|Danielson helped keep fans into wrestling when WWE went into doldrums|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Being younger than the majority of my “peers” in the world of online wrestling and the hardcore fandom, I was not able to experience the era of tape trading. On one hand, I didn’t have to spend copious amounts of money on wrestling tapes, but on the other hand I was severely limited in terms of exposure to wrestling beyond what was televised. I was in the first grade when World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling went out of business, so for the vast majority of my wrestling fandom WWE was the only thing that I knew and thus my views were largely shaped around what I saw on RAW or Smackdown.
During the infancy of YouTube (before everyone was flagged for copyright), this all changed as seemingly every kind of wrestling became available at my fingertips. At first I started looking for all of the generally acclaimed classic matches of WWF or WCW lore, your Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels or Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat encounters of the world. Soon after that it was finding work from the likes of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero before they became big names in the USA. All of these things were great, though they were always of people I’d seen or heard of being great for years. We had some local indie “Pro Wrestling Ohio” that came on at inconsistent times featuring the now Son of Havoc and a rookie Johnny Gargano among others, though I had never really thought to journey into the “unknown” world of wrestling until I took a chance on Bryan Danielson.
Lance Storm was a guy I appreciated and really liked at various times even in my youth, when I heard of him having a fantastic match that garnered praise outside of the WWE bubble (as he had left about a year earlier), I became extremely intrigued. His opponent for this match was none other than Danielson who by this point was one of the best North American wrestlers amongst fans who followed Ring of Honor at the time. Due to the way Danielson had been hyped everywhere on the Internet, and me not really having much to do on a particular day, I gave that match a chance.
Watching the match was a revelation to me as it opened my eyes to an entirely new world of wrestling from the style, the pace, and even the rabid fans. From there I had to get my hands on every Bryan Danielson match that I could, and they never disappointed. Not only were the matches great, but they were also integral in helping me get familiar with other popular names at the time such as KENTA, Nigel McGuiness, and Austin Aries. Before I knew it, there were dozens of wrestlers that I didn’t even know a few months prior, but I could now say that I was a fan of them due to Bryan Danielson.
Danielson became the wrestler I was most invested in emotionally, and this was without seeing him on TV weekly, or without intricate storylines or angles telling me why I should care about this short guy who had a shaved head at the time. Next to heavily pushed TV stars like Batista or Bobby Lashley he would have looked tiny, but none of that mattered to me. Most of all, this came at a time when I was very down on WWE as a whole, and had been for quite some time. Danielson opened my eyes to an entirely new world of wrestling, and I can firmly say that if I had not taken a chance on him a decade ago, there is no way I would be waking up at 3 or 4 AM to watch a New Japan Pro Wrestling show live or doing half of the things I do to watch this crazy sport of wrestling that I love.
Watching Danielson finally get his chance in the WWE was an absolute treat even despite how frustrating his booking was at times. To watch a guy that I got attached to for years become one of the biggest names in the world was incredibly gratifying, and he went from “The best kept secret” to simply The Best.