Daniel Bryan's Career Peaked at WrestleMania XXX

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Daniel Bryan's Career Peaked at WrestleMania XXX
Credit: WWE.com

Underdog champion Daniel Bryan's wrestling career has peaked. 

The now former WWE World Heavyweight champion was stripped of his hard-earned title again this past Monday on Raw.

This time around, it wasn't done for storyline purposes to string along the hard-luck antihero. After a long journey that took us through an impromptu WrestleMania main event, this forfeiture was much more poignant. 

Full recovery or not, Bryan's neck injury will prevent him from resuming the very fervent, aggressive style that captivated the hearts of millions and got him taken seriously in the land of titans.

For all intents and purposes, another Daniel Bryan championship reign has evaporated. 

Nobody else will ever get to say that they closed WrestleMania XXX—a show kicked off by arguably the three greatest WWE Superstars of all time—by celebrating as WWE's undisputed champion after defeating three future Hall of Famers.

That's a career apex for anybody, let alone a 15-year veteran currently recovering from neck trauma. 

It was such a sweet ending for a consummate underdog, the moment was impossible to top. It's almost as if the credits should have rolled, and the next night on Raw should have begun anew as a hard reset with a vacant title. 

The Yes Movement got its wish. The underdog bucked the establishment just by appearing in the WrestleMania main event. Not only that, he won. 

It wasn't going to get any better had his post-Mania feud been with Brock Lesnar himself. 

Many fans point to Stone Cold Steve Austin as an example of an anti-authority babyface who only got better upon winning the WWE championship. But Austin was equipped with one-in-a-million, silver-tongued microphone skills that Bryan simply doesn't have. 

During a recent episode of WWE Countdown, WWE ranked the top-10 trash talkers as voted on by fans. This was basically WWE's kayfabe way of awarding the most elite promo guys, with names like Roddy Piper, The Rock and Ric Flair being profiled.

Austin ranked as No. 1. Bryan did not even place. 

In addition to his infectious angry redneck promos, Austin also had a zamboni, a beer truck and the backdrop of WWE's most successful era in history. 

During the Reality Era, Bryan captured lightning in a bottle with the Yes Movement. And while there's no telling what kind of run he would have had, that type of magic will be next to impossible to recapture upon his return. 

The case could be made that this is the perfect scenario for Bryan to return as champion. He continues to find himself unable to enjoy a legitimate title run, only to be willed back to the championship by fans. 

But given the very real injury implications surrounding this forfeiture, it will only become more difficult for fans and, more importantly, WWE officials to remain patient.

Bryan is skilled enough in the ring to retool his style and slow down a bit without compromising quality. We saw just that from Shawn Michaels, who had a renaissance that rivaled the first half of a brilliant in-ring career.

But if neck injuries to stars such as Edge and the aforementioned Steve Austin are any indication, Bryan's days as a full-time WWE performer are numbered.

Austin retired four years after his 1999 neck surgery. Edge lasted for seven years after his 2004 return from major neck surgery. 

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Even John Cena, who also has his own history of neck problems, is being slowly transitioned to a glorified midcarder as he gracefully enters his twilight. Coming off a long feud with charismatic upstart Bray Wyatt, Cena offers an inconvenient glimpse into what Bryan's future may hold. 

Bryan's wrestling career as a whole is already worthy of someday being honored by an organization like the Cauliflower Alley Club, whose honorees carry more prestige than several WWE Hall of Famers (which is more of Vince McMahon's personal Hall of Fame than anything). 

By WWE Hall of Fame standards, Bryan could go in tomorrow with no incident. He was hailed as the best wrestler in the world before even setting foot in the fed. That and, at last word, Koko B. Ware is still a WWE Hall of Famer. 

We may never know what Bryan could have been as a long-term champion trusted to carry WWE through an unprecedented era of social media and transparency. 

But maybe it's for the best.

Underdogs don't carry global entertainment companies. Like Bryan, they only prepare for their next obstacle. 

Listen Here for Alfred's full thoughts on Money in the Bank, WWE Releases and more!

 

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