FATP: 2012 – The Year of the Goat
It’s that time of week where FATP returns to brighten up your day! Thanks to that opening line, you should be able to tell that, despite heavily overdosing on various forms of prescribed medicine over the last week, I’m still here. I didn’t do a Heath Ledger. Thanks for the feedback I got about last week’s article, where I talked about how going live earlier this year affected TNA. I don’t do TNA columns very often, because I don’t want it to feel mundane, so thanks to everyone who commented on, or retweeted, the article last week. It’s appreciated.
This week, I’ve gone back to my roots so to speak and now that we’re into December, I thought I’d write about how one wrestler has broken through the WWE’s glass ceiling and become a superstar. The man I’m going to talk about today is none other than Daniel Bryan (even though I hate using his slave name).
At this time last year, Bryan was kind of floundering around on Smackdown, not doing a lot, which was strange because he was holding the SmackDown Money in the Bank briefcase. Two big men were positioned at the top of the SmackDown side of things: Big Show and Mark Henry. Even Randy Orton wasn’t really getting a look in at the top-end of the card and Bryan had been struggling to get any sort of push or TV time, even with the briefcase.
(On a side note, that’s one thing that really pisses me off. If someone wins the MiTB match and gets the briefcase, they should be booked as a legitimate threat going forward. I’m not saying they have to win all the time, but at least give them regular TV time and showcase their talent so that the fans believe that they’re a genuine threat to whatever title they’re going after.)
Last December’s TLC PPV came around and it was a kind of weird situation. CM Punk was going in to his first title defence as WWE Champion after beating Juan Blandshaw Layfield at Survivor Series, Zack Ryder finally got his United States title shot on PPV and John Cena was nowhere to be seen on that night. On the PPV, Zack Ryder won the US Title from my man Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk retained his WWE Title against Miz and Juan, but the most surprising thing of all happened: Daniel Bryan successfully cashed in his MiTB briefcase to win the World Championship from Big Show.
It’s not that I didn’t believe Bryan was good enough to win the title, far from it. It’s that I didn’t believe that WWE would ever give someone like Bryan (an internet darling) the World Title. I know that they did it with Punk before, but Bryan had been through so much just to get to the WWE that when he got there, I’d have been happy if he’d just won a mid-card title and had a decent feud. That’s all I thought he’d get, but on THAT night, Daniel Bryan stood there holding the World Championship as one of the two main title holders in the WWE, heading towards WrestleMania season.
I remember watching Raw the night after TLC 2011 and the image of Bryan, Ryder and Punk all standing there with the gold was one of those sights that I’ll never forget. There stood 3 men who, if we’re honest, WWE management never really wanted to get behind. Yet they stood there as champions. That’s right: champions. I know that, in wrestling today, the titles effectively mean jack shit, but three of my favourite wrestlers were standing there proudly as champions in WWE. It was an amazing moment. In fact, CM Punk tweeted the following picture (breaking kayfabe!) around that time:
It was a time to feel proud as a wrestling fan. None of the men that the office really wanted to push were champions. There was no sign of John Cena or Randy Orton. Two of the biggest stars WWE created in the last 10 years were nowhere to be seen as far as the gold was concerned, and it felt amazing!
I remember that, even back then, I was worried about how Bryan’s title reign would go. WWE are notorious for giving wrestlers who win their first title short, uneventful runs, so I just figured that Bryan would be the next name on that list. When Edge won his first WWE Championship in 2006, he dropped it 3 weeks later. When Jeff Hardy won his first WWE Championship at Armageddon 2008, he dropped it 4-5 weeks later. In terms of uneventful first main-event title runs, Jack Swagger tops the list. All the talent in the world wrestling-wise, but the dude can’t cut a promo to save his life and he ended up dropping his World Title around 8-10 weeks after winning it (I think).
How wrong I was. Bryan slowly started to turn heel at the beginning of 2012 and it’s proved to be the making of him. His first title defence was a triple-threat steel cage match against Big Show and Mark Henry. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be and Bryan successfully retained. Then we headed to Elimination Chamber where Bryan, again, had a multi-man title defence: this time, it was in the Elimination Chamber against Big Show, Khali, Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes and Santino Marella. Again, Bryan successfully defended his title and the unthinkable was happening: Daniel Bryan was heading to WrestleMania as the reigning, defending World Champion.
If you’d have told me that when he first signed for WWE, I’d have said you were bat-shit crazy, but here we were. It was March and Bryan had held on to his World Championship. In the weeks heading in to WrestleMania, the IWC (that’s Internet Wrestling Community) must have had the world’s longest, collective, recorded wet dream (sponsored by Kleenex) as we got treated to a couple of CM Punk vs Daniel Bryan matches.
Yup, that’s right. We got CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, widely regarded as two of the best talents in the industry, wrestling in a TV main-event. I could’ve died that day and been happy to have seen those matches. Sure there were a couple of dodgy finishes, but who cares? Two of the best wrestlers in the world were actually being showcased by a company who, by and large, don’t like to use the world wrestling. It’s a naughty word kids, don’t use it!
Around that time, Bryan was pretty much a full-blown heel. He’d run people down (not like Nick Hogan), he’d act like a smart-ass and hide behind his “girlfriend”, AJ Lee. He’d also started to use a catchphrase that’s gone on to be the word of the year: Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s the most simple word to use and boy did it get over!
Bryan’s opponent at WrestleMania 28 was the winner of the 2012 Royal Rumble: Sheamus. The big Irishman had been on one hell of a roll since the previous summer and he was one of the WWE’s most over babyfaces at that time. When you looked at it on paper, it seemed like they’d have a great match at WM28, especially since their match the previous year (for the US Championship) was bumped off the card.
When Bryan walked out at WM28, the crowd were going apeshit for him. They were pleased to see a genuine, hard-working guy that they could relate to as World Champion. Sure, there might have been a few “smarks” (I hate that word) in the crowd, but most of them could relate to Bryan’s story. Go back and listen to the reactions Bryan was getting around that time and then listen to the noise he got when he walked out at WrestleMania. That’s one simple word: respect. Unfortunately, the dream ended there as Daniel Bryan lost his World Championship to Sheamus in just 18 seconds.
To say that the IWC were pissed at that would be an understatement. I don’t think they were pissed that Sheamus won though. I reckon they were pissed at the fact that, instead of getting a competitive match, we were treated to nothing more than a glorified TV squash match. I understand that it was probably done to make Sheamus, and the Brogue Kick, look dominant, but there are better ways of doing that than to effectively bury your World Champion as a joker.
Raw the following night was a sight (and sound) to behold. Listen to the crowd chanting “YES!” that night. It’s deafening. The crowd wanted to see Bryan in the ring, but as far as I can remember, he was only in some shitty, throw-away backstage segment. I went online and read live fan reports from the Raw taping and they said that when Bryan came out for the post-show dark match, the crowd basically chanted “YES!” the entire way through the match, which cracked Bryan up. That’s genius. Such a simple word that nobody ever thought could get over and there were 14,000 fans blowing the roof off the place for the catchphrase, and more importantly, the man/character himself.
Bryan was finally getting recognition from the majority of WWE fans for being a great character and entertainer, as well as what some people have always known he’s been: a fantastic, outstanding wrestler. As the second quarter of 2012 kicked off, despite being booked like a joke at WrestleMania 28, Bryan was one of the most over wrestlers on the entire roster. If WWE’s plan was to make Bryan into some kind of joke, then it backfired spectacularly because it had completely the opposite effect. Whether they meant it or not, they’d turned Bryan into what I personally never thought he’d get the chance to be: a superstar.
His body of work this year stands up there with anyone in the industry. His 2 out of 3 falls match with Sheamus was fantastic, and then there was the series of matches in the summer with CM Punk (albeit with the involvement of AJ and Kane), which included the five-star classic at Over the Limit. Again, sales of Kleenex must have gone through the roof as wrestling geeks around the world creamed their pants at the thought of Bryan and Punk going head-to-head for the most prestigious title in the world: the WWE Championship.
Although Bryan came up short (no pun intended), he proved to everyone that he belonged in the main-event. Since the summer, Bryan has given us some of the funniest moments that we’ve seen in the WWE for over 10 years, thanks to his on-screen partnership with Kane. On paper, it’s not something that looks as if it’ll work, but by Christ those lads deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they’ve done. Their chemistry in the ring is brilliant and as an on-screen, comedy duo, they’re the best I’ve seen since The Rock and Mick Foley or Edge and Christian. They’re THAT funny.
Just take a quick look at their Anger Management vignettes below:
If there’s anyone out there reading this who doesn’t think it’s funny, then you need to be sectioned. That’s what the kids of today call a genuine LOL! Bryan and Kane are the perfect team to help rebuild the WWE’s ailing tag-team division. They’re not the long-term solution, but short-term it’s a great idea, because they’re two tremendous workers who are capable of having great matches with just about anybody.
That pretty much brings us up to date with Bryan, but what does 2013 hold for him? This is just speculation on my part, but Bryan’s pretty much gone full circle this year. He’s gone from tweener(ish), to full-blown heel, to one of the most over babyfaces (not in the traditional sense) on the roster. He’s been World Champion, had numerous 4-star or above matches and had another 3 or 4 WWE/World Title matches.
In 2013, I’d love to see Bryan feuding some more with the likes of Rey Mysterio, Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton, Christian, hopefully Chris Jericho, and wait for it… John Cena. I think Bryan could easily have potential match of the year candidates with all of those men and they’d all be more than capable of main-eventing a PPV. He’s that good. I do think that WWE missed a trick by not putting the belt back on Bryan over the summer, but I’m sure his time will come again soon. In fact, if he’s not had another major title run by this time next year, I’ll eat my hat.
Daniel Bryan is the perfect example of someone who has made the most of his TV time over the last year and he’s reaped the benefits. He’s shown everyone that he’s one of the most entertaining characters, and best wrestlers, in the world today. It’s for that reason that, by a long mile, 2012 has been the year of the goat.
As always, that’s your cue to get involved. Has 2012 been the year of the goat? What has Daniel Bryan done that’s impressed you lot this year? Feel free to either leave a comment in the shiny comment box below, or find me lurking around Twitter @george_sltd, and I’ll get a reply to you the first chance I get.
Thanks for reading.