Before this gets too far along, I know pro wrestling is scripted. I know that, above all else, it is entertainment, and in that sense, is not a true “sport.” So I’m not the middle aged guy standing up in a high school gym and telling an indie wrestler “It’s still real to me, dammit!” That’s not me. I also know that I’m 30, almost 31, and I should probably just give it up. But I don’t think that’s me, either.
I’ve always been drawn to it, though. I’ve always hooked on to the guys who were telling what I thought was my story. I remember when, as a seventh grader who felt like an absolute loner, I saw Sting for the first time. Besides just looking really freaking cool, I could relate – all of Sting’s friends turned on him and he was fighting, alone, against a gang of bullies. Sure, I liked a lot of other guys – Rey Mysterio, Jr. always put on great matches, Goldberg was a sight to behold, and Chris Jericho was the kind of annoying brat that made watching TV fun. And fun it was – until Sting showed up. Then I locked in. It was more than just fun, it was more than pro wrestling. It felt like someone understood my life and was attempting to explain it, even if it was beefed up, dressed in black spandex and white face paint, and carrying a black baseball bat.
Yeah, it sounds kind of lame, but I was in 7th grade. What else was I supposed to do?
I quit watching wrestling around the time WCW folded, which was April of 2001. I loosely paid attention, but the Monday Night Wars were over, the Attitude Era of WWF safely behind us, and I was growing up. But somewhere around 2010, I got sucked back in, and shortly after that, I met another guy who was telling my story.
Daniel Bryan wasn’t anything special. He was an average guy who didn’t have the look of anybody else on the WWE roster. But the dude could wrestle and the dude connected with the fans. That’s one of the cool things about pro wrestling – it gives people the chance to connect with their favorites. And for whatever reason, I connected with Daniel Bryan, especially his run up to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX.
Every so often, pro wrestling stories intersect with real life, and that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Bryan. He was the classic underdog – the on screen characters Triple H and Stephanie McMahon didn’t want him to succeed, so they threw roadblock after roadblock at him. But you also got the sense that the people who made the decisions behind the scenes didn’t want him to succeed, either. He didn’t have the look. He wasn’t a big powerful guy. He wasn’t particularly great cutting a promo. But he was one of us. And so we cheered him and cheered him and cheered him until the cheers couldn’t be ignored anymore. We’ve all been there – we feel like we’ve had teachers, or bosses, or people in other influential positions who didn’t want us to succeed. Stone Cold probably made that storyline famous, but there were a lot of us who didn’t want to respond by beating everyone up and drinking beer. We wanted to respond simply by just doing what we loved and doing it well.
And so, at Wrestlemania XXX, in front of 90,000 people, he held the championship belts high above his head. We chanted “YES! YES! YES!” along with him.
And now, it’s over.
Shortly after winning the title, he got hurt. And he stayed hurt, so he had to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He tried to come back, and he did, winning the Intercontinental Championship. But that was short lived, and finally, this year, he had to retire. Forever.
The news hit me hard, in much the same way I expect Peyton Manning’s inevitable announcement will hit me. It hit me the same way that losing Michael Scott and the rest of the crew from The Office hit me, and the way that the ending of Parks and Recreation hit me. Daniel Bryan is, in a lot of ways, a hero to me. I may be done with wrestling after this.
A lot of people have written better thoughts about this than me. No one will read this, and that’s fine. It’s just my voice, shouting into the silence, saying that yeah, wrestling is dumb and scripted. But Daniel Bryan is proof it’s not fake, and I think it’s safe to say the business is forever changed because he was in it. Yeah, it’s dumb and scripted, but I felt a connection with The American Dragon.
Thanks for the memories, Daniel. And we’ll always have New Orleans.