Call him an underdog, call him a true main eventer, call him what you will. Truth is, Daniel Bryan was WWE’s MVP for 2013, filling the calendar with great match after great match, and receiving nuclear crowd reactions seemingly every time out.
Narrowing down Bryan’s 2013 body of work into just the ten best matches was a daunting task, but listed here would be the cream of the crop, per one man’s opinion.
10. DANIEL BRYAN VS. SHEAMUS (WWE Monday Night Raw, July 8)
Taking second prize for best segment of the night (behind Bray Wyatt’s awesome debut), Bryan and Sheamus renewed their infamous 2012 rivalry with a hell of an opening match in Baltimore. Given fifteen minutes, Bryan’s almost always game, and the underrated Sheamus performed thusly on his end.
9. DANIEL BRYAN VS. RANDY ORTON (WWE Monday Night Raw, June 24)
Some early foreshadowing for the feud that, for better or worse, would be the most memorable of 2013. Orton attacked Bryan earlier in the night when their match was supposed to have taken place, and a street fight between the two was booked for the main event.
Both men shine in particularly brutal matches (something even Orton detractors can agree on), and the two beat the hell out of each other with chairs and kendo sticks, to the delight of the Charleston crowd. Bryan cinched in a LeBell Lock, and Orton tried using the stick to break, but Bryan used it to aid the choke, and drew a surprising submission from The Viper.
8. DANIEL BRYAN/CM PUNK/THE USOS/CODY RHODES/GOLDUST VS. THE SHIELD/THE WYATT FAMILY (WWE Monday Night Raw, November 18)
Even in times when the fans can find lots to complain about (usually in marketing and presentation), you can’t say WWE doesn’t have a deep roster at its disposal. This twelve-man fracas the week before Survivor Series is proof positive of that notion, with a tremendous blend of science, brawling, and WWE-style heat-garnering spread over 26 minutes.
Bryan and Punk were in the midst of their sidetrack feud with The Wyatts (which produced a number of solid TV matches with Bryan against Luke Harper and Erick Rowan). As expected, the match degenerated into a frenetic brawl, with Bryan, Punk, and Rhodes laying out the Shield in succession, culminating in Punk pinning Dean Ambrose with the GTS.
7. DANIEL BRYAN/KANE/KOFI KINGSTON VS. THE SHIELD (WWE Monday Night Raw, May 20)
When you need to fill a three hour show, Bryan and the Shield are among the more reliable patchwork devices. In a six-man tag with Kane and Kofi Kingston, all three faces were coming off dropping their titles to the Shield the previous night at Extreme Rules and, in typical WWE fashion, the FEUD MUST CONTINUE (credit: Scott Keith).
Bryan and Kingston took turns playing face in peril, as both are wont to do, and it featured the two most fun combinations of action seen in the past year: Bryan and Seth Rollins bumping for each other, and Ambrose selling a wild beating. The Shield continued their unbeatable run when Roman Reigns pinned Kane, but it was over 20 minutes of non-stop action.
6. DANIEL BRYAN VS. ANTONIO CESARO (WWE Monday Night Raw, July 22)
In the run-up to SummerSlam, it was imperative to show Bryan’s tenacity and heart in the face of long odds. To achieve this, figureheaded something-or-other Brad Maddox booked Bryan, the antithesis of the company’s desired face, in a three man gauntlet, which he won. The middle match, against Cesaro, was the pinnacle.
After going over Jack Swagger in just a few minutes, Bryan went nearly 20 minutes with Cesaro in a brutal back-and-forth contest, highlighted with a vicious forearm exchange in the waning minutes. The finish was quite innovative, with Bryan evading Swiss Death into a cradle for the victory.
5. DANIEL BRYAN/KANE/THE UNDERTAKER VS. THE SHIELD (WWE Monday Night Raw, April 22)
Undertaker’s schedule is so limited these days, that it’d take something special to involve him in on Raw. Including Kane is expected, and maybe you’d wanna match up new-age monster Reigns with him. If you had said four years ago that Undertaker would take part in a match with three indy darlings being on even ground with him, many would have laughed.
Undertaker went with the company over to London for this memorable clash, which featured more in the series of Bryan at his anarchic best. One particular suicide dive onto Rollins looked like it killed both of them. Shield won in the end when Ambrose pinned Bryan, but you can’t go wrong with extended formula matches featuring any of this crowd.
4. DANIEL BRYAN VS. SETH ROLLINS (WWE Monday Night Raw, June 10)
Building to a Tag Team Title match at Payback (a solid bout that just missed the cut, among other tough choices), Bryan and unlikely partner Randy Orton took on Rollins and Reigns in singles action on this Raw. After Orton and Reigns went to a no contest, Bryan and Rollins engaged in their usual can-you-top-this masochistic stunt show.
Delivering as usual (the best match these two have had with each other, excluding the six man from TLC in 2012), Bryan and Rollins ran through all the classics, including the dragon surfboard, the suicide dive, the corner powerbomb, and top rope back suplex. Bryan won with a cradle, a somewhat timid end to a crazy encounter.
3. DANIEL BRYAN VS. RANDY ORTON VS. CM PUNK VS. ROB VAN DAM VS. CHRISTIAN VS. SHEAMUS (WWE Money in the Bank, July 14)
Dubbed the “Money in the Bank All Stars”, six prior World titleholders went out in Philadelphia, and stole the show in the evening finale. Of course, Orton won, and it kicked off the dreaded ‘abeyance’ storyline, but you usually can’t go against nearly a half hour of breathtaking spots and flawless action, no matter who ends up winning.
Van Dam made his grand return at the show, and hit his usual spots, including the ladder Five Star on Christian. Sheamus messed up his leg pretty bad, heaped on top of a very negative crowd reaction for him. The match too much of a shining group effort to put the spotlight solely on Bryan, but it’s still an excellent match that he helped ably move along.
2. DANIEL BRYAN VS. RANDY ORTON (WWE Monday Night Raw, December 16)
Has WWE woken up to Bryan as a true-blue main eventer, or is he another Zack Ryder: someone for Cena to siphon crowd heat off of? It’s a common WWE trend, take the fresh, beloved thing and have the establishment-guy leech off them. The deafening roars for Bryan, for now, earned him a big closing match with the man he wasn’t allowed to beat clean, though Cena did rear his head at the end.
1. DANIEL BRYAN VS. JOHN CENA (WWE SummerSlam, August 18)
It’d be hard to say Bryan’s had a better match in WWE. His WWE Title match with Punk at Over the Limit 2012 is close, but I’d take this one by a nose. The crowd was hotter, and Cena, out of his routine, is a tremendous worker who will take his licks to get the match over. The aftermath of Orton winning on a cash-in is about the only buzzkill here.
Bryan showed he can work Cena’s match, the WWE ‘Main Event Style’ of big move for two, big move for two, at a major PPV, while adding his own exciting elements to give the match a big feel. The counter-sequence leading to the Bryan’s shining wizard is one of those moments that should be immortalized, instead of playing second fiddle to the lame Authority angle.