Monday 24 March 2014

The Difficult Third Reign

It seems incredibly likely that Daniel Bryan is going to win his third WWE championship soon. Whether it happens at WrestleMania XXX, Extreme Rules, or on a hyped episode of RAW the title change it’s going to be a special moment for WWE. D-Bry has been the company’s hottest star for at least a year now and people have been desperate for him to capture the WWE championship and go on to enjoy the long reign they feel he has earned.

WWE have done a good job of stoking the fire and keeping people interested in and supportive of Bryan, with his first two reigns contributing significantly to the support for him. His first title victory started when he defeated John Cena clean in the main event of SummerSlam, a significant moment for any wrestler these days: Cena doesn’t get beaten by just anybody, let alone clean. That lasted only a few minutes thanks to a heel turn and Pedigree from special ref Triple H and a Money in the Bank cash-in from Randy Orton.

Reign number two lasted longer, but still wasn’t long. Bryan pinned ‘The Viper’ at Night of Champions but was relieved of his prize the following evening when referee Scott Armstrong1 implied he had been paid off by D-Bry to make a fast count (even though Bryan clearly had Orton down for longer). Bryan denied this, natch, with the implication being that ‘The Game’ was actually the man who’d paid Armstrong off to make a fast count so he’d have an excuse to strip Bryan of the title. A contingency plan should Orty lose.

Future three time champ?
That Bryan’s first two reigns with WWE’s premier prize lasted less than a day combined (making him the shortest reigning two-time champ by a significant margin) helped to rally fans behind him. That he had been slighted, held down by his bosses in such an open manner, made him hotter. People wanted to see him fight back for what he’d earned, uncowed by the significant odds stacked against him. It was an effective storyline choice, taking feelings fans already had and causing them to become more fervent. That’s what a good wrestling storyline should do.

WWE need to have a good plan in place for Bryan’s third reign to meet the high expectations of fans. Viewers have been kept waiting for a Bryan title win that would last. They were ready for it last August when he beat Cena. The intervening time has, as I’ve already said, only made people more desperate for him to win and keep hold of the championship. But the build can’t go on indefinitely. At some point Bryan needs to win the title and hold it for a while to validate the belief people have placed in him. Burning him too often burns the fans too often, and WWE can’t afford to do that if Bryan’s going to be a star for them long term. If it’s going to meet expectations the manner in which he wins it and the length of time holds it for has to satisfy fans.

I’m not advocating Bryan being the champion for a year or equalling CM Punk’s vaunted 434 day reign. But a period measured in months rather than minutes is called for if people are to be left satisfied in their chosen hero’s quest. Bryan keeping the belt(s) until SummerSlam would be good. That would be long enough not only to satisfy but also to prepare someone to take the prize from him, and a storyline to tell.


1 With the Triple H character since becoming a man who uses his power and old pals to hold down deserving talent I’m surprised the fact that Armstrong is Road Dogg’s brother hasn’t been mentioned. Road Dogg has become one of Tripper’s enforcers and a beneficiary of his favourtism over the last few months. Acknowledging it was his brother that made the fast count, even in a minor, off the cuff way that could go unnoticed by most, would add a lot to the story.

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