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Daniel Bryan and other champions the McMahons never wanted
In recent weeks, the bearded mug of Daniel Bryan has become the face of dissidence, defiance and nonconformity in WWE. The red-hot WWE fan favorite has captured the hearts and minds of the WWE Universe — along with many of his fellow Superstars’, as well — in his ongoing quest to regain the WWE Championship.
Bryan, however, does not have the support of WWE’s most powerful and dangerous players: The McMahon family. WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H and Executive Vice President of Creative Stephanie McMahon have seemingly done anything and everything in their power to put roadblocks in the bearded wonder’s path, paving the way for their chosen “face of WWE,” Randy Orton.
This is not the first time the McMahons presented opposition to an aspiring champion, and Bryan is not the first antiestablishment rebel to find himself crossways with sports-entertainment’s first family. With the illustrious WWE Title held in abeyance by Triple H, WWE.com takes a look at other open hostilities, bitter rivalries and contentious battles between Superstars and the McMahons — in the ring and out.
Nov. 9, 1997 stands as one of the most infamous and controversial nights in WWE history. On the eve of his departure to WCW, Bret Hart competed in his final WWE match against rival Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series. In the midst of the action, The Heartbreak Kid applied the the Hit Man’s own Sharpshooter submission on Hart, and — at WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon’s orders — referee Earl Hebner called for the bell instantly, divisively crowning a new WWE Champion.
Shocked and disgusted with the conspiratorial nature of losing his title, the Hit Man spat on and punched out his former boss and walked out of WWE. The longtime bitterness between Hart and Mr. McMahon lasted for years until they battled in a grudge match at WrestleMania XXVI, with Hart getting the redemptive win over The Chairman who “took” his title.
On Jan. 4, 1999, the most twisted of “the faces of Foley,” Mankind, shattered The Corporation’s devious plans — and all preconceptions about what a WWE Champion should be — when he defeated “The Corporate Champion,” The Rock, on Raw to claim his first WWE Title.
With an assist from the most prominent anti-Corporation Superstar, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mankind stunned Mr. McMahon and his cronies, scoring not only a rousing title triumph, but also a momentous victory for WWE in the Monday Night War with WCW. Although Rock would regain the WWE Title several weeks later at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, on this night the antithesis of a “corporate champion,” Mankind, derailed the McMahon family’s plans, proclaiming to his children and the WWE Universe, “Daddy-O did it!”
Although they are now on the same page and doing what is “best for business,” Triple H and his father-in-law Mr. McMahon have repeatedly butted heads — and more — in the past. From marrying an unconscious Stephanie McMahon mere days before her nuptials with Test to breaking every rule possible — and loving it — with D-Generation X, The Game certainly “played” The Chairman over the years in their up-and-down relationship.
It didn’t always go Triple H’s way, though. After voicing his disapproval with the champion, Mr. McMahon shocked his future son-in-law and the WWE Universe on Sept. 16, 1999, when he beat The Game for the WWE Title on SmackDown. Battered and helpless, it looked like Mr. McMahon was bound to lose the impromptu match, but a surprise beatdown at the hands of “Stone Cold” left the champion prone. Tossing The Chairman’s limp body on a downed Triple H, Austin handed Mr. McMahon his first and only reign with the greatest prize in sports-entertainment, scoring the monumental upset for the McMahon family in their rivalry with Triple H.
On July 17, 2011, The Best in the World pulled off the unthinkable in his hometown of Chicago, defeating WWE Champion John Cena on the day his WWE contract officially expired. Dropping Mr. Money in the Bank, Alberto Del Rio — summoned personally by an irate Mr. McMahon — Punk absconded with the title, holding it hostage until his unexpected WWE return several weeks later.
Although his reign would be short-lived upon his WWE homecoming, he defied Mr. McMahon and the WWE power structure, recapturing the title for his now-legendary 434-day reign, spending much of it as an outspoken thorn in his bosses’ sides.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Of all the McMahons’ enemies, none were greater, more personal and more defiant than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Before Daniel Bryan was rejecting a corporate makeover and riling up the WWE power structure, Austin was raising hell and middle fingers, defining what antiestablishment in WWE — to borrow a phrase from the Hit Man — is, was and ever will be.
The era-defining rivalry between Mr. McMahon and “Stone Cold” began in 1997 and lasted for years, punctuated by countless memorable confrontations and moments, including a wild Stunner on The Chairman at Madison Square Garden, a beer bath, a Zamboni ride and many more. All the while, Mr. McMahon tried to bring about the future WWE Hall of Famer’s ruin, using all his vast power and money to impede The Texas Rattlesnake.
Is Daniel Bryan next in line to join the list of the McMahon family’s most prominent and reviled enemies? Or, by breaking the typical mold of a WWE Superstar, has the bearded wonder simply set himself up to be broken?