Wrestlemania Fans: Daniel Bryan Main Stage
TORONTO – SPORTS – What a long strange trip it’s been for Daniel Bryan and his fans.
Just two months ago we were practically inconsolable after the Royal Rumble saw Bryan not only lose to the up and coming Bray Wyatt but not even entered in the Rumble match itself. To add insult to injury the winner of the Rumble was Batista, a man who returned from the WWE after nearly three and a half years away from the company and walked right back into not just a main event slot but a main event slot at the biggest pay per view of the year.
I don’t have a problem with Dave Batista. I’m really looking forward to his role as Drax in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie and wish him success both inside and outside of the ring. There is absolutely no way that Batista should be main eventing WrestleMania, however, especially with so little time to get into ring shape for an event of that magnitude.
WWE fans knew it too as they lustily booed Batista even as he went against heels such as Alberto Del Rio and chanted for Daniel Bryan during each and every one of his matches. I have to say that when Batista won the Royal Rumble, it was the first time that I’d ever witnessed a crowd turn against a face winner of the match.
Nobody wanted to see a Randy Orton vs. Batista main event at WrestleMania.
Thankfully after having Bryan lose an opportunity to capture the title under dubious circumstances during the Elimination Chamber match (outside interference from Kane), the WWE finally wised up this past Monday.
Batista has been firmly positioned as a heel.
The WWE was really left with no choice but to go through with a heel turn given the crowd reactions to Batista and the view that he was stealing a spot that rightfully belonged to Daniel Bryan. To his credit, Batista plays the role of the villain very well. His physique and mannerisms lend themselves perfectly to the self-absorbed, bullying character that he portrays as a heel.
Personally, I’ve always preferred Big Dave as a villain.
Daniel Bryan – A Everyone Hero
Daniel Bryan, who had been positioned into a feud with Triple H, now has the opportunity to win his way into the main event.
In a scenario, reminiscent of Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s at WrestleMania X if Bryan is able to defeat Triple H, he will be entered into the title match, which will become a Triple Threat bout pitting him against both Randy Orton and Batista. Bret Hart cemented his legacy when he wrestled a five star classic against his brother Owen before taking the title belt from Yokozuna in the main event.
It will be very exciting to see what Daniel Bryan will be able to do with this opportunity; an opportunity that’s been a long time coming.
It was just under two years ago at the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania 28 that the Miami crowd incessantly chanted “YES! YES! YES!” in honour of Bryan who had just the night before been booked to lose in embarrassing fashion to Sheamus in an 18 second squash. The crowds after WrestleMania are notorious for being filled with the most rabid wrestling fans in the world. These are fans that know the product and are very passionate about it. Their chants for Bryan were a signal that they didn’t like the fashion that he was booked and wanted to see him higher up the card.
A brief feud with CM Punk, a comedy tag team with Kane, and face turn all followed over the course of the next year, but Bryan was never given the push that fans truly felt he deserved in that time. It didn’t occur until last summer.
It was last year at SummerSlam that Daniel Bryan finally got his shot at the big time. He main evented the pay per view against John Cena, the face of the company, and beat him clean for the belt. Fans were elated.
Sadly it lasted all of a few minutes until Triple H hit Bryan with the Pedigree and Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank title shot to take the title and transition into the storyline over the fall.
Bryan and Orton traded title wins over the next couple pay-per-views with Bryan’s victories more often than not being overturned by Triple H the following night on Raw. By the end of fall Bryan was out of the title picture completely and moved into a feud with the Wyatt family that ran right up until the Royal Rumble.
Following the Rumble, it appeared as though Bryan was being set up solely for a program with Triple H at WrestleMania 30 until fan reaction forced the WWE to call an audible.
Now there is only one way to end and that’s with Daniel Bryan holding the belt high over his head on the biggest stage that wrestling has.
It’s the ending Bryan and his fans deserve.
Daniel Bryan has earned his place at the top of the WWE through his work ethic, and constant commitment to the wrestling business.
Name one bad Daniel Bryan match. You can’t. The man’s work in unparalleled in the entire wrestling business. There is likely nobody outside of Japan who is capable of putting the quality of matches that Bryan has managed to over the past year. The run he’s been on is truly remarkable. It’s similar to Ric Flair in 1989, Randy Savage in 1987, Bret Hart in 1993, Steve Austin in 2001 and so on and so forth in terms of its quality.
Furthermore, Bryan has paid his dues in the business. Coming of age in Ring Of Honor and working independent promotions around the globe as “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, he’d long established his reputation as a high quality performer before he entered WWE.
Perhaps his work ethic is why he is able to so powerfully resonate with fans.
The current connection between Bryan and his fans is one I’ve only seen twice before: with Hulk Hogan in the 1980s and with Steve Austin during the Attitude Era. In both cases each man embodied the cultural zeitgeist of the time. Hogan was the American superhero battling oversized foreign menaces during the Cold War era in the United States. Hogan was the ultimate wish fulfilment.
Steve Austin, meanwhile, was the take-no-nonsense, flip-off-your-boss, gen X angst of the late 90s when it became clear to most middle class America that they weren’t going to have the big house and two cars that their parents did in the 80s, but might just be stuck working in cubicles for the rest of their days due to a tanking economy. Austin was the ultimate escape from that.
Bryan similar captures the cultural zeitgeist of our age.
This is the era of social media, of memes, of Tinder, and of all sorts of things that we use to try to validate our own specialness. We all want to be special and rise above the status of the everyman. In our quest to do so, we’ve made the everyman special. In that sense, it makes perfect sense that the new face of professional wrestling looks like a guy that I could run into eating at Fresh in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto.
Daniel Bryan is one of us. He’s someone and something we can be part of. When we chant: “YES! YES! YES!” along with him, we’re becoming something bigger than ourselves and become part of his success. It’s really an aspect of the search for an amplified identity that brings us all to facebook or twitter and our deep desires to be more than we really are. By being involved in a campaign to elevate Bryan to a higher status within WWE, we rise along with him.
Another aspect of Bryan’s upcoming date with destiny at WrestleMania is the fact that it can put to rest a painful memory for wrestling fans.
The last time an underdog who toiled away for years with little regard from management and possessed a superior workrate to his peers held the title high at WrestleMania to close the show it was Chris Benoit.
Benoit defeated Shawn Michaels and Triple H in a triple threat match to close the 20th edition of wrestling’s biggest night. His friend Eddie Guerrero who held the secondary world title came out to celebrate him and the image of the two men holding their belts high was the last image to close out the celebration of 20 years of WrestleMania.
Just over three years later, both men would be dead. Guerrero of a heart attack likely induced by years of steroid and drug abuse and Benoit in a grisly murder-suicide involving his wife and son.
A moment of triumph became a moment of loss.
Now it can all be redeemed by Daniel Bryan.
He has the workrate of Benoit and Guerrero minus the drug abuse, steroid use or unprotected head bumps that defined both men in the wake of their tragic deaths.
In a way Daniel Bryan reaching wrestling’s pinnacle won’t just be redemption for himself and his fans, but for the entire wrestling business as whole. It’s taken several years for the wrestling business to drag itself out of the stigma that followed Benoit’s horrific demise. The business has cleaned up with a vigorous wellness policy and treatment for former workers as well as outlawing dangerous moves that could result in head injuries.
Now it can be fronted by a man who would much rather read organic gardening magazines than go out partying. A man with a realistic, achievable physique that doesn’t appear pumped up with steroids. A man with a beard that would look more in place at a Roncesvalles pub than in a wrestling ring.
Bryan represents the best of us. A man who worked hard to achieve what he has. He didn’t take short cuts and paid his dues in the indies and in WWE before fan support elevated him to this point. Everything he has he earned. On April 6, he’s going to get the chance to finally take his rightful spot at the pinnacle of the wrestling business on the grandest stage that it has to offer.
Did the WWE make a right decision in changing direction and allowing Daniel Bryan this opportunity?