Only one outcome is best for business at WWE’s SummerSlam. Daniel Bryan needs to win the WWE title.
If we are lucky Bryan will smash champion John Cena in about two minutes, the way Hulk Hogan blasted The Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden in 1985. Maybe Bryan can come to the ring with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” playing, to stir up some 1980s memories for all the dads inside Los Angeles’ Staples Center.
Bryan, as the sport’s top star, can work if the WWE will just let it happen. Then again, Bryan could have a Lex Luger moment. We saw what that did for Luger’s career.
Twenty years ago, Luger was the hottest thing going in the WWE. One day he was the lame “Narcissist”, ripped straight out of one of Pat Patterson‘s dreams; the next he was an American hero, slamming Yokozuna on the deck of the USS Intrepid.
Yokozuna was the evil Japanese sumo wrestler who won the title from Hogan thanks to a disguised ringside “photographer”, whose camera exploded in Hogan’s face. Hogan was actually off to WCW to take part in ticker-tape parades at Walt Disney World. In Luger, the WWE saw a new muscle head to carry the brand.
Everybody believed Luger was going to win WWE gold at the 1993 SummerSlam. He should have, but he didn’t. Luger ended up winning the match by countout, which in the wrestling world, is worse than kissing your sister because you can’t win the title on a countout.
The WWE dropped red, white and blue balloons and streamers from the rafters as though he did win the title. Luger’s fellow wrestlers lifted him up in the air and Luger acted like he just won the title, except for the fact that the WWE writers were already scripting Yokuzuna and his belt for his next feud with The Undertaker.
The rumor at the time was that Luger was bragging in the weeks leading up to his match with Yokozuna and McMahon changed his mind and decided to keep the title on the champion.
Yokozuna was not a draw, so there was no reason to keep the title on him.
Whatever the reason, McMahon did not do what was best for business. The WWE languished for the next several years behind WCW. It wasn’t until Stone Cold Steve Austin’s classic King of the Ring interview in 1996 that the WWE started to regain and surpass the popularity it had in the Hogan days.
McMahon probably feels like he made the right call on Luger in 1993 because 1996 would never have happened if the business wasn’t in the toilet. But he shouldn’t roll the dice again.
Bryan is no Luger and the fans are screaming loud and clear that they want Bryan to win. Luger never recovered from his failed push. He ended up leaving the WWE and going back to WCW, where he floundered and now he is most remembered for being the guy in the room when The Lovely Elizabeth died.
Even though the time is right for Bryan, knowing McMahon’s booking style, it’s possible that at the end of SummerSlam, 20,000 people inside the Staples Center will be chanting “Yes!”, while Cena stands atop the ramp staring at the ring, with his championship belt around his waist.