Daniel Bryan is one of the all-time great professional wrestlers. There is a case to be made that he is the greatest professional wrestler. These are bold statements and you are entitled to disagree with the latter, but Bryan deserves these plaudits he is regularly greeted with. He certainly deserves to be in the discussions surrounding the nomination of “GOAT”. Let us take a look at why.
He Is a Student of the Game
Perhaps more than any other, Daniel Bryan is a self-made student of the game. He lists the likes of Dean Malenko, Toshiaki Kawada, William Regal, and Mituharu Misawa as his early influences. At a time when aspiring pro-wrestlers wanted to be the next Hulk Hogan, The Rock, or Ultimate Warrior, Bryan wanted to be the next Misawa. Whilst everyone wanted to be the larger-than-life megastar, Bryan aspired to be the in-ring specialist. This is exactly what he’d become; as he would study international wrestling; adopting bits of Japanese puroresu here and parts of lucha libre there; with a sprinkling of British wrestling on top, thanks to William Regal and Johnny Saint.
Daniel Bryan – then using his real name of Bryan Danielson – embarked on a decade of dominance on the independent circuit. Bryan traveled the United States and Japan (becoming the American Dragon in the process); he worked all over Europe; he has worked Triplemania XVI in Mexico. By working all over the world, Bryan continued to study whilst on the job and kept evolving as a pro wrestler. The man was crowned as the “King of the Indies” for a reason and that reason was he worked them all. When you work on so many independent shows, you are not just doing it for the money; you are doing it because you love the business. Only someone as well studied as Daniel Bryan can be involved in any debate surrounding the “Greatest of All Time” moniker.
Small Man in a World of Giants
When Daniel Bryan joined the WWE in 2009 (he had been there briefly in the early 2000s), it came with mixed reaction. Long-time fans of Bryan Danielson worried for the man. Here was Bryan, around 5’9″ and barely 200 lbs, joining the company known for favoring the behemoths of the wrestling world – if you were a smaller guy, you were traditionally doomed (with only a few exceptions). Fans of Bryan were right to be worried. Additionally, non-indie viewing WWE fans didn’t see anything special in Bryan. They saw him as a boring, technical “vanilla midget” (thanks for the term, Kevin Nash) without the necessary charisma to succeed on national television. This is clearly what management thought, too, as Miz famously cut a promo asking “where’s your personality? Where’s your charisma?” on Bryan. The odds were firmly stacked against the newly Christened Daniel Bryan.
Bryan was sent straight to NXT – then in its reality show incarnation. You would think this would be a bad thing for Bryan but actually, it benefited him. Everyone knew what Bryan was capable of in the ring and the reality concept of NXT allowed Bryan to show off his wonderful personality. If you have ever seen a Daniel Bryan interview outside of the WWE, you will know that he is a genuine, naturally likely guy. His charisma is contagious and you can’t help but smile along with him. Therefore, Bryan on NXT surprisingly worked – and gave us the first-ever instance of a wrestler declaring “I am not the biggest fan of capitalism” on national television.
Daniel Bryan Has Done More For Smaller Wrestlers Than Anyone
Being the smaller guy in a world of giants benefited Daniel Bryan perfectly. Despite the big guys of the WWE looking different to any guy you’d see on the street, Bryan looking like someone you’d meet on the street made him stand out in the WWE. In 2020, there are plenty of smaller guys booked strongly in the WWE and outside (such as AEW). This is largely with thanks to Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, for their work in the early 2010s. Two smaller, students of the game who managed to succeed overwhelmingly in the WWE.
Yes, whereas Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero‘s title-winning exploits at WrestleMania XX are often pointed at as the shift to smaller workers but it really wasn’t. The likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Triple H, etc. still dominated the second half of the decade. Therefore, though a uniquely memorable WrestleMania moment, it didn’t have the legacy. Rey Mysterio perhaps deserves similar credit to Bryan and Punk for surviving in the world of giants longer than anyone.
The reason why Bryan deserves the most credit is simple: no one achieved the top prize in such spectacular fashion. Daniel Bryan captured the hearts of fans in a way no other before him has. He connected with the audience in such a unique and special way and then eventually captured the top prize in the company in the main event of WrestleMania. He overcame three giants – Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton – in one night to achieve it. It is this moment, perhaps more than any, that has led to smaller, indie workers going on to be world champions. Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Kofi Kingston, AJ Styles, etc all have Daniel Bryan to thank for the WWE respecting their talents with World Championship runs.
The Legacy of Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan will have a lasting legacy within professional wrestling. He will be remembered most notably as the immensely talented ring general who became the hottest thing in wrestling because of this talent and his natural likability. Over time, however, he will be similarly remembered and recognized as being one of the main reasons why the big leagues of professional wrestling now lean more favorably towards smaller wrestlers. Rightfully, he will be remembered as someone who genuinely loved the art of professional wrestling; a true student of the game who used those who came before to hone his own craft and become the best wrestler in the world for well over a decade.
Daniel Bryan has confirmed that his current run will be his last. Normally, it is difficult to believe these kinds of statements from wrestlers. Most tend to continue on long after their initial retirement plans are announced. However, Bryan should be taken for his word. He turns 40 next year; has already been forced into retirement through injury once before and is now a happily married father of two. Bryan will never go away, however; he is still someone who lives and breathes pro-wrestling. His wrestling oriented mind will benefit the WWE – or anyone else, for that matter – and bring a creative vision from the perspective of someone who loves professional wrestling. Will Daniel Bryan be retired within two years? YES! Will Bryan be remembered as arguably the greatest to ever lace a pair of wrestling boots? YES!
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