|Adam remembers Bryan|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
April 14, 2012. On that night, I was not at a wrestling show, but at a gig. It was Andrew WK, at the Garage in Glasgow. In the moments before he took to the stage, anticipation was building. In amongst the chants of his name, something was building. It started, as many of these things do, with just a few people, but grew until the entire venue had joined in. At first, I felt disbelief, quickly replaced by joy. "They're not chanting... no wait, they are!" I thought, quickly joining in with the hundreds of people all yelling one word in unison...
"YES! YES! YES!"
If it wasn't obvious before, it was to me then. Daniel Bryan was a guy who had the potential to be a genuine star. Wrestling is nowhere near as mainstream as it once was. People often ask who the next Stone Cold or Rock will be, when the truth is wrestling (and arguably more so, wrestling fans) has changed so much since then that the chances of that happening again are pretty slim. For all that John Cena has been 'The Guy' in wrestling for the last decade, I still meet people who've never heard of him. And yet here I was, at a gig in one of Scotland's most famous venues, the entire place (Andrew WK included) united in the chant of Daniel Bryan, the guy who was 'never supposed to make it'. In the following weeks, I saw similar stories online, of the chant being raised at basketball games, baseball, football, you name it. Even just last week, to pay tribute after his retirement, Scottish football club Stenhousemuir took to the pitch to Bryan's entrance theme. Hardly a mainstream endorsement, but to have made that impact to a sports team on the other side of the world is still pretty cool.
(And apparently they usually use Steve Austin's theme. I have no way of verifying this as I'd rather jump off a bridge than travel to Stenhousemuir, thanks)
I saw that time as the start of something special, a changing of the guard. Bryan, the guy we were all worried 'wouldn't be used right' when he joined WWE, was destined to be the next top guy. I never thought less than four years later, I'd be writing about his retirement. Even when last year, we'd all pretty much accepted he was probably never going to wrestle again, occasionally there'd be a story about Bryan claiming he was cleared to wrestle, filling me with that absolute BASTARD, hope. So much so that until his retirement speech on RAW, I wishfully thought it was a storyline. That he'd come out, tell us that The Authority wouldn't clear him to wrestle, and the build to WrestleMania would begin in earnest. Curse you, hope. You win this time.
For years, Bryan was one of those guys I knew about, but had never seen. In the days before YouTube, it was much easier for a wrestler from another country to escape your attention, and for me Bryan came out in that awkward time between the decline of tape trading and the dawn of "OMG YouTube has EVERYTHING". I finally saw him in Ring of Honor on The Wrestling Channel, I think in 2005, and it was quickly obvious why the guy was so highly rated. But then let's face it, if you asked people to design the perfect wrestler, the phrases "trained by Shawn Michaels" and "mentored by William Regal" would probably feature heavily in a lot of answers. I could go on at length about how good he is in the ring, but better writers than me have already done so, and to be honest, it should really go without saying by this point.
I'd rather talk about how much of a funny cool guy he is. Hell, despite how emotionally devastated he was, he was trying to make US feel better during his retirement speech. Not to mention his stellar work on the JBL and Cole Show and Saturday Morning Slam, where he was a ninja, a magician, a rapper, and talked about bears perhaps more than is considered normal. Seriously, if you haven't already, go to YouTube, type in "The Dazzler", watch him and William Regal try to con Michael Cole and JBL with a dodgy magic trick. Watch him rap about how smelly Kane is, while Kane beatboxes for him. Watch the radio interview where he claims hiding behind AJ Lee from the Big Show was actually empowering her as a woman. Watch any of the interviews where he mentions "The Ryback". Or look for the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla promo where he can't stop laughing at Paul London. We all know laughter is infectious, but Bryan trying to keep a straight face while London goes off on one is possibly the greatest gift the internet has given us. And of course, watch his interactions with Connor The Crusher, if your heart can handle it.
I said earlier wrestling fans have changed. As the internet has grown and more documentaries have given us a peek at how it all works, fans have become more cynical (and I'll freely admit to being guilty of this myself). I think it speaks volumes more than anything else that in this era where people are more concerned with the thinking behind the stories than the stories themselves (again, guilty), or who's being pushed or buried, Daniel Bryan made people believe again. It's long been said that the best characters in wrestling are the ones who are an extension or amplification of the person behind it, so it makes complete sense that Bryan's character essentially being "really nice guy who happens to be the best wrestler on the planet" took off. And that's the best part of his success - he's just a really nice guy. Stories have always been rife of the top guys in wrestling having gargantuan egos, of making demands, refusing to lose and so on. "You need a big ego to be successful in this business." Not with him. He's just nice. Watch any interview with the man, and it practically exudes out of him. Daniel Bryan is a nice guy who deserves every bit of success he got. He may not have the larger than life personality that WWE has always wanted its top stars to have, but he has a natural likability that many top wrestlers would kill for.
And THAT'S why he was always the top guy, even if he wasn't always presented as such (though in fairness, he's one of only a handful of guys to have beaten John Cena cleanly). There's wrestlers out there who have sections of fans who'll never accept them, such as Cena and Roman Reigns. And some of the indy darlings might not get the same acceptance from the children in the crowd as they will from the fans who supported them pre-WWE. And that's fine. Each to their own. Daniel Bryan didn't have that problem - he is universally loved by fans, young and old across the board. The guy who'll get a good match out of anybody. The guy you can put on talk shows who won't embarrass the company. The guy who always got the desired reaction. The perfect wrestler. Even though it has been almost a year since his last match, his retirement still leaves an unfathomable hole in the roster.
In terms of that universal love of the fans, the question is no longer who will be the next Stone Cold or Rock. The question now is, who will be the next Daniel Bryan?
(side note: I was lucky enough to meet Bryan at a signing in November 2012, and told him about the YES! chants at the Andrew WK gig, and he did that brilliant laugh of his and said it was awesome.)