How do we evaluate the measure of worth of an entertainer? And I mean an entertainer across any point on the spectrum: actors, musicians, athletes, or for our purposes of course, professional wrestlers. Is it strictly founded in the level of their performance? Is how they live their mundane life a factor? What about their generosity and charitable causes, or whether or not their personalities are larger than life?
There isn’t a formula for absolute success or fame that encompasses all these factors; it’s up to the person to use those tools organically to build themselves up. It’s probably rare to see someone utilize every single one of those tools, but Daniel Bryan came pretty damn close.
It’s not often that a wrestler comes along and changes the game so drastically, they transcend the squared circle and become household names. How many guys can we name that became the “next Hulk Hogan?” How many guys can become the face of a company? There are guys that were on the cusp, and guys that were renown, but only really within the realm of the wrestling world.
Perhaps it’s arguable that Daniel ever became the man. Time, maybe, didn’t afford him the opportunity to make it far enough that some kid’s 45 year old dad who has never watched a minute of wrestling in his life could easily recognize one Daniel Bryan. Thing is: fires like that only start with a spark and Bryan had already stoked the flames.
At this point, it will come as a shock to no one that he had achieved a legendary status in the indies alone. This would probably be the part where I hurl a bunch of his career highlights at you, but I’m not much of a wrestling historian and I think it would speak more to his talent if I spoke from the heart on this one. This may be a bit of an odd place to start, but Bryan’s dominant run as ROH World Heavyweight Champion was one the most polarizing and believable runs I’ve seen on the independents.
For 15 months, he plowed through competition from ROH, CZW, and around the globe. That’s all well and good, but the impressive part? Well, that lies within the fact that in a world and time where most fans were “smart,” Bryan was able to make fans love him but boo the hell out of him all at once. That heel run, to me, was the first time he displayed a wider range of personality than he previously had.
His first couple of years in the WWE were a struggle to find that part of him. The focus zeroed in on his world class wrestling ability and the fact that it didn’t matter in the WWE; that he had to prove himself. I longed for the days of Bryan reminding the ref he had til 5 and purposely disappointing the crowd with his arrogance. It was a longing that lasted until he discovered the “Yes!” chant after capturing the World Heavyweight Championship.
Now the whole world knows he was about more than titles and wrestling ability. He held titles everywhere from ROH to PWG and NOAH to New Japan. The amount of excellent matches he’s put on is astronomical, but it wasn’t what made Bryan the best. I think we saw glimpses of it during his independent days, but it really shined through (at least for me) when he got to the WWE.
Danielson is a humble man, grateful for his fans and the opportunity he had to do something he loves. With all the characters and stories that engulf the WWE, sometimes it’s hard to see that these guys actually love and enjoy what they’re doing. Somehow, you could see it on Bryan’s face when he was in that ring. He let a smile slip through every time someone got interrupted with “Yes!” chants or “Daniel Bryan” chants.
I think the magic with Bryan wasn’t that he led fans through this game-changing movement with him, it’s that he let fans in, far through his arm’s reach and let them enjoy the ride with him. It was taking time out to make a dying boy’s last few months pain-free despite what his body was feeling, and it’s never forgetting all the years of support from people that have cheered and jeered him since day 1.
This is meant as a thank you to one of the greatest pro wrestlers I’ve ever had the pleasure of following from the bottom to the top.
I hope he gains as much from life as we’ve gained entertainment from him for 16 years.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Courtesy of WWE.com.