Daniel Bryan Can Save the Intercontinental Championship, and the Intercontinental Championship Can Save Daniel Bryan
The mistreatment of both Daniel Bryan and the WWE mid-card titles are recurring topics of lamentation among Internet wrestling fans. With this week’s Smackdown in the books, it looks like there may be a plan in place to kill two birds with one stone and give the seemingly directionless a direction at long last.

On this week’s episode of Smackdown, Daniel Bryan starts the show by saying that the Yes! Movement is alive and well despite his loss at Fastlane. He is about to announce his plans for Wrestlemania when he is cut off by none other than Intercontinental Champion/perennial loser Wade Barrett. Barrett says that losers don’t deserve spots on the card at Wrestlemania (o, irony of ironies!), and the segment eventually devolves into a shmozz. At some point during the fracas, Bryan steals the IC Championship belt just long enough to stare at it longingly, ultimately handing it back to Barrett, only for it to be stolen again by Ambrose, only for Barrett to steal it back during Ambrose’s match, only for Truth to steal it in order to give it back to Ambrose. Joyous!

Somewhere amid the constant swapping of the belt (which is a funny little analogue for how the thing has been treated for the last several years), Bryan and Barrett have a match, which Barrett loses clean (as perennial losers are wont to do). Given that Barrett has now lost on THREE CONSECUTIVE TELEVISION SHOWS (!!), I suppose that means he doesn’t get a match at Wrestlemania if we employ his own brand of logic.

In any case, we now have Daniel Bryan stepping full force into the Intercontinental Championship picture and likely competing in a multi-man ladder match. If this isn’t the direction they’re taking with the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, it’s the direction they should take, because it might actually be the absolute best idea the company has going into Wrestlemania. (Not to mention, it’s a much better idea than Sheamus/Bryan III.)

For years, we have wondered aloud when WWE would reinvest in the Intercontinental Championship. Champions have come and gone with their promises to return the once-proud title to its former glory, but with outcomes as dreadful as that of the Ambrose/Barrett match at Fastlane, it seems to many like WWE has done absolutely everything possible to kill the belt.

In his post-Fastlane commentary, Dave Meltzer’s discussion of Daniel Bryan’s status as a main eventer sounded more like a eulogy. The fact is, WWE (read: Vince McMahon) will never see a guy like Bryan as a main event talent, and so the hope that we might one day see Bryan get a convincing run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is very much a fool’s errand.

Taking Daniel Bryan—arguably the most over guy on the entire roster—and putting him in the hunt for the Intercontinental Championship could wind up resurrecting both in the process. If done properly (and that’s a big if), this could be the smartest move WWE has made in a long while.

The belt-stealing bit has to go. Bryan can have a town hall meeting on Monday in which he talks up the prestige of the Intercontinental Championship and says that the man to hold it should have earned it. Bryan should make this convincing enough that even the goofy whackjob Ambrose will concede, and the chase will begin.

Another thing: these guys all need to stop losing yesterday. For as much as people want to like Ambrose and Ziggler, nobody will seriously buy into them if they keep losing matches. WWE has a deep enough roster that these guys can spend the next four weeks beating people and looking strong. Let them each build up momentum and come into Wrestlemania on hot streaks. WWE has very nearly killed these guys to the point of irrelevance, so they need to hit the reset button on them immediately and get them back to square one.

Daniel Bryan should get across the idea that he doesn’t see going for the Intercontinental Championship as a step down. Rather, he can see it as a lateral step and another way forward. In many respects, it should be.

If this is indeed Daniel Bryan’s Wrestlemania direction, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if it was, at least in part, his idea. Raising the caliber of the Intercontinental Championship is perhaps the biggest challenge in the company (apart from, apparently, getting your next top babyface over with the audience), and Bryan—though he claims himself to be a not-terribly-ambitious man—may well want to take that ball and run with it. Bryan is smart, after all; he’s a student of the game through and through, so it’s entirely possible that he sees what Shinsuke Nakamura has done with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and said “I want to do that here.” And if anybody could do something in WWE tantamount to what Nakamura has done in NJPW, it’s Daniel Bryan.

This could all lead to a really interesting stretch if (again, BIG IF) it’s done right. John Cena’s feud with Rusev for the U.S. Title is the best thing going in WWE right now. It’s prototypical (no pun intended) wrestling booking—smiley American babyface against devious Russian heel—and goddamn if it isn’t working to great effect.

Let’s imagine a world where John Cena overcomes the odds once again and beats Rusev for the United States Championship at Wrestlemania. In this same world, Daniel Bryan tops Wade Barrett, Dean Ambrose, R-Truth, and maybe Dolph Ziggler and wins the Intercontinental Championship in a show-stealing, high-intensity match. Suddenly, the two most prominent faces in the company are both holding mid-card titles and treating them as if they matter.

Let’s not stop there. For the four months that follow, Cena can fend off guys like Rusev and Sheamus while Bryan has great matches with Ziggler and Ambrose. Everything can come to a head at Summerslam when Bryan and Cena face off in a unification bout. Bryan/Cena is still a money match, and putting it in the spotlight at the third biggest show of the year will only elevate the unified mid-card belt that much more.

If you want to extrapolate even further, you can have the winner of that match hold onto the belt until Mania, where they get one of the top spots on the card against a guy that the company wants to elevate to main event status. Somebody like Ambrose or Rollins. Perhaps a guy like Sami Zayn or Finn Balor. Just imagine Daniel Bryan facing Finn Balor for the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania 32 and try not to get goosebumps.

Of course, if history proves anything, we know that nothing is finalized until bell time at Wrestlemania. For all we know, it could just be a throwaway instance of Bryan getting involved in something because creative simply had nothing better for him to do—this certainly wouldn’t be the first time that something like this has happened. We might all still just get that Sheamus/Bryan rematch that almost nobody has been asking for.

But maybe—just maybe—we’ll get a show-stealing match that ends with Daniel Bryan standing high above the ring on a ladder and hoisting a once-coveted title above his head. He will lead the crowd—one that has been so desperate to see him treated like the star that they believe him to be—in that old familiar refrain, and in that moment, a man and a championship will have a fresh start. After all, what better way to take a B+ belt and turn it into an A+ championship than to put it around the waist of a legitimate A+ performer?

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.