Daniel Bryan’s clearance to wrestle and imminent return to the ring has had a very shall we say interesting side effect. We’re not even 24 hours in and there is a civil war of sorts brewing between his most loyal fans and those of the man who has been the number one guy in the company for the last few years, Roman Reigns. Now I don’t claim to speak for the entire group on either side and I don’t have any inside information on what the higher up in the WWE or the other wrestlers there are thinking. What I’m working off of are the many comments I’ve seen all around regarding both men from all the various social media interactions I’ve had, some of the pieces I’ve seen written about both, and some of the podcast episodes I’ve listened to (and I don’t do those awful, crazy train shows out there so no, I don’t have anything to lean on from them). I think it’s a decent enough representation but I’m more than willing to hear your feedback on this one as long as it’s not ridiculous fact free hot takery. Anyhow, here’s how it looks from where I’m sitting.
The View from Roman Land
If you’re a Roman Reigns fan, you’re sick and tired. Tired of people using his name in title of blog rants, podcast episodes, and YouTube rants to get clicks, downloads, and views all while claiming no one cares about him. You’re tired of being told you’re not a real fan because the only ones like Roman are women, children and the sheep who take whatever Vince gives them. You’re tired of being told that it’s not anything wrong with Roman personally just his booking, which is like booing a quarterback because you don’t like the plays the coach is calling. Of people telling you that he got too much too soon, all while pushing for Braun Strowman to get the Universal Title RIGHT NOW. Of people saying that working in indies before coming to WWE makes you more worthy than coming up strictly through the WWE system (and conveniently dropping that stance for Strowman again). And most recently, you’re sick and tired of people who are so pressed to get him out of the Universal Title match at WrestleMania that they were hoping, praying, and wishing on stars that he would be implicated in a steroid scandal so that Vince would have to suspend him.
So what’s that got to do with Daniel Bryan? Well, for one there’s the number of fans still upset that Roman won the 2015 Royal Rumble instead of Bryan. But even more so there’s the fact that Bryan refused to go away and let the company prosper or not without him around. His constant presence and his passive aggressive ‘mean old Vince won’t let me wrestle’ digs, infusing hope in his fans that very well could have turned out to be false, have undermined any real chance of anyone becoming the new top guy be it Roman, Seth Rollins, or anyone else. There are people who really believe Vince McMahon was pressuring doctors to not clear someone who could make him a lot of money, simply because that guy didn’t fit his mold of a top guy and because he just had to push his guy Roman. And Bryan fed off of that energy to hijack the attention of and garner sympathy from a vocal part of the fanbase. It was the same kind of nakedly political posturing packaged in aw shucks underdog-ism that Kirk Cousins deftly employed with Washington Redskins fans for six years.
And now that Bryan is back, there have been a few people clamoring for him to get inserted in one of the title matches at WrestleMania, booking logic be damned. To see people who routinely complain about a lack of coherent, long term storytelling be willing to go with the very thing they have lampooned for years, on top of everything else I mentioned above, is just too much. You’re sick of these clowns and their patron saint. Sick that they think their man should just get handed everything upon returning after all they’ve said about too much too soon and forcing down our throats and the like. They are essentially taking everything they said about how the wrestling business should be run and lighting it on fire. Bryan has been involved in an angle with Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn since October. Like it or not, the logical thing to do is pay that off at WrestleMania and transition it into Bryan’s first in ring program. To just say ‘screw all of that’ to put him in a title match because hey, he’s your guy, is a joke. And to say it’s best for business ignores all the times you well actually’ed what the numbers have consistently said about Reigns. Would Bryan do bigger numbers right now? Sure. But when Roman was consistently doing bigger numbers you found every way to parse said numbers and make them say what you wanted. Are numbers only important when they back up your narrative?
All of this is essentially to say that die hard Roman Reigns fans are not here for the Daniel Bryan lovefest and aren’t here for those that participant in it too enthusiastically. Because from where they’re sitting those folks are a bunch of flaming hypocrites who like to fantasy book, worship Dave Meltzer’s ‘reporting’ like it’s gospel, and want to be contrarians ever since CM Punk worked you into thinking he was one.
The YES! perspective
Over on this end Daniel Bryan is a returning hero, and underdog who overcame the corporate structure once before but had his opportunity to revel in it taken away by injury. He should have already been back but some combination of Vince McMahon’s fear of another Chris Benoit happening and the likely true speculation that he just didn’t see Bryan as the face of the company kept that from happening. And now, with the chance for Bryan to move on in a few months at the end of his contract looming, Vince has finally given in and let him work in the ring again. Daniel has had a few years stolen away from him and now it’s time make up for lost time. Nothing less than eventually restoring glory he had to set aside will be accepted, because he earned it and he deserves it. You have your list of dream opponents and you want them all to get a turn. He should have been back on top while Vince was quite possibly playing games with the doctors to keep him sidelined, but now that he is back he is due what’s owed to both him and his fans. And to truly honor that it’s time to knock aside the company man, the usurper, the pretender to the throne that is Roman Reigns.
After all, Roman is only in the position he’s in because of his family connections and because he looks the part. He didn’t pay his dues on the indie circuit or in the midcard, he just got hotshotted to the main event as soon as there was an opening. Vince was dying to plug him in at the top spot ever since he vetoed Chris Hero as the third member of the Shield and put Roman in there. And once Bryan got hurt in 2014 he saw his chance. Now ever since we’ve been subjected to the Keep Roman Strong Project where Roman gets all the main events and is continued to be pushed as a face even as large portions of the crowds at RAW and pay per views boo him. And you’re tired of it. Sick and tired of watching this guy get what guys like Bryan are continually denied because they don’t look the right way. Even with no Daniel you would have been ok with Finn Balor getting that chance, or Seth Rollins getting another run on top as a face. But instead we get saddled with another McMahon central casting move a la John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H, or Hulk Hogan.
For you Daniel Bryan isn’t just a wrestler he’s a symbol, the rightful heir to the legacy of CM Punk and before him Stone Cold Steve Austin. The rebel, the man who bucked the Authority, who showed that you can be a big star despite not looking or sounding like one. And that’s who should be on top, not another guy who came from another arena entirely and used connections to get in the door. Not when a man who grew up wanting to be in the business, and worked his way through every level of the game and past being undervalued at the highest level, is right there to go with. He and others like him are the true special ones, the ones who have earned they day in the sun by clawing and scratching for it for over a decade.
The Rebuttals to both sides
Roman did get in the business because his family connections, and he got fast tracked out of the gate because of them and his physical attributes also. No denying that. At the same time Daniel Bryan has been anything but undervalued since 2011. He was in a title match at every WrestleMania he appeared in and walked out with said title three out of five times. He won Money in the Bank in 2011 and successfully cashed it in. He went into an Elimination Chamber match as champion in 2012 and came out victorious. He beat John Cena clean in the middle of the ring at Summerslam 2013. The only thing he’s never won is a Royal Rumble. To say he’s been held down this whole time is a bit much. He was held down the same way CM Punk was held down, constantly draped in championships and with big victories.
But now in 2018 there’s no reason to crap on either man. If Bryan is healthy then he’s over enough to bet on big if you’re Vince. And Roman has more than proven he belongs in big matches at the top of the card. You don’t have to dump on one to support the other. Right now neither is taking anything that belongs to the other. And one day soon they will probably face each other with everything on the line so you can root to your hearts content for whichever one you prefer.