After building to it all day, Raw ended with Daniel Bryan standing in the ring for 25 minutes and emotionally announcing his retirement from wrestling.
Bryan was able to stand in the ring in his home state and, fighting back tears, explain everything that had been going through his mind. He talked about how the latest test he had on his brain had revealed that maybe his brain wasn't as "OK" as he thought. He had priorities other than wrestling, namely his family and his wife, Brie. He took us through all of his thoughts, about the people he got to meet and the fans. He talked about how his dad got to see him in Seattle, and hear the crowd completely hijack the show to chant for him. He cried, and we cried, as he took us through his journey and all of the emotions that he was feeling. Finally, he told us, the fans, how grateful he was for us.
Looking back on his WWE run, it's amazing that it turned out the way that it did. Quite frankly, almost every aspect feels like a mistake. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, just that it all went very differently than expected. Think about when he first debuted on Raw. He was supposed to be part of the Nexus, probably in a complementary role but not a standout. What happens? He goes too far in the beatdown, strangling Justin Roberts with his own tie and gets fired. That's right, Bryan got fired after one episode of Raw. Yet, it all ended up better. He was rehired two months later, showing up as a surprise opponent of the Nexus. That instantly gave him credibility as a singles wrestler, allowing him to quickly move into the U.S. Title hunt.
The "Yes" chant is another good example. He had just won the World Heavyweight Championship (in Baltimore!) and they wanted to turn him heel. So he started to become obnoxious, overly celebrating all of his wins. The Yes chant was born. Something that was supposed to get Bryan over as a heel ended up being one of the most popular chants in the history of wrestling, and would cross over into the mainstream. Then you have Team Hell No, which to me is one of the most underrated aspects of Bryan's career. He was over, but they didn't want to keep him at the top of the card. So he started an odd-couple team with Kane. This was supposed to be somewhat entertaining, sure, but I don't think anyone expected it to be the final piece in the Daniel Bryan puzzle. It let him show the full range of his personality, and became one of the most entertaining parts of WWE programming for six months.
Then, of course, there's the build toward WrestleMania XXX. The build to the moment that wasn't supposed to happen. Somehow every twist that was supposed to drive Bryan further away from the title just made the storyline even better. It's amazing, but even fully acknowledging the debacle that was the Royal Rumble that year, looking back on it now the storyline wouldn't have been as good if he had just won it there. If WWE hadn't been fighting so hard against that moment, we would not remember that build nearly as fondly as we do now. Another mistake, yet a mistake that managed to make everything better.
For a man who for so long represented independent wrestling, WrestleMania XXX was the pinnacle of the journey, not just for him but for the fans who had followed him on his path. They followed him up through the "minor leagues," as the WWE called it. He was as responsible for Ring of Honor's growth as any other wrestler. He wrestled everywhere he could, in America, Japan, Mexico, Europe and everywhere in between. He was the "King of the Indies" and that was a title he wore with pride. People chanted "Best in the World" at him, not because it was a gimmick, or it was something that they were supposed to be chanting but because they truly felt it.
He did basically everything there was to do in wrestling. In the WWE, he competed in five different WrestleManias, and held a different title in each of those five WrestleManias. He won Wrestling Observer's Best Technical Wrestler Award NINE straight times from 2005 to 2013. To compare, nobody else has ever won that award more than four times in a row. The Observer also named him Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Decade from 2000 to 2009. He's been named Wrestler of the Year by Pro Wrestler Illustrated. He won titles all over the world, from Ring of Honor to New Japan and Pro Wrestling Noah in Japan to Mexico and Europe. He's a lock to be a WWE Hall of Famer, and that might even come this year. What he might eventually wind up being known best for is truly opening up the gates for other smaller independent wrestlers to get jobs and be booked properly in WWE. CM Punk might have opened the doors, but it was the success of Bryan that just truly allowed guys like Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, Austin Aries and all the rest to be signed. He legitimately changed the business. Yet, in all of that, it was the connection for the fans that truly made him special.
I remember when I first saw Bryan Danielson wrestle in person. It was in New York City at the Hammerstein Ballroom. He wrestled in a main event that also included longtime rival Nigel McGuinness, as well as the men who would go on to become Seth Rollins and Cesaro. As "The Final Countdown" played, I started to fully understand why he was known as the "Best in the World." I will still argue that hearing a crowd sing Final Countdown is better than the crowd singing Enter Sandman. I've seen him wrestle at many venues, from a ballroom, to a basketball court in a small rec center in Manassas, Va., to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. It didn't matter if it was 70 people or 70,000, he always put in the same effort. He always wrestled for the crowd. That, more than the lethal kicks, more than his knowledge of submission moves, more than his aerial attacks, was what made him the amazing wrestler that he is.
When wrestling is truly great, when it's pure, you go on a journey with that wrestler. Nobody has encapsulated that as much as Daniel Bryan. For that, Bryan Danielson, we are the ones who are grateful.