Bryan Danielson was my favorite wrestler.
Jushin Liger will always be my all-time favorite, but there was a point, a stretch of time when Bryan Danielson laid a major attack against that claim. Bryan Danielson was a major component and factor for me becoming big into Ring of Honor for a period of time. I would buy every DVD that I knew had a Danielson match worth watching on it, and that was a lot of DVDs. I pretty much own his entire Ring of Honor title reign on DVD. I was enamored by this wrestler, his abilities in the ring, his ridiculous “Final Countdown” theme which on its own is an awful song but as his entrance was iconic. I loved watching this man wrestle, I always wanted to get to see him live and in person. I wanted to see the American Dragon perform right in front of my eyes as the best wrestler in the world.
Alas, the opportunity never came and in 2009 Bryan Danielson left pro wrestling. He left it behind, he disappeared and a short while later Daniel Bryan appeared in WWE. It wasn’t the same, but in a lot of ways, it was still good. In a world that put entertainment and other elements over wrestling, Daniel Bryan’s love and desire to promote wrestling did its best to shine through, and I was still a fan. I was still a major fan of this man and I wanted to see him succeed against the overwhelming odds, odds that themselves would be placed and embedded by the WWE. They never wanted him to be the guy, they never saw him like that, they did all they could to prevent him from that. Fans voiced themselves harder, voice themselves louder, and eventually, at WrestleMania 30 (an event I was there live for) Daniel Bryan had perhaps one of the greatest night of his pro-wrestling career when he defeated Triple H in the opening and then went on to become the top champion in WWE by defeating Randy Orton and Batista in one hell of a main event. It was an amazing high for me to have gotten to witness this high. Years later it still ranks as one of my favorite live moments of all time. I remember hugging friends and strangers (which is rare for me).
Then it all came crashing down. Injuries and retirement.
It was a sad time for me. It was a time when my interest in wrestling took a hit for a temporary bit. In the end, I just wanted Daniel Bryan happy and healthy, but I was selfish. I wanted Daniel Bryan to return to wrestling.
Even more selfishly I kind of hoped Bryan Danielson would find a way to return instead. I wanted Bryan Danielson back kicking in heads, wrestling his ass off, and performing against some of the very best wrestlers in the world in an unrestricted environment. I desperately wanted that even though I knew reality would in many ways dictate otherwise. That doesn’t stop you from dreaming, and in my dreams, it was me at a wrestling show with Bryan Danielson coming out and everyone losing their minds at his return.
What we got was Daniel Bryan, and I was happy. I was ecstatic for the man who wanted nothing but to return. Maybe it wasn’t what I wanted, but who cared, he was cleared, he was better, and he was prepared to entertain once again. Admittedly after a short stint, it didn’t feel the same. While his return was emotional and special, WWE did all they could from the start it seemed to delude it. They seem interested in the moment of Daniel Bryan returning, but not the follow-up. Despite an awesome heel run as champion and an emotional match against Kofi Kingston, my interest in Daniel Bryan started to wan, started to diminish. Not all of this was his fault, but part of it was?
You see, Daniel Bryan always talked about these amazing things he wanted to do in wrestling. Matches, moments, events, things that would require Daniel Bryan to disappear and for Bryan Danielson to re-emerge. He talked a lot but never seemed interested in walking the walk. This was annoying, obnoxious off-putting, and I started to feel myself no longer care about Daniel Bryan, which was not a fun feeling. It’s not a good feeling to have the respect and admiration for someone you had begun to fade. I knew he was happy in WWE, I’m sure he had his legit reasons and needed to stay with them, but if that was the case I wanted him to stop teasing us, stop dangling the carrot. I felt my interest in Daniel Bryan begin to fall into a vacuum, avoid, and it was a depressing time. Even his great match against Edge and Roman Reigns felt more like a last hurrah. A final countdown if you will. A moment where I cared and was into him one final time before I moved on from that part of my fandom forever.
Then the rumblings and rumors began. I begin to read reports, hear whispers, have hints put out that Daniel Bryan was leaving WWE. I try to dismiss them, keep them out of my head. I’ve been teased before, I got my hopes up before, there was no point in taking part in silly dreams now. I put it in the back of my mind. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, I didn’t want to have my heart broken once more.
But what if? What if they were ringing with truth? What if Daniel Bryan, who made it clear he was happy in WWE, walked away? What would that mean? Would he show up in AEW? Would this have an impact on fans who only knew his work mainly from WWE? Would fans after all this time be ecstatic to see the American Dragon once more?
What stupid as hell questions, of course, the answers were all yes. At All Out Bryan Danielson, one of my absolute favorites walked out to one of the most amazing reactions I have ever been a part of. I screamed I cheered, I chanted Yes, I cried, I lost my damn mind. Ask anyone in that suite that night, I lost my damn mind. I still haven’t found it. It’s probably stuck in Chicago somewhere wondering if it’ll ever make its way home, the sounds of Bryan Danielson’s return to wrestling echoing through its ear.
Bryan Danielson made it clear he wanted to wrestle, and in his very first match the American Dragon lived up to his hype, lived up to his word, lived up to the expectations, and put on perhaps the best-televised match in American Wrestling History. I was spellbound, amazed, drawn in as he and Kenny Omega beat the hell out of each other in a 30-minute classic (I gave it the full *****) that ended in a draw and gave you the scary but exciting notion they had a BETTER match in them. I had chills up my body and a heart that wouldn’t stop fluttering.
For the first time since 2009, The American Dragon was unleashed, and he spit hot fire. You could see every ounce of his passion, his love, his desire to wrestle pour out in that match. It was different, better, more engaging than almost every WWE match he ever had, some would argue EVERY match. After many years of being “mostly” entertained by him in WWE this one match in AEW triumphed over everything he had done and reminded those who had forgotten WHO THE FUCK HE WAS. He was the American Dragon, He was the best in the world, he is the man who’s going to fucking kick your head in, and you are going to respect him for doing it.
Pro wrestling is better for Bryan Danielson to have returned. Bryan Danielson and Daniel Bryan are the same people, but they have different philosophies, different personalities, and different styles of wrestling. They are both wrestlers, but one had to wrestle inside the confinements and restrictions placed on him, and he made mostly work, and the other has been unleashed upon a roster of people who are just as giddy to wrestle with him as I am giddy to watch. This is a talented man, a man who has overcome odds, bad booking, officials who did not believe in him, and a lot of bad breaks. He has overcome this to find himself home. He did not leave WWE out of hatred, but out of love for pro wrestling. I respect that. I respect he appreciates, respects, and even loves where he worked, and he still left. That puts things on notice, which sends a strong message. A message we all longed for him to send but never thought he actually would. A message I hope other talents in WWE hear loud and clear. You don’t need WWE. They may make you happy, you may enjoy working there, you may even love it, THERE are still better options and you owe it to yourself to at least explore.
Bryan Danielson is one of the most incredible performers of all time, and if you haven’t gotten to watch much of his work, just you wait, just you wait. He’s going to put every ounce of his love and respect for pro wrestling. He’s been given a new canvas, new subjects, and he has a new desire and motivation that I haven’t felt from him in a long time. Bryan Danielson has come to wrestle, and every aspect of pro wrestling is better for it. Daniel Bryan is dead, long live Bryan Danielson. Forever may the American Dragon reign.
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