In a surprise announcement, WWE has cleared current SmackDown general manager - and former WWE champion - Daniel Bryan to make an in-ring return. Sometimes in the world of professional wrestling, a performer overcomes the odds to become a top superstar even when that wasn't necessarily management's plan for them. Sometimes the fans just embrace someone, and from that point on, those fans become incredibly loyal advocates for said person for the rest of their career.
One such example of that is "Attitude Era" kingpin "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. WWE had been booking Austin as little more than a mid-card heel, until Austin took it upon himself to invent the Stone Cold character, and the iconic Austin 3:16 catchphrase. Before long, it was clear that the fans wanted Austin and lots of him, and WWE complied, shooting him up to the main event scene. A similar thing happened to Daniel Bryan in 2012. After Bryan lost the world title to Sheamus in seconds at WrestleMania XXVIII, the fans - who had already been warming to Bryan - full-on embraced him, turning his "Yes! Yes! Yes" catchphrase into a thunderous chant heard throughout arenas.
While it took WWE management longer to come around to Bryan as a top guy than it did with Austin, by SummerSlam 2013, Bryan was pinning WWE poster boy John Cena clean as a sheet in the main event. By WrestleMania XXX in early 2014, he was beating Triple H, Randy Orton, and Dave Bautista in the same night, and leaving with the WWE title. Sadly, Bryan's career came crashing back down to Earth, as a series of injuries kept him out of the ring for most of 2014 and 2015. By early 2016, Bryan was retiring in the middle of the ring at WWE's behest, due to suffering multiple concussions. Now, WWE has changed their tune, officially clearing Daniel Bryan to compete in the ring once again.
Daniel Bryan's in-ring return is unquestionably the biggest story in wrestling to happen in 2018 so far (sorry Ronda Rousey), as fans were shocked and saddened when the now 36-year-old Bryan had to call it quits at such a young age. While WWE kept him on TV as SmackDown's GM, it's just never been quite the same, either for Bryan or his fans. With WrestleMania XXXIV merely weeks away - and being held in the same venue in which Bryan left with gold in 2014 - the question now becomes this: Will Bryan wrestle at the event, and if so, against who?
The most obvious opponent for Bryan would be The Miz, who Bryan has remained at odds with during his time as SmackDown GM. Unfortunately, Miz is now the intercontinental champion over on Raw, and has a WrestleMania match already lined up. Thankfully, there is a slot Bryan can be easily inserted into. Last week's SmackDown ended with a brutal attack by feuding heels Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn on commissioner Shane McMahon, and many have been assuming this would lead to a triple threat match at WrestleMania. While Bryan has had his issues with Shane onscreen, it would still make sense from a character standpoint for the honorable Bryan to say enough is enough, and agree to now team with Shane against Owens and Zayn on WWE's biggest stage.
WWE WrestleMania XXXIV streams live April 8 on the WWE Network.