After four long years of hoping and wishing for the seemingly impossible, Daniel Bryan was medically cleared for a return to a WWE wrestling ring. The big night finally came at WrestleMania 34, when he teamed with Shane McMahon to defeat recent rivals Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Immediately thereafter, Bryan vacated his post as SmackDown General Manager to make a full-fledged comeback, prepared to rise back to the top on an even stronger wave of positivity than ever before.
Across the board, fans of pro wrestling are ecstatic to see Bryan back, having long felt he was a supremely talented athlete robbed of his dream just after reaching his peak. The only problem is that two months into things, it already looks like WWE is making mistakes about how to handle this extremely fortuitous situation. Maybe it was a bit much to expect Bryan would go straight back to the main event, but some of his early opponents have been underwhelming — especially when he loses to them in unimportant, un-promoted matches.
Of course, now that he’s all healed up, it looks like there’s still plenty of time for Bryan to make the best of things and challenge everyone on the roster people actually want to see him wrestle. Whether or not WWE will give these contests the time or attention they deserve will remain to be seen, yet it’s unlikely they could possibly ignore them all. More than that, with a talent like Bryan, he’s bound to entertain no matter who he faces. Nonetheless, to see our best suggestions, keep reading and learn about 15 wrestlers Daniel Bryan needs to face on his comeback trail.
15 Kurt Angle Needs To Have One More Match
Not long before Daniel Bryan made his miraculous comeback, another superstar experienced a similarly surprising return in Kurt Angle. Granted, the Olympic Hero had been consistently wrestling for Total Nonstop Action during his time away from the WWE Universe. Nonetheless, it was just as shocking to see him make a homecoming, first as a Hall of Famer, and then an in-ring talent. Depending on how one looks at it, it could appear like WWE has been building toward the dream encounter between Angle and Bryan from the moment Kurt came back, pitting them against one another as opposing General Managers on Raw and SmackDown.
Despite the position as born enemies, Bryan and Angle’s few encounters were fairly reserved as executives. However, almost immediately after Bryan was allowed back in the ring, the two locked up in the Greatest Royal Rumble, trading suplexes and harsh kicks the way only they can. It’s not clear how long Angle has left in the ring as a solo act, but throw in a couple partners and let them work five minutes in the middle of a tag team match, and everyone should leave happy. Then again, Bryan is living proof wrestlers should never say never, so for all we know, these two could still tear down the house in an Iron Man match.
14 Finn Bálor Says Yes, Please
The instant Daniel Bryan announced his official return to wrestling, just about every sports entertainer on the planet started dreaming about facing him. Who exactly will get the chance remains unclear, yet some wrestlers, including Finn Bálor, are doing whatever they can to put their name in contention for a shot. Okay, so at this point, Bálor has just planted seeds for a potential WrestleMania 35 encounter, but that’s already a whole lot more than most WWE superstars have done. Not that Bálor exactly made a challenge, per se — all he did was post a fan photo advertising the idea and respond with a resounding, “Yes, please.”
Surprisingly, despite the fact Bryan and Bálor rarely wrestling in the same countries until recently, the two actually did have one match before either of them made it to WWE. Back in 2007, Bryan Danielson defeated Prince Devitt in the second round of NWA’s Reclaiming the Glory tournament. Though neither wrestler walked away with that particular gold, Danielson came out on top that night, and it looks like Bálor has wanted to redeem himself ever since. Obviously, the NWA Championship won’t have anything to do with it anymore, but given the state of that belt these days, fighting over WWE gold at the Grandest Stage of Them All would simply bring things to another level.
13 Samoa Joe Has A Long History
Some feuds in wrestling simply never die, and now that both men are finally in the same company and ready to wrestle once again, the long dormant war between Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe may become one of them. At the onset of their careers, Joe and Bryan were both amongst the athlete who defined Ring of Honor, which has since turned into arguably the largest independent wrestling promotion in America. While wrestling for that company, the two repeatedly warred over the ROH World Championship, leading to gruelling 60-minute time limit draws and violent cage matches.
For whatever reason, the last such encounter was all the way back in 2006, giving both Bryan and Joe over a full decade of growth to extend their old classics. Of course, for much of this time, Joe was in TNA while Bryan was in WWE, making a rematch impossible until the Yes Movement’s sudden and unexpected revival.
Unfortunately, it looks like WWE is going to be giving this one away too soon on an upcoming episode of SmackDown, but there’s always room for rematches on WWE Network events that could get the time they deserve. If WWE actually cares about their audience, they might even blow everyone away on free TV — and that would only make a rematch more necessary.
12 Seth Rollins Could Architect A Great Feud
Before his sudden retirement, it could be argued The Shield were collectively three of Daniel Bryan’s greatest rivals. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins all had plenty of matches with the guy, yet it’s Rollins in particular who would probably create the best rematch. Fans just aren’t interested in Reigns no matter what, and Ambrose’s style is a little too crazy for Bryan this early, while Seth’s skill set perfectly meshes with his and could lead to another great encounter.
It’s been a long time since the two wrestled, and their dynamics have greatly changed, with Seth going from the most despicable member of The Shield to an extremely popular star in his own right.
This could put him in the perfect state to tell fans how emotional he was watching Bryan retire, as he admitted to Chris Jericho on the Talk Is Jericho podcast that Bryan’s farewell speech brought him to tears. Now that Bryan is back, they both have a chance to make just as powerful and emotional a memory by locking it up in the ring one more time. The most shocking way to go about this would be for Bryan to answer one of Rollins’s Intercontinental Championship open challenges, but if WWE found a way to give it a little build, that would probably be even better.
11 Chad Gable Matches His Technical Prowess
All right, so in all honesty, Chad Gable is probably one of the less likely names on this list to get a marquee match with Daniel Bryan any time soon. Let’s face it, the kid is still a rookie, and has nowhere near the profile of most other wrestlers on this list. On the other hand, he’s also an incredibly gifted technical athlete, and challenging an expert like Bryan would be a great opportunity for him to grow. Adapting to a younger, fresher era could allow Bryan to learn a thing or two, as well.
Because of Bryan and Gable’s vast differential in popularity, this is the one match we’d be fine seeing on a random episode of SmackDown without all that much promotion. The one problem with Bryan’s comeback is that he’s already wrestling dozens of huge stars on free television, when he should be challenging guys like Gable, who are a bit beneath his level but can still deliver a great contest. This way, fans leave happy and are excited for future matches of both wrestlers, while WWE and the superstars themselves get to cash in with more important Pay-Per-View offerings. There’s even a little built in story for them, in that Gable once accused Bryan of bias during his reign as SmackDown GM, a thread that could easily be revisited.
10 Johnny Gargano’s Name Means Good Wrestling
Chances are WWE will take their sweet time before any of these matches truly come to fruition. In the case of a potential encounter with Johnny Gargano, there’s absolutely no rush, since the NXT standout still has plenty to accomplish in the developmental league. For the time being, some are even calling him the Daniel Bryan of NXT, or at least comparing the two in terms of talent, character, and motivation. Of course, this sort of talk means they absolutely need to lock it up inside the squared circle the second it becomes viable they do so.
While Gargano has a way to go before reaching Bryan’s current level, there was actually a time not that long ago when the tables were somewhat turned. In 2011, Gargano was the Absolute Insane Wrestling Champion, and Bryan Danielson was a challenger to his title.
They wrestled a 30-minute draw that tore the house down, and seven years later, it’s easy to picture them doing it all over again. Bryan even tried suggesting it could happen soon when he said he hoped Gargano would lose his NXT contract so SmackDown’s then General Manager could swoop him up. Gargano turned down that opportunity due to unfinished business, but throw in an actual rematch against the most popular wrestler around, and he might reconsider.
9 Kenny Omega Could Get Taken To The Cleaners
Anything is possible in the WWE Universe, so the odds of a match between Daniel Bryan and Kenny Omega aren’t exactly nonexistent. Unfortunately, it does feel like the least likely encounter on this list, considering Omega seems happy in his position with New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Bryan’s signed to WWE. For the time being, it’s unlikely either athlete will jump ship, but if they ever did, there’s no doubt they’d be crossing paths incredibly quick.
Omega has already commented on the idea, simply telling Uproxx, “If this is going to become a full-time thing for him again, I’d love to run into him down the line.”
While everyone in wrestling wants a piece of Bryan, this still seemed just a little out of character, since Omega rarely eludes to anything that would take him away from NJPW. Then again, he may have just been working on the assumption Bryan would be the one jumping ship. Long before either man got their current jobs, they actually locked up in 2009 for Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s 100th show, involving an unforgettable pre-match thumb war and sing-along. Now that both men have become even greater wrestlers with bigger personalities, one can only imagine the sort of antics they’d get into — and how badly they’d beat one another up once the fun concluded.
8 AJ Styles Needs More Time And Promotion
Instantly after Daniel Bryan was cleared to compete, AJ Styles hypothetically asked Sports Illustrated,
Turns out the answer wasn’t very long at all, as barely one week after Bryan’s big comeback at WrestleMania 33, he found himself standing across from the WWE Champion in the main event of SmackDown Live. The only catch allowing a rematch to remain on this list is that said match was unfortunately incomplete, ending by disqualification when Shinsuke Nakamura ran in and attacked both competitors.
Since the brief encounter, Styles and Bryan immediately went their separate ways and haven’t looked to lock up again. At one point, it almost looked like they’d let bygones be bygones and form some sort of partnership, yet even if that were to happen, the odds of an inevitable breakup leading to a match are always quite high. In addition to their ablated SmackDown encounter, Styles and Bryan have also been wrestling one another for years in Ring of Honor and various other independents, always delivering classics whenever they clash. Now that they have the largest wrestling audience in the world, it’s completely reasonable Vince McMahon would let them do it one more time with the proper promotion.
7 Shane McMahon Will Probably Find A Reason To Complain
Flipping the usual script for duel WWE authorities figures, SmackDown’s commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan almost always got along. There were minor disagreements here or there, sure, but nothing that came anywhere near a true power struggle. Even so, it could be argued Shane-O-Mac has plenty of reasons to resent Bryan for taking his time before backing him up against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Failing that, McMahon could also just blame Bryan for any difficulties SmackDown faced during his reign, giving them a perfect reason to feud.
Compared to some other technical wizards on this list, it’s true that McMahon isn’t quite up to Bryan’s caliber as a performer. However, he always gives it his all in the ring, and the way WWE treats him, there’s no limit to the stunts he may attempt in the ring.
Some might scoff at the idea of this match, the same way they shake their heads every time Shane McMahon takes a full-time wrestlers spot, but the fact is he’s still delivering memorable performances and drawing huge crowds while doing so. That alone makes him a valid competitor for Bryan or any other top name on the roster, and their built-in backstory as former partners makes it all the more likely the match will come to pass.
6 Chris Jericho Needs A Rematch
In many respects, Daniel Bryan has been given a second chance to prove himself in the WWE Universe. Should things truly go full circle in life, maybe this means he should start the same place he did the first time around. Some fans may not remember Chris Jericho was actually Bryan’s first televised opponent in WWE, as the match took place with little fanfare on NXT. It was nonetheless a crisp, solid encounter, with Bryan instantly looking like a potential threat to the World Heavyweight Championship Jericho then held.
The two also had a match several years later on Raw, but that too didn’t receive the attention stars of their caliber deserved.
In more recent history, Jericho stated on his podcast that he was slotted to replace Shane McMahon in Daniel’s WrestleMania 33 comeback had the commissioner been unable to attend. While this didn’t happen, chances are all involved parties have the idea fresh in their minds, and it could lead to something more in the future. The only question is whether or not Jericho will return to WWE and make it happen, since he seems busy in New Japan Pro Wrestling for the time being. The good news is that if he was willing to come back to be Bryan’s partner, he’d probably do the same thing to wrestle him.
5 Matt Hardy Always Goes For Woke Or Broke
Truth be told, the original Hardy Boy we had in mind when compiling this list was Jeff, until WWE went and gave that idea away for free on SmackDown as a Money in the Bank qualifying match. While we could just ask for a longer rematch like with AJ Styles, it also wouldn’t be a bad idea for Daniel Bryan to stick around that family for a little while and spend some time with Brother Nero’s Woken counterpart. Sure, the match wouldn’t be quite as filled with high-flying stunts, yet the build could be significantly better, with both wrestlers more than capable of digging into their weird sides.
Since the beginning of the Yes Movement, Bryan has been toning down his kookier instincts to ensure fans took him seriously. At this point, it’s clear he’s a top level athlete, so one last silly run like his days in Team Hell No could make for a fun diversion as he works his way back up the card.
After all, it could easily be said that Bryan was “broken” through his terrible neck injuries, and Matt could argue only through his absurd “Wokeness” could he ever truly be fixed. Let’s just hope Bray Wyatt doesn’t get too involved, and for that matter, this one can steer clear of the Hardy Compound, as well.
4 The Brian Kendrick Needs A Token Chance
Compared to some names on this list, it’s unlikely Daniel Bryan will face The Brian Kendrick in a marquee match any time soon. However, any wrestling fan who watched the Cruiserweight Classic tournament knows exactly why Kendrick would place on this list. Bryan provided commentary for the event, vocally supporting Kendrick from the very beginning, and appearing extremely emotional after he was eliminated.
As it turns out, his strong support dates back long before that tournament took place, when both men were still young rookies getting their first training in the business.
Given how long they’ve known one another, it should be no surprise that Kendrick and Bryan have also wrestled a few times already, as well. They haven’t done so in WWE, though, nor with their current characters, Bryan the always optimistic man of the people, and Kendrick a pretentious veteran desperate for one last run. No matter how angry WWE tells them to play it, though, make no mistake about the fact these two are close friends. Kendrick even goes so far as to credit Bryan with making him the performer he is today, claiming on Steve Austin’s podcast that Bryan was a “driving force” in his development, which is all the more reason he should get to show his friend what he’s become.
3 Shinsuke Nakamura Has A Challenger To The Throne
When Daniel Bryan was away, there were few people questioning Shinsuke Nakamura as he proclaimed himself the King of Strong Style. No other athlete could combine charisma, technical skill, and violent striking quite like he could, except perhaps Bryan, who had been building a very similar reputation for his vicious kicks and high knees to the face.
Unfortunately, by the time Nakamura decided to leave New Japan Pro Wrestling for the WWE Universe, Bryan was out of action, and seemingly for good. That’s no longer the case, so maybe it’s time to see who the real royalty is after all.
Believe it or not, some fans already got a taste of what they could do during an untelevised match that took place after the May 1, 2018 SmackDown tapings. Great as the match surely was, the fact it wasn’t meant for TV essentially means it didn’t happen insofar as WWE storylines are concerned. This is a mistake the company soon needs to fix, because many reports from the show called it the match of the night and then some. In fact, the whole thing is yet another sign WWE is prematurely blowing their wad with Bryan, but at least this time they didn’t do so for all the world to see like his match with AJ Styles.
2 John Cena Needs To Settle A Family Dispute
Not every hotly anticipated match is necessarily entirely new. Daniel Bryan locked up with John Cena not long before his retirement, in the main event of SummerSlam 2013. Cena took a sabbatical after the match so he could have surgery, and by the time he was back, Bryan had been forced into retirement, meaning there was never an official rematch. For the most part, the two have been getting along onscreen with Cena as SmackDown General Manager Bryan’s fan favorite top talent. However, everyone paying attention to Total Divas or even mainstream news knows they have an even deeper issue WWE could easily turn into a storyline.
Barely one year after an extremely high-profile proposal at WrestleMania 33, Cena and Nikki Bella recently underwent an equally high profile breakup. Coincidentally, Bryan is married to Brie Bella, who unsurprisingly took her sister’s side in the split.
This is exactly the sort of soap opera drama Vince McMahon made popular during the Attitude Era, and Bryan looking to defend the family name against Cena for whatever he did to upset Nikki would definitely make their second match significantly more personal than the first. Of course, with their talent and stature in the business, even if WWE put them in a ring for no particular reason, fans would probably be just fine with that, too.
1 Brock Lesnar Should Be His Goliath
Had Daniel Bryan never been injured, the entire WWE Universe would be a much different place. Not just due to his involvement, but also in the way other wrestlers would be reacting to his presence. One popular rumor is that Bryan would have continued reigning as WWE Champion until SummerSlam 2014, when Brock Lesnar would shatter fans dreams by bringing his journey to an end. From there, the Beast Incarnate would go on to WrestleMania 31, where Roman Reigns would have conquered him and looked like an actual hero for doing so, instead of winding up in the weird place he is now. Even without that theoretical scenario, the idea of Lesnar and Bryan locking up is as classic a David and Goliath scenario as WWE has ever had at their disposal. Lesnar’s manager Paul Heyman is definitely aware of this, telling Newsweek,
He’s not alone, as the two are respectively the most dominant monster and best underdog technical athlete in wrestling today. It’s all right if WWE holds off on this one for a little while, too, so Bryan can rebuild his maximum level of sympathy before Lesnar tries tearing him apart.