There’s a truism in wrestling that a good heel should believe that they’re justified in what they’re doing. They shouldn’t think of themselves as the bad guy, but somebody who’s willing to speak uncomfortable truths or do what needs to be done to succeed. That’s the key to Daniel Bryan’s improbable heel turn: even if you don’t believe that everything the WWE World champion says about the environment and fast food and the negative impacts of consumerism are true, you still believe that he believes it. And if you do agree with him, as anybody who knows the science should, it’s hard to root against him, no matter how smug he might be.
Bryan’s passion and sincerity have kept some of his more ridiculous storyline beats from coming off as too funny or absurd. When he cut a promo at a concession stand on Smackdown a few weeks ago, attacking customers (who were clearly played by local wrestlers or WWE Performance Center recruits) with their own food, Bryan was able to turn what could’ve been another in a long line of embarrassing WWE food fights into a legitimately exciting segment. His one-sided feud against the grotesque Royal Rumble burger that was sold at Phoenix’s Chase Field during the recent pay-per-view was hilarious, but his argument against the burger was full of facts and perfectly in keeping with Bryan’s character. He believes it—or at least seems to believe it—and that keeps his character from coming off like a one-note comedy gimmick.
After a few days of complaining about the leather strap on his WWE title belt, Bryan revealed a new belt on Smackdown last night that better fits his new mission to save the planet. It is fantastic. Made from hemp and wood from a “naturally fallen oak tree,” Bryan’s new belt is 100% sustainable, and also maybe the best looking title the company has had since retiring the iconic belts from the heyday of the Hulk Hogan era. It looks like a craft project from an artisan who really knows their stuff, with a palette of earth tones that will go well with the brown flannels and sweaters that Bryan prefers to wear.
Here’s Bryan debuting the new belt on Smackdown last night:
Bryan should’ve been the biggest face in the company after coming back from his company-mandated retirement last year, and at first it seemed unthinkable that he would turn heel. He’s made the turn work, though, by being so good at this character. He’s consistently been the best promo in WWE since the turn, and despite a weirdly disappointing match with A.J. Styles at the Rumble, he’s been the best male wrestler in the company for the last five months or so. This new belt might seem like a joke, a one-off gag to further his character, but it also could be a sign that WWE is as committed to this new Daniel Bryan as Bryan himself is. It’s rare for a champion to get a personalized belt, outside of easily swapped out side plates, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for WWE to pay for a new one only to have Bryan quickly drop the title. With that kind of support from the company it’s easy to think this current Daniel Bryan run isn’t close to wearing out its welcome. And since Bryan is pretty much telling the truth about the planet, and with such conviction, it’s easy to see him naturally winning over the crowd and being turned face again—assuming this new stable he’s building with Erick Rowan doesn’t keep him locked in as a heel over the long term.
For a closer look at the new title, check out the photos below, courtesy of WWE.com. You can see more photos at the official WWE website.