WWE fans are abuzz about the future of Daniel Bryan after the lovable legend lost a Universal title match to Roman Reigns on this week’s SmackDown that resulted in the former world champion being being banished from the blue brand.
Where Bryan goes from here is anyone’s guess, really. Arguably the most popular star of WWE’s modern era, Bryan’s WWE contract will end soon, though not in September as many popular theories have speculated, and Bryan himself has consistently reiterated that he isn’t sure how much longer he will be a full-time performer or what his future in pro wrestling holds.
Bryan’s Universal title match loss to Reigns only further complicates matters, too.
A staple of WWE for the past decade, Bryan has long been one of the most important performers on SmackDown, having worked in a major on-screen role on the show since 2016, and especially in recent months, he’s demonstrated that he has plenty of gas left in the tank and a lot left to contribute to the pro wrestling industry as an in-ring performer.
The only real question is: Where will he do that? Here are the three best ways WWE can utilize Bryan moving forward if he ultimately remains with the company.
Move Him To Monday Night Raw
This is the easy option, and arguably, the least intriguing one.
Raw has a reputation of being a poorly booked show, especially in comparison to SmackDown, and that’s certainly not a stretch, a reality that Bryan could potentially change. The red brand is also sorely lacking in terms of top babyfaces outside of guys like Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman, with the latter frequently being plagued by questionable creative decisions. So, moving Bryan to Monday nights—where he first rose to the top of WWE seven years ago—is perhaps the most obvious potential path for Bryan, who would instantly give the show a huge star power boost and a massive upgrade to the babyface side of the roster.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se, either, and Bryan could work with the likes of McIntyre, Bobby Lashley, Randy Orton, AJ Styles and other top stars there. Thus, Raw remains the likeliest destination for Bryan in WWE, and while Monday nights would be much better with him there, a jump to Raw remains far less intriguing than other options for Bryan.
Send Him To NXT
WWE utilizing high-profile main roster talent on its third brand, NXT, is nothing new. Charlotte Flair had an extended run there last year while Finn Balor has been moved there permanently.
Of course, a big reason why WWE used top stars like Flair on the yellow brand was to try to win its ratings war with AEW Dynamite. That didn’t happen, and NXT doesn’t even air on the same night as AEW anymore, meaning NXT is under less pressure following its move to Tuesday nights. But that doesn’t mean NXT—which has felt a lot less special in 2021 than it did in its heyday—should pump the brakes on revamping and improving its roster, so why not bring in an elite act like Bryan?
In November 2019, WWE fans got a taste of an NXT version of Bryan when he battled Adam Cole in a dream match for indie wrestling and diehard WWE fans, and well, it was good, as most fans would expect. Now, there’s little doubt that even more salivating matches potentially await Bryan in NXT, with the likes of Balor, Johnny Gargano and Pete Dunne among the potential dream opponents for Bryan there.
Bryan hasn’t been shy about his desire to wrestle NXT main eventers like Dunne and Kyle O’Reilly, and if WWE is intent on keeping Bryan around while also granting some of his wishes (as it should be), a move to NXT is an exciting change of pace that would put more eyes on NXT and establish Bryan as a centerpiece of a brand he’s tailor made for.
Let Him Wrestle Outside Of WWE, Too
Here’s what Bryan said at a WrestleMania 37 meet-and-greet (h/t Fightful) earlier this year in regards to what he wants to do in the future: “My contract is up soon. We need to figure out what’s a good balance between home life and wrestling. I never want to stop wrestling, I love it, it’s just figuring that out…It’d be interesting if I could wrestle in different companies and WWE. That’s something I’m trying to weasel my way into right now.”
Bryan has been adamant not only about wanting to wrestle for a very long time but to do so for companies outside of WWE. Of course, WWE is notoriously protective of its superstars and its intellectual property, so this one seems like a long shot. But with AEW, Impact and New Japan Pro-Wrestling among the companies that have established working relationships with other major promotions, this is something WWE should seriously consider.
In fact, WWE is reportedly in talks with MLW about doing exactly that, and it’s about time that the company considers opening up that “forbidden door” not just to its developmental talents but to its top stars, like Bryan, as well. Former WWE star Sean “X-Pac” Waltman believes that WWE would be wise to let Bryan work for outside companies, and this is a potential win-win scenario that would reward Bryan for his hard work, help MLW gain more exposure and endear WWE to diehard fans who believe the company is unwilling to work with other organizations.
And, at the very least, wouldn’t it better for WWE to have Bryan wrestle for the company on a part-time basis (and also wrestle elsewhere) than to see him leave altogether for AEW or another top company?