A tried and tested method in wrestling is the way a star is created. A major debut, a strong immediate push up the card, meaningful victories over established names. All of these methods have been used for as long as the industry has existed. Goldberg became WCW’s biggest star because of a strong sustained push, increasingly meaningful victories over established names and a consistent presence on the company’s TV show and pay-per-views. The same for pretty much every superstar ever created in WWE and WCW.
However sometimes, almost in spite of what the company intends and plans, a star is born the natural way.
When Steve Austin cut the now-legendary Austin 3:16 promo at King of the Ring 1996, a star was born. The next night, and every night onwards, Austin 3:16 signs started appearing at arenas. The WWF wisely jumped on board, quickly producing the iconic Austin 3:16 shirt that at one point could be seen absolutely everywhere, the world over. Still officially a heel, Austin was gaining popularity. And not because he was being booked to do so. His attitude did not change, his demeanour did not change, he wasn’t being booked in angles designed to garner applause and admiration. But his anti-authority, don’t-give-a-damn character struck a chord with an audience looking to pull away from the Hulkamania and Next Generation eras. Heading into WrestleMania 13 and his match with Bret Hart, Austin was hearing more and more cheers. When Mania was all said and done, and the celebrated double turn had taken place, it was clear Vince and the WWF had been listening. Austin was the fans’ choice. Six months later Austin was Stone Cold Stunning Vince McMahon in Madison Square Garden, the WWF’s home, and seven months after that Austin was the WWF champion and the undisputed face of the company. A star born from the crowds’ desire to see someone new, and sometimes when the public demands it as much as they did, there is no stopping it.
For the last six months one of the more prominent criticisms levelled at WWE has been the handling of Daniel Bryan. A man who got over with the ‘WWE Universe’ not because of a sustained television push, or a deep and meaningful angle or storyline, or because he was associated with the usual main event players. Daniel Bryan got over the good, old-fashioned way; because the crowds liked him. Stuck in a mid-card comedy tag-team that had passed it’s peak and beginning to border on stale, Bryan changed nothing about how he presented himself or how he performed in the ring. He regularly performed at a high standard, that never changed. But a rapid groundswell started that saw him getting more cheers than anyone else, show after show, and saw more of his merchandise appear in crowd, show after show. WWE had not scripted this, this was natural. Heading into Money in the Bank, there was a clear favourite in the eyes of the fans. They only wanted one man to climb the ladder; not just the ladder to grab the briefcase, but also the ladder to the top of WWE.
July 14 2013
With that groundswell growing, it became more and more likely that Bryan would be given the go-ahead to climb the ladder to the top. The fans in the arena that night wanted it, their cheers and chants confirmed they only had one favourite to emerge with the briefcase. And then came the flurry. A flurry of offense against all other competitors in the match that is still one of the most exciting sequences seen for years in a WWE match. The energy and enthusiasm displayed by both Bryan and the crowd was incredible. It appeared to be the highlight of a crowning achievement for Daniel Bryan…
Deflated, the crowd groaned. Their choice had failed when it seemed inevitable he would succeed. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, that feeling summed up the next few months for Daniel Bryan.
August 18 2013
Chosen by WWE champion John Cena to challenge for his belt – in front of an electric and DB-favouring crowd on Raw – Bryan found himself in the main event of the company’s second-biggest pay-per-view of the year. And there was only one person that the WWE Universe were backing to win. The buildup focused on Bryan’s desire to be WWE champion and it seemed like an easy story for WWE to book; people’s champion fighting to called World champion. Arenas became more and more full of Daneil Bryan merchandise and week after week his segments were usually the most popular part of the show. All looked good for Bryan and WWE, they had a new star that could take the pressure of an injured John Cena and be relied on to deliver quality matches and crowds.
On the night itself, everything went to plan. Cena put in a career performance against his friend, doing more for Bryan than he has any opponent in a long, long time. Bryan was made to look like Cena’s equal and the spotlessly-clean finish was refreshing to see. When the fans asked “Can you make Daniel Bryan our champion?”, WWE had answered “Yes…Yes…Yes”
But then Randy Orton won.
The fans were ready to embrace Bryan as champion. He had that uplifting moment as new WWE champion, ready to fill the gap left by Cena’s injury-enforced absence and give the audience a new main event star. But there is usually always a roadblock, and this time it came in the shape of Money in the Bank winner Orton and newly-turned heel Triple H. One Pedigree, one cover and Bryan was now the former WWE champion. Deflated, again, the crowd groaned. But all, it appeared, was not lost.
Throughout history, the best story a wrestling company can script is the underdog babyface chasing the dominant heel champion. And if that heel champion is associated with the powerful heel authority group, that makes the chase – and more importantly, the feel-good end – that more sweeter. Therefore the prevailing opinion was that despite the disappointing conclusion to SummerSlam, the ultimate endgame would be Bryan overcoming the tyrannical authority figures – a la Steve Austin – and ending up once again WWE champion. That was the opinion, anyway…
September 15 2013
And that opinion seemed to be correct, as Bryan cleanly defeated Orton to win the WWE Championship in front of an enthusiastic crowd, a crowd happy to see Bryan once again end up on top with the title. However, as much as it was good to see the hero win out, you couldn’t help but feel WWE should have gone with this ending one month prior at SummerSlam and let the new champion reign supreme. You only get one chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and they blew that with the Triple H heel turn and Orton cash-in. And even though they attempted to give Bryan an excuse with the tale that he had a grueling match with Cena, followed by the Hunter Pedigree, those more cynical pointed to the lengthy gap between the Pedigree being hit and Orton actually covering for the win. When all was said and done, Bryan could overcome Cena and everything he could throw at him, but Bryan could not overcome one finisher from Triple H. That was in the past though, he was champion again and it was time to enjoy Daniel Bryan as the new WWE champion and moving forward towards the next stage of his career.
But then Randy Orton w…
Well, not this time he didn’t. But Bryan wasn’t WWE champion either. 24 hours after winning the title, the new champion was stripped of the belt by Triple H, who claimed a fast count by referee Scott Armstrong. A second rematch was soon announced for Battleground, as even the most ardent Daniel Bryan supporters were starting to lose faith. And on the face of it, why shouldn’t they? Triple H, along with Vince and Stephanie McMahon, were writing off Bryan’s chances on a weekly basis on TV, constantly belittling him and labeling him a “solid B+”. There was little or no attempt to put him over and make him seem like a legitimate challenger for the WWE Championship. To make matters worse, most viewers saw Battleground as a placeholder, an event that was designed to tread water until Hell in a Cell rolled around three weeks later. And so it proved, with the vacant WWE Championship staying vacant following a non-decision in the main event. That faith fans had in WWE to do right by Bryan had all but gone, especially following Vince McMahon’s comments in a conference call that the buyrate for SummerSlam was lower than expected because the company had not offered an “attraction” – meaning Daniel Bryan. The chairman had essentially just gone public and confirmed that those in charge had no faith in Bryan to main event.
October 27 2013
Going into the event it was widely assumed that this would be the culmination of the Bryan-Orton story, following three successive pay-per-view main events. Shawn Michaels was brought in as special referee for the match, and it was soon played up as an advantage for Bryan, given that Michaels originally trained him. Those fans who still clinged to the hope that this tale would end with Bryan overcoming Orton and the Authority and walking out of the Cell as champion believed the story was set, this could not go wrong. Last chance, and all that.
And then Randy Orton won.
Apologies for repetition, but that also summed up the feelings of the fans. Once again Daniel Bryan had failed in his big moment. Of course, the loss came following Shawn Michaels’ superkick – a largely pointless heel turn given that HBK’s retired status meant Bryan could never get retribution for the double-cross. Moreover, Michaels’ actions were never really presented as the sole reason Bryan couldn’t get the job done against Orton. Triple H’s continual assertions that DB wasn’t up to the job were once again proved right. And the following night on Raw, it became clear that Daniel Bryan’s time in the main event was over.
In part two, we look at Bryan’s drop from the main event, and the one amazing night that could put him right back in there.
Follow on from this Goat Faced story with part two ‘Daniel Bryan: Will WWE give in to the YES movement?’ right Here.