Hi, it’s @JoeyOnEarth. The recent retirement of Daniel Bryan has led to a bit of reminiscing on my part and I decided to share some of my favorite moments of his career. Dawning on the realization that we’ll never see another Bryan match was instant heartbreak but recalling all the special times he provided in a wrestling ring has put it in a more positive perspective for the closure of my favorite wrestler.
My introduction to Bryan Danielson was in 2006. I actually wanted to dislike him. This was around my early stages of being welcomed into the “internet community” of wrestling fans. I’ve always had a thirst for pro wrestling and would watch literally any show that featured wrestling from childhood. WWE and TNA were the only companies on my radar and around ’06, my interest in pro wrestling hit a new low.
Fans on MySpace message boards would put over Ring of Honor but they were extremely arrogant about it and it put me off. The idea that a company or wrestler I wasn’t aware existed being the “best in the world” over the stars I consumed on an accessible products seemed farfetched and the overall atmosphere surrounding the hype gave me reservations. I started watching ROH with the intentions of wanting it to be overrated and Bryan not being on the level of a Shawn Michaels or Chris Jericho. I was wrong and I’ve never been more happy about it
After a few pirated matches and a couple of DVD purchases, I was hooked. The hype was real but even more important, Bryan was real. Many dynamic performers captured my attention in the first year such as World Champion Nigel McGuinness, Chris Hero, Kevin Steen, El Generico, The Briscoes, and the debuting Tyler Black but there was something extraordinarily different about Bryan.
You could see who he was through his performances. We all hear the “wrestlers have to be an extension of themselves” logic and that has its merits but there was something different about the way Bryan expressed himself. The art exhibited not only delivered stellar matches but he left his passion on the canvas through every match in a way I still have never seen matched. I’d attend every ROH show with Bryan being the main draw, learn more about him in interviews and of course, feel fandom pride watching his WWE success.
The journey was inspiring and heartwarming. I’m going to share the ten memories that stand out the most when I think about Bryan’s career and what moments personally meant the most to me.
1. Bryan vs. Nigel at the ROH 6th Anniversary Show
This was the third ROH show I attended. My father would take me to a couple of WWE MSG house shows per year as a child but my final show was in 1997. My ten-year absence ended when I felt witnessing the Ring of Honor experience live was a must. Danielson instantly became my favorite and by proxy, I despised Nigel McGuinness. The storyline between the two felt like a sports rivalry and was the closest thing I had to rooting for a hero over a villain.
The match was spectacular and the atmosphere in that building still gives me goosebumps to this day. I recall standing on a chair next to Davey Richards (out to watch in the crowd and soak in the atmosphere) in the back row ringside chanting “You’re going to get your fucking head” and emotionally living and dying with each move. Of course, Nigel would win the match and continue his legendary reign but that night may have been my peak for Ring of Honor shows.
2. Bryan vs. Morishima at Final Battle 2008
Between my childhood memories and adulthood experiences, my favorite five wrestlers to watch live would be Bryan, Kevin Steen, Undertaker (90s), Shawn Michaels (90s) and Seth Rollins. Danielson would be at the top of the list and this match was the shining example. While this likely wouldn’t make the top ten-to-twenty best Bryan matches from a “pure wrestling match” perspective, it was a night I cherish.
The blood feud between Bryan and Morishima was finally culminating in a Fight Without Honor. What stands out most was the entrance of Bryan attacking Morishima with the lights out, kicking him into the crowd, doing a dive into the crowd and popping up in time for the fans to sing “The Final Countdown” at the exact time. Best in the world.
The match was a tremendous brawl and a fitting way to end that storied feud.
3. Bryan’s PWG promo with Paul London
How can you not love this guy? On a personal level, this made get into PWG. The wrestling was fine but there was a disconnect whenever I watched the shows. Paul London resurfacing in the company and Bryan’s superb work made me pay more attention to another special promotion that has provided countless entertainment since then.
Side note: Bryan has been asked about this promo so many times that he made sure to mention in his book that he did not smoke any marijuana before the promo, or at any point in his life.
4. Bryan’s final PWG match vs. Chris Hero
At the time, this was my favorite match in PWG history. The farewell tour of Bryan Danielson’s last independent wrestling dates were bittersweet because of WWE’s reputation with handling independent stars during that time frame. Bryan’s final indie matches felt like it could be the last time we’d see him as himself and it added more importance.
PWG pulled off a brilliant move by having Bryan win the title on his last show in Reseda and vacating the title perfectly in time for the upcoming BOLA tournament. Champion Chris Hero was in midst of a long title reign and the swerve of Bryan being the one to defeat him gave the fans a tremendous culmination. I don’t believe any other PWG match has hooked me from start to finish like this.
Paul London gave him a dolphin balloon during his farewell speech after the match so this was art, baby.
5. Bryan vs. Nigel at The Final Countdown
In a weird way, I’m somewhat glad neither Bryan nor Nigel has ever wrestled another match in ROH following this night. It’s horribly sad that both had premature ends to their unbelievable careers but seeing both stars leave together was something I will always appreciate. Bryan and Nigel both exemplified what I loved about ROH. They left it all in the ring. They made me care. They made me love wrestling again.
I’m not one to meet wrestlers. I think getting the autographs and photo ops are very cool but I just never developed that interest. This was one of the rare cases of me going out of my way to meet wrestlers so I could express thanks for the memories both men gave me. Nigel was cool, suave and conversational to everyone. Bryan was a bit awkward in the charming manner but you could tell he didn’t understand why hundreds of people were expressing gratitude towards him one after the other.
Looking back at it today, that was the perfect way to meet Bryan.
6. Wrestling Road Diaries
The work of Bryan in the ring was second to none but the Colt Cabana produced Wrestling Road Diaries showed us exactly who he was as a human being. The typically guarded and reserved Bryan gave us an insight into his life as Cabana filmed his final week on the indies. While it was marketed as a long road trip between three friends, I personally view it as a documentary on Bryan’s independent career ending.
My fandom of Bryan just grew with each scene. The moment of his refusing to cross the street because the stop light said “DON’T WALK” despite everyone else doing it was probably my favorite. I highly implore any wrestling fan to watch the feature as it’s among my favorite wrestling productions.
Side note: Kenny King jokingly calls Jim Cornette a racist at some point in the documentary. Amazing how things come full circle!
The first WWE moment on the list is not the infamous Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena match but rather an episode of Raw that set it up. I’m very lucky to witness many wonderful wrestling moments live but this is the only one I strongly regret missing out on. The episode of Raw took place in my home venue of the Barclays Center and I originally made plans to attend but backed out at the last minute.
Everyone remembers the segment. The entire roster is on the stage. Cena gets to pick his own opponent for the upcoming PPV. Cena references the roster one by one. The entire arena chants “Daniel Bryan” through it all and Cena with perfect timing selects Bryan. I wish I could have been a part of that night but the memory is still special. That was when I realized the entire wrestling world was also embracing Bryan with the same love.
John Cena. Randy Orton. Triple H. Shawn Michaels. Bret Hart. CM Punk. Rey Mysterio.
Jack Swagger. The ring was full of legends but all the fans cared about was Daniel Bryan. Bryan’s home state “hijacked” the show and started a precedent that carried over through various cities. The people wanted Bryan and they weren’t going to be quiet.
I believe part of the reason fans fought so hard for Bryan was because he wouldn’t ever proclaim he deserved the top spot. Unlike Punk, Bryan wasn’t the guy that would yell and scream about deserving the Wrestlemania main event so fans chose to push the battle on his behalf. The “Yes Movement” became the most real storyline in company history and is a story fascinating enough to become a movie. It all started on that fateful night in Seattle.
9. Wrestlemania XXX
Everyone knew Bryan was going to win the title at Wrestlemania 30 when the matches were announced but you still had reservations. WWE fought the popularity of Bryan every step of the way until there was no choice, so the fears of Randy Orton or Batista getting the win planted just enough seed of doubt to make the match must-see. While Bryan was the WWE Champion for a few minutes a year prior and held the World Championship on Smackdown, it still felt like he didn’t have that crowning moment.
Wrestlemania 30 was it. Bryan holding the two titles in the air as the pyro went off and confetti fell from the rafters finally cemented “the people’s champion” in the most grand coronation. I’m sure Bryan values this night for his professional success but it was a bigger night personally for his fans and peers. The inspiring story was complete and anything after was just homegrown watermelon jelly.
10. The retirement speech
Monday was a sad day for wrestling. The tweet of Bryan retiring was met with morose emotions and placed a dark cloud on the day. Bryan retiring was a heavily discussed rumor for a long time and he was off television for almost a year but his career ending never felt real until it happened. The speech by Bryan was the perfect way to uplift and cope with the journey coming to an end.
Only Bryan would plug a charity, make the corniest sex joke and use his final time in the spotlight to express gratitude. The visual of him sinking in the “Daniel Bryan” chants in Seattle one more time was truly a once in a lifetime moment in wrestling. Just as with his brilliant wrestling matches or passionate promos, Bryan showcased his genuine nature one more time in the retirement speech.
By expressing gratitude in seeking closure, Bryan gave us the closure we needed by remembering our gratitude for the impact he left in the pro wrestling world.