For seven years, the WWE has tried to mold a Superstar to legitimately challenge John Cena for the No. 1 spot in the company.
Randy Orton came awfully close about four or five years ago. CM Punk came even closer in 2011 and 2012. Most others haven’t even had a shot.
But if there’s one current WWE star who could give the company its best shot of replacing Cena as its No. 1 guy, that man is none other than Daniel Bryan.
How times have changed, huh? Just a couple of years ago, no one in their right mind would have imagined Bryan having a remote chance of replacing Cena at the top of the WWE.
However, Bryan's incredible evolution since winning the World Heavyweight Championship at WWE TLC 2011 has now made it a very real possibility.
Forget Bryan’s size. Size doesn’t matter in the WWE anymore. The rise of guys like Punk, Dolph Ziggler and even The Miz has proven that.
Forget Bryan’s look. You don’t need the bodybuilder physique or the looks of a model to succeed in the WWE anymore. A man with an average build and an unkempt beard can rise to the top of the company.
Forget any questions you have about Bryan. He should have answered them all by now.
After all, Bryan has evolved into the most well-rounded performer in the WWE these days, and that’s precisely what gives him a better shot at replacing Cena than anyone has had recently or will have anytime soon.
Although Cena has undoubtedly been the WWE’s No. 1 guy for the better part of a decade now, his biggest weakness has been his inability to adapt. He has, for the most part, been the exact same character since around 2005.
Cena’s biggest weakness, however, is Bryan’s biggest strength.
No WWE Superstar’s character has evolved more over the last couple of years than Bryan’s. He’s played a wide variety of roles during that span, and, more importantly, he’s made each role work.
He’s been an underdog babyface. He’s been an overly arrogant heel world champion. He’s been a comedic babyface tag team performer. He’s been an angry yet likeable babyface singles star. He’s now becoming a serious babyface again.
Whatever the role, Bryan has played it to perfection, and ever since early 2012, he’s been ridiculously over in each of those roles.
He quickly became one of the most entertaining aspects of SmackDown in early 2012 when he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, became World Heavyweight champion and evolved into an arrogant heel with the title around his waste.
He then feuded with Punk over the WWE Championship in a wildly entertaining feud that ultimately led to him teaming with Kane. Team Hell No, of course, would eventually become one of the WWE’s top acts and arguably the most over act in the company in the second half of 2012.
In 2013, Bryan is back at it again. He’s far and away the most popular babyface in the company right now, generating reactions that typically dwarf the ones the likes of Cena and Sheamus receive from the crowd.
The love Bryan has received from the fans is a true testament to how well he’s performed over the last couple of years. The applause is a sign of appreciation, and that appreciation stems from two years of pure entertainment from Bryan.
Whether in the ring or on the mic, whether serious or funny, whether in the midcard or the main event picture, Bryan has made a habit of stealing the show no matter what he’s doing. As a result, he’s become the WWE’s most popular Superstar and the most must-see man in the company.
Clearly, Cena is still being pushed as “the guy,” but just because he’s being pushed that way doesn’t mean it’s true.
“The guy” has been Bryan ever since he got his first real opportunity to succeed in early 2012. Since then, he’s gotten better and better. And perhaps more importantly, he’s gotten over and more over.
No one really expects Bryan or anyone else to be a legitimate threat to Cena’s No. 1 spot in the company now or anytime soon. But nothing lasts forever, and Cena’s reign will end at some point.
Why can’t Bryan be the one to do it?
He is the true definition of a total package, and he’s over like crazy. There really isn’t much more you could ask for out of a potential replacement for Cena.
Bryan is truly the best possible option to do just that—unless the WWE doesn’t like guys who are charismatic, can wrestle and make the fans go crazy every time they enter the arena, that is.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!