When Daniel Bryan collides with Bray Wyatt at WWE Royal Rumble 2014, the result promises to be dark, violent theater.
What drama will these men play? In what direction will this match take their incendiary rivalry?
WWE's goal must be to make both men look good. Wyatt vs. Bryan is a chance at more than a single wrestler claiming momentum. It is a chance for a magnificent match to build toward the future and scratch a memory into the audience's mind.
The narrative so far has excellently mixed surprises and disturbing threats. The company can't have the latest chapter be as underwhelming as Kane vs. Wyatt at SummerSlam; it can't fail to set fire to a stack of rags soaked in gasoline.
Assuming that Bryan is not going to be entered in the Rumble after a quick disqualification win against The Wyatt Family, the following three scenarios are paths to arrive at the best story and match with Wyatt and Bryan both benefiting from the clash.
A Painful Rite of Passage
Royal Rumble is a chance to show off Wyatt's unsettling nature while highlighting Bryan's grit.
For inspiration, travel back to 1996 when Shawn Michaels battled Mankind at In Your House: Mind Games. The torture each man put the other through is an excellent blueprint of how to book Bryan vs. Wyatt.
Mankind removed the padding around the ring and eventually smashed Michaels onto the exposed concrete. Michaels hurt Mankind's leg when he banged it against steel steps, after which he went after the injured limb with a measured ferocity.
Both men were made to look dangerous, and both suffered throughout the dramatic match.
It's easy to imagine Bryan vs. Wyatt mirroring this bout in that way. Have Bryan lean on his submission skills and use a wealth of moves to bend, twist and tear at Wyatt's arm. Have Wyatt use the ring post, the security barricade and the ring ropes to torture Bryan.
Eventually, when Wyatt's arm is hanging limp at his side, he could slip on a crazed look, one that suggests that he is enjoying the pain.
The climax would have Bryan clamp on the Yes! lock in the center of the ring, cranking back the arm that he had been kicking all match. As Luke Harper and Erick Rowan hop up on the apron, Wyatt screams at them to stand down.
Wyatt struggles, squirms and eventually rolls over. Just as it looks as if he's about to escape, Bryan shifts the hold into a pin and gets the three-count.
As the crowd celebrates with Bryan, Harper and Rowan lead Wyatt out of the ring. "The Eater of Worlds" grins between winces.
This scenario gives Bryan a triumphant moment and makes him look menacing going forward. It allows Wyatt to shake off the stink of a loss by coming off as monstrous in the match.
There would also be plenty of ammo for Wyatt's future promos in which he could talk of this night as his rite of passage, a sort of enlightening journey.
As popular as Bryan is, it seems almost predestined that he is going to win at the Royal Rumble. The hero always downs the monster, right?
Playing with those expectations is one way for WWE to send the audience on a turbulent journey.
Have The Wyatt Family ambush Bryan backstage. The announcers tell the fans that Bryan's status for the match is uncertain. Doctors check on him; doubt surfaces.
Wyatt waits for him in the ring, cackling about Bryan not being able to compete.
Clearly hurting, Bryan limps down to the ring and quickly gets to work, clocking Wyatt in the jaw. The effect of the pre-match attack begins to wear on him, though. He struggles to perform some of his moves, his back aching, his legs weak.
Wyatt dominates the match from then on.
He toys with Bryan as he stomps, chokes and flings him. The fan favorite has no chance of winning, and Wyatt barks disturbing taunts at him.
Bryan struggles to his feet. As the crowd grows louder, he seems to gather strength. A fiery comeback begins.
Fueled by anger, Bryan hits all of his signature moves. He seems only moments away from putting Wyatt away when he sets up for the flying knee.
Bryan dives at Wyatt, but the clan leader catches him. Sister Abigail's Kiss follows. Wyatt hits it again, and the audience's elation gets jabbed with a needle.
Bryan's victory will have to wait.
Fans won't view this as a true defeat for Bryan. He was essentially working a handicap match, and being so close to completing the comeback is an excellent consolation prize.
Wyatt, on the other hand, gets the biggest win of his career.
He can follow that up with talking about how traitors always pay and that crossing him results in disappointment. Beating Bryan, regardless of how the victory came about, pushes him up several rungs.
WWE can now book a rematch where Bryan gets even. It can throw these men in a cage or have Bryan go on a rampage against The Wyatt Family for a few weeks in a row.
Whatever direction the company heads with the story, this scenario paints Bryan as a warrior and Wyatt as a major threat.
The Price of Beating the Monster
Triple H vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania 27 provides the prototype for the final scenario.
Undertaker left that match the victor, but he did so on a stretcher. The abuse he took from Triple H took him out of action. "The Game" benefited as he left fans with the lasting image of the man who beat being unable to stand.
Doing something similar with Bryan and Wyatt is wise.
As Wyatt rises up the WWE ranks, the company has to be careful not to make him look weak. If he loses to Bryan but leaves his foe in need of medical attention, looking weak is not an issue.
Instead, both men will look like gladiators who left each other hurting.
In this scenario, Wyatt can spend much of the match slamming Bryan to the mat, sending him crashing into the security barricade and towering over his prone body wearing a pleased look. Bryan would be in survival mode, battling back despite barely being able to get to his feet.
Just when things look the most dire for the former WWE champ, he slips on a submission hold much like Undertaker used against Triple H in Hell's Gate in 2011.
Have Wyatt withstand the hold for an impressive amount of time. Have him flail about, trying to reach for the ropes.
Bryan can then appear on Raw with his ribs taped, limping, clearly changed by the experience of the fight. This way, Wyatt's loss is beneficial to him, serving as a badge of honor in a way. For Bryan, the match is sold as his toughest test yet.
Having survived that, he can then proclaim that he's ready for anything that tomorrow has to offer.
WWE's options are plentiful in determining the in-ring narrative when Bryan and Wyatt clash at Royal Rumble. These three scenarios will lead to compelling matches and elevate both men, sending them zooming toward the huge futures for which they are destined.
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