World Wrestling Entertainment’s much-anticipated WrestleMania XXX extravaganza has now been and gone and will go down in the history books as one of the company’s finest shows in recent memory. Offering several top-notch bouts and multiple shocking moments, WWE’s flagship pay-per-view more than delivered on expectations – and delivered the conclusion that fans had been waiting a long time to finally see.
“YES! YES! YES!”screamed the packed New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as a capacity crowd of 78,344 WWE fans pointed their fingers towards the air in unison in celebration as Daniel Bryan – internet darling and perhaps the most talented and versatile performer on the company’s roster today – triumphantly lifted the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belts.
It was a moment for the ages and one that fans will not forget in a long time.
But just why was it so special, and why have moments such as this been sorely lacking in sports entertainment in recent years?
Let’s explore the history…
The Slow Build
For me, the key reason why Daniel Bryan’s win was so meaningful was that it was highly-anticipated; in fact, it was two years in the making.
Ever since Bryan’s humiliating 18-second defeat at the hands of Sheamus in the opener of WrestleMania XXVIII, the ‘WWE Universe’ has been very vocal in voicing their support for DB’s work, but in and out of the ring. Very quickly the catchy ‘YES!’ chant was adopted on a global basis, with disgruntled fans using it as a tool to voice their disdain at the product’s direction on the post-’Mania edition of Raw and making a statement of intent that Daniel Bryan would be a star, with or without WWE’s seal of approval.
Bryan’s star power only continued to grow when he was paired in an odd-couple teaming with masked man Kane. Far from the first time that ‘The Big Red Monster’ had been coupled with a smaller tag team partner, it seemed – on paper – like a short-sighted piece of booking from WWE’s creative team, one that would invariably culminate in an unsatisfying and predictable feud between the two former partners. Instead, however, the pair that would become known as ‘Team Hell No’ ended up having surprising chemistry, not just in the squared circle but also away from it, with a series of anger management skits, in particular, proving Bryan’s comic appeal. Few fans of the grap-game will soon be able to forget the sight of these two competitors hugging it out in the middle of the ring.
It was a partnership that exceeded expectations and saw the tandem bringing attention and consistency back to the doubles division, but Bryan was simply becoming too big of a star to have his talent wasted in the mid-card – and finally, last summer, WWE gave the people what they wanted and awarded Bryan a WWE Championship opportunity against company golden boy John Cena in the main event of SummerSlam.
Playing The (Waiting) Game
Shocking many watching on pay-per-view that night, Bryan bested Cena in a strong singles contest to seemingly close WWE’s second biggest show of the year and capture the prestigious World title. Fans rejoiced at the sight of Bryan finally standing atop the mountain – but the celebrations would prove to be very short lived indeed.
Mere moments after winning the gold, Randy Orton, holder of the 2013 Raw Money In The Bank briefcase, cashed in his guaranteed title opportunity and challenged a worn-down Bryan for his newly-won gold. That wasn’t the surprise though – what shocked the world was Triple H, the bout’s guest referee, attacking Bryan and aligning himself with Orton, enabling ‘The Viper’ to capitalise and capture the gold.
Fans were livid, and rightfully so. After ardently supporting Bryan’s journey for 18 months, Bryan had been denied his moment of glory on a grand stage. WWE programming hinged around rematches between the pair in the months that followed, but as 2013 drew to a close, Randy Orton remained champion and was being marketed as the face of the company despite the people’s protestations.
Bryan continued to come within a whisker of exacting his revenge, but each time was bested by the group now known as ‘The Authority’ – Orton, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. After momentarily taking his eye off the championship picture with a short-lived feud against The Wyatt Family, WWE fans would have bet the house on Daniel Bryan entering the 2014 Royal Rumble battle royal and overcoming 29 other competitors to become the number one contender for the WWE gold. It was a story that had been successfully told by the organisation on countless times before, and it seemed only logical that Bryan would get the big Rumble win.
But Daniel Bryan did not win the 2014 Royal Rumble. In fact, he wasn’t even entered into the match.
A Rumble To Remember
When pint-sized grappler Rey Mysterio was announced as entrant number 30 to the annual battle royal, something rather incredible happened. The live crowd, firmly educated in who to cheer and who to boo through countless hours of programming each week, went off-script and booed Mysterio out of the building. Rey wasn’t the only casualty though, as for the final 15 minutes of the pay-per-view , the audience loudly booed those in the ring and chanted for the absent Bryan. When planned winner Batista claimed victory, it was far from the feel-good moment that WWE had been banking on after ‘The Animal’s four-year absence; instead, the show went off the air to one of the most hostile and unexpected crowd reactions in company history.
The audience had finally had enough, and took to social media in droves to voice their displeasure.
Such was the level of critique hurled at WWE for the conspicuous absence of its most popular superstar that it actually garnered the promotion significant media coverage – indeed, even BBC’s Newsbeat covered the comments of former champion Mick Foley on the product’s direction. Now viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the publicity couldn’t have been of greater benefit to WWE – and draws into question whether the promotion really did have a plan all along.
In the weeks following the Rumble, it was clear that any WrestleMania headlined by a singles match between champion Randy Orton and challenger Batista would bomb. There simply wasn’t an appetite for the bout, and fans would only be happy with Bryan taking his rightful place in the spotlight on the biggest show of the year. WWE would ultimately give them what they wanted – but not without an upward struggle first.
Recognising the raw emotion that wrestling fans were hurling towards Bryan, the promotion capitalised by making Bryan’s plight to headline ‘Mania the key focal point of its weekly programming in the weeks leading up to the big show. With Triple H antagonising Bryan at every step of the way, WWE masterfully teased Bryan getting the opportunity again, and again, and again … and ultimately confirmed, in a memorable ‘Occupy Raw’ moment, that Bryan would be placed in the main event of ‘Mania if he could beat Triple H earlier in the night on the same show.
Of course, those that watched and enjoyed the grandaddy of them all from New Orleans know the rest of the story. Bryan triumphed, cleanly, over veteran HHH in a first-class and perfectly-paced opening contest to earn his spot in the show’s main event, and then overcame both Orton and Batista in an explosive and super-charged triple threat match to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. It was an incredible way to end what had been a remarkable show – but more importantly, it was a distinctly satisfying conclusion to an emotional journey for so many fans.
Looking back at Daniel Bryan’s road to glory demonstrates that, sometimes, good things come to those that wait. Had Bryan’s championship run begun in earnest last August with his Summerslam victory, it would have had nowhere near the momentum that his reign now has. Bryan’s victory was the culmination of a story that, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, was expertly told – even if there may have been a few hasty rewrites along the way. The action delivered within the squared circle is only half of the battle, as WWE star Chris Jericho noted in his 2011 memoir, Undisputed:
“I’ve always been of the belief that the story leading to the match is more important than the match itself. It can make the difference between the ultimate battle of good and evil that entices millions to pay money to see it or just two half-naked guys slathered in oil rolling around on a mat in their underwear.”
In todays fast-paced professional wrestling landscape, Daniel Bryan’s journey to eventual glory was refreshingly slow-paced. By being given ample time for the story to breathe and develop, fans around the globe were able to identify with the star’s plight and get behind his struggles against adversity en route to vicariously overcoming the powers that be.
The Yes Man’s time has finally arrived – and it certainly promises to be worth the wait.