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Daniel Bryan: When returning early from injury is not best for business

Why WWE didn't just pretend Daniel Bryan was injured for another month beggars belief.

Did Daniel Bryan really need to be in the Royal Rumble?
Did Daniel Bryan really need to be in the Royal Rumble?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For the second year in a row, the Royal Rumble match was a very perversely entertaining affair, as the Northeast crowd completely crapped on the bout as soon as it became obvious that the beloved Daniel Bryan wouldn't be victorious and that honour would instead go to an overrated behemoth being force fed down their throats.

It wasn't just that Bryan was dumped out unceremoniously in the midpoint of the match by Bray Wyatt, which completely sucked all the drama from that point forward dry, as everybody immediately figured that there was only one other possible winner to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31, Roman Reigns.

Indeed, hardcore fan favourites like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler were also made to look like utter crap as the stale monster duo of Kane and Big Show effortlessly tossed the two jabronis over the top, to set up the far too easy to call false finish.

Yes, ageing Hollywood actor Dwayne Johnson then finally swanned in to help out his fake distant relative from a rather tame beatdown at the hands of the heels that had just decimated WWE's other rising stars, which might have had a chance at turning the tide if WWE hadn't tipped their hats so heavily to his appearance. This time there would be no surprise pop for The Rock.

By the end, the American fans were even cheering the dastardly Russian sympathizing villain Rusev on to pull off an all too unfeasible swerve victory!

The main reason why this was completely mind-boggling booking was that there was absolutely no reason why Daniel Bryan had to return immediately from his neck injury and be in the 2015 Royal Rumble match. The news that Bryan was healthy and had been cleared to return to WWE action didn't leak before they revealed it themselves on television. There was nothing stopping them from pretending that he was still hurt for another month and avoiding this ugly situation. That's not to say that the scenario scripted wouldn't have possibly got a lukewarm reaction, as a backlash to Reigns had already been brewing, but he would have been much less likely to be booed out of the building and seriously wounded as a headlining babyface going forward.

The only rationale for taking this obvious risk is that WWE believed his appearance in the Rumble would help drive subscriptions to the WWE Network and that they also needed a hook to draw strong ratings for Smackdown's return to Thursday nights on Jan. 15th, which Bryan's first match back against Kane gave them. But the former aim could have been achieved by building the Fast Lane pay-per-view in February around his comeback instead, and they could have easily met the latter goal with another idea.

That WWE went forward with such a perilous strategy suggests that Vince McMahon still arrogantly believes himself to be a master manipulator who can ultimately get the fans to sing from his hymn sheet merely by using all the old tricks he's amassed from being in the business for over forty years. Give the crowd a few minutes and they'd get all their frustrations out of their systems. They may love The American Dragon, but The Rock is the bigger star and they'll cheer anyone he gives the rub too.

The problem is today's hardcore fans are savvy enough to see through such a desperate attempt to get them to switch allegiances at the last moment. They also realise that they can send a powerful message to the people in charge of WWE by refusing to eat the crap that's being fed to them, and they've seen that such outbursts can at least result in halfhearted change, a fact that Stephanie McMahon just last week touted as a positive. Thus, WWE has lost control of elements of their fanbase, and it will require much more adept storytelling and also a willingness to be much more accepting of the fans wishes to get them back in line.

Sadly, I'm not sure Vince McMahon is up to the task of evolving his game to meet the new challenges that today's forcefully opinionated fans bring with them, after being behind the curve and botching the early WrestleMania build for two years running. I don't think he's ever killed a handpicked star dead in one night with such horrid booking before. Things may very well get worse before they get better.

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