So yesterday, a tweet was sent out from the account of WWE’s Daniel Bryan. It read as follows:
Due to medical reasons, effective immediately, I am announcing my retirement. Tonight on Raw, I’ll have a chance to elaborate.
It’s kinda been the elephant in the room for the last few months as after being the conquering underdog hero at WrestleMania XXX, almost two years ago now, then going out with a nerve injury only a couple months afterwards. He made a return to action at last year’s Royal Rumble, made the run to WrestleMania 31, where he won the Intercontinental Title in a ladder match and was set to start to rebuild the perceived value of that title following WrestleMania, only he didn’t. He suffered a concussion and ended up having to forfeit the title, and has been out of action ever since. There have been numerous news reports about how he has been cleared by doctors to return to action, however WWE’s doctors have not cleared him and he remained on the sidelines. I’ve read about how he’s been working with Vince McMahon and WWE about finding something else for him to do for the company as it seemed the WWE wasn’t going to be clearing him for a return anytime soon. Then, a story broke about how Daniel Bryan reportedly was seen in Pittsburgh, PA…where the WWE’s doctors are located. (When WWE sends new hires for physicals or injured superstars to be checked out before returning, they’re sent to their doctors in Pittsburgh) So just as we were all getting our hopes up, that’s when said tweet was made.
For the sake of simplicity, the guy I’ll be writing about in this blog will be referred to in this writing only as Daniel Bryan. We all know his real name as being Bryan Danielson, as that’s what he wrestled under on the independents prior to making the jump to WWE. But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll simply be referring to him here as either Daniel Bryan or DB.
I’m not gonna lie, Daniel Bryan really didn’t enter my scope on the world of Professional Wrestling until he entered WWE. I mean sure, I’d heard of him and all the amazing matches he had in Ring of Honor and everywhere else on the independents, and I have to admit that one time, when WWE had announced on an episode of Monday Night Raw that they had signed “the hottest free agent on the market” my first thoughts were of The American Dragon. That wasn’t the case at the time, and once again I was crushed.
But we did finally get to see Daniel Bryan in WWE when he was signed prior to the debut episode of NXT on the SciFi Network. Let me be clear here, THAT tv show and what we watch on a weekly basis on the WWE Network are NOTHING like one another. The former was a competition show, much like a Tough Enough, where guys were competing for a spot in WWE, whereas the latter is a large part of the WWE developmental system that happens to air a weekly wrestling show on the WWE Network.
The debut episode of NXT on SciFi paired “rookies” with WWE Superstars as mentors. To call DB a rookie was such a slap in the face to most internet wrestling fans who knew all about the guy who had been having amazing hour-long matches, putting on better shows on a nightly basis than ANYONE WWE was feeding to us each week. To make that slap in the face sting even more was the fact that Daniel’s “mentor” was The Miz. Added to this was that in the opening segment, a shot of all the prospective superstars (Wade Barrett, Skip Sheffield — better known now as Ryback, Heath Slater, Darren Young and a few others) backstage, ALL of the other guys TOWERED over Daniel Bryan. We all know how Vince McMahon has his prototype of what he likes his guys to look like, how they all need to be larger than life, big muscled up goons who go out on national tv in spandex and fake fight eachother. So right out of the gate, it was more than obvious that the crowd of internet hardcore wrestling fans were being shown “See, he’s LITTLE!”
What Vince & Company didn’t know is that that “little” guy could make him MILLIONS!
In Daniel’s book, he tells a story about how everyone in WWE is given a personality test and how usually the results all come back somewhat alike. About how everyone who has made it to WWE has this overwhelming drive to be the best, how they have big egos about themselves and how they are so motivated to overcome all adversity. The strangest thing happened with his test though, the results that his test returned were NOTHING like the prototypical WWE Superstar. He was much more of a personality who was just happy to be there, would go with the flow and wouldn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Which explains how he got there…it wasn’t by pushing and bashing down the door, he simply went out there, honed his craft and just put on the greatest show night in & night out on the independents while building up such a following among internet wrestling fans that WWE had to take notice of this guy who’s name kept coming up in discussions of who they should go after. Of course it didn’t hurt that he was originally trained by a WWE Legend who had previously earned the moniker of “Mr. WrestleMania”, Shawn Michaels, or that he had also been mentored by William Regal, a close confidant of Vince McMahon’s son-in-law, Paul “Triple H” Levesque. But the results of this test will explain some of what will happen to and around Daniel Bryan later on in this story.
As the story goes, his first match in the company on the debut episode of NXT was a terrific one against Chris Jericho. Jericho, for as much as I’ve railed against him in recent episodes of The Marking Out Podcast, is an excellent judge of talent and has a ton of experience from wrestling around the world over the course of the last 25+ years. After that match, he walked to the back, right up to Vince McMahon and told him “That kid’s gonna be a star!” to which McMahon replied “Him? He doesn’t even eat meat!” And sadly, that seems to be the way McMahon judges talent these days.
Daniel ended up coming in second on the NXT show, losing to Wade Barrett. However, when Barrett made his main roster debut, he brought all the members from that first season of NXT with him and formed a group called The Nexus. They interfered in a match for the WWE Championship during the main event of Raw, attacked both CM Punk and John Cena, chased off the commentators, started to take apart the ring and in what I feel was one of the greatest visuals of the night, DB had ripped the shirt off of ring announcer, Justin Roberts and was choking him with his own tie. The Nexus members were instructed to go down to ringside and just create havoc and from what I’ve read, a lot of the people down at ringside that night knew nothing of this. Vince wanted peoples’ reactions on tv to be as real as possible. Michael Cole hopped the rail and ran out from the commentary table. After choking out the ring announcer, John Cena was the next target. While being held down, DB slapped him in the face, spit in his face and yelled at him “You think you’re better than me??” It was a holy shit moment if there ever was one. That was one of the nights where being a wrestling fan was a really cool thing to be.
Unfortunately following that night, WWE ended up releasing Daniel Bryan due to the graphic nature of his attack on Justin Roberts, saying that he was “too violent.” So DB was out of WWE and back to the independents. He took it in stride and just went right back to what he was doing before. Immediately, I knew I needed to go see this guy do what I had only read about previously online. Along with setting up indy bookings, he also got to work on a tshirt in the design of the Obamicon (a tri-color design of a picture of presidential candidate, Barack Obama with one single word underneath: Hope) Daniel’s version of this logo would have his picture with “Violent” under it. He would have them made and mail them each out himself to those who bought them from his site. I immediately knew I needed one of these, so I jumped right on it.
So when he was booked for an Evolve show in Rahway, New Jersey, I knew I had to get tickets to go! Once we got tickets, a few weeks later, it was reported online that he had been resigned by WWE and would be finishing out his indy bookings before returning to the company. A couple of friends and I got to witness the whole Daniel Bryan package as he wrestled a terrific match with an international talent named Sawa that night, and got to celebrate after his victory to the tune of his music he had been known for on the independents, Europe’s The Final Countdown. Fans screamed the lyrics and sang along, throwing streamers over the ring…I had never experienced anything quite like this before! We had stuck around to try to get a picture with him after he went to the back and showered after the match. He eventually did come back out and took pictures with anyone who stuck around to meet him free of charge.
Once back with WWE, he was John Cena’s surprise member on his Summer Slam team to take on The Nexus group headed by Wade Barrett. Bryan returned to a pretty thunderous ovation that night. He would go on to challenge and defeat his former “mentor” The Miz for the United States Championship and was putting on good wrestling matches night in & night out for WWE. He was always a solid midcard attraction wherever they went. His only drawback during those days is that he really didn’t cut very good promos and was much more of a wrestling machine, going out there and having great matches but not exhibiting a lot in the way of a personality. He would eventually lose the US Title to Sheamus, and when the return match was set for WrestleMania XXVII that year, the match was later bumped from the card in favor of a Battle Royal.
In a surprise turn of events, WWE had him win the briefcase in the Money In The Bank Ladder Match for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship, which about 5 months later he won when he took advantage of a beatdown on the new World Heavyweight Champion, The Big Show. The story here was that Mark Henry was the champion going into December’s TLC Pay Per View, set to defend the title against Big Show in a Chairs Match. Mark Henry DDT’d Big Show on a chair after losing the match, then DB ran down to cash in the briefcase and left with the World Heavyweight Title.
It was sometime just prior to winning the World Title that he got paired with WWE Diva, and also NXT alumni, AJ Lee. Lee would be his storyline girlfriend who escorted him down to the ring and would cheer him on during the match. During his reign as World Champion, Daniel would start to show signs of arrogance and overconfidence as he continued to find ways to win his title defenses against monsters like Big Show and Mark Henry. During this time, he changed his approach to the ring during his entrance to where he would thrust his arms into the air, yelling “YES!” His slow heel turn really began working for him as he really started to get that over-the-top personality he had been lacking during his midcard run while his association with AJ would eventually cost him the World Title as he would eat a Brogue Kick from Sheamus in the opening match of WrestleMania XXVIII and lose the World Title in 18 seconds.
At some point, this YES chant of his would get over with the fans so much that WWE (in their infinite wisdom) would change his chant to being NO, as they intended him to remain a heel. What typically happens with good heels is that the crowd starts to build a respect for their work ethic and eventually it manages to turn the guys babyface organically, however in this case, since that wasn’t WWE’s plans for DB, they continued to use him as a heel and changed his chant to the opposite just to spite the fans.
After losing the World Title to Sheamus, Daniel was made into a comedy character and began to really build his persona while working with Kane in a tag team known as Team Hell No. Having lost AJ as a valet and now teaming with Kane, Daniel (I feel) really learned the other side of the business during this time as he seemed to really become comfortable in goofy backstage segments where he and Kane attended anger management classes and in a segment in the ring with their psychologist, Dr. Shelby, were instructed to “hug it out”. That’s right, two grown men wearing spandex openly hugged eachother in the middle of the ring on live tv. NXT Women’s Champion, Bayley would have been so proud!
Following the breakup of Team Hell No, DB eventually was granted a WWE Title match at Summer Slam against John Cena, in which he captured his first WWE Championship. Sadly, it was not to last as a Triple H pedigree followed by a Randy Orton Money In The Bank cash in ended DB’s title reign before it really even started.
A few months later, the WWE unified the WWE & World Heavyweight Championships with Randy Orton defeating John Cena in a ladder match for both belts. As Daniel’s crowd response rose in WWE following the title loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania, it only continued to build as he was screwed out of the WWE Title in the months that followed his initial win over John Cena. It all came to a head at the 2014 Royal Rumble when Bryan wasn’t even in the Rumble match itself and Dave Batista was booked to win to go to WrestleMania to face Randy Orton.
Not taking anything away from Dave Batista, he’s mostly always delivered in his matches since being pushed to the top of the card in WWE, but he wasn’t the guy the fans wanted to see in that spot going into WrestleMania 30, and the fans became quite vocal about it to the point that for a time there, trending worldwide on Twitter was #Bootista. The WWE finally embraced this “YES Movement” as it came to be known, writing it into the storylines running up to WrestleMania. Now make no mistake about it, the fans were railing against WWE because this is the guy they wanted to see pushed to the main event of the biggest show of the year and WWE had their own ideas and felt that the fans should like what they were being fed. Only, they didn’t, and instead of just tuning out and watching another tv show, fans stuck around and on an almost nightly basis, booed Batista out of the building. Certainly not the homecoming Big Dave had hoped for.
As the story goes, Daniel got his match with Triple H at WrestleMania 30 to earn his way into the main event for the now, unified WWE World Heavyweight Championship. So after defeating Triple H, Daniel was finally in the main event of WrestleMania, in a triple threat match against Batista and current WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Randy Orton. He jumped through all the hoops that The Authority put in front of him and came out the victor that night in one of the greatest WrestleManias in history. What unfolded following Mania was covered above, so I won’t rehash that all again.
Sadly, it took him 10 years to finally make it to WWE. And while they were hesitant to use him as we all knew that he could be, the company largely saw him as “a B+ player” as they continued to tell us week in & week out on tv. Had it not been for the fans railing against WWE, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the story playing out at WrestleMania 30 that we did. It just goes to show that fans do have a voice and as Daniel said last night on Raw, he’s eternally grateful for everything he was afforded by the fans in his run.
And though I’m fairly certain that he will never stumble upon my little blog site here, to Daniel Bryan, I will say the following: Your constant sentiment last night during your retirement speech was gratitude. Thank YOU Bryan, for being the every-man’s man, for showing that dreams still do come true through hard work and determination. Though I had not seen the 10 years’ worth of work prior to WWE, watching your progress since that first episode of NXT was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling stories ever told. I wish you nothing but the best as you start your life now as a retired professional wrestler, with your beautiful wife and I look forward to reading reports of your family expanding.