WWE has alleviated, but not cured, the issues that generated fan backlash at the end of the Royal Rumble.
The company has teased that it will give the audience what it wants—Daniel Bryan sitting on WWE's throne. The trouble is, it's also teased that Bryan will once again be cheated out of that spot courtesy of The Authority.
Fans can only suffer narrative-born frustration for so long and WWE doesn't appear to understand that.
Viewers expect the hero to suffer, for Bane to bring Batman down, for Goldfinger to make James Bond suffer, but not forever. Eventually, the person we've been rooting for has to celebrate a major victory to make the journey worth investing in.
That's what WWE has yet to do with Bryan. A lack of that is what led to the backlash that stole the headlines at the 2014 Royal Rumble.
That show didn't end with fans cheering the triumphant hero who punctuated his return with his second Rumble win. Instead, the crowd defied pro wrestling protocol and booed the babyface.
It was not so much an expression of disdain for Batista, but anger over Bryan not entering WrestleMania as the headliner.
The company has since had two episodes of Raw to show its hand and to try to appease the vocally disgruntled audience. It's done well to soothe angry fans in a way, but there are hints that the long-awaited happy ending isn't coming.
The night after the Royal Rumble, it took little time for Bryan storm out to the ring. He confronted Stephanie McMahon and Triple H and demanded to know why he wasn't put in the Rumble.
That's the question that was on many fans' minds and WWE answered it via storyline. The power couple explained that they were simply looking out for his well being despite the fact that they booked him to face a monster of a man in Bray Wyatt.
Not being given a chance at the center of the spotlight became a kayfabe obstacle once again as well as a real-life obstacle.
Just acknowledging the issue wasn't enough, though. Fans wanted the subject of their passion to get a championship opportunity. That would come in the form of a spot in the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
John Cena, Sheamus and Bryan all earned their way into that bout by defeating The Shield that night. WWE not only gave Bryan fans hope that his championship dreams were still alive, but ended the show with him doing what he does best—in-ring wizardry.
WWE made a major statement by placing Bryan on center stage in both the opening and closing segments of the show. It's not something that the company hasn't done before, but with fans convinced that Bryan was being "buried," it was important to showcase him here.
It was a wise way to pacify fans.
The following episode of Raw featured Bryan as well, but there were a number of moments of foreshadowing that will dishearten those who believe he will win the title inside the Chamber.
WWE gave Bryan the coveted spot of working the main event, a match that was given more than ample time. The result was an incredible showing by both Bryan and Orton, a match that is the kind one can watch over and over again.
Bryan won the intense clash, a victory that served as proof that he's a threat to Orton. He received the glory of a win over the world champ and not in some fluky fashion either. Bryan had Orton wailing from the punishment he inflicted upon him.
As Triple H mentioned beforehand, this win would have The Authority reconsider who the face of the WWE should be and insert Bryan as a candidate for that position.
All those things should please the fans who spat hateful things on Twitter post-Rumble and who rooted for Bryan with borderline insane intensity. The trouble is, hints coming at the beginning and end of the show point to Bryan heading to a non-championship bout at WrestleMania.
Battling fans chanting for CM Punk, Orton talked in the opening segment about his greatness, what he has overcome to be champion. He promised to meet and conquer Batista at WrestleMania.
On one hand, he's supposed to say that. His character must believe that he'll remain champion, keeping that match alive. Skeptics and pessimists, though, will point at this as evidence that WWE is planning to go ahead with the Orton vs. Batista main event that has been talked about.
That speech alone shouldn't demoralize Bryan supporters, but the brawl that followed Orton vs. Bryan on Raw is hard to see as anything but a setup for Triple H vs. Bryan.
Kane, one of Triple H's many corporate goons, attacked Bryan. He and Orton walloped the popular Superstar and the show closed with Bryan lying in pain on the mat.
It appeared the Punk vs. The Authority story had now been handed to Bryan once more.
The smart money is now on The Authority to somehow cheat Bryan out of winning the Elimination Chamber match leading to the long-suffering Superstar demanding a match against Triple H at WrestleMania.
That's certainly a step up from the rumored Sheamus vs. Bryan rematch, per PWInsider, via WrestlingInc.com. It's not likely to be enough to satisfy many Bryan fans, though.
There will still be a large portion of the audience who would hijack the Orton vs. Batista match to express their displeasure. Nothing short of battling for the WWE title at the premier event will be enough for many.
One can't tell for certain where WWE is taking Bryan's journey at this point, but there is both reason to be hopeful and reason to be unsettled based on what the company has shown fans in the last two weeks.
If the story ends with Bryan raising the world championship into the air in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the response will be one of the most electric and magical moments in WWE history. Should WWE decide to have Bryan head elsewhere, the end of WrestleMania will sound a lot like the end of the Royal Rumble.
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