When Daniel Bryan gave his retirement speech on Raw on February 8, 2016, the occasion still felt clouded by uncertainty. Perhaps it was the emotion of it all, but there was an underlying feeling amongst many observers that this was not the end of Daniel Bryan’s story as a wrestler. In his prime, it could be argued that Bryan was the most technically proficient professional wrestler in the world, certainly the best in a WWE ring. Not only this, but his “everyman” story resonated with the audience like nothing seen since Stone Cold Steve Austin’s best days in the Attitude Era. Bryan really had defined himself as a once-in-a-generation superstar by the time he lifted the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
And then disaster struck. A slew of injuries put Bryan on the sidelines for a lengthy period and his attempted returns were short-lived. Eventually after failing to gain medical clearance from WWE’s team of doctors, it was decided that Bryan should retire as an active in-ring competitor due to the effects of multiple concussions he had suffered. Despite Bryan finding a second opinion that cleared him medically, the WWE were unwilling to take a risk on someone with a history of head injuries given the increasing amount of lawsuits being brought against them regarding this very issue.
After admirably taking the reigns as SmackDown’s GM, Bryan has often hinted at an in-ring return particularly during his outstanding verbal sparring sessions with The Miz. On a recent episode of Talking Smack!, Bryan hit the headlines when he inferred that he would wrestle again once his WWE contract expires. We now know that his WWE deal expires in 2018 and betting agents are already providing odds on whether Bryan will end up in NJPW, ROH or Impact! If he does leave, it opens up the possibility of a number of dream matches being created on the indie scene. Let’s take a look at some matches we’d love to see and some we wouldn’t!
17 YES! Adam Cole
Bryan’s two most likely destinations if he moves on are New Japan and Ring of Honor. In the latter promotion, he is considered a “founding father” and is a former World Champion. Bryan laid the foundations for wrestlers such as Adam Cole to carve out legitimate careers for themselves in promotions outside of WWE. Cole has since gone on to become the only three-time world champion in ROH history and has often talked of his admiration for Bryan. Having said all that, there are persistent rumours that Cole will sign for WWE once his ROH contract expires and this seems like a distinct possibility.
If ROH could secure the signature of someone with the star power of Daniel Bryan, it could be the catalyst that encourages burgeoning stars like Cole to stay with the company. A feud between the two could be money, given Cole’s natural heel persona and the love the ROH fanbase has for Bryan.
15 NO! Aron Rex
When the former Damien Sandow was released by WWE in 2016, it was seen by many as a huge missed opportunity. He was legitimately one of the most popular wrestlers in the company during his time working as The Miz’s sidekick, yet WWE failed to take advantage of a big-money feud between the two. The real-life Aaron Haddad never recovered and he soon found his way to TNA after being released, being repackaged as Aron Rex.
His work in Impact Wrestling has been less than stellar and he is now in the midst of an ill-advised gimmick inspired by the late pianist Liberace. Rex appears to have lost a step since his time in WWE and his ring work has suffered. In his prime, he would have made a fine opponent for D-Bry, but nowadays he’d be very unlikely to create a wrestling spectacle with Bryan.
14 YES! Jay Lethal
Jay Lethal has grown as a wrestler since his days of imitating Macho Man Randy Savage in TNA. He is the longest reigning ROH World Television Champion of all time and the only man ever to hold this belt concurrently with the World title. Lethal is another performer who is constantly linked with a move to WWE, but there doesn’t appear to be anything on the horizon currently.
Lethal is in need of a change of direction in ROH and the addition of Daniel Bryan to the roster could really shake up the main event scene and allow Lethal the opportunity to re-enter the top of the card. The styles of the two superstars would likely create an excellent match with both being gifted technical wrestlers and outstanding storytellers. Another option with two of the most popular and charismatic members of the roster would be to create a mega babyface tag team!
13 NO! Moose
Currently plying his trade in Impact Wrestling, where he is the reigning Grand Champion, Moose is a former football player and Ring of Honor stand out. He was poised to sign for WWE and appear in NXT before a 2009 arrest became public and put paid to this opportunity. Despite this, Moose has all the attributes typically looked for in a WWE superstar and he will surely end up there in the future.
As stated earlier in this article, the company formerly known as TNA is D-Bry’s least likely destination but if he did end up there, a feud with his fellow ROH alumni would surely be mooted. The problem with this feud is the relative inexperience of Moose and his limited skill set. While he possesses a wicked dropkick for a huge man and has the athletic ability to keep up with the pace of Bryan, this is the type of match that Bryan should be avoiding. For a man with a history of concussions, entering into a feud with a man mountain like Moose could be a recipe for disaster.
12 YES! Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega could be the most talented wrestler on the planet right now. His unsuccessful challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 has been lauded by many as the greatest match in history. In an unprecedented move, highly respected wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer gave the match six stars in his one-to-five-star grading system! Following this, rumours were rife that Omega was set to sign with WWE and make a surprise appearance at the Royal Rumble. Nothing eventuated, but it’s likely that Omega signs with WWE in the next two years.
However, there is the strong possibility that he crosses paths with Daniel Bryan prior to signing for WWE. The bookmakers' favourite likely destination for Bryan is New Japan and his signing could legitimately signal the company’s intent to challenge WWE’s dominance over the wrestling world. A feud between two of the greatest wrestlers of all time, in Bryan and Omega would be the catalyst to send NJPW’s popularity into the stratosphere.
11 NO! Grado
You may be seeing a recurring theme here now. I really hope that Daniel Bryan does not end up in Impact Wrestling. Mixing it up with the likes of our next entry are exactly the reason for this. Grado is a great comedy act, don’t get me wrong. But that is the extent to which his character holds any kind of relevance. Yet there have been times where it feels like Impact Wrestling would like to elevate the man from Scotland to something more.
The thought of seeing a man as talented and world-renowned as Daniel Bryan standing across from the man heralding from the “tap end of Stevenston” fills me with despair! But should he sign with Impact, this match-up is a distinct possibility. From a storytelling perspective, both men are outstanding underdogs but from a wrestling standpoint, there is no comparison.
10 YES! Kazuchika Okada
The other man involved in Dave Meltzer’s six-star rated classic match at Wrestle Kingdom 11 was the defending IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada. The man known as “Rainmaker” is currently in his fourth reign as world champion in NJPW and he seems set to stay in the Japanese wrestling scene long-term. His only experience in front of an American audience was a 20-month stint in TNA where he had a mixed experience. During his stay, he did significantly develop his character work and this has been evident since his return to Japan. Rumours of a switch to WWE made the news a few years ago, but Okada committed to a new contract in his homeland.
A clash between the Rainmaker and the American Dragon could be a very real possibility if Bryan signs with NJPW. If these two have the opportunity to wrestle, expect Meltzer to crank out the 6-star rating for a second time and maybe even create a 7-star rating!
9 NO! Ryback
Ryback is a great example of a wrestler who really only fits the WWE prototype and not much else in the pro wrestling world. This is underlined by the fact that “The Big Guy” has struggled to secure many bookings on the independent circuit since leaving Vinny Mac’s travelling circus. Despite this, rumours are abound that Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA) are preparing an offer for the man now known legally as Ryback (formerly Ryan) Reeves.
The likelihood of Daniel Bryan ending up in Impact Wrestling is fairly minimal, despite its unofficial position as the number two promotion in North America. Formerly a great alternative to WWE for those fans who preferred wrestling as opposed to dramatic storylines, Impact has taken a nosedive in terms of quality in recent years.
If they did manage to convince Bryan and Ryback to sign, both would immediately be positioned as main event talent. Sadly any program between the two would feel like a low-budget version of the standard storyline we see regularly on WWE and would be a monumental waste of Bryan’s talents.
7 YES! Ricochet
If you don’t know who Ricochet is or haven’t seen any of his matches, do yourself a favour and get hold of his match with Will Ospreay from the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in NJPW. This match received widespread critical acclaim as well as its fair share of criticism from old-school wrestlers such as Vader. Ricochet is one of the most exciting high flyers on the planet and he is rumoured to be very close to signing with WWE in 2017. While it would be awesome to see him pop up in NXT and the main roster in the future, it’d be a pro wrestling fan’s dream to see him take on Daniel Bryan.
While in NJPW, Ricochet competes in the Junior Heavyweight division and Bryan could easily justify his inclusion in this division. A feud over the prized IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship would lead to some spectacular wrestling and further critical acclaim for both men.
6 NO! Lashley
Bobby Lashley is a legitimate badass. Having cultivated a successful MMA career while still taking pro wrestling bookings, Lashley is a great example of how to be successful in life after WWE. During his time in the world’s largest promotion, he was booked as a bland babyface and his limited skill set didn’t resonate with the crowd. He has since found his feet in Impact Wrestling, where he is a four-time World Champion and has developed his cocky heel persona into a fine art.
Despite his overall improvement, the prospect of a match between Bryan and Lashley still doesn’t sound appealing. While he may be one of the better fits on the Impact Wrestling roster as a potential opponent for Bryan, the two differing styles don’t seem to be a good fit. Lashley tends to perform better against similar workers and a match with D-Bry may expose too many of his weaknesses.
5 YES! Kyle O’Reilly
If you aren’t a regular follower of indie wrestling, then Kyle O’Reilly might be one of the lesser known names on this list. However, he is one of the wrestlers that most smark fans would be salivating over a possible match with Daniel Bryan. He is best known for his time in Ring of Honor where he is a former World Champion. O’Reilly has a background in jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, and his martial arts influence is apparent in his move set.
Recently, O’Reilly completed a blood feud over the ROH World title with former tag team partner Adam Cole, and subsequently left the company. A move to WWE and a starting point in NXT appear to be his next destination, but he is still taking independent bookings as of now, while also working in NJPW. A potential feud with Bryan in Japan would be a blast, particularly with the hugely technical skill sets of both men.
4 NO! Bully Ray
Bully Ray, formerly of the Dudley Boyz, recently made his return to active in-ring action as a member of the Ring of Honor roster. His nostalgia run with D-Von in the WWE really did nothing for him at this stage of his career and he still looks hungry to perform at a high level. The Bully Ray character that he developed in TNA garnered him main event status and two world title reigns and it appears that he may have similar goals in ROH.
A returning Daniel Bryan would undoubtedly be pushed straight to the main event scene in ROH where a fellow big name such as Bully Ray would likely be lying in wait. Despite both men being industry legends, this feels like a feud that doesn’t need to happen. Bully Ray is past his prime and D-Bry needs to be wrestling similar technical experts to himself if he makes an in-ring return.
3 YES! Jeff Hardy
Since leaving the WWE in 2009, Jeff Hardy has battled with many demons but finally appears to be in the midst of a career renaissance thanks to the creation of the “Broken Universe” by his brothe, Matt. While he is currently working as a tag team with Matt, the younger Hardy brother still has some legs in him as a singles star. After their recent departure from TNA, a return to WWE has been suggested, but the Hardys are currently residing in ROH where they are the Tag Team Champions.
If Jeff stays in ROH, a feud with Bryan would bring together two of the most talented superstars of a generation. Jeff’s high-flying ability is the stuff of legend and Bryan’s in-ring style would compliment this perfectly. The potential for some truly spectacular spots is huge with this match up and a feud over the ROH World Title would elevate the company to new heights as a big time promotion.
2 NO! Alberto El Patron
During two separate runs with WWE, Alberto Del Rio (now known as Alberto El Patron) failed to realise his potential. Often described as being difficult backstage, El Patron still managed to accumulate four world title reigns in WWE. Having achieved this level of success means that El Patron is still regarded as a huge name in the wrestling industry and it was no surprise that he was added straight to the world title mix upon debuting in Impact Wrestling recently.
El Patron and Daniel Bryan did cross paths during their time in WWE and worked a few matches together, but never entered into a full-blown feud. Having been part of the same roster for so many years and never having feuded would tend to suggest that the two simply aren’t a very good fit. If Bryan did end up in Impact, he’d be expected to feud with El Patron, but fans shouldn’t expect fireworks from their matches if this materialised.
1 YES! CM Punk
This last entry is pure fantasy booking, but in the crazy world of pro wrestling you never know what might happen. While Punk has seemingly burned all his bridges in the pro wrestling world, not just with WWE, there is always the distinct possibility that he may return to his first love. His MMA career is a pipe dream and perhaps his penchant for all things alternative might tempt him back to his old stomping ground, Ring of Honor.
Imagine how the pro wrestling world would be turned on its head if ROH were able to sign Punk and Bryan! While we’ve seen these two battle often in the past, they always create magic together. And having two of the biggest names in the sport spearheading it’s main event scene would suddenly position ROH as a legitimate competitor to WWE. The return of two of the ROH founding fathers could lead to a ratings battle not seen since the heady days of the Monday Night Wars.