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Daniel Bryan’s Neck Injury and What It Means For the WWE

Well, 2014 has definitely been a rollercoaster year for wrestling. In my last column, I described my dream scenario for WrestleMania XXX – Daniel Bryan would beat Triple H in their grudge match and earn a shot against Randy Orton and Batista for the WWE title later in the evening. He’d then triumph over both and raising the belt to the sweet sound of 70,000 people chanting “Yes!”. Lo and behold, that’s precisely what played out.

No, I’m not I’m not gonna start calling myself Mr. Cleo; even a blind man could have seen what the right decision was. WrestleMania was a huge success both creatively and financially, presenting a highly entertaining show which featured Daniel Bryan and Triple H squaring off in one of the better opening matches in pay-per-view history, and a thrilling main event that had all of the drama and sports entertainment that a fan could ask for.

The following night’s Raw only continued the WWE’s good fortunes, as it was probably the most loaded since the Raw after WrestleMania 14, and that was 16 years ago! Unlike last year’s post-WrestleMania show, which was highlighted by a raucous crowd that openly jeered the product, this year’s seemed to kick the WWE into a bright, new direction. WWE’s new crop of stars were put on center stage, and the ending which saw The Shield come to the aide of Daniel Bryan, left us fans with plenty to look forward to in the months ahead.

But this is WWE we’re talking about. Why would we ever expect their good judgment to last?

Okay, so The Shield’s feud with the newly reformed Evolution has been as great as promised. For all of the complaints that have been (rightfully) tossed his way over the last ten years, Triple H had done plenty to correct his past transgressions. He, Randy Orton, and Batista have bent over backwards to put The Shield over as complete badasses, and the results have led to The Shield’s popularity reaching new heights. Hell, even in the mid-card, the rejuvenated Bad News Barrett has been a bright spot, making the most out of a gimmick that was doomed to be nothing more than a sub-par comedy schtick acted out to crickets.

But other than that, it’s been business as usual. Every week, Raw continues to drag along in front of uninterested crowds, leaving fans yearning for the days without that excruciating third hour. There’s been no bigger disappointment than the usage of Daniel Bryan since WrestleMania. He’s the World Champion, right? With with the way he’s been booked, I don’t blame anybody for needing to be reminded. Now, some of this has to do with outside circumstances, but even when he’s been on television it’s been as second-fiddle to The Shield and Evolution. He’s currently saddled in a monotonous feud with Kane, wherein Bryan has come off looking cowardly, running in fear from a guy he’s beaten the crap out of numerous times in the last few months.

Oh whoops, my bad, I forgot – Kane has on a mask and a wig this time around!

I don’t know who it is in the WWE writer’s room thinks people want to see Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella acting out every outdated horror movie cliché under the sun, but rest assured that he’s a microcosm of how out-of-touch WWE always seems to be.

The one silver lining for Bryan is that a neck injury has bailed him out of the floundering storyline for the time being. While it’s good news for Bryan’s personal fortunes, I imagine the WWE brass is starting to sweat a bit. Conventional wisdom says that this Sunday at Payback, Daniel Bryan surrenders the WWE title and it’s put up for grabs in a battle royal or a tournament of some sorts. Solid idea in theory…but it brings us right back to where we were before WrestleMania. And boy, would that be an anticlimactic conclusion to the last few months.

WWE’s in a tough spot because, outside of The Shield, all of the potential World Title candidates are either:

A) a stale retread of what we’ve already seen a million times before or

B) not ready for promotion to the main event.

Splitting the world title belts back up isn’t an option. The World Heavyweight Title would go right back to being a glorified mid-card title and WWE seems set on making the Intercontinental Title the #2 belt in the company despite their fluctuating commitment to it. The two-world-champion format not only cheapens the notion of a definitive belt that determines who the supposed “best” is, but it’s been an outdated exercise of redundancy since the brand split came to an end in 2011.

The spot that WWE is in will once again reinforce a lesson that they’ve stubbornly lent a deaf ear to for the last decade: it’s imperative that they keep looking ahead to the future by building new stars and not protecting their designated “A+ Players” with the vigor of the APA. As Bryan’s neck injury and John Cena’s history of nagging ailments show, the top stars aren’t going to be there forever, and the solution to their absence doesn’t lie in familiarity.

And no, CM Punk’s not walking through that door.


 

James is a Multimedia Communications Major at Georgia Southern University, and (unless his advisor reveals some obscure elective he forgot to take) he’ll be graduating in December of this year. You can follow him at @FunkDoc1112 on Twitter.

 

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