At WWE Fastlane, Daniel Bryan faces Roman Reigns for the right to go to WrestleMania to face WWE champion Brock Lesnar. Much controversy surrounds this development with Bryan, who defeated Randy Orton and Batista in a tremendous triple threat match after already having beaten Triple H earlier in the night, to become the undisputed WWE champion. Bryan then had the misfortune of needing extensive neck surgery and aggressive physical therapy to help with nerve damage in his arm before being able to return to the ring. As a result of needing to take nine months off, Bryan was stripped of the WWE title, which ended up around the waist of the Beast, Brock Lesnar, at last year’s SummerSlam event, when he decimated the face of the WWE, John Cena, in what amounted to a squash match that saw Lesnar hit 16 brutal German suplexes on Cena, and three F-5’s, before pinning him for the title.
For Lesnar, it meant solidification of perhaps the most dominant and dangerous performer to his the WWE ring since Andre the Giant. Earlier in the year, Lesnar had become the one in 21-1 when he broke the Undertaker’s 21 year undefeated streak at WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans. That, paired with the obliteration of Cena, positioned Lesnar, who returned to the WWE as a special attraction after becoming the only WWE superstar to ever cross over to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and win the UFC heavyweight championship, as unquestionable and very realistically the top dog on the WWE. It also means that whoever is the man to finally take down the Beast will reap the benefit of not only knocking off the most dominant champion WWE has perhaps ever seen, but also the “Undertaker rub,” knocking off the man who did the impossible and left the Phenom in a pile of broken, concussed ruins.
While Lesnar was busy silencing 70,000 people inside the Superdome by pinning the Undertaker, Bryan set about to raising the back to their feet when he capped off a tremendous six month storyline that had been kicked off at the previous year’s SummerSlam, when he beat John Cena clean in the middle of the ring to win the WWE undisputed championship before being screwed by Triple H of the Authority, who nailed Bryan with his patented Pedigree, allowing Money in the Bank holder Randy Orton to pin Bryan for the championship. Bryan, playing the role of the consummate underdog, was put against seemingly insurmountable odds and overcame them, creating a phenomenon that would become known as the “YES! Movement.” The angle and subsequent triumph vaulted Bryan, solidifying him as a main eventer and a leader of the WWE’s “Reality Era.”
However, years of abuse and taxation on Bryan’s body due to his aggressive in-ring style had taken their toll on Bryan’s body. Bryan was married to real life girlfriend Brie Bella shortly after his WrestleMania win, but his good fortune would quickly become soured. Bryan’s ever-positive perspective was put to the ultimate test when his father died suddenly, followed by news that Bryan would need possibly career-ending surgery. His triumph had become tragedy, and months of rehabilitation would necessitate that he be stripped of the very title he had worked so hard and brutalized his body for nearly a decade and a half to win.
Which brought us to this year’s WWE Royal Rumble.
WWE’s hyped return of “the Animal,” Batista fell flat last year when Batista won the Royal Rumble event to ensure a main event match at WrestleMania 30, presumably against champion and former Evolution teammate Randy Orton. A vocal displeasure with the fact that crowd favorite Bryan was not even a participant in the match would lead WWE to include him in the WrestleMania main event following months of torture and oppression by the Authority. The crowd, since SummerSlam, had been eager to see Bryan overcome and achieve his rightful place amongst the top of the WWE roster. The rest was history.
Leading into this year’s Royal Rumble, it seemed that WWE had gotten solidly behind former Shield powerhouse Roman Reigns. It also seemed that the WWE Universe had gotten behind him and was supportive of the idea of Reigns winning the Royal Rumble event, and being the only legitimate choice to go on to WrestleMania 31 to face Lesnar. That was, until Bryan announced his in-ring return and entrance into the Royal Rumble event. Bryan would be eliminated early, and the Philadelphia crowd would voice their displeasure for the rest of the match, including when Reigns won the event. Even a surprise appearance by Reigns’ cousin, The Rock, wasn’t enough for them to forget their disappointment at Bryan’s elimination.
At tonight’s WWE Fastlane, WWE has an opportunity. While there is certainly time to develop Reigns and potentially have him claim a rightful top spot at next year’s WrestleMania, Bryan has an opportunity to both prove that his WrestleMania 30 triumph was not a fluke, to silence critics that claimed that his “YES!” chant, and not actually he, was over with the WWE Universe, and put a cap on the ultimate underdog, David versus Goliath storyline. Daniel Bryan defeating the insurmountable Brock Lesnar for the WWE championship would not only allow Bryan to reclaim his rightful spot, as well as a championship he never lost, but also solidify himself as not only a top WWE roster guy, but something of a legend. If Daniel Bryan goes on to beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, make no mistake, Daniel Bryan will be forever a made man.