2013 was without a doubt the year of Daniel Bryan. He was hardly a few years into his run with WWE, but he had accomplished far more than many people had expected in his stint with the company. For those who followed him in his independent wrestling career and run with ROH, they knew that he was one of the very best in-ring technicians on the planet. Even then, there was a lot of skepticism over how WWE would treat him.
He still fell into the “small indie guy” category and this was years before WWE really started filling the roster with some of the previously top independent superstars. However, the cream always rises to the top and Daniel Bryan was exactly that. Even within two and a half years with the company, he had already won the World Heavyweight Championship, though he disgracefully lost it in 18-seconds at WrestleMania 28.
Even still, nobody would have ever expected that the 18-second loss would trigger one of the greatest rises to the top in modern WWE history. That loss made fans get behind Bryan even more and he gained an incredible amount of momentum in 2012, thanks in part to his unexpectedly entertaining partnership with Kane as a part of “Team Hell No”.
His tag team success was a highlight of his WWE run, but there was inevitably going to be a period where he branched out as a singles star again and that period happened to be in 2013. This was when he began to gain an incredible amount of momentum, constantly getting the loudest reactions. Week after week, those reactions kept increasing and WWE realized that he had some incredible momentum in his hands. But was he the World Champion they were looking for? The answer is no. But he did become the World Champion they simply couldn’t deny, and that happened thanks to the events of SummerSlam 2013 and everything that followed it.
Bryan’s incredible momentum in the summer of 2013 saw then-WWE Champion John Cena handpick him as his SummerSlam opponent and the stage was set for a huge main event in SummerSlam 2013. Another marquee attraction on the same card was CM Punk vs Brock Lesnar, which many argue was Lesnar’s best match since his return in 2012.
Cena and Bryan were two big babyfaces, with Bryan obviously being the vocal majority’s favorite. They didn’t get into any major attacks prior to the match, but there was a war of words and there weren’t any handshakes before the bell rang. On the night of SummerSlam 2013, Daniel Bryan felt like he had the whole world behind him as the “Yes! Movement” took over.
Although Cena has gained a lot of appreciation over the last few years, with his in-ring technicality and skill being acknowledged too, it was one of his biggest strengths that the larger audience would constantly deny. His ability to deliver in a big-match situation didn’t just apply to his character but the man himself.
With that said, it takes two to tango and Bryan and Cena had great chemistry together. It translated well in the ring, so much so that people instantly recognized it as one of the greatest SummerSlam main events ever. The culmination of the match saw Bryan pin Cena clean as a whistle with the running knees, winning his second-ever World title in WWE and his first-ever WWE Championship.
Triple H was the special guest referee and he hit the 3-count, after which Bryan was given his due congratulations by Cena, who also gave him a word of advice. The confetti rained down and it seemed like the perfect ending, except it wasn’t. Triple H turned on Bryan and allowed Randy Orton to cash in the MITB briefcase, taking away Bryan’s moment within minutes.
This led to the creation of the Authority, one that only drove Bryan’s popularity upwards. Though WWE didn’t have plans for him to win his World title at WrestleMania, his popularity forced him to change their plans, while CM Punk’s unexpected departure in 2014 definitely played a part too (as Punk was scheduled to face Triple H at WrestleMania).
Ultimately, WWE played this out as perfectly as they could. Now that we know that it culminated in one of the greatest moments in WWE history, it looks good as it was a long-drawn-out and well-played storyline that had the right ending. Perhaps WrestleMania XXX should have been the end of the Authority, but they dragged it out and it concluded only in 2016 when Roman Reigns defeated Triple H at WrestleMania 32.