The storied in-ring career of Daniel Bryan has unfortunately seen its last days with the star retiring due to injury concerns. Bryan earned a place in the hearts of wrestling fans through a combination of tremendous matches and a genuine personality that made viewers relate to him. His in-ring work was second to none and Bryan could be argued as the best technical wrestler of all time. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards named Bryan the “Best Technical Wrestler” every year between 2005 and 2013. Dave Meltzer made the decision to change the name to the Bryan Danielson Award following his retirement.
Bryan basically ensured a great match would occur every time he stepped foot in the ring. The artistic pride exhibited matched the financial compensation in his career. If a wrestler had a weak match against Bryan, it was a huge testament to how bad they were in the ring. There have been a few wrestlers to work with Bryan that just couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Many were still carried to decent outings thanks to the greatness of the technical wrestling legend. Others somehow found a way to put up a stinker against the best in the world. We’ll look at those tales with the fifteen worst wrestlers Daniel Bryan has had to work with.
15 The Great Khali
Daniel Bryan luckily didn't have to work with The Great Khali too often, but he didn’t escape the wrath of the worst worker in WWE. Khali had the reputation of being unsafe, uncoordinated and possessing no talent. It didn’t help that he could barely understand English and spoke with an incoherent mumble. No wrestler in WWE wanted to work with Khali but would get forced into a match with the untalented giant.
The early WWE career of Bryan took place in the old incarnation of NXT. A competition show featured Bryan and other newcomers coming to WWE doing ridiculous feats on television. Nothing was more ridiculous than having to work with Khali. Bryan underwent the terrible experience as a form of punishment by his pro, The Miz. Khali squashed Bryan as a way to make him the underdog. The match was everything you would expect with Khali making short work of Bryan in an uneventful match. Bryan can only be thankful he never entered a long term storyline with Khali.
14 Michael Tarver
The original NXT competitors had to face off against each other on SciFi in bizarre events that felt like we were watching Double Dare or The Price is Right. Most of the matches featured the “rookies” working against each other to prove their worth to the WWE fans watching them for the first time. Daniel Bryan was clearly the best wrestler in the competition but most of the others lacked the talent to keep up with him.
The horrible work of Michael Tarver made him among the worst wrestlers on the roster during The Nexus storyline. Tarver and Bryan would face off on NXT on a couple of instances. Bryan did his best to carry the inexperienced stiff, but it was a tough task. This proved Bryan deserved better than the NXT treatment to start his WWE career. Tarver wasn’t in the same league as Bryan but they were on the same tier during that time in WWE.
Very few are aware of Daniel Bryan facing Kamala before coming to WWE but it was an attraction match in a smaller independent wrestling promotion. To make matters more confusing, the match was for the ROH World Championship. Bryan had a hot streak of incredible matches at ROH Champ and earned the reputation of being the best wrestler in the world. The experiment of defending the ROH Title in various promotions led him to facing WWE legend Kamala.
Kamala was never the most athletically gifted performer in the ring and he was 55 years old when the match took place. Bryan tried his best but it was as lackluster as all the other standard independent wrestling matches featuring an older wrestler living off prior WWE fame. The tough test was a rare challenge separate from his usual regime working against the best young talents. Everyone claims you can only learn from working with veterans and Bryan could have taken something away from facing Kamala despite his limitations.
12 Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is not a bad wrestler by any means, but he struggled for quite some time during the early stages of his singles push. Following the end of The Shield, Reigns had lackluster matches for months while Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose tore it up. Fans began to resent Reigns for this and for WWE pushing him above Daniel Bryan in the main event of WrestleMania 31 against Brock Lesnar.
WWE used the genuine feelings of the fan base for a storyline between Reigns and Bryan. The two stars would face off at WWE Fastlane 2015 with a shot at the WWE World Championship on the line. Reigns won the match to more boos but earned respect by having a good match against Bryan. The career of Roman could have easily tanked on the road to WrestleMania with his work failing to impress until he had a great outing with Bryan. It completely changed his career. Fans still hate him but his confidence and in-ring work improved to a new level.
11 Bray Wyatt
Daniel Bryan had a memorable feud with The Wyatt Family in 2013. WWE was trying to diminish Bryan from the world title picture into a lower angle with Bray Wyatt. The momentum of The Wyatt Family was hot at the time and we still thought they would become a force in WWE. Luke Harper was spectacular in the ring and Erick Rowan could hold his own against superior talents like Bryan. Bray rarely made in-ring appearances at the time with WWE doubting his skills as a worker.
The career of Wyatt turned around with a stellar match against Bryan at the 2014 Royal Rumble event. Wyatt pulled off the win in a classic that completely changed the perception of him. We would see him wrestle every week and become a fixture on WWE television rather than a glorified manager. Wyatt improved from wrestling Bryan. Part of the magic of Bryan is he knows how to get the untapped potential out of his opponents and he did so with a very green Bray Wyatt.
10 The Bella Twins
The selection of Brie and Nikki Bella will have many unhappy. Today, the Bella Twins hold a great deal of value. They improved to become fixtures in the WWE world and have great legacies. However, at the time, they were both horrid characters on television. Daniel Bryan was forced into a storyline with them over the twins betting to see who could take his virginity first. The reveal would be the Bellas confusing the word virgin with vegan. Riveting writing by WWE.
Fans rolled their eyes at the segments between Brie, Nikki and Bryan. Bryan would eventually ditch them for Gail Kim in another romantic storyline that went nowhere. It all hurt him on screen but became the best thing to ever to him. Bryan and Brie developed a close friendship that blossomed into a real life romance. The two are married today and are one of the most popular wrestling couples. This was true proof that there is a silver lining in almost every form of bad wrestling news.
Santino was actually a very talented wrestler before coming to WWE but transitioned into a comedic character. When Santino walked to the ring, you knew it was time for some laughs and filler television. No one took him credibly and he started to go through the motions. Daniel Bryan’s World Championship reign on SmackDown had its ups and downs. One of the better moments was strangely against Santino.
As the final two participants in the Elimination Chamber 2012 title match, fans rallied behind the underdog story of Santino and it created magical television. Bryan would defend his title in a singles match against Santino shortly after following the same story with fans eating it up again. Santino went back down in the card as a forgettable comedic act. The short run with relevancy came due to matches with Bryan. It was all the proof you need to know that Bryan could make just about anyone look great against him.
Daniel Bryan’s WWE career will always be synonymous with Kane. The two unlikely pals formed a friendship that Bryan considers among the best things to happen in his WWE tenure. Both were going nowhere on television until they were put into a tag team. They had the “odd couple” vibe that created incredible WWE content. Kane was already in a veteran role of losing most of his luster. It was extremely rare for him to be involved in good matches or entertaining segments.
That all changed when Bryan was paired with him. Kane would become a valuable commodity on the show once again. The two would be linked again when Bryan captured the WWE World Championship at WrestleMania XXX. Bryan’s first and only feud as champion featured him facing off against his former partner. His one big match at Extreme Rules 2014 was actually entertaining and a testament to how great Bryan could lead Kane at the latter’s stage in his career.
7 Big Show
Similar to Kane, Big Show has been treading water in WWE for years. The giant can still provide entertainment but it has been at least a decade since fans last viewed him as a credible main eventer. Daniel Bryan would defeat Show for the World Championship after cashing in his Money in the Bank title shot when the giant was taken down by Mark Henry following a match. This led to Show and Bryan feuding over the world title.
Big Show was no longer in a state that would allow him to keep up with someone at the level of Bryan. Proving his greatness of being able to adapt to any style, Bryan worked the difficult story of a small heel facing off against a larger face. His matches with Mark Henry in the mix delivered entertainment and helped make WWE fans appreciate Bryan even more for pulling off miracles with limited opponents on the other side of the ring.
6 Sin Cara
WWE’s experiment with Sin Cara was a complete failure. The signing of Mexico legend Mistico to play the new masked character for WWE had great expectations. Vince McMahon and Triple H hoped he would become the next version of Rey Mysterio. Sin Cara could not make an impact early into his debut with botches becoming a regular thing. Fans started to view him as a joke rather than a respected wrestler ready for the big time.
Daniel Bryan endured the misfortune of entering a short term feud with Sin Cara. Despite being the more talented and far more popular performer, Bryan took the loss in the majority of the matches. It was meant to put over their big investment with the hopes of turning his negative momentum around. Bryan did well in putting together good matches with a performer struggling to adapt to the North American style. Sadly, it was just another example of WWE taking Bryan for granted for years before his biggest success in 2013-2014.
5 Michael Cole
No, Michael Cole is not a wrestler but he was the first big feud for Daniel Bryan. Cole would absolutely bury Bryan on commentary during the initial season of NXT. Vince McMahon was in Cole’s ear having him trash the newcomer for his independent wrestling run, smaller stature and unconventional lifestyle. Bryan was a vegan at the time and did not own a television. For some reason, this caused McMahon to make Cole become a vocal enemy of Bryan.
The story worked in making Cole a hated voice and Bryan more of an underdog. Bryan had a few in-ring segments against Cole and it came to a culmination during his feud with The Miz. Cole was the biggest Miz supporter during his heel run and Bryan defeated The Miz to win the United States Championship. This led to Cole having to respect Bryan towards the end of their story. Still, it was extremely difficult for a wrestler to feud with a commentator that lacked the charisma to be effective but Bryan made it work like always.
Ryback's WWE career is rather fascinating to break down now that he has left the company. Ryback lacked experience and in-ring skills during the first few years of his career. Daniel Bryan worked with him on NXT when he went under the name of Skip Sheffield before the change to Ryback. Vince McMahon clearly loved him due to his traditional meathead look that WWE has had a tendency to push for many years.
Fans rejected Ryback due to his comparisons to Goldberg. The lack of depth to his matches made him pale in comparison to the likes of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. Bryan at least was able to get good matches out of Ryback. The two were friends outside of the ring and that likely contributed to their chemistry. Ryback improved years later, but at this time, no one respected him as a worker. Bryan helped bring the best out of him to showcase how good he could be under the right circumstances.
3 Alex Riley
Alex Riley is one of the WWE wrestlers of the modern era. The look of Riley made him a valued commodity in WWE developmental. Riley would debut in NXT as the protégé of The Miz and move on to the main roster with the same role. Daniel Bryan’s feud with The Miz led to him facing off against Riley on a couple of occasions. Despite having a background in athletics, Riley was extremely uncoordinated in the ring and often looked foolish.
A great wrestler can definitely help a lesser talented performer look better, but it can backfire. Sometimes the discrepancy in skills is displayed when you watch them work against each other. Instead of being elevated, Riley just looked terrible in matches or promos against Bryan and John Morrison. The Miz tried his best to rub off on Riley, but Riley just belonged in a smaller role. Once leaving Miz’s side for a singles run, he fell apart and did nothing for years before getting let go.
2 David Otunga
His early stint in NXT was a complete waste of time for Daniel Bryan. Nothing further proved that than knowing David Otunga was a part of the competition. Otunga had a great look and slight name value as the husband of music star Jennifer Hudson. WWE wanted NXT to highlight stars like Otunga rather than the unconventional Bryan. Despite WWE’s wishes, Bryan outperformed Otunga and the others on a weekly basis until his elimination.
The two tangled in NXT and Bryan did his best to carry the inexperienced Otunga. WWE tried to position Otunga as a future main event heel and Bryan as a likeable figure that could maybe be a midcarder. It is humorous to think about that now considering how their wrestling careers ended up going. Otunga never improved and always remained a disappointment as a wrestler before transitioning into a WWE broadcaster. Bryan worked with wrestlers lesser than him from day one in WWE and has tried his best to get them to perform at his level.
Batista deserves respect for all he has accomplished in the wrestling world. The Animal is a future WWE Hall of Famer and has branched out into Hollywood as a successful actor. Sadly, he deserves the top spot on this unfortunate list due to the condition he returned in. Batista came back to the WWE in early 2014 and instantly was handed the main event spot at WrestleMania XXX after winning the Royal Rumble in his first match back.
Fans revolted and forced WWE’s hand into making Daniel Bryan get added to the main event with Batista and Randy Orton. The stories of Bryan and Batista ran parallel with fans absolutely loathing Batista. Between getting the spot Bryan deserved and showing up out of shape, Batista was not wanted in WWE. He has even admitted he wasn’t in good enough shape and had a horrible run. Bryan superseding Batista to win the WWE World Championship came to fruition thanks to Batista flopping so horribly.