I write a lot about Bryan Danielson on this blog, and for good reason. He is the future of wrestling. This isn’t some empty platitude that smarks like me throw to an indie darling who’s making it big. The man is a game changer, and you have no greater evidence than what he brought to the table Sunday at Night of Champions.
As Daniel Bryan, Danielson worked what for me was the leader in the clubhouse for WWE’s match of the year with The Miz. It was much stiffer than any WWE match in recent memory, excepting maybe the Goldust/William Regal match on Superstars a few weeks back. In a company where moves are done so crisply, there was a lot of struggling on the parts of both men to get moves applied, struggling by design, struggling that upped the realism in the match at least tenfold. This is a match that I feel like if you didn’t order Night of Champions that you should seek it out on Youtube or on DVD or by any means necessary. It was only an inkling of where I think wrestling is going, or should I say where it can go.
[adinserter block=”1″]If you’ve been following Danielson during his exile period in the indies this year, you’d have noticed that this wasn’t the first time he ventured into the pseudo-shoot style of melding mixed martial arts sensibilities into pro wrestling. He’s worked at least two “shoot-style” worked matches in the indies, one for the German WXW fed against Tommy End and one at EVOLVE 5 against Munenori Sawa. Sawa, interestingly enough, had a match similar in style to the Miz/Bryan one at Night of Champions at EVOLVE’s debut card in January against TJP. EVOLVE has been a fed that has pushed the boundaries of what in-ring work can be and what wrestling itself can be. The idea behind the fed is the Holy Grail for Internet fans, a fed that utilizes a pure sports build to determine who gets ahead and who doesn’t. The man behind EVOLVE and its direction is Gabe Sapolsky, and I’ll bet that you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he studied how to book directly from the master himself, Paul Heyman.
In the most recent Figure Four Weekly online newsletter, Heyman, among many others, is interviewed about why ECW reboots never, ever work past the initial spike in interest. In it, Heyman shows why he’s head and shoulders above most wrestling bookers who’ve hit the big time; it’s his willingness to try something new, to stick his neck out on the edge and not to rely on past successes to work again in the future with different audiences. Sapolsky learned this philosophy, and in the middle of this past decade, he built up ROH as a critical success with a rabid fan following by doing something different, and now, he finds himself trying to innovate again with EVOLVE, a concept that he actually had a co-conspirator in developing. You guessed it, that co-creator was Danielson.
Now, the question is whether Danielson can actually change the game and help the WWE’s in-ring product evolve to a point where there’s more realism injected into their matches. It’s easy to work the pseudo-shoot style in the indies, a place where you’re known as The Best In The World. Danielson is an elder statesman in the sub-WWE world. He could probably ask a guy to cut his leg off and work an amputee match with him and get what he wanted. In the WWE though? That’s a different story. Titan’s product has skewed more and more towards sterilization since Chris Benoit murdered his family and killed himself in part because of the ravages of taking high-octane bumps on his brain. Danielson comes into the company as a guy who caters to the same crowd that loved what Benoit brought to the table. However, there are several things that work in his favor.
One, the pendulum looks like it might be swinging back towards an edgier product. The way the polls are going, it doesn’t look good for Linda McMahon’s Senate bid. If and when she loses, a lot of the PG-restraints on the product could be released. They’re already starting to be relaxed now. While blood and curse words are still taboo, certain things, like man-on-woman violence and risqué references, are creeping back in. Two, the level of sophistication in the in-ring product of the company has been slowly trending up for the last decade. We’ve gone from overbooked WrestleMania main events like what we saw at WM 15 between Rock and Steve Austin to a well-worked, tension-filled masterpiece between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at this past year’s Granddaddy of Them All. With the WWE’s willingness to hire guys like Danielson, Kaval and Justin Gabriel, it looks like that commitment to in-ring work is still in the forefront of their collective mind.
Three, and this is the most important one, he has the reputation to be a leader and an innovator. While he’s not going to lead John Cena around by the nose in the ring, he does have the ability to influence Cena and others. Again, go back to Night of Champions; is the match as good if Miz fights him all the way, works selfishly and doesn’t cooperate with Danielson? Hell no. Before the match, Danielson and Miz had to have been on the same page, and given how sophisticated the match was, the guy who had the driving vision for what the match was going to be had to be Bryan. Miz is going to be a guy who will headline several WrestleMania main events for the WWE. If he can be influenced by Danielson’s lead, then what about guys such as Sheamus, Wade Barrett, Drew McIntyre, Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston and other parts of the WWE’s future?
[adinserter block=”2″]With the WWE losing so many fans to MMA because they like to see people fight, there needs to be a change in the way things are done. With Danielson coming in and injecting more and more realism into matches, the WWE can make a comeback. Granted, it won’t be a Hogan/Austin-level comeback, but at the same time, they don’t need to have that kind of market share as long as they have a strong product that keeps churning out new stars. People will continue to watch wrestling if it has elements of both real sport and gaudy entertainment. MMA can’t guarantee that the best fighters have the most personality. The WWE can.
Then, when another franchise-level talent comes along, the WWE is ready to shoot back up to the pop culture stratosphere. It’s a winning situation for the WWE, and when it’s all said and done, they’ll have no one other than Bryan Danielson to thank for that.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.
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