Daniel Bryan, a blueprint for independent wrestlers, retired from active competition after a 16 year career. Honing his craft outside of the big two, Bryan, real name Bryan Lloyd Danielson, paved the way for independent stars that currently populate the WWE roster.
In his article, Daniel Bryan Retires: A Huge Loss for WWE, Adam Berry writes about how Bryan’s presence in the WWE made for a more compelling product and how his now permanent absence will in turn create a gaping void. However, long before his time atop the WWE, Bryan Danielson helped independent wrestling become a viable alternative to the WWE. Current EVOLVE promoter and former Ring of Honor booker, Gabe Sapolsky penned an open letter to Daniel Bryan about his retirement, thanking for Danielson for the contributions made to Sapolsky himself and the wrestling world at large, going so far as to say “Thank you, Bryan, for making my career, teaching me, being an example to everyone and for being the man. Thank you, sir.” Sapolsky credited Bryan for helping him name EVOLVE as well as the success of Ring of Honor during their time working for the company. In a business where making money is paramount, the out-pouring of love from a booker to a wrestler who left the company speaks volumes to the role Sapolsky feels that Danielson played in the development of the current independent wrestling scene.
Who else has a tear in their eye and a pit in their stomach? #ThankYouDanielBryan
— Gabe Sapolsky (@BookItGabe) February 9, 2016
Daniel Bryan’s Career: A Blueprint for Independent Wrestlers
After graduating high school, Bryan began training at Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy in 1999, training under Shawn Michaels, his boyhood idol, and Rudy Boy Gonzalez. There he trained with Brian Kendrick, another future WWE talent and worked on skills that would build a foundation for his carefree style in the ring. After months of training, Kendrick and The American Dragon squared off in their first professional match for the Texas Wrestling Alliance, a company created by Shawn Michaels to give his students a chance to work in front of live crowds on cards that included many local independent wrestlers. On October 4th, 1999, Bryan’s first match took place in a country western themed bar called the Far West Rodeo, wrestling to a ten minute draw, to a chorus of cheers that would portend well for the rest of his career.
Through a deal worked out by Shawn Michaels, Danielson got the opportunity to wrestle in Japan for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, a precursor to his eventual time in New Japan Pro Wrestling. His time in Japan helped “The American Dragon” to develop his stiff acrobatic style. Despite being signed to a developmental deal with WWE and being sent to Memphis Championship Wrestling, Bryan did not catch on with WWE at the time, forcing him to rethink his career and begin his path in carrying Ring of Honor to the top of the independents. After participating in an Independent Wrestling Super 8 tournament, his win at the King of the Indies inspired Gabe Sapolsky to bring him into a new project, Ring of Honor. It was here that Danielson earned the moniker of “Best in the World” due to his workrate and dedication. With ECW having folded, RF Video needed new wrestling to market and sell, with the hopes that bringing together the best independent wrestlers available would reel in fans left without independent wrestling tapes to buy and trade.
Best In The World
Danielson early work helped establish Ring of Honor, but his success did not come overnight. From February of 2002 to early 2005, Bryan wrestled tour in England and Japan, developing his matt technique and his in-ring storytelling. After the departures of Samoa Joe and CM Punk, Sapolsky’s ROH was left without its major stars and the promoter turned to Bryan to carry the company.
During a title reign that spanned 462 days, Bryan proclaimed himself to be the “Best in the World”. By association, ROH was elevated due to Danielson’s self-fulfilling prophecy. The best wrestler was apart of the best wrestling promotion in the United States. With Bryan on top, ROH was able to develop a niche audience that craved something that WWE wasn’t providing. His participation in matches that ended without traditional finishers and the realistic MMA style strikes that he employed as part of his repertoire allowed jaded WWE fans to engage in the escapism aspect of wrestling that had disappeared due to predictability.
After dropping the title and taking time off, Bryan returned as Ring of Honor began bimonthly PPVs. For a company that was based on DVD sales, the foray into PPVs allowed for an expanded audience to develop. His work with Seth Rollins, then known as Tyler Black, helped elevate young stars and his “Fight Without Honor” attracted so much attention that the card drew a record setting 2,500 attendees, prompting ROH to move the event to the Hammerstein Ballroom, a larger room at the same venue. ROH signed its first television deal shortly thereafter with HDnet, an eventual failure that allowed the company to learn from its mistakes as it continues to thrive as one of the top independent companies in America. His last appearance for the company on September 26th, 2009 at the Manhattan Center, culminated in an outpouring of affection from the fans and wrestlers alike for a man that cemented ROH as a successful independent company.
A Blueprint For Independent Wrestlers
Bryan Danielson’s time on the independent wrestling circuit not only helped companies like Ring of Honor to grow into a viable option for fans and aspiring wrestlers alike. Despite arriving to the WWE after other independent stars, his appearance on NXT proved to be the first time that WWE acknowledged the work of wrestlers before their time in the company, albeit derisively. His contributions have allowed the likes of Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries and others to have a shot at working for the WWE and for that alone he should be the one shown gratitude.