If you told me 8 months after “Fight for your dreams, then your dreams will fight for you,” that Daniel Bryan, the most over babyface in at least 20 years would be a heel a mere 8 months into his return after career-threatening neck and brain injuries paused his career for 3 years at his zenith, I’d have laughed in your face and recommended professional help.
This is one of the most stunning indictments of creative malpractice in WWE history. After falling from the sky going into Wrestlemania 34, Bryan was booked so badly, he felt he had no other choice than to reportedly ask to be turned heel. I imagine Daniel Bryan saw his once in a generation crowd connection dissipating by the week and thought he had no other choice.
Instead of a valiant pursuit of the championship he never lost, Daniel Bryan reached the “mountaintop” by defeating AJ Styles out of nowhere on a random Smackdown by nefarious means, and stunned legions of fans in the process. It is like this generation’s Austin WM 17 heel turn. Something the wrestler pushed for, but ultimately that wrestler was never the same.
By turning Daniel Bryan heel, combined with his atrocious booking as a babyface the last 8 months, they turned a legitimate babyface superstar with god-like levels of approval across all sections of the fanbase; a status WWE would kill for a guy like John Cena or Roman Reigns, into just another good wrestler.
Daniel Bryan PPV Matches
Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Daniel Bryan Goes 75 Minutes At The Greatest Royal Rumble
Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass
Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass
Daniel Bryan & Kane vs The Bludgeon Bros
Daniel Bryan vs The Miz
Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella vs The Miz & Maryse
Daniel Bryan vs The Miz
Some might say Bryan’s contract status may have played a role in how far WWE wanted to go with him. I don’t see that as valid simply because I can look a guy who is a free agent nearly every year in Kenny Omega, and see New Japan working to impress him, and to value their asset. They haven’t perfected the balance of Omega’s requests as he’s received criticism for a possible diva-like attitude, but New Japan clearly is making the effort with contingency plans in place such as the reshuffling of Bullet Club should Omega ever leave.
WWE never gave Bryan anything that creatively fulfilling over the summer. The feud with the Miz transformed into the reverse of what made it so compelling in 2016. In parts of it, The Miz was getting cheered, and Bryan looked like a psychopath. It feels like they never wanted to give Daniel Bryan a taste of that power because they don’t see him like a Brock Lesnar, but they felt like they couldn’t lose him, and acquiesced to his requests for a lighter schedule.
It’s crazy they laid the booking out that they did before September and Bryan was like, “well where do I sign?” Other factors like the schedule, familiarity, and family are completely understandable, because after all he is 37 with a wife and child, and hitting the Independent scene to hustle might have been more trouble than it’s worth for him.
Do I have any doubt Daniel Bryan will be a great heel? None at all. Bryan usually figures any scenario out if you give him enough time. For this to be what it could, I don’t want to see him presented as a cartoon character as his 2011 self. He has to do something new. His maniacal destruction of Styles after their match may be a hint of where they are headed.
I think WWE had no interest in recreating the Yes Movement, and really, they couldn’t anyway because it was a moment in time they would never be able to duplicate. The problem is, the story wasn’t finished, it was stopped. Daniel Bryan never got his hero’s run on top as the man, which was the goal the whole time. Not only was this hot shotted as all hell, the WWE title now isn’t positioned as the top thing in the company, which was the magic of late 2013-Mid 2016.
While he won the secondary world championship on screen, Bryan’s real quest was making it back to the zenith, being the top star in the company; which is a spot above the championship. The true “story within a story.” Since that was no longer possible, I guess this is what we ended up with. Make no mistake, Heel Daniel Bryan never moved the culture as he did from May 2013 to Wrestlemania 30. If he was getting back to the “top” it wasn’t supposed to happen in this uninspiring way. Daniel Bryan vs Brock Lesnar with both of them as heels was not what people called for. In terms the internet would respect, “this is not it chief.”
I wrote a glowing, hopeful piece upon Daniel Bryan’s return where I ended it saying it felt like Michael Jordan was coming back. Looking at the last 8 months, WWE treated him like the Washington one instead of the 96 one. I was perfectly content with Bryan getting 20 minutes on every big show having great matches with the massively improved roster around him, but there were no Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Andrade Cien Almas, AJ Styles, Randy Orton PPV matches. A number of those happened on TV with no build with commercials in the way. Instead, we got the ones I listed above.
What happens from here is a match with Brock Lesnar, then its anyone’s guess. I’ve had friends joke and say they hope he cuts his hair bald and comes out with an eye patch on. I’ve seen the clamoring for The American Dragon Bryan Danielson persona, but I’d be shocked if that was what happened. Smackdown has nothing but incredible wrestling heels, and now Bryan isn’t likely to wrestle any of them. As it stands, his face opponents could be AJ Styles in a rematch, and an older Jeff Hardy, and older Rey Mysterio. Personally, I think the heel list is better.
When Bret Hart was putting the plan in motion to leave WWE for WCW, Vince McMahon told him one line that summarized his entire run before it happened. “WCW would have no idea what to do with a Bret Hart.” Looking at the prior 8 months, Vince McMahon ended up with no idea what to do with a Daniel Bryan.
Rich Latta is a writer for LordsofPain.net & host of the One Nation Radio Podcast on www.SocialSuplex.com & LOP Radio where he recaps Raw & Smackdown Live Weekly. GFX by @SirMikeFergus Give him a follow on Twitter, @RichLatta32 or drop him a comment below. If you like hip-hop, check out his music here. www.Soundcloud.com/RichLatta Look Him Up On Youtube As Well