G’day Lords of Pain, welcome back to YES Relived, the weekly series where we go back to relive 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 am rewatching, reviewing and analysing Daniel Bryan’s story on a week by week basis.
We are at column number ten this week, according to my calculations this series should be just a little over forty entries so that means we are about a quarter of the way through this series already! How time flies.
It has been a bit of a quieter couple of week for Bryan after being stripped of the WWE Championship after Night of Champions and the awesome Uprising angle from a few weeks ago. As a result, as well as the usual recap, last week I did a bit of fantasy booking to see what it would have looked like if Bryan had been WWE Champion throughout the Yes Movement. There is still an open challenge out there for anyone who thinks they can do it better than me, post your piece on the LOP Columns Forum and I may even feature it up here on the main page.
This week though it is the go home shows for Battleground where Bryan will be facing Randy Orton for the vacant WWE Championship. In The Breakdown I’ll also be having a look at how the WWE is currently utilising a lot of the techniques that made the YES Movement so popular in building up Brock Lesnar and how that story should be pointing to one person, but I will get there later. First to the Yes Movement!
The Life of Bryan
Bryan’s involvement on Raw tonight kicks off with a video package about his engagement to Brie Bella. Not 100% sure if this relates to the Yes Movement but I guess she said YES! YES! YES! So I’ll give it a pass (I’m gonna be a Father in October, I gotta get my practice up).
On with the program though and Bryan shows up for the final segment of Raw where he will be going face to face with Randy Orton with Jerry Lawler mediating. Bryan comes out in a sweet pink YES! shirt but is also wearing his trunks underneath so I guess he is ready to get physical if need be.
The body language of Orton and Bryan is off the charts good as the two are stare a hole in each other while Lawler introduces things. Orton takes the mic first saying he is happy Triple H didn’t just decide to put the title back on him after Bryan cheated because it meant he was motivated to rediscover himself and reach his full potential as The Apex Predator. He says he will beat Bryan because he is simply genetically superior to the ‘goat faced troll’ and a section of the crowd tries to get a “GOAT” chant going.
Bryan is still staring daggers at Orton and after briefly throwing some shade about Orton rehearsing his lines in the mirror starts to fire up saying “I may be a small goat faced troll but I have needed anyone else’s motivation to reach my full potential”. The crowd is loving this and Bryan says at Battleground he will win the championship. I’ve said it a few times throughout the series but as good as Bryan is in the ring, the guy knows how to handle himself on the mic like few others.
The pair start yelling YES and NO at each other before Orton brings up Brie and wonders what is wrong with her that she would settle for someone like Bryan instead of a ‘virile, handsome champion’ like him (yeah he actually said virile). Before he can get the last word out though Bryan has had enough and it is time to punch on.
The two brawl over to the outside and Bryan continues to beat Orton against the barricade before The Viper can turn things around. Once Orton is on the offence though he cannot be stopped and this new vicious version of Orton repeatadly bounces Bryan’s head off the ring post and hangs him up over the barricade.
When Orton drapes Bryan’s body from the apron for a DDT his new fiance Brie Bella runs out and starts to plead with The Viper. If anything she only eggs him on though and he drops, knocking Bryan cold and stands over him with a nasty look in his eyes. This is really Orton at his peak, all brooding body language and menace, he is as generic on the mic as they come but when he can rely more on his sheer physical presence he excels at looking completely vicious.
Orton clears the announcers table, pulls Bryan up and in a very cool camera shot finishes Raw with an RKO through the announcers table.
That was a fun way to end Raw and head towards Battleground. These kind of segments are as predictable and generic as they come but by focusing on Bryan’s passion and Orton’s mean streak it turned out quite interesting.
Unfortunately last week’s trend of a near Bryan-less Smackdown continues tonight with The Big Show’s story taking up the opening and closing slots of the show. I’ll give you a quick outline because it will be relevant down the line. After weeks of being ordered around against his will by Triple H and Stephanie (you may remember him being forced to assault Bryan), Big Show finally grows a pair in the opening segment and threatens to knock out Triple H. As punishment for his threat Show is put in a handicap match against The Shield and Randy Orton for the main event. Despite his best efforts even The Big Show cannot overcome the odds and the match ends when Ambrose brings in a chair to help beat down the big man.
As the beatdown goes on, Orton puts Show’s head in a chair as he did to Bryan two weeks ago and backs up to stomp it down. The crowd is cheering for Bryan to make the save and before Orton can perform the stomp the tag team number one contenders, The Usos, charge out and take it to The Shield.
Orton escapes from The Usos though and while The Usos battle The Shield on the outside makes his way back to Show and the chair. However the man the people are chanting for finally runs to the ring to stop Orton, punching and kicking the crap out of his rival. Bryan drags Orton down into the Yes Lock but before he can get true revenge for Monday night, Dean Ambrose jumps in allowing Orton to slide away.
Obviously annoyed at this Bryan decapitates Ambrose with an awesome right high kick before hitting the running knee. Orton stumbles up the entrance ramp as Bryan leads the crowd in a Yes Chant to end the show and with two very hot minutes of action Daniel Bryan has turned Smackdown around for the good guys.
This week they were obviously using Bryan fairly sparingly but he still managed to make an impact, maximising the two small roles he was given and the crowd is still well and truly behind him heading into Battleground.
One of the things that made the Yes Movement so special was how it so heavily leaned into the response that the WWE fan base was already having to Daniel Bryan. Within the fan base at the time was the very real feeling that Bryan was being held back by Vince McMahon and the WWE. It didn’t matter if he was given main events or world championship matches, the prevailing attitude was that the WWE’s attitude towards guys of Bryan’s size, ability and history would see Vince try to cap his popularity behind the ‘chosen’ company men like John Cena or Randy Orton.
Leaning so hard into that reality meant that the more they said on screen he wasn’t ‘best for business’, the more the fans wanted to cheer him and prove he was. The more he was beaten down by the on screen representation of the company, the more fans got on his side and wanted to stick it to the real company.
Right now there is a very different but still reality based sentiment around another main eventer that the WWE is leaning heavily into, the pervasive negative sentiment around Brock Lesnar and his part time status with the company. You could almost call it the Anti-Yes Movement for how completely it has come to dominate wrestling discussion over the last two to three months.
At its most basic it is a perception amongst us fans that Brock sees himself as being above everyone else. He doesn’t feel the need to grace the WWE or WWE audience with his presence, even at the second biggest PPV of the year and because of his ‘star power’ and business acumen there is nothing the company can do about it. As a result he is effectively holding the main event scene for the company’s main show hostage.
Tell me you don’t feel that is at least partly the truth. Tell me you haven’t rallied against the part timers, pumped your fist when us commentators rip into them. Tell me that Brock’s on going absence from the Raw main event scene hasn’t frustrated you at least a little. I feel you, I stand beside you, these last few months have left me angry at wrestling in a way that I haven’t felt, perhaps ever.
Quite obviously I do not know Brock Lesnar personally but I have no trouble believing at least part of this story is real. Call me a mark if you want but I have bought into that feeling hook line and sinker. It was only through a bit of self reflection that I realised how thoroughly the WWE may be ‘working me’.
For all we know the WWE may have been behind Daniel Bryan from the start. The 18 second loss to Sheamus that started the Yes Movement may have been planned to garner the sympathy of the audience, not ‘squash’ Bryan as most thought the ‘indie-hating’ Vince McMahon wanted to do. I know for a fact that at least at this point in the Yes Movement story the WWE knows exactly what they are doing with Bryan; the more they held the title at arms length and told the audience he wasn’t fit for it, the more invested in his chase we became.
Perhaps behind the scenes Brock Lesnar is as amicable as they come, a guy happy to perform the story the WWE have laid out before him and play this egotistical, prize fighting character they have created.
However one big thing differs in this story, Brock Lesnar is a villain so the WWE needs to find a hero to conquer him. Because this is a reality based story line, the person who rises up should represent everything Brock isn’t in reality. Who is the hero who has earnt his position rather than been given it? Who is the hero that hasn’t taken his fans for granted but has rightfully earned their respect and admiration? Who is the hero that has fought night in, night out against all comers? Who is the man that will right this wrong and bring Brock to justice?
While there are countless men that could do it given time, this story with Brock seems to be coming to a crescendo and for me there are only two men in the WWE who fit the role I’ve laid out right now: AJ Styles and Seth Rollins. Both men truly represent everything Lesnar isn’t, they have the audience behind them and the characters and history to topple this beast. With AJ being on Smackdown that means if the WWE want to properly follow through on this reality infused story they have built, right now Rollins should be the man to bring down Brock Lesnar.
Whether or not they actually follow through on this story in a logical way remains to be seen but to me the similarities between one of the most universally loved and universally disliked stories of the decade are quite interesting. I just hope and pray this Anti-Yes Movement ends as well as the original did.
That wraps up YES Relived for this week though. Let me know in the comments if you think what I have laid out actually points to Rollins beating Lesnar for the Universal Championship and don’t forget the Yes Movement Open Challenge. Make sure you check in next Saturday for Bryan’s championship match against Orton at Battleground and my first Subplot Sidebar where I look at the amazing Shield v Rhodes Family angle that also climaxes at Battleground.
Thanks for checking out YES Relived, if you would like to keep the conversation going you can reach me on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or have your say on the LOP Forums. It is a great place for in depth discussion and you will find an intelligent and engaged community.
A great place to start is a column called Best 4 Business by column forum regular Tim Rose who draws some really interesting conclusions from comparing business of the WWE to his own experience in small business.