January 2014. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Royal Rumble. Daniel Bryan loses to Bray Wyatt in a singles match and does not participate in the Rumble match itself. The live crowd in Pittsburgh continually chants for Bryan throughout the night during the Rumble and the WWE World Heavyweight title match main event, and effectively begins the “Yes Movement” that would culminate in Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in epic fashion at WrestleMania XXX.
Fast forward one year. Royal Rumble 2015. Philadelphia. Ironically the same state, different city. After returning from injury less than a month prior, Daniel Bryan enters the Rumble at number ten but is eliminated ten and a half minutes later by old nemesis Bray Wyatt (again, ironic). The crowd again revolts, chanting the Yes Man’s name throughout the rest of the match and booing other wrestlers as they enter, even beloved babyface Rey Mysterio. The crowd resents and rejects everyone not named “Daniel Bryan,” including the eventual winner- Roman Reigns.
Now here we are in 2018. WrestleMania has come and gone, and SummerSlam is still on the horizon. And, ironically again, Daniel Bryan has recently returned from injury-related retirement, reassuming his place as one of the top babyfaces in the company and the recipient of almost universal support and adulation. Meanwhile, Roman Reigns is still trying to fully emerge from the stink that Bryan unintentionally enabled to first start to settle in on him, way back at the 2015 Rumble.
In some ways, above all else, Daniel Bryan is and has been the biggest obstacle for Roman Reigns to overcome in his apparent predestined path to becoming THE face of the company. We hear all the time how important timing is in the wrestling business. Some wrestlers are believed to have both underachieved and overachieved due to the fact that they arrived too early or too late onto the scene in their careers, or couldn’t break through to the “next level” because it wasn’t necessary for the times (think Hulk Hogan circa the late 80’s). Despite all of the barbs that Reigns’ detractors might throw at him-some valid, some not, some not in his control- his biggest sin might simply be that he is being pushed as the “Big Dog” in an era when more fans prefer the underdog. And how’s this for timing? Had Daniel Bryan NOT been injured and forced to retire for a long period of time before ultimately returning, who’s to say that fans might not have turned on him and his “scruffy guy beats the odds” schtick by now in the same way they have turned on Reigns? The long sabbatical may have been the best thing to happen to Bryan for the sake of his longevity, and the worst thing to happen for Reigns’ and his eventual ascent as the undisputed “Man” in the WWE.
However, when comparing Reigns to Bryan, the same thing that was working against Roman in 2014-2015 might be working for him in some ways in 2018. The “Yes Movement,” in my opinion, more so than anything, represented the first time in any recent memory that the WWE listened to the fans and allowed an organic uprising of support for a superstar drastically shift their pre-planned course of direction. The planned main event for WrestleMania XXX was set to be Randy Orton vs Batista. Daniel Bryan was scheduled to face Sheamus. This has been confirmed by Bryan himself, as well as others. However, due to the overwhelming response and support he was getting, and lack thereof for Batista, Vince and the creative team relented and struck while the iron was hot with Bryan, shooting him into a featured match with Triple H that would then lead to him being added into the main event and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in one of the best “WrestleMania Moments” ever.
Then, Daniel got injured.
He made only one pay-per-view title defense, in May at Extreme Rules, and by June he had relinquished the title and was put on the shelf until January at the aforementioned 2015 Royal Rumble. Vince had gambled. He had deviated from his course. He had allowed the fans to dictate to him and his company instead of the other way around. And it blew up in his face. Months of planning and writing was thrown out the window to accommodate Plan B- making Bryan the new champion- and then just two months later, it was time for a Plan C.
Change can be hard. And the last time Vince embraced change, it didn’t work out like they planned. Better to “keep it simple, stupid.” Roman’s push is solidified because it’s safe.
So, all signs seem to point to the fact that, despite fan backlash, Reigns is still the “Chosen One” and will continue to be pushed as the top babyface in the company. Vince doesn’t want or need another “Yes Movement.” Roman will continue to be on top of the card and shoved down our throats, which isn’t going to hurt his paycheck, but might it have lasting effects on his success in the future? Many fans have already thrown up the spoonfuls of Roman fed to them over the last few years, and there have been instances where some might even question the WWE’s true faith in him as the top draw (see this year’s WrestleMania for example).
— WWE on PopCulture (@WWEonPopCulture) May 15, 2018
Would Roman be better served if Vince were to give the people what they want, just as he did in 2014, and turn him heel? Some may argue it would be the best thing for Roman’s career right now. But thanks to Daniel Bryan’s past, that isn’t going to happen. Vince won’t be sucked in by the hype again. He isn’t going to let “internet fans” dictate his creative direction. He isn’t going to pivot by turning Roman heel, which would probably thus make RAW’s assumed new top babyface Seth Rollins, who’s had his own injury history. He is going to stay the course, push Roman as the top dog, and count his billions of TV deal dollars.
Roman Reigns is boxed in and he is what he is. And he’s going to continue to be what he is- “the guy.” It’s the safe bet, though maybe not the one with the biggest potential gain. But Vince’s doesn’t need to gamble. And perhaps, for the second time in three years, Daniel Bryan may directly or indirectly be the biggest factor in putting a stranglehold on Roman’s potential growth.
Will Samoa Joe Finally Headline WWE WrestleMania?
David Levin takes a look at the Samoa Joe roadmap to WWE success, asking if he can finally get his WWE WrestleMania spotlight.
It wasn’t a typical Samoa Joe night Tuesday night. But it was a night many of us expect from the WWE superstar on the way to WrestleMania 35. The former NXT Champion brutalized Mustafa Ali in a match that best described how the man on a mission wants to finally reach the pinnacle of his career and win the Royal Rumble.
This is how Joe, who has been a contender for the Universal Title and the WWE Title in the past year should be thought of – as the biggest threat to 29 other WWE performers with one goal in mind – to win the Royal Rumble match and head to the biggest stage with a chip on his shoulder and a possible dream realized.
Phoenix could be the start of something big for one of the company’s best performers in and out of the ring.
Joe’s resume looks like a roadmap of how to become a successful professional wrestler.
Joe established himself in Ring Of Honor from the promotion’s beginning in 2002, holding the ROH World Championship for a record 21 months from March 2003 to December 2004. Upon joining TNA in June 2005, he embarked on a 19-month-long undefeated streak, and went on to hold the TNA World Heavyweight Championship once, the TNA X Division Championship five times, the TNA World Tag Team Championship twice, and the TNA Television Championship once; completing the TNA Triple Crown and the TNA Grand Slam.
Add to that a stint in WWE NXT where he was the brand’s first ever two-time champion and later, an enforcer on WWE’s main roster. His size, speed, agility and ability to deliver a kick-ass promo makes him one of the best the promotion has to offer. The only thing eluding him is a belt and a moniker as the best of the best at what he does. Underutilized? For sure. Underrated? It’s not even a discussion.
After feuds with Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, A.J. Styles and Brock Lesnar what is holding him back? Injuries for one. Maybe a lack of direction and third, the changes WWE has implemented in the past month has set a course for new talent and bigger matches. Joe should be leading this charge.
Joe does not want to get into a situation where he is known as the “greatest to never win the WWE Title”. It’s a road Hall of Fame stars have traveled. Rick Rude, Roddy Piper, and Rick Steamboat. There are others on the company roster who can make a case for the same moniker. Joe is first in line.
There are eight days until the Royal Rumble as I write this blog. It’s already electric. Expect Joe to be one of the last four standing next Sunday night. I expect him to walk out of Phoenix with a ticket to WrestleMania 35. I know fellow blogger Sarah Hirsch will be fangirling when this happens because a Joe-Finn Balor main event is quite possible.
It’s part of the continued evolution of Samoa Joe. And the next step takes place in Phoenix at the Royal Rumble.
Could Finn Balor Actually Beat Brock Lesnar at the WWE Royal Rumble?
Finn Balor is on his way to the main event of The Royal Rumble on January 27. The Irish born Superstar has the chance of a lifetime against Brock Lesnar and that chance may deliver the Universal Championship. Finn has worked hard for this moment as he’s finally getting another run at the top.
That is the narrative that’s currently being written by WWE. Finn Balor’s career resurgence is a feel-good story and understandably so. It’s been nearly three years since he’s truly been in serious world title contention. He is one of the most popular Superstars on the roster and fans want to see him do well. All of this is true. But is he really going to win it all on January 27?
Balor’s rise to the top back in 2016 seemed like a perfect move. He was riding a wave of momentum from his run in NXT and he was gaining popularity with each passing week. The fans saw him as a top babyface and that’s how WWE booked him.
His debut on the main roster was met with overwhelming approval, as fans couldn’t wait to see him mix it up with Raw’s biggest names. One of those names was of course Roman Reigns, who Bálor defeated en route to beating Seth Rollins and becoming the first-ever Universal champion.
Both wins were a statement by WWE. It wasn’t often that the company moved anyone ahead of Reigns, but that’s exactly what happened with Finn. Roman wasn’t going anywhere of course and Bálor was probably not taking his place.
But WWE was giving the fans something new, something different. Balor was a breath of fresh air on a program that often grows very stale at times. However with Finn at the helm, there was little chance of that happening again.
So now that he’s finally regained momentum after three years, what are the chances that Finn Balor will once again be slowed to a dead stop? His injury the night he won the Universal title was through no fault of his own. These things happen and it could very well happen to any WWE Superstar at any time.
But there is definitely someone to blame for Finn’s booking since relinquishing the championship. WWE surely could not be expected to immediately reinsert Finn into a top spot the moment he came back from injury. But to wait this long to elevate him to the world title picture?
WWE had to change plans after Finn went down. Fans surely realize that. The company really cannot afford to sit still for anyone, especially someone that had just arrived on the main roster. But Balor’s lack of main event success in the time following his return is indeed a curiosity.
Brock Lesnar was the top titleholder for the majority of the time after Finn returned to Raw. WWE’s plans didn’t include Balor versus Lesnar. So why not move Finn to SmackDown Live and give him a run against then-WWE champion AJ Styles?
A feud between the two could have led to a WrestleMania 35 showdown for the WWE Championship. The founder of The Bullet Club versus the man who took his place. Two veteran stars that made their names outside of WWE now waging war on the WrestleMania stage. It’s a story that really could have written itself.
But even as fans contemplate what could have been, there’s no denying that Finn is once again in a great place in his WWE career. Maybe it did take too long for him to return to this elite level. But he’s back nonetheless and now he indeed has a chance of achieving greatness. All he has to do is get past Brock Lesnar.
Facing Lesnar right now is a somewhat odd prospect for Finn Balor. On one hand, Finn has to look good and he most likely will. The contrast between the two men is apparent and that contrast should make for an intriguing matchup.
Balor will stick and move, he will weather the storm and he will continue to come out swinging despite how long the match lasts. But what happens when crowd fatigue sets in, as is often the case, during Lesnar’s matches?
The fact is that may bode well for Finn, because once he starts his comeback, the crowd will go along for the ride. The real drama in Brock Lesnar’s matches typically does not come until the end. That’s when the real test begins, as fans hold their collective breath to see if Brock’s opponent will actually pull out the win. The problem is, that win rarely ever happens.
But this is actually in Finn’s favor as well. Even if Finn loses to Brock, it probably won’t affect Balor that much at all. No one expects Lesnar to really ever lose and when it does happen, it’s a complete shock to the system. So, Balor would be just another star that tried and failed. How could anyone hold that against him?
However will the notion that Finn is destined to be nothing more than a top mid-card star once again become the prevailing opinion? Fans have always debated Balor’s worth and WWE’s apparent refusal to use him as a main event star. Will a loss at The Royal Rumble once again put Balor right back in the middle of that situation?
The truth is that for fans desperately wanting to see the Universal Championship back on Raw full-time again, nothing would be sweeter than a Lesnar loss. Roman is still out action and it’s clear that Braun Strowman is not the answer to Brock. So now may be the perfect opportunity to take a different path and reinsert Finn Bálor as the new top titleholder on Monday Night Raw. WWE did it before. Whether or not it will happen again is anyone’s guess.