Last night on WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw, we were treated to an emotional goodbye from one of the squared circle’s most celebrated wrestlers, Bryan Danielson AKA former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan. After 16 years and matches all over the globe the leader of “Yes Movement,” accepted that he could no longer compete at the level he wanted to and rather risk life threatening injury, he was walking away. Here was a 5 foot 8, 190 lb man who had toppled giants, broke every barrier placed in front of him and made it to the pinnacle of the business he had loved his entire life. He famously never went to college, made no back-up plans, because his only goal was to become the best wrestler in the world, and despite the odds, he did it. As a fan, I selfishly hoped that he would find a way to get back in the ring even when it became obvious he was not going to be cleared. Admirably, unlike previous generations of Wrestlers and NFL players, Bryan realized that his brain and welfare were too important to risk just to stay in the game.
Personally, the improbable rise of Daniel Bryan coincided with one of the biggest periods of my wrestling fandom. I was able to attend media row for Wrestlemanias 26 through 29 courtesy of 106.7 The Fan in Washington DC and afternoon host, Chad Dukes.
I got put in the freakin’ LeBell lock. How cool is that?
I was at Wrestlemania XXVII when Bryan’s match with Sheamus was bumped to the preshow so Snooki could get her time to shine. I was at Wrestlemania XVIII when he lost to Sheamus in 18 seconds and the crowd revolted, having been denied a legit title defense and those “Yes!” chants that night continued into the next night’s Raw. Then the Raw after that and after that, until the WWE had no choice but to realize they had a bonafide superstar on their hands. His time with Kane as part of Team Hell No was some of the funniest segments in wrestling, ever. Bryan was one of those rare competitors who had talent both in the ring and on the microphone, he could be funny, he could be serious and you believed every word of it. Then he would back it up inside the ropes, the list of people he had great matches with might as well just read, “everyone.”
The WWE even took the fans’ assumptions about why Daniel Bryan wasn’t in the main event and made it part of the storyline. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H calling him a “B+ Player,” not worthy of being the face of the WWE. This wasn’t like in the ’90s when a steroid scandal forced Vince McMahon to push smaller stars like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart to the top (not to take anything away from those two hall of famers), it was fans genuinely demanding that this man that they loved so much, get the attention he deserves. Bryan was the ultimate underdog, and throughout his whole career he believed he was the best, made us believe he was the best and eventually made the WWE believe he was the best. At Wrestlemania XXX, an event that opened with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and The Rock, he put on two stellar matches, one with Triple H and then winning the title in a 3-Way match featuring Randy Orton and Batista. The enduring image of him holding both title belts as confetti rains down and 70,000 people chant “Yes!” will last forever. While Bryan expressed his gratitude to the fans last night, I can only say, “No sir, thank you.” Thank you for moving the needle for the WWE, to see value in talents developed outside of their system because surely without Daniel Bryan there is no Kevin Owens, there is no Sami Zayn, there is no AJ Styles in WWE. But most of all, thank you for your passion for the business and I hope you felt the passion all the fans had for you.