On Monday February 8th 2016, the career of arguably one of the best wrestlers around Bryan Danielson, better known as Daniel Bryan, ended as he announced his retirement in the ring on RAW. This was a sad thing to hear and emotional watch as we were hoping to see him in the ring once again but due to concussions, which are a hot topic right now not only in wrestling but in sports in general, his in ring career is over and he’s retired at the age of 34.
Ring of Honor
I remember first hearing about Bryan on forums around 2005/06. He was working for Ring of Honor at the time and everybody was raving about how he was already the best wrestler in the world. Back then I was mainly a ‘WWE guy’ but I has just started to branch out into other promotions after people kept saying how companies like TNA and ROH had the best wrestlers and best matches around.
By late 2006 I had decided to check out some ROH and after watching some matches, I could see why everyone was raving about the show. It felt so much different to what the WWE was presenting at the time. A few months later I saw a match between Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness for the unification of the ROH world title and the ROH Pure title. The match was phenomenal and after that I could definitely see why Danielson was considered one of the best by the internet fans. He also had a series of matches with Japanese wrestler Takeshi Morishima, including one match where Danielson had his retina detached and carry on wrestling which is insane when you think about it!
In August 2009 Danielson signed with the WWE and was renamed as Daniel Bryan. The fans who knew of his previous work were excited as they knew what he was capable. They were hoping he would be the kick in the ass that the WWE desperately needed at the time. Boy were we all wrong.
When NXT made it’s debut first season it was not the phenomenon that it is today. Designed as a ‘wrestling game show’ it was a total joke. There were more stupid competitions than actual wrestling, which didn’t do anyone any favours. It was also a place where Michael Cole (and pretty much anyone else involved) would just make fun of the entire thing and the main butt of the jokes was Bryan due to his size and supposed lack of personality. Which couldn’t have been farther from the truth as he as more personality than half the roster at that time.
Amazingly after that debacle was over he was a part of the initially fantastic Nexus angle. It consisted of all of the rookies from first season of NXT, invading RAW and causing havoc. For the groups first night they tore up the ring and ringside area. One of the most notable parts was Bryan choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with a tie. However, with WWE being such a PG company this was seen as over the line, resulting in Daniel Bryan’s release just one day after his main roster debut.
Returning to the independent scene for a brief time he returned a few months later at Summerslam 2010 as the surprise team member of team WWE verses his old Nexus compatriots.
After that, Bryan became US champion following an excellent feud with his old NXT mentor The Miz, but at that time the title didn’t mean anything. Proof of the titles low ranking was seen at Wrestlemania 27 when a match between Bryan and Sheamus was dropped from the main card onto the preshow at the last moment.
Later in 2011 Bryan would win at Money in the Bank, which he would cash in during December against The Big Show to become the world Heavyweight Champion for the first time. After this he would turn heel with his on screen girlfriends, Aj Lee. This heel turn was the first time WWE allowed Bryan to properly start showing some personality rather than his gimmick simply being that he was a ‘tough vegan’. It was around this time that the Yes and No chants were born and week after wek more fans started using them. Oddly despite his heel persona, Daniel Bryan’s popularity was growing quicker than ever before.
April 1st, Wrestlemania 28 could either be considered the worst day in the WWE career of Daniel Bryan or, with hindsight one of the best. Despite being World Heavyweight Champion Bryan was booked to lose to Sheamus in the opening bout in just 18 seconds. The WWE thought that such a quick victory would help fans get behind Sheamus. The WWE however, were wrong. The crowd were outraged by the treatment of one of their favourites. In a way this was a huge turning point for the career of Daniel Bryan as more and more fans chanted for him to show their support.
Throughout Wrestlemania you could hear Yes chants, but it was the next night on Raw that the fans truly made their voices heard. The crowd took over the show by loudly chanting for Bryan at every opportunity. Other than a backstage interview however, that was his only appearance on the show. He came out after the show for a dark match and was clearly the most over person of the night. Other than perhaps Brock Lesnar who returned on that same show.
So you would think they would use that momentum they had and push him to the moon right? Well you’re wrong again. Kinda. Instead of keeping him in the World Title picture they moved him into a program with Kane. This would eventually develop into Team Hell No a thoroughly entertaining tag team that was one of the highlights of every show they were on. They had great chemistry and would go on to win the titles together.
Return to the World Title Picture
In the summer of 2013 the fans finally got what they wanted, Bryan in a main event picture for the WWE title. This happened at Summerslam 2013 against John Cena. It was a great match which featuredthe debut of the flying knee as his finisher. He defeated Cena cleanly to finally become the WWE Champion! For about 5 minutes anyway.
Randy Orton would cash in his Money in the bank and thanks to a Pedigree from Triple H, who had been the guest referee in the match between Bryan and Cena, Daniel Bryan’s reign came to an end. This would be the start of a Daniel Bryan vs Authority storyline. Which featured the WWE telling us that Bryan was a B+ player and didn’t deserve to be the Champion and face of the company, every single week.
Now when you read that, does that make any sense at all to tell your audience that most of your talent, apart from a select few, are not worthy of being a top star? Bryan would regain the title the next month, only to get stripped the next night on RAW and then lose a Hell in a Cell match to Randy Orton thanks to interference from Shawn Michaels. A Lot of people thought that would lead to Michaels coming out of retirement to have one more match with Bryan. It made sense as Micheals had had a hand in training Bryan back in 1999. Shaun said no so instead we saw Bryan temporarily join the Wyatt Family to close out 2013.
2014 Royal Rumble
In January 2014, Bryan would turn on the Wyatt family in a fantastic segment in which he trapped Bray Wyatt inside a steel cage. There is a brilliant shot where the crowd did the Yes chant in complete synchronization with Bryan. Fans desperately wanted him badly to be the champion and the ‘top guy’ and this was more evident at the Royal Rumble. Bryan would lose in a fantastic match against Bray Wyatt earlier in the evening, ending their feud.
Everybody was anticipating him coming in the Rumble match as the 30th entrant. As the final number drew closer the crowd began the Yes chant. Instead, Rey Mysterio came out and frustrated and disappointed the crowd turned on the rumble match. Booing everyone involved. A returning Batista would win the match but the fans were not happy, despite him being a face. CM Punk, also frustrated by the direction the company was taking would quit the company the very next day. The fans made themselves heard every single week that they wanted to see Daniel Bryan, so much so that WWE ended up changing the World Title Main event to include him.
CM Punk had meant to be working with Triple H on the show, but with him leaving they switched it to Bryan vs Triple H, with the winner going on to the main event for the WWE title.
I attended Wrestlemania 30 and it was a great experience. Bryan/Triple H was a good match as Bryan defeated Triple H clean to advance to the main event. Upon his return everybody had expected for Batista to win the title but in a great move by the WWE, Bryan won the WWE title in front of 70,000 people in New Orleans at the Superdome. It was great to see as he was definitely one of the guys who deserved that moment. Unfortunately it wouldn’t last long.
After Wrestlemania he went to feud with Kane for the title. It was a poor storyline with plenty of stupid segments but around this time, Bryan noticed that he was having issues with his neck with him losing strength in his right arm. In order for him to carry on wrestling, he would need to get surgery and in May 2014 he had to give up the WWE title. The fairytale was temporarily over.
Return at the 2015 Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania 31
He did return in 2015 a week before the Royal Rumble and and announced he would be in the Rumble match. Fans wrongly assumed that Bryan would be winning and upon his early elimination turned on the match for a second year in a row, booing eventually winner Roman Reigns.
In an attempt to appease the fans, Reigns and Bryan faced off at Fastlane to see who would go on to the main event of Wrestlemania which Reigns would win. Fans were rightly upset as it seemed that WWE had no intend direction for their favourite and everybody was questioning what would Bryan do next.
He ended up wrestling for the Intercontinental Championship in a multi-man ladder match. Which he would win. It was the intended plan that Bryan and John Cena would bring some prestige back into the mid card titles, which had long since lost their importance. However, for the second year in a row injury struck forcing Bryan to relinquish the title. WWE tried to give him time to recover from what would later be revealed to be another concussion, keeping it as secretive as possible. Unfortunately, he never would.
Injuries and Retirement
There was plenty of speculation on what his injury was and when he would return to the ring. Bryan kept trying to get himself cleared and ended up seeing three different doctors who all said he was fine to return to in ring completion, however WWE’s doctor continued to not give him the green light. There were rumours that he’d even tried to organise his release so that he could wrestler elsewhere. Such as New Japan Pro Wrestling and maybe a return to Ring of Honor. These for now, are just rumours however.
Then on Monday 8th February 2016 the news we’d all be expecting but not wanting to hear when Bryan announced via his twitter that he had to retire. A lot of people thought or rather hopes this would all be part of a storyline. Similar to the year prior when they teased his retirement only for him to announce himself as a participant in the Royal Rumble match. As we know now though, this was not the case and the unfortunate reality of the situation began to sink in.
It’s such a shame his career ended the way it did. I wish WWE had given him a proper chance when he was healthy. So much wasted talent. He could have been one of the biggest stars of this generation, but it seems that in the WWE that unless you’re John Cena, Randy Orton or Roman Reigns then you don’t matter. In the end he did become a huge star, not thanks to the WWE though. Instead it was down to the sheer force of will power and support shown to him by the WWE fans that moved him up the card and into the main event at Wrestlemania 30.
Daniel Bryan’s in ring career maybe over, yet he leaves a huge legacy behind him. Without him and his success we would not be seeing talent like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins and Sami Zayn in the WWE simply due to their size. These are some of the most talented wrestlers around but it took Bryan e to show us (mainly WWE) that it doesn’t matter if you aren’t a 7 foot tall monster, you can make a mark in wrestling, you’ve just got to book them right and believe in them.
In closing I would just like to say thank you to Bryan Danielson for some of the most fantastic matches and being entertaining as hell wherever you were on the card. Without a doubt this man deserves to be in the WWE Hall Of Fame.