For the fourth time in his career, Daniel Bryan has become the WWE Champion, and will now battle Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. Bryan was riding high atop the WWE in 2014, after beating Triple H, Dave Bautista, and Randy Orton in the same night to leave WrestleMania XXX with his third WWE Championship. Unfortunately, a neck injury would force him to give up his title soon after. Bryan would return in early 2015, win the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania XXI, then have to relinquish it and leave due to another injury.
In early 2016, Bryan returned, but the reason why broke fans' hearts. Due to sustaining multiple concussions, Bryan was forced to retire from the ring. He would go on to become the SmackDown General Manager, but while that onscreen role allowed him to stay close to the business and fans that he loved, it was never truly the same. Bryan spent his two years of official retirement desperately consulting doctors, looking for treatments that could get him cleared to compete. To the shock of everyone, he was finally able to accomplish his mission prior to this year's WrestleMania, teaming up with Shane McMahon to battle the team of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at the event.
However, while Bryan has remained extremely popular with the crowd, his booking since WrestleMania has left a lot to be desired. Bryan was first shunted into a midcard feud with the decidedly unskilled (and subsequently fired by WWE) Big Cass, before moving on to a short-lived Team Hell No reunion with Kane, and then transitioning to a long-brewing feud with The Miz. That feud was set to be put on hold for a bit so Bryan could challenge AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at Crown Jewel, but Bryan opted not to work the event due to all the controversy currently surrounding host country Saudi Arabia. The match instead took place on a recent SmackDown episode, with Bryan coming up short. The "Yes Man" got a rematch for the gold on last night's SmackDown, and in a shocking finish, not only defeated Styles for the belt, but turned heel in doing so.
It's safe to say that no one in the WWE's audience saw Bryan's turn to the dark side coming, but from a story perspective, it makes sense. Bryan spent years trying to get back in the ring, only to experience mostly failure since returning. He lost to Samoa Joe, he lost to AJ Styles, he lost to The Miz more than once. It was time for a course correction, and Bryan's heel turn delivered that, and the biggest prize in WWE. Even more, now Bryan heads into a first time ever dream match against Raw's Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at this Sunday's Survivor Series event. While WWE rarely goes for the heel vs. heel dynamic, a match between Bryan and Lesnar will surely be great.
That said, one hopes Lesnar won't be as stiff with Bryan as he tends to be with most of his opponents. While it makes Lesnar's matches look realistically brutal, the last thing WWE needs is for Bryan to be sent back onto the shelf with another concussion, courtesy of a vicious forearm shot by "The Beast." Further out, one wonders what Bryan's heel turn means for his unfinished feud with The Miz, which many expected to receive its ultimate conclusion at WrestleMania next year.