WWE | Pro Wrestling

This Isn’t About Daniel Bryan, It’s About You

Imagine if, at the 1998 Royal Rumble, WWF/E brass had ignored all the Stone Cold t-shirts, the Austin 3:16 signs, the roar of support that filled arenas at the first hint of shattering glass booming over arena sound systems.

Anything organic is better than anything manufactured. Stone Cold Steve Austin wasn’t a product of Vince McMahon and his creative team. Steve made himself when he cut his “Austin 3:16” promo roughly 18 months earlier. The “Summer of Punk” two and a half years ago, ignited by CM Punk’s infamous pipe bomb promo, swept through the wrestling world like wildfire. Rather than slap a bowl over it and starve it of oxygen, Vince McMahon wisely let it burn.

Which is why what happened at last night’s Royal Rumble is equal parts baffling and infuriating. WWE has listened to fans before. Why not now? The Pittsburgh crowd mutinied not because Daniel Bryan wasn’t in the Rumble match. That’s a surface-level analysis. They flooded Batista, Roman Reigns, Seamus, and Rey Mysterio with boos because they, the paying customer, were denied the carrot that has been dangling in front of them since last spring.

What happened at the Royal Rumble was not “an Internet thing.” Please don’t take that hand-wavey, dismissive attitude. It’s true that the Internet community loves Daniel Bryan. But so do millions of more casual fans who don’t rush to their keyboards and post on Internet forums after a RAW or pay-per-view goes off the air. From city to city, state to state, country to country, the WWE Universe has spoken. Daniel Bryan is their guy.

No: Daniel Bryan is our guy.

When was the last time a wrestler–oops; an “in-ring competitor”–got this much support from the fans? CM Punk didn’t. Look past his historic title reign and he was still the guy who came on before John Cena, rarely after. And Cena? Cena hasn’t had the full support of crowds since mid-2005.

Any comparison short of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s meteoric rise to becoming the most profitable and popular WWE Superstar in history, fails to do justice to the groundswell of support Daniel Bryan continues to receive. The comparison is apt because Bryan fits snugly inside the mold from which Austin sprang. Austin wasn’t the biggest dog in the yard. But he was the scrappiest. Week in and week out, millions of fans lived vicariously through a superstar who got to sock his boss right in the jaw.

Stone Cold got over because he was an everyman. He empowered people. Likewise, Daniel Bryan is a man of his time. Vince McMahon & Co. is the 1 percent. Daniel Bryan is the 99 percent. He is the underdog, like most of us, and who doesn’t enjoy a great underdog story?

Okay, okay. Not everyone loves Daniel Bryan. You need only look to any Internet forum to find posts from a few party poopers who seem to take physical pleasure in what happened at the Royal Rumble. But you know what? That’s fine. You don’t have to like Bryan. You know why? Because you’re a paying customer, too. If you dislike Bryan, you can cheer for Batista, or Cena, or Orton, or Ziggler, or Bray Wyatt, or anyone else–that is your right.

I would like you to bear something in mind, however. What happened to Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble is the difference between taking the ball and running with it, and the tall kid on the playground holding it above the reach of straining hands until his buddy’s open for a pass. WWE brass concocted a plan and seems determined to carry out that plan even though it goes against the vocal majority. And they could do that to anyone.

I guess I just don’t understand how big business works. WWE is a public company, which means it exists to make money. In every arena for over a year, the fans have been chanting “YES!” for one man. In wrestling-ese, that translates to, “We want this guy. Push this guy and we will give you money.” (And don’t give me any lip about ratings dropping last fall when Daniel Bryan was WWE champion for 21 hours. Blame that on three PPVs crammed into six weeks, each ending in an inconclusive or screw-job finish. If the people had already given up on Bryan, Pittsburgh-gate 2014 wouldn’t have happened.)

That’s the contract, isn’t it? WWE, Mr. Big Business, puts out a product that paying customers want, and the paying customers give them money. Contract fulfilled.

Except not in this case, and I don’t understand why.

I fully admit that WWE might, even now, be preparing to add Daniel Bryan to the WrestleMania main event, fashioning a triple-threat scenario. Maybe it’s the angle they’ve been building all along, or maybe they’re calling an audible because of 15,715 Pittsburgh residents defecating all over their product. Frankly, I don’t care how it happens. It just needs to happen. And if it does, good on them. It is long past time for Vince, Paul, and the rest of the brass to put aside their biases and give the people what they demand.

If they don’t, then I hope what happened in Pittsburgh becomes an epidemic. I hope WWE fans who attend live events continue to crap on RAW, No Way Out, and the WrestleMania main event. Better yet: stop paying for the product. That includes WWE Network, and I don’t say that lightly. I am extremely excited for the Network, even more so now, because it’s a DeLorean I can pilot at 88 miles per hour back to a far more pleasant era in wrestling’s past.

Daniel Bryan has created a movement, and I think Bryan is smart enough to understand that the movement is bigger than he is. It’s not about him. It’s about the fans. It’s about you.

*Closing notes

– The New Age Outlaws clinch the tag team titles, Batista wins the Royal Rumble, Kevin Nash earned a spot in the Rumble for all of two minutes, and Orton (one of my favorite wrestlers, by the way) is still the undisputed champion. Must be good to be Paul’s buddy.

– Reports are surfacing that Batista got into verbal altercations with fans on his way up the ramp after the PPV went dark, and mocked Bryan’s “YES!” chant by raising his middle fingers instead of his index fingers. Classless, disgraceful, and sad, but not surprising. Par for the course for a meathead known as much for insulting his fans and his peers as he is for winning world championships (and not much else). Wanna hear something really funny? Big Dave’s been calling his Twitter haters Internet tough guys and challenging them to fight him. He’s been issuing these challenges… over Twitter. I suspect irony is lost on Big Dave. But I’ll let him put his money where his mouth is. Here’s what I propose: Big Dave and I race from one end of my street to the other. Whoever makes it to the far end without blowing his ankle, wins.

David L. Craddock is a freelance writer and bestselling author. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidLCraddock.

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