Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Cavalcade of Failure: The Sad Title Reign of Daniel Bryan

Bryan's last two months have been a tragedy
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Daniel Bryan's story between SummerSlam and WrestleMania XXX was nothing short of a classic, triumphant hero story. His run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship afterwards was supposed to be fodder for a historical retelling of his first real reign as ace of the company. But ever since Mania, he has been the subject of a tragedy. The last two months have seen everything in his character's life (and some bits of random chance in his real life as well, but including the deaths of his father and Connor "The Stone Crusher" Michalek would feel cheap in an essay such as this) fail him, and now, he is at a crossroads.

The most subjective and perhaps shakiest argument is that Bryan has failed himself, or at the very least, the writing of his character while he was primed exclusively against Stephanie McMahon and The Demon™ Kane has. While he hasn't totally gone off the MRA deep end, he might as well wear a fedora and crow about how his atheism online. His casual use of McMahon's femininity against her as a negative and his assumption that My Wife™ Brie Bella cannot handle herself at all is off-putting at least.

Sure, Bryan's crowd support has seemingly not wavered, and his one match that he's had since Mania against Kane showed to me why I can easily ignore awful character writing when he's still active in the ring. However, I'm also a white male, the epitome of privilege. How many times can women fans look at Bryan as someone to like and root for a person who treats characters like them in patronizing or worse manners. Still, I am willing to chalk that situation up to WWE's backwards treatment of women altogether rather than a flaw in Bryan's character alone. John Cena is transphobic, trivializes women like Bryan does, and isn't afraid to use a misogynist slur here and there. The problem is endemic of the entire company and needs to change. But maybe the point that I'm grasping for is that I expect Bryan to be better.

Still, regardless of whose fault Bryan's character dourness is, his booking has been left flat since Mania. His run from Mania to Extreme Rules should have at least been at the forefront of the WWE card against a prime opponent. Granted, I was into Kane as a challenger in a vacuum. He and Bryan had history, and if anyone could get a good-to-great match out of him, it would be Bryan. However, going from beating the entirety of Evolution at WrestleMania to being in a feud with a guy who hadn't been relevant in the ring since he teamed with Bryan.

After getting the most VIP treatment in WrestleMania history, a victory lap for a month would have been too much to ask for, I admit. But if Bryan was going to get a stopgap feud while Evolution was off fighting The Shield, why not get sucked into the vortex of the John Cena/Bray Wyatt feud? Or even better, if Antonio Cesaro was going to be a Paul Heyman guy, and Brock Lesnar was always the plan for SummerSlam, then why not put Cesaro in that spot against Bryan the way that Bryan himself was a stopgap for CM Punk between Mania and his heel turn in the summer in 2012? Sure, Cesaro may have been on a similar spot on the totem pole as Kane, but he'd come off with more story momentum. It wouldn't have felt so much a demotion for Bryan as it would have an elevation for Cesaro, and of course, an epic series of matches.

But the sequence of events that have taken place since his initial announcement have been infuriatingly random and endemic of WWE's lack of a cohesive vision for something like Bryan's injury. Granted, the air of confusion around the status of his neck provided a stumbling block for anything concrete, but to have Bryan and Bella defiantly come out on the pay-per-view and seemingly outsmart the Authority for the medical circumstances force WWE's hand only makes him look as dumb as another babyface who failed to get over on a huge level in part because booking failed him on the reg, Sting. Smarter options could have been taken. Bryan could have been put on the injured list right from jump with an Interim Champion being crowned at Payback. WWE could have played wait and see.

But all parties involved wouldn't have had to have acted in any fashion if Bryan's own body didn't fail him. That circumstance is the most tragic of them all. The style that made him so famous and popular with fans is the most likely culprit for his injury. Sophocles couldn't have written a sadder tale. Of course, looking back on the last two months with great sadness is only good for cathartic purposes. I am sure that when Bryan returns, he'll have chances to tweak his in-ring style to retain masterful storytelling without the risk to his health, which is the great equalizer in the face of bad character work and worse booking. But for now, what should have been the start of one of the great runs in WWE history has been squelched by injury at a point where it was bungled horribly on all angles. If that doesn't qualify as an all-time tragedy in wrestling, I don't know what does.