Lutz's Blog: Daniel Bryan restores fans' faith in WWE booking
By Jeffrey Lutz
During Daniel Bryan's recent run to become WWE's most popular superstar, not once have I heard about how it could all go wrong.
Fans have come to expect WWE's hottest story lines to lose momentum, and with good reason. The best angles seem to frequently lack follow-through because Vince McMahon loses interest, or a barrage of television shows overexposes certain wrestlers, or due to WWE's inability to change direction when stories start to fizzle out. Fans have seen C.M. Punk lose a meaningless match to Triple H and Dolph Ziggler suffer a concussion before the most important stretch of his career even begins -- an injury that's obviously not his fault -- too many times, and they're now conditioned to expect the worst even when they seem to be getting the best.
That doesn't seem to be happening with Bryan, at least not yet. Fantasy booking is at an all-time high with calls to give Bryan the championship sooner rather than later. A title match with John Cena, in fact, can't come soon enough. It's never pointed out, at least that I've heard, that WWE is more than likely to find a way to ruin Bryan's momentum because the company isn't even sure what it has in him. WWE's past transgressions with Bryan -- his firing, his quick loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28 and his devolving into a comedy character -- aren't coming into play when fans express their hope that Bryan can overtake Cena to become the new face of WWE.
In fact, those transgressions almost look like they've fallen into place perfectly, like WWE has planned all of this out from Day 1. Bryan's firing only increased his notoriety among the fans who had followed his career in independent promotions to that point, and it gave him an instant credibility with those who didn't because of the aggressive actions that led to his termination. Bryan wasn't hotter than ever upon his return, but it was building to that point. His World Heavyweight Championship run gave Bryan a Punk-like following: adored by internet smart fans who felt as if such an accomplishment was long overdue but not completely embraced by those who weren't yet totally familiar with him.
Then he became Goat Face, and all bets were off.
As much as it may pain fans who have been watching the product for decades, the best way to become a household name in WWE is to get over with the kids. Goat Face gave Bryan that opportunity, and he embraced. His in-ring work remained essentially flawless, so the internet fans were still on-board, and Bryan's surprising acting abilities and comedic timing brought aboard fans looking for entertainment first and wrestling second. Bryan's pure wrestling capabilities have caught on with that group, and now there is not a segment of WWE's audience that isn't behind him.
Bryan and Punk will probably forever be linked because of their backgrounds that brought them through the indy ranks to become top WWE stars despite the lack of traits that typically earn wrestlers those spots. But Bryan may have surpassed Punk's popularity because of his recognition that wrestling isn't real. I'm as big of a Punk fan as anyone, but he would never play a comedy act. He's satisfied, and so are most fans, with essentially playing himself because his microphone work and wrestling ability are virtually unmatched.
Punk's serious approach is what is keeping from breaking through the class ceiling, while Bryan continues to make cracks in it despite the limitations placed on him by WWE writers who have unnecessarily stalled his career at certain points. Punk is a masterful heel, but his real-life anger that translates on-screen can only take him so far. Bryan possesses an energy, passion and enthusiasm, even for a character he might not prefer to play, that is conveyed in all aspects of his television persona. Even Stone Cold played a comedy character at one point -- it's not beneath anyone.
WWE, so far, is handling Bryan's self-made push with the right amount of care. Working tag matches that keep him interacting with several other superstars has prevented overexposure while still allowing Bryan to be at the center of an important angle with The Shield. Where his run goes from here is anybody's guess, but everybody seems to be guessing that it can still get better. Fans have hope that WWE will do right by Byran, either because Bryan is the catalyst for his current push and seems to be bulletproof after overcoming so many past obstacles, or because WWE is wisely taking a cautious yet eager approach. Whatever the reason, fans aren't just hoping Bryan stays on top, they're expecting it.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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