Daniel Bryan's time on WWE's center stage is over for now, but he will be back in the main event eventually, thanks to an unwavering fanbase.
WWE may attribute the recent unimpressive pay-per-view buyrates to Bryan's stature, per PWInsider (h/t WrestlingInc.com), but for the most part, the fans are pointing the finger at WWE itself. A large number of fans believe in Bryan's ability to be a top star despite his feud with Randy Orton fizzling out.
It almost doesn't matter what the Battleground and Hell in a Cell buyrates turn out to be, Bryan's supporters won't even entertain the idea that he is not a draw as a main-event star.
The overwhelming perception is that WWE screwed Bryan, both in storyline and in real life. To a vocal portion of the audience, Bryan is a main-eventer regardless of where WWE decides to place him.
Bryan is an elite talent, and the fans who recognize that are plentiful.
This is not a case of a wrestler beloved by only the most diehard of fans, some marginal portion of the crowd slobbering over an "indy darling" from the proverbial parents' basement. Bryan's popularity equals that of WWE's biggest names.
Travel to Birmingham, England for proof.
That's where fans headed to the Birmingham LG Arena to catch a WWE house show. Though he was advertised, Bryan didn't make an appearance. He was instead working a show in Munich, Germany.
Lots of disappointed fans at #WWEBirmingham. Chants of we want Bryan and Yes! Yes! Yes! and I've found out he's in Munich— Russ King (@rking89) November 9, 2013
As PWMania.com reports, fans booed during the Orton and Big Show main event, and "at one point a Daniel Bryan chant broke out."
The list of Superstars that would have fans react this way is short. Would an Orton no-show have led to fans booing? Maybe. Would Big Show or Alberto Del Rio not showing up have had fans chanting their name? Probably not.
John Cena and CM Punk are likely the only other men whose absence would have caused a similar scene.
How many men would get a roaring approval for attacking Shawn Michaels? As beloved as the Hall of Famer is, it was surprising to see how fans backed Bryan when he clamped his Yes lock onto him on the Oct. 28 episode of Raw.
Despite Triple H's insistence throughout the Orton vs. Bryan feud that "The Flying Goat" isn't a top guy, fans have treated him like one. Even after being pushed down to the midcard, audiences have given Bryan the kind of reactions reserved for the main-eventers.
On Nov. 4, when Bryan charged into the ring, steel chair in hand, to help Punk fight off The Wyatt Family, the fans welcomed him with fervent cheering. In fact, the "Yes!" chants echoed before Bryan even got out there.
This was no Steve Austin-level pop, but there aren't many current Superstars who would garner a reaction like this. It's clear that fans believe him to be a top star, regardless of what the numbers say.
In many minds, the poor pay-per-view buyrates are the result of poor booking, not something that Bryan lacks.
Bryan's first reign as WWE champ ended when Triple H knocked him out with a Pedigree and Orton swooped in with his Money in the Bank contract. His second reign lasted only slightly longer, Triple H stripping him of the title one night after Night of Champions.
The next two times at bat, a punch-happy Big Show turned the WWE title match into a no-contest, and Michaels kicked Bryan in the face to allow Orton to get the decisive pin.
The happy ending that seemed to be waiting on the horizon never came. Several fans view this as a mistake, or as WWE toying with both them and Bryan.
PWTorch.com published a poll asking if fans were bothered by Bryan being taken out of the WWE title picture. Over 80 percent of those who responded selected the "Yes. Every time he was screwed over, so he obviously deserves another fair shot" option.
Only about 2,500 fans took that poll, which of course isn't a great sampling of WWE's fanbase. That sentiment exists just about everywhere you look, though.
These tweets sum up a common outlook on the Bryan situation.
"Daniel Bryan was the hottest thing in the WWE--he just never got a fair shake." Well put, Mr. Riley; and so goddamn true. #4CRMainEvent— Billy Carpenter (@4CR_Billy) November 7, 2013
They screwed up a multiple times in this storyline. They're the reason behind the ratings decline, not Daniel Bryan.— Emy #ImYourPapi (@veryortonised) November 8, 2013
WWE wasted a red-hot commodity, teasing fans with a moment of triumph that never came. Bryan was never made to look the part of a hero, perhaps because WWE didn't believe in his ability to thrive in that role.
These are the kind of thoughts floating around the Internet.
Before one dismisses this perception of Bryan's situation because it comes from the oft-maligned Internet Wrestling Community, take note of the reactions Bryan continues to get at WWE events. Tally up the number of Bryan T-shirts in the crowd and pull out a decibel meter for when the "Yes!" chants begin.
WWE may be hesitant to place Bryan on a top rung, but a large portion of the audience believes that's exactly where he belongs.
Many think that he needs a sustained run in a main-event spot without being dragged down by a storyline designed to make him look weak. His supporters believe him to be everything Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have said on TV that he's not—an A player, top star and face of the franchise.
Those fans see him as a bullet train given faulty tracks and blamed for a lack of speed.