Bryan’s Song: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 2/10/16Posted: February 10, 2016
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Seattle! We have no choice but to dedicate today’s wrasslin’ analysis entirely to Daniel Bryan, who retired from professional wrestling Monday night at the age of 34. Will’s thoughts originally ran on WFNY. I’ve included them here, and I’ll jump in after that. Hope you’ve got your handkerchief nearby.
Will: Daniel Bryan has retired from professional wrestling. (If this does not matter to you at all, I will attempt to make an argument why it should.) He tweeted as much Monday afternoon, but fans held out hope that it was somehow untrue. Work me, they begged in wrestling parlance, hoping for it all to be part of a scripted storyline, let there be a swerve. But there was no script. There was no swerve. The unscripted nature of Daniel Bryan’s retirement is what made it so compelling — and so heartbreaking. He had to retire, in short, because he’d had a lot of concussions.
Appearing at the end of Monday night’s Raw in jeans in a flannel shirt, Bryan explained why he had to walk away. (There were two very good pieces of writing about Bryan that I intended to include excerpts of, but I got carried away and don’t expect you to read another thousand words on the topic. One was by Brandon Stroud at Uproxx, and the other was by David Shoemaker at ESPN. They both know the business way better than me, and I recommend them both.)
I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old. And within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’d already had three concussions. And for years after that, I would get a concussion here and there, and it gets to the point that when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years, that adds up to a lot of concussions. And it gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore. And for a long time I fought that because I had gotten EEGs and brain MRIs and neuro-psychological evaluations and all of them said this: That I was fine and that I could come back and I could wrestle.
I trained like I could come back and I could wrestle. I was ready at a moment’s notice if WWE needed me, I wanted to come back and wrestle because I have loved this in a way I have never loved anything else. But, a week and a half ago, I took a test that said that maybe my brain isn’t as okay as I thought it was.
The mention of concussion, not to mention three of them within five months of an 18-year-old’s life, brought solemnity to the proceedings. Even a couple years ago that might not have sounded like cause for retirement. Now it does. The crowd still pleaded with Bryan to stay, but more out of respect than anything. They follow the NFL, they know what’s in theaters; they know the score. They understood why he had to go.
Wrestlers are meant to be superheroes. This was a rare moment in which the performers’ very humanity was in the spotlight.
More than that, the spotlight was on the unique relationship between wrestlers and wrestling fans. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s its own thing, different than that between players and fans in any other sport. If you have the time and the inclination, a YouTube video called “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” sums up wrestling’s appeal as well as anything. One line captures it all: “Don’t get me wrong, a lot of wrestling sucks. But when it’s good, it’s fucking great.”
Daniel Bryan did a lot of good wrestling, most of it before he was ever on national television. He slogged away in the lower promotions, working high school gyms and bingo halls and armories. He was never destined for the world once inhabited by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant — he’s 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, if that. But as more fans discovered him, the more they learned about and disseminated his journey. They learned how he was a real-life Rudy. They saw how he left a bit of himself in the ring every time he entered. There was an ineffable joy in his work, a magnetic energy that took hold. What made him special, what connected him with fans, was this very real sense that he was living the dream. Once upon a time he was just a kid who loved wrestling, just like all of the other kids out there. Then one day, boom, he’s winning the championship at WrestleMania.
Bryan is so beloved because he shared so much with the fans. Indeed, his very presence at the top of the WWE pyramid only happened because of his fans. WWE brass was not itching to put a guy the size of Doug Flutie in the main event, but the fans made it so. An entire television segment, and eventually an entire championship storyline, were derailed because the fans demanded it be. They demanded Daniel Bryan be given a shot at the title. They demanded to see him on the biggest stage. They demanded to see their underdog overcome the odds, because damnit, that’s what wrestling is about. He did what every wrestler seeks to do with the crowd, and to a degree that few could ever replicate: He got over.
Bryan embraced the spotlight as much as he could when he got it, which people respected because the spotlight is the greatest wrestling currency there is. His passion and work rate never let up. What made Daniel Bryan great — and the past tense is regretfully necessary at this point — was how much of himself he gave in the name of his sport. You never watched him with a sense that you were being gypped. You never felt like he performed in a way that anyone else could. You never felt like anyone cared more than him. You never felt like anyone gave more than him.
Watching this, a man forced to walk away from the thing he loves the most, had me weeping like a baby Monday night. Precious few among us get the chance to realize our greatest aspiration, let alone actually do it. Daniel Bryan did — and he did.
Derek: Look, I get it. No one watches embedded videos in articles unless there’s some stupid autoplay feature. But I’ll tell you this: if you don’t watch the videos I’m about to show, you won’t believe anything I say. That’s the beauty of Daniel Bryan’s career. You could look at him, and he may not impress you. I could describe him, and he may not impress you. But when you watch him in the ring and see how beloved he is, and see how he has thousands of people with smart phones and gnat-like attention spans hanging on his every word, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the words of Morpheus, no one can be told how great Daniel Bryan is. You have to see it for yourself.
Watch 1:05-1:35 in the video at the top of the page, when he talks about potentially having kids and then makes one of the funniest remarks I’ve ever seen on WWE television. Watch the crowd’s reaction at 3:29 when he talks about the Seahawks. Watch 5:27-6:30, when he talks about the people he’s met, like Kane, William Regal, and Connor Michalek. Watch 7:50-10:30, when he talks about the time the Seattle crowd hijacked Raw in what would be the last time his father got to see him wrestle. Good luck getting through that without shedding a tear. God, just watch the whole thing. Any of you who wonder why I watch pro wrestling at my advanced age, watch the video and find out. Sometimes wrestling is so dumb and pointless that I watch for three hours and struggle to think of one interesting thing that happened. In fact, I’d say that happens most of the time. But sometimes you get nights like Monday, when something incredible happens that no sport could replicate. So much of what Daniel Bryan did I’ll remember forever.
Let’s start with that night Seattle took over Raw. I had just gotten back into wrestling at that time. Again, you need to see it for yourself.
As a Seahawks fan, I’m often told that the fans at CenturyLink Field are only loud because of the stadium’s architecture and/or artificial crowd noise. My response is this video. I got goosebumps watching it then and I get goosebumps watching it now. Triple H talked louder to make them stop cheering, which usually works. Instead, they just cheered louder. In the words of Michael Cole, “WHAT A MOMENT!!!”
Then, just over a month later, Bryan had joined the Wyatt Family because it was the only way they would stop assaulting him. Bryan leaving the Wyatts was one of the best Raw main events I’ve ever seen.
Then there was the time he filled the ring with fans to secure a match with Triple H and a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
He finally won the championship and, though it isn’t in the next video, he took his new belts and hugged Connor.
It was mostly downhill for Bryan after that. Neck injuries and concussions put him out of action and led to Monday’s retirement. All I can say is thank goodness there’s video of what he accomplished. There have been so many wonderful words written about Bryan over the last 48 hours, but all of them combined can’t say as much as a two-minute YouTube clip. He’s the most beloved wrestler of at least the last five years, and I’m sad to see him go. I’m sad I won’t get to see him feud with Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, or A.J. Styles. I’m sad his big farewell had to be a promo on Raw instead of a huge pay-per-view match. I’m sad that I didn’t know the last time I saw him wrestle would be the last time I saw him wrestle.
But you know what would have been more sad? If his dad didn’t get to see his son have one of the greatest nights a wrestler ever had. If he kept getting concussions. If he permanently injured himself before he could start a family. If he died well before his time, as wrestlers often do.
We’re lucky. We get to look back on Bryan’s career with reverence instead of guilt. We get to talk about what it was like to watch him command whatever building he went to. We get to talk about how he could hijack a segment just by silently standing. Then, when no one believes us, we can tell them to go to the tape.