I am still in a happily subdued state of shock that Brian Danielson is now officially, without any doubt, of any kind, the man who will replace John Cena and take a place in history alongside; Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Sting, The Undertaker, Steve Austin, Goldberg, The Rock, and Triple H. How awesomely surreal.
The leader of the “Yes Movement” has come a long way from the Rexplex in New Jersey. The man who is undoubtably on the Mt. Rushmore of Ring of Honor is can now make a completely legitimate case to be put on the Mt. Rushmore of WWE and the history of professional wrestling. Make no mistake, Daniel Bryan and his “Yes! Yes! Yes!” gimmick is that mainstream. Just as mainstream as anything that John Cena, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, or Hulk Hogan have done before him. And he is just getting started.
Daniel Bryan has at least five years as the face of the WWE left in him and five more years after passing the torch to the next guy whenever that is. Nothing short of a freak of nature accident can stop that. He is not going to burn out because he would have by now. The people aren’t going to burn out on him because if they were, they would’ve at the Royal Rumble. Now, he is the champion of the people just as much or more so than DDP or The Rock ever were.
How awesome is that?! The American Dragon is now The Man in the world of pro wrestling and sports entertainment.
I used to be an anti-Brian Danielson fan. I would boo him at ROH shows that came to Chicago Ridge. I would heckle his fans who thought the sun rose and set out of his ass. I would get into shouting matches over how he didn’t deserve to hold the ROH Title for over a year. Ironically he won me over during his ROH farewell tour which was dubbed The Final Countdown. That tour was chronicled in the awesome wrestling documentary “The Wrestling Road Diaries” staring Bryan, Sal Rinauro, and Colt Cabana. During that tour Danielson had two matches that completely blew me away as a wrestling fan. One I saw in person against Austin Aries, the other was his last match in the company against Nigel McGuiness. For me personally, and what I find entertaining, those two matches were borderline perfect and they took place within weeks of each other.
“The Wrestling Road Diaries” showed that Danielson actually had the one thing all of his critics (myself included at the time) said he was devoid of, personality. It also showed that I had blinders on as a hater, by showing him cutting quality promos in front of the curtain. The documentary came out after Danielson reported to WWE developmental, where he didn’t remain for long as he was soon thrust into the spotlight for the ECW on Syfy replacement NXT (which has since become WWE’s developmental territory.) I have, to this day, watched only a handful of NXT episodes. The bulk were during the first season of the Syfy show. It was immediately apparent to me that the now rebranded Daniel Bryan was head and shoulders the most talented person on camera. Chris Jericho as a heel, World Heavyweight Champion, broke character on an episode of NXT to say that Daniel Bryan was “a superstar already” in advance of a match they would have together a couple of weeks later.
In a weird way it always seemed to me like Bryan was being groomed to be the top guy, but that was probably rose-colored glasses. I am still under the impression his “firing” in 2010 was/is a work. His first show “back” he main evented Summerslam, the next month he won the US Title, a year later he won Money in the Bank, six months later he was World Heavyweight Champion, he was involved in one of the two world title matches at WrestleMania 28, spent the following four months feuding for either the World Heavyweight or WWE Title, then held the tag titles for eight months, shortly before main eventing Summerslam again and pinning John Cena clean for the WWE Title.
Bryan hasn’t just fought against the odds, he has leveraged fortuitous events against the odds being used to hold him down. Bryan leveraged WWE’s desire to erase the history of Chris Benoit in his favor by being cast in history as the new Chris Benoit without the steroids or skeletons in the closet. Bryan leveraged his ability to make a middle class living on the independent and international wrestling scene(s) to not be just another mid carder walking on egg shells, not being afraid of losing his job and therefore willing to take the risks necessary to win over management. Bryan leveraged his personal happiness by having a successful romantic relationship and a strong family life (as shown in WRD) to not let the business drag him down when things weren’t going his way. And finally, Bryan leveraged CM Punk’s decision to walk out on the company and the live crowds’ habitual revolt against the product being put on before them to save the day when WrestleMania XXX was left without a featured match and with a proposed main event guaranteed to get booed out of the stadium.
Now Bryan sits on top of the mountain and isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, and we the wrestling business is better for it. Why? Daniel Bryan not just being a champion but being the face of the company means the following things that will have ripple effects on the industry for years to come:
- The era of the big man bias is over
- Independent wrestlers are and will be taken seriously as main event players
- John Cena’s run has finally come to an end
The corner has been turned, a chapter is being written, a new era has begun. The era of the next ten years will be led by a junior heavyweight indy guy! What a great time to be a wrestling fan.
Four years before Chris Jericho and six years before CM Punk adopted the moniker “Best in the World”, Brian Danielson had that title along with the ROH World Championship and defended both rigorously across North America, Europe, and Japan. It was assumed that he would always be just an indy guy, maybe the best indy guy ever, but an indy guy nonetheless. When he was signed it was assumed he would get the same treatment as his good friend Colt Cabana (toil aimlessly in developmental, only to be called up the main roster for job duty, and swiftly giving his pink slip). When Bryan main evented Sumerslam and won the US Title less than six weeks apart it was thought he was going to be a mid card mechanic for a few years at best. When he won Money in the Bank followed by the World Heavyweight Title both were dismissed as being token attempts to silence his supporters with pushes for the secondary title.
When he was bumped to the pre show and lost the opening match in consecutive WrestleManias, it was thought he was being used as a way by Vince McMahon to troll the internet fan base. When he became the most popular man in the company in a tag team comedy act it was thought he was achieving super stardom despite the WWE machine rather than because of it. That thinking was backed up when Bryan won the WWE Title and lost it less than five minutes later. After main eventing and not regaining the title over the course of the next three pay per views, Bryan was removed from the main event scene, his fate as a mid card mechanic seemed sealed.
When he was kept out the Royal Rumble, the fans revolted, and CM Punk quit the company; it was thought the most that could be hoped for was Punk’s spot in a mid card feature at WM XXX against Triple H. But something happened along the way, Daniel Bryan became a symbol, Daniel Bryan became a legend, Daniel Bryan became the leader of a movement. The live crowds are more hot for Daniel Bryan than they ever were for John Cena. They are just as hot for him as they were for Steve Austin. If you go back and look at the tape, the case can be made the crowd is as hot for Daniel Bryan as they were for even Hulk Hogan. I can’t believe that’s the case, but it is, it really is.
Now Daniel Bryan has pulled double duty at a WrestleMania and won two world titles in the main event of a WrestleMania that ends in a 5 or a 0. He is not just a made man, he is not just “The Man”, Daniel Bryan is now one of the greatest professional wrestler/sports entertainers of all time. He has raised the bar above the accomplishments of everyone who has come before him without exception. He has pulled the sword out of the stone and taken his place as the king.
During his WWE career that was much maligned up to this point Bryan was doing something very important that many of his supporters and critics may have missed. He became a COMPLETE performer.
He came to the WWE in 2010 as a mechanic who could wrestle literally any style. His work with The Miz and Michael Cole on NXT, his work with Kane in the tag division, his matches with Sheamus and CM Punk, and his program with Bray Wyatt each saw him take a full step forward as a performer. Every tool it takes to be both a great professional wrestler and a great sports entertainer Daniel Bryan learned and perfected. He swallowed his pride and got better rather than being stubborn and buying into his own hype earned performing on the indy scene.
Daniel Bryan is now as over with the 18-34 yr old male demographic as he is with women and children. He is safe for the PG era, does media, Make-A-Wish(es), and can be freshly monetized multiple times per year with more than just t shirts (towels, foam fingers). None of that was true and/or he wasn’t capable of those things even when he first won the World Title two years ago.
Bryan doesn’t do steroids or recreational drugs and doesn’t drink alcohol. He is a student of the game, a life long fan, and a wrestler first (as opposed to a football player or bodybuilder) so you know he appreciates the spot he’s in and isn’t in it strictly for the fame or the money. There is no reason, beyond individual, personal taste to not be a Daniel Bryan fan, supporter, and/or member of his Yes Movement.
It is because he is such a good human being, such a completely well-rounded wrestler and sports entertainer, because he is truly the best in the world at his profession by every standard; that he is now the Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion, face of the company, and leader of this generation of pro wrestling. Daniel Bryan symbolizes everything that is right about pro wrestling. We as pro wrestling and sports entertainment fans can be proud that he is the man and breathe a sigh of relief that he is at the top of the mountain. What a great time to be a wrestling fan.