By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.
Wrestling, in its best moments, has the power to make us all feel something. I watch for these moments. I live for these moments. Through all the negatives I may write about wrestling in this space, nothing comes close to the positives these moments provide. As Daniel Bryan said goodbye to professional wrestling last night, we all experienced one of these moments.
I’m not even sure how to write about it. I’ve never seen anything like it, but then again, wrestling has never seen anyone like Daniel Bryan. The whole night was dedicated to celebrating the WWE career of Bryan. I’m going to share some thoughts and feelings on it and hopefully they won’t just turn into a disorganized jumble of tears and laughter (like I did while watching Bryan’s speech).
If you’ve ever needed proof of how special Bryan is, look at how this crowd reacted to him. They loved him passionately. They loved him more than I can remember seeing a crowd love a wrestler. It wasn’t just a “movement” or a moment. It was Daniel Bryan’s emotional connection with fans on full display. Bryan has always had a unique ability to make fans feel things deep down in their souls.
What connected us to Bryan? What was it about the self described 5’8″ and 190 pound kid from Aberdeen that made us all gravitate towards him? Bryan has always been honest. He’s honest to a fault, even in his own book (and wrestling’s biggest stars have typically used their autobiographies for self-aggrandizing to the highest degree). Last night, Bryan was being completely real and completely honest with fans.
After his amazing odyssey at WrestleMania XXX, I wrote about Daniel Bryan as an avatar for the fans. While his triumphs were scripted, nothing in wrestling has ever seemed as real to me. As WWE took us through his WWE career highlights over the course of the night, I was reminded of some personal highlights as a fan.
I will never forget being at SummerSlam 2010 to see Daniel Bryan introduced as Team WWE’s mystery partner against The Nexus. I screamed as loud as I could as his generic music played. The arena was too quiet that night. Staples Center was anything but quiet when Bryan defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship there in 2013 (I like to pretend the is where the show ended).
WWE put together an amazing tribute to Daniel Bryan throughout the night on Raw. It was only topped by Bryan’s retirement speech itself. I’m not sure I have seen a more emotional or compelling segment of Raw. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better TV wrestling segment in my life. This was one of those moments (and Bryan’s career has been defined by them) that real life crossed into the wrestling ring and passionate fans not only understood it, they embraced it. Bryan blurred the lines, not because his wrestling was more “real” than anyone else’s, but because he was.
I’m not sure I would have kept watching wrestling through the first half of this decade if it wasn’t for Daniel Bryan. I know I would have walked away after WrestleMania XXX had WWE not told the Bryan story they told. Bryan kept me engaged and emotionally invested.
Daniel Bryan made me believe again. He allowed me to watch wrestling like I did when I was seven.
As Bryan rides off into the sunset, I hope he’s able to find happiness and creative success in whatever he does next. I hope Bryan realizes the joy he brought to millions of people through being the very best at his chosen art form. I hope Bryan realizes how he opened doors and changed the wrestling business for those who came after him (Sami Zayn and Bayley wouldn’t exist without Bryan. Any “small” wrestler in NXT likely wouldn’t be signed without Bryan coming before them).
Last night, as I sat in front of my TV sobbing and watching Daniel Bryan leave, I just wanted to thank him. Bryan brought us joy, sadness, catharsis, and so much more inside of a wrestling ring. He showed the true capabilities of the art of professional wrestling.
Working in the arts, we like to say it’s impossible to truly experience art and not be changed by it. Every symphony, every play, every painting, every choreographed work, every musical, and every other piece of art can change you. I can honestly say I was changed and made better by the career of Daniel Bryan. Thank you, Daniel.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts (and please don’t ignore this and post super annoying thoughts), hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.