Ok, so, I know that this may be very premature, but dammit the tea leaves are starting to show a Daniel Bryan WWE return. Let that breathe for a second…
Ok, you still with me? You need another moment?
Ok, that should be enough now. I’m going to walk through a series of recent rumors and discussions that lead this writer to believe that the leader of the Yes Movement will grace a WWE ring in 2018 as a wrestler.
In order to understand why all of the recent talk is so meaningful we have to start back at the beginning.
I apologize for making you watch that again. In February of 2016, Daniel Bryan announced that injury had forced his retirement from WWE. A series of concussions over his 16-year career had caused WWE’s doctors to pull the plug on the idea of Daniel Bryan wrestling again. Bryan fought and fought and sought out other doctors, other tests – basically anything and every possible avenue he could explore – in order to get a yes from WWE’s medical team. Like most WWE fans, Bryan expressed in his retirement speech that he went through a series of emotions, anger, sadness, frustration and then gratitude – we were angry at WWE’s doctors for not clearing him, sad at the prospect that wanting him to wrestle might put him in danger, frustrated that one of WWE’s top performers, and perhaps the greatest underdog this side of Rey Mysterio Jr., would no longer wrestle in WWE, and grateful that we had gotten the opportunity to see Bryan take one of the most memorable roads to the WWE title that we had ever seen. In that moment, we were all Daniel Bryan.
In the first few months following his retirement, there were rumors and news stories about Bryan not wanting to re-sign with WWE. There was talks of him trying to negotiate a way out of his existing WWE contract because he wanted to wrestle. It became clear, or at least the talks that leaked out made it clear, that Daniel Bryan was absolutely hellbent on returning to the ring to wrestle. He was not content to just sit by and fade into the background or into obscurity. But as time wore on, the rumor mill slowed down and the only thing that became clear was that we were headed down a path to Daniel Bryan, General Manager.
Daniel Bryan – General Manager
First of all, listen to that crowd – that man was still over as hell.
So, just five months after retiring as an in-ring competitor, Daniel Bryan returned to be named the General Manager of Smackdown. He and Shane McMahon formed a face leadership team that excelled in turning Smackdown into the “land of opportunity”. Bryan, beloved as he was, could do no wrong and basically has done no wrong since he has been GM. Everything that we loved about Bryan the wrestler translated to Bryan the GM. His underrated promo skills became far more apparent. His underdog nature, and love of underdogs getting opportunities made moments like Slater and Rhyno winning the Smackdown Tag Titles believable and endearing to the WWE fanbase. Could you even imagine that team winning the Raw Tag Titles under Stephanie McMahon?
Bryan has been an excellent GM, especially in contrast to his Raw counterparts over the past almost 18 months in Mick Foley and Kurt Angle. We have all come to appreciate all of his talent outside of the ring – which for some of us fans only makes us want to see him return even more. Nonetheless, Bryan has shined in this role and clearly became comfortable in that role since his announcement as GM last summer.
The Miz “Feud”
I don’t even know where to start with this. “You wrestle like a coward.”
WWE will ALWAYS play with its audience. It is their nature. It is part and parcel of WWE fandom to be unsure how much of what we see in certain circumstances is a work or shoot. The series of back and forth interviews between The Miz and Daniel Bryan last fall and into the early part of this year land squarely in that category. WWE leaned into this back and forth (and are actually still leaning into it a full calendar year later) while Daniel and Miz were both on Smackdown almost teasing its audience into the prospect of a Daniel Bryan in-ring return. What else were fans expected to think. The Miz’s absolute breakdown on that episode of Talking Smack felt like it could be the start of a build to Miz vs Bryan, perhaps as a Wrestlemania feud. Yes, we were supposed to assume Bryan was retired forever. Yes, we were supposed to believe that this was just a passing moment that was more about giving Miz some real heat and less about the possibility of an actual in-ring feud. However, a year later we still have little moments that speak to the start of this back and forth well over a year ago.
A side note, this on-again off-again war of words between Bryan and Miz has been one of the best and most interesting subplots in wrestling since it started. If this never leads to anything at all, it would be a disappointment. The possible layers to this story – Miz being Bryan’s mentor on NXT years ago, Bryan being Cena’s “brother-in-law”, Bryan as GM and his decisions regarding Miz – are rich for exploration and for revisiting as part of an in-ring feud. Ask any WWE fan what one of their dream feuds for Bryan is if he returned and Miz would be on that list with the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Brock Lesnar, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens and others. That is a testament to Bryan and The Miz and the story that they have built thus far. The interesting thing is in the aftermath of the first month or two of these interactions a lot of the talk around Daniel Bryan returning to the ring and any other type of feuds with in-ring characters have been nonexistent.
Once The Miz moved into and out of his Wrestlemania program with John Cena and moved to Raw Daniel Bryan’s life quieted down onscreen. He settled into his role as GM and there was little to no activity with regards to feuds with in-ring competitors on Smackdown. There were still the random mentions and references here and there to his issues with The Miz but overall onscreen Daniel Bryan’s life became very quiet.
Offscreen, he and his wife Brie welcomed their first child Birdie Joe Danielson and Daniel also disappeared from TV for a few weeks.
Between May and October there was relative radio silence on the rumors and stories around Bryan, his desire to return to wrestling etc. Basically, from the outside looking in at least, it seemed like Bryan had come to terms with his non-wrestling role, was thriving in it and thus there was nothing to report. The rumor mill had nothing on Bryan or his injury or his pursuit of a return for roughly 6 months. We were all lulled into a state where we under the surface still pined to see Bryan wrestle again, but were comfortable with at least being able to see him on our screens every week.
And now we have Shane interjecting himself into a match between KO & Sami Zayn vs Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura to be the special guest referee. A match where KO and Sami will be fired if they lose. This is all looking like the setup to a feud between Shane and Bryan. Could that feud lead to the ring?
It sure seems possible when you consider that we are starting the slow crawl towards a match between Kurt Angle, Raw’s GM and HHH, WWE’s COO and Stephanie McMahon’s husband on Raw.
It seems possible when you consider they had It also seems possible when you consider all of the renewed talk around Bryan’s status in recent months.
It seems possible when you make it appear that Bryan was chokeslammed on Raw.
It seems possible when you consider that it’s almost 100% likely that Total Divas will show Daniel Bryan taking a bump while training his wife Brie for her own return to WWE.
It seems possible when you consider that the combination of Brie and Nikki Bella, John Cena and Daniel Bryan are the closest thing to a WWE royal family outside of the McMahons themselves.
So what I’m saying is, there is a chance.
There is a chance that in 2018 we see Daniel Bryan grace the WWE’s squared circle with beard and hair in tow to have his first match in around two years.
There’s one more reason that this is at least worth a discussion.
Rewind to January 1998. It’s the Royal Rumble. A certain Showstopper is defending his title against a certain Deadman in a casket match. Then this happened…
That bump led to a serious back injury for Michaels. He subsequently lost the title to Stone Cold Steve Austin at that year’s Wrestlemania and retired, for what everyone assumed was forever. As covered in our 20th anniversary article on the Montreal Screwjob, Shawn went on to open his own wrestling school before eventually returning to WWE to play an onscreen authority figure. (Sound familiar?) Four years after he suffered the injury, Shawn returned to ignite a blood feud with his former D-X stablemate HHH. Shawn went on to wrestle in WWE for another 8 years having excellent matches and feuds with the top stars of the then past, present and future. Why is this important…
Do you know who that young man is on the left hand side of this photo in the grey shirt? Why yes, that is young Bryan Danielson aka Daniel Bryan. He of the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy. Who better to follow Shawn’s path of success, injury-shortened career, WWE return with more success that Daniel Bryan? The answer, NO ONE.
So as we we wind down 2017 and start to think of what we want for Christmas and what we want from wrestling in 2018, continue to ask the wrestling gods to part WWE entrance curtain, soften the WWE medical teams heart and let Daniel Bryan return to the WWE ring to put the boots to some poor soul. Also, ask that if he does that they keep him safe too. One way or another though, it feels like 2018 will find one Bryan Danielson wrestling in a ring somewhere in the world, possibly even at the 10,000 seat event that Cody and the rest of the Bullet Club are trying to arrange.
Like Javon, one of our OTTB podcasters said this week, “I feel 2018 is a good year.” All any good Daniel Bryan fan can say to that is…