Daniel Bryan’s recent in-ring return to WWE was met with overwhelming fan approval. The man that so many supported during his war with The Authority in 2013 was greeted with open arms when he was medically cleared to once again compete in the squared circle. It was Bryan’s dream to resume his wrestling career and his fans could not be happier to see him realize that dream.
But is it now becoming a nightmare for him? Daniel Bryan the man surely loves his reprised role as the bearded berserker between the ropes. He’s right back where he should be and it’s obvious he hasn’t lost a step. However the same may not be true for Daniel Bryan’s character.
Bryan’s character must always fight from behind. He battles the odds because that’s who he is. He was almost always outnumbered and he was usually outgunned. No matter how often he stepped up, he was consistently knocked back down.
Check out Bryan’s return at WrestleMania 34:
But that became the way of things for Daniel Bryan. That was how he connected to the crowd. The fans that at one time didn’t care about him were the same fans that completely embraced him during the explosion of the Yes Movement. Bryan was the underdog. It worked for him and it fit him perfectly.
However now that he’s back, he finds himself fighting the odds once again. His issues with Big Cass may or may not be resolved but their match at Backlash was followed by a beat-down. After failing to qualify for Money in the Bank, Bryan spent the closing moments of SmackDown Live looking more distraught than he has in quite some time.
That Daniel Bryan was the man that left WWE because he couldn’t wrestle anymore. That Daniel Bryan understood disappointment and knew what true pain was. His expression after losing to Rusev on that night was unsettling. Bryan was frustrated, even bewildered. Fans understand that WWE is telling a story here and Bryan’s loss is the first chapter of that story.
Check out Bryan’s loss vs. Rusev on SmackDown Live:
Daniel’s disappointment was shared by the WWE faithful. How could this happen? How could his return be wrought with such disappointment so early on? The crowd was fairly split on the match but the outcome surprised that crowd all the same. Why didn’t Daniel go over? Bryan was getting back on track. He was returning to his former glory, fighting the good fight as only he can. Daniel Bryan’s struggle is an inspiring one. Why is this happening?
The main factor in this situation is expectation. Fans expected Bryan to be the Bryan of old. He has not disappointed thus far in terms of his ring work. But Bryan’s character has disappointed in terms of wins and losses. He had an opportunity to compete for a WWE title shot at Money in the Bank but he lost it. It’s just one loss of course but for Daniel Bryan’s character, it’s indeed a big one. He knew it would not be easy to pick up where he left off but he also knew what he was capable of. There was no reason why he should have lost.
But this is where Bryan’s own expectations come into play. Every time he steps into the ring, fans collectively hold their breath. Is he really okay? Can he really do this? Please don’t let anything happen to him. Bryan has delivered on this front. He does seem to be acclimating well and he does seem to physically be okay.
However his matches are just part of the expectation. Bryan always fights back and he keeps fighting until he wins. Fans love this about him. It’s what made him a star. So now that he’s not immediately climbing the ladder as he did before, is Bryan’s return failing? It seems ridiculous to believe that fans would give up on him so soon. But is that where WWE is currently driving the narrative?
Watch Big Cass jump Bryan after their match at Backlash:
If there are no immediate plans to elevate Daniel to the WWE Championship, then what is the plan for him? Considering where he was before and how hard he fought to get there, it does seem to be an all-or-nothing environment for him. How could Daniel Bryan settle for anything less than scrapping his way back to the top of the card? Is that his eventual destination?
This is where the situation can get a bit sticky. If Daniel continues to come up short, then things may go south for him as a babyface. That is especially true if he were to find his way into Money in the Bank, only to lose at the very last second. There seems to be no good reason to turn him heel but when it comes to WWE; that could be the endgame for him. A frustrated Daniel Bryan could very well become a desperate Daniel Bryan. If that happens, then all bets are off.
From a character standpoint, anything can happen. Bryan’s loss to Rusev may in fact be just another loss. His MITB quest may not be over. Or it might be and he could win every match from that point on until he becomes the new WWE champion. Or he may end up with the United States Championship at some point and if that happens, he could become the hardest working champion in the company, even surpassing Intercontinental champion Seth Rollins.
But while Daniel Bryan the man is probably doing just fine and is perfectly content with his return so far, there’s no question he is now in a much different WWE. This is not the same company that he conquered in 2014. Fans have seen him rise up and realize his dreams. They cheered him on every step of the way. The Yes Movement was very real and it did indeed transcend the company in every conceivable way. But what are the chances any of that will happen again?
How does Daniel Bryan fit into today’s WWE? Is he heading for great things or is he just another Superstar? If the former is true, then when will it begin? If the latter is true, does he even care? His booking over the next several weeks may answer those questions. Or WWE may just continue to tweak his story as it goes. Despite what happens, Daniel Bryan is back because he loves the business and because his fans love him. He never gave up and neither should they.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com