Really think about Daniel Bryan. Remember what WWE has conspired to scorch.
His return to physical action, on the March 20 SmackDown - the same day on which the announcement of his incredible return sent Twitter into a meltdown of euphoria - was bewitching. Having seduced an already smitten crowd with a celebratory, genuinely inspiring promo most thought we’d never see cut in a WWE ring, he was confronted by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Even when depriving them of their livelihoods, Bryan did so in a reluctant, warm manner, underscoring just how d*mn likeable the man is. Of course, Owens and Zayn, in a defiant last stand, viciously attacked him. To the millisecond, this segment was laid out and performed to perfection.
“He is back. Daniel Bryan is back,” said Corey Graves on commentary. He was; even in tight-fitting jeans, Bryan shook off three years’ worth of rust to deliver a fire comeback that was cut off brilliantly by Sami Zayn just as the fan revved up their big “Ohhhhhh…” audio cue for the last Yes! kick delivered to Owens’ head. This, by design, turned into a palpable “Ahhhh…” of disappointment. And, bar all-too-brief moments of that inimitable frisson generated in the key moments of his feature matches, it is a sound we are now all too familiar with.
From that moment on, we were made to wait.
We were made to wait for Bryan even at the site of both his magic, improbable return and greatest career triumph. Attacked once again before the bell at WrestleMania 34, the returns diminished even before Bryan did. The match, though misjudged, was quite well-received, in a vacuum. Imagine reading, in January 2018, that “Daniel Bryan’s match at WrestleMania 34 was quite well-received”. It would have been the most cynical indictment of the company’s dire creative plight and, in effect, it is.