Fear the Beard: Daniel Bryan changing the face of WWE

 

jvarsallone@miamiherald.com

He stands 5-foot-10 with solid build (not hulking) and bushy facial hair, resembling more a mini-mountain man than a larger-than-life, a-typical, main event WWE superstar.

Come Sunday, Oct. 6 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, WWE superstar Daniel Bryan will main event another WWE pay-per-view, proving change with a marketable bearded face can work.

And that makes WWE fans, a.k.a. the WWE Universe, chant with excitement, “Yes! Yes! Yes!,” the one-word catch phrase which has helped turn Bryan from an A-list wrestler into an A-list sports entertainer.

Subsequently, Bryan will face the A-pex Predator Randy Orton for the WWE title in the main event of the WWE Battleground pay-per-view on Sunday, Oct. 6.

With the good looking, chiseled bodied John Cena sidelined from injury, who would kids and women cheer most and older male fans boo loudest? (You get 2-for-1 with the talented Cena.)

WWE opted to script Orton a monster bad guy for the boos, something he’s done in the past with great success, and hype Bryan as the heavy underdog, cheers, “Yes.” WWE power couple Paul Triple H Levesque and Stephanie McMahon’s characters created Bryan’s ‘little engine that will not’ status by their promoting/siding with Orton and duping/mocking Bryan at every angle.

Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Randy Orton represent the establishment and Bryan its anti.

It’s worked before, with the elder statesman of the McMahon family, WWE CEO/Chairman Vince McMahon, feuding with the anti-corporate, middle-finger raising, coarse talking, beer-swilling Stone Cold Steve Austin. It became one of the most lucrative times in company history.

Bryan is no Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are not Mr. McMahon, but the premise is there.

Bryan does have a one-word catch phrase like the Rattlesnake did, but where Austin’s asked a question, Bryan’s makes a statement.

Like Austin, Bryan is beloved by fans, and like Mr. McMahon, the corporate Triple H and Stephanie are not. To advance the disdain, Triple H and Stephanie embraced The Shield, embarrassed the Rhodes family and made Big Show feel small with a constant ‘do this or you’re fired’ stip.

Change is good. You want something different. Who enjoys stale bread?

From Hulk-A-Mania to the cartoon run and later the Attitude era to the PG present, WWE now features a “Yes” man but an anti-establishment “Yes” man.

It’s made for some entertaining WWE Raw television programming, and when needed most, as ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” provide some stiff viewing competition on Monday nights.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s just surreal,” Bryan said. “It feels like yesterday I was wrestling at the armories in front of 200, 300 people. Now being in these big stories in WWE and main eventing pay-per-views, I’ve main evented every show I’ve been on the last two months, it’s pretty surreal, and to do it in front of large crowds on such big shows, it’s awesome.”

Bryan, 32, from Aberdeen, Wash., spent 10 years honing his skills and paying his dues on the indie circuit, including a strong run with multi-star matches in Ring of Honor, before being signed by WWE in 2009. It’s been a roller-coaster ride in WWE, but he is currently enjoying the upward climb and the posing challenges in the ring and out.

“Some things happen overnight, but my rise to the top has not,” Bryan said. “It’s been a very slow, gradual buildup. So the surprises to me is where this journey has kind of ended up, not like this rush of, ‘OK, yesterday I was wrestling in an armory and today I’m main eventing [a WWE pay-per-view].’ It’s been a process to get here, but that’s the fun for me.

“The goal for me is not the destination. The goal is to enjoy the journey, because this is an incredible experience to get to do something that not many people in this world get to do. I get to travel the world and see things and do things and go out to wrestle in front of amazing audiences. It’s special, and the important part to me is to enjoy the ride.”

Bryan recently purchased a ring, not a wrestling ring, but an engagement ring -- custom made (with some help from his now fiancée) in New York City. WWE diva Brie Bella of “Total Divas” fame (10 p.m. EST Sundays on E!) answered, “Yes!”

They are all important and special to Bryan, but of all the “Yes” chants worldwide, Bella’s is the most meaningful “Yes” to date.

At Battleground, it can mean more. If Bryan beats Orton for the WWE title, and Bella defeats AJ Lee for the WWE divas’ belt, the happy couple will be even happier adding gold with their diamonds.

“It would be awesome,” Bryan said. “It would be something very special for us to share winning the titles on the same night. Couples doing things together, that would probably be one of the most special things we can do together.”

For TV storyline purposes, both winning titles could challenge the WWE power couple-ship of real-life husband and wife, Paul Triple H Levesque and Stephanie McMahon, the company’s Executive Vice President, Creative. First things first, though. I mean Bryan and Bella just got engaged.

Bryan won the WWE title (again) at WWE’s Night of Champions pay-per-view on Sept. 15 from the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The following night on Raw, Triple H -- the company’s Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events -- stripped Bryan of the WWE title calling ‘shenanigans’ on Bryan and quick counting referee Scott Armstrong. At the prior pay-per-view, SummerSlam, on Aug. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Bryan beat John Cena for the WWE title, but Triple H -- who assigned himself special guest referee -- pedigreed Bryan after the match, allowing Orton to cash-in Money in the Bank for the easy title switch.

Triple H and Stephanie McMahon feel Bryan is not championship belt wearing material nor the one to lead the company as champion, believing Orton is a much better fit for that role. They’re just doing “what’s best for business,” which is a mantra of Vince McMahon, WWE’s top boss and Stephanie’s father.

Bryan and the WWE Universe have other ideas.

“I’m super excited for Battleground,” Bryan said. “It’s a chance for me to regain what’s rightfully mine, the WWE championship. So hopefully that happens this Sunday.”

• Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton battle for the WWE title in the main event of the WWE Battleground pay-per-view on Sunday, Oct. 6 from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

Rob Van Dam with Ricardo Rodriguez challenges Alberto Del Rio for the World title in a hardcore match

AJ Lee defends the WWE divas title against Brie Bella.

CM Punk faces Ryback with Paul Heyman.

Goldust and Cody Rhodes (with Dusty Rhodes) vs. The Shield (Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins with Dean Ambrose). If the Rhodes brothers win, they capture the WWE tag team titles. If they lose, Dusty Rhodes is well wished.

And more.

Bell time is 8 p.m. EST for the pay-per-view.

In the pre-show on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, www.wwe.com, Dolph Ziggler wrestles Damien Sandow.

Visit http://www.wwe.com/shows/wwebattleground.

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