Bryan was propelled to wrestling immortality thanks to his skills on the mat, charisma, tenacity, and his ability to rev up his fans in the crowd through fiery promos on the mic. His initial underdog status also endeared him to fans, who began rooting for this short, lean outsider who wanted to win more than anything.
Never forgetting his roots as an independent wrestler, Bryan brought no-holds-barred style and raw showmanship to each and every match, winning against well-groomed talent from within the WWE hierarchy, whose promoted wrestlers were normally bigger, clean-cut, and more muscular guys set up as larger-than-life personas. Bryan, on the other hand, came in swinging as an average, gruff everyman who beat the odds.
As his star continued to rise, Bryan even managed to find love in the ring. The Bella Twins, a wrestling duo made up of twin sisters Brie and Nikki, were shown to be fighting for his affection, going as far as to wrestle over him. It was during the heated ringside altercation between sisters that Daniel and Brie noticed that their feelings for one another went beyond the promoted love triangle, and were genuine. For these two love birds, first came wrestling, then came marriage, and then their first child was born. Little did they know, however, that a shocking revelation was about to threaten their happiness.
High on fame, success, and love, it seemed as though nothing could stop Bryan. But it was then a tragic discovery put his entire career in jeopardy, and even potentially bringing it to an end. It took a lot of hard work and determination, but after being sidelined for far too long, our boy is at it again, and ready to take on the competition.
We’ve got to say that we missed Bryan’s renegade style as a wrestler, which is why we decided to take a look at his illustrious journey from the bingo halls of wrestling’s independent circuit, to the WWE’s biggest stage of them all, as the Greatest Of All Time who has returned.
Returning to the ring
On March 20th, 2018, after two years outside the ring, Daniel Bryan finally announced his return to WWE’s Smackdown Live. After giving an impassioned speech, he confirmed he’ll be returning to the ring, with the crowd roaring its approval. Despite his inspiring return, Bryan was then given a brutal beatdown by villainous superstars Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Nevertheless, his return made it the most watched episode in a year, as fans rallied around the beleaguered former champion, who’s faced incredible odds and come back for another shot at glory.
Despite his current popularity, Bryan had to fight long and hard to get to where he is. He started off not from within the WWE star-making machine, but entered it after building a name for himself on the independent circuit. His entry into the WWE world was rocky, with many powerful insiders preferring to promote other, “larger than life” wrestlers over him. And yet, against all odds, down to earth Bryan braved one of the low points in WWE’s history and gained a solid fan base of his own.
Due to Bryan lacking the WWE’s superstar, ultra-muscular look the likes of John Cena had, he was called a B+ player by such high ranking WWE officials, authority figures Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, whose father is Vince McMahon, the WWE’s founder. The elder McMahon allegedly created a glass ceiling for wrestlers coming from the independent circuit, like Bryan had done. The entire system seemed to be against him, with Triple H, who was acting as the referee during the world championship match, attacking Bryan mid-match, leading to his defeat.
The Yes Movement
The deck was definitely stacked against him, but Bryan nevertheless persevered, winning more and more matches along the way. After his first major championship title win in the WWE, he started shouting “Yes!” while raising his arms. The chant became popular with fans, despite Bryan being portrayed as a WWE villain. His popularity even crossed over to other sports events, so that when the San Francisco Giants became MLB champions in 2014, they celebrated with the chant during home runs, and invited Bryan to their parade.
Team ‘Hell No’
Portrayed as one of the WWE’s resident evils, Bryan was paired up with another villain, veteran fighter “The Demon” Kane. Kane had already teamed up with such iconic wrestlers as The Undertaker, but the crowds loved the comedic chemistry that he found with Bryan, both of whom were portrayed as having anger management issues, to the point where they were shown going to couples’ therapy. Their odd couple dynamics worked, and Bryan became so popular he was granted another shot at the Big One – the WWE’s world championship.
Facing John Cena
2014 was definitely Daniel Bryan’s year. His fan base, dubbed The Yes Movement, was the loud and energetic, and Bryan was put at the forefront of the WWE global scene. John Cena, the clean-cut powerhouse and face of the WWE, chose to fight Bryan, due to his small physique and unassuming appearance. Unbelievably, Bryan beat Cena, who remains the most decorated active champion of the WWE, making Bryan a bonafide star, and the new people’s champion.
As a hero in the wrestling ring, with a build and height of an average Joe, no wonder he became such a fan favorite. The ultimate underdog, a lot of the younger audience members connected to his grit and fighting spirit. This was true with Connor Michalek, a six-year-old cancer patient. After a successful online campaign, Bryan spent the day with his superfan, making his wish come true. Sadly, Michalek passed away the following year. After his passing, the WWE founded Connor’s Cure, a non-profit focusing on pediatric cancer research.
WWE planned the main event to be between two company-approved wrestlers, the champion Randy Orton (who won the championship from Bryan) and the returning star, Dave Batista (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame). Fans, however, demanded to have the people’s champion, Daniel Bryan, in the match, and after intense public pressure, the WWE relented. In the extraordinary match that ensued, Bryan ended up winning. He thanked the crowd for its unwavered support, which managed to shatter the glass ceiling for other unconventional wrestlers like him in the future.
Fired for disorderly conduct
It is hard to believe such a money-draw like Daniel Bryan could ever be fired by the WWE, but early on in his career, that’s exactly what happened. Initially presented as a villain, Bryan’s antics included choking a ring announcer with a microphone cord, and spitting on his future brother-in-law, fellow superstar John Cena. This was unacceptable to the WWE, whose anti-bullying policies were promoted in several campaigns. As such, Bryan was fired, though he was reinstated later on the same year, due to his growing popularity.
Bryan’s WWE success wasn’t limited to the ring, but also included him meeting his future wife – fellow wrestler and one half of the Bella Twins duo, Brie Bella. The Bellas joined the company before the company’s Women’s Revolution, when female fighters became more prominent and well regarded. Luckily, the sisters signed up anyway, and ended up taking part in a new, more inclusive age of wrestling.
Meeting his Bella
Bryan and Brie met as both Bella twins were shown to be fighting over him. But while their three-way dynamic was entertaining to watch, pretty soon life began to imitate art: night after night, the sisters were shown to vie for Daniel’s affection (adding to all of their popularity). But as they got to know each other outside of the ring, too, Brie and Daniel discovered they had genuine feelings toward one another that went beyond the act.
Tension on Total Bellas
As the Bellas’ fame grew, they landed their own reality show – Total Bellas. As Brie’s husband, Bryan also appeared on it, together with Nikki’s husband, John Cena. The foursome lived at John’s house for the shoot, with the close living quarters proving to be a source of conflict: after Bryan hears of his father’s passing and possible career-ending injury, his sadness and frustration taint his relationship with Nikki, and they end up in an altercation – all in front of the cameras. Luckily, the two in-laws managed to reconcile.
Relationship with his brother-in-law
Though John Cena and Daniel Bryan were rivals in the ring, they are now family because of their marriages to the Bella twins. Bryan had said in an interview that John and himself have similar interests and even go to the gym together, though they are not very close. Their differences are shown through John’s flashy spending and collection of muscle cars, compared to Bryan’s less ostentatious lifestyle. Vehemently anti-consumerism, Bryan has further commented that he feels he is betraying his own morals by promoting WWE merchandise to his fans.
Bryan led a vegan lifestyle for a long part of his career due to staph infections. The WWE’s grueling schedule and a developed soy-intolerance make it harder for him to maintain a strictly vegan diet, but he definitely tries. In 2012, PETA awarded him the Libby Award for the most vegan-friendly athlete. He cares deeply about the treatment of animals, and has even come out against eating meat while speaking to fans as his wrestling persona.
A tragic string of injuries
After years of wrestling in his reckless and show-stopping style, Daniel Bryan’s health began to take a hit, with repeated hits causing him sustained neck injuries, limb numbness, and concussions. As a result, he had to relinquish his World Heavyweight Championship title he had fought so hard to win. After working hard during his rehabilitation period, he returned to win the Intercontinental Championship, only to be injured again and then forced into retirement for two more years. Things certainly weren’t looking up for him.
After Bryan had announced his retirement, Brie went on a semi-retirement herself to emotionally support her husband and start a family together. Their Daughter, Birdie, was one-year-old at the time of his return. With their new home in Seattle, Washington, they are settling down to a new life. Bryan also used his time away from the ring to author his own biography chronicling his arduous path from the independent circuit to main-eventing the biggest stage of them all at the WWE.
Banning the Headbutt
The diving headbutt and its standing variation are career-ending moves with permanent damage. Numerous wrestlers, such as Chris Benoit, Test, the Dynamite Kid, and Katsuyori Shibata, all fell victim to it. Even the inventor of the move, Harley Race, has disavowed it due to its lasting effects on the body. The headbutt is now banned by the WWE, which has likely saved additional wrestlers from the pain and trauma that Bryan had experienced after his own injury.
Following the wrong track
Bryan’s fighting style, heavily influenced by his time in Japan and the indie circuit, is quite similar to another fallen legend’s – Chris Benoit, whose frequent use of headbutts eventually led to severe head trauma and even brain damage. Benoit’s injuries are believed to have later caused him to commit heinous acts that included him ending the lives of his wife and child. As a result of Benoit’s case, new concussion screenings were introduced into the WWE, to protect the talent.
Concerns for his health
Daniel Bryan was not shy about his burning desire to wrestling again as soon as possible, and his displeasure with the current, non-wrestler capacity within the WWE. After he was cleared by numerous doctors, he was finally cleared by WWE’s in-house physician, Joseph Maroon. The long wait and hesitation stemmed from the inconclusivity of the medical tests, and because the WWE could not let history repeat itself with another Chris Benoit.
Even during his retirement, Daniel Bryan remained a strong voice within the WWE. Bryan was a constant participant on commentators panel, Talking Smack, which interviewed immediately after their matches. As Bryan was well-spoken, witty, and brutally honest, Talking Smack gave him another chance to shine. Unfortunately, Bryan lethal commentary at times went a little overboard, such as when he namecalled current WWE champion, A.J. Styles, and ridiculed his intelligence, which led to the panel’s premature cancellation.
Feuding with the Miz
Daniel Bryan is used to having the last word, but he seemingly met his match in reigning Intercontinental Champion, The Miz. After Bryan called him a coward for his safe wrestling style, The Miz responded by saying his safer moves have kept him working for over a decade, while Bryan let down his fans by allowing himself to be injured. He added that if Bryan wanted to wrestle, he could do it in the “bingo halls” he used to wrestle in. That one had to have stung.
A renegade rule breaker
Bryan was always a rebel, particularly while he was kept from wrestling: he tweeted his support of independent wrestling and even hinted he might go wrestle at All In, one of the largest wrestling event in North America not headed by the WWE. During a panel discussion, he defended retired wrestler Mick Foley’s decision to switch organizations when he was sidelined due to health reasons, which left the other members visibly shocked. Needless to say, Bryan was determined to compete once more, and he wanted the world to know it.