The Wrestling Observer reported Thursday that Daniel Bryan is the planned opponent for Roman Reigns at SummerSlam, pitting the two most talked about WWE stars of the past 5 years against one another. Fan perception of the two men could not be more different: since late 2014, fans have felt Reigns' rise to the top of WWE was forced by the powers that be while they feel that Daniel Bryan's rise to the top was organic. Fans felt that Daniel Bryan was more relatable due to his size and uphill battle to be the face of a global company while Roman's good looks, size, and last name were perceived as unrelatable. WWE even went so far as to turn down the volume on the crowd microphones for TV broadcasts so that fans at home wouldn't realize how much Reigns was booed when he entered the arena.
These two men have been linked since Roman's first match on the main roster and although they have only faced each other a few times in the ring, their careers will forever be linked. Here's a look at the key matches between the two men and how their work inside the ring together evolved. This should give us a clue as to what to watch for in their upcoming feud which hopefully will be a long one.
The SHIELD vs. Team Hell No & Ryback
The SHIELD debuted at Survivor Series by attacking Ryback to prevent him from winning CM Punk's WWE Championship. The SHIELD set their sights on Team Hell No a couple weeks later on RAW leading to them being booked for their first match at TLC. The SHIELD dominated the match by working as a cohesive unit, targeting each individual opponent in three on one beatdowns. Reigns served as the muscle for The SHIELD and used his strength on Daniel Bryan, the smallest man on his team. The two were never in a one on one situation in this match, but the two worked well together in their brief interactions throughout the match. Reigns used his power on Bryan and Bryan used his speed, agility, and technical prowess to outmaneuver Reigns. Bryan's highlight of the match was bravely taking down the all three members of the SHIELD with a suicide dive before the three men recovered and worked together to punish him. Reigns' highlight of the night was powerbombing Daniel Bryan through a table and pinning him to pick up the first win of many for The SHIELD.
Daniel Bryan and Kane would face The SHIELD on house shows for a majority of the first half of 2013, but the two teams would be kept apart on TV until The SHIELD attacked Undertaker on the RAW after WrestleMania 29. Team Hell No would come to the aid of the dead man setting up their first televised meeting in 4 months on RAW in London.
The SHIELD vs. Team Hell No & The Undertaker
RAW April 22, 2013
The SHIELD jumped Undertaker before his teammates could enter. Roman and Daniel Bryan got to face each other briefly with Roman taking a running dropkick in the corner from Bryan. Reigns got to beat on Bryan a bit during the commercial break, managing to hook Bryan into a headlock before delivering some hard forearms to Bryan's back. Bryan was able to escape a splash in the corner from an overzealous Roman Reigns before tagging in Undertaker for the hot tag. When The SHIELD was able to get momentum back, Reigns got his highlight of the match by Spearing The Undertaker for the first time in Reigns' career. Bryan would get surprised by a roll-up from Dean Ambrose to lose the match for his team.
With Reigns being the only member of The SHIELD to hit his finisher on The Undertaker, it's clear that WWE had big plans for the muscle of The SHIELD. Daniel Bryan taking this loss helped his career trajectory as well since it began the growing storyline that Daniel Bryan felt he needed to prove to himself and the world that he is not the "weak link" in Team Hell No.
The SHIELD vs. Team Hell No & John Cena
Six-Man Tag Team Elimination Match
RAW April 29 & May 6, 2013
With The SHIELD set to face Team Hell No for the tag team titles at Extreme Rules, Team Hell No partnered with John Cena to take on The SHIELD in an attempt to give The SHIELD their first loss in WWE. Reigns finally got his hands on Bryan late in the match, locking in a headlock on Bryan much like their previous meeting but when Bryan attempted his comeback, Reigns was able to catch him with a Samoan drop. Reigns' overzealousness would come into play as he would miss a Spear on Bryan, landing to the outside as Bryan tagged Cena for the hot tag - much like he did with The Undertaker in the week prior. Reigns was able to hit a distracted John Cena with the Spear and pin him for the win. This showed to everyone that Roman's Spear is powerful enough to take down the most powerful Superstar in WWE. Bryan's story wasn't advanced in this match but the two teams would meet again the next week on RAW.
In their rematch the next week on RAW, Roman got to beat on Bryan after Bryan got softened up by Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in The SHIELD's corner. Reigns locked Bryan in a headlock similar to the one he applied in previous matches, Reigns was ready for Bryan's comeback like he was in the previous match. Bryan was able to eventually tag out when he escaped Dean Ambrose. Daniel Bryan eventually got eliminated from the match by Ambrose. Reigns got himself eliminated from the match by shoving the referee but he managed to hit John Cena with a spear like he did to The Undertaker a week prior.
With Reigns hitting his finisher on two of the WWE's biggest stars, Daniel Bryan continued his losing ways. A bright spot in these matches was Bryan's chemistry with Seth Rollins. In spite of WWE's clear plans for Roman Reigns, Rollins & Bryan were delivering some of the most exciting wrestling on TV in the brief moments they would face off.
The SHIELD vs Team Hell No
Tornado Tag Match for WWE Tag Team Championships
Extreme Rules 2013
After celebrating Dean Ambrose's US Title win earlier in the night, Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins faced Team Hell No in a Tornado Tag Match. Bryan was able to land a suicide dive on The SHIELD and shared in punishing The SHIELD with his partner, Kane. Bryan was able to land all his signature moves in this match but Reigns looked incredibly powerful throughout. Bryan was able to lock Reigns in the No Lock before Rollins could make the save. Bryan landed his signature kicks on Reigns before Reigns would reverse the final kick into a slingshot into Rollins. Rollins would drop a knee from the top rope onto Bryan while Reigns covered him for The SHIELD's first tag team championship win.
The SHIELD now had every member with a championship belt while Daniel Bryan had taken the loss for every Team Hell No match. In spite of taking all the pins for the team, Daniel Bryan was ascending to major fan favorite status. Fans would loudly cheer for Bryan throughout matches in spite of his losing. Whether it was his athleticism, his beard, his small stature, or his intensity, fans loved Daniel Bryan.
After this loss, Daniel Bryan became obsessed with proving that he wasn't the weak link in Team Hell No. This overzealousness would lead to another loss the next night on RAW in a six-man tag team match where Team Hell No partnered with Kofi Kingston and another loss in Team Hell No's rematch for the WWE Tag Team Titles. Team Hell No then partnered with Randy Orton to try to defeat The SHIELD. Daniel Bryan was able to hand The SHIELD their first loss by pinning Seth Rollins in a singles match while Randy Orton & Roman Reigns looked on. Bryan and Orton would challenge the next week at Payback 2013
The SHIELD (c) vs. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
With Team Hell No separated by Vikki Guererro, Bryan teamed with Orton to challenge The SHIELD in an attempt to become tag team champion once again. Reigns locked Bryan in a headlock to start their conflict again. Bryan came back but once again found himself in Roman Reigns signature headlock. Bryan finally broke the headlock and took the future Big Dog down with a jumping clothesline before tagging in Orton. After Bryan was tagged back into the match, he mistakenly dove into his partner taking Orton out for a period of time. Reigns was able to spear Bryan before getting RKO'd by Orton but Rollins followed with a Curb Stomp on Bryan to finish him off.
Bryan's frustration with Orton led to a feud between the two that would lead to Bryan becoming WWE Champion and Orton betraying him to cash in his Money In The Bank contract. The SHIELD would remain dominant and shift their alliance to working with Triple H & Orton to keep Daniel Bryan away from the championship at all costs. They beat Bryan down in a gauntlet match but Reigns and Bryan wouldn't face each other in singles competition until September 16th.
Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan
RAW September 16, 2013
After winning WWE Championship the previous night at Night Of Champions, Daniel Bryan was stripped of the championship by Triple H after he forced referee Scott Armstrong to admit he made a fast count to hand Bryan the title. Bryan entered with the WWE Universe and locker room cheering him on loudly. Bryan channeled his frustration to overpower and outmaneuver Reigns. Bryan kicked, twisted, and turned Reigns legs to immobilize him. We heard Roman Reigns scream in agony for the first time in this match as he clutched his leg while Bryan caught it in an Indian Death Lock. Reigns was able to turn things around by whipping Bryan, chest first, into the turnbuckle. Reigns locked Bryan in that ineffective headlock he loved to use before Bryan broke free and got his momentum back. Reigns was able to execute two vertical suplexes on Bryan before hooking him into another headlock once again. Bryan broke free before Reigns could turn the tables once more with his power. Both men exchanged signature moves and momentum with a hot crowd cheering on the action. Bryan eventually won the match via disqualification when Randy Orton attacked him as he had Reigns locked in the Yes Lock.
Reigns and Bryan had very good chemistry in spite of Reigns lack of experience. Their match wasn't nearly as good as Bryan's with Rollins, but it was still a very good match and an early preview of what Roman Reigns could become. The two men would be kept separate as they went on to other feuds but would become linked due to events outside the ring.
Daniel Bryan would win the WWE Championship in one of the greatest WrestleMania performances in history when he defeated Triple H and then Randy Orton & Batista all in one night at WrestleMania XXX. Bryan would be forced to drop the belt soon after due to injury and would be off WWE TV until January 2015.
Roman Reigns would set a record for most eliminations in a Royal Rumble match in a losing effort at the 2014 Royal Rumble. Reigns eventually was betrayed by Seth Rollins as Rollins aligned with Triple H and The Authority in a move to become WWE Champion. Reigns would develop a hernia and be out of action from September until December. Reigns' good looks, cool persona, & Royal Rumble record earned him the "Superstar of the Year" honor at the Slammy Awards in 2014 before feuding with The Big Show.
Royal Rumble 2015
Daniel Bryan entered the match 10th and was eliminated fairly quickly by Bray Wyatt. The fans were furious to see their returning hero dismissed so frivolously while Reigns dominated the match. Reigns entered 19th and eliminated the last three competitors to win the Royal Rumble to a chorus of boos. The fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win and not Roman Reigns. WWE even flew in The Rock to raise Roman's hand after the victory so that the fans would like Reigns even more, this was a colossal failure and you could see it all over The Rock's face. The WWE just didn't understand how much the fans loved Daniel Bryan. The fans felt ignored by WWE and took out their frustration on Roman Reigns. Reigns would be booed vociferously by fans for every match for the next 3 years.
WWE could no longer ignore the fact that the fans wanted Bryan in the main event of WrestleMania 31, so they booked a match between Reigns and Bryan at WWE Fastlane with the winner getting the opportunity to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31 for the WWE Championship
Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan
Winner gets to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31
"You're bigger than me, you're stronger than me, but the reality is: I am the better wrestler than you." Daniel Bryan's words echoed the feelings of the WWE Universe. The reality of the situation was that Reigns was going to face Lesnar no matter what and this match with Bryan would be an opportunity for Bryan to help get over the new top babyface in WWE while planting the seeds for a future feud between the two.
The match started with a classic collar and elbow tie-up. Bryan got the better of the first three lock ups (the third being a knuckle lock) before cinching Reigns in a standing headlock. Reigns eventually powered out and knocked the former champ to the mat with a shoulder block. Bryan and Reigns would trade momentum with Bryan eventually returning to work on Reigns' legs as he did so successfully in their previous singles match a year and a half ago. Reigns had grown immensely since then and was able to use his power to escape. Reigns had a full arsenal of signature moves and strikes and abandoned the headlock that he relied upon so often when facing Bryan. Reigns managed to powerbomb Bryan from the top rope, but Bryan was able to kick out and continue. Bryan returned the favor by delivering a tear drop suplex from the top rope on Reigns before locking him in the Yes Lock. Reigns grabbed the bottom rope to break the hold.
The fans chanted "This is awesome!" for the first time ever in a Roman Reigns singles match. Bryan put Reigns in more danger than he had ever been in on television before. Reigns showcased his power when he managed to power out of a Yes Lock and a subsequent triangle choke hold much to the fans' dismay. Reigns won the match by catching Bryan with a Spear as Bryan attempted his finisher, the Busaiku Knee Strike. This match became a blueprint for how Roman Reigns overcomes adversity in a wrestling match. Although the fans booed Roman's victory, they didn't boo this match. Bryan told Reigns after the match "You better kick [Brock's] ass." before shaking Reigns' hand and exiting the ring.
WWE could feel that the fans weren't fully behind Reigns and changed the finish of WrestleMania 31 to a surprise cash-in of Seth Rollins' Money In The Bank contract. Reigns eventually became champion and eventually beat Brock Lesnar but the fans just never could get fully behind him.
Daniel Bryan was forced to retire due to injuries shortly after WrestleMania 31 but shocked the world when he returned to active competition in 2018. Bryan returned as a hero but turned heel when he won the WWE Championship from AJ Styles. Bryan subsequently faced Brock Lesnar in a fantastic losing effort.
2019 has seen big changes in fan perception for both men. Reigns is now cheered since he opened up to fans about his real life struggle overcoming Leukemia while Bryan turned heel and has played his role well in spite of fans still liking the man behind the character. Bryan has portrayed his heel persona so well that he was able to help launch Kofi Kingston's career into another echelon as WWE Champion. Kofi is a fantastic wrestler and one of the very few pure babyface characters in WWE but in order for a hero to truly be over, they need a great villain to make the audience care.
It looks like WWE is looking to see if Bryan can work his magic at SummerSlam on Roman Reigns. Reigns makes his big screen debut this weekend in Hobbs & Shaw and is likely going to be the top face of SmackDown when it debuts on FOX in October. We can expect Bryan to deliver hard strikes to Reigns, challenge his ability to escape holds, work Reigns' legs, and maybe even get Reigns to scream in pain once more. Reigns will likely overcome this because that's what Roman does: he overcomes. Roman Reigns has firmly established his character in WWE as someone who overcomes all obstacles but in order for the fans to care, Daniel Bryan is going to have to be presented as someone that can defeat Roman Reigns. The only person to defeat Reigns since his return from injury has been Shane McMahon and he did it with the help of Drew McIntyre. This feud is an opportunity for Reigns to showcase his wrestling ability and rise up to become the hero he was meant to be and Daniel Bryan is very likely the best person to help him get there.