When Daniel Bryan, then known as Bryan Danielson, signed with World Wrestling Entertainment in 2010 a lot of people knew he deserved it based on his successful career on the independent wrestling scene. The question was never about if he had the talent. The question was whether WWE would use him in the right way.
The answer to that question? Yes. A resounding yes.
The Championship Reign
Late in 2011, Daniel Bryan won the World Heavyweight Title by defeating the Big Show at December's TLC pay-per-view. He did so as a babyface. The heel turn soon followed as Bryan became increasingly confident to the point that he drew the ire of the fans. He retained his title at Royal Rumble as an underdog against Big Show and Mark Henry in a steel cage match.
Then at Elimination Chamber, he survived against five other challengers to retain his championship. It may have been the weakest group of challengers in Elimination Chamber history, but it still counts.
We all know what happened at WrestleMania 28. He lost his World Heavyweight Title to Sheamus in 18 seconds after giving his girlfriend, AJ, a kiss.
A lot of people were disappointed with how short the WrestleMania match was, myself included. Lucky for us, Bryan had a rematch with Sheamus in a two out of three falls match at Extreme Rules. Having more than one fall is extreme? I guess so. That match delivered a lot of excitement in the 23 minutes they were given. It was one of best matches of the year.
The Feud with CM Punk
Immediately after the feud with Sheamus ended, Bryan went into a three-month story with the WWE Champion CM Punk while also involving AJ Lee. I think the Punk/Bryan match at Over The Limit is one of the three best matches of the year. It was special.
At June's No Way Out pay-per-view, Bryan was involved in a triple threat match with Kane also challenging WWE Champion CM Punk. There was a lot of chemistry between Bryan and Kane during that storyline, but who knew what would become of it?
The July Money in the Bank pay-per-view led to another Punk vs. Bryan singles match except this time with AJ as the referee. Even though we didn't know what her intentions would be in this No Disqualification match, she called it right down the middle as Bryan lost to Punk one more time in a nearly 30-minute battle between the WWE's two best performers, in my opinion at least.
The "Anger Management" Storyline
With all of the momentum gained from feuding with Sheamus and CM Punk and the large crowd reactions for everything he did, Bryan was then booked to get married to AJ Lee on the historic 1,000th episode of Raw. She turned him down and instead took the job as GM of Raw, and Bryan lost his mind.
In the eight weeks that have followed, Bryan's "anger management" issues have produced some of the best WWE television of the year. The classes with Dr. Shelby, Harold and of course Kane produced a lot of funny moments and they didn't end there.
At this past Sunday's Night of Champions pay-per-view, Bryan and Kane left with the tag team titles. It was the right move. The crowd was clearly behind them while not showing much interest in the Kofi Kingston/R-Truth team that did a good job as the babyface tag team champions for over four months. I don't blame the crowd, though.
"I am the tag team champions" is what Bryan and Kane have each proclaimed proudly. It's so silly, yet it works.
Bryan and Kane have developed awesome chemistry in the ring and out while earning the cheers of the crowd. Despite being a dysfunctional team, what they are doing is clearly working. Team Friendship, as Dr. Shelby named them, is working.
This past Friday on SmackDown, Bryan and Kane took part in six of the 11 segments on the show. They were a part of the open in the show. Bryan and Kane each had singles matches while costing their own partner the matches they had. Then they had a main event tag match against Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow (the two men that beat them in singles matches earlier in the show) that resulted in Bryan and Kane bonding over chair shots. How adorable!
The ending of SmackDown saw Bryan and Kane destroy not just Rhodes and Sandow, but four other tag teams with chair shots. It was a bonding moment where they showed that even though they don't like each other all the time; when it counts they will be there for their partner.
The beatdown with the chairs wasn't a heel move. The chair attack was a way of getting over the idea that these two could be a functional unit going forward without the "anger management" issues that plagued them the last two months. The psychological teachings of Dr. Shelby are working after all.
The question now is where is this storyline going with Bryan? Simple. It's going in the direction of turning him into one of the biggest babyfaces on the roster.
It was obvious that once the "yes" chants started taking over WWE arenas that he wouldn't be booed for long. It's funny for him to say "no" to the fans, but eventually that's going to fade away and he'll turn into a hero of sorts. It's happening now.
The Recognition of Talent
As an in-ring performer, Bryan is unmatched. He is the best there is. Obviously others can stake the claim as being the best, such as CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler to name two, but in my opinion the honor goes to Bryan. He's shown in WWE, and before he was in WWE, that he's capable of having a great match with anybody. If the opponent is elite like Punk is then Bryan will have one of the best matches of the year. If Bryan's in the ring with a bigger opponent like Kane at SummerSlam then he's able to have a good match in that situation as well.
The area that has surprised a lot of people is in terms of his skills on the microphone. A year ago, after he had won SmackDown's Money in the Bank briefcase, a lot of fans wondered if he had main event talent when it came to delivering a money promo. For the most part he has shown that he has that gift. Granted, a lot of his promo work is of the comedy variety, but you can see how much he's grown since he was on NXT two years ago.
During his World Heavyweight Championship run, there were many instances where Bryan was alone in the center of the ring delivering fantastic heel promos to draw the ire of his fans. While his girlfriend AJ was telling him that she loved him, Bryan would reply to her like a jerk by saying that he thought she was cool. It took him a long time to say that he loved her and even then we didn't really believe it. That's a sign of a good talker, especially of the heel variety.
The Future as a Babyface
Look at the current WWE roster. Now that CM Punk is in full heel mode, the top two babyfaces are John Cena and Sheamus. Next in the babyface pecking order is Randy Orton, who is rumored to turn heel by the end of the year, and then who? There are guys like Brodus Clay and Ryback who are still moving up the roster. There are long-term performers like Kofi Kingston and R-Truth, but neither of them are considered top guys. You can go down the roster. Nobody jumps out at me as a potential main event babyface or in a spot as the next elite babyface.
That brings me to Bryan. The door is wide open for him to walk through it and become one of the biggest "good guys" in the company. He has a sense of humor to him. He's likable. Due to his size, he has an underdog look to him simply because his opponents are generally going to be bigger than him. He has the fighting spirit as a babyface with his high octane offense based around the barrage of kicks he throws during every match. His finishing move, whether you call it the "Yes Lock" or the "No Lock," is known by fans as a credible move used to end a match.
From a marketing standpoint, Bryan has a lot of traits you want in a babyface as well. The "yes" chant has become a sensation that has filled WWE arenas all over the world. It's important to have a catchphrase that fans can sink their teeth into. It's amazing that "yes" is even a catchphrase, but the Steve Austin "what" chant is still going strong 11 years after it started whether we like it or not.
Labeling him as a "goat face" because of his ridiculous beard was a put down at first. It can be parlayed into a money maker too. Once again it's a comedy thing and Bryan has shown the ability to make his comedy segments into something very successful. Don't be shocked if you see fans of all ages rocking "goat face" t-shirts in the next few months.
There are no limits to where Bryan's babyface run will go. I would assume that his tag team with Kane will run until the end of the year or at least close to it. I think the team can be a very entertaining upper midcard act for the next few months and they should ride it for as long as they can. That doesn't mean one of them has to turn heel. Although, if that happens, then Kane would be the more likely partner to do that. After all, Kane is the all-time leader in heel/face turns (unofficially).
By the time we get to WrestleMania 29 in April, I would expect Bryan to be firmly entrenched as one of the top babyfaces in the company. While I don't expect any babyface to be booked stronger than John Cena or even Sheamus (has he lost any matches this year?), Bryan's ability will see him rise close to the top once again. Don't be surprised if Bryan is holding the WWE Title or perhaps the World Heavyweight Title once again in 2013.
The current WWE roster is loaded with talent that has a bright future. In my opinion, nobody's future is brighter than Daniel Bryan. It's only a matter of time until he's firmly entrenched as one of WWE's greatest good guys as an in-ring performer, a talker and an actor too.
Will he succeed in the role as an elite good guy? There's only one word needed to answer that question.
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org
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