The WWE has done a fantastic job on the heels of last month’s “SummerSlam” in continuing the storyline they set up in that event’s WWE title match. After reaching the top of the mountain and winning the WWE title, Daniel Bryan’s dreams were immediately crushed via a heel turn by Triple H and Randy Orton cashing in his contract to capture the belt. It was a piece of brilliant booking that has Bryan decidedly back in the underdog spot, clawing and fighting to make his way back to the promised land despite the obstacles thrown in his way the McMahon family and their handpicked champion.
But, it’s time to move to the next chapter. Triple H has chosen The Shield as the muscle behind his plans, and they’ve all been running a dictatorial regime these past few weeks, demolishing any wrestlers who speak out against the new champion and the way he won the title by putting them in handicap matches against the aforementioned Shield. On top of that, pretty much every week of TV has ended with Bryan fighting a member of The Shield, doing decently, and then getting destroyed by the group as the show goes off the air, usually with Orton in the ring standing over him with the belt. The storyline has done its job in portraying Triple H’s new power group as vicious heels with no regard for anyone but themselves, but it’s growing tired. There are only so many times Bryan can find himself on the losing end of Trip’s plans before fans revolt. The danger isn’t in making Bryan look weak, as the WWE Universe is still solidly behind their number one guy.
This feud is naturally getting comparisons to the Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon rivalry that dominated the late 1990s, but there’s a pretty fundamental difference. Sure, it’s still one fan favorite wrestler going against the boss, but with Austin, he often came out on top. For as much hell as McMahon caused Stone Cold, he returned the favor on multiple occasions, pouring concrete into Vince’s car, hosing him down with a beer truck, and even firing a fake gun at him in the ring. All Bryan’s been able to do is paint “Yes!” all over the new SUV Triple H gave to Randy Orton.
With Austin, the fear was always that he was going to do something to get himself fired for good and we’d never see him again, but in Bryan’s case, we’re just afraid he’s going to finally die from getting squashed in handicap matches every week. Granted, the storyline is still in its infancy, but we’re quickly approaching the line that separates slowburn and brutal repetitiveness. This Sunday’s “Night of Champions” pay-per-view is a crucial point in the storyline. With only five matches announced thus far, it appears that Bryan and Orton will be getting a great deal of time in the ring to tell their story, and there’s no question that both are capable of putting on a classic contest.
Bryan doesn’t need to win the match, and for the sake of the storyline, hopefully he won’t, but he’s got to at least show a great deal of strength in the bout. If the two are allowed to wrestle cleanly for a good portion of the match, that’ll happen, but the inevitable interference that will color the outcome shouldn’t happen until deep into the battle.
The WWE is riding a wave created by the best product they’ve created thus far in 2013, but they can’t rest on the laurels because they’ve found something that works. The beauty of the Austin-McMahon feud was that it came during the legendary Monday Night Wars between the WWE and WCW, so the pressure was on every single week to top the previous show. Without that pressure, it gives the company more time to build complete feuds and great storylines, but it could also ease them into a false sense of complacency. “Night of Champions” will be a big moment; will they light a spark that fuels this fantastic feud for the rest of the year, or will it die out at the hand of Triple H and The Shield?