By Nick Perkins, Prowrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
It shouldn’t have happened; not like this, not right now. It’s a mistake. It’s not going to work; the fans love him too much. That was the reaction I had 18 years ago at the conclusion of WrestleMania 17. Steve Austin had just turned heel by aligning with Vince McMahon en route to winning the WWF Championship from The Rock. It should have been an exciting night. Steve Austin becoming WWF Champion again was what thousands were hoping for, but the way in which it happened left a lot to be desired.
Some people can play the role of villain or good guy perfectly. Wrestlers like The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and Triple H can go back and forth between the two with relative ease and fans are all-too-eager to join the ride. There are some wrestlers, however, that fans just don’t want to boo, no matter how those wrestlers are positioned or how dastardly their deeds are.
Steve Austin was one of those wrestlers. While Austin performed admirably during his time as a “bad guy,” fans were never truly invested because they simply didn’t believe the character. Austin turning heel was not Hulk Hogan joining the NWO in 1996. Hogan’s turn was much needed, as the character was growing stale and was starting to hear more boos than cheers. The heel turn revitalized his character. Austin’s turn did not have the same effect. It did not revitalize his career; instead, it derailed it. Austin was never quite the same after that and he still says that the decision to turn heel was one of his biggest regrets.
And so. Here we are, in a similar situation, with Daniel Bryan. The guy came back from what was believed to be a career-ending injury and he told the audience that if they “fight for their dreams, their dreams will fight for them.” Bryan’s comeback story was one of the truly unbelievable stories in all of professional wrestling. It reminded us all why we watch pro wrestling in the first place. The follow-up was…not as good. But fans believed that all would soon be right with the world. Eventually, Bryan would win the Royal Rumble, like he was always supposed to do. Then, he would topple The Miz at WrestleMania, before finally reclaiming the title that he never really lost in the first place. It was the easiest story to tell in wrestling. Predictable, it might have been. But sometimes predictability isn’t a bad thing. In fact, whatever happened to predictability? The milk man. The paperboy. Evening TV.
The point is, Smackdown has a full house of villains on its roster, but very few credible babyfaces. On the heel side, there is Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, The Miz and more. In terms of babyfaces, there is, of course, AJ Styles, followed by…Jeff Hardy? Rey Mysterio? Those two don’t really jump out. Smackdown needs Bryan as a good guy and they’re missing out on a ton of potential matchups.
We never really got closure with Daniel Bryan and The Miz. Bryan vs. Joe and Bryan vs. Nakamura were both potential dream matches that we never got to really delve into. Now, we’ll get Bryan vs Styles, probably a thousand times. But then what? Bryan vs Mysterio or Bryan vs. Hardy don’t jump off the page. Bryan could always move to Raw next year, but that side is in desperate need of good guys too.
Of course, none of that matters. The decision was made and that is the reality we live in now. It’s a reality in which Daniel Bryan is now a heel. It’s one in which the first-ever meeting between Brock Lesnar and Daniel Bryan sees both men as villains. What was once the most highly-anticipated dream match that WWE had now has less than a week of buildup and audiences don’t know who, exactly, they’re supposed to be rooting for.
Do we cheer the guy who beat up Jinder Mahal or the guy who screwed AJ Styles? Is Lesnar a good guy now? Are Miz and Bryan ever going to wrap up their feud? There are a ton of questions which, we guess, was part of the reason Bryan turned. We’re talking about it and we will continue to talk about it, extensively, for the foreseeable future. Whether we like it or not, we’ll continue to tune in. WWE knows this. They knew it when they proceeded with Crown Jewel. They knew it when they continued to push Roman Reigns down our throats. They know that, no matter what they do, fans will continue to watch their programming. In the end, they win. And no amount of hijacking or ‘Yes chanting’ is going to change that.
There are some reports that this was, indeed, Bryan’s idea. That makes it a little more palatable, and there’s no doubt that Bryan will perform his role perfectly. I trust Daniel Bryan. I just don’t trust WWE, not anymore. There was a time that I would tell fellow viewers to “just watch and see what happens. Be patient. Trust them.” Now, it’s getting harder and harder to do that. Vince McMahon and his people continue to make baffling decisions.
The most baffling decision, however, falls on us. It’s the decision we make every time we turn on the television. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. We continue to tune into WWE programming, hoping that something amazing will happen. Sometimes we’re rewarded for that. Often times, though, we are left feeling empty, hollow and despondent. That’s how I felt after watching Smackdown. It’s the same way I felt while watching Crown Jewel.
I hope Daniel Bryan’s heel turn revitalizes his career. I hope he is creatively challenged and inspired and that he has the time of his life during this new chapter of his career. I hoped the same for Steve Austin when he turned to the dark side. There were a few precious moments of brilliance during that time but, a little over a year later, Austin walked out of the company, citing “creative differences.” Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself but, if it does, we shouldn’t expect anything different.
How do you feel about the Daniel Bryan heel turn? Was it a good move? Are we being too sensitive? Let us know in the comments section below!
‘Natural Consequences’ are defined by various sociologists and child psychologists as “outcomes that happen as a result of behavior that is not planned or controlled.” As somebody who also works with troubled youth via his “grownup job,” Nick Perkins has seen the benefits of natural consequences on a daily basis. Coincidentally, the world of professional wrestling is full of natural consequences. This newest weekly article will highlight some of those situations.
Nick Perkins is a world (okay, state)-renowned writer who dreamt of being a professional wrestler, until he realized that he was a) the opposite of athletically gifted and b) really, really afraid of being hurt. So he became a writer instead, and has been proclaimed (by himself, as well as close friends and relatives) to be a ‘natural.’
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Will Pruett on the Roman Reigns whodunnit angle, WWE heading into SummerSlam, AEW's October 2 premiere on TNT, the New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax Tournament through Day 11, and more (77:45)...