CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Two indie guys, two unorthodox characters, two people who WWE didn’t believe in, two men who had to fight for their spots in the top more than most main eventers do, two legitimate wrestling fans turned best-in-class wrestlers, two students of the game, two “internet darlings.” Both men were initially long shots for WWE success because they didn’t have the prototypical size—even though they wrestled circles around those who did. Both were discussed during the first half of the 2000s among WWE execs as good enough for the Indies but probably not good enough for WWE stardom—despite the fact that at the time, Kurt Angle was showing the world that smaller, technically trained wrestlers could be huge WWE stars. Then when finally added to the WWE roster, both overcame potentially career-stalling decisions of an 18-second match at Wrestlemania and being appointed as the leader of watered-down version of a new group with minimal direction and absolutely no momentum—proving true talent will shine through, whether it’s in front of 48 people or 48,000. These two have currently become WWE’s two top faces, in a twist of fate that’s incredibly appropriate.
They’re the two best workers and wrestlers that the WWE has, Antonio Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler and Christian notwithstanding. Both men are on similar trajectories both short-term and long-term. Punk and Bryan both had defiant, triumphant moments on this Monday’s past Raw. Both are entrenched in deep programs that draw in the audience and compel you to cheer for these two whether it’s because of an edgy, improvised promo on a poor audience member (fueled by bellicose disposition) or because you love to chant Yes in unison with 17,000 other people at a live event. Because of those deep programs, both will probably be screwed over this Sunday in their respective matches. It’s the most obvious way of extending these feuds and keeping audience interest high. Randy’s not dropping the WWE title for another few months, and the Punk-Heyman feud may last until Survivor Series at earliest end. Still, for hardcore fans, it’s fulfilling to see these two as the top faces of the moment.
The man called “too small” has garnered massive, unanimous reactions from the crowd, while the guy who was called “skinny fat” (on television, no less) has created electric, white hot segments and matches. The two men who were both called “internet darlings” are shining now as the crown jewels of the WWE, lighting arenas on fire not just with high-caliber matches but with sharp words and dynamic characters. And while there was a moment at the end of 2011, when Bryan and Punk both held the top two titles in the business, the two biggest storylines in the company did not revolve around both of them as they do now. The tide of overwhelming public opinion is shifting towards both Punk and Bryan. With that, these two will make their NOC matches and the outcomes watchable and deeply interesting. If they continue the work that they’re producing now, we can only hope that going forward this trend that we’ll see at Night of Champions –where they’re in the most interesting and important storylines in the company—becomes sustained reality.