Welcome back to my new series reliving one of pro wrestling’s greatest ever stories, the rise of Daniel Bryan and The Yes Movement. Starting at Summer Slam 2013 and going through to Wrestlemania 30 I will be rewatching, reviewing and analysing Daniel Bryan’s story on a week by week basis with PPVs getting their own column too.
In case you missed it I kicked off last week with the prologue to the story, looking at what happened in the years and months leading up to the true beginning of the angle Summer Slam 2013. In case you missed it you can check in out here.
Today we will be really getting started on the series at Summer Slam 2013. Feel free to watch along with me and let me know your memories of this truly epic night of professional wrestling in the comments below.
The Life of Bryan
Last week I spoke in great detail about the larger stories of the two main player in the main event of Summer Slam 2013, John Cena and Daniel Bryan and how their conflict so clearly represented the conflict at the heart of the WWE and its audience. Cena is the status quo that the company want but the audience was bored of and desperately wanted to move on from. On the other side of the ring, Daniel Bryan is the ultimate anti-corporate player who grew up organically and came to represent the change the most vocal sections of the audience wanted in the WWE itself.
In the months leading up to Summer Slam Cena was absolutely at his peak as a WWE Champion, winning the title off The Rock at Wrestlemania 29 in the biggest victory of his career and then defending it multiple times in the ensuing months. For Bryan’s part, he had garnered incredible crowd sympathy after his losing effort to Sheamus at Wrestlemania 28 over a year ago and even a stint in heel tag team, Team Hell No with Kane hadn’t diminished that popularity. The dysfunctional duo managed a 245 day tag team championship reign but after losing the titles to The Shield in May, they slowly began to part ways much to the delight of the crowd ready to put everything behind a Daniel Bryan singles run. After narrowly missing out on the Money In The Bank briefcase Bryan, would be hand picked by Cena to face him in the main event of the show for the WWE Championship.
The next few weeks would set the scene for The Yes Movement as Vince McMahon appeared and made it known that if Bryan was to take Cena’s place as the ‘face of the WWE’ he would need to change: replacing Bryan shirt with a suit and forcing him to dress and act in a corporate manner. Bryan reluctantly played along but when Wade Barrett was assigned to shave off Bryan’s trademark beard it was a bridge too far, Bryan rebelled, shaving Barrett’s beard and refusing to change for an irate McMahon.
McMahon would then use his General Manager stooge Brad Maddox to put Bryan through the ringer, including a fantastic gauntlet match where Bryan overcame Jack Swagger, Cesaro and outlasted Ryback to keep the number 1 contender spot. All of this adversity at the hands of a company the audience was already sick of would only add to Bryan’s popularity. The ‘face of the company’ talk from McMahon was backed up particularly by staunch ‘company man’ JBL on commentary and began to play on the idea that what was really thought and discussed backstage was bleeding through to the in ring story.
There is also one key piece of the Summer Slam match that I did not get to last week, the man who would volunteer to referee the match, Triple H, someone who will become a major player in this story as it goes on. While John Cena has always represented the public face of the company, Triple H would come to symbolise the corporate, backstage intentions of the WWE. His history as someone who heavily involved himself in backstage politics, often to his own benefit and real life position as the son-in-law of Vince McMahon would place him perfectly as an on screen authority figure. In the lead up to Summer Slam 2013 he appeared to be at odds with his father-in-law over Daniel Bryan, replacing the clearly bais Brad Maddox as referee and promised to call the match down the middle, giving Bryan every chance to upend the apple cart that Triple H himself worked for.
The table is set, enough waiting, let’s get to the match:
John Cena (c) v Daniel Bryan – WWE Championship Match
With everything at stake, this match truly does have a big fight feel to it and the crowd is extremely into the match from the begining with lots of Bryan signs in the crowd, a massive roar for Bryan’s entrance and roarcous boos for Cena. Chants of Daniel Bryan echo around the Staples Center as the two are announced in the ring.
The narrative to the match is laid out early when Bryan manages to technically one up Cena until ‘Big Match John’ overpowers and rag dolls the superior but smaller grappler. This sets up what will happen for much of the rest of the match as Bryan takes the majority of the offence, grinding down the larger man, paying special attention to Cena’s injured elbow and then absorbing Cena’s explosions of power that even the score.
Despite taking most of the punishment in the early back and forth, Cena is the one who strikes the first major blow of the match, clotheslining Bryan off the ring apron and into side of the announcers table. Bryan takes the blow hard to his face however when Cena meets him on the floor he is able to reverse Cena’s irish whip sending the champ into the metal stairs to the joy of the crowd. The advantage is short lived though as Cena reverses Bryan and scores a suplex off the steps to the floor.
As the two move back into the ring Cena begins to take the upper hand with his power, pounding him in the corner and earning a two count with a powerbomb. Every small volley of offence Bryan manages to get in is met with massive cheers from the crowd. However every cheer prior is dwarfed by the ovation Bryan receives when he counters the hated Five Knuckle Shuffle with a kick to Cena’s head as the champ goes to deliver his signature taunt.
Cena learns from this mistake though and the second time he hits it he doesn’t bend over to deliver the hand wave but stays standing, well away from Bryan’s counters.
By now these two are really in a war, a bruise that has swollen up under Cena’s left eye really gives emphasis to the battle these men are engaged in. Bryan does not relent though, laying in with hard kicks, yelling at Cena to get up in between each strike and then countering Cena’s attempted STF with an STF of his own, really driving home his technical wrestling advantage.
Cena’s power finally manages to to break Bryan’s rhythm and he repeatedly rams Bryan into the turnbuckles and immediately pushes his first real opportunity since the suplex on the floor, hitting the AA. To the delight of the crowd Bryan manages to kick out at 2. If this series happened today it would be almost not even worth mentioning that Bryan kicked out of a mid-match AA but at this point the AA was still something that was only kicked out of on the biggest stages by the best wrestlers so Bryan doing this completely merits the explosion of YES chants it receives from the crowd.
Cena desperately looks to go to the top rope to delivery a leg drop but is met there by a tenacious Bryan who keeps charging at Cena despite being swatted away and pushed off multiple times. Once Bryan does make it to the top turnbuckle he executes a beautiful Superplex but holds onto the turnbuckle with his legs, pumping himself and the crowd up while hanging upside down in the corner. Bryan flips himself up, raises his arms high and leaps off the top, hitting the Flying Goat headbutt to Cena for a close as nails two count.
The crowd is now on their feet and another two counts follow as Cena delivers a leg drop from the top and picks Bryan up for the Super AA. In a truly awesome moment, Bryan’s elbows to escape the Super AA receive a YES chant as each one connects. Them combined with Cena’s busted elbow mean Bryan escapes and attempts a super hurricanrana only for Cena to once again use his strength, holding on up top and dropping Bryan to the canvas. However as Cena tries to follow up it is his injured elbow that lets him down, preventing him from placing the STF on Bryan effectively, allowing Bryan to counter into a Yes Lock.
Cena makes it to the ropes but as they rise Bryan gains the ascendancy for the final time battering Cena with corner dropkicks. It is only desperation that allows Cena to hold on with a huge clothesline that flips Bryan head over heels. However it is clear Bryan has an answer for every one of Cena’s moves and Cena has run out of steam.
Cena tries to pick Bryan up for an AA but Bryan counters with a DDT. Bryan goes for his second flying headbutt but is caught out of midair, only for Bryan counter an attempted AA again, catching Cena in a pinning combination that the champ only just survives. It is clear though that Bryan has solved the riddle. He goes to the corner for the flying knee, charges at Cena, hits him, takes the cover and gets the 1, 2 and 3 for the win and the WWE Championship.
Winner: Daniel Bryan via tapout
Rating: 4.5 YES’s out of 5
What a great match that so perfectly positioned each of the wrestlers strengths. Bryan ended up getting in the majority of the offence as he tried to wear down Cena with his superior skills however Cena’s pure power kept him in the game. They escalated the pace and emotion of this extremely well too, there was simply never a moment where it felt like they were stalling or rushing and as a result had the crowd in the palm of their hand.
Bryan was clearly the more popular man so his victory was met with a raucous response, and with John Cena giving him a handshake of respect and confetti raining down on him you could be forgiven for thinking Summer Slam 2013 had the perfect ending…..
“I hear voice in my head they counsel me, they understand, they talk to me.”
That’s right, it was all too good to be true and the fairy tale is over as the holder of the Money In The Bank briefcase Randy Orton’s music hits and The Viper slithers his way down the ramp. Initially it seems he is just there to taunt the new champion, as he gets to the ring he raises the briefcase and then turns away to make his way back up the locker room. However that is not what Bryan wants, instead of trying to ignore the intrusion Bryan turns his attention to Orton and actively starts to goad him into a match.
One of the things I was trying to do before I started this series was to nail down Daniel Bryan’s defining characteristic and I think this moment here says so much about Bryan and how that characteristic is his passion for wrestling. Despite being obviously tired from the biggest match of his life, Bryan is still spoiling for a fight.
Daniel Bryan (c) v Randy Orton – WWE Championship Match
After initially thinking better of it Orton takes the bait, charging the ring and unfortunately for Bryan when he turns around he doesn’t find a neutral ref but Triple H who has suddenly flipped from neutral to ready to enact the company’s will. A surprise kick to the gut and pedigree leave Bryan easy prey for the Apex Predator and Orton doesn’t even need to hit his own move. He goes straight to the cover and takes the win and the WWE Championship from Bryan.
It is interesting that up until this point Triple H had been pretty much invisible, as he promised he called the first match completely down the middle, barely getting involved at all. That wasn’t to be in the second match though as Hunter raises Orton’s hand, anointing him as the chosen champion.
Winner: Randy Orton via pinfall
No rating given.
It is interesting how knowing the ending of this story colours how we see it now. We know that Randy Orton’s Money in The Bank cash in kicked off one of the greatest stories in professional wrestling but at the time this was not so universally praised. To get a more ‘live’ reaction I went back through the Lords of Pain column and radio archives to sample some of the opinions going around at the time and the reaction was mixed at best.
While some people indeed saw that this had the potential to be an amazing story, there was a loud grouping of fans that immediately took this to be a demotion for Bryan and slap to the face of the fans that wanted Bryan to win so much. This kind of split thinking was really succinctly summed up by The Doc who’s PPV Review was titled ‘Did The WWE Just Make a Huge Mistake or a Briliant Move?’ To be honest I can see how their fears where very well founded, a lot of the commentators and commenters on this very site pointed at John Cena as being the man that would come back and right the wrong. As he had so many times before but pushing Bryan aside. Given Batista’s eventual return (which we don’t know about at this stage but was probably in the company’s plans) it is not hard to to see that it could have all gone very differently and backstage reports are still conflicted as to this all being planned or worked out on the fly.
Another interesting what if scenario to play with is what would have happened if Summer Slam had gone off the air with Bryan as champion and he had just begun his reign as champion there. Looking forward, while the crowd is undeniably into Bryan, only between a third to half of them are actually following along with the Yes chant afterwards and they are certainly not as hot as they would become in the lead up to Wrestlemania. Could it have been that the fire under Bryan would have burnt out once he had become WWE Champion? Would he be as beloved today if he had not had to chase that gold so hard?
I don’t want to look forward too much now but it is an interesting thought experiement none the less. I will be back with another column at the same time next week with the fallout from Raw and Smackdown after Randy Orton’s fateful cash in and also my first new discovery for the series, a quite good Steel Cage match with Wade Barrett. Looking forward to seeing you then.
Thanks for checking out Yes Relived, looking forward to seeing you next week for the next instalment in the rise of Daniel Bryan. If you would like to talk some more wrestling feel free to follow me on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or even better you can sign up for the LOP Forums. It is a great community of people who love wrestling and want to discuss it in all its forms.
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