On February 8th, 2016, one of the greatest superstars of the modern era, Daniel Bryan, retired due to mounting injuries from wrestling all over the world for over 15 years. Everywhere he went, be it Japan, Europe, Ring of Honor, and finally the WWE, the fans would come to appreciate and adore the man for his in-ring efforts.
His journeyman mentality helped shape much of the foundation of the current WWE landscape. He once helped train Sara Del Ray, who for the past few years has been head NXT trainer and worked to create one of the greatest women’s divisions ever. In Ring of Honor, his matches with Austin Aries and Samoa Joe are the stuff of legend and many of the top stars all look up to the man and see him as an inspiration for his accomplishments.
While we all look back fondly on The American Dragon from his days in ROH singing the Final Countdown along with him, or watching him have classic matches against KENTA, or occupying Raw, there was a clear notion that he simply didn’t have “it,” and as you’ll see from this list, that is all largely the vision, or lack of vision of one man. But no matter what situation he was placed in, Bryan persevered and that work shone through and got him to the top, but there are still moments that fans might like to forget – here are fourteen of them.
14. Buddy Peacock
On the independent circuit, Bryan Danielson toured the globe and made a name for himself. Instead of chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!’ the fans would sing the chorus of Europe’s The Final Countdown (Danielson’s entrance theme), along with the future legend. But when you come to the WWE, most of the time, the brass would rather give you a new name that could be used for marketing. Bryan’s mentor, William Regal had come up with a few ideas–like Lloyd Bonaire and Buddy Peacock. Bonaire might have worked if Bryan was a Brit, but the fans chanting “Buddy Peacock?!” – No thanks.
13. LeBell Lock
Judo Gene LeBell trained Roddy Piper and, in later years, became a friend to Ronda Rousey. Because of his history in fighting sports, many have taught his methods. Coach Neil Melanson in Las Vegas taught the LeBell Lock to Daniel Bryan and The American Dragon adopted it as his own. The WWE announcers did try at first to explain why it’s called the LeBell lock, but once the Yes chants started, the WWE decided to use the more marketable Yes Lock, and never mentioned the hold’s roots again.
12. Wyatt Servitude
Daniel Bryan finally made it to the top at SummerSlam 2013, only to be robbed of his glory and spend the next few months being decimated. Normally, it would all be a part of the story, but by many backstage accounts, there was no way Vince wanted the guy to be a top star. Enter the very Revenge of the Sith–esque storyline that put Bryan in the role of Anakin and Bray Wyatt in the role of the Emperor. As bad as some think Episode III was, this was worse. It so blatantly obvious that Vince just had no clue how to handle the fans wanting to see Bryan atop the world and decided to try and make him some sort of devout cultist. Luckily, The Boss stopped being stubborn and this angle was dropped pretty quickly.
11. The Ladies Man
With zero personality (besides the one he actually has), the powers that be decided to try and give him a larger than life Lothario persona. The gimmick, despite being poorly acted by Bryan and the Divas involved, was slightly comical. Especially when looking back and finding vignettes of The Bellas arguing over who Daniel likes more. Meanwhile Bryan was dating Gail Kim for six months. One would assume that real life would eventually imitate ring life as it was here that Bryan and Brie started to get to know one another on their road to holy matrimony.
10. Punk Quitting / “Boo–tista” is How Bryan Got Elevated
He was booked to face Sheamus in a throwaway, but most likely show-stealing match at WrestleMania XXX (more on that later). CM Punk was booked to face Triple H and Batista was (probably) set to win the World Title and walk the Guardians of the Galaxy red carpet showing off the gold. But then a few key things happened to turn the tide. At the Royal Rumble, the fans showed how little interest they had in having Batista headline ‘Mania when his Rumble victory was booed out of the building. CM Punk, upset with not getting the main event and facing HHH, decided to up and quit, leaving a gaping Yes Movement-sized hole that demanded to be filled by the Flying Goat.
9. Not in Rumble
After vanquishing Bray and that storyline at the Royal Rumble 2014, it seemed that Bryan was primed for bigger and better things. But it just still wasn’t in the cards for him yet, as he wasn’t even booked in the Rumble, This led to a fan backlash that featured the usually beloved Rey Mysterio being booed when he came out at # 30, signaling that there was no way Bryan would be winning the Rumble, let alone be participating in it. The bad taste in fans’ mouths continued when returning fan favorite Batista was booed out of the building when he stood victorious.
8. Not in ‘Mania
Fans have been chanting “Daniel Bryan,” since the day he debuted on NXT. The guy even overcame being fired because of it. So, of course, his first ever WrestleMania match would be a barn-burning rocket buster of a match to be remembered for the ages, right? Actually, he wouldn’t even be featured on the main show and he and his match with Sheamus would be regulated to a hum-drum lumberjack match back when dark matches weren’t part of the televised pre–show festivities.
7. Heel Danielson
Being a smaller guy immediately paints you as a sympathetic underdog babyface in Vince’s eyes. Now when he gets behind you, that role is magic. Eventually, he did get behind D–Bry and maybe had Bryan’s career not ended eventually we would have turned down this path, but Daniel Bryan was a wickedly entertaining heel in ROH. One of his more infamous tricks was letting refs know he had until the five count to break a hold and most fans are frustrated we never saw this awesome side in the WWE. Yes, we did get a bland heel run from him, but we’ll get to that later.
6. 18 Seconds
In hindsight, this moment was one of the best moments in Daniel Bryan’s career. After all, it was more or less the inception of the Yes Movement. Let’s not forget, though, one year after not even being on the main show, getting trounced by Sheamus in less time than it takes to wash your hands after using the bathroom was what some in power hoped would be a huge jumping off point for The Celtic Warrior, like Diesel beating Bob Backlund in eight seconds. But try as they might to make Sheamus credible (which to this day he isn’t), the fans disgust at this move created a monster in The American Dragon.
5. Getting Fired
This the only item on this list that was Bryan’s fault and that was because he was told to go out there and be a destructive force along with the rest of The Nexus. The original NXT crew shocked the WWE Universe when they disrupted a Raw main event between CM Punk and John Cena and destroyed everything and everyone in their path. Bryan decided to assault ring announcer Justin Roberts and choke him out with his own tie. This move was apparently too violent for shareholders and a PG audience, so Bryan was let go for his transgressions. It was the fans again whose voice would be heard and chants throughout arenas over the next several months would see Bryan re-signed and debut as the secret member of team WWE at SummerSlam 2010.
4. Eliminated from the Royal Rumble
Injuries would force Bryan to sit out the rest of 2014, but the Yes Man would announce that he would return at the 2015 Royal Rumble. In the past, when a beloved fan favorite would return from injury at the Rumble, it was pretty much a lock that they would win the Rumble and ride the wave all the way to glory at WrestleMania. The fans loved Bryan and felt that he hadn’t gotten his fair shot due to the injury, but the WWE was primed to go with Roman Reigns. So when Daniel Bryan received a conquering hero’s welcome and then was eliminated a few moments later…the riot that happened a year before was nothing in comparison to the #CancelWWENetwork riot that happened as a cause of watching The Dragon being eliminated.
3. Saying Goodbye
It was one of the most emotional speeches ever given in the history of sports–not just WWE. But while Daniel Bryan had the fans in his hometown crowd and the fans at home laughing, crying, and “Yes-ing” out of the palm of his hand, it was a speech many of us never wanted to hear. Bryan captivated a generation and we still don’t know the full scope of his career’s reach. To see everything medically taken away right at the beginning of those prime money making years, right as everything came up roses for the guy. is just heart-wrenching. Most likely next year’s Hall of Fame headliner, we’d all rather have be this year’s (many years to come) WrestleMania main eventer.
2. Vegan Heel Bryan
Before the epic Yes Movement began, Daniel Bryan used the chant as a way to get heel heat – the same way that guys like Angle and Owen Hart would. In fact, Bryan was channeling a little bit of Owen’s wild–eyed commitment to being the happiest person in the room, all to get cheap heel heat (most fans aren’t overly fond of super-happy wrestlers). But Vince had booked the guy to be a heel simply because at the time, Bryan was a vegan. Using his PETA–approved heel persona to his advantage, Bryan would skip to the ring chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes” simply to annoy the fans. But the plan backfired and Bryan’s heroic rise to the top began.
1. Sheamus at WrestleMania XXX
At WrestleMania XXX, Daniel Bryan would do something no one has ever done before or since, as he single-handedly defeated Evolution in a single night. The Miracle on Bourbon Street is one the most amazing moments in WrestleMania history. But before the American Dragon was breathing fire atop the wrestling world, he was actually booked to just be a puff of smoke. He and Sheamus were once again penciled in to do battle at WrestleMania XXX. Even after witnessing so many Yes chants in the months leading up to ‘Mania, McMahon’s vision wasn’t changed. But luckily, something swayed the boss shortly before, because if he didn’t change his mind, we would have had one of the worst Mania main events in history, instead of one of the greatest.
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