Pro Wrestling

10 Ways That Daniel Bryan Changed Wrestling Source:

Daniel Bryan’s career as a wrestler is over. But in his incredible, even unlikely sixteen years in wrestling, he accomplished a great many things, things nobody would have expected. He had great matches, influenced the careers of many other wrestlers, rose to the top of the industry and became a legend along the way. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see another wrestler quite like Daniel Bryan, simply because of the many ways in which his career actually changed the world of professional wrestling, mostly for the better. It seems unbelievable, but when you look at the career of Daniel Bryan closely, you can see how profound an effect he had on the business that he loved.

10. He Made It Okay Not To Look Like A Wrestler

By and large, pro wrestlers who make it far in WWE all look the same. The vast majority of them are chiseled statues of men, with rippling biceps and rock-hard abs, the type of body you can only get through working out at a level that 99% of us are not prepared to deal with. They’ve got clean-cut good looks, too. No five o’clock shadows or wild hairstyles. The craziest thing about them, these days, is the number of tattoos they’re all covered in. Sure, there are wrestlers that don’t match that body type, but they don’t usually get to be World Champion. They’re the sideshow acts, the freaks. And Daniel Bryan doesn’t look like a wrestler. Even setting aside his below-average height, which we’ll cover later, there are so many reasons why he fails the eye test. He’s wiry and lean instead of solid muscle. He debuted with a haircut that looked like he paid ten bucks for at a barber college. When he tried a shaved head he just looked weird, so he went in the opposite direction and let it grow out. Same for his great bushy beard, which would be the envy of most men, but rarely seen on a serious wrestler. After Bryan, we’ve started to see an increase in non-standard wrestlers, ones who don’t quite fit the mold. Wrestlers like Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, and Samoa Joe are being allowed to show that you don’t have to have a six-pack and 34-inch pythons to be one hell of a wrestler. Source:

9. He Proved That “Indie” Wrestlers Can Be Huge Stars

Vince McMahon is infamous for not wanting to push wrestlers that his company didn’t create, at least not without completely overhauling their character into something unrecognizable from whatever they might have done elsewhere. The fact that CM Punk not only got to keep his name from the independents but also re-use an entire story line from his Ring of Honor career was one of those crazy exceptions to the rule that people still can’t believe happened (and were part of why he also became a huge star). But by and large, independent wrestlers were not brought into WWE without going through developmental, being taught “WWE Style”, and being given a new gimmick from the minds of WWE Creative. And while Bryan made a stop in developmental, it was largely seen as a “conditioning stint”, and the character who debuted in WWE was basically the same person he’d risen to fame as in the indies (give or take a reversal of first and last names). During his WWE career, Bryan was unabashedly “indie”. His wrestling abilities meshed well with WWE’s established style while remaining unique, and his character never reached the point of seeming “larger than life”. He was down to earth, hard-working, and a great wrestler, and eventually, he became one of WWE’s biggest stars. To see the end result, one only needs to look at NXT, which is packed with many so-called “indie darlings” like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Sami Zayn, to see how Bryan’s success has affected WWE’s views on the minor league stars of wrestling. Source:

8. He Affected The Lives Of So Many Wrestlers

In the hours after Daniel Bryan announced his retirement on Twitter, it wasn’t just the quality of the heartfelt statements that were made about him, it was the incredible volume of them. WWE and NXT Superstars posted Tweets and gave brief interviews for WWE’s YouTube channel, from the lowest guys on the totem pole all the way up to Vince McMahon and Triple H. Wrestlers from all over the world joined in as well, stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor and TNA and tiny independent companies you may have never heard of, but who all had the privilege of working with Daniel Bryan over his career. Retired legends of the ring had their say, and icons of the industry made detailed statements about how much Daniel Bryan had changed the wrestling business for the better over his career. Everyone who was anyone in professional wrestling had a thought about the end of Daniel Bryan’s career, and every single one of them was complimentary, effusive, praising of the man who had been a part of their lives, however brief. To post them all for your perusal would be a massive and nearly impossible undertaking, but here’s one that particularly stood out to us:

When Kevin Owens says nice things about you on Twitter, we’re pretty sure that you automatically qualify for sainthood. But more importantly, this and every other message that has been sent and will be sent about Bryan’s retirement shows that Daniel Bryan must be one hell of a human being, and an inspiration to pretty much everyone he’s ever met. And if that weren’t enough, for his retirement speech, they literally sent him out there with a microphone and let him talk as much as he wanted, even though it meant that Raw ran nearly thirty minutes long. You have to have a whole lot of respect in the business to get Vince McMahon to hand the main event of his show over to you without any restrictions. Source:

7. He Made Wrestling Fans Realize Our Power

WWE enjoys telling people that they listen to the fans, but in truth, they don’t. They write the script, they present the show to us, and they hope that the fans will react appropriately. The level of fan reaction might dictate how heavily a performer gets featured, but WWE doesn’t actually want the fans to determine the direction of the company, they want the fans to go along with what they’ve already planned out. But when Daniel Bryan’s non-appearance in the 2014 Royal Rumble caused what seemed like every member of the wrestling fan base to riot against WWE. And unlike other negative crowd reactions, it didn’t stop after the Rumble. It carried on, from city to city, as WWE fans across the nation united behind the one man they wanted to see main event WrestleMania XXX. And WWE caved. Publicly, obviously, and completely. They wrote a segment on Raw to create a flimsy excuse to put Bryan into the main event, in order to satisfy an audience that had decided that they were no longer going to play by the established rules. And by doing that, they exposed the power that fans have always had and been content to leave dormant. Without the fans, there is no WWE, and when they unite so strongly against what WWE is presenting, then WWE has no choice but to accede. And while it worked out for Daniel Bryan, it has also made it infinitely harder for WWE over the long run, because they can no longer steer fans in the direction that they’ve been able to for years, and for now, they’re not quite sure how to deal with that. Source:

6. He Made Height And Weight Unimportant Numbers

There have been small wrestlers before Daniel Bryan. Rey Mysterio, one of the smallest main event talents in history, even won a few World titles in his career. But unlike someone like Rey, whose small size was part of his luchador style and gimmick, Bryan refused to be defined by his stature. While Rey Mysterio went into every match as the ultimate underdog, forced to play “giant killer” every time he wrestled, Daniel Bryan was treated like an equal competitor to wrestlers six inches taller than him or more. His height and weight were used as insults by his opponents and detractors, but when he stepped into the ring, it didn’t matter that, according to his Wikipedia page, he was a mere 5’8″, 190 pounds, a far cry from even the average wrestler. And Bryan’s successes opened eyes within WWE, as a company normally completely focused on “bigger is better” began to see some changes in philosophy. Gone were the dark days of John Laurinaitis, whose philosophy as VP of Talent Relations was finding the biggest and most muscular athletes, regardless of skill level. Smaller wrestlers became just as in demand as their larger counterparts, and the ranks of NXT, and then WWE itself, began to swell with talents who previously would have been dismissed, or relegated to some sort of specialized division. Wrestlers like Neville, Xavier Woods, Finn Balor, AJ Styles, and Austin Aries owe their WWE contracts, in some small way, to Daniel Bryan’s relentless struggle to show that it truly isn’t the size of the dog in the fight that matters. Source:

5. He Was A Symbol Of The “Reality Era”

In searching for something to call this generation of wrestling, in the vein of the Attitude and the Ruthless Aggression/Brand Split eras, WWE seemed to settle on the Reality Era, suggesting that wrestling was pulling back the curtain more than ever before, both due to the rise of the Internet into everyday use, and through semi-voluntary actions of their own. The idea was centered around shows like Total Divas and Tough Enough, as well as wrestlers like the outspoken CM Punk, former reality star The Miz, and “regular guy” Daniel Bryan. After Bryan won the WWE Title at SummerSlam and was screwed out of it by The Authority and Randy Orton, Triple H used the idea of the Reality Era to mock Bryan, saying that in reality, Bryan could never succeed in WWE. Because Daniel Bryan’s character was far more rooted in reality than the “larger than life” monsters of wrestling, and because the “smarter” fans knew that Bryan was not the type of wrestler that Vince McMahon typically gets behind, it made his plight more genuine in the eyes of the fans. It was a partially manufactured, partially realistic underdog story, and it gave the fans an emotional investment in Bryan, one that is rarely seen in such strength in pro wrestling. The fans cared about Bryan, because he seemed like one of them, a “real person” struggling to fit into a world where the odds were actually stacked against him. Source:

4. He Crossed Over To The Mainstream

When the “Yes Movement” truly began, back before the beard and the exposure and the main event of WrestleMania, it was a silly thing being done by a lower card comedy wrestler. But it caught on like wildfire, and exploded beyond the arenas of WWE and into popular culture forever. Fans began chanting “Yes!” at sporting events. Athletes began chanting “Yes!” after big victories. Highlight reels on ESPN showed people everywhere, pointing their arms to the sky and gleefully shouting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Context didn’t matter, the chant itself was an expression of overwhelming joy, and all that mattered was when good things happened, that was what you did. Daniel Bryan became a minor celebrity outside of wrestling, doing talk show appearances, meeting athletes and movie stars who wanted to see the man who inspired an entire fanbase. He got into a beard-off with Oakland ballplayer Josh Reddick, and won. The fact that he was getting so much mainstream PR for WWE and still nearly didn’t main event WrestleMania XXX seems insane in hindsight. He’ll probably never star in movies or become a recurring character on a sitcom, but Daniel Bryan made that crossover from wrestling into the larger world of popular culture, and that’s something very few wrestlers will ever accomplish. Source:

3. He Was Connor Michalek’s Favorite Wrestler

If you’ve been watching wrestling over the past few years, you know who Conner “The Crusher” Michalek is. Connor was an 8-year old wrestling fan who was diagnosed with cancer of the spine and brain at the age of 3. His favorite wrestler was Daniel Bryan, and there was a huge social media campaign designed around getting Connor to meet his hero. It’s important to remember that at this point, Bryan wasn’t the huge star he became. He was incredibly popular and one-half of the WWE Tag Team Champions, but his position in WWE was far from the main event. But Connor loved Daniel Bryan, and the videos of Connor meeting his hero, and a bunch of other Superstars as well (he is one of the few people in the world with a pinfall victory over Triple H, after all), are incredibly heartwarming. A year later, Connor was ringside when Daniel Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX, and was the first person Bryan went to after he was handed the titles. Sadly, Connor passed away only a couple of weeks later. In his memory, WWE created Connor’s Cure, a charity designed to raise funds to help study pediatric cancer. Connor was also posthumously given the very first Warrior Award by WWE at the 2015 Hall of Fame ceremony. Source:

2. He’s Making Us Re-Evaluate How Concussions In Sports Are Handled

Eddie Guerrero’s death and the Chris Benoit tragedy were watershed moments in how wrestling dealt with the health of their talent. Drug testing became more stringent, penalties were created and enforced, and WWE made a serious effort to “clean up” their talent. But even though one of the foremost leaders in concussion research, Christopher Nowinski, started life as a WWE Superstar, WWE, like most sports organizations, has tiptoed around the issue of how concussions are handled. For months, we heard that outside doctors had said that Bryan was fit to wrestle, while WWE’s doctors refused to clear him to return, and fans even began to question WWE’s motivations in the matter. Then, in late January of 2016, Daniel Bryan visited yet another doctor and underwent some very specific tests, which revealed what the other outside sources had not: he was decidedly not fit to wrestle, and was forced to accept that his wrestling career was over. In fact, he went on Sportscenter the day after he retired and told the world that not only did the new test reveal that he had lesions on his brain, he had been hiding the fact that he’d been suffering post-concussion seizures. Bryan’s final message in that interview was a wake-up call to athletes everywhere that brain injuries are serious, and need to be tested, not just ignored in some archaic mindset of “playing through pain”. Hopefully, Bryan’s story leads to better handling of concussions in the future. Source:

1. He Won

As much as it didn’t feel like it, when we watched Daniel Bryan enter the ring and tearfully tell us that his wrestling career was ending at 34, and that he was no longer medically allowed to do the only thing he’d ever wanted to do in his life, in the end, Daniel Bryan won. He lived his dream started from the absolute bottom and rose to the top of the wrestling world. He was in the main event of WrestleMania and won the biggest title in the business. Actually, he won it multiple times, and is one of WWE’s few Grand Slam Champions, having held every active title in the company. The wrestlers he’s beaten, cleanly, could also serve as a list of the very best wrestlers of the last decade. He’s secretly one of the best parts of a hit TV show in E! Network’s Total Divas. He met, fell in love with, and married his wife Brie Bella while in WWE, and by all accounts, they seem deliriously happy together. And in the end, he got to end his career by standing in the middle of the ring, in his home state, mere miles away from where he grew up, in front of an arena packed with screaming fans and millions watching on TV. He got to tell the fans all how much he loved them, and they got to tell him the same. If it had to end, it ended in the best possible way. And ultimately, Daniel Bryan, the scrawny kid from Aberdeen, Washington, who nobody thought would ever survive in wrestling, lived the life that every wrestler dreams about when they first get into the business. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.