Once again, it’s the beginning of another Spring; and time to celebrate the resurrection of a great, bearded leader of the meek and bringer of hope. No, I’m not talking about a certain savior of the masses (nor am I talking about Damien Sandow). I am of course talking about the second coming of Daniel Bryan. Whether or not the Biblical implications were intentional, the timing for Bryan’s grand return is perfect.
Clearing a wrestler from a career-ending injury is almost unheard of, especially in today’s hyper-cautious landscape and the WWE Wellness Policy. Some might say Bryan’s recovery is nothing short of miraculous. The last time someone of such a high profile bounced back from a legitimate forced retirement would probably be Shawn Michaels, who also happens to be Bryan’s mentor. Their mutual injuries and time away from the ring aren’t coincidental. The apple doesn’t fall far from the learning tree, as Michaels’ broken back and Bryan’s head trauma both resulted from the expert recklessness of their in-ring acumen. No one in the past several years has been able to capture an audience’s attention quite like Daniel Bryan, also coining one of the most popular and simplistic chants in wrestling history: “YES! YES! YES!”
Both “YES!” and “What?,” while very stupid, are very fun to chant. And that’s no accident. Daniel Bryan knows ring psychology and what it takes to get over as a performer as well as anyone in WWE. Even post-retirement, as Smackdown General Manager, he effortlessly reignited his feud with The Miz on Talking Smack, seemingly just because he could. Despite the inability to actually wrestle, Bryan still got over more easily than anyone in the company. And anyone who can make Kane a fan favorite in the past decade (with Team Hell No) deserves an award. Not only does Bryan have natural charisma, but the way that WWE built him was pretty brilliant. While wrestling fans were still buying into the notion that a smaller guy would never get a push due to the old bodybuilder bias, WWE purposefully held Bryan back, knowing that marks would latch onto him as an underdog who was getting screwed over and buried by the McMahon family.
While that storyline practically wrote itself and culminated in a WrestleMania Rocky-esque ending for Bryan, a rare kudos are due to the Creative team. Unfortunately, it was shortly following this milestone moment where Bryan would have his first major injury and be put on the sidelines for the better part of a year. Upon his return, Bryan would have an Intercontinental Championship victory at WrestleMania, which would once again have to be vacated leading to his retirement.
Bryan cited seizures brought on by the numerous concussions throughout his career as the reason for his reluctant retirement; which isn’t very surprising to anyone who has seen him wrestling. A frantic mesh of aerial strikes and technical wizardry round out his move set. Seeing him is an adrenaline shot that you can’t take your eyes off of, but his unique style presents the concern that he’s an accident waiting to happen. His ubiquitous drawing power and high-energy, self-mutilating barrage of maneuvers is what got this undersized vegan to the dance, but the inevitable risk of injury makes his methods bittersweet. He’s exciting to the point that we cringe...but we never look away.
Bryan is as close to a returning legend as we’re going to get. His “indie darling” status will finally be able to reach its full potential with WWE’s current roster. Considering how much the roster has changed since Bryan has been out of action, the dream matches are nearly limitless, and now we get to sit back and watch. Between A.J. Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, Nakamura vs. Bryan, Owens vs. Bryan, Zayn vs. Bryan, Balor vs. Bryan, Strowman vs. Bryan, Asuka vs. Bryan (a man can dream), even Kurt Angle vs. Bryan; the flying goat has a new smorgasbord of talent to work with in WWE. Many of these people he hasn’t met in a ring since his independent days or in Japan, and we’ll be treated to an array of fresh matchups in what has been some otherwise stagnant combinations.
It’s fair to say that Daniel Bryan will save the WWE, or at least make it a hell of a lot more interesting. Even though it appears we will get the tag match of Shane/Bryan vs. Owens/Zayn at WrestleMania, after that, it’s a “choose your own adventure” story for Bryan. With the American Dragon rising from the ashes like a phoenix-dragon (cool), we are truly grateful for the resurrection of Daniel Bryan’s career, and truly grateful for what we are about to see.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke