Daniel Bryan is still one of the most popular stars in the WWE despite retiring from in-ring competition. The body of work exhibited by Bryan earned him the affection of wrestling fans all over the world. Everyone is still trying to get over the heartbreak of his retirement, even Bryan himself. Concussion injuries and head issues forced Bryan to quit competing in the ring, but he’s not sure of the future. Bryan has visited many doctors and most say he is in good enough health to once again compete in the squared circle. WWE’s doctors are the ones that deem him unfit to compete.
We all want him to remain healthy more than anything else but the possibility of a return does spark excitement. If the doctors clear him, every wrestling fan would jump for joy with shouting of the “Yes” chant in their homes. The current WWE roster is better than ever with many new stars good enough to pull off a classic with Bryan.
One of the sadder parts of his retirement is realizing how many dream matches were left on the table in today’s WWE landscape. We’ll look at them all and fantasy book what should happen if he does get cleared. These are the top fifteen wrestlers we would want to see Daniel Bryan face if he returns to in-ring competition in WWE.
15 The Miz
The person that has us all talking about a possible Daniel Bryan return to the ring is The Miz. Bryan and Miz have a storied history dating back to the days of the original NXT project. The two will always be linked in the WWE world and their rivalry returned to the screen on Talking Smack. Both men laid into each other with personal insults until The Miz completely lost it by snapping on Bryan.
Miz flat out called Bryan a coward for not quitting WWE to continue wrestling elsewhere if he loves it so much. It gave the buzz for a future big match but Bryan remains on the sidelines as the SmackDown General Manager watching the action. If Bryan does make a WWE return, the first match has to be against Miz. The segment did such a great job setting up a match fans want to see and it would be the perfect first match back for Bryan.
14 Finn Balor
Finn Balor’s big title reign ended in similar fashion to Daniel Bryan’s last run as a World Champion. The injury saw Balor forced to relinquish the Universal Championship just one night after his huge win over Seth Rollins. Balor’s heartbreaking moment was nearly identical to Bryan having to part ways with the WWE World Championship a month after his miraculous WrestleMania XXX victory. Bryan and Balor are not only linked by injuries. They are world travelers that dominated the wrestling world before coming to the WWE.
The excellence of Balor during his peak years in New Japan saw him earn a reputation much like Bryan’s days as the face of Ring of Honor. Both men have the special connection wrestlers desperately try to form with fans. Bryan named Balor as one of the new stars he wanted to work with when the latter signed to NXT. Sadly, we never got to see it but a return to the ring for Bryan could give us the dream match on the big stage in the WWE.
13 Chad Gable
NXT has given us many new talents ready for the big time and Chad Gable stands out as one of them. American Alpha has become one of the top tag teams in wrestling with Gable and Jason Jordan having stellar matches. Gable has an amateur wrestling background and can grapple with the best. That is the ideal style of worker that Daniel Bryan loves to wrestle. The excitement that came with selecting American Alpha to SmackDown was likely genuine on Bryan’s part.
Gable has many similarities to Bryan in the ring. Aside from their grappling ability, both men are undersized and make up for it with exciting matches. The electricity to go down in a match between Bryan and Gable would be magical. There’s no scenario where it doesn’t go down as a classic if given time to succeed. Gable is the perfect example at how much the roster has evolved and the plethora of new talent that would have great matches against Bryan.
12 Hideo Itami
One of the greatest matches in the career of Daniel Bryan came against Hideo Itami in their past lives. Known as KENTA as the time, the Japanese star had a classic with Bryan at ROH Glory by Honor in 2006. The match was pivotal in improving the reputations of both men as they continued to make their mark in the wrestling business. However, Bryan was already an established star in the WWE when Itami made the jump to NXT.
Everyone had hopes of the two showing their chemistry on a bigger stage but Bryan’s injury ended his career. Bryan has even expressed interest of wanting to face Itami in NXT. A potential return brings the dream match back to fruition with Itami also returning from an injury and looking good. Anyone lucky enough to witness their past matches know how special a match this would be with the two stars having much more name value today and a bigger platform.
11 The Brian Kendrick
The most emotional moment of the Cruiserweight Classic saw The Brian Kendrick get eliminated and Daniel Bryan embracing him following the loss. Kendrick had a stellar showing reminding us just how talented of a performer he has always been. Bryan trained in the same class with Kendrick under the tutelage of Shawn Michaels. The two talents remaine close to this very day and their genuine tears at the end of his CWC match showed that.
There’s a story that the WWE can easily tap into making a relevant program on television for both. Bryan would love nothing more than to bring his close friend up to his level in the WWE world. Kendrick’s excellence in the CWC primarily came as a heel character. The idea of him turning on his friend to get notoriety in the WWE would be a dream storyline for Bryan’s return. We would all benefit from the superb matches and impeccable storytelling associated with a feud here.
10 Shane McMahon
WWE has started to tease tension between SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan. The two men in charge of the blue brand have been buddies up until Bryan’s interaction with The Miz. McMahon criticized him for getting personal and verbally attacking the talent. Bryan already has a long storied history with the McMahon family that could make for compelling television if he had a match with Shane.
The different mentalities of Shane and Bryan are glaringly obvious. Bryan is the least corporate person in the WWE and Shane is still a member of the McMahon family. A return to the ring would need to have a big storyline to draw money out of Bryan’s first match back. Shane-O-Mac is a daredevil in big matches and always finds a way to entertain the audience. The men in charge of SmackDown duking it out for the rights to the show could add a new element to the program being treated as important as Raw.
9 Seth Rollins
Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins have wrestled countless times all over the world. Rollins developed a reputation for being a future star thanks to his classic matches with Bryan in Ring of Honor. The chemistry between the two was off the charts. Rollins and Bryan ended up meeting again in the WWE various times during Rollins’ stint in The Shield. The feud between Bryan and The Shield was spectacular and the best matches often took place with Rollins as Bryan’s singles opponent.
Despite having many memorable matches together, the two could take it to another level now. Rollins has evolved into an elite heel and one of the better performers in the company. No one in WWE is as beloved as Bryan and could match up with him in a classic tale of good vs. evil. The work rate is a given but the story that can be told in 2016 would make it worthwhile for Bryan to have a big match with Rollins if he returns.
8 Samoa Joe
The mindset in the WWE has truly changed over the past ten years. Samoa Joe and Daniel Bryan were huge stars on the independent wrestling scene but neither had the look the WWE wanted at the time. They were forced to wrestle in smaller promotions gaining reputations for being two of the best wrestlers in the world, but the dream of being a star in the big company was out of the realm of possibility. Ten years later and both men have become fixtures in McMahon's empire.
Bryan is a legend and Joe is one of the top stars in NXT. The two have a story going back to their prior battles in Ring of Honor. Joe is also among the very rare legitimate heels that can make you feel sympathy for the faces he works against. The idea of Bryan coming back to the ring would make him a sentimental fan favorite and Joe could be a perfect match for the return.
7 Johnny Gargano
One of the best new signings for the WWE is Johnny Gargano, who is becoming a big star in NXT. The schedule of Gargano allowed him to continue wrestling on the independents while appearing on NXT television most weeks. He was recently involved in a stand out match with tag partner Tommaso Ciampa against The Revival on TakeOver: Brooklyn. The spectacular work done in NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic scored Gargano an exclusive WWE contract with a bigger role going forward.
Gargano has been advertised as a member of the Cruiserweight division coming to Raw. The star of Johnny Wrestling is shining right now and he would be a dream match for Daniel Bryan. They have worked against each other in the past but that was before Gargano’s massive improvement. Currently working as one of the best wrestlers in the world, Gargano could provide a tremendous match against Bryan. The two talents have the ability to kick it up a notch and always get the audience invested at the right time. Putting them against each other would be spectacular.
6 Sami Zayn
There are many parallels between Sami Zayn and Daniel Bryan. Zayn is currently the most popular underdog on the WWE roster with spectacular matches making him a standout performer. The fans love Zayn because they see him leave it all in the ring every time out. Bryan retiring around the same time Zayn debuted on the roster bummed us all out, as we missed out on the two crossing paths in the WWE.
They have had many great matches in Ring of Honor, PWG and other independent promotions when Zayn worked as El Generico. This would be completely different with Zayn no longer working under the mask and being a valued commodity in the WWE. Bryan returning would have to give us at least one meeting between the two beloved stars. Neither man could turn heel, so it would have to be based around the love of competition. They could even team together as two of the most lovable stars in recent history.
5 Brock Lesnar
The match Daniel Bryan wants to have the most if he returns would be against Brock Lesnar. Following the events of WrestleMania XXX, Bryan wanted to face Lesnar for the WWE World Championship. The injuries started to pile on and Bryan was forced to vacate the title. John Cena took his place in the eventual main event of SummerSlam 2014, losing the title to Lesnar. Bryan said the main reason he wanted the feud is because it's the ultimate underdog story.
At just 5’8’’ and barely over 200 pounds, Bryan is a miniscule person compared to the mammoth of a man known as Brock Lesnar. Fans would rally around Bryan and it could be among the better stories featuring current WWE employed talents. The dream storyline of the most beloved underdog hero facing off against the biggest badass would draw like crazy. Bryan would have to change his style, but the match still has the potential to be quite special.
4 Zack Sabre Jr.
WWE fans are being introduced to new stars with the Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network. One talent that is among the standout performers of the bunch is Zack Sabre Jr. His technical wrestling consisting of pristine counters and impeccable submissions makes him a must-watch wrestler on the independent wrestling scene. Sabre is regarded as the most gifted technical wrestler to hit the indie circuit since Daniel Bryan came into his own.
The safe money is on Sabre continuing to work with the WWE and possibly signing an exclusive contract. Fans of technical wrestling would be in heaven with two of the greats matching up. Bryan would not have to pull off the high risk moves as Sabre matches are typically grappling based. The match revolving around two submission specialists looking to out-work their opponent in the middle of the ring makes Bryan vs. Sabre one of the dream matches for a potential comeback tour.
3 Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura has only been in the WWE for five months and has yet to make his main roster debut, but still is one of their most popular stars. Fans absolutely adore the work of Nakamura from his in-ring greatness to the theatrics of his personality. Nakamura is the complete package and he actually has a long history with Daniel Bryan. Both trained together in the New Japan dojo located in California in the early 2000s.
Bryan talked about badly wanting to work with Nakamura as both men progressed in their careers in various promotions. During a WWE tour to Japan last year, Bryan pitched the idea of working an inter-promotional bout with Nakamura when he still worked for New Japan. The suggestion was turned down due to WWE not wanting to work with talents contracted to other promotions and Bryan’s health being in question.
A return to the in-ring for Bryan would make him demand to work with Nakamura at some point. Artistic expression is the most important aspect of wrestling to both men and they would paint a masterpiece together.
2 Kevin Owens
The main benefit to Daniel Bryan wrestling for the WWE is the fact that fans absolutely love him. Bryan connects with the fan base more than anyone else. A few wrestlers have more fans, but Bryan has the most genuine fans that will support him through everything rather than just cheer for him when pushed. A return to the ring would create the perfect opportunity for a heel to play the bully role in trying to injure him again.
Kevin Owens has ascended to the top of WWE as the new Universal Champion. Very few heels perform with the intensity and intelligence of Owens. The story is there with the fan favorite Bryan trying to overcome the new big heel in town. Both men have history together in Ring of Honor and PWG with a few matches together. They sadly never received the platform to pull off a more watched match in the WWE and every diehard fan wants it, pending Bryan getting cleared by the company.
1 A.J. Styles
There have been many fascinating signings of new stars to the WWE in the last couple of years but none is more interesting than A.J. Styles. The unbelievable talent dominated TNA and New Japan before finally getting the chance to come to the WWE earlier this year. Fans watched Styles’ past work and treated him like a Superstar due to it. One dream match on the table for Styles would be an epic encounter with a returning Daniel Bryan.
Styles and Bryan have taken similar paths but the most important common trait they share is the ability to tear it up in the wrestling ring. All things even, Bryan and Styles could easily be considered the top two in-ring performers of their generation. They had matches in the past in Ring of Honor and various independent promotions, but never in a big match situation. WWE would be home to a potential legendary showdown between Bryan and Styles if Bryan can make his way back into the ring.
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