Thursday, July 18, 2013

On the Edge of Wrestling Superstardom: Daniel Bryan

The man, the myth, the legend: Daniel Bryan
For many years, there's been only one question ever asked when discussing the potential success of a wrestler:

Do they have "it"?

For two years, there's been only one word to answer it for the thirty-two year old Daniel Bryan (or as he is known in real life, Bryan Danielson).


That one word has managed to get people out of their seats and into wild, uncontrollable frenzies when "the bearded one" comes out on stage or to the ring. It is only three letters, but free very powerful ones that embody confidence, positive thinking and absolute faith in one's ability. Daniel Bryan knew all along, and now so does the WWE Universe and wrestling fans world-wide.

A cult favorite on the wrestling scene for a little over a decade, Bryan Danielson was thought of as the best wrestler in the world (before the moniker was fought over with CM Punk and Chris Jericho), even when the likes of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit were in their primes. Unlike any of the major sports, the bigger the name does not always equal "best wrestler in the world" status. Cena, Batista, Undertaker, HHH, The Rock and Stone Cold all had the charisma and ability to go in the ring- but not on the level that Danielson could and still does.

What is "it"? 

There is no definite answer to that question. "It" can be summed up with a bevy of questions. How big are they? Can they wrestle? Do they talk well on the mic? Do they have "the look"?  The list could go on. But there is no one definition of "it". There is also no absolute way to figure out if a wrestler really does have "it". Like athletes in pro sports, wrestlers can have the look and the know-how- but some bloom later than others, or they simply fail to bloom at all.

Daniel Bryan has finally bloomed into the all-around talent he is that the Internet Wrestling Community hoped he would. They are also known as the  IWC for short, being mostly indy-lovers and wrestling geeks in general with internet access and the ability to construct thoughts through words. Bryan's very apparent presence in the ring and on the mic was never this certain and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon was never fully behind him until recently.

At WrestleMania 28 in Miami in April 2012, Bryan put his World Heavyweight championship on the line against the Brogue-kicking Irishman Sheamus. He lost in eighteen seconds to a Brogue kick that connected right after kissing his on-screen girlfriend AJ Lee. That one kick in the small picture seemed to have stunted his career's growth, but in the big picture it might have been the first seed planted for his eventual WWE success.

There's no denying Bryan's current popularity and ability to draw
Bryan would end up with incredibly loud and audible "YES" chants the following night on RAW in Miami. By the way, they were loudest when he was not even present. That is what is known as being "over" or popular with the audience. People did not care about the wrestlers WWE wanted them to cheer for such as Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus. They cared about the one (Daniel Bryan) they wanted to cheer for.

What is so great about this whole "YES" thing and how did it start?

In an interview with IGN, Bryan credits the YES chants he began with his entrances to the UFC fighter Diego Sanchez.

"It’s originally from the MMA fighter Diego Sanchez. It was after I had won the World Heavyweight Championship and they just said 'When you go to the ring we want you to be very excited.' And so he would come to the ring going 'Yes, yes yes'- just pumping himself up. I did it in more of an obnoxious way, just acting like I was the happiest human alive. Pointing my fingers in the air like a jerk. And, to be honest, it’s just fun to do."

And a simple word took off. Crowds picked up on it, beginning with the smark Miami crowd. (A smark is a smart mark, or a wrestling fan who scours the internet for the latest news and rumors and likes to think they know more than your average wrestling fan.) The word most synonymous  with being positive and confirming or reaffirming something found a home in Bryan.

The thing is-in my opinion- it couldn't have worked with any other wrestler, whether in WWE or outside the company. Bryan has a perfect blend of being able to relate to the crowd. He is undersized and has paid his WWE dues. He was originally let go for choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie during the original Nexus assault on RAW in 2010. He suffered the loss to Sheamus at WM28, and endured what seemed to be an absurd pairing with Kane as one half of Team Hell No. Except something else happened- the pairing began to showcase both Bryan and Kane, and eventually they won the tag titles and hung on to them for a while before losing them to the up-and-coming Shield.

The chemistry the two had was hard to ignore. Kane showed a side rarely seen or tapped into. Both were funny, yet complex  (as complex as wrestling can get). The two would run their course, and finally Bryan would get to be a singles wrestler again. Immediately he would put on impressive displays of sheer will, skill and determination. He even made Randy Orton tap out on RAW, which almost never happens.

"Yes" was not just a word- it became a rallying cry; a lifestyle of sorts. It was the one thing Bryan would go back to as motivation and inspiration win his character would question himself or think others doubted him. "I can't do that? YES I CAN. WATCH ME." Bryan became the more intense, yet equally endearing version of MADTV's Stuart. "Look what I can do!"

YES, WHAT and how not to be a complete tool at a wrestling event:

People are beginning to run parallels between Bryan's "YES" and Steve Austin's "WHAT" from 2001. Both started from simple words that had almost no potential to take off. Both were given prominent t-shirts by WWE. Both elicited electric reactions from the crowd. Hell, twelve yeas later and you can still hear fans chant WHAT each and every week. The difference? YES will always have a positive connotation to it. WHAT is simply annoying and a nuisance to every intelligent wrestling fan who wants to not have others disrespect a wrestler trying to simply speak.

The two words have been huge marketing tools for WWE

But Sean, crowds can express themselves however they want. They paid to see the show.

And you are correct. While there are no written rules on how to be a wrestling fan, there is something called common decency. There are two kinds of wrestling fans: wrasslin' fans and smarks. Wrasslin' fans are the ones who go to wrestling purely as a form of escapism with no intent on analyzing it or breaking it down. More power to them. Maybe I and the other smarks are just jaded. But when you begin to needlessly rip into a guy who has busted his ass to create his own legacy (such as fans chanting Husky Harris at Bray Wyatt two weeks ago), you become that douchebag similar to a drunk heckler at a comedy club.

YES will continue to endure, and I can easily seeing it last just as long as WHAT has, if not longer. It's undying spirit and the crowd's giddiness to chant it over and over...and over and over and over completely embodies the relentless style in the ring of one Daniel Bryan.

If I had to compare Daniel Bryan to an athlete, I'd think of him as a minor league ball player who finally reaches the big stage and gets his chance to shine. He plied his craft in small, dingy gyms for maybe a couple hundred people and little to no money. He has been through many injuries (he is partially blind in one eye to this day) as well as wrestled all over the world against some of the best competition. Why? Simply put, Bryan absolutely loves wrestling and everything it encompasses. His zeal is evident not only in his segments but also in his matches. Every move has a purpose. Every move is hit in crisp fashion. He is one-hundred miles per hour at all times, and fans have come to enjoy it and respect it.

While in the WWE Universe....

Summerslam's main event: Bryan vs. Cena (c)
This past Monday on RAW, WWE Champion John Cena was given the chance to pick his opponent for Summerslam. By the cheers or boos of the crowd, Cena would make his decision. He danced around the selection for far too long (around 10 minutes), and it became very evident who the crowd wanted to see. "DAN-IEL BRY-AN" and "YES" chants broke out almost the entire time Cena was talking. He'd tease wrestlers, but any other choice would have felt entirely wrong. Finally, just past 11:00, Cena uttered the one name fans in the arena and at home cared about: Daniel Bryan.By the way, this is not the first time the duo will have wrestled on WWE television. They matched up against each other on the now-defunct Velocity back in 2003.

The pint-sized wrestler shot like a cannon ball to the ring and the "YES" chants were at an all-time high. It was the "Indy Darling" versus "The Champ". The main event for Summerslam was set.

Where does WWE go from here? 

Simple. You put the belt on Bryan in a win over the present-day Hulk Hogan in Cena. But not just any type of win. Not a cheap, flukish roll-up pin, or  a screwy finish. There is no need for any extra shenanigans. The best chain wrestler (one who is versed in the art of grapples, submissions and counters) in the WWE should lock in the YES Lock on Cena and have him submit cleanly in the middle of the ring after a long and epic battle. Cena is almost unbeatable on pay-per view. This would cement Bryan as a top-tier talent in the WWE.

What about the viper lurking in the shadows, Money in the Bank winner Randy Orton? What role does he play in this saga?

Orton cashes in his opportunity at the WWE Title after the long and intense match between Cena and Bryan. Whoever wins would most assuredly be dead tired, and in this case Bryan would be. But where almost all MITB winners have won their respective title following a cash-in (except Cena himself), Orton would become the second man in under a year to lose in his cash-in match. Orton would arrive and look to RKO Bryan immediately and become champion. But for Bryan to reach legendary achievement status, he would have to also submit the WWE's other staple for the last decade or so, Randall K. Orton.

Jericho was the first ever Undisputed WWE Champ in 2001
Flashbacks to Jericho overcoming the Rock and Steve Austin in 2001 would be fitting, but this would even top that. Yes, those two former greats were insanely talented, but Y2J won as a heel and in cheap fashion. Daniel Bryan outlasting Cena and Orton via submission would instantly catapult him into another stratosphere and have the IWC in absolute disbelief.

To continue the natural storyline, have Orton come out and be fuming over his lost opportunity at the WWE title the next night on RAW. Have him demand Bryan face him one-on-one. Bryan comes out and makes sure Orton knows he has tapped out twice to  the YES lock. This confrontation leads  to an eventual head punt of Bryan at the foot of Orton, thus cementing the Viper as a heel and making the crowd pull for Bryan even more.

Does Vince and the WWE have it in them to do the seemingly unbelievable?

Once referred to as "vanilla midgets" by Kevin Nash in WCW, a small trio of wrestlers (Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko) were thought of as unmarketable and bland. Time passed and two of the three became world champions while the third (Malenko) was looked at as an excellent teacher of younger wrestlers.

Vince's faith in Bryan cannot be fully determined. When the American Dragon was introduced on NXT back in 2010, it would not have surprised me to find out McMahon's lack of faith in the small-framed wrestler. But one thing trumps doubts and uncertainty in McMahon's world- money. Daniel Bryan at the moment is worth a lot of it, too. As WWE Champion? Boatloads of money.

Can WWE  and Vince make an uncharacteristic decision in putting over "the little engine that could" at the cost of their golden boys? I cannot say for sure.

Should they do so?

I can answer that with a resounding YES. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron

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