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Looking at Daniel Bryan’s heel turn

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Last night, Daniel Bryan was booked to challenge AJ Styles in an unadvertised WWE championship match, which saw Bryan turn heel and win the belt. The title switch further shuffles this weekend’s Survivor Series card, adding Bryan vs. Lesnar to the event, a pay-per-view that will see Charlotte replace Becky Lynch after a concussion during a brawl on Raw.

A heel turn for Daniel Bryan, one of the most popular on the roster for the past several years, might seem like an odd decision on the surface, but a look at his tenure since his return to the ring earlier this year allows for a more complete view of the path of his persona. When Bryan Danielson was legitimately forced into retirement nearly three years ago from what was thought to be a career-ending neck injury, it was one of the most emotional segments in the history of the industry. In the few years prior to the announcement, Bryan had become the most over athlete in the company through his stellar in-ring skill and his ability to connect with the audience. His dedication to the sport and his genuine appreciation for the fan support made the crowd demand that he get the opportunity he deserved as a main event star.

WWE brass had other plans and despite the demand from the audience, management attempted to minimize Bryan’s role ahead of WM 30. However, it wasn’t until the writing team was forced to include Daniel Bryan in the main event that he was booked for the spot that he earned, celebrating as champion at the biggest event of the year in 2014. Unfortunately, an injury a short time later forced Bryan to vacate the belt. When he returned to the ring, he resumed his status as an extremely popular competitor on the roster and some assumed he would be back in the main event spot at WM in 2015. Not surprisingly, Roman Reigns was chosen for that match against Brock Lesnar at WM 31, and Bryan won the IC title instead at the event. Sadly, he suffered a concussion just weeks later and had to relinquish another championship.

The status of his career was unknown for almost a year until the previously mentioned retirement in 2016, but he resurfaced on WWE programming as the Smackdown General Manager in July of that year. Keep in mind, an injury put Bryan on the sidelines, but he maintained his popularity.

When he was cleared to return to the squared circle this past March, it seemed obvious that the most logical option was for him to resume his spot as a top star on the Smackdown brand. Somehow (and not shockingly) management fumbled the opportunity and his career again. The underdog competitor that management didn’t want made it to the top through the support of the fans only to be forced to retire from injury at the peak of his run. The comeback story could write itself, but that’s not the path that the writing team took when they wrote the script.

The direction of his career almost minimized his star power and he was made to look secondary to The Miz for every major pay-per-view match of a rivalry that had years of history behind it. In fact, Bryan’s only victory against the Miz on a major stage since his return was the Super Showdown event where Bryan won a fast bout with a fluke pin. At what point since his return to the ring at WM 34 did the WWE showcase Daniel Bryan as anything more than a mid-card talent? More importantly, when did the reaction to him decline? The point being, it hasn’t and despite the lackluster booking since his return, Daniel Bryan is still a very popular character on the show.

That being said, management missed the boat on the opportunity to tell the ultimate comeback story. The chance to show his journey back to the championship after a career-threatening injury was fumbled. So, at this point, the best way to freshen up his persona is a heel turn that will allow him to vent his frustrations toward the WWE machine. He did everything by the rules and still wasn’t given a chance so he did what he had to do to claim the WWE title again. Ironically, this is another scenario where the story could write itself. Make no mistake, Daniel Bryan can absolutely play the role of a vicious heel, with his run in Ring Of Honor as the “American Dragon” in 2006 as proof of it.

While the heel turn sets up for a renewed emphasis on the AJ Styles feud, it created an almost counterproductive situation for the newly-booked Bryan/Brock Lesnar match at Survivor Series. Prior to Smackdown on Tuesday, a Bryan/Lesnar bout had a compelling narrative that was relatively easy to tell, as the underdog tries to battle the monster challenger. What will the story be for two heels in the match?

Regardless, the most important aspect of this entire situation is that it gives Daniel Bryan a chance at a new chapter of his WWE career, and the ability to maximize his ability as a main event star on Smackdown. At this point, a heel turn is the best option to rejuvenate his run on Smackdown and there might be some cautious optimism around it, but it remains to be seen if management utilizes this chance to its fullest potential, especially considering that Daniel Bryan should’ve already had a major run as a baby face champion this year.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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