The Raw and SmackDown Live rosters will be led by part-time wrestlers in Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon, respectively. But as the inter-brand rivalry heats up, it's Daniel Bryan—a non-wrestler—who is slowly garnering attention as the difference between a win or a loss for either brand.
In real life, Bryan Danielson has to feel some type of way about seeing Angle and McMahon—two individuals well into their 40's with several risk factors in competing—lead their troops into battle. In kayfabe, the Daniel Bryan character also has mixed feelings about this inter-promotional conflict.
Bryan was last seen getting (carefully) chokeslammed by Kane in a dark room on Raw. A week prior, Bryan was none-too-pleased with Shane McMahon for his "under siege" antics, which were done without Bryan's knowledge.
The currently retired WWE Superstar is in an awkward position where he has tension with both sides. Despite being the SmackDown general manager, there's a budding conflict with Shane McMahon. But as a member of the blue brand, Bryan is inherently the enemy of Raw, especially after his attempt at a ceasefire on Monday night went awry.
Bryan is the most unretired retired WWE Superstar in the industry. He never misses an opportunity, whether it be on the now-defunct Talking Smack series or on his own Twitter account, to make overt hints at a return.
Though he gave a tearful retirement speech in February of 2016, it has pretty much become common knowledge that not only was he forced out, but he plans on wrestling again after actively seeking—and gaining—clerance to return, per an ESPN interview with Jonathan Coachman.
Daniel Bryan most recently detailed his efforts to return to the ring on E&C's Pod of Awesomeness:
"There’s this vast improvement. And Brie sees the vast improvement. And then Dr. (Barry) Miskin thinks within 120 total treatments, so 80 treatments more, that my brain could get back to where if you looked at it from any other spectrum, you would think that I’d have never done any contact sports in my entire life."
Come 2018, when his contract is up, Bryan is primed to have one of the most intriguing years in all of pro wrestling.
WWE seems cognizant of his unwavering passion to get back into the ring, but if Kane's pretend chokeslam spot was any indication, WWE has no intentions of having him compete under its watch.
Still, that's what makes Bryan's involvement in Survivor Series so interesting, as he is once again being positioned as somebody with a reason to get physical during the climax of the Raw vs. SmackDown elimination match. Some have theorized that perhaps Bryan turns heel and aligns himself with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
Could they open the door for a possible Raw invasion as many "I called it!" guys and gals have speculated?
If Bryan turns heel, how will he get his comeuppance if he can't wrestle, let alone take a bump? Would WWE be doing this underhandedly to ensure he isn't as popular when he inevitably leaves to resume his wrestling career?
WWE Survivor Series may center around Raw vs. SmackDown, but art is imitating life because Bryan doesn't seem to have a strong allegiance to either.
Survivor Series is quietly telling the story of Daniel Bryan vs. WWE.