Becoming the Other
Preconceived notions can often be a damnable offense in the universe, for not all is set in stone, and not all is to be as we expect, as we dictate. Sometimes a wrench is thrown into our expectations that derails everything and we can just go with it, or crumble with it. Regardless, the world turns anyway.
When that feeling of surprise and shock permeates through the tales we drink in like fine wine, however, it can be delicious. Not always is it borne of shock value or cheap thrills. No, there is the bigger scheme that grows and grows, festering until it becomes that which is beyond our wildest dreams.
Such was the case on November 18, 2018 during WWE’s Survivor Series main event featuring Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against the newly crowned WWE Champion, Daniel Bryan, as crimson clashed with cerulean and orderly mayhem collided with chaotic brilliance.
The match itself was a predestined rematch that had no consideration for Daniel Bryan heading in. Instead, it was a rematch between The Beast Incarnate against The Phenomenal One, AJ Styles. Meanwhile, a sickness began to brew inside the heart of Daniel Bryan, boiling over through months and months of frustration, of not being at his seat, at the top of the card and of not being good enough to stay in the main event picture for long.
That’s why, on the go-home episode of SmackDown Live! before the live event, Bryan found himself in the opposite corner, juxtaposed with the stoic and charismatic champion, AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan would turn heel mid-match, and he reveled in the excessive and overwhelming adrenaline rush of taking what was his and absconding that which had made him a star, eons ago. Daniel Bryan shocked the crowd as he pinned Styles for the title belt, set to battle a force that many would not envy, for he is hungry, he is mean, and he is inevitable.
Daniel Bryan was something different, a small ember ready to turn into a widespread flame, all he needed was the right spark to be doused with the right kerosene.
Enter the match.
For the MMA and amateur styled Lesnar, this was to be one of his typical matches. Suplex, suplex, F-5, maybe another suplex and that weird little jig he does in his Jimmy John trunks. Another day at the office.
If you’ve ever seen a Daniel Bryan match with these same types of odds, you’d see it as a David vs Goliath type of story, of an underdog hero of small stature and big heart taking down a behemoth that dwarfs him, a monstrous villain in a monstrous trope.
But the troubles for each men began the moment the bell rang.
It starts with Bryan targeting the knee of Lesnar, a gesture that initially amuses The Beast, but not for long. Bryan is a disrespectful little goblin, filled with mischief and malice, a concoction that is bound to be a disaster for anyone on any other given night.
Such mockery is rewarded fully in kind by a clubbing blow to Bryan’s face. Now, this brings a grin to Lesnar’s face. It is with a gnarly suplex that Lesnar takes out his aggression. He was made a fool out of, and now Bryan must pay the piper.
Brock Lesnar starts his own chants of “Suplex City”, and nobody stops him. With the unsavory offense displayed, he repeatedly spams suplex after suplex, dragging Bryan back in for more until he’s but a lifeless ragdoll of his former self. In the most beautiful way of selling a match, Lesnar’s advocate, Paul Heyman grimaces, horrified at what Lesnar is capable of. Discomfort is wrung from his face as dominance is displayed by his client.
At this time, everyone is questioning just what the purveyor of the “Yes!” Movement had been thinking in the early proceedings of the match. For those that watched the match in real-time or in later viewing for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking Bryan was cooked like a Thanksgiving Turkey, as he is clobbered and squeezed in and out of the ring.
This is just cruelty from one human being to another; it is unfair and savage. Lesnar has no humanity, and he takes the blue brand’s champion for nothing but a joke. Of course, because the smaller they are, the weaker they are in the eyes of public perception.
In a moment of foreshadowing his later run and the events to come in the match, Bryan hangs on to the bottom rope as he recovers as Lesnar readies to rip apart this chew toy. In this facial expression, the WWE champion has a glazed look in his eyes, not just of being dismembered, but with pupils that see the now, and what is to be. What he must become now that he is on this road. In this, he is but a babe, reborn in a world of madness, and he, the savior of an ungrateful world.
Lesnar gives Daniel Bryan another F-5 and goes for a pin, which he himself breaks by intention. He’s not done, he’s miles away from it. There is no way he was going to let Daniel Bryan be okay.
That’s when it happens. That’s when the quiet crowd picks up. The unresponsive has now responded as Lesnar prepares to pick up the carcass of Daniel Bryan until the latter kicks and kicks, staggering and angering the then-UFC fighter, who sets up for another F-5, but it doesn’t take out his intended target, rather a referee. Bryan is on his feet!
A low-blow from Bryan topples the giant as the official recuperates and a running knee turns the tide, right in the middle of the match. Bryan, hungry for the lion he just tamed, goes for the pin. One! Two! Thr-No! Lesnar kicks out, just mere seconds. There is still life, and the crowd is unable to believe the unbelievable. How can you, how can you make sense of that which cannot make sense? He was done for!
The air in Los Angeles was polluted with the screams and shouts of the fans in attendance, hearts beating out of their chest for the seams are ripping apart in the fabric of our perceived reality.
The Beast has been domesticated, abused and belittled with kicks that tear apart his leg as a poetic comeback from earlier, and kicks in the face of Brock Lesnar. The man who dismantled the likes of Kurt Angle, The Rock, Goldberg, John Cena, and The Undertaker and went through his own impressive run in UFC. Bryan has shattered the facade and the armor of a being that was once thought unslayable.
Still tired through the woes of war, Bryan himself collapses himself as Paul Heyman screeches into the night, pleading with Lesnar to rise once more. There are so many times the match could’ve returned in Lesnar’s favor, but Bryan has a ready answer for any of it.
Daniel Bryan savors this, tasting on his tongue the delicacy of combat, so much so that he throws himself into the folly of his own hubris, as Lesnar gains a split second of recovery enough to slam Bryan into the ring post two consecutive times before aiming a set of steel chairs to tenderize the meat and bones of his competitor. In a flash, however, Bryan rolls out of the way, leaving Lesnar to be a victim of his own violence as his head meets the steps in an unwelcome kiss that flattens him so.
Back in the ring, Daniel Bryan sends a letter of pain to the Universal Champ with another running knee and another very close two-count. It’ll take more to topple The Beast, but this new Daniel Bryan is tenacious. Perhaps he didn’t intend to get this far, but he must test his limits. Lesnar needs to survive and gain some air. He did not anticipate this. Static characters rarely do when another player is going through their arc. The once-indomitable Lesnar is now purple in the face like Barney the Dinosaur – is there hope for him?
Daniel Bryan picks apart the larger athlete by tormenting him on the ringpost, unforgiving in the drama and uncertainty of that which no one could foresee. Daniel Bryan is on another level, ready for an incredible upset and he crushes Lesnar again and again with running knees, weakening him so much he can’t even stand for an F-5. Bryan transitions this failure into a Yes-Lock, suffocating Lesnar, who is living in nothing but fear and only knows flight. Lesnar is being violated tonight and he is so close to tapping, his hand is shaking. Could he do this?
Daniel Bryan is a chess-player while Lesnar is playing Uno, and there is no outplaying him here. A new level is unlocked in his soul, and it would take but a moment and a miracle to return Lesnar to the constant of victory.
This boon is granted, as a failed triangle hold from Bryan transforms into a successful F-5 from Lesnar, and in this moment, the referee makes the three-count, Lesnar’s knee be damned.
The crowd is deflated, but Lesnar is always the inevitable. This victory has two winners and two losers, and on the face of Brock Lesnar signifies that he never wants to be against something like this. He now respects Daniel Bryan, but he does not want the punishment that comes with someone who has something to prove and something to awaken in themselves.
Daniel Bryan would then go on to have one of the best runs of his career, Daniel Bryan or Bryan Danielson, in telling a compelling story of environmentalism, delusions of grandeur, and poetic justice against the beloved Kofi Kingston – a man Lesnar would one day face himself a year later.
This is how our expectations can be stretched into a truth we are not ready for at a moment’s notice, shattering our perceptions until they’re dust and glass. This is how you tell a story between two villains.
This was Daniel Bryan vs Brock Lesnar.