LordsofPain.net is proud to present the December 2014 Columnist of the Month. He's one of the hosts of The Right Side of the Pond and a multi-time CotM winner. LOP readers, I present Shinobi!
December 2014 CotM: The Devil's Advocate: The A to Z of 2014 - Y Is For...
Feb 15, 2015 - 7:41:01 AM
There will be those of you scratching your heads wondering where you might have seen my name before. Some of you might actually remember my LordsOfPain.net tenure back in 2009 - I am very much a hipster choice when it comes to past columnists on this site. You may also have heard my voice from time to time on the critically acclaimed and award-winning weekly podcast, The Right Side of the Pond. If that doesn’t ring any bells...well, you’re probably thinking of someone else.
Anyway, I wrote columns for a bit, then I stopped, then I kind of started again, and then settled for ‘once in a blue moon’. Having watched a number of contemporaries become prolific in both writing and winning awards, I started a project in December that, in truth, was meant to end in December too. Twenty-six short columns reviewing the year that was in 2014, going from A to Z. It was an endeavour that somehow won me Columnist of the Month, despite falling woefully short of my target of finishing the series within one calendar month.
The good news is, this is the very last entry, and given that today is a pretty important entry in the series, I thought I’d share it with you all here. If you’re so inclined, you can read the other 25 entries at the following links.
ABC DEFG HIJK LMNO PQR STUV WXZ
Keen scholars amongst you will notice there is one letter missing in that list. Without further ado…
Y is for…Yes. Obviously.
I hate to say I told you so...but I told you so. On The Right Side of the Pond at the end of August 2013, the four of us proclaimed that Daniel Bryan would walk out of Wrestlemania XXX as the WWE Champion. Over the following eight months, fans would be pulled one way, then shoved another, as they were taken on an emotional rollercoaster by the Yes Man and his nemesis, Triple H.
The premise of the story was extremely simple; Bryan, not fitting the mould of what a WWE Champion should look like, simply couldn’t be allowed by the COO of WWE to be champion. He was only given the shot in the first place because John Cena picked him, perhaps with a touch of hubris. believing (along with many fans and commentators) that Bryan could beat him, Triple H didn’t think he could actually do it, and when he did, Triple H played the ace in the hole - Randy Orton, the holder of the Money In The Bank briefcase. In doing so, he pulled one of the hardest heel turns in recent memory, and created The Authority, the management faction that has run roughshod over a number of fan favourites over the last eighteen months.
Of course, a popular man seemingly being held down has always been a formula for success. Something similar happened with Stone Cold Steve Austin all those years ago, and no-one claims he was buried. Something similar was the catalyst for my fandom back in 2000, when the McMahon-Helmsley Regime spent the best part of a year trying to keep The Rock at arm’s length. Screwing the top babyface time and time again is a tried and tested method of building a star until he’s ready to supernova. WWE knew that they were onto something with Bryan at Summerslam, but they did the right thing in pulling him back and letting his support simmer, and then boil, and then explode. Whether or not they quite knew how quickly it might happen is open to debate, but to me, they did not put a single foot wrong between Summerslam 2013 and the Royal Rumble, which is where we pick up the story in 2014.
I maintain now that I wouldn’t change a thing about the build to Bryan’s Wrestlemania. From the return of Batista, the abdication of CM Punk, the rumours swirling about the match he would end up in. Even the Hijack Raw movement on Twitter can be excused for the payoff I ultimately got from Wrestlemania XXX. It was alright in the end, and WWE recognised what they had and what they needed to do in time. They were still able to tell a logical story, it felt organic, and I defy you to find a more visceral, spine-tingling moment than the one we got on March 10, in the #OccupyRaw episode. Hundreds of Bryan fans filling the ring, while Triple H lost his shit and gave Bryan what he had been campaigning for ever since Hell in a Cell.
I’ve written a couple of times over the course of this series about an intangible fog that surrounding WWE from about the Royal Rumble, the night where Bryan was denied the opportunity to compete in the Rumble match, and then of course Batista won, which put almost everyone in a bad mood. A day later, CM Punk walked out in circumstances that were shrouded in secrecy, and as we headed towards Wrestlemania bound for the main event of Batista vs Randy Orton there was some real bad feeling about what was supposed to be WWE’s biggest ever event.
That fog lifted when Triple H finally acquiesced to Bryan and gave him his one-on-one match against him at Wrestlemania. The reaction in the building that night, and the one on Twitter, was incredible, and you could feel everyone losing their shit slightly. Bryan, of course, wasn’t done.
“That’s not all I want.”
Somehow, we all knew what was coming. That was the moment, for me, when I realised everything was going to be okay. Daniel Bryan was going to Wrestlemania, he was going to beat Triple H and enter the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, and dammit, I knew he was going to win it, too. That was how the story was always supposed to go when he got screwed at Summerslam, and while the plans got changed along the way, he didn’t just get put over by Triple H at Wrestlemania, he got put over by three of the biggest names the industry has ever seen in a single night. I defy you to come up with a bigger single night push. For my money, it dwarfs Jericho’s exploits against Rock and Austin because of the stage it ultimately took place on.
I can’t remember how I felt going into watch Wrestlemania. I guess there is always a little bit of doubt when you’ve invested into something so heavily. Could WWE really deny Bryan, and all of us, so brazenly at Wrestlemania? They fired a warning shot by having Brock Lesnar decimate The Undertaker; proof that WWE weren’t afraid to disappoint people on this night. Ultimately, they couldn’t justify doing it twice, and after two outstanding matches on the biggest night of his life, Batista tapped out to the Yes Lock and a tidal wave of emotion and celebration overtook Bryan and those of us who had been on the journey with him.
Whatever happened to Bryan from that point on, he had done it. He had proven it could be done. Every doubt people had about him from the moment he stepped into the company had been scrutinised in this angle. From his size, to his appearance, to his reputation on the internet. They put it in the storyline, and the whole point was to show he could do it. The ultimate modern day underdog story.
I also want to put something else out there; there was no burial of Daniel Bryan. There was never any attempt to bury Daniel Bryan. You can’t tell me that a guy who main evented six pay-per-views including Summerslam and Wrestlemania, was the key focus of pretty much every episode of Monday Night Raw between those two shows and who was only denied championship wins by a dodgy ref, Kane, Triple H and Stephanie’s character megalomania and Shawn freakin’ Michaels of all people, was a guy WWE had no real support for? There is plenty of precedent for organic growth in support for a babyface when he is constantly denied something he deserves by devious villains. This is a plot device that has been used in wrestling for decades, but also in movies, book, comic books and pretty much every other format of storytelling going. Next you’ll be telling me that Triple H buried The Rock in 2000.
The incredible thing about Daniel Bryan in this angle was he and The Authority managed to make people forget that this was just another wrestling story. People took it personally. There was a genuine emotional connection on a massive scale that very, very few people in entertainment history, let alone wrestling, have ever managed to cultivate. To this day, I believe it was managed to a certain extent. Letting Bryan have a lengthy reign after Summerslam would have been a disaster, contrary to the beliefs of a very successful writer on this site. No, this way was much better.
It was better, because when Bryan came back from his career-threatening injury, he ended up back in the place he left off. Obviously, that injury was not good for Daniel Bryan, and it makes you wonder what plans they had for Bryan over the summer of 2014. With Orton owed a rematch for his title, Batista still clamouring for his one-on-one title match, Brock Lesnar showing up again and the omnipresent Cena lurking, not to mention the rises of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, there was no shortage of challengers for Bryan to work his way through had that been the plan. There was a real fear, of course, that Bryan would never be able to come back, and he kept us guessing all the way up until he announced his entry into the Royal Rumble match.
The reason I wanted to save this one till last, despite alphabet convention, is because Daniel Bryan’s run at the start of the year is one of my favourite stories ever. I am fascinated by the way professional wrestling/sports entertainment is evolving as a result of the internet. It was fascinating to me in 2007, when I came back to watching wrestling, because there was a new generation of fans who could guess and pre-empt and explain every move WWE made before they’d even made it. WWE has slowly but steadily worked out how to reclaim kayfabe by using the internet for themselves; to work internet fans by throwing them little morsels to feed on while they move in a different direction. And it works; we jump on these little leaks and nods and winks and run with them, sometimes completely oblivious to what is actually going on. The Daniel Bryan vs The Authority storyline was the first time they had put it together from start to finish, and the payoff, for me, was one of the most satisfying I have experienced. Right now, nothing touches it.
As we have moved into 2015, the Daniel Bryan Effect continues to be one of the more fascinating aspects of following WWE for me. Bryan has a very interesting role to play in the development of WWE’s main event roster, because with Cena seemingly moving away and rumours of Lesnar’s departure swirling, they will need a couple of new faces. That won’t happen if fans continue to shun everyone but Daniel Bryan; it promises to be a very, very interesting couple of months as Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins plan their assault on the status quo. I can’t wait to see how it pans out.
In closing, 2014 came to be defined by ‘Yes’. Daniel Bryan and all that he stands for led the way, and while Bryan himself was absent for much of the year, the hole in the wall he created on his way to rewriting the Wrestlemania history books has not been sealed up, and through it have come the likes of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt. Queuing up outside are talents like Cesaro, Rusev, even Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Bryan is just a man, but what he achieved in New Orleans represents the culture shift in WWE that people have been clamouring for for many years now. It is here, and even though some seem to be failing to realise it, the future is extremely bright for WWE and their new crop of main event talent.