury. For some, that means a decline in the share of the spotlight. For others, it means a healthier share of it.
Cena's popularity and star power has his comeback causing waves, not ripples. The man most affected by Cena being back in action will be Bryan, who never truly got to wear the WWE crown.
The Goat Takes a Step Back
With Cena gone, Bryan has taken his spot on top with the caveat that he's been joined by a host of other characters as well. His is not just the story of Bryan against Orton or Bryan against the system, but a narrative featuring an ensemble cast that has included Shawn Michaels, Big Show, The Shield and the McMahons.
Even if Bryan's role was not truly one of a leading man, it will be favorable to what slice of the limelight he will end up with now that Cena is back in the picture.
For years now, Cena has been WWE's clear top star. He has held the WWE Championship 11 times in 10 years. Even when someone else wore the WWE title, he was headlining pay-per-views (Over the Limit in 2012).
Cena's immediate jump back into the world title picture is proof that WWE isn't going to have him slide down the ladder at all.
His return makes the top of the card crowded and there isn't room for both Cena and Bryan to be WWE's alpha males. Expect Bryan to drop a few rungs.
Bryan won't be pulling a Wade Barrett and disappearing from TV altogether, but Cena is too marketable and too popular to not wrestle back his position. Bryan's spot will look a lot more like it did when he was battling Punk for the WWE title last summer—secondary main eventer.
If Bryan wins the gold at Hell in a Cell, how long until Cena wins it back? If Bryan loses, it doesn't seem likely that the story of his championship chase will still take precedent.
Cena's narrative will push it aside. Ask Punk, whose historic WWE title reign succumbed to Cena's feud with John Laurinaitis in terms of percentage of the spotlight.
The Spotlight Goes to the Rival
While Bryan's rise will stutter with Cena coming back, whoever WWE chooses as Cena's next rival will get a momentum boost.
The sure-fire method to gaining WWE promise, the temporary form at least, is to be Cena's chief enemy. Dolph Ziggler earned a main event match at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs in 2012 thanks to his animosity with the Cenation leader.
Barrett, Big Show, Laurinaitis and Ryback have all had similar stories in recent years.
Should Alberto Del Rio continue their battle after Hell in a Cell, Del Rio will slide upward on the WWE hierarchy. Don't expect any of his world title bouts to open a pay-per-view like he did at Battleground if Cena is the man facing him.
Cena is never far from the top of the card and he has to take someone with him up there.
That could mean Orton becomes an even more prominent heel if Orton and Cena go to war again or else Damien Sandow could go from afterthought to the main event if he cashes in on Cena at Hell in a Cell. Someone has to oppose Cena and that someone will be the beneficiary of Cena's position.
Had Punk and Cena not collided so often in the last two years, it could be "The Second-City Saint" who could play Cena's foil.
It appears, though, that Punk doesn't need championships nor Cena to stay relevant.
The Best in the World in His Own World
Punk has bypassed the WWE's biggest current storyline and without pursuing a title, has remained a marquee Superstar.
"The Authority" has spread its tyranny to stars ranging from Miz to Ziggler, yet Punk has not been affected by that narrative. He's residing in his own separate world in a way.
His long feud with Paul Heyman has earned him a prominent match at SummerSlam, Night of Champions and now Hell in a Cell. It seems likely that even when this rivalry ends that Punk stays where he is now. There's no need to place him in a "face of the franchise"-type role; he's thriving on an independent tract.
Cena's return will shuffle around the folks in hunt for WWE's two major titles, but Punk can find a new enemy and begin a new tale.
In a way, Punk is mirroring Jake Roberts, who had involved and sometimes lengthy feuds with men like Randy Savage, Rick Rude and Andre the Giant without the need for championships or main event spots. One of the Superstars who drops out of the world title scene, be it Del Rio or Bryan, have a great shot of ending up as the next recipient of Punk's wrath.
Eventually though, WWE will want to revisit Punk and Cena's off-and-on rivalry. Their chemistry is too electric not to.
Cena's arrival in that respect is like Superman returning, giving Lex Luthor his archenemy back. Beyond that, Superman re-emerging in Metropolis affects both the heroes trying to do his work while he was gone and the villains who had to direct their wickedness elsewhere in his absence.