Saturday, January 5, 2013

The American Dragon: Daniel Bryan's Unexpected WWE Success

Over the short two years that Daniel Bryan has been a part of the WWE roster, he has overcome many obstacles and has become a major player in the Wrestling Industry. Where will Bryan's success take him moving forward?

On February 23rd, 2010 we saw the emergence of a brand new show on WWE television called NXT. With the debut of this brand new show, with the intent to find the WWE's next break out star, we also saw the introduction of 8 new faces that came from very separate backgrounds. One of these 8 hopeful new superstars was a young man named Daniel Bryan (AKA Bryan Danielson).

Though he may not have had the biggest physical presence among his new peers, he was stacked with over 10 years of the pro wrestling experience from various independent promotions throughout the world. Daniel Bryan was an instant "internet" fan favorite as he had gained a great deal of respect and admiration during his years of ROH, where he had in fact been one of the "founding fathers" of the Ring of Honor organization and helped put the company in a prominent spot on the independent scene.

During Bryan's tenure on the premiere season of NXT, he came across as a happy-go-lucky "rookie" who was confident yet passive all while hating the fact that his pro (The Miz) had not been in the industry nearly as long as himself. Bryan was booked to come off as a lovable underdog who would admit that he did not deserve to be the number 1 rookie on the show and lose to pretty much all of his opponents (at one point being 0-10) every week yet still looking strong. This would eventually lead to what looked to be a promising storyline to elevate Bryan to the main roster, Monday Night Raw. Bryan would be eliminated from the NXT competition and come back to express his thoughts about his elimination the following week. During his promo he began to transition into a "shoot-styled" promo where he would talk about how WWE management had held him back, and he heard of all the horror stories of how "Vince McMahon loves big guys and the guys that he made himself," and would eventually rip into Michael Cole calling him a parrot that was constantly dragging Bryan's name through the dirt. Bryan would then get in Michael Cole's face and continue to rip into him calling Cole a poor man's replacement for Jim Ross while pushing Cole to the ground and screaming at him, "I DON'T HAVE 'IT'?!"

Bryan's small rivalry with Michael Cole on NXT would be a small stepping stone that would very soon become one of the most exciting angles in recent memory with the emergence of The Nexus, which featured all 8 competitor's from the NXT competition. Bryan and his 7 angry peers would interrupt the Viewer's Choice main event of CM Punk vs. John Cena on June 7th, 2010 destroying both competitors after surrounding the ring and didn't just stop there. The pack of angered "rookies" would also attack all WWE personnel who were present at ringside including announcers, time keepers, security, and other "innocent" bystanders. Though this was the biggest and hottest angle that had unfolded at the conclusion of Raw at the time, the biggest story to many was the sudden release of Daniel Bryan that came after Bryan had choked WWE ring announcer, Justin Roberts with his own tie during the segment. Sponsors were upset at the violent nature of Bryan's actions and therefore Bryan was made into the proverbial scapegoat and was release from his WWE contract.

Bryan's 2010 release was a big blow to his die hard fans as well as his newly gained fans (such as myself) and I personally thought that was the last time we would see Bryan on WWE television.  After his release Bryan went back out into the independent scene on a quest to gather more attention for the independent scene in general telling everyone to keep coming back to every indie show they could. Oddly this was during his 90 day no-compete clause. Then, the big shock (to me) came just as his 90 day no-compete clause was coming to an end. Daniel Bryan was quietly brought back and made his return to the WWE during the 2010 SummerSlam main event that featured team WWE (John Cena, R-Truth, Bret Harte, Edge, Chris Jericho, John Morrison, and their mystery partner Daniel Bryan) vs. the Nexus (Wade Barrett, David Otunga, Health Slater, Justin Gabriel, Michael Tarver, Darren Young, and Skip Shefield). Bryan would be the surprise 7th member for team WWE and had, in many eyes, stole the show during that match as he wrestled as most people had known him to wrestle in the indies.

Though Bryan did not pick up the win for his team, he did however, manage to eliminate 3 members of the Nexus before being attacked from behind by (the then Money in the Bank winner) The Miz and being eliminated from the match. I was happy to see the WWE continue the rivalry that had slowly developed between the Miz and Daniel Bryan in NXT and carry it over to their flagship show, Monday Night Raw. This rivalry would eventually see Bryan capture the United States Championship from the Miz at Night of Champions just a month later. Thus, began Bryan's streak of having great opening matches in consecutive PPV's while at the same time being booked in rather lack-luster romantic storylines that would lead to pretty much no pay-off. Once Bryan had lost the United States Championship just a few months after gaining it, he then found himself on a boat that seemed to slowly sink into the sea of obscurity, having some one-off, meaningless matches for weeks and even month's on Raw against other lower tiered mid-carders.

Fast forward to 2011, Bryan was continuing his steady boat to nowhere when the unexpected happened. On what turned out to be one of the best PPV's of 2011, Daniel Bryan not only appeared in the SmackDown! Money in the Bank Ladder Match, he came out as the victor after capturing the briefcase just moments after he kick Wade Barrett off of the ladder during the last spot of the match. This was literally one of the first moments in years that I had legitimately jumped out of my seat in excitement and yelled in amazement that the WWE had actually put some faith behind Daniel Bryan and decided to take a gamble with him. Once again, here came the overwhelming feeling that Bryan was set up to fail.

Daniel Bryan was suddenly sitting quite close to the top of the SmackDown! mountain as Mr. Money in the Bank, and we was now aiming to make his childhood dream come true by stating that he would cash in his Money in the Bank contract at WrestleMania 28. As mush as I wanted this to happen for Bryan, I couldn't help but to think that he was going to be booked to be the very first person to unsuccessfully cash in his contract for a World Championship. There were still 9 months until WrestleMania when Bryan stated that he'd be cashing in on the grandest stage of them all, this left a lot of time for error and too much time for WWE to change their mind. However, after months and months of teasing a cash-in the moment finally happened at the December 18th 2011 PPV, TLC. Big Show and Mark Henry had participated in a rather brutal Chairs Match where the Big Show would win the World Heavyweight Championship from Mark Henry only to be attacked after the match by Henry and DDT'd onto a pile of chairs in the ring. All of a sudden "The Flight of the Valkyries" echoes throughout the arena and Daniel Bryan emerges to a thunderous ovation from the crowd who began to chant his name. Bryan cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to become the World Heavyweight Champion for the very first time.  

Daniel Bryan's title reign would go on to last for 4 months (which was longer than I thought the WWE would have him hold it and was fairly pleased with) until he would lose the Championship in the most frustrating way possible, an 18 second loss to Sheamus. Much like when Bryan won the Money in the Bank ladder match just 9 months before, I was once again jumping out of my seat... Only this time it was in disbelief and anger. This surely seemed like the end of Daniel Bryan's success in the WWE as it looked like Bryan was going to suffer the same fate that Jack Swagger had suffered after losing the World Title just a year prior. Low and behold, somehow Bryan managed to not only survive this set-back, but would end up gaining even more momentum than ever before the next night on Raw.

It was the night after WrestleMania 28 and the crowd in Florida was red hot for Monday Night Raw (and apparently filled with thousands of newly won Daniel Bryan fans). Throughout the night there were overwhelming "YES!" chants followed by "Daniel Bryan" chants. These chants were so loud at one point that you could barely make out the promo taking place in the ring between Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus. Then finally there was glimpse of Bryan backstage watching the monitor and the crowd once again went crazy, cheering for Bryan in the hope he would come out to the ring. Though Bryan didn't have a match on that addition of Raw, his presence was definitely felt thanks to the amazing crowd that night who seemingly not only saved Bryan's momentum, but took it to a whole other level.

Since that fateful 48 hours of WrestleMania and Raw, the "Yes!" chant took on a life of it's own and seemingly replaced the "What?" chant that had been established years before by Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Yes! chant was so popular that Bryan had a top-selling shirt made that yelled "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Somehow Daniel Bryan not only managed to stay relevant, but managed to become one of the most popular superstars of the modern era and has kept a main event presence ever since. Now Bryan finds himself at the center of the re-emerging Tag Team division on both Raw and SmackDown alongside his partner Kane, forming team Hell No. Currently Hell No are the WWE Tag Team Champions and have held these championships since the September 16th PPV, Night of Champions where they defeated R-Truth and Kofi Kingston.

While Bryan and Kane are still currently the Tag Team Champions, I'm very much looking forward to Bryan once again going out on his own and being re-introduced to the main event scene in the WWE landscape. He has developed so much in these 2 short years from being a happy-go-lucky, seemingly shy "rookie" who could barely keep a straight face while cutting a promo, to becoming one of the most entertaining and developed characters with tremendous depth in the modern era. I am personally very happy to see how Daniel Bryan's career has turned out thus far, and I can't wait to see what successes await him in the future as I believe he can be a big time player for years to come in the WWE Universe.


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