April 6th, 2014. WrestleMania 30, inside the Superdome in New Orleans and in front of 70000+ people, Daniel Bryan ascended to the very peak of his profession. Once the bell had tolled to signal his victory, he grabbed his belts, celebrated briefly, and hopped out of the ring.
He made his way to young Connor Michalek at ringside, and with confetti still falling, hugged the 8 year old cancer sufferer. Bryan would by all accounts tell Connor that he was the inspiration he needed to win that night, and that if Bryan could win, then Connor could beat cancer and to keep fighting.
More than anything Daniel Bryan did in the ring, that right there is the measure of the man. The biggest night of his career, the very pinnacle of everything he’d fought for, not just in the WWE, but all over the world in small arenas, high school gyms, and even parking lots – and he was more concerned about Connor.
The story of Daniel Bryan is far from typical in the WWE. At 5′ 8″ and less than 200lbs, Daniel Bryan was not your typical WWE star. He was never meant to be “The Guy” at the top – the storyline where he was called a B+ player had more than a whiff of truth about it. Yet Bryan was able to connect to the fans like nobody else on the roster at the time, and the sheer force of willpower from the fans powered him to the very top.
Even this past Monday night as he delivered his retirement speech on live television, he still managed to connect to the fans on a personal level. He gets the unique relationship that we as fans have with the guys in the ring. Sure, it’s all scripted and planned out, but the plans mean nothing if we don’t connect with the players involved. Just ask Roman Reigns. Daniel Bryan connected, maybe because he never really saw himself as a star, and never carried himself as if he was above the fans.
In the ring? There’s a fair argument to be made that for a stretch of several years, he was simply the best in the world. His tenure in Ring Of Honor helped redefine wrestling, combining strong style, lucha and good old fashioned wrasslin’ to give us the basis for the modern hybrid style that prevails now.
His battles with the likes of AJ Styles, Low Ki, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, CM Punk and more besides gave us a body of work that can be held up with anyone who has ever been in the ring. If you add the flawless ring work to his ability to connect, and his vastly under rated promo work, you have a special talent.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and everything he’s said in the past couple of days about his concussion history and brain scans makes me think the decision to call it a day is the best thing for him, and his family. Even for someone like Daniel Bryan, there are things more important than wrestling, your health and family being the main one.
Daniel Bryan has every right to be sad that his passion in life has been taken away from him earlier than it should have been; but he also has every right to be proud of a career and a legacy that will stand up against anyone.
His word of choice in the retirement speech was gratitude. We should have gratitude that we were able to be part of his journey, to enjoy the hours of sheer joy that he gave us. More importantly, we should have gratitude that he was able to retire while still relatively healthy, and retire on his own terms.
Thank you, Daniel Bryan.