2013 will be a big year for Daniel Bryan. Bryan finds himself without the Tag Team Championship after a 245-day reign, but it seems as if gold will be back around his waist sooner rather than later. The Shield took the titles from Bryan & Kane, but more importantly, they lit a fire under Bryan that will most likely propel him into the main event scene.
Since his debut in WWE, we have seen flashes of intensity from Bryan – but only flashes. A brief NXT feud with Michael Cole, his return at SummerSlam 2010, and frustrated backstage promos during his Mr. Money in the Bank-era losing streak all showed what many of Bryan’s fans have known for years – Bryan can play a legitimate, dangerous, and captivating character.
Those that were more familiar with Daniel Bryan than Bryan Danielson were skeptical – and for good reason. For his first 3 years in WWE, Bryan mostly portrayed a goofy, unimpressive everyman. His storylines included love triangles with the Bellas and Gail Kim, a meandering, boring feud with Ted DiBiase, and a United States Championship reign that was entertaining in the ring, but forgettable outside of it. Bryan’s use of the LeBell Lock drew comparisons to Chris Benoit, something that his supporters had been trying to draw since his debut. There was something special about Bryan, something that the WWE Universe had not seen from him yet.
Bryan won fans over once he stepped between the ropes, but he didn’t have a permanent connection with the crowd yet. He was not a draw. Although fans were often cheering at the end of his matches, he rarely got substantial pops during his entrance. That all changed in 2012, when his Yes and No catchphrases took off. The chants have had longevity unseen in WWE since “What?” and have only intensified as time passed (recent attempts to replicate it have failed, e.g. Fandangoing). Bryan finally had that connection. He was over. Fans loved him or loved to hate him. This connection grew as Team Hell No grew in popularity, and it has finally come to a head.
Daniel Bryan is one of the most over performers on the roster. He is no longer the face in distress that reaches desperately for a hot tag. He is the face that gets the hot tag, sending the crowd into a frenzy. For those that doubt how over he really is, his recent matches with The Shield are all the evidence needed – and it seems as if the powers that be in WWE are taking notice. Over the past few weeks, he has been booked as a legitimate threat. This isn’t the opportunist that retained his World Heavyweight Championship in a bunch of fluke victories in early 2012. This is a guy that is kicking people’s heads in.
WWE must capitalize on this, and I think they will. Check out Team Hell No’s interview after losing the Tag Team Championships. Bryan is furious about being seen as the “weak link,” and now he’s on a mission to show that he isn’t. The next night on Raw, he dominates The Shield for most of the match. He doesn’t look like a vanilla midget that doesn’t belong in a WWE ring. He looks like a threat. This week’s Smackdown spoilers suggest the next direction of Bryan’s character, and it seems as if Bryan, who now has the complete package of talent, gimmick, and charisma, may be receiving a major singles push.
Should Bryan capitalize on the crowd’s support and climb the ranks as a face? Bryan and Dolph Ziggler have put on match of the year candidates in the past, and a face Bryan chasing the title could bring some much-needed attention to Smackdown. If Ryback wins the WWE Championship, he will eventually need a new challenger. Bryan fans have been clamoring for a David vs. Goliath angle for months now, and an angle with Ryback would legitimize both competitors. However, it may prove difficult to surpass John Cena as the top face on Raw (it’s debatable whether WWE Champion CM Punk was ever the top guy), so perhaps Bryan should embrace his new-found intensity and channel it into an unhinged, dangerous heel.
In any case, this is Daniel Bryan’s time. The giants of WrestleMania season are leaving, and there is more room at the top than ever. WWE’s summer months are often plagued with low ratings and tepid crowd reactions, especially without any new intrigue to keep fans invested. Bryan has proven he has what it takes to entertain, move merch, and get huge reactions. Most likely, WWE will turn Bryan against Kane, effectively turning him heel. In most cases nowadays, turning a midcard talent heel is a death sentence, but Bryan is already getting reactions that performers likes Cody Rhodes and Antonio Cesaro are dreaming of. Bryan is ready to be a legitimate main event star, whether he’s heel or face. It’s up to WWE to decide whether they want to capitalize, or let another potential megastar fall by the wayside.
What should be done with Daniel Bryan? Will he find more success in WWE as a face or as a heel?