Daniel Bryan is one of the most popular superstars in WWE history. However, WON‘s Dave Meltzer claimed the company didn’t believe Bryan would be able to keep his underdog persona alive after his WrestleMania 30 victory.
During an episode of Wrestling Observer Radio this week, Meltzer responded to WWE commentator John Bradshaw Layfield’s comments about Bryan’s popularity on Monday’s episode of Bring It to the Table. Layfield argued that Bryan was no longer an “underdog character” due to his championship victory and real-life marriage to Brie Bella, among other things.
“His whole thing was that Daniel Bryan was an underdog and he was getting cheered like crazy because he was an underdog and [WWE] planned it that way and it paid off at WrestleMania,” Meltzer said of Layfield. “But after WrestleMania, now he’s champion and he’s got a hot wife and so the people weren’t going to be with him anymore. And it’s like, I don’t know if that’s the case and we’ll never know if that’s the case because the reality is that he got hurt first. But John Layfield very often is the voice of the company and so their mentality is ‘the only reason Daniel Bryan didn’t get booed is because he got hurt first but he was about to get booed because he’s no longer an underdog and he was going to be the establishment company champion and the people would then boo him.’
“I don’t know that that’s true. I actually think it’s not true but I’m just telling you how they think because you can see how they think.”
While we may never know whether the crowd’s reaction would have changed, it’s easy to assume Bryan would have stayed popular. Even as SmackDown Live‘s general manager, Bryan is still receiving huge ovations from the live audience.
In fairness, however, it’s hard not to view a wrestler who was forced to retire early sympathetically. While that does add to Bryan’s support, it’s only part of the reason why fans still cheer him.
Bryan’s popularity was unmatchable by any current or recent WWE superstar. Only John Cena and CM Punk invoked comparable cheers during the height of their respective popularity. But Bryan was arguably the most popular superstar since the “Attitude Era,” matching the crowd reactions for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock.
And yes, much of that was due to his “underdog persona” and being extremely relatable to the average viewer. WWE’s claims of him being a “B-plus player” were believable because the long-standing perception was that he wasn’t the prototypical example of a WWE superstar.
Bryan wasn’t a blue chip athlete with movie star looks and a wrestling pedigree who was thrust into the main event scene. He was an average fan who trained enough to become one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all-time.
It took Bryan almost a decade to return to WWE after being released from his initial developmental contract in 2001. During that span, he was the king of independent wrestling and gained a reputation from hardcore fans.
So yes, Bryan winning at WrestleMania was the ultimate payoff for the underdog storyline, but it didn’t have to be the end of the angle. The company could have still booked him the same way even after the title win. Obviously, he was better during the title chase, so having him drop the belt and go through another long run as a challenger would have been a likely option.
Additionally, the claim that Bryan marrying Bella didn’t seem to hinder his popularity. Fans knew about the couple more than a year before their marriage. It was all over Total Divas and mentioned throughout the “Yes Movement” angle.
If anything, dating and marrying Bryan added to Brie’s popularity with the hardcore audience and placed her in a major storyline with Stephanie McMahon.
We may never know whether Bryan’s popularity would have faded had he stayed healthy, but it’s hard to imagine. Bryan remains one of the most popular characters on WWE television and would likely be even more popular if he was cleared to return to action.
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