Why do we love the wrestlers we do?
Editor’s note: This feature will be running regularly and is hopeful to be written by different readers submitting their own stories about a wrestler they are passionate about, sharing how they became a fan and discussing 3-4 matches that stand out in their mind as most pivotal to their memories of loving this wrestler.
Our debut edition is by Robbie Fox. Take it away, Robbie!
Fandom Retrospective: Daniel Bryan by Robbie Fox
Before we begin, I’d like to address why I’m doing this writeup on the American Dragon. I’m not writing this to tell my story, but I think in telling my story, many wrestling fans will relate.
Daniel Bryan first came to my attention in 2009, when Ring of Honor released a statement saying he had agreed to a contract with the WWE. This was within the same month that I discovered the famous, “internet wrestling community”. Late to the party, I had to pick up some slack. I was able to find a few matches online, one of which was his now classic battle against Nigel McGuinness at ROH Unified. This was the first time I was watching a wrestling product that wasn’t WWE, WCW, or TNA. I watched the match, and as soon as it ended, I watched it a second time. I didn’t know what it was about Bryan that was so good, but I knew he connected with me, in a match I knew absolutely nothing about. I was a lifelong fan from that day on.
Throughout his run in the WWE, I was focused on everything he did. I didn’t miss a single match or promo. When I would go to live events, I’d go to the merch table (hey Tom Blackett, how ya doin?) and buy his shirts, action figures, towels, and pretty much anything with his name on it. Everyone around me, wrestling fan or not, didn’t really understand why I liked Bryan so much, as opposed to John Cena, or other wrestlers. Eventually this changed, as Bryan got more over with the crowd, who evolved into the “YES Movement”.
While Bryan made his way into the title picture, I was more into the product than I had ever been in my entire life. Daniel Bryan was indeed the ultimate underdog, and I wanted nothing more than to see him win the WWE Championship without shenanigans. During all of this, I was “battling demons” (I think that’s the correct term for it in the #biz, unless that means drug addiction. I didn’t have that!). I had some rough issues with depression and anxiety, along with the news that my childhood dog, Murphy, didn’t have much time left to live. I don’t know how many of you have had pets, but if you are given that news, it’s not taken lightly. But every Monday night, for however long Daniel Bryan was on the screen, I legitimately forgot about all of it. It sounds really cliché, but it’s entirely true. I was so invested in the product, which for a few months wasn’t very good, that I didn’t even watch for a “good wrestling product”. For the first time in years, I was watching wrestling because of how invested I was in a storyline.
Eventually, Daniel Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (rolls right off the tongue) at Wrestlemania 30, and I was ecstatic. I was decked out in my Daniel Bryan gear, and didn’t sit down once during the entire main event. When the match ended, I grabbed Murphy, who the vet was wrong about, and shed a few tears. I had overcome my depression and anxiety completely, and my favorite wrestler just had the greatest moment in the history of his career.
Daniel Bryan isn’t just a professional wrestler. Daniel Bryan embodies what professional wrestling is, as an art form. In that moment, you wouldn’t be able to explain to me all of the things in the world that matter so much more. I would acknowledge the truth to your statement, but my soul would be powerless to accept it, considering the immensity of what I have given to the “sport”, and the immeasurability of what it offers in return.
Okay, now onto the fun stuff! I’ve selected FOUR Daniel Bryan matches to talk about, and if you’d like, watch—or rewatch these matches while reading this. They’re all really great!
Match 1: Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena (Summerslam 2013)
The excitement I had going into this match was on another level. Here we have two of my favorite wrestlers EVER, (yes, John Cena is one of my all-time favorites) main eventing Summerslam. More importantly, this is the biggest moment of Daniel Bryan’s career. Rumors were circulating the internet going into this match, e.g.; John Cena is going to tap out, Bryan is going to win and Orton will cash in, only for Bryan to win again, Triple H would turn heel, Cena would turn heel (LOL), basically anything you could think of. Quite simply, this match had a “big fight feel”. How could it not? It’s the face of the company, pitted against a crowd favorite, on a huge stage. A modern day Hogan vs Warrior, if you will (which you won’t, because it’s nothing like that).
The second Bryan’s music hit, the crowd had already made up their mind that they were going to try their hardest to drain it out with YES chants. I truly believe, due to crowd participation alone, that Daniel Bryan has the best entrance in professional wrestling (Gangrel included). Seeing everybody in the arena get behind my hero, and chant YES! at the top of their lungs is amazing. As for Cena, he was not well received during his entrance. I knew, however, that Bryan would bring out the best in Cena, and the two were going to do something special that night.
This match told a story that felt like the plot of a great movie. There seemed to be a clear beginning, middle, end, plus a post-credits scene. Daniel Bryan and John Cena worked their asses off in this match for almost 27 minutes, and had everyone on the edge of their seats. An above average bout wouldn’t have gotten much crowd reaction at all after CM Punk and Brock Lesnar tore the house down, but this was more than above average. These two men rebuilt the house, and tore it right back down. Nothing in this contest was over-the-top flashy. There was no “flippy-doos”, and no shenanigans during the match. That’s the beauty of Daniel Bryan. He doesn’t need to do a top-rope moonsault Styles Clash to get a pop, or a MOTY contender. All he needs to do is wrestle, and that was the story told at the Staples Center.
Daniel Bryan went on to win the battle, debuting his new finisher, “The Knee That Beat John Cena”. I was over the moon with joy! “He finally did it!”, I said as confetti rained down. About 5 minutes went by of his celebration, and as my brother and his wife were walking out the door, Randy Orton’s theme hit. It was then I realized Triple H was still in the ring, and as I put 2 and 2 together in my head, Bryan ate a pedigree from the special guest referee, and Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, becoming the new WWE Champion. I was gutted, but at this point, still optimistic about where this could go. It occurred to me the next day that this was the first time a wrestling angle had made me go to bed upset in YEARS. If only I could warn myself of the months that would follow.
Match 2: Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt vs. The Usos (January 13th, 2014 edition of RAW)
Three WWE Championship matches and a cult leader’s spell later, Daniel Bryan has become apart of the Wyatt family just in time for Wrestlemania season. Yeah, you read that correctly. The most over face in the company has joined a heel faction consisting of red beard, black beard, and brown beard. The Authority angle was just abruptly dropped when they tried to swap Daniel Bryan with lookalike “Big Show”, and the WWE Championship feud transitioned into John Cena vs Randy Orton. Every single segment that didn’t involve Daniel Bryan now did, due to the crowd chanting his name CONSTANTLY. Seriously, this is what happened. Remember when I said the product “wasn’t very good” for a few months? This happened during those few months.
From what I remember, this show was mediocre as a whole. Not uncommon for the WWE at the time. The actual match isn’t why it was picked, and if you’ve seen it, you know that. What happened after the match is something I will never forget.
After the Usos defeated Bryan & Wyatt, Daniel kneeled down to his new leader, ready to willingly accept a Sister Abigail. I couldn’t believe another RAW was going to end like this. Something changed, however. He didn’t take that Sister Abigail. He reversed out of the move, and the arena exploded with YES chants. The American Dragon was back. As he set up for “The Knee That Beat John Cena”, and the YES chant built up from slow to fast, I got choked up. It was real to me, dammit! He hit the knee, and I had a huge smile on my face. All of the frustration and confusion I had regarding the angle was dropped immediately. After this night, the people in power at WWE must realize Bryan’s ability to be a star. They MUST have his plan to win the Royal Rumble all set up.
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (Wrestlemania 30)
Well, Batista won the Royal Rumble. It turns out Daniel Bryan wasn’t even in the Rumble match, after losing clean to Bray Wyatt. The night now lives in infamy for being quite possibly, the dumbest decision in WWE history. The night after the pay per view also lives in infamy, because CM Punk walked away from the company. We now know this opened up a spot for Daniel Bryan to face Triple H.
Bryan gained his match with the COO by “occupying” RAW. The fans, as mentioned before, hijacked every show for months, so it was only fitting that Bryan hijacked the show by filling the ring with the “YES Movement”. He proceeded to demand a match with the leader of the Authority. Not only did he earn himself a match, but he got Triple H to agree to the stipulation that if he were to win, he would be put into the match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but once again, I was ecstatic going into this match, and in reality the entire pay per view. I actually decorated my living room for Wrestlemania. Do you know the last time I did that? Never. But for the “Showcase of Immortals” to be basically built around my favorite wrestler of all time, I went all out. My best friend and brother, Mike, was dressed identically to myself, in the Daniel Bryan “YES Movement” shirt and sweatshirt. We both stood up and did the YES chant as Bryan’s video package played and our family looked on in confusion.
Daniel Bryan and Triple H, who have had one of the hottest feuds of the 21st century, were meeting in the ring for the first time ever. The wrestling fan in me knew there was no way Daniel Bryan would lose this match, but the Daniel Bryan fan in me had gotten way too used to being disappointed. Luckily, it only took 8 months for the WWE to get it right with the Dragon.
When Bryan kicked out of the pedigree, I went from a seated position on my couch, to standing on my couch, in less than a second. I have no idea how it happened, but it did. That’s not even the impressive part. The impressive part is that right afterwards, when Daniel Bryan hit “The Knee That Beat John Cena”, I did it again, even faster this time. I counted the three as if I were front row in the Superdome, right next to “Shocked Undertaker Guy”. The night was far from being over, however.
Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton (Wrestlemania 30)
As great as that past bout was, it doesn’t even compare to this in my opinion. The main event of Wrestlemania 30 is my favorite match of all time. I’ve probably watched it over 30 times(and that’s not a hyperbole), and it never fails to give me chills.
After Corey Graves sings Orton to the ring, and Batista comes out with no machine gun pyro, our hero makes his second entrance of the night to an even bigger pop. Keep in mind the Undertaker had just lost the streak. It’s only Daniel Bryan that can make 70,000+ fans in New Orleans forget that they just watched the most shocking moment in wrestling history. There’s not a single person on the WWE roster other than Bryan that would have gotten this match any reaction at all.
Some people think this match was “overbooked”, and it was. “Overbooked” isn’t always a bad term, however. If any match should have over the top shenanigans, it’s this one. This was the culmination of an 8 month long story, and for Bryan, a 15 year career. The story of Daniel Bryan, the “ultimate underdog”, rising against the Authority and everything they had to throw at him, ended with exactly that: the Authority throwing EVERYTHING at Bryan.
As mentioned previously, I was standing for the entirety of this match. I don’t think I could have physically sat down at any point. No match has ever taken me on an emotional roller coaster quite like this one. The low being Batista pinning Orton after “The Knee That Beat John Cena”. It was one of the best near falls ever, and I couldn’t have bought in more. The high being the finish. Randy Orton gets taken out by a “Batista Bomb”, and Bryan hits the running knee on Big Dave, followed by a YES Lock and tap out. As soon as Drax tapped out, I jumped on and hugged my brother like we just won the Super Bowl. I’ve never been more of a “mark” in my life. Confetti (which I bought for $7 on eBay) rained down on Bryan, as I grabbed my dog Murphy, and once again held back tears. That was, until the “ultimate underdog” looked around to take in the moment and started crying. At that point, the waterworks were coming. For good reason, too. Daniel Bryan isn’t just another underdog. He was our underdog. We chose him as our guy. If we weren’t as vocal as we were, he’d probably be facing Sheamus on the undercard.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you, and I hope you enjoyed reading me fanboy over the greatest wrestler on god’s green earth, Daniel Bryan. This year I’m making the trip from New Jersey to California for Wrestlemania, and I’ll be meeting the American Dragon.
If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, where I’m limited to 140 characters, it’s @ThatRobbieFox
I also have a VERY PUBLIC EMAIL at email@example.com, and if you want to send me SNAIL MAIL, such as a fruit basket, send it to The Big Dog instead. I don’t want your fruit.
Thanks to Robbie for being the first person to try this feature out with us! Remember if you have any interest or questions about contributing a future Fandom Retrospective about a wrestler you love, email WrestlingOnEarth@gmail.com or tweet @WrestlingEarth.