After seeming unbeatable in the first several months of his WWE and NXT tenure, Kevin Owens is suddenly vulnerable.
Following a loss to John Cena at WWE Money in the Bank, Owens took his first pinfall loss on NXT to Finn Balor before dropping the NXT Championship to him in Japan.
During Owens' initial unbeaten streak, each win became more valuable than the other as he continued to develop a persona as somebody who does exactly what he says. Not only did he beat his foes, but he was credited with their storyline absences.
Now that Owens is beginning to cool down and assimilate to the main roster on a full-time basis, he needs a win over Cena at WWE Battleground on July 19 to remain a novel part of the WWE. If he loses, he risks coming off as just another young gun who challenged Cena and lost.
WWE's formula for Cena in recent years is as a gatekeeper who stands toe-to-toe with WWE's brightest young stars. This usually includes a series of matches where Cena ultimately prevails in the long run.
If Owens takes another loss to Cena this early in his WWE career, he will be in danger of seeming like a blowhard, and his "monumental" win over Cena will come off as a fluke. The brilliance of Owens as a heel is that he constantly makes bold predictions only to cash in on these promises.
Owens vowed to put Sami Zayn out of commission in their last NXT Championship match and succeeded. Should Owens begin losing in WWE after continuing to make bold predictions, his otherwise sharp promos will lose meaning.
Cena has carried the United States Championship as far as he can. Though his open challenges are entertaining, he is beginning to run out of opponents as his title defenses are less frequent. He has defended the title in each of the last two weeks, but both title defenses came against Cesaro.
With Cesaro now established as a credible contender for the United States Championship, an actual division is finally beginning to develop.
People care about the United States Championship right now only because Cena is the champion. But if WWE wants to add any value to the title past his reign, fans need to believe that the next champion earned the title and can defend it against a hungry pool of contenders.
Owens already holds a clean victory over Cena. If he defeated Cena again, there would be no question that Owens is a deserving champion.
Instead of weekly challenge matches, WWE could slow down and tell a story of Owens fighting an entire division of talented WWE Superstars who are vying for the United States Championship.
Only that will take WWE's midcard title from a Cena pet project to a valuable title.
Alfred Konuwa is a featured columnist and on-air host for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @ThisIsNasty and subscribe to his weekly wrestling podcast.