Thursday, 12 March 2015

Yes or No? - The Daniel Bryan Question

Sean Taylor-Richardson returns to ATPW to talk about Daniel Bryan's past, present and future in WWE.


When Daniel Bryan debuted on WWE television back in February 2010, it was hard to predict quite what his future would hold. Bryan Danielson was the absolute darling of the indie scene and had all of the talent in the world but here he was undertaking the role of rookie Daniel Bryan on NXT (and under the tutelage of The Miz no less). Physically and aesthetically, he clearly lacked the usual WWE credentials and many assumed that he would have a short, uneventful run in the company before creative discovered that they had nothing for him. For those who had spent years watching him hone his craft and deliver multiple classics, such a fate seemed cruel but that was the nature of the biz. Not everyone could be a WWE superstar.

The next year delivered some cool highs (a surprise Summerslam main event appearance and a spirited feud with the Miz over the US title) but far more lows (he was legitimately fired after some unnecessary roughness during the Nexus-WWE angle in June and was unceremoniously bumped from the WrestleMania 27 card at the last minute). After approximately a year of his WWE tenure had passed, it seemed the naysayers were right. Bryan was treading water and looked likely to sink at any given moment.

Bryan was fired in 2010, for strangling Justin Roberts with his tie.

Now the events of the last few years have shown us that this initial doom and gloom was somewhat misjudged. A quick summary of events from the summer of Punk 2011 to the Spring of 2014 reveals that Bryan achieved more than anyone thought possible and more than most do in an entire career:  the Money in the Bank win, the World title cash-in, the AJ Lee relationship , the 18 second debacle, Yes, No, Yes, No, a wrestling wedding, the Charlie Sheen saga, Team Hell No and the tag titles, John Cena and the WWE title, battling the Authority and the Wyatts, inspiring the Yes Movement and headlining Wrestlemania 30. All that in a little less than 3 years. Hell of a ride, huh?

Now since then things have deteriorated somewhat. Bryan’s neck injury robbed us of what would have been a joyful title run (although can you imagine how different the mood of twitter would have been last August had it been Bryan and not Cena that was JOBBED by Brock?) His return hasn’t been as glorious as many would have hoped- high profile losses in the Rumble and at Fast Lane have sapped some of his crowd support (only the hardcore markets really YES like they mean it) and at time of writing he was heading into a multi-man Intercontinental title bout at ‘Mania 31, far less prestigious than his double shot a year ago. While there are a few protests online, the live crowds don’t seem to be revolting that fervently. Are fans truly disappointed in the fall of Bryan or are they actually disinterested? Is this the end of the world or just the end of his run?

Bryan put Roman Reigns over at Fastlane in February.

Here’s the thing- we’re told that the customer is always right but when we’re dealing with customers plural, and these customers want different things, the narrative gets more complex. In 2014, it was clear Bryan had to be added to the main event- the entire audience was fully behind him. Spectators didn’t want anyone else to lift the title in New Orleans that year. Now whilst Reigns has his doubters, and Bryan is still the more popular of the two, our boy Daniel doesn’t have the whole crowd to himself anymore. Reigns has his share of fans, a growing number by the week it seems and certainly more than Orton or Batista had last year. Even amongst the anti-Reigns brigade, opinions seem to be split as to who fans are clamouring to see move up the card. Is it Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose or Seth Rollins who should be given the opportunity? People seem to still like Bryan, and some still adore him, but the general sense is that the audience are ready for a new story.  After all Bryan has achieved something that few wrestlers ever will- he has had a Wrestlemania booked around his moment of glory. That moment will never be bettered so why try and replicate it with a lesser version of the tale? 

Does this mean Bryan is done as a main eventer and that he and his fans should satisfy themselves with a future in the mid-card? To quote the man himself: No, No, No! Whilst you can rationalise why he is not in the main event of ‘Mania 31, it would be stupid to let him drift from here on in. Whilst the IC title may seem like a relegation right now, a Bryan win at Levi stadium elevates the title to a level of prestige it hasn’t had since at least 2000. Bryan could do for the WWE’s IC title what Shinsuke Nakamura has done for the New Japan Intercontinental title: namely make it an attraction that could headline any show. Hell if WWE wants another part time champ in the near future, Bryan and the IC title could main event for a while. If the IC title was once more presented as valuable and Bryan was booked in compelling stories that enabled him to wrestle 20-30 minute classics on Raw, Smackdown and PPV, then he could still be seen as the number 2 man in the promotion. Wouldn’t have minded that back when Miz was ragging him in 2010, would we?

Could Bryan do a similar job for the IC title as Shinsuke Nakamura has done in NJPW?

Some would say that Bryan needs to be World Champ again. I’d love to see it. But, presuming his neck holds up and he is able to wrestle on for a few more years, then that next run at the title doesn’t have to be rushed - it could come in the summer or in the build to a future ‘Mania. It certainly has to be different; 2014’s story was near perfect so the writers must try something new. What if babyface Bryan kept failing to beat strong man Reigns and suddenly snapped. Undeniably likeable though he is, I believe embracing a heel turn would re-ignite the Bryan character. He could bring back the No chant to rile the masses (the No movement perhaps?) or just ignore catchphrases altogether- his act is about more than mere words. A heel run at the top of the card means the fans get their Bryan World title run but the WWE machine doesn’t have to book him as the face of the company- the blue eyed challenger could take that mantle. Bryan could headline one more Mania but this time go in as champion and do the job for his challenger. Thus we enjoy a new storyline but regain that 2014 satisfaction of watching one of the greatest workers on the grandest stage.

All in all, Bryan has had such a crazy run in the WWE so far that, just as it was in 2010, it’s hard to predict where he goes next. If it seems like he is being relegated right now, that could soon change. Whilst his unconventional look will always trouble the brass and he’ll never quite crack the true elite club of WWE stars, he has achieved so much more than any fan ever dared to dream. So many talented guys have worked for the WWE: some have won titles; some have headlined WrestleMania; some have developed captivating characters that will be remembered for ever. Daniel Bryan has done all of these things and whether he regains his spot at the top of the totem pole or not, there can be little doubt that he will one day take up rightful place in the Hall of Fame. 

Bryan has made his place in WWE history and no-one can ever take that from him.

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