At TLC 2011, Daniel Bryan reversed course on his promise and cashed in his "Money In The Bank" contract and won the World Heavyweight Championship on the Big Show.
The taint of gold seems to be real, though. It's almost as if the belt has a corrupting influence.
The man once held the highest of ideals. He would use his guaranteed title shot for the ultimate chance at glory. He would main-event at the "Showcase of the Immortals" and live his dream.
Then, with encouragement from Big Show and the right opportunity, Bryan traded that dream for a reign with a belt that has more corrupting influence than the Ring of Power from Lord Of The Rings.
But something also happened with Bryan. He began to develop depth to his character. Last week in his title match against the Big Show, he used Henry's presence at ringside to cause a disqualification in his favor.
After goading Henry for a bit, Henry had enough and laid out the American Dragon. Bryan got the referee's attention and caused Big Show to get the disqualification in his favor. If you anger a bear, that's exactly was happens. Bryan understood this and used it to his advantage.
Last Friday, Bryan found himself booked into a corner in a No Disqualification, No Count Out match against Big Show. To keep his reign intact, he used the naive AJ to his advantage. Knowing that Big Show would melt down if the opportunity presented itself, Bryan hatched a plan.
During the main event that turned out to be entertaining, Bryan had Big Show chase him around the ring at a key moment. As the American Dragon dodged the lithe AJ, Big Show bowled her over and caused the match to end in a No Contest. While AJ was being taken out on a stretcher, Bryan berated the Big Show for not watching what he was doing. Taking out the spunky girl who an hour before confessed her love for Bryan, Big Show was on the verge of tears.
The best part was Bryan doing an incredible job of pulling an "honor" routine during the show. Big Show noted in a backstage segment that the gold had "changed Bryan" for the worse. At the end of the show, Bryan mocked the big man saying, "If this is what winning the championship is to you, then you can have it!"
Daniel Bryan's character is turning into a unique one. He doesn't have the biggest size in the WWE, but he makes up for it with a high degree of intelligence and simple "genre savvy." His promo work last night was strong. He recapped the simple ironies of his reign and got some legitimate heat for it.
There was nothing cheap about it, either. Compare his promo to Cody Rhodes' promo which was laced with "Spanglish" and illegal immigrant references. Simply put, Bryan outclassed the Intercontinental Champion.
Daniel Bryan's character is evolving in ways that make a unique heel and a great character. There's none of the whining associated with Christian's "One. More. Match." gimmick. He hasn't backed down from an opponent and he's displayed his ability to carry a big man to a very good match.
There is some legitimate heat to his character without using the cheap tricks. He's a dynamic and dangerously intelligent heel who is getting it at the right time. How he'll get out of the match with Henry next week makes for an intriguing piece of storytelling.
Of course, Bryan is going to need legitimate victories to cement his reign. With that said, his run has been fascinating thus far.
Provided that Bryan remains intelligent without becoming whiny, the WWE has struck upon a winning combination.