It’s been a bad couple of months over in Stamford, Connecticut. Wrestlemania was followed up by Injurymania, and the two people shining brightest both took a hard fall.
We already know about Daniel Bryan’s neck surgery, which ended up costing him the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Neck problems have plagued the best and brightest of WWE for years. Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge. Great talents in the ring, and for the most part, great on a microphone too, all having careers cut short (or constantly interrupted) by neck injuries. The news on Sunday that Bryan may need a second neck surgery was disheartening, and almost buried the fact that a second fast-rising title holder was injured, stripped of his title, and knocked off a great storyline.
Last week, Jack Swagger injured the shoulder of Bad News Barrett. Swagger threw Barrett into a barricade the wrong way, necessitating shoulder surgery. Barrett, who had been stuck with what was believed to be an awful gimmick at first, did such a convincing job of playing his part and doing it with flair that he became a favorite despite being booked as a heel. It was so popular that Triple H began aping it in recent weeks when he announced Barrett’s presence by saying in his mock British accent (to counter Barrett’s real one), “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you!” Fans even popped for that, because Barrett’s catchphrase was fun and sounded awesome in a British accent (even Triple H’s mediocre impression). Barrett had regained the Intercontinental Title, was riding the first well-booked run of his short career in WWE, and had finally developed a character he could run with.
This isn’t the first time that Swagger had derailed a title reign. Last year, it was his unfortunate concussing kick to Dolph Ziggler that led to creative’s decision to take the World Heavyweight Title off Ziggler, a belt he’d won with an incredible reaction the night after Wrestlemania against Alberto Del Rio. Ziggler’s career trajectory went straight south afterwards, a victim of the idea that he couldn’t be trusted to stay healthy (although rumors spread that it was his straight talk about the company in media interviews that led to his burial). Swagger’s inability to properly protect people in a match (Swagger is a great talent, but he needs to show a little more care for his opponents and not work so stiffly) should be a concern. After all, it was Vince McMahon’s anger over Mr. Kennedy’s inability to not injure people that led to his firing (apparently, injuring bad boy Randy Orton is a no-no). Swagger has been riding his own successful gimmick, which may be the only thing protecting him right now, as he’s gotten a DWI and injured two title holders in a 16-month span, yet kept his job.
There is a real concern amongst fans that Bryan and Barrett will both be knocked down the ladder because of how WWE often treats injured wrestlers these days. Even Orton was not immune, as he languished in a midcard role for months after a return from a shoulder dislocation several years ago (an injury I witnessed live at 2010’s Over the Limit). Ziggler has been buried. Barrett’s prior injuries led to his relegation to the undercard. Sheamus is still an upper-card wrestler, but is a former world title holder stuck with the rarely-defended U.S. Title (that needs to be fixed and fast) after missing six months for surgery on his labrum. The only immune person to burial is SuperCena, but I won’t even go there.
Bryan rode the hottest crowd backing since Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Austin’s neck injury didn’t keep him away from the title hunt, nor did it keep him off TV as much. I don’t know what Bryan’s medical limitations are, but putting him on TV in a non-combatant role and letting him use his natural charisma (as opposed to the awful sophomoric jokes WWE often writes for its top stars) would help keep him involved, even maybe having him interfere in matches by chairshotting the hell out of someone in a big spot. He doesn’t deserve to fall down the ladder. He’s too popular, too beloved, and the only person the crowd truly loves (as opposed to Cena, who holds the world title again and has tepid backing at best). Keeping him in a midcard role would turn off more fans who are already sick of the constant repeat winners (see: Cena, Orton).
The best possible scenario is to put the belt on someone that Bryan can run with and have outstanding matches with. While he hasn’t been around long in WWE, Cesaro would be a great fit. Him and Bryan have a long history going back to Ring of Honor, an ability to bring the best out in each other, and Bryan’s charisma vs. Paul Heyman as Cesaro’s backer would be gold. The same could be said of Brock Lesnar, whom would be a great foil for Bryan at next year’s Wrestlemania. As for Barrett, when he returns, he deserves to be put back right where he was, and in the meantime, get him back on a podium rising 50 feet in the air, taunting wrestlers and giving us some more “Bad News.”
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.