February 11, 2016
There was mixed emotion when Daniel Bryan sent out a Tweet on Monday, hours before Raw began, saying he was retiring from the ring and he would explain why on television that night.
My first reaction was, "No! No! No!"
Then, my reaction changed to, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
It's tough for any wrestling fan ... hell, any fan of any athlete or celebrity at all, to become attached to those people. They often become larger than life in the eyes of the beholder, and that's something we've just gotten used to as we've gotten older. Daniel Bryan, whose real name is Bryan Danielson, at his 5'10" height and his under-200 lb. frame became larger than life for wrestling fans.
In wrestling, it's incredibly difficult for characters to get over with the audience. They need to be put in the right positions, know what to say, what demeanor to have, and not feel the heat when the tough gets going. Many wrestlers over the years have fallen into the trap of either thinking too much, not having enough patience to see it through, or just simply lost their passion for the wrestling business. It happens. It'll continue to happen. And it's really easy for guys the size of a Daniel Bryan to get lost in the shuffle and then lose that passion for wrestling on the biggest stage in the world. Many will continue wrestling elsewhere, but there are also many that will believe their dreams have been dashed and it's time to move into another phase of their life.
Daniel Bryan had every opportunity to walk away from the business. After years of busting his ass on the independent wrestling scene, most notably with Ring of Honor, Bryan was hired by WWE. He was billed as the underdog from the beginning, being paired with The Miz and involved in a storyline that had treated him like a joke, and he was just lucky to get by his "mentor." Michael Cole also would do Bryan no favors on commentary. It got to the point to where we didn't know if what Cole was saying was legitimately what WWE thought, or if he was just playing a character.
Sometimes in wrestling, that's good. In Daniel Bryan's case, that was bad. He was continuously buried on commentary – but he did make the most of it. He won the United States Championship, and then eventually won the World Heavyweight Championship at TLC 2011 after cashing in his Money in the Bank contract.
His underdog persona was a big hit with the crowd, and then when he engaged in a slow burn for a heel turn after winning the World Heavyweight Championship and became a whiny, arrogant, scared heel, he pulled it off perfectly. So many wrestlers today are worried about being booed by the fans because they think that means they don't want to see them. In fact, too many heels nowadays try to be cool to get boos, which actually makes the fans like them more. But Bryan filled his role out so well during those months that the fans booed him loudly but loved watching him perform.
And he never got angry or paranoid about it. Because he knew he was playing a character that needed that reaction. That's why he was so good during his time in WWE. He relished being the guy people booed and didn't want to be cheered, even though that showed a sign of respect even as a heel.
And people caught onto that. He became the most entertaining aspect of WWE and fans latched onto that. He instantly became a hit, much like The New Day currently is each and every week. One of the most amazing moments of Monday Night Raw occurred when Bryan turned on Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family inside a steel cage. The crowd was electric and told a beautiful story of not only revenge but triumph. Unfortunately, that night Bryan received one of many documented concussions he's had throughout his career, and he's gone on record saying he doesn't remember much, if anything, that night.
Not many people remember that. Our Daniel Bryan was back. He then finagled his way into the WrestleMania XXX main event after beating Triple H in a fantastic opening match and then made Batista tap out to the Yes Lock to win the grand prize. History in the making would be an understatement. Daniel Bryan the wrestler, and the man had truly overcome all the odds.
That would be Bryan's last highlight of his career. Sure, he won the Intercontinental Championship in a Ladder Match the next year at WrestleMania 31, but that pales in comparison to the moment that ended the previous year's event. This was Bryan's shining moment. And just like that, it wasn't just taken away from him so quickly, but it was taken away from us, too.
He was forced to vacate the title about a month later and underwent neck surgery, returning at the 2015 Royal Rumble in Philly. While the Philly faithful absolutely hated the moment he was eliminated from the Rumble match, Bryan continued to wrestle every week, sometimes even twice a week, to keep fans tuning in. When he went down with a severe concussion shortly after winning the Intercontinental Title, we didn't know that'd be the final time we'd see him perform in a ring. And while that may still linger as sadness for us wrestling fans, it sounds like Bryan has accepted his fate and truly left his active in-ring days behind him.
It's not a fairytale ending. Not even close. The worst thing a professional athlete is faced with is when they cannot control their own destiny. When they cannot control the situation and timing of them finally hanging it up and calling it a career, it can come too late. Luckily for Bryan, it doesn't seem like it's too late.
The one thing I was hoping for looks like it's not going to happen. It looks like Bryan will only make special appearances on television when needed, and that he's fully focused on moving on with his life after professional wrestling. He isn't going to show up on television every week as a commentator or authority figure. In fact, that's probably beneath him anyway. His story has always been told in the ring, not on the mic. And now, we can finally say, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Daniel Bryan, you've truly given us all something to root for.
About 24 hours after officially retiring, Bryan went on ESPN's SportsCenter with former WWE announcer Jonathan Coachman to talk about his decision and what played a factor into his decision. He disclosed that he's hid several post-concussion seizures, and before his last neurological test, he felt fine enough to return to the ring. I know many people might not be a fan of this truth, but it's entirely possible WWE saved Bryan's life by keeping him out of the ring.