WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view
Daniel Bryan def. WWE Champion John Cena; Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Bryan to become WWE Champion
In LOS ANGELES.... Yes, Daniel Bryan finally did it. The bearded brawler who honed his craft in in the halls of armories and high school gymnasiums, grappling for fifty dollars before crowds of tens, finally battled his way through the highest competition his chosen field has to offer, ascended the McMahon-guarded mountaintop and dethroned the ball-capped Goliath who guarded its peak to become the WWE Champion at SummerSlam.
And if not for the sting of a Viper’s bite and the treachery of a king (of kings), he still would be.
Although Bryan did indeed defy the odds (and The Chairman) by defeating John Cena for the ultimate championship at WWE’s summer classic, the submission master’s stint at the top was a blink-and-you’ll-miss it affair, all thanks to a shocking collusion between Randy Orton and special guest referee Triple H that saw The Viper’s Money in the Bank contracted traded for Bryan’s freshly-procured WWE Championship.
Despite Bryan’s touting of his match with Cena as a battle between a wrestler and an entertainer, The Champ seemed much more in tune with his inner grappler than the former Tag Team Champion gave him credit for in previous weeks. The match began firmly in Bryan’s wheelhouse as The Beard traded catch-as-catch-can holds with The Champ in the contest’s early minutes. Cena's uncharacteristically flashy attempts to appropriate Bryan’s style proved ill advised and quickly landed him on the wrong end of a “Yes!” Lock.
The Champ wisely moved the action back into his own comfort zone, settling into a happy medium between power and technique by executing a textbook suplex that lifted his challenger off the steel steps and harshly deposited him onto the floor of the STAPLES Center. Bryan quickly recovered and flattened The Champ with a revved-up clothesline that turned Cena into a hulking splat on the canvas. The Cenation leader responded by launching into his infamous “Five Moves of Doom”. Yet, true to his word, Bryan was prepared for everything Cena had in store for him. The submission expert countered the Attitude Adjustment by landing in catlike fashion on his feet and ascending the ropes for a vicious missile dropkick that left The Champ down again.
Cena caught his first major break of the match when he trapped Bryan in the STF, but the challenger reversed the maneuver into an STF of his own. The mighty titleholder’s strength saved him from a defeat by his own hold, yet Bryan showed no quarter and instantly transitioned into a pair of belly-to-back suplexes that sent The Champ thudding to the mat like an anvil. Bryan continued to stay one step ahead of Cena, but The Champ met his challenger's relentlessness with brute force to match his famous heart. When Bryan attempted a top-rope superplex, Cena twice swatted him down, and twice Bryan returned to try again. The third time, Bryan switched up his attack and nailed The Champ with a dropkick that finally weakened Cena enough for the No. 1 contender to execute the superplex.
In one of the most memorable moments from a match full of them, Bryan hung upside down from the turnbuckle and hulked up before the WWE Universe’s eyes, building his rage to a fever pitch and taking to the skies with a flying headbutt. Cena quickly rolled for cover outside the ring, and this time it was his turn to cut Bryan off with a shoulder to the submission expert’s face mid-suicide dive. With Bryan dazed into a stupor, The Champ climbed the turnbuckle and finally hit home, planting Bryan with the same top rope leg drop that nearly decapitated The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII. Even that, however, only earned him a two-count, and Daniel Bryan's dream remained alive.
With his reserves of strength finally running dry, The Champ resorted to an outlandish series of improvisations as he attempted to put Bryan away for good. He came closest with an STF that he modified by rolling onto his side, but the No. 1 contender sprang back to life and escaped, plying Cena with a “Yes!” Lock that aggravated Cena’s elbow to the point referee Triple H momentarily stopped the action.
Bryan, however, showed less mercy than the rulebook and pounded Cena with a pair of running dropkicks that left The Champ staggering. Yet as Bryan reared for the finishing blow, Cena charged from the corner and clotheslined Bryan, catapaulting the No. 1 contender into a full-flip. Having thrown move after move at each other, the two combatants staggered up and went brutally back to the basics. In a vicious twist on the Japanese custom Bryan referenced six days earlier, laced into each other with open-palm slaps that certainly did their job and brought out the best of each man in the match’s waning moments.
What followed was the stuff legends are made of, as Cena snatched the No. 1 contender out of the sky during a flying headbutt and, proclaiming the contest “over,” went for another AA that Bryan rolled into an old-school cradle for a two-count before striking with a kick to Cena’s head. With "YES!" chants showering him from the STAPLES Center, Bryan sealed The Champ's fate with a hard-to-watch running knee smash to the face for the historic 1-2-3. As confetti rained upon the newly-minted champion, it seemed for a moment that Cena would deck Bryan out of frustration. He instead offered his challenger words of wisdom that only Bryan could hear before clasping his hand in a show of respect. Acknowledging The Game’s fulfilled promise to call the match down the middle, Cena shook Triple H’s hand as well.
In hindsight, this might have been premature.
With Bryan’s title reign in its infancy, Randy Orton quickly emerged from the locker room and slithered through the falling confetti with his Money in the Bank contract in hand. The new champion, however, was ready and more than willing to tangle with The Viper, daring Orton to attempt his promised cash-in. Ever the tactician, The Viper seemed to want no part of an able-bodied WWE Champion ... but he was more than happy to face one who had just been Pedigreed.
Moments after Bryan had repelled The Viper, The Game shocked the WWE Universe and their new champion by cutting down Bryan with a Pedigree. With a smile, The Game beckoned Orton to the ring and happily accepted his Money in the Bank contract, counting the pinfall and handing Orton his first WWE Title in three years without a single drop of sweat spilled.
And so ended Daniel Bryan’s reign as WWE Champion, with the people’s chosen hero splayed across the mat and a pair of men entrusted to do the right thing celebrating over his body. What this means for the future of Orton, Triple H and the WWE Title is anyone’s guess, but this much is clear: Having come this close to reaching the peak, Daniel Bryan will find his retribution in the long run. As this match showed, he doesn’t take defeat lying down. Though, at The Biggest Party of the Summer, it seemed he was left with no other choice than to take “No” for an answer.