By now, anyone who’d be interested in the news already knows; independent wrestling legend “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson has taken the plunge and signed with World Wrestling Entertainment. What will this major change mean for his career?
TODAY’S ISSUE: American Dragon signs with WWE.
I know I can always be counted on for a sarcastic, jaded comment about anything that emanates from WWE, but I’ve got to be fair about this. CM Punk has fared well in his “big league” tenure so far, at least as well as a smaller, non Hogan-ish performer can be expected to fare in WWE, so Danielson might have a chance. Maybe he won’t be buried or forgotten after a few weeks on the air. My worst fear is actually that Vince and company could treat Danielson like a joke, but again, using Punk’s surprising success (not surprising to indy fans, but surprising that a guy like him would be pushed by McMahon) as a model, maybe Dragon won’t be given some stupid gimmick and dumped into crappy storylines from the get-go. Perhaps he’ll be allowed to be who and what he is, and given a chance to shine between the ropes and entertain the fans with his outstanding wrestling ability. Imagine that…
If the American Dragon could somehow wind up in the same brand as Punk and Matt “Evan Bourne” Sydal along with a couple of Vince’s good young talents like Jack Swagger, Paul Burchill, or them Hart boys, that might be a show worth watching. And isn’t James “Jamie Noble” Gibson still on the roster, too? And Shane Helms, and Jimmy Yang? Hmm… these are all performers who could put on good matches against Danielson. I’d also like to see what Shelton Benjamin would do against the American Dragon, and it’d be something special to watch him go strike-for-strike against a respected veteran like Fit Finlay, or hold-for-hold against a legend like Chris Jericho.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m certainly not about to get optimistic about Danielson’s WWE run, especially considering that while incredible performers like Paul London and Brian Kendrick “couldn’t cut it” in WWE, their current roster is littered with no-talent hacks who happen to posses impressive size, like the Great Khali, and television time is routinely wasted on ridiculous nonsense like Hornswoggle, Shaq, and outdated characters like Goldust. But who knows? Maybe Vince will be willing to let just one brand stand out for its wrestling style and longer matches. I’ve always thought ECW was the perfect place for that sort of atmosphere, and since William Regal, current #1 contender to the ECW Championship, just happens to have been one of Danielson’s trainers, it would make Tuesday nights the ideal place for the “real wrestling” hour among WWE’s many weekly television shows.
The concept of ECW becoming the “wrestling” show in their lineup would be especially effective if WWE would learn to take a less hands-on approach to the in-ring product and just let great performers go out there and tear it up in 20-minute matches. I know, you doubters and WWEirdo apologists will say that mainstream wrestling fans don’t have the patience to sit through a match that actually tells a story, but I say any crowd can appreciate quality when it’s presented to them as a superior product, and WWE fans could learn to love longer, slow-developing matches under the right conditions. They need to be reminded that a painful hold is just as devastating as a punch in the mouth and that, within the context of a match with well-executed psychology, the same hold can have a much longer lasting and devastating effect.
For instance, if a true technician takes apart his opponent’s arm for 10 straight minutes before applying a crowbar or something like Nigel McGuinness’ London Dungeon, and if the man absorbing the beating sells properly throughout the match while the commentators actually discuss the focused attack and the devastating damage being done (instead of nattering on about everything but the contest, as WWE announcers tend to do), once that submission hold is locked on and the victim starts screaming in agony the crowd will realize they’re witnessing a great story, and start to care. And fans who care spend their money to watch that guy, once recovered from his arm injury, going after the man who wrenched his shoulder out of the socket and trying to score a victory to settle the score and regain some degree of pride after the loss. That’s really all it needs to be about. No child custody suits, supernatural beings, marital affairs, or hackneyed evil authority figures are required to sell pro wrestling to us wrestling fans. Set up a simple story and let the in-ring action tell it. And nobody’s better at delivering the wrestling side of an angle than Bryan Danielson.
If you are among those who think “sportz entertainment” can’t endure such a shift in philosophy, just think about the built-in psychology at SummerSlam 2002 when Shawn Michaels returned from his career-ending back injury and battled Triple H in a non-sanctioned lights-out match. Every time HHHis HHHighness even touched HBK’s back the crowd cringed in agony; the mere thought of Michaels’ damaged back being attacked like that cranked up the emotion of the contest and drew the fans in, and that doesn’t have to be a one-time thing. In the past, real wrestlers like Kurt Angle, the late, great Eddie Guerrero, Brock Lesnar, and Chris Benoit were able to get wrestling over when given the opportunity. And there are enough other competent performers on the WWE roster that they could do it again.
Bryan Danielson’s wrestling acumen could set the stage for a revival of in-ring performance in WWE that would actually allow the so-called creative team to do a lot less work. Imagine the run-sheet for a one-hour ECW broadcast that called for a short interview, then a 20-minute match. With intros and commercials, that’s half the program already. See how easy that is? And the less writing they do, the less silly stuff they’ll be forced to throw in and the product might actually become appealing to old-school fans again. And the beauty of it is, they’d never have to compromise their new slant toward PG programming. There’s nothing inappropriate about great wrestling matches; it’s all the talking and bikini contests and such that change the type of show they produce.
For storyline purposes, I’d like to see Regal bring in Danielson as a former student with the intention of having him join his band of merry men, but Dragon quickly tiring of being used as canon fodder and working solely for the good of Regal at the expense of his own potential advancement. If he were being abused and treated unfairly by Regal and company on television, it wouldn’t take long for the fans to get behind Dragon, and if he had to go through Ezekiel Jackson and Vladimir Koslov to get his hands on Regal that arc practically writes itself. It’d be a great way to introduce Danielson to WWE crowds, and put him over as a serious upper midcard threat right out of the chute.
I don’t know how likely it is that Bryan Danielson will be the recipient of such a warm welcome in McMahonland, but I guarantee that if given a chance to truly demonstrate his wares to the WWE audience, he’ll connect with them on a level like Punk has. They’ll see him as the real deal, not a performer portraying a character. They will learn to understand the role in-ring psychology plays in a storyline, and appreciate what an amazing athlete Danielson is. It might just be enough to earn him a following, sell tickets, merchandise, and ppv buys, and create a new star for Vince to
exploit showcase, and that’s what it’s all about, right?
Yes, we indy fans will miss having one of our legendary performers around, but perhaps if the stars align right and if Vince and company take Danielson seriously, some small element of WWE programming might just become watchable again. I’d love to see that happen. I wish you good luck in the bizarre land of sportz entertainment, Mr. Danielson, and I hope you don’t need it.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Monday morning on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
Paul Marshall brings you Total Nonstop Weekly.
Jon Bandit provides his 10 Thoughts on iMPACT! for your reading pleasure.
Brad Curran has an Unsolicited Review of WWE’s SummerSlam 2009 event.
Puro wizard David Ditch has another brilliant Puroresu Pulse, focusing on Mitsuharu Misawa.
Hack Johnson covers This Week in Indies.
Finally this week, Chris Morgado returns with episode 2 of The Column With No Name, discussing CM Punk.