At some point in early 2008, I was this teenager, the rebellious kind as is the cool thing to do. I wanted to be a cool kid, I wanted those around me to believe in my gimmick. Yet no matter how hard I tried to be cool, there was one passion that would never die; Professional wrestling.
It’s funny to me, looking back to 2008 – eight years ago – to think, I watched WWE and TNA. That was it, that was all my wrestling knowledge summed up in one small sentence. But I was growing tired of them. At this point, I’d been into wrestling for up to ten years, it had always been in my life, but even as a kid it was not the stories and the characters that stood out to me. It was the wrestling. Guys like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko. I might have been too young to fully understand why these people were great, but everything about them was just so clean, so crisp. Smooth transitions and exciting spots the likes of which I’d never seen. Of course, towards the end of 2007, these guys had vanished from our screens in one way or another, which left me with some emptiness. TNA and WWE had some great wrestlers, fantastic even. CM Punk, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels (and many more) were all exceptionally talented, but they lacked that something which made guys like Eddie that little bit more special. I had a taste for more of those technical masterpieces I used to watch as a kid and into my early teens, so I delved somewhere that I’d never looked before – the independent circuit.
This led me to a little place called Ring of Honor. I knew nothing about it in all honesty. I was aware CM Punk made his name there but other than that, I was completely clueless as to what I was getting myself into. So I started with the most recent show I could find; their Sixth Anniversary Show. I remember the show, it started out with Human Tornado vs. Delirious, and it was ridiculous. My first, say, two minutes of Ring of Honor had a dance off and a singles match end in someone being beat down by a tag team, before then joining up with his opponent to have a match with that tag team who just attacked him. It made no sense whatsoever, it doesn’t even make sense typing it out. Looking back on the card shows me that one member of that team was actually Tyler Black, who would later go on become Seth Rollins. It’s humorous to consider I thought he was a nothing wrestler some eight years ago.
I digress, the point at hand is, they were building up to this main event; Bryan Danielson vs. Nigel McGuiness. The show had been pretty good up to this point in fairness, but it lacked that technical excellence that I had tuned in for. The main event was here and, not knowing either man, I naturally supported my home native, Nigel McGuiness. It was a great build on the night and the crowd were going insane for it by the time it started. What then transpired over the next half an hour or so was simply one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. Beautiful counter wrestling, incredible submission holds, suplexes and high risk moves I had never seen before in my life. It was new, it was fresh, it was enthralling. For thirty minutes, my teenage mind was captivated, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, I seriously doubt I even took a moment to blink.
In the end, my native McGuinness won after making Danielson pass out with the London Dungeon. But the thing is, come the end of the match, I had found myself a massive fan of Bryan Danielson. I was completely engulfed by his technical prowess, so I kept searching and watching, and before long, I was the biggest Danielson super-fan this side of the Atlantic. From 2008 onwards I followed his every step. I supported him when he came to WWE, I supported him when they released him. I shook my head in despair when they had him dancing in the ring with the Bella Twins. I was overjoyed when he actually won the United States Championship from The Miz. I was in fits of laughter with his tag team run with Kane – one of the best in WWE history. Then at SummerSlam 2013, I witnessed Bryan Danielson – now Daniel Bryan – beat John Cena, the face of WWE, clean, in the main event to become the WWE champion. It was hard to imagine seeing Bryan winning any championship in the WWE, let alone the biggest one they had. I was satisfied by how much he had a achieved, it was more than anyone could ever have dreamed of. Yet, his popularity grew and grew and before long this undersized, internet darling ‘wrassler’ was in the main event of WrestleMania. And he won.
Daniel Bryan’s career faltered after that. A major injury meant he relinquished his World Championship prematurely, before another injury after WrestleMania 31 meant he would also forfeit his Intercontinental Championship before his time to lose it was due. Months would go by, but I’d tune into RAW every week in the hope of seeing his face light up that arena one more time, but n the end it would never happen. On February 8th 2016, nine months since he last wrestled, Daniel Bryan officially retired from professional wrestling. Of course, the WWE will keep on running and they have some incredible talent, but it leaves a hole in my heart. For me, Daniel Bryan is more than just a WWE Superstar. He legitimately shattered glass ceilings, like nobody had before him. He’s the reason we can enjoy AJ Styles, Finn Balor and Austin Aries. He is the reason Vince McMahon and Triple H look at the smaller guys without laughing any more. He is the proof that anybody in this world can achieve impossible goals, even when the entire system is against them. He is the reason I never gave up this passion as a teenager. He was just a small boy from Aberdeen, Washington who did the unimaginable and conquered an entire industry where everyone told him he wouldn’t make it.
I want to express gratitude for everything Daniel Bryan has done for this industry, to make it a better place, I want to express gratitude to him for showing me, or the entire world to never give up. I want to express gratitude for all the times he risked his body, just for the fans entertainment. And I want to express gratitude to him for the fact that, whether he wrestled in front of 70 people or 70,000, he did it with the grace and humility of a true legend.
Thank you, Daniel. I just wish it didn’t have to end so soon.