On January 25th WWE put on one of their four marquee pay per views of the year, the Royal Rumble. The card as a whole was solid and one of the better pay per views they have put on in the past year. It was capped off by an amazing triple threat match for the WWE title between John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Seth Rollins. This should be considered an early match of the year candidate. Still the one match that disappointed the fans the most was the pay per view’s namesake match the Royal Rumble itself? Was the Royal Rumble match bad? No, there were several entertaining moments in the match itself such as the surprise returns of Diamond Dallas Page and Bubba Ray Dudley. So why did the fans turn? The outcome. The fans were in favor of Daniel Bryan winning the match and perhaps he should have.
Last year fans protested after fan favorite wrestler Daniel Bryan was excluded from the Royal Rumble match. At that point it was common knowledge that part time wrestler and former champion Batista would get the win at the Rumble. Fans were against this for a couple of reasons. First off the higher ups of the WWE did not do a good job of building Batista as a credible winner of the Royal Rumble. The other is that Daniel Bryan was in the midst of a popularity surge not seen since the days of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. This gave Batista little if any chance of getting over as the winner of the Rumble. The WWE made the same mistake with the eventual winner Roman Reigns.
Things started off well for Reigns as the man who was previously seen as the enforcer of The Shield was booked for the most part as an unstoppable monster. His popularity began to grow in leaps and bounds. So what went wrong? First off he was injured. This is not to suggest that the opportunity should have been taken away from him due to injury. It is what the WWE did with him while he was injured that was the major mistake. While fans waited for Reigns eventual return they advertised him as live on Raw to give the fans an update on his health. While he was live, he was live via satellite not in the arena to address the fans in person. Then they had him talk. Part of Roman Reigns’ appeal was that he is a silent assassin like Goldberg before him Reigns would speak, but most of the time it was just a few words. By having him deliver promos it often seemed like they were forced and increasingly laughable. Again this is no fault of Reigns. It has been suggested that Vince McMahon himself is scripting Reigns’ promos. This removed the silent assassin aspect of his character. While physically he was more than capable in many fans’ eyes this changed their perspective that he might be the guy to eventually dethrone Brock Lesnar.
Now let’s examine Daniel Bryan’s path to the title. Bryan first won the title from John Cena at SummerSlam only to lose it the same night to Money in the Bank briefcase holder Randy Orton. This would start a long storyline of Daniel Bryan being the ultimate underdog and chasing Orton for the title never quite able to win it. As a fan this was sometimes difficult to watch as with constant losses it made Daniel Bryan look like he was losing his credibility as a challenger. Still the storyline continued sparking what is now known as “The Yes Movement.” It seemed like Bryan could do no wrong. Yet preliminary WrestleMania lineups had Bryan facing Sheamus. The fans’ frustrations increased when not only was it revealed that returning, part time wrestler Batista would go on to win the Royal Rumble, and their hero Bryan was not even in the match. While Reigns did impressively in the match due to the fans’ disdain for Batista winning it can be argued that anyone who was last in the match itself being cheered heavily. The WWE eventually did right by the fans by giving Daniel Bryan the opportunity to wrestle in the main event of WrestleMania should he beat Triple H in a match on the same night. Of course Bryan did and he eventually went on to win the world championship.
Bryan’s momentum did not last long as he was derailed by a severe neck injury. The WWE allowed Bryan to keep the title for a while in spite of being injured. Due to the severity of the injury and not knowing how long he would be out the WWE’s hand was eventually forced and Bryan had to relinquish the title never losing it. Does this mean that Bryan would have been one of the greatest champions in history? Not necessarily. The problem is due to his injury the fans never had the chance to find out what type of champion the “ultimate underdog” might be. The title would go back to perennial title holder John Cena. This was also a polarizing move as those who love Cena applauded the move while those who dislike him took the attitude of “not again.” This led to a short feud with long time archrival Randy Orton. Finally Cena dropped the title to Brock Lesnar and the two had one competitive match and one match where Lesnar totally dominated. All the while Bryan sat home injured periodically giving fans an update on his health. At one point it was questionable as to whether he would ever wrestle again.
It was announced that Daniel Bryan would return at this year’s Royal Rumble. The fans were ecstatic. In a rare move Bryan had managed to return to professional wrestling with as much momentum as he had before he was injured. Meanwhile due to the tweaking of his character Roman Reigns had begun to lose momentum he was getting as one of the WWE’s top babyfaces after coming back from an injury of his own just months ahead of Bryan. Taking the man of few words and having him deliver typical clean cut, good guy promos similar to John Cena started seeing fans turn on him in droves. The fans became less and less interested in the Roman Reigns character. By then it was common knowledge that Reigns was the “chosen one” set to win the Royal Rumble to go onto face the champion at WrestleMania. The match itself was poorly laid out and further saw the fans angered when Daniel Bryan was eliminated fairly early while being widely expected to go far in the match. Due to his lost momentum, this was not what fans wanted to see. It’s been said that Reigns is not ready. This is not from a physical or a wrestling standpoint. Since his return from injury the WWE has not given the fans a reason to buy into Roman Reigns as a viable threat to thus far unstoppable champion Brock Lesnar. The clean cut babyface role isn’t working. It hasn’t worked for a while for the company’s true number one star John Cena. Roman Reigns needs a character change to get the fans into the idea of him facing Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Have him dominate and go back to the silent assassin he once was. Then have the two big men go at it in a match for the ages. There is still time for this to happen before Mania, but in the eyes of the fans it may be too late.
Meanwhile Bryan is stuck in matches with longtime rival Kane. The big man is a solid veteran who can have a good match with anyone in the ring, but like the John Cena and Randy Orton feud before them, how many times can the WWE give us the same match and still keep the fans’ interest? They have already resorted to a casket match this week on SmackDown. Once the storyline goes from gimmick to gimmick to gimmick the feud is pretty much done in the eyes of the fans. The WWE should use the momentum Bryan still has and strike while the iron is hot and put him in the main event of WrestleMania. It is there biggest event of the year, and the WWE cannot afford to lose momentum going into the event. Roman Reigns is a great up and coming star and deserves to have his WrestleMania moment. He has all the tools to be a big star in the business. It is up to the WWE to give the fans a reason to believe he should. There is still time for this to happen before WrestleMania, but unless this happens the proven commodity of Daniel Bryan is the better choice. Can the WWE change the fans’ minds between now and WrestleMania? Only time will tell. One can only watch and see where the story goes leading into the granddaddy of them all.