I was wearing my "Respect The Beard" shirt on WrestleMania Sunday as Daniel Bryan made Batista tap out in the main event to complete his journey to becoming the WWE World Heavyweight champion.
I was in attendance in Baltimore when he was attacked by Kane and Tombstoned into oblivion to ignite a new feud.
Monday night, I felt for Bryan as he visibly teared up on Raw announcing that he would undergo neck surgery on Thursday.
Despite my sympathy for Bryan in this vulnerable time for him, I see no other option for the WWE: It has to strip him of the company's top title. No pun intended, but it's best for business.
First, let's take a practical look at the situation. We're talking about neck surgery. No matter how minor of a procedure it may be, this is surgery on one of the most sensitive parts of the human body. Bryan wrestles a hard style that involves lots of big bumps. If his neck isn't in perfect shape, it's a risk for him to take any dangerous spots.
Whether Bryan returns in six weeks, three months or after SummerSlam, he is going to need to ease back into the day-to-day grind this business has on a performer's body. Returning still as the champ, he's going to be expected to enter into the top program, main eventing the biggest shows, Raws and house shows. Is this really a scenario where you want to thrust someone fresh off neck surgery rehabilitation?
Others have done just that, but with WWE's short list of A-list main event stars, it can't take any risks with Bryan. The company stumbled across his mass appeal and shouldn't take it for granted. He should be allowed to work his way back into the full-time schedule when he returns, and the only way to do that is without the title bearing his name placard.
From a storytelling perspective, WWE needs to see the silver lining in this otherwise disappointing development. Bryan does not need to get pinned, tap out or screwed over in a match to lose the title.
While we never really got to see Bryan as a champion, we know that he is phenomenal as a challenger. There are wrestlers throughout history who thrive in the chase but are unable to capture the audience as the champion.
Sting is probably the greatest example of this in the NWA/WCW days feuding with Ric Flair. Jeff Hardy in his last year with the WWE is another one.
That's not to say that, if booked effectively, Bryan couldn't be a draw as a top champion with the company. However, given the situation at hand, it is best to take the strap from around his waist and allow him to return as a man on a mission.
You make Vince McMahon the bad guy. While Triple H and Evolution are preoccupied with The Shield, and Stephanie appears to have some remorse for what she's done by unleashing Kane, Vince could return as the vicious, cutthroat businessman. He never liked Bryan in the first place but grew to respect him as a competitor.
It's not personal, but he needs to know that his champion can carry the company, and clearly, right now, that's not Bryan. He could announce that the new champion will be crowned in a Battle Royal at Payback. Former WWE and World Heavyweight champions on the roster would be entered into the match.
There are any number of potential champions at the moment, but there is only one true man for the title in this scenario. First, let's eliminate the top options.
Randy Orton should not win the belt because he just finished a long, generally uneventful run. Right now, he's the third man in Evolution and not a logical champ.
Batista was expecting a title run when he returned to the company, but the #YESMovement happened, and the idea of having him hold the title was abandoned. Batista would be the optimal pick, but he is leaving soon to promote his new movie, Guardians of the Galaxy.
John Cena is an obvious fallback, but one that will lead to a fan revolt. Nobody wants to see Cena with the belt. He's in a hot feud with Bray Wyatt right now, and unless WWE plans on suddenly making that the title program (and it shouldn't), Cena is off the list. As is Wyatt.
Other former champs have been taken down so far on the card that a sudden title win would seem forced. This includes Big Show, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Rob Van Dam, Dolph Ziggler and Mark Henry.
That's why the only pick is the COO himself, Triple H.
How could it happen at Payback? After The Shield topples Evolution earlier in the show, Triple H could then emerge from the rubble to win the title. The heat produced from the arena in Chicago that night could burn away whatever is left of the ozone layer.
Evil heel Triple H as champ and boss is a monster we haven't seen before, and it would set up a number of scenarios, with the most favorable being a 100 percent healed Daniel Bryan, the uncrowned champion, returning and defeating Triple H for the title in the main event of a PPV down the road.
Again, I'm not happy about Bryan being forced to the sidelines at the peak of his run. However, we must think practically about this situation. It's not good for anyone if the company's top belt, the piece of gold that every Superstar wants around their waist, to be sitting in Seattle with Bryan while he rehabs.