Hell in a Cell WWE Championship
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton (Shawn Michaels special guest referee)
Bryan's rise to the top of the card has been nothing short of extraordinary, especially considering the power structure he's up against, both real and imagined. He's never quite been given the ball to run with, though, and this could very well represent his last real shot at that, at least for the short term.
The road to Hell in a Cell
It began back at SummerSlam when Bryan reached the pinnacle of his pro wrestling career, cleanly defeating John Cena to win the WWE championship in the main event of the third biggest pay-per-view (PPV) of the year. He hit his impressive new finisher, pinned Cena's shoulders to the mat, and did what so few have done before him.
He went over on Superman.
Before anyone could really enjoy it or get too excited about it, Orton made his presence felt by bringing out his Money in the Bank contract. After teasing a swerve, Triple H, who had refereed the Bryan-Cena match, delivered the kick-wham-Pedigree combination that paved the way for "The Viper" to strike.
Which, in this case, simply meant covering Bryan to become the new champion.
Suddenly, we were in the way back machine with Triple H assuming the role of his father-in-law, Vince McMahon, and Orton acting as his corporate champion under a regime that would laughably come to be known as "The Authority". The story would play itself out at consecutive shows giving us a Dusty Finish where Bryan won the title and was forced to give it back on a lame fast count (Night of Champions) and a non-finish where Big Show just showed up and knocked everyone out (Battleground).
Now, finally, we're here at an event that dictates having a match where the idea is that there must be a winner because the two are trapped inside a cage together. To creep some doubt in there, Shawn Michaels was inserted as special guest referee after a WWE App vote. He's promised to call it down the middle which, in fairness, is something he's mostly done throughout his career as referee.
All while wearing those uncomfortably short shorts.
Plus, Michaels has promised a winner, whether that be the one we want (Bryan) or the one we don't (Orton).
What's at stake?
Bryan's credibility as a true top level star and main event player.
Look, Bryan competing in the main event of four straight shows, winning the title at two of them (even though he lost it and/or had to give it back) is a big deal, yes. He is solidified now as a guy who can be inserted into a main event slot without making the powers that be terribly uncomfortable.
However, his status as a potential top draw who can really move the needle is shaky at best. His reputation is largely going to depend on how he's booked here and how he looks coming out of this show. Because Triple H has outright told us time and again that Bryan is a "B+" player and not worthy of working a match against, Bryan has to prove him wrong by winning the title fair and square so there can be no dispute that he's much more than that.
Otherwise, Triple H will have told the truth by default and fans, whether they realize it or not, will start to view Bryan as that guy. That can't happen if he's going to be a top star on the level of a CM Punk or John Cena.
The WWE championship is just a prop, sure, but it's a prop that can prop Bryan up the next rung on the ladder. And, really, there's only two more rungs left.
Will WWE pull the trigger and give Bryan is chance to run with the ball? Or will the old reliable Orton get another crack with the crown? Will Shawn Michaels wear proper referee attire?
Find out all this and more tonight at WWE Hell in a Cell!