My first exposure to Daniel Bryan -- for sake of clarity I'll address him as his current moniker -- was his now legendary three-way match with Christopher Daniels and Low Ki at Ring of Honor's (ROH) debut show.
Unfortunately, I was a few years behind the curve since I had stopped following wrestling for a few years beginning in the middle of 2001. That bad part about that was I missed a lot of great wrestling while the good part is that all of it was waiting for me to consume as quickly as possible.
I instantly took a shine to Bryan for a variety of reasons. One -- the most obvious -- being he's a fantastic wrestler, one of the best I've seen my entire life. Another is he has trained under Shawn Michaels and William Regal, two personal favorites of mine. So I was kind of surprised with myself when Cagesider Finian1 asked if I had seen his 2009 bout against Davey Richards and after going through the old mental filing cabinet, I came to the conclusion I hadn't.
Then I thought, "2009? Then that means..." Yep. Daniel Bryan hasn't even been in the WWE for two years and he's already poised to make his first world title run as the current Money in the Bank winner on Smackdown.
So tell me again how Vince McMahon is misusing Bryan because I'm not seeing it.
Bryan properly debuted with the WWE as part of the first season of NXT in February of 2010. He had signed with the company in the middle of the previous year but stayed on with ROH until the end of 2009. When he finally showed up on their faux-reality show, the company made no attempt to hide his independent notoriety and in fact used that as a talking point for Michael Cole who doubted that the "American Dragon" could cut it on the sport's biggest stage.
February 2010 ... less than two years ago. I think I have some Chinese takeout in the fridge older than that.
And last night (Nov. 25), Bryan was put ring in the middle of the top feud on Smackdown. That's pretty impressive, right? It's even more impressive when you consider the WWE career of fellow ROH alumni CM Punk.
Punk spent nearly a year in developmental territories after signing in 2005 before making his television debut for the now defunct ECW brand. It would be another two years before he won Money in the Bank which led to his first World Heavyweight Championship reign.
Should Bryan cash in at WrestleMania 28, he will accomplish in around two years what it took Punk three to do. Granted, the "American Dragon" likely has a debt of gratitude to pay to Punk. The "Straight Edge Messiah" has helped break down doors and shatter glass ceilings much like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels did nearly two decades ago.
Back then, if you weren't living inside a Gold's Gym with a needle sticking out your backside, you weren't sniffing a title shot. The steroid trial of the early '90s forced Vince McMahon to -- at least partially -- clean up his locker room and push a smaller, more natural looking wrestler.
While that change in attitude was one made of necessity due to legal matters, Punk's rise through the ranks has been one made to ensure financial stability. Creative is dead on arrival, ratings are stagnant, and buyrates are down. While it seems the WWE couldn't care less about the first and the second isn't as huge a deal as one would believe, the third is really alarming and an issue that McMahon wants to solve sooner rather than later.
Shaking up the main event scene by injecting a fresh face into it was one solution they came up with. Bringing back old faces -- like The Rock -- was another. Bryan is unaffected by the latter but he has everything to gain because of the former.
So without Punk's ascent, Bryan's might not be happening. That argument could be made, definitely. So let's take a look at another interesting comparison; that would be to John Cena. The longtime poster boy for the WWE didn't start off that way. Cena also spent some time in Ohio Valley Wrestlng (OVW) before getting the call up to the big leagues, something Bryan wasn't forced to do. And also -- like Punk -- Cena spent three years moving from bottom of the pack to mid-tier title to finally world champion.
Cena didn't have the same stigma Punk had or Bryan has. He's big, muscular, good-looking ... everything the WWE would want in a star. He's also a WWE homegrown talent and doesn't have the bingo hall stink on him. And yet, Bryan still might grab the brass ring in less time than "The Doctor of Thuganomics."
Bryan only spent a month in developmental -- at his own request -- when other indie darlings like Punk and the recently signed Claudio Castagnoli spent up to a year learning the WWE style. Going from a company like ROH right to a WWE ring is nearly unheard of.
The complaints -- and they have been lobbed at Punk as well -- have been at Bryan has been booked poorly. That he hasn't been given a fair shake. But since his debut -- less than TWO years ago -- he has won the United States Championship and a Money in the Bank title shot.
That doesn't sound like someone who is being misused.
It sounds like someone who is being groomed.