Many WWE fans around the world got quite the surprise on Tuesday’s episode of SmackDown Live when Daniel Bryan defeated AJ Styles to win the WWE Championship for the first time since 2014. However, the biggest shock came when Bryan used underhanded tactics to pick up the win, then attacked Styles after the match, thereby solidifying his heel turn with less than a week remaining before Survivor Series. According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, this heel turn had been in the works for some time, but it was an 11th-hour decision when WWE owner and chairman Vince McMahon allowed Bryan to debut his new villainous character.
As quoted by WrestlingNews.co, Meltzer said on Tuesday’s episode of Wrestling Observer Radio that Bryan had been pushing for a heel turn for “a while,” but only got his request granted on Tuesday afternoon, when McMahon made some additional last-minute changes to his creative plans for Survivor Series. These changes reported took place a few days after McMahon thought it would be better if Bryan, and not Styles as originally booked, faced Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.
“Whatever the reason, I don’t know the reason. But it was over the weekend, Vince changed plans and wanted to go with Brock Lesnar against Daniel Bryan. This is before the Becky Lynch injury. The heel turn was decided [Tuesday] afternoon. It was basically Vince saying ‘let’s do it all in one day and get the biggest impact.'”
Prior to Tuesday night’s episode of SmackDown Live, the last time Daniel Bryan worked as a full-blown villain was in 2012 when he turned heel after his World Heavyweight Championship loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII. As noted by Bleacher Report, Bryan’s face turn later in 2012 had him playing heroic characters for the next six years, including the two-year period when he was retired from in-ring competition and working as SmackDown Live’s on-air general manager.
— Wrestling Observer (@WONF4W) November 14, 2018
Commenting on Daniel Bryan’s heel turn, Bleacher Report wrote that the shift to a villainous role was a “refreshing” one for the 37-year-old SmackDown Live star, as his underdog hero character was at risk of getting stale less than a year into his comeback run, which started when he was cleared by WWE’s doctors to return to the ring in March.
As for Bryan’s match against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series on Sunday, WrestlingNews.co predicted that it would be “interesting” to see how WWE books the match, given that both men are heels. The publication added that Bryan vs. Lesnar will likely be a competitive matchup, especially if the plan is for Bryan and AJ Styles to feud for the WWE Championship after Survivor Series.