WWE headliner Daniel Bryan announced his retirement from the ring due to concussion-related issues at the age of 34 on "Raw" Monday night.
It was an emotional farewell for the Aberdeen, Wash., native in his home TV market of Seattle on WWE’s flagship broadcast, "Monday Night Raw", that took the viewer to 25 minutes past the hour, which is a major overrun for the show. Legitimate tears flowed as the ultimate underdog, who had overcome mountainous obstacles to achieve global stardom in WWE’s land of the giants, said his heartfelt goodbyes.
To understand how special the 5-foot-8, 190-pounder is, one has to take a trip back in time. Bryan graduated high school in 1999 and promptly set out to seek training so that he could take one step closer to living his dream of being a professional wrestler. No college, no trade school, no mundane job — but instead it was a cross-country jaunt from the state of Washington to Florida and promptly back to Texas to train with Shawn Michaels in San Antonio.
As the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations in WWE, the department that manages all aspects of the talent roster, there had been talk from the creative side that adding a cruiserweight division was being discussed. Considering Bryan was trained by HBK, a WWE Hall of Famer, and had been one of the stars of the camp according to Michaels, we signed Bryan to his first contract and stationed him with Memphis Championship Wrestling in 2000.
While in Memphis, Bryan met one of the most influential people in his career, British wrestling great William Regal, who took Bryan under his educated wing and commenced on designing a model professional.
So, at 19 years of age, Bryan Danielson — aka "The American Dragon" — was under contract with the biggest dog in the yard, WWE.
At age 20 he was released from his contract because plans were scrapped to create a lighter weight division within WWE much akin to what WCW had done with their cruiserweights.
As my former broadcast partner, WWE HOFer Jerry ‘The King" Lawler, said many a Monday night on Raw when a fan favorite was getting brutalized and I would be frantically selling it, the King would proclaim, "J.R., one can’t grieve forever."
Bryan Danielson did not let his first failed tenure in WWE destroy his hopes and dreams. He did not grieve forever but instead toured the world and made an impact with every promotion he found work with. The quality of Danielson’s in-ring work became the talk of the industry as insiders early in Bryan’s career had him tabbed as a top 10 in-ring talent in the world while helping Ring of Honor establish a brand that has produced multiple WWE stars. The American Dragon had arrived.
All five-feet-eight inches and one hundred ninety pounds of him.
That was the problem with getting back to WWE after almost a 10-year exile. 5-8,190 pounds. Well, he could be billed as 5-10, 210 pounds and that would help take some of the "sting" out of the perception that DB was too small to be a top-level star in WWE, which has been traditionally known as a "big man’s territory."
But this time Daniel Bryan, thanks to organically connecting with his audience, became more and more popular every week even though, at times, some speculate that it wasn’t necessarily what WWE wanted. Perhaps they preferred for a larger person get those accolades. So all those larger models had to do was to connect with the audience like Daniel Bryan did, because any ties in the connection department would always go to the bigger man.
However, no one in WWE or the business in general truly compared to Daniel Bryan when he was at his hottest and became so beloved by what WWE calls the WWE Universe. No athlete in WWE made such an organic, virtually unbreakable connection to the fans since the days of the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The term grateful came up quite often in Daniel Bryan’s farewell address to the world Monday night.
I am grateful that I got to see Bryan live his dream, including starring at WrestleMania. I’m grateful to see the YES! Movement became something that fans on multiple continents embraced with unity.
I’m grateful that I did not get stuck on any long car trips with hardcore wrestling fans who actually thought that WWE had an internal conspiracy preventing Bryan from returning to the ring when all along they were merely trying to protect the talent.
I am grateful that Daniel Bryan did not have this concussion issue in an earlier generation of the pro wrestling business. If he had, he would have been likely given an "attaboy" and sent back to the ring as concussions were an unknown, dirty word in locker rooms in a variety of entities, including the NFL.
I am grateful that Bryan was working for WWE, which invests more time and money in protecting its athletes than any company in the world of sports entertainment, so that he received the best medical care available in the world.
If my instincts are accurate, we haven’t heard the last of Bryan Danielson. His future contributions to the business that he loves so passionately should be prominent for all to see for years to come.
Bryan is WWE’s version of Peyton Manning in that the former WWE Champion can influence an entire team with his attitude and leadership.
No company in any form of business can have too many Daniel Bryans on the payroll.
(JR has more to say on the Daniel Bryan retirement this week on The Ross Report Podcast @PodcastOne and @iTunes.)