Tuesday, May 12, 2015

If This Be the End for Daniel Bryan...

He didn't retire, but it didn't look good for his future
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Daniel Bryan stood in the ring on RAW last night and gave a speech that was oddly familiar to anyone who was watching the April 11, 2011 episode. On that show, Edge shared with the crowd that a MRI revealed damage that was going to cause him to retire. Bryan didn't officially retire last night. He didn't even reveal the nature of his injury, which casts some doubt onto whether he reinjured his neck or dinged a new body part. But the vibe was awfully similar, especially after laying his Intercontinental Championship in the ring and walking out to rousing "Thank you Daniel!" chants. It may not have been the end, but things were not looking good.

And yet, as Bryan let the crowd know that he may not be around for weeks or even months, he gave a glimpse of what made him so endearing to the fans in general in the first place. Sure, the hardcore Bryan Danielson fans who willed him to main event status after WrestleMania XXVIII may have lit the spark on the the fire underneath WWE's asses on pushing him, but that Bryan was a petulant baby who just happened to be the best worker on the roster and maybe the world at that point. Even after dropping the rudo act, he still showed an awful misogynist bent, especially towards Stephanie McMahon, carrying the cheers of the fans in spite of his attitude or even worse, because of it to the members of the crowd whose dry dicks are composed mostly of trash. I rooted for Bryan because of what the person playing the role represented and what his ascendancy meant for wrestlers like him, not because of his treatment of McMahon or his whiny clinging to a belt he could no longer defend.

No, the Bryan that was easy to fall in love with was the perennial underdog who debuted against all odds on the pilot episode of NXT v. 1.0. He was the man whom Miz said didn't have the charisma to make it in WWE, a bald-faced lie that manifested itself the moment Bryan opened his mouth to kick off that episode. He was the good kid who got caught up in a bad crowd that one fateful night after Wade Barrett won that season and formed a group called the Nexus. He was punished for the sins of that group, but then he came back after a successful exile tour and helped Team WWE beat back his former oppressors. Against all odds, he grew popular fighting underneath monsters of the month like Miz and Sheamus, and finally, he capped off his first act as a WWE superstar with a monumentally shocking win in the World Heavyweight Championship Money in the Bank ladder match, at the same show where CM Punk waltzed out of the Allstate Arena with the WWE Championship held hostage.

It was that Bryan who made a welcomed appearance last night. He admitted that McMahon was right last year, and told the fans that they deserved someone who defended the Intercontinental Championship. (Of course, the joke is that Bryan may have defended the belt more times in his truncated run than some prior Champions did in WWE's haze of terrible secondary Championship booking, but, well, *kermit-sips-the-tea-dot-jpg*) He relinquished the belt with honor, and he did so as an underdog in a heinous battle with the human anatomy. Once again, he's in a fight where the odds are against him, only it's a fight that's more real than anything he's ever faced.

As the realization that the opponent of his body may not be one able to be conquered sets in, the knee-jerk reaction is to bemoan his WWE career. Sure, the parent company may not have utilized his talents in the best way possible. His biggest rise came as an accident thanks to overwhelming crowd reactions and the aforementioned Punk walking out of the building and the promotion as he was on the precipice of wrestling Triple H at WrestleMania XXX. But wrestling is full of accidental pushes, and those big thrusts end up being better than anything that was ever planned by a shithead, not-as-smart-as-he/she-thinks-he/she-is booker. Even if Bryan's character wasn't as likable or heroic as it could have been, that Mania in New Orleans was still a vindication of every single person who has plunked down money for a ticket, a t-shirt, or a DVD for the promise of Bryan creating magic for them.

And that whole night was completely and utterly magical. He wrestled maybe the best wrestling match in 2014 against Triple H, a man who wasn't exactly noted for having great matches in recent years. He went to the main event, took a stretcher job, and came roaring back to win the day at the very end. As confetti rained down in the world's largest unison YES! chant, Bryan exited the ring and gave little Connor Michalek some love. It was the perfect moment, maybe the most perfect moment in recent wrestling history. And no matter how badly WWE fucked up Bryan's development, it's one that can never be taken away from him. It's a moment that can never be taken away from us.

Moments like those don't happen for everyone. It didn't happen for Punk. It didn't happen for Chris Jericho. It didn't happen for Magnum TA or Mick Foley or arguably even Sting, whose big Starrcade moment in 1997 was marred by shitty booking and a fast count that was slower than a Great Khali rope run. But it happened for Bryan. If this is the end of the line for him, he still had a career worth cherishing, worth celebrating, worth writing epic tales about. The man conquered every ring he ever set foot into, and even though the cost was Pyrrhic, it's one that has given wrestling fans the world over memories that will last as long as their lives.

And if his career is over, it doesn't mean his life is. Bryan Danielson deserves to live as a healthy human being, to be there for his family and friends, as someone who can still revel in his successes and memories even if he can't partake in a business that he's helped define more than most people in the last 15 years. As a selfish, shitty wrestling fan, I hope this isn't the last I've seen of Daniel Bryan, but truth be told, if this is the end for him, he at least went out with a bang.