WWE Payback was a showcase of a rare WWE pay-per-view that did not feature a world championship title defense. Instead, injured WWE World Heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan appeared in a segment opposite reviled authority figure Stephanie McMahon.
Judging by the engaged crowd response, this segment was just as effective in establishing Daniel Bryan as a strong babyface as any wrestling match. Upon Bryan's entrance, James Caldwell of PWTorch noted the "crowd went nuts with 'Yes!' chants." The chants carried a familiar tone of fervent support rather than token appreciation, which seemed to be the case following Bryan's WrestleMania win.
What made Daniel Bryan so popular with fans leading up to WrestleMania was his status as a natural underdog. Both on camera and behind the scenes, Bryan was booked as a hard-luck competitor fighting an uphill battle against The Authority as it tried to keep him down.
Once Bryan became WWE World Heavyweight champion in the most unlikely of scenarios, the battle was won. Unfortunately, this meant Daniel Bryan was no longer the champion of a movement for equality atop the WWE. He was the champion of a multimillion-dollar global entertainment company, which is far from being the lovable loser who landed him in this position to begin with.
WWE didn't help matters prior to Bryan's neck injury. Still trying to maintain his underdog spirit, Bryan's first feud as WWE World Heavyweight champion was against the returning demon Kane. Every cheesy horror-movie cliche was used to present Kane as a monster chasing down an uncharacteristically cowardly Daniel Bryan and his damsel in distress.
Described as "horror movie silliness" by Jason Powell of Prowrestling.net, the feud seemed to be undoing Daniel Bryan's feel-good story with every terrified scream from Brie Bella.
But with an ill-timed injury that appeared to be catastrophic for Bryan's title run, WWE has made the best of a bad situation.
At Payback, Bryan's neck brace, which he wears as he recovers from injury, stood out more than either of his championship titles. The visual of an injured workhorse draws the very babyface sympathy that fits the Daniel Bryan character to a T.
McMahon reveled in the possibility of stripping Bryan of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Fans passionately chanted "no" as Bryan began to flirt with the notion of surrendering the titles to save his wife's job.
The live crowd was just as big a part of this segment as the talent. Even when wild "CM Punk" chants broke out to troll Stephanie McMahon, McMahon responded by saying the crowd wanted him to quit just like CM Punk did, per James Caldwell of PWTorch.
The end result was Brie Bella making the ultimate babyface decision to quit the WWE, thus saving Bryan's championship reign, before slapping a smug Stephanie McMahon in the process. Of course "yes" chants ensued, per Dave Scherer of PWInsider, as fans have reinvested in a meaningful cause—to keep the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on Daniel Bryan.
The segment was a small payoff at the expense of a heel trying to end the Yes Movement. The movement remains strong despite Bryan's most recent setback. In fact, it can be argued that because of this setback, it's stronger than ever.
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