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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Exploring Daniel Bryan's Uncertain Future
By The Doc
Jul 8, 2014 - 9:19:40 PM

The Snowman is a genius

QUESTION OF THE DAY: If Bryan never got a legitimate run with the title, would you be alright with that? If not, would it hurt your chances of getting on-board with the Roman Reigns push to become the next face of the company?

When it was finally announced that Daniel Bryan would be getting the opportunity of a lifetime to be featured in two main-event matches at WrestleMania XXX, I urged all members of the fanbase from the jaded to the ecstatic to sit back and enjoy the moment. Stuff like that doesn’t just happen every year, so we have to appreciate stories that catch on so organically when they do. Bryan’s incredible night in New Orleans was not totally unprecedented; Bret Hart had opened and closed the show twenty years prior. Yet, given the talent that WWE had available to go in other directions in 2014 vs. 1994, I’d say the #Yes!Movement triumph outshined the Hitman’s by a mile. It was such a strong endorsement for Bryan – to defeat one of the top five stars of WrestleMania Era and two more in the top fifteen all in a single evening and at “The Show of Shows” no less – that it could have easily suggested a shift in the balance of power or a changing of the guard. Something held me back, though, from truly believing it. I basked in the glorious purple and yellow hue of the limelight with our new WWE Champion on April 6th, but could not ever shake the feeling that it was merely temporary joy.

It’s interesting reflecting back to those thoughts just a few months later. What a rollercoaster of a wrestling year we’ve had as WWE fans, you know? The incredible heat on Dave Batista for winning the Royal Rumble and all the emotion that it stirred up in the diehard fanbase, immediately followed by CM Punk’s departure (costing many weekly viewers their “anchor” that kept them tuning in these past few years), and then, finally, the turn of events that gave the people what they’d so loudly been asking for – Bryan’s ascent. It all came crashing back to the earth so quickly when he uttered the words “neck” and “surgery” in the same sentence. The rise of so many budding main-eventers helped soften the blow, initially, but the return to the status quo with John Cena winning the WWE Championship and the, at least in my opinion, somewhat confusing idea of Brock Lesnar winning the title six months before it would make sense given the limited dates in his contract, the sad reality that Bryan was unable to capitalize on his momentous Mania occasion really started to set in. Simply put and not to mix up any words, it just flat out sucks.

So, the real question moving forward is will Bryan ever be able to get his chance to carry the ball? There was something distinctly perfect about this year for someone like him. By now, my long-time readers ought to be aware of my feelings on this subject, but for newer readers I will reiterate: as much as I got swept up in the Daniel Bryan phenomenon since Summerslam 2013, I’ve never looked at him as a serious candidate to supplant Cena as “The Man.” He has the ability to consistently headline as a top 5 star, but being the #1 guy with his look would be totally unprecedented. That being stated, it seemed very obvious that Cena was supposed to take a step toward special attraction status this year, while WWE groomed Roman Reigns to be given the ball next spring. When they went with Bryan at Mania 30, it opened up the likely scenario of the diminutive grappler bridging the gap between the presumed end of the Cena Era (as we’d known it, at least) to the beginning of Roman’s Reign. For the remainder of the year, I believe, the shows would have been built around Bryan either as champion or gunning for the title in opposition to the growing Authority. As 2014 became 2015, WWE would have, then, switched the title to a transitional champ en route to putting it on Reigns for a monster challenge from Brock or Lesnar would have outright won the title while Reigns won the Royal Rumble to set up their Mania 31 clash.

Everything ideal about 2014’s direction ended when Bryan became a victim of both a physically brutal profession and of the modern American medical system. As of right now, Bryan could be facing a second surgery and turn into wrestling’s version of Peyton Manning – a top draw for his sport that lost important time during the peak of his powers. For the remainder of the year, WWE will be in a position of having to figure things out on the fly without the man expected to quarterback the team. Luckily, they have gotten pretty damn good at booking on the fly, but unfortunately it’s still booking on the fly. Unless Reigns is stricken with bad luck, WWE will proceed with the plan to make him the truly new face of the company. From now until then, it could get ugly. Cena is the stalest character in two decades and he’s the current champ. The force that is Brock winning the title at Summerslam is intriguing, but leaves plenty of room for skepticism. Would they seriously risk his Streak-earned renewal of credibility best used for putting over Reigns just to pop a buyrate and renewal rush for August/September? He’s going to have to drop the title or give up the title unless something drastic changes in his desire to work more dates (and that’s doubtful). The priority should be Reigns and WrestleMania; not John Cena and Summerslam. It’s kind of a mess, if you ask me.

Bryan’s time was now. Is it up? WWE seemed so reluctant to push him all the way to the top as can only be done as they did for him at WrestleMania XXX. I’ve become a big fan of Chris Jericho’s podcast. Bryan was a guest a couple of months ago and he pretty much spilled the beans that WWE had no intention of going with him in a top match until Punk bolted and the fans vehemently disagreed with WWE’s Batista-Orton direction. Even with all the mainstream attention and the massive crowd support, Bryan could not win over the front office until a series of events took place that forced WWE into calling an audible. With the new guy (Reigns) and a whole host of other rising stars around to keep creative thoroughly engaged, I believe that they had planned to give Bryan the kind of push that comes from his Mania experience in the short-term before pushing him to the backburner in the long-term. His injury put them into a bind. He even took his honeymoon the week after winning the title in the most dramatic way that WWE could book it. WWE has historically valued profession over family. No matter the reason, they could view his personal decisions and his untimely surgery as “Bryan doesn’t have what it takes at the top; we gave him a shot and it didn’t work out, so that’s it.” It is no stretch of the imagination to view Bryan as a star destined to be underutilized.

There’s another school of thought, though, that follows recent history. WWE yet again won’t like it. Roman Reigns is already in the midst of a huge babyface push. He’s got the “it” factor and I think he’s more ready for the next step than most people realize. The last thing that Roman needs is a babyface like Bryan that people want to be the top guy so badly that it stifles the attempts to get him over to the extent expected of “The Man.” The above mentioned “perfect” situation allowing Bryan to transition us from one era to the next would have been something that the vocal minority would have seen coming. Hopefully, they’d have been happy to see their guy get what basically amounted to a full year (plus) as the focal point of the WWE Champonionship picture. That transitional period could have been extremely important for Reigns in the sense that it would allow the fans to, in a manner of speaking, “get Bryan at the top out of their system.” Imagine if Bryan does go under the knife again and winds up ready to make his return during the early part of next year’s WrestleMania season. Arguably, you’d have to keep him off of TV until after Mania just to avoid a repeat of 2014. Without a chance to see Bryan get his run at the top like a similar (albeit not as a substantial) vocal minority did for Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero in 2004, Reigns might not be able to build the kind of support that Batista and John Cena were able to in the year after Mania XX. Look at what happened to Big Dave – what once promised to be a glorious return to the ring for an Undisputed Championship win in the main-event at Mania XXX right before he burst onto the mainstream with his Marvel movie role turned into an abrupt heel turn and tap out as someone else won the title in the main-event at Mania. Still not bad, but certainly not what he expected. It would take strong conviction and superior creative strategy – traits opposite to that which has become the norm in modern WWE according to a lot of diehard members of their Universe - to help Reigns endure comparable circumstances.

I’m hoping for a middle ground. Never having expected Bryan to be anything close to his April 2014 stature, I’m OK with him becoming his generation’s HBK (a perennial showstealer who always gets the chance to have a classic match) or Guerrero (a man who connects so deeply and so organically with the audience that he constantly defies his mid-card stature with consistent booking as a top 5 talent). I genuinely hope that the vocal minority accepts him in that role and does not do anything to derail Roman Reigns taking John Cena’s place. I’m a fan of Reigns and a fan of Bryan. Roman as the #1 guy in the business is just fine with me, as is Cena in the special attraction role that he should occupy at this stage of his long and storied career. I’d like Bryan to be in the mix, though, too. If everything works out perfectly, maybe we’ll end up with Reigns succeeding, Bryan getting his multi-month title reign down the line, and all the fans being OK with it all.


Wednesday at 5PM EST - The Doc Says...” Let's Give Credit Where Credit is Due”

This week, The Doc is joined by special guest host, The Smartbreak Kid, for a rousing discussion of WWE matches that have historically been undervalued by the critical community. You'll hear what you either feel to be the most ludicrous argument for the brilliance behind Andre vs. Hogan or you'll find yourself nodding in agreement, thankful that somebody finally gave that match its due. Think we're crazy for praising John Cena vs. The Rock as an all-time classic? We think you're crazy for not recognizing it. We'll tell you why. Similar cases will be presented for other matches, including such notable bouts as Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels and The Rock vs. Brock Lesnar.

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