I have a lot of questions and problems with how the "Daniel Bryan joins The Wyatt Family" angle went down. And with how DB has been booked since Hell in a Cell, if we're being honest. But this isn't about those things. As we saw last night, whether I liked the telling of those stories or not, they either haven't affected the crowd reaction at all or they've added to the adoration for The Beard.
Likewise discussion and debate concerning whether a two-week "turn" was the plan all along (I kind of doubt it, but this is the company that thought having CM Punk "leave the company" with the WWE title for eight days was sufficient back in July, 2011) or influenced by Travis Jackson and those crazy Spartans in East Lansing last week (had to be a factor, IMO).
No, at this point, we need to address what WWE should do with the hottest act they've had since The Attitude Era. After spending the autumn months telling us he wasn't a main eventer while booking him as strongly as they could and still trying to justify those statements, and then sending him off on what now amounts to a ninety day side quest with The Wyatts, it's time to coronate Daniel Bryan as a face of WWE.
And what better place to do it than Sunday, January 26th in Pittsburgh, PA at Royal Rumble?
If anyone else is standing tall at the end of that pay-per-view (PPV), including and perhaps especially the heavily rumored win by a returning Batista, you're looking at a crowd reaction similar to the "WTF?" at Night of Champions or Survivor Series for the WWE Championship finishes involving The Big Show. And a letdown hangover from this show could cast a pall over WrestleMania XXX, which this year isn't just The Granddaddy of Them All, but is also the a key selling point for WWE Network.
Is anyone - newer fan or lifelong mark - excited for a main event of Batista vs. Randy Orton or John Cena?
It's those newer fans the company should be focusing on, too. Like, say, the ten to fifteen thousand 18 - 24 year olds chanting "Yes" at a college basketball game. Folks like me who have been watching wrestling since The Animal's last run are lifers, and we're probably gonna buy Network subscriptions already. But the next generation of lifers need something different. You can't appeal to nostalgia for something they never experienced. Whether the McMahons like that a short, scruffy environmentalist has connected with the audience at Stone
Cole Cold Steve Austin levels is irrelevant at this point. They need the eyeballs and emotional investment that Bryan brings - then once he's got them on the hook, The Network can use the always impressive WWE Production machine to sell them the glory days. And create more lifers, a.k.a. consistent future revenue.
This is also a time for Creative to reflect on the ghosts of Rumbles past. Putting the company guy over the hot act (Alberto Del Rio instead of Punk in 2011) or the surprise over the logical narrative (Sheamus over Chris Jericho in 2012) hasn't served them well in recent years (although I suppose it could be argued that the Celtic Warrior's win fueled the rise of the man we're talking about today, but I digress...). Outside of a tantalizing few minutes at the end of SummerSlam, all of Bryan's feel good moments have come on free television. He, and more importantly his fans, deserve a chance to celebrate on a Sunday night or two.
Remember all that talk at The Network launch about how WWE has the best fans, how Vince is a fan first and foremost and the company makes all of its decisions with the fan in mind? It's time to put up or shut up. The fans have spoken in every way they can, with the only measure that can't be a called a success being PPV buy rates - a model the company itself recognizes as obsolete given the changes to their distribution methods.
A win for DB later this month doesn't dictate any particular booking options for Mania season, either. While traditionally a Rumble match win meant a title shot of the victor's choosing, with only one belt in play, couldn't the prize be a match of his choosing? Would anyone complain if Bryan came out on the 27th and said that he has the rest of his career to regain the WWE championship, but that he has unfinished business with The Authority, and especially his mentor Shawn Michaels? Or that this might be his last chance to face a legend like The Undertaker, and he wants that honor?
Sure, you could do either of those things without him being the only man left in the ring in Pittsburgh, but if the company logically would rather have established mega-star John Cena carrying the straps on his visits to Live with Kelly and Michael or ESPN SportsNation during the build to New Orleans, a Rumble win is a way to make Bryan and still use "The Champ" to his full potential.
Any way you slice it, WWE will be better off with Daniel Bryan cemented as a top tier star as they head into The Network era. Vince and company are showing great vision and a willingness to take some risks to make that vision a reality with their move to over-the-top distribution. It's time to make a similar leap with their on-screen product.
Recent reactions to DB prove that it wouldn't even be that much of a risk.
What do you think, Cagesiders? Should Daniel Bryan win the 2013 Royal Rumble match? How much does future booking or marketing depend on the Rumble winner? You've heard from us - let's hear from you!