|Bryan was a special case|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
My “getting into wrestling” story is kind of lame. It happened in 2003 when I watched the first Tribute to the Troops and got hooked. This coincided with the big push for Chris Benoit which led to him winning the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
Basically, Benoit was my favorite wrestler from the moment I decided to get into the fake sport. Even at a young age, I could always tell that he was different from the bigger, stronger guys of the world, the guys like Triple H and Brock Lesnar and those freaks of nature. He was just so... cool. He was cool. I don’t know what made him cool, because he didn’t rap like John Cena or do fun Eddie Guerrero things like Eddie Guerrero, but there was something about him that just made you want to cheer about him. He was this small dude who brought people to the mat and just ruined them, plus his underdog story was something that resonated with everyone, especially an 11-year-old.
And then It™ happened. Chris Benoit died in 2007. I was sitting in my bedroom on the verge of tears when the news dropped, because the guy I liked the most died and it made me upset. Then the news came out about how Benoit died and I decided that I was never going to watch professional wrestling again. I was done, never going back to watching this fake piece of garbage that led to some dude’s brain going berserk to the point that he killed his family in the most inhumane way possible. Then there was the way that WWE responded to it and yup, I’m out. Sure, there were some moments that got me intrigued again – PIPE BOMB – but for the most part, nope.
But then a funny thing happened about six years after Benoit’s death – I kept getting drawn back into professional wrestling. At first, I never got as into it as I was as a kid and I thought I could do anything (“LOL HOW STUPID HAVING DREAMS IS DUMB,” I say in my most cynical voice), but I slowly started to have fun watching wrestling again.
This was because of Daniel Bryan. The feeling of happiness that cheering for a guy like Benoit gave me was replicated in Bryan. This is because Bryan is the spiritual successor to Benoit when it came to grapplefucking people to death and working for years before getting his shot in WWE, but as a smaller guy with a “big heart” who “left it all in the ring” or whatever, I felt like I was watching the guy who made wrestling fun for me when I was some 11 year old getting into it for the first time. It’s why I never get mad at people who pop for The Rock or any other older guys, because one of the main pillars that my professional wrestling fandom is built upon is my love of nostalgia.
So I started watching Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan matches like the fate of the world depended on it. I needed to know everything that I could about this short dude who would out-wrestle everyone, flew around the ring like the fate of his mother depended on it, and seemed like a legitimately really nice person. It turns out he’s a vegan and he had the lowest ambition score ever on some stupid test that WWE does and once he retires he wants to build mud huts or something and he’s also the best wrestler in the world. He was, basically, everything that shouldn’t turn you into a superdupermegastar, and yet that’s exactly why everyone loved him.
I fully got back on board with wrestling a month or two before Bryan’s big win and subsequent loss at SummerSlam. By that point, I had decided that I wanted this guy to win every single championship and never lose ever again. That childlike enthusiasm I had when I was a kid was finally back. I wasn’t rooting for Daniel Bryan, I was rooting for Bryan Danielson.
And that’s the thing that, I think, made Bryan the most popular wrestler in years. At a certain point, no one was cheering for Daniel Bryan. Instead, everyone was cheering for Bryan Danielson and the character he was playing on television. Even the fans who usually only care about wins and losses – you know them better as “children” or “John Cena fans” – were losing their minds over this dude with the same passion as everyone else.
Then the payoff came at WrestleMania 30. Then the injuries started piling up. Then that speech on Raw where everyone thought he was announcing his retirement but instead announced that he was coming back happened. Then the Royal Rumble in Philly happened. The the IC title ladder match happened. Then he was on the shelf again. Then for months we had to deal with those stories about how maybe he’s healthy but maybe he isn’t and one doctor cleared him then another didn’t and oh god why can’t there be a consensus on this please god this is brutal.
Then we got the resolution. In a beautiful, 15ish-minute speech to close Raw, Daniel Bryan took a back seat to Bryan Danielson. It sucked, but it was the type of authentic moment that made everyone love the guy in the first place. And the amazing thing is, every single moment involving his in-ring career with WWE completely captivated fans. He had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand in a way that no one else could, all because everyone loved the person behind the character so much.
On a more personal note, it was the type of authentic moment that made me love the guy. He was the person who single handedly got me back into professional wrestling and helped me get past the fact that the guy I used to like the most was a monster. To summarize the last 1,000ish words or whatever, Bryan Danielson made me love professional wrestling again. For that, I will always be thankful to him.
But the thing that makes me happiest is that we watched a guy do what was best for him and his family. For years, Daniel Bryan Danielson is a guy who has done everything for the fans to the point that it would have ruined his life if he kept going. Sure, he loved his job more than anyone will ever love their job, but listening to him talk about how much he loved those who support him was so beautiful that I can’t help but be happy that he’s decided to stop play fighting in his battle jammies forever.
It’s a full 180 from how I felt the last time that my favorite guy’s career came to an end, and that could not make me happier. Besides, wrestling is storytelling, and there’s nothing better than a story with a happy ending, right?