There can be no surer sign that Daniel Bryan is truly considered a B+ player than his treatment since his return from injury. Although his return to the ring was announced and advertised, the match was scheduled for Smackdown. This begs the question; why would the return of Daniel Bryan, the former World Heavyweight Champion, the champion that never lost his title, the champion that won that honor after beating Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton all in one night at Wrestlemania XXX - why would the return of the crowd favorite be relegated to the B-show?
This is not to disparage the Smackdown brand - anyone that enjoys WWE programming no doubt has reason to tune in and watch. The bottom-line is that the ratings for Smackdown are considerably lower than those for RAW. So, was the return of Daniel Bryan pushed to Smackdown to try to boost ratings, or was it done to hide Daniel Bryan from the mainstream WWE audience which only watches RAW?
One can hope for the former, but my money is on the latter. Subsequent treatment of Daniel Bryan seemed to only confirm this sentiment. He went into the Royal Rumble as one of the odds-on fan favorites. There was little hope to believe that Bryan would go on to win, however, with reports of Roman Reigns winning the Rumble leaking online as early as July of 2014 - six months before the event. Bryan was the tenth entrant into the Rumble match, and was eliminated early. Why? To distance him from the intended winner, Roman Reigns, who did not even enter into the match until several entrants after Bryan's elimination.
Unlike the 2014 Royal Rumble match, in which Daniel Bryan was not featured, WWE tried to show the audience that Daniel Bryan had gotten his fair chance and had been eliminated. I can appreciate them tipping their hand to the audience in this way, but it is an empty gesture when the product is scripted. The obviousness of how Roman Reigns was protected - to the point of having the Rock come out in an attempt to control and create a positive crowd reaction - only made the result of the Rumble match that much more flat.
Post-Rumble, I predict that the future of Daniel Bryan depends entirely on the continued support of the WWE Universe. The pro-Bryan movement was hampered by the blizzard which canceled the live taping of RAW the night after the Royal Rumble. These peculiar circumstances allowed the WWE to further the Roman Reigns storyline without a live crowd to offer feedback. It was hoped, no doubt, that the week off would allow the audience to cool on Daniel Bryan. Despite this, the positive reaction to Bryan has remained strong - strong enough, it seems, for Roman Reigns to defend his WrestleMania title shot against Bryan at the upcoming Fast Lane event.
It is my suspicion that the match at Fast Lane was pitched as a way of showing audiences that Daniel Bryan has once again had his fair chances and that he simply isn't good enough to compete for the title at WrestleMania. I imagine that it was proposed that Bryan and Reigns would have a hard fought battle and, after Reigns emerged victorious, Bryan would lift Reigns' arm in a symbolic passing of the torch. The problem? This is a complete replay of the Royal Rumble aftermath, but with the Rock replaced by Daniel Bryan.
This is decent storytelling, in theory, but again gives no credit to those most-vocal members of the audience that knows the product is scripted. Instead, it only cements the view that Daniel Bryan - the man, not the character - is being held back by management. Such an outcome at Fast Lane would only boost the pro-Bryan movement and direct more heat towards Reigns. This would be an extremely counter-productive move in the near-term, particularly if the company truly believes that Reigns is the long-term, future face of the company.