Daniel Bryan has been one of the best WWE wrestlers of the 2010s and the 20s so far. From being the Miz’s rookie on NXT in 2010 to his under-praised heel run as the WWE Champion in 2019, the American Dragon has been one of the consistent performers to grace the E’s canvas. But here in 2021, as April has become May, New York (or I guess Florida now?) may soon be in the rearview of the former multiple-time World Champion.
Whether the company wanted him to be or not, Bryan was at times the most popular wrestler on the card. Think back to the 2013 Slammy Awards show. During the WWE & World Heavyweight Championship Unification Ceremony the ring was full of former World Champions like Bret Hart, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Christian, CM Punk, Mark Henry, Rey Mysterio, Kane, Booker T and more. Daniel Bryan was absolutely the most over guy in the ring. Sure, it was in his neck of the woods in Seattle, but you need to see the video to really appreciate how no one gave a shit about anything except their guy. This would’ve likely happened in most other American cities and in ways it did in a multitude of situations.
Let us also not forget that when Rey Mysterio was the 30th entrant in the 2014 Royal Rumble, and not Daniel Bryan, career underdog babyface Mysterio got the biggest negative reaction of his life. It got to the point where wrestling fans bullied the company into putting Daniel Bryan in the main event of WrestleMania.
Now, after over a decade with the company, Daniel Bryan’s contract is coming due with no news of him re-signing on the evening of Monday May 3, Sydney time. Bryan’s last appearance was an unsuccessful challenge to Roman Reigns’ Universal Championship in a great match on the April 30 episode of SmackDown. As a result of this loss, Daniel Bryan has been ‘banished’ from the brand with his future in limbo both in kayfabe and for real. WWE has gone with this to the point where he’s in the website’s Alumni page of wrestlers.
In an interview with BT Sports, Bryan said about his WrestleMania 37 main event match, that he was feeling detached. He mentioned that the feeling of detachment he felt in the match with Roman Reigns & Edge was “ . . . I’m either gonna die or maybe it’s a sign that this isn’t it and it isn’t the same type of fulfilment that it was before.” This is obviously one portion of the interview and I encourage any reader to go ahead and watch the whole thing, it’s an interesting watch, but this whole notion of detachment is having fans like my overthinking self think he could be leaving the company. But either way, we likely won’t be seeing Bryan on SmackDown anymore, which is unfortunate because to me that’s the best overall show under the WWE umbrella.
If he stays with WWE, should he go to RAW?
If he stays with WWE, should he go to NXT?
If NXT were still on Wednesdays opposing All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite, this would absolutely seem like the direction WWE is headed. But even though NXT is on Tuesdays, it still wouldn’t hurt them to have Daniel Bryan on the show and it’d certainly increase their viewership numbers.
Turning from the business side to the fans’ side of things, there’s certainly some guys on the NXT roster I’d love to see Bryan wrestle. To name a few, there’s WALTER, Adam Cole, Cameron Grimes, Johnny Gargano, KUSHIDA and especially Pete Dunne who has lately been claiming his title as the best technical wrestler in WWE.
There’s months & months worth of programs, angles and match-ups in NXT for Bryan. It’s clear how good he is and has been before and after his 2016–18 retirement as part of either RAW or SmackDown, but in the CWC I think we could see a more authentic Daniel Bryan, a more wrestling-heavy Bryan and less of a sports entertainer. Think about Finn Balor’s transition back to NXT and how much better off he’s been in terms of quality. I think an NXT run would be a great penultimate stretch prior to the Daniel Bryan farewell tour, and the best option for anything WWE-related, but I think the grass is legitimately greener elsewhere for Bryan.
How about New Japan Pro-Wrestling?
Because I’m clearly no unbiased journalist, I just want you to know this is what I want the most. The obvious big match that I think has to be done if nothing else is Bryan Danielson vs Zack Sabre Jr. ZSJ is on the verge of topping Bryan’s record of nine Bryan Danielson awards in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. They clearly need to fight for the title of Best Technical Wrestler and perhaps the namesake of the award associated with legends of the mat like Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid, Jushin Liger, Dean Malenko and Kurt Angle.
Aside from the technical masterpiece Sabre & Danielson would produce, there are so many people in New Japan I would want to see Bryan mix it up with. Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Shingo Takagi, Jay White, KENTA, even Clark Connors, Kevin Knight, Karl Fredericks or Alex Coughlin.
I even love the idea of Bryan coming in as something of a special attraction for the bigger shows. Not to get ahead of myself, and not that I think New Japan would or necessarily should, but he is someone who could feasibly win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and there aren’t many better names to have in a belt’s new lineage than Bryan Danielson.
Bryan is someone who could main event the Tokyo Dome, he’s someone who’s good for nine great matches in a G1, he can have a good match with literally anyone. Ask Big Cass.
. . . or will he take his talents to Jacksonville?
Despite the pandemic very gradually winding down with millions getting vaccinated in the US, the whole ‘going to Japan for a show’ thing still isn’t as easy as it was pre-March 2020. The logistics of wrestling regularly in Japan won’t be as simple as it once was for a while, and even if money isn’t Daniel Bryan’s biggest motivation, I still think if he were to defect to any other American promotion it would be All Elite Wrestling.
While the booking in All Elite has been incredibly hit & miss, one thing they still succeed at is making a match that gets its fanbase excited. It’s just the build-up & follow-up that can sometimes leave you scratching your head. Think about the FTR vs. Young Bucks match. Something wrestling fans had wanted to see for years, since the Revival were in NXT, way before AEW, back when Being the Elite was watchable! The match itself bell to bell, it was great. The run-up and the aftermath not so much.
Shaky booking aside, there are some dudes in All Elite that I would love to see Bryan wrestle before he hangs up the kickpads. [In an interview with Robbie Fox for My Mom’s Basement] Bryan praised Kenny Omega for his creativity which put the idea of Kenny Omega vs Bryan Danielson in everyone’s mind. The 2021 version of that match surely tops any bout they had before they both became internationally renowned as they currently are.
There’s also Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston, Jungle Boy, MJF, Ricky Starks and Will Hobbs among others who would have career matches with Danielson if he were to grace Daily’s Place. You can’t tell me Tony Khan wouldn’t want to have one of the greatest wrestlers of this century on his roster.
When things are back to normal, and with the “Forbidden Door” pried open wide enough, there’s no reason why Bryan couldn’t go back & forth between All Elite & New Japan like Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho would.
I don’t know what’s going to happen, and in just a matter of weeks or even days I could have a ton of yolk on my face after writing this. More than anything, I hope and I’m sure Bryan Danielson will make the right decision and do what it is he wants to do. Whether he headlines the Tokyo Dome, wrestles Kenny Omega at All Out or just wants to focus solely on spending all his time with his young family, I want the man to be happy and to be fulfilled. He owes us fans nothing after the body of work he’s assembled in his prolific career.