Back last May, when Daniel Bryan had to relinquish the Intercontinental Title due to another injury, I wrote a piece on him right here. Rereading it now, it might be my favorite thing I’ve written on this blog, or at least the top three. Back when I wrote that, we didn’t know if he would ever wrestle again. Now though, the question has been answered.
Daniel Bryan retired on Monday Night Raw last night, in an emotional moment that went almost 30 minutes over time but felt over far too son. I can’t call it a promo, because there was no “sports entertainment,” there was no payoff. There was just a man whose role on TV had always been one of dealing with under-appreciation and disrespect, finally being given an opportunity to be the star we knew he was.
I’m going to try and not repeat things I wrote in my profile piece last year. This isn’t a retrospective as much as it is a post of regret. Bryan had an amazing retirement speech and moment, but the entire thing was tinged with a sense of what could have been. Daniel Bryan was the closest thing WWE had to a mainstream superstar not named John Cena. And WWE… blew it. Just blew it. They were given one of the best of all time, and didn’t capitalize.
When talking like this, the first thing everyone will bring up is Wrestlemania 30. Yes, Bryan won the main event, going over HHH, Randy Orton, and Batista. There’s absolutely no taking that away from him. And there’s a reason that, when WWE runs their videos about him, they spend so much time on that moment. They simply have nothing else they can show. They didn’t show the viciousness with which the crowd booed Rey Mysterio when he came into the Royal Rumble when everyone wanted Bryan. They didn’t show their attempt to derail his momentum with the Wyatt Family nonsense. They didn’t show the crowd hijacking The Biggest Match Ever Promo, John Cena vs Randy Orton, while everyone stood in the ring flabbergasted. They didn’t show the crowd chanting “Yes!” all night long on the Raw after Wrestlemania 28.
They’ll show the WWE version of the Raw hijacking, and they’ll show Bryan holding both belts up while the confetti falls. They’ll show Team Hell No off as something fun, and it was fun, but it was also a distraction. Put him in the tag division for a year and hope the he loses steam. It didn’t work. They’ll show him winning the United States title off the Miz, and not the weeks of insults that proceeded it.
The fact is, WWE had a main-eventer, a money-maker, from the moment he decided to go there. And they squandered years of his prime health and skills until they literally had no other choice but to push him. Wrestlemania 30 is treated by some as if it fixed all the wrongs, but to me it doesn’t come close. Because now he’s done. We get no more Daniel Bryan matches.
Daniel Bryan spent five years in the WWE as an active performer. He was a main-eventer for less then a year. He was overwhelmingly the most popular person on the roster. Just think of what we could have gotten if WWE had pushed him as hard as Cena or Orton or Roman Reigns. They had someone who every single person in the audience supported, and they chose to not capitalize on that. They didn’t miss the chance. It wasn’t like it happened along once and they just didn’t grasp it. No, WWE chose, time and time again, that Daniel Bryan was not someone who could main event for them.
This is winding up a lot more bitter then I thought it would. In an era when the WWE should have been doing anything possible to get people to spend money on their product, WWE did everything they could to keep their most popular wrestler out of the main events. Because he didn’t fit their profile. Because he wasn’t supposed to get over. Because he wasn’t part of the plan. And unfortunately, that’s what I’ll remember most about Daniel Bryan’s legacy in WWE.
I’m hoping we see Bryan on TV again. In my fantasy booking dreams, he adopts a role similar to Mick Foley after he retired, and becomes an on-air authority figure after leading a group to take down HHH & Stephanie McMahon for good. I’m also hoping the WWE learns from their errors with Bryan. Compare Daniel Bryan’s debut to AJ Styles’, for instance, to see an example of what is hopefully a better balanced way of thinking. In the end, if Daniel Bryan is able to change the way WWE listens and responds to their audience, that will be a bigger legacy then anything else he does.