Tonight at Night of Champions 2013, Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship for the second pay-per-view event in a row. Unlike the first time, he left the show as champion. That may not be the end of it, though.
A strange sequence of events led to an odd finish that fans both online and in the arena clearly weren't buying. Bryan knocked Orton into referee Scott Armstrong, who took a hard spill out of the ring. He was replaced quickly by Rod Zapata, and the match didn't really miss a beat. A few minutes later, Zapata talked to Armstrong, who assured him and Dr. Sampson that he was OK. The match went on and was building to the finish: Orton tried a backslide, Bryan rolled through and hit a head kick, then followed with the Buisaku Knee as Armstrong reappeared to fast count the pin.
The fast count was not acknowledged by the announcers or the match recap on WWE.com. It was clear that the fans in Detroit noticed it and were waiting for the decision to be reversed, as they were relatively sedate right after the finish. It took them a couple minutes to go into celebration mode. Like last month, the celebration went on long enough that it seemed like shenanigans would ensue, but Bryan posed with a kid at ringside (no way they'd do that if he wasn't leaving as champion) and seconds later the show went off the air.
So, what's next? I'm not quite sure. The last time they did a screwy title change like this (Chris Jericho beating Triple H on Raw in 2000), the announcers immediately acknowledged referee Earl Hebner's fast count, which was much more subtle than Armstrong's. It was obvious to everyone that the decision would be reversed. Tonight, once it became clear that Bryan was leaving Detroit as champion, it was just weird.
To sum that all up: Either WWE is planning an angle for Raw and don't want to telegraph it or Scott Armstrong got his bull rung and did something weird. The former scenario certainly seems more likely right now just going by what seems realistic, but the presentation of the storyline seems very unlike WWE.
If Bryan happens to be keeping the title? Cool. While on Monday, he gained some of the ground he lost in the many recent consecutive beatdowns he's suffered, it did seem like he needed to win here for his character's credibility. I'm not exactly sure where the storyline goes from here other than a Steve Austin in 1998 type of reign, but it seems like Triple H guaranteeing that nobody would interfere in tonight's match was signaling some kind of new direction.
If Bryan is stripped of the title tomorrow night, it's better for the sake of the storyline as long as they don't keep beating up Bryan. The overarching McMahons-versus-the-world drama is carrying WWE through WrestleMania, and they need everything they can do to prolong it. While Bryan's title win definitely needs to come before 'Mania, we're still a few months away from the right time to peak his story.
There's an X factor in all of this: While he didn't invent them, reversed title change finishes are usually referred to as a "Dusty Finish" because Dusty Rhodes overused them as WCW booker. Appearing on Raw tomorrow night "at the invitation of Stephanie McMahon" is...Dusty Rhodes. Since the Bryan and Cody Rhodes storylines are intertwined, why not take it a step further and troll the hardcore fans even more by making Dusty an authority figure who officially strips Bryan of the belt to get Cody rehired?
Whatever happens tomorrow, I just hope they stick the landing.