While he may be enormously popular and headed for a title victory at WrestleMania XXX on April 6, fans should still not make the mistake of thinking that Daniel Bryan is ready to replace John Cena as the company’s top star.
It’s easy to see why people want to believe this.
Cena has been plagued by injuries in recent years. He’s getting older, too—he turns 37 next month. WWE desperately needs to line up a replacement, especially since all the other candidates for the role (Batista and Randy Orton, most notably) have failed to live up the hype.
Then there’s Bryan.
The wrestler receives massive ovations whenever he shows up on Raw or SmackDown, even bringing up flattering comparisons with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in his heyday. He’s one of the—if not the—best wrestlers in the company. Per reports (from F4Wonline via WrestlingInc), his merchandise sales are doing well, too.
However, he still can’t replace Cena as the “face of the company.” At least not yet.
For one thing, his drawing power is still somewhat suspect, with the pay-per-views he headlined in 2013 delivering mediocre numbers (numbers from WrestlingInc). Blame Randy Orton and the booking all you want, but it’s clear looking at the figures that no one was terribly interested in seeing the former Ring of Honor star perform on pay-per-view.
Granted, he’s been doing good numbers in the ratings in the last couple of months, as PWTorch mentions, but how much of that is due to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon?
Another mark against him is his size. It will always stop him getting pushed to extent of Cena or Orton.
Oh, OK, it makes no real difference to the fans how tall Bryan is, but to Vince McMahon and WWE?
While smaller wrestlers have been getting better treatment in recent years, old habits die hard. Bryan’s size will probably always be a hindrance to him in the eyes of the bookers, even if it is not immediately obvious.
And sure, the star is getting pushed now, but it’s not like the company had any other options. CM Punk left in January. Batista’s return flopped big time. Orton’s WWE World heavyweight title run continues to flounder.
I have to ask: Does Vince truly have faith in him, or is he just out of options? I’d say it’s a mixture of both, but probably more the latter than the former.
Nor does Bryan have really have the mainstream appeal needed to be a breakthrough star.
Can you see him scoring sponsorship deals left and right?
Or going on late-night talk shows on a regular basis? Or appearing in several movies? It’s a tough one, isn’t it?
Bryan’s unconventional looks, down-to-Earth personality and “everyman” quality has ensured his popularity with the WWE Universe, but it has also limited him somewhat. He really doesn't have the over-the-top charisma that major stars like Cena, Austin and Hogan before him had.
Of course, in Bryan’s defense, he hasn’t been on top for terribly long.
It’s unfair to dismiss him entirely. He will undoubtedly be an integral part of the company’s future going forward and maybe could emerge as one of the era's biggest names.
But replacing Cena and becoming the company’s No. 1 star? That’s out of the question, at least while Cena’s still active.