When Daniel Bryan announced his retirement on Monday 8th February 2016, there was for want of a better term a great disturbance in the force. People from all circles of wrestling came out to say how sorry they were that this small unassuming pro wrestler had been forced to retire at the age of 34. It says a lot for the personality and character of the man but his legacy may be a warning for wrestling moving forward.
When you think of Daniel Bryan, most people think of a small, bearded ball of energy in the ring who inspired many fans to take up his yes chants in arenas. His crowing glory came in the story arc from Royal Rumble 2014 to Wrestlemania 30. It was during this time that the WWE fans simply refused to take the product that was being offered to them and rallied behind Daniel Bryan forcing the powers that be to put him in the main event picture. This was both monumental for wrestling and for Bryan himself. Unfortunately this pinnacle moment was also the beginning of the end for his career. Soon after this he was forced to relinquish the belt due to injury. A trend that repeated itself the following year, when he had to give up the Intercontinental belt won at Wrestlemania 31. After this he would never compete again.
As a fan I always had mixed emotions towards Bryan. I appreciated everything he did in promos and his in ring work was on a par with AJ Styles, Kenny Omega and others from the modern era. His look was also perfect for his character. He was the underdog, beloved by fans and a pioneer for the WWE recruitment process moving forward. Before Bryan, who could have imagined AJ Styles, Nakamura, Austin Aries, Fergal Devitt and even Samoa Joe in the WWE? They are the complete opposite of the characters Vince McMahon loves to promote. Bryan’s ascension and popularity opened the doors for these stars and the future of the WWE is bright as a result.
However any appearance or even mention of Bryan began to grate on me. To make this clear, this was nothing to do with him at all, it is completely down to the reactions of the fans and more specifically some hardcore fans. After the Yes movement and the great success of it, the fans began to demand their favourites and particularly Bryan, won every match. Worse than this the Daniel Bryan chants, much like the CM Punk chants began to be used during other stars matches. As a traditionalist I find this disrespectful. Every match presented should be appraised on its own merits. So when there is an important match going on, hearing Daniel Bryan or Punk chants sets off a nerve inside me. I can’t think it is what Bryan would want himself, Punk on the other hand, who knows?
This has permeated throughout the WWE now because of the Yes movement. While some say it is only fair to give the paying public what they want, there has to be some form of give and take. Would Wrestlemania 30 have been as special had Bryan not had to overcome so many odds? If the WWE had pushed Bryan like they push Cena on us, Bryan would have been as hated by older fans as Cena is.
From a storyline point of view Bryan was always the underdog. He was the irresistible force to the Immovable Object of the WWE. Unlike Stone Cold Steve Austin who was legitimately the strongest and meanest force during his battles with Vince, Bryan was none of these. He looked weak but just kept going and going until he succeeded. Unfortunately this success ruined his character. He was never going to be the man who could single-handedly hold onto the belt as the Authority threw everything at him. He always had to be the hunter and never the Hunted because of his humble nature as a person. The introduction of Total Divas has ruined the ability for a performer to be different in ring than outside. Bryan is quintessentially a good guy and a good man. You couldn’t see him do the necessary evils from a story point of view to be a reigning champion. Look at the long running babyface champions. Bret Hart beat people with his technical excellence, yet you always knew he had a mean streak a mile long when it came to portraying hurt on his opponents. Hart could realistically turn dirty and do what was necessary. A brutal match against Kevin Nash involving cables and figure fours round the ring post springs to mind. Shawn Michaels, while not my favourite, could also do what was necessary to keep his title, yet remain a face.
I just wouldn’t have believed the leader of the Yes movement using a chair or set of steps to win a match. Look at his showing against Roman Reigns at last years’ Fastlane. He performed well but had to put Reigns over. It looked wrong, there was a handshake as usual but inside Bryan must have been bubbling. For a start he was only in the match because of the crowd reaction to his elimination at the Royal Rumble that year. He had just returned at the Rumble and of course the crowd expected him to win because of this. When he didn’t and Roman Reigns won, it sent them into revolt and dealt Reigns’ career a blow that it still hasn’t recovered from.
If only the crowd could have allowed someone else to share Bryan’s spotlight we could have had a different outcome. Unfortunately now the template is set. Aj Styles looks to be the man to fill the Bryan shaped hole. Yet will he fall into the same trap. AJ is four years older and has a more adaptable persona. Yet it will make no difference if he falls into the trap of being too popular with the fans. If you are so popular you will get typecast and have no room to become a legend. If you look at all the greats, they were both heel and face over many years. Sadly Bryan never got the chance to grow because of the adoption of the yes movement. It was monumental for the fans to unite behind one man, yet the movement could have been so much more than a memorable chant. Sadly injury has left us with only this. #thankyoudanielbryan