The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WrestlingINC.com or its staff.
With John Cena going on the mend for at least a couple of months, the opportunity for other stars to control the spotlight without the shadow of Cena lurking over them is present. The WWE has done a remarkable job of setting up a red-hot storyline to focus on while Cena is absent, with Triple H and the McMahon family assuming control over the WWE Championship with the freshly turned Randy Orton. Countering the evil being presented by Orton and the McMahons, is the wildly over fan favorite, Daniel Bryan.
While some would say that the WWE may have missed the boat at Summerslam, and that Daniel Bryan should have held onto the championship for more than a few minutes, the fact remains that Daniel Bryan is still in an incredibly prominent spot in the WWE, even if he doesn't hold the WWE Championship. With Cena out of the picture, Bryan is without question the number one face in the company, and he is off to slay the evil empire that is currently holding the WWE Championship.
Bryan chasing after the championship might actually be more memorable than him as champion. When you think of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, you remember his chase for the championship more then you remember Austin as the actual champion. Bryan, because he is so over with the live crowds, can be this decade's Austin, chasing after the WWE Championship.
The real star of this feud so far, has been Triple H. This is the one flaw I think so far in the booking of the storyline. Last Monday, what was billed as a coronation for the new champion, Randy Orton, turned out to be a long and lengthy speech from Triple H talking about he had seen the light and was now in cahoots with his father in law. The heat was being attracted to Triple H, when it should really be aimed at the WWE Champion, the guy that also just turned heel and the guy that will actually be in the ring with Daniel Bryan. Triple H is a really good heel, but so is Randy Orton, and going just by what we saw from Monday, the focus is more on HHH and not on Orton.
The good news is that the storyline is still in its infancy, so there is plenty of time for Orton to become that undeniable bad guy that he was for so long earlier in his career. Outside of Cena, Orton was the one man on the roster who really needed a heel turn. For a long time he was just a colorless face, someone that could get a decent pop from the audience, but was clearly hesitant in being the good guy in storylines. As a heel, Orton is simply one of the best and his psychotic character is definitely something the WWE has been missing.
Randy Orton has actually struck a great nerve with his heel turn against Daniel Bryan. The biggest problem with the truly wonderful heels over the past few years is that fans are so smart in the information age that they will cheer the great heels, because they appreciate the great talent. Sometimes the cheers overwhelm the boos and the great heel ends up turning face. This is exactly what happened with Randy Orton last time he was a heel, and it led to his mediocre face run. However, this time should be different, at least for a little while. By triumphing over Daniel Bryan, someone who is adored by the hardcore fans, Orton was able to draw the ire of those educated fans. Now Orton has heat from both the casual fans and the hardcore fans, which makes him probably the best heel in wrestling.
Another twist that was shown on Monday was the apparent affiliation of the Shield with the McMahons and Orton. The Shield have been languishing in a mid-card role over the last couple months, just taking on any assemblage of three veteran workers who had nothing else going on. As the enforcers of the McMahon/Orton faction, the Shield are going to be involved in a lot more matches towards the main event. Having the Shield be the knights for Randy Orton also is a smart move, as it keeps Orton away from harm in a lot of brawls, like the untouchable king that lets his pawns do all the work. I loved the way they booked the end of Raw last Monday, with Daniel Bryan fighting his way admirably through the Shield, only to be cut off with an RKO as soon as he got into the ring.
With all this opposition going against him, Daniel Bryan is going to need some serious backup. If Cena was healthy this would probably be his job, but since he is out, it opens the door for another face to accelerate into the spotlight. I think this is a great role for Dolph Ziggler, whose momentum has kind of stymied since he failed to recapture the World Heavyweight Championship. Ziggler is a capable face, but he needs the right storyline to make the leap to the main event. Teaming up with Bryan would be a great way to utilize Ziggler and help elevate him into a much more prominent role in the WWE.
The only thing I can see going wrong with this feud is that Daniel Bryan might never actually get the WWE Championship back from Randy Orton. It would seem like a foolish idea for Bryan to never succeed in his quest to regain the belt, but stranger things have happened. There are still a lot of backstage egos going around between Orton, Triple H and the McMahons, and with the wacky politics of professional wrestling, Bryan might just get passed over. Bryan could come up short in a few title matches and then all of sudden we have Cena or The Rock vs Randy Orton at Wrestlemania for the WWE Championship. I don't think this is likely to happen, but with the WWE, I can never rule bad booking or stupidity out of the equation.
Unlike when John Cena was champion, I am very excited to tune into Raw each week to see what is going to happen, and I think they are off to a really strong start with Randy Orton as the WWE Champion. Hopefully more heat will be directed at Orton and nobody else and that eventually Daniel Bryan will regain the title. If all that happens, I think the WWE will have one heck of a profitable storyline to look back on.