Bryan Danielson – The Comprehensive Journey of The American Dragon

You hear a YES chant at a wrestling show and only one man springs to mind and that is Daniel Bryan, Bryan Danielson. Daniel Bryan is now back wrestling under his birth name once again, Bryan Danielson. Debuting in All Elite Wrestling; he has had some epic encounters already. But this is nothing new for the well-traveled world champion. Just look at his journey to AEW which is full of ups and downs.

Bryan Danielson was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and begun his wrestling career in 1999. He trained under Rudy Gonzalez and WWE Hall of Fame inductee Shawn Michaels at the Texas Wrestling Academy. During his training, he would meet and train with Spanky, known as Brian Kendrick, and Lance Cade. Kendrick and Cade both competed for the WWE and have successful careers of their own.

With a close relationship between TWA and WWE, Bryan Danielson was signed by WWE to a development deal. He started working for Memphis Championship Wrestling. During this time, he was guided by veteran performer William Regal who he struck up a good friendship with. But Bryan never made it to the main roster debut and was released from his contract after 18 months.

Bryan Danielson – The Journey of The American Dragon

Bryan Danielson started to make a name for himself on the independent circuit using the nickname The American Dragon. He signed with new independent promotion Ring of Honour in 2002 and headlined their very first show. His rivalry with Homicide helped ROH gain eyeballs on their shows and created a buzz among the online wrestling community. Homicide and Bryan Danielson would compete in a best of 5 series and Homicide discussed working with The American Dragon

“Two different styles, but of course, a lot of people really don’t know I can do technical styles. But the world of Ring of Honor and the fans’ eyes who doesn’t know, it was two completely different styles, and I enjoyed it. I also bring that fire to Daniel Bryan, because Daniel Bryan to me, he reminded me of no flavour in your ice cream. He was just vanilla, no chemistry, no nothing.

People say he was boring. He was just pure, great wrestler. He was like Steven Regal without the British accent or whatever or Bob Backlund. So, you gotta give him a little flavour.

Now put a little colour to his craft, and I think me and other people, we put that little colour on his style, and I think it’s more of the confidence and charisma level just came out. I could be wrong, but I really think he was very blah and I’m the one that brought that little flavour and more [intensity].

When he wrestled me, it was really one of those like, ‘OK, I’m wrestling one of the top dogs. I need to step up my game’ and he sure did. He’s one of the greatest guys. He’s another one that should be in the [ROH] Hall of Fame.

But the American Dragon, he’s a phenomenal technical wrestler, and he proved to me he could brawl. We had a lot of chemistry. To me, it was awesome. He was one of the greatest guys I wrestled.”

Bryan Danielson became the cornerstone of Ring of Honor. He won their championship at Glory by Honor IV defeating James Gibson, better known as Jamie Noble in WWE. As champion in ROH, Danielson defended his championship in some highly regarded matches. He faced the likes of Roderick Strong, Austin Aries Samoa Joe and Nigel McGuiness.

Fans still talk today about some of the classic matches between Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson that went 60 minutes. McGuiness went into a series of matches against the champion as the ROH Pure Champion. In their final encounter, both titles were to be unified, and Bryan Danielson won. Bryan then vacated the Pure Championships retiring the belt.

His championship run came to an end against his old rival Homicide, losing the belt brought an end to a remarkable run as ROH Champion which lasted 15 months. Homicide discussed what that match meant to him and the Ring of Honor locker room.

“That was one of the greatest moments of my wrestling career. When I’m 90 years old and so many concussion syndromes, I’m always going to talk about that day. I’ll always remember guys like CM Punk, he just signed with WWE, and he took a plane to come watch that match.

The Briscoe Brothers were behind the curtain watching the match. Everyone was like, ‘This is big for Homicide.’ That motivated me so much.

When I defeated him and all the guys came into the ring, that was for real. When I grabbed the belt and hugged Julius Smokes, I was surprised. I felt I deserved it and was part of that crew.

Everyone talks about Colt Cabana, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels. I deserve to be part of that crew. When I beat Bryan for the belt, that was my WrestleMania moment.”

During his run in Ring of Honor, The American Dragon competed for other promotions on the independent circuit. He wrestled in the UK for a short period under the name Dynamic Dragon. In 2003, Bryan also began working for California-based promotion Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. His biggest achievement in the group was winning their World Championship, his reign lasted roughly 6 months before losing the belt to Low Ki.

In Bryan Danielson final night at PWG before leaving the group, he wrestled Chris Hero for the PWG Championship and defeated Hero to become the new PWG champion. Danielson gave a farewell speech and handed the belt back to PWG Lead Commentator Excalibur. Chris Hero, then took the belt from Excalibur and put it around Danielson’s waist saying he should at least wear the title belt once more. The locker room came out to celebrate with Bryan Danielson.

Danielson continued to wrestle in Ring of Honor and in his last match defeated Nigel McGuinness. Bryan Danielson had been on a farewell tour with ROH knowing in August of 2009 he started his newest journey. Danielson had signed with WWE and Daniel Bryan was born.

Signing with WWE, Bryan Danielson was hesitant signing with the organization, speaking on WWE Backstage he spoke about the matter;

“I actively did not want to go WWE. I really liked the DIY aspect, I liked being in control of my own schedule. Like being able to take a couple of weeks off here and I’m gonna do this thing. I am gonna watch a Seahawks game with my dad. You know, all that kind of stuff.”

Bryan Danielson also spoke about what he likes about being an independent wrestler with Super Luchas

“As an independent wrestler, my mind was always working. ‘I don’t know who this guy is; I don’t know what he does, I’ve never been in this arena.’ I like those experiences.

And it is also interesting because despite how great it is to compete at WrestleMania or wrestle tonight in Bogotá before ten thousand excited fans, I miss the feeling in independent events, even if there were only a few thousand or a few hundred. It is simply a different sensation”. 

Bryan Danielson became Daniel Bryan and debuted on WWE television as a contestant on their new game show style series called NXT. Each debuting wrestler was given a ‘mentor’, and Daniel Bryan’s mentor was none other than The Miz. The hardcore fans were outraged at this, knowing Daniel Bryan’s achievements outside of WWE, they thought this was an insult. The Miz was relatively new to wrestling himself and spent most of his career in WWE.

The Miz berated Daniel Bryan on every occasion as his mentor and Bryan would lose his first 5 matches on NXT. Bryan ended up being the first man eliminated from the competition. Once the NXT series finished, we saw the debut of Nexus in one of the most memorable moments in WWE history.

Nexus attacked John Cena and destroyed the ring and ringside area. Nexus beat up everyone in sight, but Daniel Bryan took it too far for WWE management, Bryan used ring announcer Justin Roberts’s tie and choked him with it. WWE felt that Bryan was too aggressive and violent and was yet again released from his contract.

During his release for WWE, Bryan returned to the independent circuit and worked matches alongside Jon Moxley, Bobby Fish, and Eddie Kingston. But two months after his release, he made his return to WWE in the main event of Summerslam as part of team WWE.

In an interview with Slam Wrestling, Bryan spoke about the incident and choking Justin Roberts not being the only reason he was released.

“One of the reasons that I got fired in 2010 was for spitting in John’s face; it was two things that got me fired — it was choking Justin Roberts with a tie and spitting in Cena’s face right before I kicked him in the head, It was those two things.” 

“WWE is very serious about adhering to their PG guidelines, and apparently my actions during the NXT attack on John Cena, namely choking announcer Justin Roberts with his tie and spitting in Cena’s face, crossed the boundaries of what is considered PG.” 

“Perhaps the choking was too violent or perhaps the spit was too demeaning. I apologized for both immediately following the incident; but I would be a hypocrite if I apologized for putting everything I have into the attack. I would much rather have gone too far than to come up too short,”  

John Cena was interviewed by Busted Open Radio shortly after the incident too

“It stands where it is,” Cena said. “I believe Bryan was given his release, and this is just my belief, it’s complete speculation so basically you’re going off my secondhand knowledge, it’s something to do with violating our PG content agreement which is very serious. It was tough for us to get that [TV-PG] logo in the beginning.

For us to violate that content agreement, we get in trouble with our TV providers, we get in trouble with our sponsors, it pretty much is not good business. I think that is the reason upon the Bryan Danielson release, but on the same token, for a young man such as him to make an impact on the WWE Universe in that short a time, it says something about who he is as a person and where he belongs amongst our group.” 

On his return to WWE, Daniel Bryan went at it with his NXT mentor The Miz which saw Bryan win his first WWE title at Night of Champions pinning The Miz to win the WWE Unites States Championship. For the remaining of the year, Bryan would successfully defend the championship before losing to Sheamus in March 2011. Their rematch was scheduled to take place at Wrestlemania XVII but was pushed to the pre-show which disappointed both men.

After Wrestlemania, Bryan was drafted to SmackDown and as his popularity grew beyond the fans who knew him from his American Dragon days; he entered The Money In The Bank Ladder Match as one of the favorites. Bryan won the briefcase and would wait until TLC later in the year to cash in; on cashing in he won the World Heavyweight Championship pinning The Big Show after he had successfully defeated Mark Henry to win the title. This made Daniel Bryan the first competitor from NXT to win a world championship.

Throughout the beginning of his WWE career, Daniel Bryan would find himself involved in some sort of love angle. First of all, The Bella Twins showed their affection for the former American Dragon, but Bryan shrugged off their advances and said he was romantically involved with Gail Kim, It was Kim who would accompany him to the ring.

Bryan Danielson – World Champion, Daniel Bryan

Winning the World Championship, Bryan turned heel and begun a relationship with AJ Lee. While AJ pronounced her love for Bryan, he would never return the sentiment and say it back. As their relationship developed, Bryan begun to mistreat AJ, publicly demeaning her and blaming her for his losses.

With Championship defenses against Mark Henry and Big Show inside a steel cage and inside the Elimination Chamber, Bryan was set to defend the championship against the Royal Rumble winner Sheamus. Their match at WrestleMania opened the show and as the bell rung, Bryan decided to kiss AJ. As Bryan turned, Sheamus hit him with the brogue kick to win the World Heavyweight Championship.

Blaming AJ for his loss at Wrestlemania, their relationship became estranged. While Bryan, along with Kane, both tried to win the WWE Championship from CM Punk. AJ became involved with all three At Money in the Bank, CM Punk beat Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE Championship with AJ as special guest referee. After this, Bryan and AJ were due to get married on the special edition of RAW 1000 but AJ Lee left Bryan at the altar, becoming RAW general manager instead of marrying Daniel Bryan.

With his ex as RAW General Manager, she ordered Bryan and Kane to enter anger management where they would meet Dr. Shelby. This led to some memorable moments in anger management segments, but more importantly, led to the formation of Team Hell No and a WWE Tag Team Championship run. Their championship run would last past WrestleMania XXIX where they defended the titles against Dolph Ziggler and Big E who now had AJ in their corner, Team Hell No were also rivals to The Shield. At Extreme Rules, Team Hell No dropped the belts to Shield members Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.

Bryan Danielson – Team Hell No, Daniel Bryan, and Kane

After losing the Tag Team Championships, Team Hell No disbanded with Daniel Bryan’s popularity within WWE building. The audience on the RAW after WrestleMania chanted for Bryan the whole evening. With the YES YES Chant becoming ever-present on WWE television, John Cena selected the most over superstar on the roster to face him at Summerslam that year.

With the main event set, Vince McMahon appeared on television to tell us that he doesn’t see Bryan as someone who could represent WWE as a champion. Triple H defended Bryan and in support, announced himself as the referee for the championship match.

Daniel Bryan pinned John Cena in the main event of Summerslam to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Whilst celebrating with Triple H, Triple H delivered a pedigree and allowed Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase to become the new champion.

The following evening: The McMahon Family who were now known as ‘The Authority’, introduced us to Randy Orton who they believed fit their narrative of who can be the face of the company. They would label Bryan as a ‘B+ player’.

This led to a series of matches between Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan, Bryan would have to fight his way through all the challenges The Authority set. Bryan defeated Orton at Night of Champions, only to be stripped of the title after referee Scott Armstrong admitted he made a fast count. Inside Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels acting as a special guest referee… due to his history with both Triple H and Bryan; he gave Bryan the Sweet Chin Music to allow Orton to win.

Bryan Danielson – Against The Authority

Dejected by not being able to overcome The Authority, The Wyatt Family took interest in Daniel Bryan. In a string of memorable moments on RAW, after deceiving Bray to be locked inside a steel cage with him. Bryan gained revenge and led the crowd to a huge YES chant as RAW went off the air.

With Bryan being the favorite of the audience and gaining huge standing ovations every time he appeared, fans were calling for Bryan to face the WWE World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania XXX.

On an episode of RAW in March Daniel Bryan hijacked the show along with fans who crowded the ring and the ringside area. With the whole arena shouting YES, Triple H had to give in to his demands of a match between the two at WrestleMania with the winner going to the main event. WrestleMania XXX is widely remembered for Daniel Bryan finally overcoming the odds and becoming WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Daniel Bryan spoke to TalkSport about his match with Triple H and what it meant to him.

“I’m really proud of that. It’s interesting because when I envision myself wrestling someone like Triple H, what I want is a mix of styles. I don’t want it to be a Triple H match and I don’t want it to be a Daniel Bryan match. 

The significance of Daniel Bryan reaching the top of WWE is felt to this day, Bryan paved a way for independent wrestlers being able to join WWE and reach new heights. Adam Cole spoke with Busted Open radio on the significance of WrestleMania XXX.

“I think that was one of the coolest moments about WrestleMania 30. There’s a lot of independent wrestlers that are smaller guys from all over the world who wrestle and I looked at that and I said, “ok, it totally is possible and it totally is doable.”

I think there’s definitely cases where people have made that comment to me before about me with people saying that maybe I am too small or maybe I’m not big enough.

Daniel Bryan has proved that size doesn’t matter and it’s true. I know that is cliche and said over and over again. If you are good enough at what you do in this job, the people will recognize it and their voices will be heard and let the world know that you deserve to be in the position you’re in.” 

After WrestleMania XXX, the new champion’s injuries started to catch up with him. Bryan lost feeling in his right arm and required neck surgery. In June, Bryan was stripped of his championship and missed the rest of the year. On the run-up to the Royal Rumble, Bryan returned on SmackDown and entered the Royal Rumble match.

The Rumble that year was held in Philadelphia and saw the audience give a negative reaction to winner Roman Reigns, they chanted for Daniel Bryan even after he was eliminated. This showed that even after missing almost a year, his popularity hadn’t waned.

At WrestleMania 31, Daniel Bryan opened the show and won the WWE Intercontinental Championship in a multi-man ladder match. This made Danielson a WWE Grand Slam Champion. But sadly a few weeks after WrestleMania, Bryan became injured once again.

To which he would make him later relinquish the Intercontinental Championship due to the injury. He announced his retirement from wrestling due to medical concerns, it turns out Bryan had suffered concussions over the years of wrestling and couldn’t be cleared to return to the ring. It was in February the following year Daniel Bryan returned

Bryan Danielson – The Return of Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan did return to WWE television in the summer of 2016, announced by Shane McMahon as SmackDown General Manager. As General Manager, Bryan created the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championships and the SmackDown Women’s Championship. He presented Talking Smack alongside Renee Young and got into heated arguments with The Miz, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn.

Bryan would be General Manager for 18 months and after being retired for two years, he announced that he was medically cleared to return to the ring and alongside Shane McMahon; defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Tag Team Match at Wrestlemania 34. Announcing he was back wrestling full-time Danielson resigned as General Manager and teamed again with Kane to form a Team Hell No reunion.

During Summerslam, Daniel Bryan and The Miz would start their long rivalry once again. The Miz would pick up the win at the biggest event of the summer. On SmackDown afterwards, The Miz alongside his wife Maryse mocked Bryan with a retirement speech. This led to Daniel Bryans’ wife Brie Bella returning to confront The Miz and Maryse. It set up a mixed tag team match at Hell in a Cell. Daniel and Brie lost the match when Maryse pinned Brie to end their rivalry for now.

Daniel Bryan’s return to the ring came full circle in November when on an episode of SmackDown, he defeated AJ Styles to win the WWE Championship. This led to him proclaiming himself as ‘The New’ Daniel Bryan.

With the help of a returning Rowen, who became Bryan’s partner; he would defeat AJ Styles numerous times as the Phenomenal One tried to regain his championship. Bryan also put the WWE Championship in the bin and brought out his new championship title, this one was made out of sustainable materials. He decided to start calling himself the ‘Planets Champion’.

On the road to WrestleMania 35, Bryans’ challenger for the championship would be Kofi Kingston. As time approached the big event, Bryan called Kingston a B+ player, bringing back the motto that he was labeled with and held him back. At WrestleMania, Kofi Kingston pinned Daniel Bryan to win the WWE Championship.

Daniel Bryan spoke with Robbie Fox on My Moms basement about his match with Kingston at Wrestlemania

“My favorite match in my WWE career is my match with Kofi at WrestleMania 35. It’s so special and such a cool moment. One of the things that I love is it’s Kofi winning at the end. WrestleMania 30, my shoulder is horrible, I hurt my neck, I have this horrible pain down my arm and I have to get up and do media the next morning. Everyone comes up to you and are like ‘congratulations.’ There’s a lot of responsibility.

When I wrestled Kofi, everyone goes to Kofi and says congratulations to him. I get to have my moment with him and be like ‘Hey man, thanks. That was awesome.’ Then, I get to hug my wife and daughter and go home the next day. Kofi is the one who has to do media and deal with people congratulating him.” 

After WrestleMania, Bryan won the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championships alongside Rowen. They eventually dropped the titles a few months later to the New Day. Bryan and Rowen’s alliance ended when someone begun attacking Roman Reigns. The mystery attacker turned out to be Rowen. When Luke Harper returned, Reigns and Bryan teamed up to face the returning bludgeon brothers.

The former WWE Championship next set his sights on trying to win the WWE Universal Championship. He went up against his old rival Bray Wyatt, who was now wrestling under the guise of The Fiend. Bryan lost to The Fiend at The Royal Rumble and then at Wrestlemania 36; he lost to Sami Zayn when he challenged Zayn for the WWE Intercontinental championship. With the coronavirus pandemic, Bryan took some time off during 2020 but returned at the end of the year.

Bryan Danielson – Saying Goodbye to ‘Daniel Bryan’

Having been eliminated in the Royal Rumble, he found himself in the Elimination Chamber a month later. Winning the Chamber match enabled him to receive a Universal Championship shot against the now champion, Roman Reigns. But having gone through a grueling Elimination Chamber Match, Bryan was beaten and fell short.

Not giving up, Bryan pushed for another Championship shot earning a place in the main event of WrestleMania 37 against Roman Reigns and Edge. In the match, Reigns retained the championship. In what would become Daniel Bryan’s last match for WWE, he challenged Reigns once again for the championship but again came up short. Due to stipulations during the match, Daniel Bryan was banished from SmackDown.

Daniel Bryan is no longer, and his WWE career is over for now. But he’s back wrestling under Bryan Danielson he is doing what he has done wherever he goes. Proving that he is one of the best professional wrestlers on the planet. His career has had plenty of ups and downs. So we shouldn’t expect anything less as he battles the best All Elite Wrestling has to offer.