Life can be funny, and by funny, I mean frustrating as fucking hell why the fuck is this bullshit happening?!!!!
That was basically how every fan of Daniel Bryan/Brian Danielson felt when he retired earlier this month. A very low low. Premature retirement for one of the greatest and most popular of all time can’t be spun as positive.
The low of Bryan’s retirement completely overshadowed the ecstasy high that alternative wrestling fans had been feeling in the days following the long anticipated and even longer overdue debut of AJ Styles. Styles’ debut in the Royal Rumble match and subsequent programs with The Miz and Chris Jericho have been great. Only fantasy booking nitpickers could find flaws in how Styles has been showcased thus far.
AJ Styles is the biggest name and greatest star created outside of WWE since the end of the Monday Night War. He is one of only two legitimate superstars created by TNA Wrestling (Bobby Roode the other). His arrival and white glove treatment is validation of both him and his fan base.
His arrival also signifies the final deathnail in the coffin of the previous paradigm of WWE Superstar requirements. Young, tall, bodybuilder, without any accent, or experience outside of the WWE system. AJ Styles is an old (by pro wrestling standards), short, gymnast, southerner who is the face of alternative professional wrestling since 2002. The signings of Fergal Devitt, Kevin Steen, El Generico, and Samoa Joe were all fine and good, but AJ Styles was more successful in the non WWE world than all of them put together. AJ Styles is the embodiment in every way of the type of wrestler that WWE does not sign and showcase on their main roster.
But none of that matters right now does it? Not now, not for another month or two. Why? Because Daniel Bryan had to retire due to injury.
Daniel Bryan was the next John Cena, Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, Bruno Sammartino, Buddy Rodgers. Daniel Bryan was THE guy. The new face of WWE. The leader of the next generation. The main event player for the next five to ten years. The fans couldn’t have been happier since they went to war with Vince McMahon over the issue and won.
And now he’s gone. Cut down in his prime, right as his prime got started. How many televised matches did Daniel Bryan have after Wrestlemania 30?
Life isn’t fair, Daniel Bryan being forced to retire is not fair. AJ Styles’ ten year overdue WWE debut being lost in the shuffle of an entire generation of fans’ grieving the loss of their hero isn’t fair.
Daniel Bryan was so great, that if he never debuted in WWE, he would be the other face of alternative pro wrestling next to AJ Styles. Brian Danielson is still to this day the greatest star Ring of Honor has ever produced. He was an American indy scene main eventer for half a decade and international pro wrestling title holder years before ever debuting on the first season of the NXT on SyFy tournament.
AJ Styles is still the face of TNA Wrestling even though he hasn’t been there for two years. That company was built on his shoulders. He left as their World Champion and went on to become the most successful American in Japanese pro wrestling history with only maybe Big Van Vader in his league. He also main evented the last ROH pay per view of 2015, a company he first debuted for at their third show ever in 2002.
Less than a month before debuting at the Royal Rumble, Styles co main evented a show in the Tokyo Dome against the second most popular and profitable of the last decade in Japanese wrestling (Shinsuke Nakamura).
The last memory of Daniel Bryan’s in ring career will be standing on top of a ladder, as WWE Intercontinental Champion, leading 70,000 people in a YES chant. Not a bad way to go out but not what anyone wanted, expected, or had a nightmare about.
What we can hope for is that AJ Styles will be slid into Daniel Bryan’s main event spot like Rey Mysterio slid into Eddie Guerrero’s spot in 2006. More importantly, hopefully Bryan’s rise and quick fall will serve as an impetus for WWE to strike while the iron is hot for wrestlers who get over in the future.
Daniel Bryan should have been the guy The Rock feuded with, not John Cena. Cena was over and overly exposed three years before his feud with Rock. Bryan had emerged as the most loved babyface in the company coming out of WrestleMania 28. Cena could have easily been slotted to continue his feud with Punk going into 29. A feud which btw, never had a blowoff.
Hopefully WWE will accept rather than resist when a super junior heavyweight gets over more than Vince McMahon’s chosen super heavyweight superman.
AJ Styles is already more over as a babyface than Roman Reigns. His babyface reactions in the arena are second to no full time wrestler on the active WWE roster with the possible exception of Dean Ambrose. But Styles is already selling more merchandise than Ambrose.
Will WWE do the right thing and listen to their fans? They are already paying AJ Styles like he’s a main eventer. They have to be considering what Styles was being offered via duel contracts with ROH and NJPW. So lets see where Styles is slotted both at WrestleMania and after it.
What would a healthy Daniel Bryan be doing at WrestleMania and Summerslam this year? We know what that answer should be. And that should be what AJ Styles is doing. I’m excited to find out. But not as excited as I am sad that the American Dragon will fly no more.
One legend exits, another arrives, and the machine rolls on.