Vegan and Straight Edge: The WWE's Learning Disability
My Father used to tell me: "Son, it's alright if you make a mistake. Just don't make the same mistake twice...or, I'll go upside your head."
Apparently, the brain trust of the WWE never had anyone tell them this before. (Or, go upside their heads. Which is rather unpleasant.)
The WWE is making the exact same mistake twice.
CM Punk has been in the WWE for almost seven years. He joined in September 2005. For six of those years, the WWE attempted to make a gimmick out of the fact that Phillip Brooks made the personal choice not to drink alcohol or partake of any drugs.
For six years, his character was pushed as the "Straight Edge Superstar." As a face, they touted it as though he had a higher moral standard. As a heel, they used it as an angle to make him a cult leader.
The entire time, it did nothing but hold him back as a performer. Only rarely would it actually ever produce a meaningful feud, such as the excellent angle between Punk and Jeff Hardy.
Primarily, it was Punk's ability on the mic and in the ring, that got him to where he was in the company, as an ECW, World and WWE Champion.
But, even with those accolades under his belt, Punk was never recognized or treated as The Man, like he is now, in the WWE. He was always second fiddle to the WWE's chosen ones. John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Triple H, The Undertaker, Edge, all were given higher rank.
However, that all changed when CM Punk cut his epic work-shoot promo which sparked the "Summer of Punk" last year.
No "New Nexus" cult. No Straight-Edge Society. No Straight Edge at all. CM Punk, the same CM Punk that fans remembered from Ring of Honor and the independent scene, finally showed up.
That's really all that happened with the Summer of Punk. The WWE realized that Punk might have been out the door, and rather than lose him, they unleashed him.
And the same acerbic, witty, over-the-line performer who made everyone want to see him succeed in the first place, dropped a pipe-bomb and set the industry on fire.
You would think that the WWE would have learned the moral of the story:
A personal health decision does not a superstar make. Rather, letting a superstar be themselves, or play the role in which they are most comfortable, creates a true superstar.
And yet, if you tuned in to Smackdown on Friday, you would've seen a blaring repeat of the same story: Daniel Bryan, World Heavyweight Champion, spinning his wheels in the middle of the show, preaching to everyone about being a Vegan.
It was almost a mirror image of the days the crowds had to endure CM Punk preaching about the benefits of being Straight Edge.
As bad as that was for CM Punk, he was able to navigate it into a successful career, until the WWE realized it was finally time to let Punk be Punk.
I believe this might not be the case for Daniel Bryan, however. It will be a far worse road for him to travel, and one that may ultimately doom his career before we ever reach a "Summer of The American Dragon."
Daniel Bryan Is Not as Charismatic as CM Punk
Bryan Danielson, since turning heel, has shown a lot of people, who never saw him work in the indies, that he has much better mic skills than they initially gave him credit for.
Since turning heel, his promos have improved greatly, mainly because that is what Danielson is far more comfortable being: a snarky, superior, heel, who can back it up in the ring. He says he's better than you, because he is. That's the kind of character he is best suited to play.
A face run would only work for Danielson after he's done so much in the WWE that people respect him, regardless of what he does, a la Kurt Angle.
But, even though he has shown he is better on the mic than most believed, he is still, nowhere near as talented as CM Punk is on the mic.
CM Punk is one of the best mic workers of the new generation and oozes icon-level charisma. It is because of that charisma, that he was able to make a gimmick centering around not smoking, drinking or doing drugs, work. Without his natural ability, that would've been one of the most boring gimmicks of all time.
Daniel Bryan, however, does not have the microphone ability, nor the charisma, to make a Vegan angle work.
The gimmick is just too stupid for anyone to really make work.
Clearly, the WWE is trying to play this up to get him more heat. But, choosing not to eat meat, no matter how much you rub it in someone's face, is not going to generate significant heat.
And if the person doing the rubbing can't muster up the words to really make it anger the viewer beyond the typical: "He's just trying to be annoying so I boo him, let me play along." feeling, it's a waste of time and only serves to damage the performer.
If the WWE really wants Daniel Bryan to generate heel heat, then they need to let Bryan Danielson emerge and be the straight-forward heel he was in Ring of Honor. Do not attempt to amplify the Vegan aspect of his personality.
Just let him be who he is in his entirety.
Daniel Bryan Does Not Have the Same Look as CM Punk
Look at this picture.
If you were a first-time viewer of the WWE product and were asked: "Point out the World Heavyweight Champion", who would you pick?
I'm certain that most people would pick either CM Punk or Cody Rhodes. And if Kofi wasn't holding the exact same title as Evan Bourne, a lot of people would probably pick him, before they picked Bryan, just off appearances alone.
Daniel Bryan is a full four inches shorter than CM Punk. He's also far more clean cut, especially without a beard, and looks more like he would be "Straight Edge" than CM Punk.
The fact that CM Punk stands 6'2" and is covered in tattoos is another reason why he was able to work the Straight Edge gimmick to near main-event success. He looked like he could beat you down while humming the lyrics to the latest Breaking Benjamin song.
Daniel Bryan doesn't even have that going for him. And to be honest, it hurts him.
Whether you like it or not, looks go a long way in the entertainment industry and people in general judge others by their looks.
And to be quite honest, Daniel Bryan looks boring. He doesn't have any distinguishing features that make him stand out, look intimidating, or make you pay attention.
He could be the nondescript guy you pass on the hiking trail, or the guy running the reading club at the local Barnes and Noble.
It just so happens that while he may look like an ironic hipster at an Occupy rally, he can actually tangle you in knots and is a pretty entertaining wrestler.
But what happens when you combine a guy with a boring look and B-minus mic skills, with the world's most snooze-inducing idea to get heat?
The guy who only looked boring before, will now be considered boring.
Because nobody is going to be incensed at the fact that he's telling them that pork raises their cholesterol. They are just going to be bored by it.
CM Punk had better mic skills, charisma and a better look than Daniel Bryan does, so he could survive telling crowds that alcohol kills brain cells.
Daniel Bryan might be tuned out by the third or fourth time he goes on an anti-meat rant on television.
It's just not a good direction to go in for him.
Daniel Bryan Is Being Booked to Look Far Too Weak
While I'm on the subject of looks, there is another glaring problem for Daniel Bryan that doesn't really have much to do with his Vegan stance:
As a wrestler, he's being booked to look just far too weak.
Yes, we understand that he's only 5'10". But, we've seen 5'6" Rey Mysterio hit people with chairs and they stay down.
Daniel Bryan is just as big as guys like Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio. I've seen many of them lay out bigger men like The Big Show and Mark Henry with chair shots throughout their careers.
For what reason would you book Daniel Bryan to hit the Big Show with chair shots 10 times and it have no effect? Yes, he's short. But the man is still very muscular and strong.
A chair shot should still have an effect, especially if he's hitting you 10 times. Even more so if he's booked as your champion.
Only non-wrestling entities like managers are booked to look so weak that if they hit a wrestler with a chair numerous times, it's shrugged off.
If a World Heavyweight Champion, who is solid muscle, hits a man with a chair, he should go down and stay there. I've seen guys sell getting spanked by Hogan's "Hollywood" belt better than Show and Henry sell steel chair shots from Bryan.
Furthermore, why are you diminishing his cage match win over Mark Henry and The Big Show? He escaped the cage. Ever since cage matches were introduced, escaping the cage from the top or through the door has been a valid and strong way to win the match.
But now that Daniel Bryan has done it, suddenly it's cowardly and a fluke?
Again, this has nothing to do with the Vegan angle, and I get that you're trying to make it seem like he's weaseling his way out of matches to increase heel heat.
But, you're only making him look weak by doing things in this manner. Escaping the cage has been considered heroic when a face does it. It should at least get a heel some respect. Even a little heel.
Hopefully, with Mark Henry out with an injury and the Big Show angle running out of gas, a move to a smaller opponent like Randy Orton will reverse this trend.
There Is No Pro-Meat Wrestler (And There Shouldn't Be)
Returning to the main issue of using Daniel Bryan's Vegan lifestyle as a gimmick, there is another fatal flaw: Exactly who does it pit him against?
One of the highlights of CM Punk's run as Straight Edge was his feud with Jeff Hardy. This feud was amplified because Jeff Hardy represented the opposite of CM Punk's lifestyle.
Jeff Hardy was a wild and free spirit. But, beyond that, his struggles with substance abuse were well-known.
While CM Punk was converting people to the Straight Edge lifestyle, Jeff Hardy was getting suspended for violating the Wellness Policy.
While CM Punk was preaching the virtues of clean living, Jeff Hardy was dressing up in face paint that looked like a bad acid trip.
The two represented the Yin and Yang of one another and it worked.
But who is going to be that Yin to Daniel Bryan's Yang?
The Big Show said that he just had a juicy steak before coming out to confront Bryan on Smackdown this past Friday.
Besides fostering fat jokes around the country, exactly what did that accomplish, besides a cheap pop from the audience because they were tired of hearing Bryan drone on about being a Vegan?
How could you possibly build on that? Meat vs. Vegetables? What kind of a feud would that be? What kind of promos would that create? What kind of fan would possibly care?
There are no pro-meat wrestlers. (And if you create "The Carnivore" character, I'll slap you. I'll literally fly out to Stamford, and slap you.)
There's nowhere to go with this Vegan idea. It, much like not smoking, drinking or doing drugs, is just a part of a person's health choices, it's not a wrestling gimmick.
You can't even do an angle where you can force Daniel Bryan to eat meat. Because Bryan Danielson doesn't believe in eating meat and you'd be violating his personal beliefs as if you had tried to force CM Punk to drink a beer.
There's nowhere to go with this. Especially not at a World Championship level.
Vegan Does Not Equal Evil
Lastly, being Vegan doesn't elicit any negative responses out of people.
Sure, PETA is annoying when they make a political issue out of every appearance of an animal anywhere in the world. But PETA and Vegans are not the same thing.
Vegans just choose not to eat animal products. That's it. There's nothing special or hate-inducing about it.
It's not like being a Tea Party member, or a Democrat, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church or a Scientologist. It doesn't elicit strong feelings out of anyone. It doesn't spur hatred. It doesn't draw heat. Because really, it just doesn't matter to anyone what the next person is eating.
Sure, if a Vegan was pushing his lifestyle in your face, it would become annoying. But there are an infinite number of things that will annoy people the first time you say it to them, as opposed to boring them into annoyance with something as innocuous as "You should drink soy milk instead of dairy."
Vegans don't piss any sane person off. It's a horrible platform to try and build heat off of.
It was equally useless when Michael Cole would repeatedly use "He doesn't even eat meat!" as some kind of line to get us to believe that Bryan was a "dweeb" we should support because Cole was attacking him.
It did zero to build support for Daniel Bryan, because no one cared about him not eating meat.
The bottom line, is that trying to utilize something so tame and milquetoast is only going to further damage the image of your World Heavyweight Champion by making him look boring and uninteresting.
It's not a good idea.
It's not as if the WWE doesn't already have a number of heel antics going for Daniel Bryan, already.
All of them are far better than him being a Vegan.
A. His treatment of A.J. Lee. Everyone knows he's manipulating her and doesn't love her. And his refusal to say the words "I love you" to her is an interesting twist that plays well off of real life, where a playboy and womanizer refuses to say those words to a woman he's using.
When he finally goes full heel and exposes he's been playing her, or that they've been manipulating everyone together, and he dragged her to the dark side, it will pay off in much deeper and more interesting heat than the Vegan angle.
B. His insistence that he's a role model is another way to get better heat. Instead of saying he's a role model for being a Vegan, he should say he's a role model for being a winner, even though he cheats and weasels his way out of things. Al ot like Kurt Angle did over a decade ago.
C. His arrogance is another great way to draw heel heat. It's closer to what The American Dragon really was: Arrogant. Bryan Danielson as a heel, is an arrogant, snarky, insulting jerk. He's the brainy elitist who can rip you apart with insults, but at the same time, twist you in a hundred different ways. He's the guy you can't shut up, no matter how badly you want to.
Play deeper into that by making him a stronger in-ring competitor who makes his opponents tap out. You already gave him the T-Shirt "Everybody Taps", have him back it up.
All three of those things are angles the WWE is already using to try and draw heat for Daniel Bryan. It's almost like they're throwing everything they can at him to get him heat and, in desperation, they are now trying to play up the Vegan angle in recent weeks.
If the WWE wants more heat on Daniel, then they need to stop with the "faux nice-guy" heel routine, and just go all the way with the things mentioned above.
Daniel Bryan will be a great heel if the WWE just allows him to be. There's nothing wrong with utilizing the American Dragon even though the character wasn't developed by WWE Creative.
It took the WWE six years to figure out that just letting CM Punk be CM Punk was far better than trying to turn him into WWE's CM Punk.
Hopefully, it won't take them six years to figure out that the same thing applies to Daniel Bryan.
Because honestly, I don't think he has the tools necessary to survive six years of stupid gimmicks, like Punk did.