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Posted in: Oliver's Twist
Oliver's Twist: Daniel Bryan vs Midcard Purgatory
By Oliver
Jan 14, 2014 - 12:00:00 PM

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Welcome one, welcome all, to another instalment of the column with more Golden Globes than Amy Poehler*, Oliver’s Twist! Now of course, like everyone else with even a passing interest in WWE I’ve been fascinated by the storyline surrounding Daniel Bryan in recent weeks. It seemed to all intents and purposes that the American Dragon had been shifted away from his phenomenal ascent to the top of the card and into what has been perceived as a midcard feud with the Wyatt Family – essentially, his purpose became to ‘make’ someone who has a big future in Bray Wyatt. And it’s working; Bray is more over now than he was before the Wyatt’s first started tangling with Bryan and it finally looks like he is on track following a rocky start. Meanwhile, nothing can stop the momentum that Bryan had built up, as the closing minutes of Raw last night showed – he will never be ‘just’ in the midcard, and is always going to garner the positive reactions that we have become accustomed to.

However, some have used this as an example of just how little faith in Bryan WWE have and a sign that they are pushing him down the card into the deadly ‘midcard purgatory’ area. Is that really the case, though? This story, and therefore Bryan, has been a key storyline in recent weeks, closing Raw twice and being prominently featured. The cold hard truth of the matter is that Bryan was never, ever in the midcard and nor, realistically, did it ever look like he would enter it during this angle. On the night he joined the Wyatt family he wrestled thirty minutes in the main event slot of WWE’s flagship show, a card position he has regularly appeared in regardless of whether being in the title picture or not since last summer. Look at Raw throughout December and Bryan was never far away from our screens, appearing in two or three segments a night and almost always at key times – he was opening the show, closing the show, performing at the top of an hour or a combination of the three. That’s not something that a midcard performer gets the luxury of doing. As I’ve said above, this is an angle designed to get Wyatt some heat and make him look like a big deal by going toe to toe with a bona fide main eventer. It’s succeeding. Wyatt and his family are gaining more and more traction as heels, and with the way they’ve shifted from third gear to fourth gear and now up to fifth gear in as short a time as possible WWE have even managed to get Daniel Bryan more over than he was initially. The reaction he got last night was as big as it has ever been for him, and the slowly building ‘Yes!’ chant before he hit the knee a thing of beauty.

But what if this truly was Daniel Bryan’s midcard purgatory? Purgatory, by its very definition, is the intermediary state between death and heaven – it’s not necessarily limbo, per se, but more a cleansing stage, where somebody achieves the holiness required to reach heaven. Is this what WWE presented Bryan with to prove himself ready for a permanent main event spot? I don’t think it’s too much of a reach to assume that they wanted him to just show how well he can handle a limited, and fresh, opponent. If we are to extend the metaphor just slightly, we could point to the birth of The Authority as the death of Daniel Bryan, the midcarder. He spent, and is currently, in purgatory, but he’s coming out on the other side of it now and once he finally conquers Bray, one on one, he’ll be ready to ascend to the best possible place in WWE – a permanent main event spot.

And he’s well positioned for a run at just that. The long mooted, or at least hoped for, end game from SummerSlam 2013 has been Bryan triumphing over The Authority at WrestleMania, no matter who his opponent is. What a way to put the speculation about his midcard status to bed once and for all. But need that be the end of the story for Bryan? Does he suddenly become a John Cena-esque figure, one stuck at the top of the card and unable to provide an engaging story in a non-title capacity? For me, this is not the case, and Bryan will always be someone who flits between spots on the card. In a way, I view Bryan’s main eventer status as similar to that of a Kurt Angle or Chris Jericho. These were two people who were, unarguably, amongst the greatest performers in WWE history, and yet they could go anywhere on the card. It didn’t feel strange when either started competing for the tag team titles after winning the biggest prize in the sport, nor did it feel odd when they went from that right back to main eventing, which Angle himself did in 2002. This feels like the most natural thing for Bryan to be doing in the future.

These two performers, however, were booked as midcard performers during those runs. American Dragon wasn’t in the midcard throughout this story because he was never really placed in the midcard. It’s often difficult to switch between being a so called ‘smart’ fan and an actual fan when we watch our favourites, and I’m as guilty as everyone else when it comes to this – Lord knows I think there are some performers who need to be doing better just because I like them. As a result, it becomes easy to jump to conclusions, especially now when a kneejerk reaction on the internet is so easy to detail. But in wrestling the field can change quickly and suddenly – I certainly didn’t expect for the Bryan/Wyatt story to turn the way it did last night so soon after it began, but on reflection it was perfect timing. The events of the story have moved in a quick but effective and well planned way, and as such not resulted in anybody getting stuck

Because people do get stuck, don’t they? Brodus Clay is currently stuck defeating or being defeated by Xavier Woods or R-Truth because they clearly have nowhere for him to go after his heel turn. Somewhere backstage, a member of the creative team is just frantically copy-pasting from the ‘Raw 09/12/2013.txt’ document and then replacing the name ‘Xavier Woods’ with ‘R-Truth’ every so often. The easiest thing to assume is that nobody cares about the storyline, backstage or otherwise. It happened, and then they sort of shrugged and just let it keep happening. The biggest worry for a WWE superstar has to be creative ambivalence. It’s nothing new – there are people who have been in a stagnant holding pattern ever since they had their moment. Ziggler, Fandango, Ryder and countless others have not done anything to develop as either a character or a wrestler in a long time and as a result they’re pulled out when WWE need someone to fill a spot but not really given the ball to run with. That’s being stuck in the midcard. Not closing out episodes of Raw or being heavily featured.

And as a result of his status as the hottest face in the company, Bryan was the perfect guy to involve in this angle. The Wyatt Family, and Bray Wyatt himself, were never going to get over by squashing people that nobody gave a shit about. That’s what almost happened with the Wyatt’s after SummerSlam, but pairing them up with Bryan made me care. It made me want to get the pay off. It made me sympathetic to Bryan and hate Bray. Look at it this way – someone you don’t know gets beaten up in the streets and you read about it in the papers. Your reaction is probably ‘oh, that’s sad, I hope he isn’t too badly injured’. On the flipside, your brother gets beaten up in the streets and all you can think about is finding and maiming the perpetrators. Replace ‘someone you don’t know’ with oh, I don’t know, JTG, and ‘your brother’ with Daniel Bryan and you can see why the patriarch of the Wyatt Family is getting over – people love Bryan, so automatically hate whoever he’s against even before they crush his skull with a flight case. Pretty simple booking, I know, but it works and WWE have used it good effect here and pulled the plug on the Daniel Wyatt angle at exactly the right time – the mission has already been accomplished, so why let it get tired?

Striking while the iron is hot, and not lukewarm, is something that WWE have struggled with in the past, but with Bryan's ascent they seem to have kept their poker pretty piping throughout. His cheers have, if anything, got bigger as time has gone on and all because they have done the right thing with him at the right time since his loss at Mania 28 to Sheamus. Coupled with Bryan's majestic ability to turn turds into gold, they haven't taken a misstep in the past 20 or so months, allowing him to quite organically grow into a real main eventer. Neither was this diversion something that has hurt him, and the reaction he got for turning on Bray on Monday proves that - it was bigger than ever. He really is in the best possible position now to finish off his run to the top of the card, and long may he stay there.

Of course, Bryan’s battle with purgatory isn’t over quite yet – he’s still got to actually triumph over Bray Wyatt, most likely in a singles match at the Royal Rumble. But once he has fully cleansed himself, he’s on the right track. Will he win the Rumble and main event WrestleMania? Who knows. But one thing’s for sure – the Rumble itself just got more interesting. Whereas last week I was fully expecting, and coming to terms with, an obvious Batista win, this throws an old spanner back into the works. The shadow of last summer still looms over Bryan’s history, and what better place for him to see the light than on the grandest stage of them all.

What about you, though? Did you expect Bryan to triumph this soon over the Wyatt’s? And what do you think his path to WrestleMania will be? Leave me a comment below, or drop me a Tweet (@MrOlliB) or an email using the link at the top of the page. Until we twist again, stay safe when crossing the road and drink more hot chocolate! Ciao!


*Disclaimer: I do not actually have more Golden Globes than Amy Poehler.

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