Last night on Raw, a bombshell was dropped when Daniel Bryan revealed that he has suffered a neck injury, will be getting surgery this coming Thursday and has no definitive timeline for his return.
This is the latest setback in a nightmarish month where after the greatest week of his life (achieving the pinnacle of his profession and getting married a few days later), his father died, a child he befriended through the Make a Wish Foundation also passed away and he has now suffered a very serious injury.
The most recent update comes from PWInsiderElite.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com), where Mike Johnson reports that Bryan suffered a (relatively) minor break in one of his vertebrae. The belief right now is that he'll be out six-to-eight weeks with a return earmarked for SummerSlam, but obviously that's pending what the doctor finds during the surgery, which will be a minimally invasive procedure.
I would guess that timeline refers to when he'd be medically cleared, since SummerSlam is more like 12 weeks away and WWE would want to hold off his return for a properly built major show.
So what's the next move for WWE?
The first issue at hand is the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Do you keep it on Bryan while he's out? If he can be back in time for Money in the Bank at the end of June (the only month with two pay-per-view/special events this year, but they're still four weeks apart), I think they absolutely should. It's easy enough to work around, and he'll be freshened up as a character with all the time off.
If it's closer to Battleground three weeks after that, that's when it gets a little more dicey, as he'll have been out for about two months at that point. If he's held back for SummerSlam, that's even longer; they'd absolutely have to take the title off him if he's going to be out that long. Regardless, waiting until the surgery is done is absolutely the right idea.
If the title is vacated, who do you make champion? That's really tricky right now.
Randy Orton should not be anywhere near the title again for a very long time, since he got so stale he was barely on TV for the last month of his last reign. Still, he's a rightful top contender in the storyline.
Batista is leaving shortly to start his Guardians of the Galaxy worldwide media tour. Kane being champion doesn't suit him at all at this point. Someone brand-new like Cesaro shouldn't get the title until after he turns full-fledged babyface, while the other ongoing main event singles feud, John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt, doesn't work as a title feud at all right now.
There are no good choices. Giving Cena the title and making Cena-Wyatt a title feud is probably the best one in a bad lot. There are some ideas that sound neat when you brainstorm them, like putting the title on Brock Lesnar or sending someone on their hands and knees to beg CM Punk for a farewell run, but they just aren't happening.
John Cena is there, he's in a main event program, and they know he can carry the title. Right now, nothing else makes sense.
I know a lot of people would dread that, but it could help build to the Bryan-Cena rematch they never did after SummerSlam last year. That match was fantastic, one of the best of the year, and I wouldn't expect much less from a rematch. It would be a great way for Bryan to return, though since WWE does a lot of parity booking, there would be some consternation that he'd lose because Cena never got his win back.
I just don't see any alternatives, though. Do you? If so, let us know in the comments.