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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Where Does Daniel Bryan's Story Rank Amongst WrestleMania's Greatest WWE Championship Chases?
By The Doc
Mar 16, 2014 - 10:39:19 AM

The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment.

The Snowman is a genius

Last week’s Raw confirmed that WrestleMania’s top storyline will feature the culmination of Daniel Bryan’s eight month quest to earn the respect of the powers that be and to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion (which will, henceforth, be called the WWE Championship or World Championship in my columns). On “The Doc and Super Chrisss Show” last week, I asked my co-host how he would rate Bryan’s saga against some of WrestleMania’s finest title chases. Further discussion amongst the LOP community sparked an interest in further exploring the topic. So, before I get to my list for this weekend, I want to pose the question to you, ladies and gentlemen: QUESTION OF THE DAY – What do you think has been the greatest title chase storyline in WrestleMania history??

(Doc’s Note – I have assumed, based on my 30 year fandom, that Bryan will win it all in three weeks and have moved ahead to looking into the crystal ball for historical context and placed what I presume to be his defining moment on this list)

Top 10 WrestleMania Quests for Championship Gold

#10 – Bret Hart Comes Full Circle (WrestleMania X) - The Hitman recently told Renee Young on the awesome “30 Years of WrestleMania” podcast that he got off the plane in Las Vegas the weekend of WrestleMania IX and was taken aback by his face splashed across the promotional posters for “The Showcase of the Immortals.” My, how far he had come in his career. Yet, by weekend’s end, it no longer felt as if the generations had shifted. Hart lost the title to Yokozuna, who immediately dropped it to Hulk Hogan. It was like if you got the promotion to take over the big time account, only for your predecessor to come back and regain control of it. What a punch in the gut that must have been. A year later, with Hogan temporarily retired and out of the WWE, Hart was once again positioned to become “The Man.” WrestleMania X ended with Hart hoisted onto the shoulders of his peers, WWE Championship in hand. It had been a tough chase. One could argue that it is easier to win the title once than be given the ball a second time. Bret worked his tail off throughout 1993, giving the WWE little choice but to put the World Championship back around his waist.

#9 - The Dragon Defeats The Macho Man (WrestleMania III) - When you converse about title chases, most people assume that you’re referring to World Championships. To do so would be to leave out one of WrestleMania’s finest. History well remembers Macho Man vs. The Dragon for its critical achievements, but let us not forget that the WWE audience was fairly easy to trick back in 1987 and the injury angle run to kayfabe ensure an incredibly dramatic comeback tale for Ricky Steamboat was perfect for its era. Randy Savage “crushed” Steamboat’s “larynx” and nearly “ended his career.” The dastardly Intercontinental Champion had taken out arguably his greatest challenger, but The Dragon valiantly battled back from his plight and won the coveted title in front of wrestling history’s most heralded crowd. Fans often get too caught up in workrate and forget what leads up to it. The story fuels the action. A lackluster build would not have yielded the measuring stick for great matches on the “Grandest Stage of all.”

#8 - Chris Benoit’s 20 Year Odyssey (WrestleMania XX) - I celebrated a birthday recently and, on that day, numerous pictures on my DocLOP Facebook page were of Chris Benoit triumphantly hoisting the World Heavyweight Championship in the air, as confetti fell around him and Eddie Guerrero stood clapping with the WWE Championship on his shoulder. Benoit (and, for that matter, Bret ten years prior) had more of an implied odyssey en route to winning the title. It was less a storyline and more a real life, personal struggle to scratch and claw his way to the #1 spot in the company. Daniel Bryan’s epic chase has – and I think that some people might not really get this, yet – taken much of the underlying material that made diehard and internet fans rejoice when Benoit and Guerrero won their titles and channeled it into an on-screen saga rooted heavily in reality while also pushing the exact buttons that need be pushed to enrapture the sect of the audience that most desires to see the non-traditional main-eventer reach the pinnacle. Though Benoit’s moment has, to many, been tarnished, it still stands for something. That win felt like it was for more than just Benoit…it felt like it was for us, as will Bryan’s.

#7 - The Boyhood Dream Come True for Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII) - It is an awesome thing when the WWE can adequately combine the man’s personal determination and will to become champion with his character’s quest. Shawn Michaels became my favorite wrestler of all-time on the back of that combination for WrestleMania XII. No wrestler in history has done a better job of physically selling the emotions of what it means to be recognized as the industry’s top guy than HBK. So, why not rank “The Boyhood Dream” higher? Mainly because I, personally, believe that the best title chases involve the dichotomy of good vs. evil. HBK defeated a fellow hero to win the strap. The decision to put Warrior vs. Hogan one spot ahead instead of just taking the easy way out and tying them was the enthusiasm from the people when Warrior won the belt. WWE was in a pretty “meh” spot in 1996, fairly well characterized by the lousy Anaheim crowd for the Ironman match. They popped for the title change, but that night and moving forward into HBK’s title reign, the people just didn’t respond to it like they did Warrior’s night and reign.

#6 - The Warrior Proves No Man Can Overcome “The Ultimate Challenge” (WrestleMania VI) - The original babyface match of the WrestleMania Era offered a traditional example of the ideal title chase. Warrior came on strong while Hulkamania was running wild, capturing the Intercontinental Championship and moving into that old, presumed #1 contender spot that rarely if ever produced the dream scenario of champion vs. champion, title for title. For over a year and a half, Warrior was the top guy in the secondary title division while Hulk Hogan was “The Man” and the WWE Champion. As the two continued to win, you eventually had to start wondering what would happen when they clashed. In one of those awesome scenarios in which the IC titleholder’s popularity crept closer to that of the World Champion’s, the WWE cashed in on the “What if?” Warrior winning the title from Hogan may not have been the torch passing moment that many felt it was, but it was a great story if you retrace its steps back a couple of years. Month by month, the anticipation for a potential clash of the heroes grew. The victory and what it meant was not lost on Warrior.

#5 - Hulk Hogan Emerges from the Rubble of the Mega Powers Explosion (WrestleMania V) - To be honest, this particular story could easily be #1 in my view, but the fact that I feel the need to establish the “chase” made me leave it outside of the core group. I felt that some might argue that it was not really a title chase, but rather a grudge match in which the title was involved. To an extent, “some” would be right. However, I have always seen Hogan regaining the WWE Championship as an inevitable goal that his character simply put on the backburner while his storyline friend basked in the spotlight. It was Hogan whose controversial title loss made possible the title tournament that Savage won, in story. It was Hogan whose chair shot interfered on Macho Man’s behalf and helped secure a new, still heroic champion and prevented evil from reigning supreme. At the point in which the Mega Power friendship was dissolved, Hogan’s quest to regain what had been heinously removed from his grasp resumed and Macho stood in the way. In story, no one knew Hogan better and, thus, no one had previously been as well prepared to take down Hulkamania. I maintain that it was the finest story told of the original wrestling boom.

#4 - “The Animal” Batista Unleashed from Evolution (WrestleMania 21) - On the radio show a couple of months back, my co-host, our guest, and I got into a little heated discussion about how over Batista was as compared to John Cena in late 2004 leading into 2005. Let me set the record straight. John Cena was tucked safely away telling poop jokes and feuding with a goof while Batista was skyrocketing out of nowhere to breakthrough as Evolution’s biggest new star. Cena may have gotten his moment at Mania 21, but Batista’s blew Cena’s out of the water in terms of its importance and the execution of its payoff. Talk that day in February on "The Doc and Super Chrisss Show" from my co-hosts suggested that Batista had been manufactured, but anyone watching closely should have seen that clearly that was not the case. Try as they might for several years, Batista did not get over, but when he merely glanced at the World Heavyweight Championship in late 2004, an organic connection was established between he and the fans and he, subsequently, got over in a hurry. Knock Big Dave all you want, but when he’s in his element and the crowd is reacting, he’s very good at the little things. Though he was still an average in-ring performer done no favors by having to wrestle a 21-minute match at Mania 21, Batista’s story was incredible and one of the best Mania storylines of the last decade and beyond.

#3 - “The Austin Era Has Begun” (WrestleMania XIV) - It might surprise a few that Austin’s first title victory got trumped not only by its only real rival to date, but also by a story that has yet to be completed. Read me out, though. The Mike Tyson and Degeneration X combination was absolutely tremendous. Stone Cold was white hot, as was DX. Both characters were in their infancy, but they were firing on all cylinders. The addition of Tyson to the fold made it unreal. So, take it not as a slight to Austin-Michaels-Tyson that it landed at #3, but rather as a compliment to the other two stories. These final three are far and away the top three, with a wide gap between third and fourth place. Being objectively subjective, I cannot see it any other way. The title, back then, meant so much; winning it at WrestleMania confirmed your status. The precedent had already been set years prior, so when a new guy won the belt at Mania circa 1998, everyone from the fans to the stars knew what that meant. Here’s the difference between Austin’s 1st title chase, his chase the following year to regain the belt, and Daniel Bryan’s this year – the belief that the protagonist might lose. I was the biggest HBK fan on earth heading into Mania XIV, but even in all my markdom, I didn’t see Austin losing. Even with the deck stacked against him, it was clear that Austin’s tidal wave of momentum wasn’t going to be stopped. There was doubt in 1999 and there is doubt right now, but very little doubt in 1998 by my recollection.

#2 – Daniel Bryan Thwarts The Authority, Wins the WWE Championship (WrestleMania XXX) - Forgive me for being guilty of potential imprisonment within the moment, but I think it takes an incredible story in this day and age to get so many adult males emotionally wrapped up in a wrestling feud and I’ve not seen so many adult males engaged in a WWE storyline since Austin in the late 90s. The difference is that the types of fans that are most thoroughly locked in to what the WWE is doing with Bryan are the ones that study the business – that are fully and consciously aware of what they want in a main-eventer and know that Bryan is not that. To me, that allows the Bryan story to trump all but one, assuming that it ends the way that it should with 75,000 people chanting “Yes!” to end WrestleMania XXX. Naturally, we will not know the fullest extent of its success until years down the road, but the WWE has managed to pull off an eight month saga with several notable twists and turns. If all involved can nail the climax, then I struggle to foresee any other scenario but a wonderful memory that reminds even the most jaded of fans why they love professional wrestling. For WWE, it’ll be their underdog tale of the century to be replayed for years to come as a reminder to fans and superstars alike that anything is possible.

#1 - Stone Cold Rebels Against The Corporation (WrestleMania XV) - As much as a young Doc disliked Steve Austin and loved The Rock, the older, wiser Doc cannot deny how incredible was the story of the Texas Rattlesnake battling the evil owner, Vince McMahon, and the boss’s perfect, Corporate Champion, The Great One. Unlike the Mania XIV story, I not only bought into Austin’s opponent having a chance to win, but believed in my bones that the classic beer truck incident immediately preceding the Philadelphia-based Mania meant that The Rock was retaining the title. Wrestling booking 101 suggested that in a fairly even feud, he who has the last laugh before the PPV loses at the PPV. I knew that even before I really knew that. No one had ever gotten a bigger last laugh than Austin when he sprayed The Corporation with all of the Coors Light that the beer truck could hold. As a huge fan of The Peoples’ Champ, The Doc said to all of his Austin loving buddies that The Brahma Bull was going to check the challenger directly into the Smackdown Hotel on the corner of Know Your Role Boulevard and Jabroni Drive. What a feud! Never has there been a feud with more memorable moments leading to the payoff match at WrestleMania. I wish that the payoff match had been a bit more critically memorable, but it was still very good for what it was, capping off what I feel is far and away the greatest build-up to a pro wrestling match in the history of the WrestleMania Era.

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