“It’s not right to pretend he didn’t exist. It’s one thing to include him as part of a historical perspective, which I believe is OK, and it’s another thing to promote him, which is not OK.” Vince McMahon
That quote from Vince McMahon (from a 2009 issue of WWE Magazine) could easily be confused for the company policy regarding Daniel Bryan’s main event push over the last two years. With Bryan being as popular as anyone on the roster since May of 2012, and undeniably the most popular member of the WWE roster since June of 2013, it seems the quote above fits into exactly how WWE has been using Bryan terms of creative.
If you saw the Royal Rumble, and my condolences if you did, then you know what I am talking about. 10-20,000 person arena crowds have literally been shouting at WWE management to give The American Dragon the WWE Title for eight to ten months depending on how good your hearing is and how good the speakers on your TV/computer are. Do the people in the arenas know wrestling is not a real sport? Do I? Do the Seattle Seahawks? Yes, Yes! YES!
The nod and wink, unspoken deal between pro wrestling promotions and it’s fans is this; “We know it’s not a real sport, but entertain us and we’ll suspend our disbelief and give you our money.”
Vince McMahon’s old, out of touch, personal bias against Daniel Bryan and physically small talent from the independent wrestling scene, has violated that contract between fans and promoters to the point of necrophilia.
I recently watched two WWE title defenses of John Cena from his prime in 2005. The crowd was loud, I’m not going to lie. BUT, the crowd reaction of even all those women, children, and military veterans that make up Cena’s lucrative fan base were not nearly as loud as Daniel Bryan’s fans are in 2013-2014. Not to mention half of the arena isn’t booing Bryan for sucking at his profession.
What are the parallel’s to he who shall not be named? Besides the signature (diving headbutt) and finisher submission move (Crossface/Yes Lock) they both share(d)? It is the fact that for their respective eras, they’re both undersized workhorses who made their name outside of the WWE, endeared themselves to both the hardcore and general pro wrestling fans, and were held out of the main event slot until they could not be ignored.
The first screen shot I saved when I got my first laptop was when I checked WWE.com after the 2004 Royal Rumble and saw Chris Benoit had won the whole thing and would be main eventing one of the most important and influential WrestleMania’s in history. Benoit deserved to win that Rumble, he earned it. AND, he wasn’t half as over as Daniel Bryan is now. He was in Canada however, look up Backlash 2004 and turn your speakers down because the crowd noise might make them explode when he defends the WHC against Triple H and HBK.
Bryan and Benoit are both junior heavyweight wrestlers who made their names both on the American independent wrestling scene as well as in the major Japanese wrestling promotions. Benoit to this day is still one of the most successful American wrestlers in Japanese wrestling history under the Pegasus Kid and Wild Pegasus monikers. Bryan earned the nickname American Dragon as well as multiple world titles in Japan from 2003-2008. In WWE however, those things work against you when it comes to getting to the top.
When you are in the entertainment business your job is to give the fans what they want, period. James Franco has said the movie industry is as much a business, and insider social club as it is an art. The same is true for WWE and its owner Vince McMahon. WWE is publically traded, at what point do the shareholders speak up? It doesn’t look good when the crowd verbally shits all over your third most lucrative show of the year.
It doesn’t help when paying customers in a large arena ignore the product in front of them repeatedly (almost habitually now) and in unison shout for a talent you are holding back because of a personal, not professional bias. Vince McMahon is a senior citizen now, and like most his age has lost touch with the reality of his younger demographic of fans. 2005 is almost a decade ago. John Cena’s time is over, Daniel Bryan’s time is now.
The same was true in 2004 for Chris Benoit. Austin and Rock both left suddenly and the guys picked to replace them, Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg, also left in a hurry. So Triple H was given the ball and got to dominate the landscape for two years. But then his time was over and it was time for Chris Benoit to have his run. Even when Benoit was relegated to the third tier US Title division he was getting louder pops than Batista, Orton, Khali, Cena, JBL, and the other people Vince McMahon was more comfortable having in the main events after Summerslam 2004.
Daniel Bryan has been getting louder applause for his work in the tag division than anyone in the main event slots (Cena, Del Rio, Orton, Sheamus, Big Show) for the last two years. It is his time now. It’s not the internet marks demanding it. It’s not the hardcore wrestling fans demanding it. It is both groups plus; women, children, military veterans, and the rest of the general audience demanding it too. Chris Benoit after years of being the internet and hardcore fans’ darling finally got over with the casual, mainstream fans and as a result got rewarded with the WrestleMania XX main event in The Garden. Daniel Bryan has done the same and then some. It’s undeniable to anyone who didn’t just pay millions of dollars out of pocket to Dave Batista.
Where do the parallels between Bryan and Benoit end? In all the right places. No roids, no mental issues, no weird backstage reputation, no rocky marriage. Where do they begin? In all the right places. Humble, workhorse, mechanic, loves the sport, respects the business, over with the boys, over with the general audience. I’ve purposefully been careful to not use any insensitive metaphors or phrasing here. Like the quote at the top, Chris Benoit is a part of history, it can’t be denied. His similarities to Daniel Bryan can’t be denied. You know what else can’t be denied? That Daniel Bryan is more deserving by WWE metrics for success of winning the main event of WrestleMania XXX than Chris Benoit was of winning WrestleMania XX.