It’s official: Daniel Bryan’s storied professional wrestling career has come to an end.
While many will remember February 8th, 2016 as a dark day for the wrestling world, prominent members of the community have been quick to remind us all to reflect on the indelible mark the underdog hero has left on the sports entertainment business.
Highly-regarded wrestling personality, Dave Meltzer, stated "It will be a long time before people fully understand the contributions he made to this industry, which is a far better place because of his involvement. […] Change is slow, to be sure, but this is a different industry and he played a huge part in it. When you really look back, from an influence standpoint, he triggered a number of changes and his contributions are actually enormous."
Many stars and industry players were quick to share their praise of Bryan, with fellow independent starlet turned WWE star, Sami Zayn, boldly and succinctly saying “without @WWEDanielBryan, many of the performers you love in @WWENXT & @WWE would never have been hired. He broke down barriers for us all.”
Truly, the Aberdeen, WA native’s career was a career that will echo through the years and should stand the test of age as one of the all-time legends. With that, we take a look back at the greatest moments of Daniel Bryan’s historic WWE tenure…
10 Bryan wins Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31
While this wasn’t the Championship many hoped that the ‘Yes Man’ would be chasing at the WWE’s biggest event of the year, especially not after main-eventing the previous year’s incarnation, it was nevertheless a great victory for the diminutive star.
With Bryan finally completing the WWE Grand Slam (winning the US, Tag Team, Intercontinental, and WWE World Heavyweight Championships) many thought that he could be the man to restore glory, honor, and respectability to the beloved Intercontinental Championship.
Fans were salivating at the thought of Daniel Bryan putting on potential classic matches against the likes of Dean Ambrose, Neville, Cesaro, Luke Harper, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler and the rest of the talented, but “underused,” mid-card wrestlers.
Unfortunately, the wrestling world would never get the chance to see these dream matches come to fruition due to Bryan’s career-ending injuries that came shortly after his big victory.
9 The 18 Second Loss
In almost any other scenario, it’s very difficult to call a moment like losing the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania in 18 seconds a “great” one, but for Daniel Bryan, it would become a classic scene.
Most saw the stunning-but-not-really loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28 as a means for an embarrassing demotion and statement to the lack of confidence in the credibility of the smaller champion. However, that must have been lost on Daniel Bryan. Like all too many times in his career, Bryan would not be denied.
The undersized star went on to use the loss to fuel his rocket to the top. This moment can now be pinpointed as the beginning of Daniel Bryan’s ‘Yes Movement’ and rise to super stardom.
8 Daniel meets ‘The Crusher’
During his unprecedented rise to the top, Daniel Bryan inspired millions of fans from all over the globe. His positive attitude, resiliency, humility and blistering in-ring style captured the imagination of almost everyone who saw him. That included one extraordinary young boy, Connor ‘The Crusher’ Michalek.
Connor, diagnosed with cancer, was an absolutely huge fan of the former energetic wrestling stalwart. A campaign was started to have the young child meet his hero. They ultimately met one night in Pittsburgh with Connor being escorted by Bryan to a ring, surrounded by all the superstars, in order to beat their rival, Triple H.
The young Connor would have a profound effect on Daniel as the two became friends and Bryan encouraged him to keep up his battle against cancer. They were so connected that Bryan invited his young companion to be ringside for his biggest fight (at WrestleMania 30) in order to inspire him.
Sadly, Connor Michalek passed away shortly after witnessing Bryan’s championship victory. However, so influential was the boy’s character on the WWE staff and owners that he decided to honor him in 2015 with a posthumous award.
7 Team Hell-NO! Win Tag Titles
The “odd couple” tag team angle in pro wrestling is one of the oldest in the book.
We’ve seen it done so many times, and a lot of times, it fails to hit the mark. However, on the occasions that it does work, it’s a thing of a beauty! The case of Team Hell-NO! was a homerun.
The mismatched couple of the “chip-on-his-shoulder” Daniel Bryan and the “grizzled veteran” of Kane, made for a fantastic watch of dysfunctional behavior. Dr.Shelby’s “anger management” classes were a must-watch highlight of the night during the championship tenure of the bizarre duo.
Their story would later end with Bryan claiming he needed to see if he could make it out on his own, coinciding with Bryan’s rapid rise to popularity, but not before leaving the WWE Universe entertained as one of the best tag team champions of all time.
6 Mr. Money In The Bank
During his first try at rising to the top of WWE’s hierarchy, Bryan got an opportunity he had to seize: a chance at becoming World Heavyweight Champion.
Daniel Bryan entered himself into the Money In The Bank match at TLC 2011 with every intention of winning the contract for a future title bout with the Heavyweight Champion. To the surprise of some, he actually came out the victor, capturing the highly-coveted briefcase.
He announced shortly thereafter that he, being a principled and honorable man, would wait until WrestleMania to cash in for his championship opportunity. After months of teasing a potential cash-in, Bryan would ultimately use a shocking invoking of his clause against a battle-worn Big Show to famously capture his first WWE World Championship.
5 Bryan beats Cena
With Daniel Bryan’s momentum building to a full steam in the summer of 2013, he was hand-picked by the face of the WWE himself, John Cena, to main event the title match against him at SummerSlam.
The move was a bold one for the WWE. Fans were anxious that the super popular Bryan would just be yet another victim fed to the ‘Cenation’ to continue his run of glory. What would ensue was an all-time classic match in which Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena, clean, with a devastating knee to the head. It was an unbelievable moment.
Unfortunately, a moment is all it lasted before special guest referee, Triple H, turned on Bryan and allowed Randy Orton to cash in his Money In The Bank contract and win the title. Fans saw this as yet another attempt to “bury” the people’s chosen one.
Ultimately, it was a landmark moment for Bryan, as it would eventually kick off his greatest run ever.
4 Hometown Hero
After it had become apparent that the WWE (at least as it appeared to the fans) was once again trying to remove Daniel from the main event scene, the WWE Universe became livid.
So, on a fateful night in Bryan’s home arena in Seattle, WA, during a coronation ceremony to unify the two world titles and featuring some of the greatest world champions of all time in the ring, the Emerald City faithful let it be known whom they wanted to see in the title match.
In a fantastic scene, the crowd effectively demanded the silence of Triple H with a deafening ovation for their underdog hero. Daniel Bryan was the guy everybody wanted, and the people wanted to make sure the brass knew that.
Certainly, it was a remarkable moment that will no doubt live long in the memory of wrestling fans.
3 NO! to the Wyatt Family
With the fans reaching a boiling point with the Daniel Bryan fever, WWE thought it would be a good idea to settle it all down by making the people’s hero unceremoniously join the cult-like bad guys of Wyatt Family. This move backfired. Tremendously.
Bryan’s “heel turn” (and blatant attempt to push him to the side) was overwhelmingly rejected by the fans and prominent members of the wrestling community alike. The backlash was incredible. So much so that it forced a sudden change to the storyline. The revolt led Daniel Bryan to severe ties with the Wyatts a mere few weeks after it all began.
The inconsistency in story caused by Bryan’s sudden departure certainly didn’t bother many, least of which the rapturous crowd in Rhode Island who created a scene the likes of which were rarely ever seen in contemporary professional wrestling.
No one will ever forget the moment Daniel Bryan conducted his orchestra into the massive sonnet of wrestling genius; simply amazing.
2 Occupy Raw
After Bryan’s loss to close the feud with Bray Wyatt at Royal Rumble, most assumed that Bryan would advance later in the evening to the event’s titular match in order to have his chance to become #1 contender heading into WrestleMania 30. That would not be the case.
‘DB’ never entered the Royal Rumble. It left fans absolutely outraged as it had become painfully apparent that the massively “over” superstar was not a part of the company’s main event plans. A backlash of legendary proportions would ensue.
It all came to a head one night during the “Road to WrestleMania” in Memphis, where an irate Bryan made a stand against ‘The Authority.’ This exchange was made famous when, during his impassioned speech, Bryan was mobbed by his supporters who took over the ring and surrounding area. Bryan and the crowd then demanded the underdog’s fair chance claim to be in the championship match at the year’s biggest event.
This would ultimately go down as one of the most spectacular moments of Bryan’s career.
1 WrestleMania XXX
The unquestioned, penultimate moment of Daniel Bryan’s career: winning WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
After biting, scratching, and crawling for years on his way to the top, Daniel Bryan beat Triple H to open the show and gain entrance into the main event match. Then later that night, in the main event of the 30th anniversary of WrestleMania, Daniel Bryan fulfilled his destiny by beating massive stars Randy Orton and Batista to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
The climax to the ‘Yes Movement’ and one of, if not, the greatest chase to the top of all time. For whatever might have happened afterwards, there is no taking away this instance of glory. It would be a lifetime dream fulfilled and a legacy cemented for generations to follow.
In the end… Daniel Bryan, the ultimate underdog, will go down as one of the greatest wrestlers to have ever laced up a pair of boots.