The biggest night of Baron Corbin‘s career is approaching on Aug. 20 at SummerSlam from the Barclays Center. At the bare minimum, he steps into the ring with the WWE’s franchise player in John Cena for what is his biggest one-on-one challenge to date. He walks into the show a member of a crowded SmackDown Live main event scene, but by the end of the night, Corbin could be walking away as the new face of the blue brand.
Corbin has the potential to not only defeat Cena at SummerSlam, but he can also walk out the WWE Champion if he chooses to cash in his Money in the Bank contract, giving him pinfall victories over both Cena and the winner of the WWE Title match in the same night.
Corbin and Cena always seemed destined for a big collision. They had largely avoided one another due in part to Cena’s post-WrestleMania absence, but even in his new free-agent capacity, the two men could not avoid one another any longer. It’s the young, brash upstart in Corbin against the ingrained institution of Hustle, Loyalty and Respect in Cena. They will lock horns at SummerSlam, even if the build-up for their match is not where it could have been if given more time.
The lack of build-up makes you wonder: Is this all Corbin has in store at SummerSlam? On the surface, he may not look ready to carry SmackDown Live as the WWE Champion, but then again, Jinder Mahal has held the WWE Title since May with no prior indications that was a good idea. Should creative choose to go the route of having Shinsuke Nakamura defeat Mahal, just to be cashed in on by Corbin, they have their rivalry that can carry them through the fall, which could go as far as the Hell in a Cell PPV in October.
Whether or not Corbin defeats Cena is really inconsequential when looking at the night as a whole. It may seem like reverse logic, but granting Cena a victory would be a way to throw the hounds off the scent. Corbin can lose to Cena earlier in the night, just to come back later and cash in his contract.
When Corbin won Money in the Bank in June, it appeared he would be in line for one of the longer instances of holding the briefcase in some time, due in large part to the development he still needed to undergo before he became a true main event player. His path appeared to be reminiscent of another Money in the Bank contract holder: Edge.
The Rated R Superstar waited all the way until January to cash in his shot (after having won in April 2005) back in 2006, surprising none other than Cena after he retained his WWE Title in an Elimination Chamber match. Earlier in the night, Edge challenged Ric Flair in the opening match for the Intercontinental Title, a match which Flair won by disqualification. It appeared the night was over for Edge, until he marched down to the ring at the end of the show and became the new WWE champion.
Edge earned the moniker “The Ultimate Opportunist” for his coy tactics that began that night. You can draw parallels to Corbin, who made the most of his opportunities on his way to the contract, taking out Nakamura before the match began in June. In typical Money in the Bank cash-in fashion, he’ll also be taking advantage of an opportunity when he chooses it’s time for his title shot, praying on a wounded champion.
As WWE programming loves to remind you, a Money in the Bank cash-in is nearly a guaranteed title change. If the company had enough faith to put the contract on Corbin, it likely has enough faith to put the title on Corbin. Not only that, but it’s unlikely it would choose to have him cash-in at SummerSlam, just to lose the briefcase, when there are 10 more months he could hold the contract and develop his character.
That character development has been a linear movement up the WWE ladder. He has yet to hold gold at any point in the company, WWE or NXT, but he is still slated as the champion in waiting. He won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32, before defeating the likes of Dolph Ziggler and Sami Zayn in singles rivalries.
His latest challenge has been Nakamura, a code he cannot crack. He puts that on pause to take a shot at Cena, who is Zeus at the mountaintop. Now that Corbin has ascended to the peak, it’s fair to wonder if SummerSlam is to be his coronation as the new top guy on SmackDown Live.