By Haydn Gleed
“For something that is supposed to be so fake, it is very real” – PJ Polaco via Twitter on February 9, 2016
There’s no denying that Raw on Monday is one we will all remember for a very long time to come. The show was ok, with the usual lulls here and there that you would expect during a three hour show, but it was of course the final segment that we will all remember, the retirement of Daniel Bryan. From the moment that he tweeted the news announcing his retirement on the show, people were questioning more out of hope than anything else whether it was a work, if somehow the fans would be swerved, but this was very real.
The speech itself was extremely moving with Daniel talking not like Daniel Bryan the character but Bryan Danielson the man, not the wrestler. I can’t imagine anyone who has followed along with the Daniel Bryan story in WWE wouldn’t be holding back the tears. But why did it hit all of us so hard? After all, Daniel is not the first top sportsman to be cut down in the prime of his career due to injury.
Simply put it’s because Daniel Bryan is you, he is me. He is proof of something that we all hope for, that if we work hard enough and you want something bad enough, you will achieve your dreams. In a world where giants stand tall, where muscles are often regarded higher than talent, Daniel Bryan managed to climb to the very top of the mountain. We will never forget that moment at WrestleMania 30 where Daniel held up the biggest prize in the industry and it was symbolic of the power of the masses. No matter how WWE will try to spin it in the future, they did not want to push Daniel Bryan to the same degree the fans wanted them too. It was through sheer persistence and hard work from Daniel Bryan and his fans that pushed him to the top of the pro wrestling world. When he held up the title belt, this wasn’t just a moment for Bryan but it was a moment for the fans, and rather than deny that fact, Bryan understood and embraced that reality.
Everyone who has been exposed to Bryan felt a bond with him on a level I don’t think I’ve ever seen, not just in wrestling but in any sport. Even as I’m typing this right now in work, some of my work colleagues who are only casual wrestling fans at best are having a conversation about Daniel Bryan retiring. The guys who hadn’t heard the news are expressing shock and dismay. I cannot imagine that kind of reaction from anyone regarding any other topic or sport that they have only a passing interest in. My girlfriend has been exposed to Daniel Bryan only through the ladder match at WrestleMania last year, Total Divas, and what I’ve told her, but even she was shocked and saddened by the news. If Bryan can take any solace in what he has been forced into doing and the end of 16 years of blood, sweat, and tears, he can know that his career has meant something to everyone on the spectrum, from the hardcore fans who watched him as American Dragon through to the most casual fans who have seen him as the kooky husband of Brie Bella on Total Divas. He should be proud of that fact, and I’m sure he is.
For me personally, there have been times over the years where wrestling has become stale to me, and it has taken something incredible to knock me out of the funk I’ve felt. In the mid ’90s it was ECW through to the rise of Steve Austin. At the end of the first decade of the 2000’s it was Daniel Bryan. I’ll freely admit that I didn’t get the chance to see him in Ring Of Honor until after the fact due to the availability of the promotion in the UK. I’d heard all the hype and buzz about him when this dweeby looking guy show up on what was the dreadful early NXT. After his match with Chris Jericho, I could see what everyone was talking about. The first time I ever saw him live would be the only time and it turned out to be his final match, which took place at the Smackdown tapings in the O2 Arena last April. Watching how the crowd reacted after a very ho-hum show was phenomenal, and even thinking about it right now I get goosebumps. I had a friend of mine with me who hadn’t watched wrestling since the ’90s, and even he turned to me and mouthed “Wow.” I will never forget watching 10,000-plus fans throwing their arms in the air and being one with this man in the middle of the ring. It was something special that will never be replicated.
Daniel Bryan’s final speech was aimed to be a thank you to the fans. Bryan clearly feels that the fans are the reason that he has achieved what he has achieved. I think I speak for the majority of fans when I say no, we are not the reason you achieved what you did, it was your talent, your personality, and the pure entertainment that you provided for each and every one of us. Thank you, Daniel Bryan, for the memories. I truly believe that you will be just as successful in whatever you choose to do going forward, and you’ll do it with that charming smile and childlike enthusiasm.
As always, feel free to contact me through twitter @haydngleed or via firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss Daniel Bryan or anything wrestling related.