In one of the most spectacular instances of bad timing to ever hit the wrestling business (and there have been some doozies) it was announced on the May 12 RAW that Daniel Bryan has sustained a neck injury and will require surgery. It’s a dreadful shame. An eight month story centring on him capturing the WWE championship and proving he belongs on top had culminated at WrestleMania XXX on April 6 and D-Bry had been poised to enjoy the lengthy run as champion, top face and top worker that people had been gagging for. His time at the top of the company has been snatched away by bad luck before it really picked up steam.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another is that a major injury seemed inevitable. Bryan pushes himself hard in every match he has and works a more physical style than many within the company. He’d suffered from concussions and various other medical layoffs in the first three months of the year. That seemed attributable to a handful of specific performances but looking back it’s hard not to see it as Bryan’s body sending him a message. Specifically that it was in need of a break.
What will be done about Bryan’s championship reign is anyone’s guess. His neck will be operated on at some point this week and he will be away for a currently unspecified amount of time. Neck injuries generally sideline wrestlers for quite a while. It’s not impossible, going on past instances, that Bryan could be out for over a year. But equally it’s been said that he could be back as soon as Money in the Bank on June 29.
By the time the April 19 RAW rolls around WWE will know how the surgery went and have been given a tentative timeframe for their champion’s return. That will obviously determine the future of his reign. If Bryan is told by doctors that he can be back in time for Money in the Bank then I think he’ll keep the gold. That would see him sitting out only Payback and create an opportunity to make Money in the Bank a particularly noteworthy affair.
Since the 2011 show, the one with the whole CM Punk winning the title and walking out thing, Money in the Bank has become WWE’s number four show of the year (behind WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and SummerSlam, rankings fans). The 2014 edition was already going to feel like a big show because the last three have been very good cards and because the titular ladder bout means more now that there’s only one world strap on offer. Throwing in the return to action of a popular champion from a neck injury could help Money in the Bank become even more must-see. WWE are experts at hyping stuff like that. It’s all too easy to imagine Michael Cole talking up Bryan’s neck injury as “potentially career ending” alongside his usual, less logical, comments.
Should WWE be told by the resident medical experts that Bryan is unlikely to be back in time for Money in the Bank then I can imagine the decision being made to crown a new champion. As popular, talented and useful as Bryan is WWE cannot wait for him indefinitely. A month and a half is about the limit they can go with an inactive champion. After that they’ll need someone new to structure storylines around.
In that situation Money in the Bank would again benefit. Instead of playing host to the comeback match of ‘The Bearded One’ it would become the event at which a new champion is crowned. The option of teasing that the Money in the Bank winner may cash in on whoever the new champion turns out to be would be open to WWE too.
Personally I hope that Bryan is back in action soon enough to keep the championship. He could win it again. He could even have another great feel-good moment as he does it, but it’s hard to imagine it being as memorable or meaningful as WrestleMania XXX. Bryan has two years of ever increasing popularity behind him now. An extended break, or another title vacation, could cause him to lose momentum. Of course it could actually increase his popularity, but that’s not something that can be relied on.
I’d say vacating the belt would harm Bryan’s credibility but honestly I don’t think it will. Credibility is not a major factor with most WWE fans. The ones that do value it are already likely to be diehard supporters of the former ‘American Dragon’ anyway.
I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for Bryan to be on course for a comeback at Money in the Bank. And that someone who isn’t Kane is chosen as his first opponent back. Go with any member of Evolution and the ‘Mania storyline that was prematurely dropped instead. It would be a far more natural, and significant, match to return to.