Daniel Bryan‘s third official reign as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion was a complete disaster. It’s not his fault, but I doubt that’s how the company will portray the series of events that ended with Bryan being stripped of the title.
After winning the belt at WrestleMania XXX, Bryan was promptly booked into a feud with Kane. Many wrestling fans accurately predicted this wouldn’t do the world champion any favors, but the program turned out worse than expected. Between Bryan running away from Kane in a goofy segment on Monday Night Raw, stalling vehicles and Brie Bella screaming in cheap horror movie fashion, it was clear that the WWE had no interest in portraying their world champion as a serious top-level star.
It gets worse. On May 15, Bryan underwent minimally invasive neck surgery. Assuming he would be ready to compete in time for the Money in the Bank PPV on Jun. 29 in Boston, the company decided against stripping him of the title. Instead, they booked an angle where Brie would forfeit her career to save her husband’s championship.
Unfortunately, Bryan’s recovery took longer than expected — not necessarily by normal human standards, but at least by WWE standards. Remember, this is a company that’s used to John Cena regularly returning from serious injuries months earlier than most athletes in the world. In any event, Bryan was stripped of the title and Brie’s firing was rendered meaningless.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon even joked about this on Raw. It might have been funny if it wasn’t true – and completely the WWE’s fault.
The company booked Bryan into a corner. Being overly optimistic about his recovery, they went with an angle that had no chance of succeeding in the “off chance” they were wrong about his rehabilitation. When everything fell apart, they had no recourse but to drop everything and move in a new direction. The neck injury was unfortunate, but their booking was unjustifiable.
The real question is this: where does Bryan go from here?
As far as we know, the WWE has plans for Bryan to reclaim the title when he returns from injury (whenever that may be). The company is banking on Bryan being ready in time for SummerSlam in Los Angeles, where they hope to match him with Brock Lesnar. Everything depends on how quickly Bryan can return to the ring.
Honestly, it’s difficult to remember a recent babyface world title reign that was as damaging as this one. On the bright side, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and there’s a chance that Bryan comes back even hotter than before. Hopefully fans will forget the hideous booking that ruined what should have been a great world title run.