Daniel Bryan said goodbye to WWE fans at the Feb. 8 Monday Night Raw after announcing his retirement on Twitter due to brain injuries earlier in the day, and ever since then the Twitter salutes have been pouring in.
The affection is understandable.
The leader of the “Yes!” Movement had an incredible career for a little wrestler in a profession of big men. This all culminated in the historic WrestleMania 30 pay-per-view in which he overcame the odds to defeat Triple H, Randy Orton, and Dave Bautista in two separate matches on the same night in order to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
If fans had known then how short-lived that championship run would be, however, that moment of elation would have been much more bittersweet.
That’s because Daniel Bryan did very little wrestling after the show. He stayed injured for the better part of a year before coming back at the Royal Rumble, and only lasting for a few pay-per-views before getting injured again.
Then, while on hiatus, he had a brain scan and discovered that there had been more trauma than he had initially thought and that for reasons of health and safety, he needed to hang it up for good.
Here’s the full stirring retirement speech.
Daniel Bryan got to have one last “Yes” moment with the fans, and it was well-deserved. He has been a fabulous ambassador for the WWE brand and for pro wrestling in general.
That said, there is one thing that his supporters have been saying since his sign-off that isn’t true.
The gist of it: that Daniel Bryan was a trailblazer, who opened doors.
The only door that Bryan really opened was for himself. That’s because he was so good at what he did that Vince McMahon had to stand up and take notice.
Bryan’s ability to perform at a high level in the ring and get himself over with fans were constructs that applied only to him. He was so good at getting there that the WWE could no longer ignore him.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, they were still acting against better judgment in placing him at the top, preferring instead to push Adonis-like wrestlers with superhero physiques regardless of talent.
If Daniel Bryan had sincerely opened any doors, he would have changed the booking dynamic altogether to where you could watch a Dean Ambrose or a Kevin Owens or a Sami Zayn compete for a world title and actually believe they had a snowball’s chance of winning it and having a decent run at the top.
The fact that doesn’t happen — and won’t — only proves that Bryan, like CM Punk, was an outliner rather than a game-changer.
His success only emphasized the depressing reality in professional wrestling — sorry, sports entertainment — that if you’re big, talentless, and look like you flew in from the pages of a comic book, you have a shorter climb to the top than if you are a little guy with more talent than anyone else on the roster combined.
Daniel Bryan deserves to be celebrated. He at least showed that it was possible. Unfortunately, he also showed that it is way harder than it should be to get a level playing field within the WWE.
But what do you think, readers?
Should Daniel Bryan be looked at as a trailblazer or just the exception to a rule that isn’t going to change any time soon? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Image via WWE screengrab]