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Where The WWE Went Wrong With Daniel Bryan

We were all rooting for him to succeed yet in the end Daniel Bryan was not nearly the draw at the box office his “Yes” reactions suggested he would be. The numbers are in and it is official. The Daniel Bryan experiment was a failure. Now it’s time to take some accountability.

I had this debate constantly for the several months that Bryan was pushed. His hardcore fans are as loyal as you can find. They not only thought Bryan was the best, they were convinced he was over. I never bought in and blogged about it several times. To me it always came down to the numbers and not the number of fans at a live event chanting “Yes!” His defenders either failed to see that or discounted them. Unfortunately there is no getting around it at this point. He wasn’t over.

Dave Meltzer in the latest Wrestling Observer newsletter breaks down the buyrates from recent pay per view events that featured Daniel Bryan in the headliner and top story. The numbers aren’t pretty. We already know that SummerSlam was a disappointment in the eyes of the company. The buys all show drops, significant in most from the previous year. No matter how you slice it the numbers don’t lie.

– Battleground did 122,000 total buys, which was 87,000 domestic (U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico) and 35,000 overseas.
– Hell in a Cell match did an estimated 212,000 buys, which was 121,000 domestic and 91,000 overseas. While the numbers are similar to last year Meltzer notes that the PPV was free in the UK last year.

Let’s take a deeper look into the numbers. The Battleground show doing 87,000 domestic buys is horrendous. I don’t care how you slice it, it is terrible. It ranks as the third lowest purchased pay per view in modern times only beating the 2006 December to Dismember and 2011 Vengeance shows. Domestically it is the lowest purchased show of the year but did beat 2012 TLC. Hell in a Cell dropped 23% domestically this year in buys.

There is a huge lesson to be learned here about what getting over really means. Getting over isn’t having fans on television every week chanting your name or catchphrase. As I said in many debates on Twitter over the same argument, Hulk Hogan gets a big ovation when he appears at TNA live events but is he drawing fans? The fans love Santino when he whips out the cobra but is he drawing any buys? What this shows is that fans were interested in chanting his catchphrase than paying money to see him. I am sorry but that is not over.

Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Randy Orton aren’t off of the hook here either. It takes two to tango. The heels did not do their jobs either in drawing a good number. If Daniel Bryan wasn’t over in this angle, neither were those three. Even with Bryan’s instability at the top the fans still didn’t find the heels compelling enough to pay to watch them get beat.

I read a post somewhere defending Bryan and CM Punk as draws and I think that the writer made a fair point. The writer noted that Bryan and Punk’s fans are more the type of fan to watch a pirated stream of the event than the John Cena fan who is more likely to pay to watch the show. Quite frankly that sounds plausible. At the same time, Bryan’s ratings were not very good sans a few weeks here and there so that kills the argument. The argument only works if RAW ratings rose doing the angle with no reciprocal bounce in pay per view buyrates.

Vince McMahon blamed “bad creative” for recent poor buyrates. Some took that as a shot at Daniel Bryan while others took that as the writers. Vince is right if he meant the writers. The writing for this angle and the booking of Bryan was atrocious. It may have been the worst I have seen in years in wrestling. The writers made sure that fans knew every week how marginal Bryan was, he was a goat face, he wasn’t up to par, and shouldn’t be in the main-events. Now who would have guessed that fans wouldn’t want to see him? Give me a break!

The WWE has a real problem here and it all comes back to Vince McMahon since he is the head cheese. This parity booking or as Jim Ross calls it 50/50 booking is killing the company. It really is. Fans aren’t going to take anyone seriously elevated to the main-event after watching them get beat every other week. There is no investment in the future whatsoever. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, you are an average player in the eyes of the fans whether you are opening or closing the show.

All you have to do is look back the last few years at the guys who have successfully been elevated to the top spot. CM Punk was it and he isn’t even where he was a year ago. Why did he work so well? How about 400+ days as WWE champion? Truth be told, Punk would have been an even bigger star if he wasn’t so marginalized the year prior to the big push. They also made sure we all know that Punk wasn’t really that good when they put Triple H over on him at the start of his run.

The formula is simple and the McMahons created an empire off of it. Develop your next challengers, keep them strong, put them over, and portray them as real threats to the champions so by the time they get to that top spot fans believe that the champion is in serious trouble. It’s not that hard! Yet for some reason Vince and his crew have completely abandoned this formula for this parity booking. I won’t even get into how badly these scripted promos are hurting the box office.

Nothing will change until Triple H or Vince recognize this disconnect in the booking. Unfortunately for the next few guys scheduled to get elevated that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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