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CALDWELL'S TV REPORT: Daniel Bryan's must-see "Journey to WrestleMania 30" WWE Network Special

Apr 9, 2014 - 11:00:00 AM
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WWE's "Journey to WrestleMania: Daniel Bryan" special
April 8, 2014
Aired on WWE Network
Report by James Caldwell, PWTorch assistant editor


Following this week's Main Event episode, WWE Network aired a one-hour special on Daniel Bryan's WrestleMania Weekend experience culminating with his WWE World Hvt. Title victory in the WM30 main event.

This was a heck of a piece. There were still elements of fiction weaved into an attempted fact-based narrative that is the trademark of WWE Network programs, but the overall feature was terrific and professionally-produced. It's a must-watch program.

Daniel Bryan signed with WWE in August 2009. We launched the PWTorch Livecast weekday call-in show in October 2009. Over the course of the past four-and-a-half years, we have seemingly spent more time talking about journeys - or the lack of journeys in pro wrestling storytelling - than any other topic.

Finally, at WrestleMania 30, WWE completed a journey and made their next big babyface star in the form of Daniel Bryan. WWE captured this on the documentary - Bryan making it past NXT, making it past being fired, making it past being bumped off the WrestleMania 27 line-up, making it past 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28, and making it past Team Hell No at WrestleMania 29.

Everyone can relate to a journey. Everyone can relate to hard work, patience, and perseverance resulting in achieving a new goal, whether personally or professionally. Everyone can relate to an underdog who achieves that goal.

Daniel Bryan's journey hit on all of the human emotions that go into getting behind a person and living through that person's experiences - whether in real-life, sports, or pro wrestling. The rise of a politician. The rise of a rookie in the NBA. The rise of Daniel Bryan.

In an instant-gratification world, we often times lose out on the satisfaction of going through the process. Over the past four-and-half-years on the Livecast, we've certainly had those discussions about why WWE and TNA screwed up on this storyline or this character, especially in the case of WWE's handling of Bryan. Now, it's interesting to look back at how all of those screw-ups paid off in a satisfying release for Bryan's fans.

The documentary captured those ups and downs, weaving together Bryan's story, as told through the eyes of a great cast that included Bryan, Brie Bella, Steve Austin, William Regal, his NXT Pro The Miz, Seth Rollins (Tyler Black in ROH), Pat Patterson, Sheamus, Michael Cole, and, most interestingly, John Cena.

Cena has plenty to say in the documentary. Weaving together storyline with actual, real, human thoughts not spoken through the filter of 12 years of WWE-Speak, Cena almost warns Bryan about what life will be like in his position. He doesn't want to deter Bryan from "taking his spot," but if Bryan is going to join him on top of Mt. WWE, he wants Bryan to know what he's getting into.

The documentary almost answers Cena's concern. Bryan is prepared. Because of his humble upbringing, down-to-earth personality, consistent work in the ring, entertainment value, non-troublemaking approach, likability, and soon-to-be wife to keep him grounded, he is in a position to succeed in this spot. And, because he doesn't even see himself as a big deal, this isn't overwhelming. It's just his season of life. After enduring a grueling journey to get here.

At a time when Cena is on the other side of the Bell Curve on his run on top of the company, WWE has to look ahead to their next main-eventer - a person who reaches fans 8 to 80.

Because of the journey Bryan went through, whether accidentally or on purpose (and until Vince McMahon or Triple H publish their journals documenting this was their plan all along), we have to assume it was on accident and from listening to the audience that WWE stumbled upon their new top star.

But, like any great sports accomplishment, the process doesn't end with a championship. UConn Men's and Women's Basketball will be back at work later this month attempting to repeat their championship runs next season.

"The interesting thing is what you do after. Your goal is to main-event WrestleMania. This is the biggest goal you've ever had and you just accomplished it. Now, what are you going to do? (pause) umm... try to do it again?" Bryan says with a confident smile at the conclusion of the documentary.

For many fans, the fear is that one slip-up, one bad house show, one bad PPV, one bad match, one bad interview, one changed Vince McMahon mind will lead to WWE pulling the plug on Daniel Bryan's main event run. Whereas, John Cena has built up so much equity in that top spot that he can rotate down to a mid-card match with Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania and rotate back into the main event by the next month, fans aren't sure if WWE is truly willing to go all the way with Bryan. Or, at least keep him in a top spot.

But, the same was said when he dropped the World Title in 2012. The fear was that after Bryan dropped the title, he would rotate back to mid-card purgatory. It was a nice run. He had a good memory at WM28. But, Bryan hung around and hung around and hung around, then stayed over in the program with A.J. Lee, then C.M. Punk, then Kane, stole the show with The Rock on Raw 1,000, and stayed over via "Yes!" leading into Summerslam 2013 when Bryan beat John Cena to temporarily become WWE champion.

Summerslam 2013 to April 2014 captured the final aspect of Bryan's journey. But, it was merely the home stretch on a long, drawn-out process that WWE documented on Tuesday night with Bryan's start in Washington State, then at Shawn Michaels's wrestling academy, then in Ring of Honor, and then on NXT four years ago.

It's a journey that WWE and Bryan hope to build upon as Bryan runs through a wave of heel challengers in WWE's fictional storytelling environment. How long will he be champion? That's the next question and the next part of Bryan's journey to watch unfold.

As for now, the Road to WrestleMania 30 is complete. And the story is equally fascinating, inspiring, and rewarding as told in this excellent Network special.

[Torch art credit Travis Beaven (c) PWTorch.com]


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