by Shanna Harris (@AbsoluteSmark)
If you’re like me, most of the time you spend watching wrestling is done passively. You like who you see and get excited for them, but it doesn’t go very over the top. At least, it was until Daniel Bryan caught my attention.
From his time on NXT, to his ascension to the crème de la crème of the wrestling industry, Daniel Bryan is one of few wrestlers on the WWE roster who I can say that truly deserved all the adulation given to him.
Personally, I fell for Daniel Bryan because he’s a spectacular wrestler. In his time on WWE TV, we’ve seen Daniel transform from a baby faced kid with the cool jackets who hardly spoke to the monster who would knee you until he beat you. He’s the cool dude in the plaid shirt that just happened to be the best at wrestling his ass off. But, believe it or not, what first caught my attention about Daniel Bryan was being an asshole.
Let’s start there.
I first started paying attention to Daniel Bryan when he was the asshole boyfriend of AJ. WWE TV assures that the “heel” men and women on their shows are the more interesting characters to watch, but something about Daniel Bryan really stayed with me. I thought he was sogood at being a jerk that I couldn’t ignore it. More specifically, the segment Daniel Bryan, AJ and Roddy Piper had together during a Smackdown made me want to see Daniel Bryan wrestle Roddy Piper. Hell, I still want that.
Luckily for us, Daniel wouldn’t stay the jerk for much longer. After dumping AJ, apologizing to her and proposing marriage, AJ left him at the altar to become GM of Raw. Daniel moved from being a jerk to jilted. Thankfully, he found solace in his new tag partner Kane, who were then christened Team Hell No. (Editor’s Note: Team Hell No is also one of a handful of times Shanna can remember watching Kane and not wanting to throw herself into traffic.)
After a 245 day Tag Team title reign, blockbuster in-ring and backstage segments and Dr Shelby (!!!), Team Hell No lost the tag titles and promptly disbanded.
From this point forward, WWE crowds took a special interest in Daniel. He is clearly a gifted athlete, but the connection he shares with an audience is something that still amazes me. He’s one of few WWE performers that can control a crowd simply by wrestling an amazing match. On a consistent basis, even pre-injury, he was putting on higher quality matches than 90% of the featured roster. He looked like a guy who gave 150% each time he went out, and he forced other wrestlers to step up their game. He looked like he was having a blast being the best at what he does and he made it look easy.
As far as being a loveable character, I distinctly remember a certain segment with Daniel Bryan overcoming Daniel Bryan ridding himself of the hold of The Wyatt Family, climbing a cage, and basking in the glow of a fanatically YESing crowd.
SummerSlam of last year saw the show end with Daniel Bryan standing tall after defeating John Cena and being the NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion, only to be thwarted by HHH when Daniel’s back was turned. While H put the pedigree to Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and defeated Daniel Bryan to steal the championship from its rightful owner.
Ladies and gentlemen, I was PISSED when SummerSlam of last year was said and done. Not a light anger or indifference that I normally feel at the result of something. I was genuinely angry. Couldn’t WWE see that Daniel Bryan was THE guy that would take them into the future? I didn’t understand it at the time and didn’t react so nicely when he had the title snatched from him. I distinctly remember being seated in front of my computer, and slamming my hand down on the table when HHH hit the pedigree on Daniel Bryan. I was so angry, that I got up and stormed into another room and told my husband about what happened. He gave me “It’s wrestling who cares” face and I stormed back to the computer and pouted. Yes, I pouted over wrestling. I wish I did that more often these days.
Somewhere in the mix of Daniel becoming the true Best in the World (sometime after CM Punk left the company in shocking fashion in January) and having his fans derail live segments with loud YES chants, Daniel Bryan found himself staring down the greatest challenge in his career. The Authority. Played to perfection by a delightfully evil HHH and Stephanie, The Authority christened Randy Orton “the face” of the WWE, and did their best to stifle the YES! Movement and Daniel’s future title opportunities in any way they could think of.
But there’s only so much you can do to deny Daniel his rematch. After fans of Daniel staged a takeover of WWE programming and refused to leave until Daniel got his shot at Mania, HHH had no choice but to give the fans and Daniel what he wanted. In what many fans would consider a dream match, it would be HHH vs Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania, with the winner of the match moving on to wrestle in a triple threat against Randy Orton and Batsita with the hotly contested WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the line.
Wrestlemania 30, for me, was a once in a lifetime event. As a kid, I never got to watch a good chunk of the Wrestlemania events live because of lack of $ or a parent who wouldn’t allow me to stay up and watch PPV’s live. So, for me, Wrestlemania 30 was going to be one for the ages. It was not only a celebration of 30 years of wrestling’s biggest spectacle; it was a Wrestlemania that I was genuinely excited about. From my fingertips to my brain stem, I wanted Daniel Bryan to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and if he didn’t I was going to be ANGRY. If I recall correctly, I believe I threatened to unsubscribe from the WWE Network if Daniel didn’t win that night.
Who didn’t love Daniel? We Yes’d with him, cringed and yelled when The Authority held him down, and cheered when he and Bray Wyatt wrestled an incredible match at the Royal Rumble. But there’s absolutely no feeling like the feeling I had when Daniel Bryan made Batista tap out to win the WWE Title.
I’ve been a fan of wrestling for a very long time. I’ve liked many, many wrestlers in my time and have cheered for my favorites. But I’m very rarely driven tears during wrestling. As I was sitting on my couch at home screaming for Batista to tap out and Bryan held him in the Yes lock for the last time, I was a mess. Michael Cole screaming for Batista to tap over and over again didn’t help matters.
As soon as Batista hand hit the mat and the crowd screamed with joy, I screamed YES (appropriately enough) and jumped up and down in front of my TV. When Daniel held the titles for the first time, I cried. I continued to cry at the very last shot of him staring at the crowd with tears in his eyes. It was a beautiful moment. He DID IT. So many people in WWE want so badly to be the best, and the best actually beat the odds and got his Wrestlemania main event. There is no other moment in wrestling this year that’s made me feel like this. Nothing comes close.
Most wrestling fans are aware of what happened after Daniel won the titles. And while that sucks, I’m not going to dwell on it. What does matter is that Daniel’s name is etched in the record books as WWE World Heavyweight Champion. AND that Wrestlemania 30 closed with an obviously emotional Daniel Bryan staring down at his newly won titles in disbelief that he actually won. No matter who left or how he got there, that one moment is important. I will never forget where I was and what I was doing while I watched Daniel Bryan win the big one.
I’m giving Daniel Bryan an A this year for his Wrestlemania moment. How would you grade Daniel this year?