Daniel Bryan in WrestleMania main event: Big mistake if it happens?

daniel bryanThe rumor mill has WWE head honcho Vince McMahon considering adding former WWE champ Daniel Bryan to the main event for WrestleMania 31.

That move would make it two years in a row that WWE would have responded to popular demand to do Bryan right by including him in a three-way match for the world title. Last year, Bryan was grafted into the match with champion Randy Orton and Royal Rumble winner Batista, and took home the championship in an upset.

But last year was different than this year. The push from fans, for one, wasn’t as organic as it might have seemed. Remember that the spotlight given to Bryan began way back at SummerSlam in 2013, when Bryan won, and then lost, the WWE title, defeating John Cena in the main event, then dropping the title moments later when Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase for a title shot and quick pinfall.

Months of torture from The Authority ensued, elevating Bryan to top face status in the company. But then McMahon and creative swung and missed in having Batista win the Royal Rumble and the main-event slot at WrestleMania 30, which was obvious even before it happened, when the live crowd at the pay-per-view began booing Batista, then being sold as a face, and practically every other participant in the Rumble when it became apparent that Bryan wasn’t going to be included in the match.

In other words, WWE had created a monster face in the diminutive Bryan, and had to accede to the popular will at the risk of having the WM30 product hijacked.

So Bryan wins the title and rides off into the sunset, only he didn’t get to ride off into the sunset, having to forfeit the title later in the spring due to recurring issues with a neck injury that put him on the shelf for most of the rest of 2014.

Bryan, then, has a legitimate claim to a title shot, not having actually lost the title. But following the storyline, he was included in this year’s Royal Rumble, and was eliminated early and unceremoniously, in a move panned by fans, who also don’t seem to be sold on upstart Roman Reigns, who was anointed the Next Next Big Thing with his win and upcoming title shot against reigning champ Brock Lesnar.

McMahon, it is being said in the dirt sheets, is fearful of another fan hijacking of the product, and the stakes are a bit higher this year. Twelve months ago, WWE was just beginning to roll out the WWE Network, and the future seemed bright for the company with the expectations that the Network would sign up millions of wrestling fans for six-month subscriptions.

The Network just recently surpassed the million-subscriber mark, and it hasn’t come easy, with WWE trotting out several free month-long subscription offers to entice fans, and pulling back from six-month commitments.

As savvy as McMahon was to bypass cable and satellite providers by taking his Network straight to the marketplace as his own middleman, he unwittingly made himself more beholden to the casual fan than ever before. The evidence that he gets that would be actually including Bryan in a second straight three-way WrestleMania main event.

The mistake, were this to happen, would be the lack of buildup that made Bryan’s chase and ultimate vindication so thrilling for fans to want to be a part of. As much as McMahon would be responding to what it seems the fans want, it feels forced, as forced as the idea that Reigns is ready for the main event, when he’s clearly still way too green, in the ring and on the mic.

That having been said, we’re still six weeks out from WrestleMania 31, and WWE has done a decent job in scramble mode trying to build heat between Bryan and Reigns, who will be main-eventing next weekend’s Fast Lane pay-per-view. One will leave the ring that night as a heel, most likely, it would seem, Reigns, who obviously could use a mouthpiece to assist in his transition to heel status, and thus would be well-served to be added as the latest addition to The Authority before the end of the night there as well.

But a few weeks of hastily-created heat doesn’t equal several months of storyline magic. That was the Bryan march from SummerSlam 2013 to WrestleMania 31, one of the better title chases in decades, really.

The excitement at WM31 will come on the undercard. The good news is that there seems to be plenty brewing there – Cena-Rusev, Sting-Triple H, Bray Wyatt-Undertaker – to make up for the lack of fulfillment at the top.

– Column by Chris Graham

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