Who Keeps Your Flame: Some Thoughts on the Retirement of Daniel Bryan

Sorry I didn’t get a post out last week. I have a good excuse though: I got laid off, so I ran away to Nashville for a couple of days. I did work on a piece while I was there that should be going up fairly soon in an outlet I’m really excited about, but I ended up not having time to do the Villains United review I was planning. That’ll be up later this week, and I’m trying to figure out if I want to set up a tipping system or a Patreon in the meantime while looking for work.

There was something that happened yesterday though that I felt the need to talk about.

After more than 15 years of wrestling and months of back and forth over his concussion status, Daniel Bryan announced yesterday that he was officially retiring from wrestling. It was something that seemed sort of inevitable given the past year of back and forth where the WWE refused to clear him despite him being cleared by two outside doctors. However, it looked like he took another test that revealed his brain was not in the condition he thought it was. The inevitability of it doesn’t make it suck less though.

Here’s the thing about me and Daniel Bryan: his last matches in the WWE happened in the first month I watched wrestling. Daniel Bryan wasn’t my guy, but only because I didn’t get a chance to know him.

Getting into wrestling though, I felt like I did. Bryan was prolific. Not in the way The Rock is, but like how you pick up things by proxy from your friends in certain fandoms. I didn’t know a lot about wrestling, but I kinda knew about Daniel Bryan.

Of course, my gateway was AJ Lee. Daniel Bryan and Vickie Guerrero come up a lot when you’re wanting to know more about AJ Lee.

It wasn’t just how prolific Bryan was though. It was about how he changed the game in the WWE.

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[wrestlinginc.com]

Before Bryan, the WWE still mostly went by the tall and jacked bodybuilder type. You had types like Rey Mysterio and CM Punk who were able to make waves, but they were the exception, not the rule. Bryan was looked down on when he first signed with the WWE because no one thought he could make it. He was too short. His style was more inspired by puroresu than the typical WWE style. As was said many times yesterday by many people, Daniel Bryan wasn’t supposed to be a thing.

But the people made him a thing. And because they made him a thing, he had a ripple effect in who got signed to the WWE. Suddenly, indie guys who didn’t fit that original mold in some way or another due to their size or style were getting picked up. People like Sami Zayn, Finn Bálor, Cesaro, Hideo Itami, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Neville, Kevin Owens, and Samoa Joe, eventually culminating in the recent signings of people like AJ Styles, Austin Aries, and Shinsuke Nakamura. You can probably even argue that this new stance opened the doors to indie women wrestlers like Sara Del Rey, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Paige, Becky Lynch, Emma, and Asuka to be seriously considered by the WWE, changing just how the Divas Division works.

I’m not saying that Daniel Bryan was a Moses for the indie guys, nor am I disparaging wrestlers who have been brought up through the Performance Center itself or the Divas like Team Bella, Natalya, and the remains of Team BAD who were tossed into a half formed time in the Divas division and learned to survive otherwise. What I am saying is that the kind of impact Bryan made opened doors to who could make it in the WWE. It’s just a damn shame that we’re never going to see him wrestle Nakamura, a fully formed Bálor, Owens and Itami on this level, or even Zayn, who could easily be his spiritual successor if what I witnessed in Nashville last Friday night is any indicator. The fact Kevin Owens was right up front to applaud Bryan last night spoke volumes.

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Even though Bryan wasn’t my guy, this one still hurt. He was a tiny part of what drew me into wrestling in the first place and he helped to make it the kind of space where the guys who did “fit the mold” could make it and become successful. He never had a chance to become my guy, but he’s left such a space that makes it impossible to ignore just what a post-Daniel Bryan world of wrestling looks like. He may be gone from the ring, but because he succeeded, there are people out there who keep the flame he created alive.

Thank you, Daniel Bryan. For everything.

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2 thoughts on “Who Keeps Your Flame: Some Thoughts on the Retirement of Daniel Bryan

  1. Nice post! I’ve been on and off with watching wrestling over the past several years – since a lot of my favorite guys left. Bryan was so huge on the times I caught him on wrestling. He’s gotten reactions as big as some of the latest greats like Stone Cold and The Rock. It’s a shame that health and injuries forced Daniel Bryan. He made such a huge impact, and whatever he does next, will benefit from him too.

    Like

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