Daniel Bryan: The most over guy in WWE

In the real world it can often be the case that it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job or how hard you work, if the boss doesn’t like you, or if you don’t know the right people, you won’t be able to progress in your chosen career. In the WWE, this is doubly so, as a wrestler you can’t achieve anything without the help of the creative team and the political backing of important members of the roster. Whilst certain guys make it to the top either well before they are ready or despite their lack of talent, others who are capable of magnificent things either on the mic or in the ring have been overlooked. For every Eddie Guerrero who manages to make it to the top after years of honing his craft and paying his dues there is a Batista who arrives on the scene and appears to be handed everything to him on a plate. That’s the way WWE has always been, probably always will be, which is what makes Daniel Bryan’s unbelievable rise to being the most over man in the company so incredible.

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Bryan worked under his real name, Bryan Danielson on the independent scene and all over the world for 10 years before arriving in the WWE. Debuting in 1999, he very quickly built up a reputation for being one of the best US indie wrestlers around and was booked to work the main event of Ring Of Honor’s first card in 2002 opposite Low-Ki and Christopher Daniels. The match between the three men was hailed as an instant classic and from there Danielson built up a portfolio of wonderful matches against a variety of opponents. Ring of Honor was in some ways a new concept, at least in the US, and gained a reputation for showcasing the best in-ring action to be found anywhere in the country. At the top of the tree in ROH was Danielson and by 2005 he had won the promotion’s World Title belt, defeating James Gibson for the championship which led to a 15 month stint with the strap.

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Danielson didn’t just work for ROH however, with an eagerness to become the best that he possibly could be, he travelled to Japan and the UK to develop into a more rounded in-ring worker. His time in Japan in particular merely improved his reputation amongst hardcore wrestling fans that Danielson was amongst the best professional wrestlers in the world and by 2009, a decade after Danielson had made his professional debut, the only way for him to keep moving forward was to make a bold decision and seek employment with one of the nationally televised promotions in the US. At the time, it is fair to say that many believed TNA would offer the best chance for a smaller sized, realistic style worker, given the presence of the likes of AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe near the top of the card so it came with some considerable surprise when Ring of Honor announced that Danielson had signed for WWE.

At the time, WWE had a less than inspiring record of pushing and promoting former darlings of the Indy scene. CM Punk was the only name talent on the WWE roster who was making any headway (and it’s worth remembering that this was still 2 years before CM Punk’s ‘pipe bomb’ on Raw) and even he was not setting the world alight. Despite the fact that Danielson, even before joining the WWE, was a more accomplished in-ring performer than 95% of the roster, he was still sent to development territory Florida Championship Wrestling to ‘learn to work’. To Danielson’s immense credit, he welcomed the move and went about his task with enthusiasm, seeing it as an opportunity to work off the ring-rust he had accumulated during his brief spell not working following his departure from Ring of Honor.

As is customary for the WWE and its eagerness to own the intellectual property on all of its talent’s characters, Danielson’s name was changed, modestly, to Daniel Bryan. Within a few months of making his debut in FCW, the WWE announced the creation of a new show, NXT, which would host a brand new concept featuring aspiring wrestlers looking to earn a contract with the WWE. This was to be a Tough Enough style contest but worked, like the rest of the WWE so that the company would maintain full creative control of everything that took place. The field for the show’s initial run would feature future WWE stars Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater, David Otunga and Skip Sheffield (the now repackaged Ryback) and our man Bryan who was to be pushed as the dorky hero of the internet marks, who as good as he may have been elsewhere was making a huge step up by joining the ranks of the WWE.

As if to rub it in to those same, so called ‘internet fans’, Bryan was positioned as the protégé of former reality TV show star, The Miz (each of the contestants were given a mentor from the full roster of the time). Furthermore, Michael Cole, then the play-by-play announcer on the show, was directed to slate Bryan for his past accomplishments and play up the idea that he had no personality, whilst mocking him for his choice of diet (Bryan being a long-time Vegan). Despite the company’s insistence on these counter-productive measures, Bryan’s ability shone through in his first televised match as he took on Chris Jericho in the main event of the first episode of NXT. Bryan may have been being buried by the commentators and his past career played-down by management, but his work under the WWE umbrella was immediately impressive and again, Bryan approached the work with his customary determination.

Bryan was booked to lose every one of his matches on NXT, almost as though the WWE felt that jobbing him out would erase the stench left on him by his career in the independents. Bryan was then eliminated from the competition that May and berated by The Miz and Michael Cole as being a loser. This led to Bryan’s match against The Miz on Raw, which had come about despite Bryan’s elimination from NXT and was a sign that the WWE were keen on the undoubted upside Bryan brought to the company. Not only was he booked on Raw, but he was booked to win, and after taking the victory against The Miz, flung the ‘awesome one’ into his long running detractor Michael Cole who was sat at the announcing desk. Thanks to the decent reaction the match and angle garnered, there was some belief that Bryan might just have a decent future ahead of him in the WWE, that was until one week later, when it all seemed to be over just as quickly as it had begun.

On the June 7th 2010 episode of Raw, Daniel Bryan, along with his fellow NXT rookies ran to the ring to attack John Cena and CM Punk who were featured in the main event of the show. The run in, was a super-heated and stunningly exciting bit of television, coming at a time when WWE was in desperate need of something different at the top of its card. In a way WWE had never done before, they put a whole raft of newcomers right in at the deep end in a big programme with its main stars as a group that joined together to make a major mark on the promotion. For his part, Daniel roughed up ring announcer Justin Roberts, including ‘choking’ him with his tie. As Cena and Punk, both commentators and the whole of the Raw set took the brunt of the NXT rookie’s anger, it was surprising that Bryan’s roughing up of Roberts was singled out as not falling in line with the company’s PG rating. Subsequently, it was announced just 3 days after the show went out that Daniel Bryan had been released from his WWE contract.

Whilst Bryan began making arrangements to return to the independents, WWE discreetly made it clear that he would likely be rehired once the incident with Roberts had blown over. Sure enough, by the beginning of August, Daniel Bryan was re-signed by the company and the incident was quickly forgotten. In the meantime, WWE had written Bryan out of the storyline by having the rest of the Nexus (as the group of NXT rookies became known) kick him out of the group shortly after the attack on Justin Roberts. This meant that he was brought back to television as a babyface and was able to compete in the main event of Summerslam as part of ‘Team WWE’ against the members of Nexus. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Cena, Edge, Chris Jericho and even Bret Hart in the match was quite the step up from being back on the independent scene, and some pointed to this as another sign that WWE had big plans for the former ‘American Dragon’.

Logically, Daniel Bryan returned to the unresolved issue he had with The Miz following their pairing in NXT after Summerslam. Whilst Bryan managed to wrest the US Title away from his nemesis, the title change was in truth simply a way to allow The Miz to go on to pursue the WWE Title that would eventually lead to him main eventing Wrestlemania 27 opposite John Cena. The US Title itself had meant very little in the WWE for a long time, and despite Bryan’s 6 month reign with the title lasting till the following March, the highlight of this period for him was a comedic storyline that had the Bella Twins romantically pursuing Bryan before being usurped by fellow diva Gail Kim. Whilst Bryan was making modest steps in the company, the rug was being pulled from underneath him by the continuing verbal lashing Michael Cole was being directed to give him from the announcing booth. For every good thing Bryan was doing in the ring, the fans were being encouraged to view his, as an act not to be taken seriously.

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After missing out on a place on the main Wrestlemania card himself, when his match with Sheamus was relegated to the pre-show, Bryan was given little of note to do until he was put into the Smackdown Money in the Bank match on the pay-per-view of the same name. Widely regarded as one of the best WWE pay-per-view’s in history, the show is of course better known for the fantastic Chicago crowd and their reaction to the dramatic main event between John Cena and CM Punk. On the undercard however, Daniel Bryan managed to take the victory in his match and the guaranteed title shot that reaching the briefcase provided. Despite having done little of note with Bryan for the past 3 months, and having presented him as a distinctly 2nd tier comedy act during most of his time with the company, it appeared that WWE were going to give him a serious push with the Money in the Bank briefcase in his possession.

Alas, this proved not to be the case, after announcing on Smackdown that he would cash in his guaranteed title shot at Wrestlemania 28, Bryan became just another worker on the roster, lost in the shuffle. As has become customary in the WWE careers of other Money in the Bank winners, Bryan if anything, was demoted having won the briefcase. For the next 3 or 4 months, Bryan spent the majority of his time staring at the ceiling and generally acting as a glorified jobber. Once again, despite the level of popularity that Bryan had achieved in the company through nothing more than the fact that he was very obviously one of the hardest working men on the roster (much in the same way Dolph Ziggler has done), the WWE hierarchy seemed to have lost interest in his push and any long term plans that they might previously have had for him. At no point however did Bryan’s work rate or enthusiasm drop and he was rewarded with a renewed push later that year.

The next phase of Daniel Bryan’s story, was the one that would see him become World Heavyweight Champion and at the same time turn heel on his ‘friend’ The Big Show. Following The Big Show’s title victory over Mark Henry at the TLC pay-per-view in December, Henry dropped Big Show with a DDT onto a chair, after which Bryan cashed in the briefcase and won the belt. All of a sudden, Bryan had been thrust into one of the key positions on the card, just in time for the lucrative Road to Wrestlemania, and a feud, as a heel, against both The Big Show and Mark Henry. The Bryan character was given further ammunition by being put into an on screen relationship with AJ, Bryan was now not only a highlight of WWE’s in-ring product, but also one of the top performers outside the ring.

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It was during early 2012 that Daniel Bryan began those famous “Yes!” chants that ring out every single time Bryan steps into an arena these days. Playing the part of the lucky champion, barely scraping through with the belt still intact during his series with Henry and Big Show, Bryan would after the match raise his hands into the air accompanied with the exclamation of jubilation as if his fortuitous victories were a major achievement. Still, in spite of all of this, few believed Bryan would hold the title for any length of time, it being unthinkable that Bryan might actually be booked in one of the big matches at Wrestlemania 28. That was exactly what happened however, when, after Bryan retained his title in the Smackdown elimination chamber match, Royal Rumble winner Sheamus came out and announced that he would be challenging Bryan for the World Heavyweight Title at the big one. Finally, one year on, the ghost of Bryan and Sheamus’s missed opportunity at the previous ‘Mania would be put to rest.

Just 19 seconds into the opening match of the Wresltemania 28 card, Daniel Bryan had been relieved of his World Title reign. Having entered the ring to a flurry of “Yes!” chants, that Bryan had by this time, in an effort to retain his heel persona, responded to with “No!” shouts, Bryan was given a kiss in the corner by AJ. Apparently distracted by this act, Bryan was easy prey for a Sheamus brogue kick and we had a new World Heavyweight Champion. It is fair to say that fans in the Sun Life Stadium that evening (and indeed many people watching on pay-per-view at home) were left feeling deflated by what they saw as an insulting way to treat one of the most talented, and by this time over, acts in the entire company. It did nothing for Bryan or indeed his opponent Sheamus who, rather that get his World Title reign off to an exciting and memorable start, had to overcome a backlash of sorts from some of the WWE’s fanbase. The chants of “Yes!Yes! Yes!” by fans later in the night, and the next day on Raw were directed at the company for booking Bryan in this way and to show their frustration at Bryan’s treatment.

After a rematch with Sheamus at Extreme Rules 2012 where Bryan was at least allowed to look competent against the Celtic Warrior  but ultimately fell to defeat again, he was moved quickly into the next chapter of his career, a mouth watering programme with CM Punk. In a series of matches that began at Over The Limit and somehow lived up to the almost impossible expectations that fans had for them, Bryan and Punk showed phenomenal chemistry in the ring together. During their programme, WWE creative spun a tale about the possibility of AJ being interested in Punk or even Kane which resulted in a triple threat match at No Way Out. In both of these matches, Bryan came up short of winning the title. At Money In The Bank, with the odds stacked firmly in Bryan’s favour by the presence of AJ as special referee, Bryan was again defeated by Punk in the concluding match of their run.Following a streak of 5 pay-per-views where Bryan had failed to win any matches, WWE needed to build Bryan back up, instead they chose to work Bryan and AJ into the wedding angle which would take place at Raw 1000 on 23rd July.

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With Bryan and AJ set to tie the knot live on air, Bryan was once again cast in the ‘loser’ role when AJ revealed that she hadn’t said ‘yes’ to marrying Bryan, but instead to the business proposal Mr McMahon had offered her which was as the new GM of Raw. Forgetting that AJ’s run as Raw General Manager barely got off the ground, and was quickly dumped thereafter, for Bryan this could have sealed his fate as an act that was never likely to be taken seriously as a main event player, especially given the temper tantrum Bryan was made to throw following his abandonment by AJ. Following the silly Bella Twins storyline, the over the top victory celebrations, the 18 second loss at Wrestlemania 28 and the AJ wedding shenanigans, it appeared that WWE felt Bryan was best used in situations that could provide the shows with comedy. Despite the fact that this would hinder Bryan’s long term viability as a main event player, Bryan, as was his style, decided that if comedy was what they were going to give him, then he was going to do it better than anybody else around, just like everything else.

With the Daniel Bryan character now being portrayed as a bitter individual, full of rage following AJ’s leaving him at the alter, he entered a programme with Kane that seemed to have very little potential. Thanks to the performances of both men (and the growth of a wild beard) however, they turned what was originally a feud between the two into a super-over oddball tag team following a series of anger management sessions that they both attended. Team Hell No were a hit and were quickly booked to win the tag team titles, which they duly did from Kofi Kingston and R-Truth at Night of Champions. Whilst holding the straps the pair defended the titles against the likes of the Prime Time Players, The Rhodes Scholars and others, but their opponents were never the focus of their air time, which was all about the dynamic between Bryan and Kane. Bryan was showing once again, that no matter what WWE gave him to do he could excel at it, at the same time, Kane was move over and motivated than he had been in years, the only concern was that, as tends to be the case with comedy acts, the joke starts to get old in quick order and that WWE had no plans to have them go their seperate ways before Wrestlemania 29.

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It is then a darn good job that The Shield turned up in late 2012 and got embroiled in a feud with Team Hell No that would take in a quite marvellous match at TLC in December of last year when Ryback teamed with Kane and Bryan. The feud was put on the back burner whilst Team Hell No, as individuals, attempted to win first the Royal Rumble in January and then the Elimination Chamber match in before resuming the night after Wrestlemania 29 when Kane’s storyline brother, The Undertaker, became the Hounds Of Justice’s latest target. That night, after The Shield came out to surround The Undertaker in the ring, Kane and Daniel Bryan ran out to even the odds and The Shield scampered away. From there, Bryan and Kane were teamed with The Undertaker on Raw in the UK two weeks later in another 6-man tag match against The Sheild. After 3 years with the company, where he had for the most part been made to either look foolish or was presented as a goof, Bryan was involved in a major feud at the top of the card and rubbing shoulders with one of WWE’s most protected and respected acts.

At Extreme Rules, Team Hell No finally dropped the tag titles to Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns of The Shield and made initial movements to go their seperate ways. That wasn’t until Daniel Bryan’s popularity took a sharp upward turn during May where he and Kane were more often than not booked in more matches opposite The Shield and tore the house down every time. Bryan’s offence and the reaction for his entrances and tags into the ring were met with outpourings of support and approval. The “Yes” and “No” chants had in truth been chanted towards Bryan since before Wrestlemania 28 during Bryan’s initial heel run and had permeated many a Bryan match since, but not with the zeal and renewed intensity that was being directed at the ring everytime Bryan was in it now. There was no denying it, Daniel Bryan had become the most over wrestler in the entire company.

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What’s remarkable about Daniel Bryan’s rise to this position is not that it’s hard to understand why Bryan has become such an over act, we know why; Bryan’s ability in whatever he is given to do is there for all to see, what it is that sets Bryan apart is that he’s done it having been given very little by the WWE to work with. On paper the angles, storylines and scenarios he has found himself in at numerous points in his WWE career have been mediocre at best and potentially damaging in the long run but Bryan has worked wonders. With the crumbs that he has been fed by WWE, Bryan has not only avoided the pitfalls of the, at times horrendous booking, but actually turned them into such a positive that just over 3 years into his time with WWE he is as close to being ‘the man’ in the company as anybody. Some might point to the short amount of time that Bryan has made it to the top as evidence that the WWE has given him a fantastic push, but the truth is that Bryan has made a star of himself in spite of WWE’s efforts, not because of them.

Bryan’s latest storyline has him refusing to believe that other people don’t see him as the weak link in his alliance with Kane and Randy Orton. This has led to him taking part in matches opposite Orton over the past week and on Raw this week, Bryan finally managed to get his big win over The Apex Predator in another match of the night effort. The victory should signal the end of Bryan’s paranoia about being regarded as the weak link, and push him fully into overdrive. With options thin with regards to whom John Cena may face at Summerslam, there has been growing noise that Bryan will be given the position either as a face or a heel, either way, headlining the 3rd biggest show of the year against the company’s top star would represent another major step up for him. Whatever the case, even if WWE doesn’t take advantage of the level of overness that Bryan has achieved right now and drops the ball on him, who would bet against Bryan taking it on the chin, rolling his sleeves up and getting himself over all over again. Who? Only a fool.

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  • mitchicharito

    Theoretically all correct, except that ratings for Bryan’s segments are weak and the crowd are already starting to turn on him, as witnessed this week. If it is turning him heel and leads to something big, then great! A Bryan v Cena programme could be a lot of fun and they need top heels now that Punk has turned babyface. As a top babyface star though, it looks like it’s not happening. Which is a shame, but thems the breaks.

    • FandanDannyDevito

      What do you mean ”crowd are already starting to turn on him” ? This weeks Raw saw Bryan get one of the three biggest reactions of the night (along with Punk and Cena). If you’re alluding to the fact that he was booed after the Orton/Kane match, that’s most likely because his stopped the match in a heelish fashion.

      • mitchicharito

        I think the scattering of boos (I never said it was huge, but the seeds were sewn) were more to do with the “I’m not the weak link” promos. As Bryan Alvarez said on F4W (and I agree fully), those promos were a fail because he was claiming something that wasn’t true. No one believed he was the weak link. There wasn’t a fan alive who thought he was a weak link in any form. So to say so just made him seem like a whiny cock heel. Thankfully, they tried to rectify it this week (after my last comment) and are moving beyond it. Which is great, because it was doomed to turn him heel and he is very well suited to being a babyface right now. I am a fan of DB, but they needed to go a different route and hopefully the weak link storyline is now finished. It would only serve to bury him going into the biggest programme of his career.

        And with ratings as they are, he doesn’t need to be hurt by crappy booking.

        • FandanDannyDevito

          Sorry man, I didn’t check that you wrote your comment before last weeks Raw. I completely agree with everything you said!

  • FandanDannyDevito

    Phenomenal article! You did DB’s incredible ride justice. If he does happen to win the title, It will become the stuff of legend.

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