Brock Lesnar Is a Dangerous Opponent for Daniel Bryan at WWE Survivor SeriesNovember 16, 2018
On the November 13 episode of WWE Smackdown, Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship from AJ Styles. He hit a low blow on Styles when the referee wasn't looking and then followed that with a Running Knee. It's a heel turn, it seems.
This 11th-hour title switch changes the plans for Survivor Series significantly. Instead of getting Styles vs. Lesnar II—a rematch that, based on their first confrontation, would have been wonderful—we're getting Bryan vs. Lesnar. It's a match that's never been done before. In an ideal universe, it should never be allowed to take place
There are obvious narrative problems in doing this. It's a heel vs. heel confrontation; who, exactly, is the audience supposed to get behind?
The likely result is that the audience will cheer Bryan, based on their love of Bryan Danielson, the man behind the character Daniel Bryan. And that's a problem, because WWE is already conditioning their audience to see this as a heel turn for convenience, rather than an "actual" heel turn.
When Bryan goes back to Smackdown next Tuesday, there's going to be an emotional cognitive dissonance. Are we booing the character but cheering the performer behind the character? Did we cheer the character on Sunday because he was the lesser of two evils, or because we didn't really believe that he was a villain in the first place?
Heel vs. heel confrontations create this immersion-breaking inconsistency and needlessly splits the audience's allegiance. It becomes more complicated and meta than it needs to be.
The second problem can be summed up with a question: What's the finish?
Daniel Bryan is a newly minted WWE champion; a loss only five days into his run is not a good start. And Lesnar, meanwhile, is an unpopular champion of convenience, who only has the universal title because of Roman Reigns' leukemia.
Neither man can afford a loss at this time, and both will be diminished by a defeat. A no contest or draw are unlikely, unpopular outcomes.
But the third, main problem—and the one that should prevent this match from happening—is the health concerns. For a company that purports to be looking out for Bryan's health, the WWE isn't acting like it.
Bryan has documented concussion issues. During his first run with the company, he received multiple brain concussions and even had lesions on his brain from the damage.
He suffered seizures that he did not tell his employer about, according to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer News Radio (h/t Raj Giri of Wrestling Inc.). And despite being told to slow down and modify his high-risk style, he didn't adjust to his new reality. Eventually, WWE forced him into retirement to protect him from himself.
Now he's back, thanks to hyperbaric oxygen therapy and time off to heal. He's watered down his high-flying style to protect his head better (he should have changed his style entirely rather than watering down his old one, but that's grist for another editorial).
But he still takes dumb, unnecessary risks, like occasional diving headbutts. The move that paralyzed Dynamite Kid and contributed to Chris Benoit's psychological breakdown should not be used, ever, least of all by a man with concussion issues.
So put this all together: WWE has a performer who was once forced to retire due to concussions and who lacks the scruples to protect himself after returning. They're going to put him into the ring with a man whose entire gimmick is slamming people on the backs of their heads, multiple times?
Lesnar is a stiff worker. He concussed Orton with an elbow at SummerSlam (2016). He punched Braun Strowman, for real, at the 2018 Royal Rumble after being kneed inadvertently. Just this past Monday, he arced his German Suplexes way too high on the Singh brothers, causing one of them to nearly land on his head.
Perhaps Lesnar will be extra careful in this upcoming match, knowing who his opponent is. One could argue, however, that no matter how they're delivered, any number of German suplexes to the back of Bryan's head is one too many. But German suplexes is nearly all Lesnar does these days. And unless he radically changes his whole game plan, that's what we're going to see at Survivor Series.
Modern wrestling is fun, in part, because we know it's choreographed; these people we invest in will be able to get up and dress themselves in the morning. It ceases being fun when we're worried that the next blow a performer takes could be the last one he takes. Prepare for a whole match of that sinking, worried feeling come Sunday.