Wrestling is a total joke of an art form sometimes, but it’s an art form. (I know: all art forms can be jokes; wrestling has a STRONG capacity to be a joke. Roll with me here.)
I got into wrestling in 1998. I fell out of wrestling in 2004, and I stayed out until 2013, except for one little glitch: my buddy Steve had tickets to see a Ring of Honor show, in a little field house here in the south ‘burbs of Chicago. One of the main events was Naomichi Marufuji versus Bryan Danielson.
I didn’t know who Danielson was, but I came out of the match going, “Man, that guy’s good.”
Just under six years later, I heard that he was making a bid for the WWE championship. I was far enough out of the loop that I didn’t even know he was in the WWE. I started watching again. But, beyond that, I was hooked.
When it’s done right, it can give you chills, it can make you cry, and it can make you chant YES YES YES or any number of things at your TV or in a room of friends or in a massive building full of people. No sport has the weird energy that wrestling does.
No one — no one in the history of the sport — captured that energy like Daniel Bryan did, during his 2014 title run.
When he won the world title, I yelled at my computer screen. It was like being that kid in 1998 who bought into every storyline and yelled at people who said wrestling wasn’t real or that it was stupid.
I kind of never feel like a kid. I kind of never got to BE a kid; I was supposed to be an academic, and I was always caught in the middle of my parents’ horrible marriage, so I had to think like an adult from an early age. Wrestling was my escape from that. When I watched wrestling, I felt safe, and I felt happy, and I felt excited. I was obsessed. My cousins bootlegged pay-per-views, it was one of the few things my brother and I had in common, I watched three different promotions, I bought magazines and merch — it was EVERYTHING to me.
I never really got a chance to feel like a kid felt unless I was watching wrestling. The thing I come back to with Daniel Bryan was the storyline where they saddled him with the Wyatt Family. It was classic ‘good guy gives in to the bad guys’ storytelling. Everybody wanted him to break away. I wanted him to break away. When he did, I got chills. I gasped. I yelled at my computer screen (maybe I do that too much). For just a little moment, I got to feel like a kid again.
Wrestling means everything to Daniel Bryan. For a little while there, it meant everything to me again.
Without Daniel Bryan, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to sit and watch NXT with Steve and watch Sami Zayn win the championship with both of us cheering at the computer screen. I wouldn’t have gotten a WWE Network subscription and watched matches with my boyfriend to try and show him why I think wrestling is great. I wouldn’t have started a podcast with two of my favorite people in the world and had some of the biggest laughs and best conversations I’ve ever had in my life. I wouldn’t have instant conversation-starters with my brother and countless other friends, and I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to bond with them more. I wouldn’t be seeing wrestling again in that field house in a few months, for the first time with my buddy Dave and the second time with Steve, where we will no doubt have an absolute blast, because wrestling can be amazing.
Wrestling will be a lot less amazing without Daniel Bryan. But: it is so good to be reminded of why you love an art form, when one person’s passion and talent radiates through a screen and into your soul. It is so good to be reminded what it feels like to be kid when some dude with a giant beard and endless talent makes thousands of people lose their minds and feel that same passion.
Bryan Danielson, Daniel Bryan, the American Dragon, whatever comes next, and always — thank you.