Lutz's Blog: Fans have given WWE the opportunity to start over on Daniel Bryan's push
By Jeffrey Lutz
WWE's apparent attempts to solidify Daniel Bryan's status below main-event level have instead turned Bryan into the company's most interesting character.
Fans, it seemed, were initially attracted to Bryan because of his authenticity. Many of the quotes he gave in interviews, in which he suggested he was "just happy to be here," were reflective of his persona on-screen, where he gave an "Aw, shucks" attitude to even the most serious character-shaping situations. It became frustrating to some to see Bryan's character let adversity and unfair treatment by authority figures roll off his back, but he maintained the majority of fan support -- if not all of it -- because he barely had to reach beyond his actual personality.
Once it became clear that Bryan would be moved away from the WWE title picture, at least temporarily, WWE seemed to inadvertently give him the complexity he was previously missing. Bryan's brief inclusion into the Wyatt family, doomed from the start, could have actually been productive for his character because of the facets it added. Finally, even though he was exhibiting it in a manner by which most fans were turned off, Bryan's character was showing frustration at the way he had been held back over the previous four months. That gave Bryan a completeness he didn't possess before.
The underdog story would have never been truly successful because most fans don't view Bryan as a wrestler who consistently fights an uphill battle, even if that is how he is portrayed. Even many casual fans recognize Bryan's in-ring ability, the realness with which he executes his unique moveset, and the relative unimportance of a performer's physical size if he can overcome slight disadvantages with intensity and passion in the ring. Bryan surpassed underdog status by getting to the top of the card in the first place -- he has become expected to win because that's what he most frequently does.
The partnership with the Wyatts, however misguided, broadened Bryan's horizons even further. He never truly became angry at the treatment of Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and the pawns they used to keep him from permanently capturing the championship, so when Bryan finally reached his breaking point with Wyatt on Monday's Raw, the character was reborn. Bryan's temporary heel turn will forever be viewed, at best, as WWE out-thinking itself, but it will have served a purpose if it gives Bryan the edge his character lacked during the fall and winter months.
More than anything, though, Monday's fan reaction for Bryan changed the game. For an audience drained by a three-plus-hour show and losing steam quickly, the crowd response to Bryan turning on Wyatt proved Bryan's popularity and the potential benefit of an added mean streak. It also proved that Bryan's past will have no bearing on how fans react to him, and that WWE can pretend like it's early August again and execute a revision on his original push. This time, nothing should stop WWE from vaulting Bryan to the top and keeping him there.
WWE's apparent goal in August, September and beyond was to de-sensitize its audience from caring to see Bryan capture and hold onto the WWE Championship. He won it for a few minutes at SummerSlam and held onto it for about 24 hours a month later and those moments were intended to satiate Bryan's most vocal proponents and remove the novelty from Bryan winning the title in the future. For months, those intentions were realized, as any potential Bryan championship victory would have been viewed with extreme skepticism. Monday's crowd response restored the novelty.
Rushing through the angle with Wyatt is hopefully part of WWE's master plan to hand Bryan the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. It frees up Bryan to win the Royal Rumble, because he's the best candidate to do so, and compete in the main-event at WWE's biggest pay-per-view and the first such event on the new WWE Network. It may not lead to Bryan supplanting John Cena as the literal and storyline face of the company, but WrestleMania serves to tie up the previous year's angles, and Bryan was essentially THE angle of 2013.
Last year, the match best reflective of the prior 12 months was The Rock vs. C.M. Punk, though WWE burned through that contest at the Royal Rumble. This year, that match is Cena vs. Bryan, even though it happened at SummerSlam. Their August bout included a weak and half-hearted build, which wouldn't occur if the angle starts with Bryan's character actually earning a championship match rather than pitifully being given one by a fellow performer who clearly looks down upon him.
A Cena-Bryan match wouldn't force a reshuffling of WrestleMania plans because no such plans appear, at least on television, to be formulating yet. Speculation about a potential card abounds, but television stories are leading in no particular direction, and a Cena-Bryan match is a believable and desired main event.
Rumors regarding a returning Hulk Hogan mention the possibility of him doing business in some way with Cena, but as important as Hogan is to the company in general and to a milestone WrestleMania event in particular, questions over his involvement should not mandate how WWE organizes the card. If Cena-Bryan is the right match, it could and should be executed without worry over how Hogan would or would not be necessitated.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say the principals within WWE look like geniuses for creating a path for Bryan to become an even bigger star than he was four months ago. This isn't the path, though, that WWE or any reasonable fan expected, and it's somewhat surprising that Bryan hasn't been irreparably damaged. Deafening support of Bryan this Monday, and many other weeks, have turned Bryan into Teflon. Good fortune has landed in WWE's lap and created a blank slate for its most popular star. This time, WWE needs to create a masterpiece.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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