Make no bones about it – the clearance of Daniel Bryan allowing him to return to a WWE ring is undisputedly the biggest wrestling news of the year. It’s possibly the biggest news since, well, his retirement. Almost universally, fans worldwide have being chanting “YES!” and conjuring up dream opponents for him to face since the monumental news broke.
But every momentous occasion has a chain reaction or, at the very least, a flip side of the coin.
Bryan may be the most over performer in the modern era and his absence left a huge void in the industry, but an even bigger one in the WWE itself; one that they have tried to fill with their chosen champion and not so much one chosen by the people. How’s that working for you, Roman?
Besides that role, there’s also the spot of the lightweight underdog universal babyface who doesn’t exactly fit management’s mold of what a star looks like; one who has traveled the world and made his name on the indies and is fully capable of tugging at an audience’s heartstrings. The WWE has a guy like that who probably has an established booking path once he makes the main roster.
That man is Johnny Gargano.
Could Bryan’s return impact a man who may have been groomed to at least fill a role he once had?
The parallels between Gargano and Bryan are a bit staggering. Besides the previously stated looks, there’s their ring style. While Bryan’s may be a bit more based in things like submission and influenced by MMA, Gargano’s seems to be more based on high impact cruiserweight action and that’s fine. While their sets have different branches, they seem to come from the same tree: a dynamic, go all-out, entertaining style.
Watching Gargano go at it in NXT, whether it was beside Ciampa or when he went solo, was never dull because he just doesn’t stop. The number of rests or lulls in both men’s offence is very limited, although one would imagine Bryan would change that up when he returns, but in his heyday, he was as explosive as can be. Gargano is right there with him. This isn’t even going into the never-say-die attitude dripping from every second they spend in the ring.
Beyond a certain style, there is looking at some of the legs of their very emotional booking. These gentlemen are two guys crowds have got behind with great ease. Whether it is how much we can relate to them or just how much we want them to succeed, the crowds don’t just enjoy these two because of their prowess or gimmick.
They emphasise something in wrestling that is hard to find and impossible to teach, and that’s getting in the audience’s heart. Bryan getting screwed out of the title for much of 2013 punched every wrestling fan in the gut. In the same way, every match for the NXT Tag Team Championship that #DIY came up short in was a stomach punch, as was their violent dissolution.
Speaking of the heart these men represent, there is even a parallel in the individuals who hold their actual hearts, that being the women in their lives. Both men have married women who aren’t just in the wrestling business, but made their names being actual wrestlers. While Brie Bella has never been praised for her in-ring prowess, it is impossible to deny her involvement in the emotional Daniel Bryan story.
The fact that Bryan couldn’t say her name in his return speech without tearing up was testament to this. Others have penned their thanks to Brie herself. Likewise, while she is still a fresh face on NXT TV, Candace LeRae is deeply woven into the fabric of the Johnny Gargano character and cannot be separated. She’s not afraid to help her husband reach his goals and that just creates an even deeper emotional connection across the audience.
With all these elements combined, it isn’t hard to see how Gargano’s relationship with the audience could parallel the one with Bryan. With a connection like that, the main roster booking should use this connection to the utmost level. But with Bryan’s earth-shattering return, could that impact the way Gargano makes his way once he’s called up?
This isn’t to say this was all intentional and concocted by the ‘E. That would be giving WWE too much credit; this is just who these two men are and it creates something serendipitous. This also isn’t to say Gargano isn’t his own man – he absolutely is. If there’s one thing Johnny Wrestling has that Daniel Bryan doesn’t, it’s actually a five-star match from the weird old guy in town who sells the dirt, Dave Meltzer.
Of course, stars are completely subjective, but perhaps the idea of what it represents is enough. The fact that Gargano has his own distinctions might be enough to cast him out of the shadow that Bryan may have cast over guys like him.
While NXT is absolutely phenomenal, it is no secret that virtually everyone not named Charlotte Flair (and maybe Finn Bálor?) have been mishandled in some way upon their main roster call-up. But the success of Bryan is perhaps as much a beacon of hope as it is a cursed seal. Can Gargano be seen enough as his own version of the guy that broke through on his own? Or is he doomed to be seen by some, particularly management, as just a D-Bryan lite, which will do him no favours with copy-paste booking?
An idea like this does not have a “Yes!/No!” answer.
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