The term ‘Dream Match’ has different connotations for different people, this isn’t even a wrestling exclusive term. For years, boxing fans speculated who would win a fight between Prime Ali and Prime Tyson, or a fight between Prime Vitali and Prime Wladimir. In wrestling, the term is much more open. For some people, Jinder Mahal vs Heath Slater vs Drew McIntyre is a dream match, and no one could convince them otherwise. But some dream matches are much more unanimously discussed. In 2014, if you asked a WWE fan for a dream match, you’d get at least one person asking for Daniel Bryan vs Brock Lesnar.
And that so nearly happened. In the 2015 Royal Rumble, it seemed like Daniel Bryan was the obvious winner. He’d return from injury, win the Rumble and beat Brock at WrestleMania, in the process regaining the title that he never lost. But that wasn’t the narrative that WWE wanted to go with. Instead, Roman Reigns won that Rumble to a chorus of boos, as Daniel Bryan slumped down into the Intercontinental Title picture. WWE didn’t want the match to happen, so it didn’t happen.
You Don’t Always Get What You Want
Fast forward to Tuesday 13th November 2018. Daniel Bryan is wrestling AJ Styles for the WWE Championship, with the winner facing Brock Lesnar in five days’ time at Survivor Series. Whilst AJ Styles was great, the match with Lesnar happened last year as well. Pair that with Daniel being pushed aside for most of his comeback and most fans wanted Daniel to win the championship.
And he did, but not in the way that was expected. After AJ accidentally takes out the referee, Daniel Bryan punts AJ Styles straight in the gonads and hits him with the Knee Plus to win back the WWE Championship, turning heel in the process. The fans got what they wanted; Daniel would finally have that dream match with Brock Lesnar, but not in the way that the fans wanted. Bryan was a natural babyface. He’s one of the most likeable men in real life, and fans were behind him. How did WWE screw up that bad?
Or did they screw up? On the night of Survivor Series, no one knew what to expect from Daniel Bryan. Would he still do the Yes chants or be more aggressive? Would he become an Iraqi sympathiser? No one knew, and that was part of the magic. It built an extra layer of intrigue on top of the match.
Survivor Series 2018
18th November 2018. Main event time had come. As Daniel Bryan came out, he was met by a mixed reception. Whilst some fans embraced the new Daniel Bryan and gave him a hero’s welcome, others were unsure what to make of him. As Daniel began his Yes chant, the whole arena seemed to join in, until Bryan stopped and prowls down to the ring with a grin on his face. Then, out comes The Beast.
Brock stares down Bryan from the top of the ramp and as he approaches the ring, Daniel taunts Brock. The pair pace around the ring, with Brock following Bryan. As the match begins, Bryan goes straight for Lesnar’s knee and bails out of the ring as the game of cat and mouse continues. Bryan is in full s**thouse mode, and it’s brilliant. Bryan even mocks Lesnar’s weird jig that he does until Brock gets his hands on Bryan and German Suplexes him across the ring.
Then another suplex comes, and another, and another. Even Paul Heyman, the mastermind behind Lesnar, looks worried on the outside. Brock is, after all, throwing someone who’s had multiple neck surgeries, onto their neck. Brock dominates for 8:14 without Bryan getting any offence off, which helps the crowd get even more behind Bryan. Even though Bryan’s the heel, he’s gaining sympathy, which is crucial.
Brock goes for a second F5, which would end the match, but Bryan hits the ref on the way down, which allows him to capitalise with a low blow and a Knee Plus, which gets a very close two count. Almost everyone in that building thought Bryan had beaten Lesnar, because they saw Bryan win that exact same way five nights ago. Afterwards, Bryan hits some stiff kicks onto Brock before grabbing both of Brock’s wrists and stomping on his head, with each stomp being met with a Yes! from the crowd. With each kick, each stomp, it looks more and more likely that Daniel Bryan will beat Brock Lesnar in this dream match.
Maybe You Do Get What You Want…
Bryan goes for a suicide dive but is caught by Lesnar. Lesnar attempts to drive Bryan into the post but Bryan counters by driving Brock into the post and hitting a running knee off the apron. He goes for another, but this time Brock drives Bryan back first into the post. Brock goes for a shot with the steel steps in an attempt to get disqualified, but misses hurts himself before Bryan lands a second running knee off the apron. He rolls Brock back into the ring and hits another Knee Plus for another very close two count.
Bryan then utilizes his exceptional limb work to target Lesnar’s legs and firing up, although not in the typical Daniel Bryan way. Bryan was more aggressive than usual, which you may chalk down to him being a heel, but more likely it was due to the fact that he’s facing a legitimate threat in Brock Lesnar. Lesnar fights back and goes for an F5 but his legs give out, leading to the climax of the match.
Bryan locks in the Yes Lock. The crowd goes wild.
For a few moments, it seemed like Brock was going to tap out. Brock’s face shifted like a chameleon, from red to green to purple, as if Bryan was a python and Lesnar was an alligator. Lesnar manages to force his way out of the hold until Daniel unleashes some clubbing cross face shots to the side of Lesnar’s face and reapplies the hold. It looks as if Lesnar’s going to power out again, until Daniel transitions into a triangle choke. Ultimately, the brute force of Lesnar was too much, as he deadlifts Bryan from the triangle into an F5 for the win.
What Were You Expecting?
Think back to 2015 for a moment, and imagine what a Bryan vs Lesnar match would have been like. You’d imagine a valiant Bryan fighting an uphill battle against the powerful Lesnar. And in the end, that’s what we were given in 2018. But for some reason, it wasn’t expected to be this for the simple fact that Daniel Bryan was a heel. But why? The participants were the same and they both gave us a fantastic match, which subverted everyone’s expectations… twice.
What were your thoughts on Bryan vs Lesnar? Are there any other examples of your expectations being subverted in a positive way? Leave a comment below.