I don't think many people expected Daniel Bryan to win the SmackDown Money in the Bank match last July. It would also be safe to say that less people thought he would even go on to capture the World Championship.
Personally, I was expecting Bryan to be the first person to fail his cash-in and help WWE get rid of the elephant in the room. After all, the briefcase has become a little bit too routine as of late. With the exception of one star, all previous cash-ins have come as the result of someone getting beat down in the ring and facing an impromptu match.
This is where part of the disappointment lies in Daniel Bryan's current title reign. Before he turned heel, I had always considered Bryan to be the last gentleman of wrestling. I could easily see him shaking an opponent's hand before and after a match, no matter what the outcome was. A man truly of his word.
Since Bryan declared he would cash in his shot at WrestleMania, I expected him to actually fulfil his promise. Even if he did lose at the Grandest Stage of Them All, he would have gained momentous respect. He would have accomplished the first true face cash-in. In an ideal world someone will eventually cash in their contract with advanced notice, in a normal match with no outside interference.
Yet my disappointment does not stem from the unexpected heel turn of Bryan. On either side of the fence, Bryan is an accomplished in-ring performer, one of the best. Very few rising stars in the WWE have a submission prowess that is entertaining to watch and is not restricted to a single hold. Had Bryan been given the right material, I would have loved to seen him run with the title as a heel.
The problem I do have is that this seems like a very familiar song and dance. Ever since Jack Swagger's run with the title, the briefcase has somewhat been a cursed symbol, with the winners (bar guys such as Kane) instantly become cowards who avoid title defenses at all costs. Despite only holding the title since late December, Bryan already had two defenses end in non-decisive ways.
Will Daniel Bryan's Reign Live Up To Its Potential?
It starts with a run of unconvincing matches, then the crowd slowly loses interest in the character, the champion then loses the title, has a rematch and finally risks falling into relative obscurity.
To make matters more worrying, or at the very least predictable, Randy Orton had this to say on his Twitter account.
While I will not say it is impossible for Randy Orton to suffer a major back injury and take a holiday shortly after, I do believe its highly unlikely. We should all expect to see RKO back at the Rumble and setting his sights on the World Championship at WrestleMania.
With Cena entangled in his rivalry with The Rock and the WWE Championship looking as if it will be contested between CM Punk and Chris Jericho, the company will look to make sure one of their top two guys is placed into a title match.
A popular argument today in WWE, especially in regards to SmackDown, is that many would rather be the No. 1 heel, opposed to the No. 2 face of the brand. For someone like Christian it was a grey situation as he would have been quickly forgotten had he not turned, yet even before his injury he was becoming a one-note heel whose gimmick was to always ask for one more match. His place in the pecking order was falling.
Mark Henry benefited by becoming the top heel as it revitalised his career, and it is reasonable to question how his title run would have ended if not for his own injury problems. There was a chance he could have taken the belt all the way to April 1st.
Daniel Bryan's run with the title may still surprise me if WWE decides to mix it up a little. But for now it looks as if he is being served on a silver platter to Randy Orton so the Viper can have a big WrestleMania World Championship moment as a face.