A lot of my articles have felt a bit like that recently and a lot of us seemed to feel like that on Monday night, when Daniel Bryan hung up his boots for (I think) good. Some saw it coming, some not but perhaps the most interesting comment I’ve heard is that some say it’s hard to see another wrestler (other than, maybe, Cesaro) who can organically get ‘over’ like Daniel Bryan did. That it’s hard to see another wrestler on the roster who is as believable as Daniel Bryan was, who seems as genuine.
Which is basically summing up everything I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks. I hadn’t thought of it before, but Daniel Bryan, in a nutshell, is a showcase for what’s wrong with WWE and that makes me angry. And if there’s one thing I know from WWE, it’s that when you’re angry there’s only one thing to do.
Remember Dr Shelby?
Monday’s Raw led me to the depths of YouTube. For what seemed like hours I was restless, my mind dithering this way and then that as I searched for some video consoling following Bryan’s retirement. After a good 23 seconds of fitful hunting, I ended up finding myself re-watching all of the anger management skits Team Hell No partook in what was years ago now.
Now, I didn’t like these as much as a lot of people did when they were first aired, but I think that was because I hadn’t really realised what they were. I was caught up in thinking Daniel Bryan should have been doing more than that. I thought he should have been viewed as a serious contender for the WWE’s top prizes, not a comedy villain.
Only when I watched them all, one after the other, I realised that it was all more than what I thought it was at the time.
Was it silly WWE comedy? Yes. But do you know what else it was? Some of the best character development the WWE has done for a while as well as showing that when you have someone with a back story like Kane, someone they’ve spent time and effort giving that back story to, it’s much easier to throw them into current or new storylines, because the audience already ‘knows’ them.
Take what Kane said in the best moment of the segments:
“I grew up locked in a basement, suffering severe psychological and emotional scarring when my brother set my parents on fire. From there I shifted around a series of mental institutions until I was grown, at which point I buried my brother alive. Twice. Since then I’ve set a couple of people on fire and abducted various co-workers. Oh, and I once electrocuted a man’s testicles. Years ago I had a girlfriend named Katie, but let’s just say that didn’t turn out so well. My real father is a guy named Paul Bearer, who I recently trapped in a meat locker. I’ve been married…divorced…I broke up my ex-wife’s wedding and tombstoned the priest. And for reasons never quite explained, I have an unhealthy obsession with torturing Pete Rose.”
It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen WWE do and yet despite being funny, it tells you in one clear statement how all the crazy things Kane has done over the years have helped build up his character. His back story is immense and the stranger aspects of the Kane character allowed him straight away to be put in more memorable spots than if he were just Glenn Jacobs the wrestler.
Contrast that with the ridiculous dragging of Seth Rollins under the ring to ‘hell’ and I know which segment I prefer and which uses Kane better.
I’ve said before that I’ve always really liked Kane and that unlike a lot of others, he will always be in my top 10 of all time. One of the reasons I didn’t like these segments as much at the time was because not only did I want Daniel Bryan to be a more ‘serious’ wrestler (he’s also in my top 10 by the way), but I always preferred Kane when they took him over-the-top seriously and built him up as the monster threat. Part of that is because I think it fits the character better and also I’ve always been keen for WWE to actually have a dominant heel who rarely loses and who holds the title from time to time to prove that, but it’s also because I prefer wrestling when it takes itself seriously.
Or so I thought.
Daniel Bryan, I now realise, changed that for me. Because he was never really serious, even during his run to the top. The Yes Movement was at its heart, a fun thing. Daniel’s promos, like the ones in the Anger Management sketches, were often designed to get as many laughs as they were serious. It made the whole thing fun and whilst there’s definitely a place for seriousness in wrestling, there’s also a place for out-and-out fun.
Which is what WWE keeps trying to give us.
So I’m left with the uncomfortable scenario that the WWE is trying to give me something that actually I love but refuse to. Am I being unreasonable?
Well, hell no I’m not! Daniel Bryan’s style was of its time. Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top through the Yes Movement will not be repeated until someone like Daniel Bryan, who can be taken seriously while goofing off, not unlike The Rock, can come along and give us that journey. It’s not a role you can put someone in, it’s a role that someone takes on naturally. Dean Ambrose is doing it right now with Brock Lesnar, but I don’t think it’ll take him to the top. It took them months to let him talk and I think they’ll shut him right back up after he’s finished with Brock – it makes Roman look weak if they have too many good talkers in and around that picture and their focus is going to be Roman for quite some time yet.
They did it with Seth Rollins, too. His promo work improved dramatically while he was champ and some of that was being goofy. The difference was, he didn’t win clean enough, often enough, for him to be taken as seriously as he should have been. What I see now about the Team Hell No journey for Bryan was that he won matches clean, as did Kane, while they goofed off. You laughed at them but at the same time, you knew they were really tough to beat.
Bryan then took that and extended it to his run to the top. I would dearly have loved to see him do it again, but it’s not meant to be.
So who could bring that fun to the WWE title picture now? John Cena tried, but never really pulled it off. New Day have brought it to the tag division in spades, but I don’t think any of them will be let loose on the individual title scene. One of them would have to win it as part of the stable, and I just don’t see that happening. Dean Ambrose is possible but he needs to win clean more (with far fewer rollup wins) to get there.
It could be Cody. Give him a gimmick that isn’t too ridiculous, which Stardust is, and give him a really good submission finisher (which could be the easiest springboard to bringing him back into the bigger leagues) and you have a guy who can goof off, go in the ring, and be protected enough by being given enough clean wins to start to be taken seriously. I just don’t think it’s, sadly, going to be.
No, this is the role Seth Rollins has been building to for years because like Bryan, he is the whole package. Get him winning cleanly as a face, because he’ll be over enough already when he comes back, and you’ve got someone who can goof off, be serious, is a threat in the ring with everything he does and someone, finally, who the crowd can get behind and help push to the top.
I’m not trying to replace Daniel Bryan, though and I don’t think the WWE should keep trying to. He was a one-off, his story was a one-off and it isn’t going to be repeated by having Roman win at Wrestlemania against ‘all the odds’. What his story shows is that with enough time to develop and enough will, even in the tag or lower title divisions, if you let these guys showcase themselves, put themselves into the role rather than just act a part, then you have something more than what’s gone before.
Daniel Bryan and Kane made greatness out of what was not a terribly great idea and it gave Bryan the basis for everything he achieved after that, on the microphone and in the ring. He’ll be remembered forever by the universe as one of the best, despite barely having a year at the top (without injuries).
One thing is for sure, this week has made me see my own issues with WWE in a different light. I’ve certainly been left needing a little bit of Dr Shelby’s help recently but maybe I’ve been shown that what will help is for me to stop taking it all so seriously and enjoy the goofing off a little bit more.
Now, who wants a hug?