There once was a time where a wrestler like Daniel Bryan had a ceiling in the WWE. It was a cruiserweight ceiling. A workhorse ceiling. The dreaded "good-hand" ceiling.
Bryan's journeyman history in professional wrestling makes him easily dismissible as an Internet savior who lacks the main-event qualities WWE front office types salivate over.
Size, brawn, promos that could light the world on fire and/or a brand that only WWE can exploit were once thought to be part of the winning formula for a perennial WWE champion.
But the rise of social media, with a hat tip to wellness testing, has given more credence to a stronger voice on the very same Internet that sings the praises of hardworking "pure" wrestlers like Daniel Bryan.
It is a voice that can no longer be marginalized as a minor portion of WWE's audience. Because even if it is, WWE airs live tweets during its television shows. The promotion has been forced to acknowledge the once-embarrassing mixed response for current top star John Cena, while being held accountable for its over-exposure of hand-picked stars like Sheamus and Ryback.
WWE's full embrace of social media has led to a business relationship with the Internet, transforming a once unidentifiable stream of noise into a revenue center.
In 2011, CM Punk led a revolution that blurred the lines between work and shoot. He used a real-life tale of battling countless roadblocks en route to the top of the company, and in doing so, he created an anti-establishment caricature of himself that continues to work to this day.
The world has become more cynical in the age of the drive-by media, and as a result the steak has become more important than the sizzle. As early as ten years ago, Ryback's force-fed push would have made him Dave Batista. He's a big, strong hoss whose matches are kept short and who rarely loses.
Now? He's seen a Goldberg ripoff to live crowds who refuse to let up.
Daniel Bryan's current success goes against all conventional wisdom of the promotion's unwritten rules of ascendancy. To this day, stories of a territory-era kingpin Dusty Rhodes being reduced to wearing polka dots in the WWE are used to further ongoing Rhodes-McMahon tension.
As has been reiterated, Bryan came from high school gyms, armories, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Noah, Ring of Honor and basically every not-named WWE prior to his current main-event push.
Zack Ryder learned the hard way that establishing one's own brand can easily backfire. But when fans refused to give up on Bryan after a cheap 18-second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII, he would join CM Punk as a high school (gym) all-star who bucked the trend to become an unlikely poster boy.
WWE-branded "yes" chants—something Bryan never did on the independent scene—could be part of the reason that WWE eventually opted to push Bryan to the level he is now.
Maybe those "yes" chants serve as vocal polka dots for Daniel Bryan in the eyes of WWE higher-ups. But like Dusty Rhodes, Bryan's talents have out shined any perceived stigma of an "Indy" guy trying to make it to the show. And with the muscle-bound, All-American John Cena currently on the shelf, say hello to the new face and beard of the WWE.
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