On February 8th 2016 Daniel Bryan took to Twitter and officially announced his retirement from professional wrestling after years of concussion related injuries resulted in him being unable to get clearance to return to the ring.
In his final two years with the WWE he only wrestled about four months total, but what he managed to accomplish in his six years with the WWE is just short of astonishing.
A 3-time WWE Champion, a World Heavyweight Champion, Intercontinental Champion, United States Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion, and a Money in the Bank winner.
It doesn’t just stop there. Daniel Bryan main evented the 30th ever WrestleMania. He became on the most popular WWE superstars despite initial predictions that the technical marvel would never transition well to the largely entertainment-focused WWE. Most importantly, Daniel Bryan was a part of many of the best stories and matches of the last decade.
Despite his career being cut far too short, Bryan leaves us with a vast and rich body of work that we will all cherish even more than we did before.
Let us look at some of those now as we countdown Bryan Danielson “The American Dragon’s” greatest matches in the WWE as Daniel Bryan.
I’ll confess I nearly gave this spot to the memorable Triple Threat Submissions Count Anywhere match between Daniel Bryan, The Miz, and John Morrison, but I just didn’t feel right snubbing Bryan’s nasty Two out of Three Falls match with the World Heavyweight Champion, Sheamus, from Extreme Rules 2012.
To me, the best Sheamus every looked as a champion and easily one of the greatest matches of his career. Bryan looked to exact his revenge after losing his first ever World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus, the 2012 Royal Rumble winner, in an embarrassing 18 seconds during the opening contest of WrestleMania XXVIII.
The former champion was not playing in the slightest and even sacrificed the first fall of the match, via disqualification, just to wear down Sheamus and gain the advantage for the final two falls. It was a brilliant bit of psychology employed by Bryan and something a logical confident heel would do.
Sheamus played the big defiant hoss perfectly, and despite Bryan working on his arm the entire match managed to defeat him with Brogue Kick to retain his title.
Bryan really shined here, especially with all the offense he centered around the shoulder of Sheamus.
There was just a lot of beautiful storytelling here by both men. This remains of the best showcases of action from WWE in 2012.
This match now stands as the FINAL time Daniel Bryan got to headline a WWE event. Here he stood against the winner of the 2015 Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns, for the chance to face WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar,at WrestleMania.
Even if the booking was not well received and fans were not happy with the result this match still stands as Roman Reigns most impressive one-on-one match to date.
This match got really overlooked last year and really didn’t get the credit it deserved. I think that mainly stems from the fact that it firmly solidified that Daniel Bryan would in no way be involved in the main event of WrestleMania.
This was essentially the Bret Hart-Lex Luger scenario, but 20 years later. This time, however, Vince McMahon got his way, and Roman Reigns will no doubt be the next franchise face of professional wrestling.
Despite all the negativity surrounding this match, it still stands as a ballsy decision by the WWE. It may not have paid off exactly like they wanted, but at the very least the fans got a very intense main event out of it.
Bryan pulled no punches and made it appear several times that he was actually going to win and return to the main event of WrestleMania.
One of my favorite spots of the match come when Reigns had his hand around the neck of Bryan, but then had his arm grape-vined as Bryan locked in the Yes Lock! So cool!
After being made one of the biggest stars in the WWE the previous year, Bryan graciously did the job for Reigns and did his best to make him look credible as he headed into his first WrestleMania main event.
This match will go down as one of Monday Night Raw’s greatest matches ever as it will also for Bryan’s career. The two former Ring of Honor Champion’s absolutely stole the entire show on this night during their first ever one-on-one encounter in the WWE.
At this time, Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan (along with their teammates) were the driving force behind the WWE tag team division’s return to prominence and while it didn’t last nearly long enough we had some amazing matches come out of the middle of the card during this time frame. This match would be Example A.
Rollins could more than keep up with Bryan’s pace and often mimicked Bryan and his offense during this back-and-forth match. Such a fun heel tactic, that doesn’t get employed much into matches much anymore.
After countering, and hitting all of their signature stuff, Bryan gets a sneaky victory off a distraction from Randy Orton and Roman Reigns.
At this time Bryan, along with his tag team partner Kane, were often having the match television matches week in and week out. This match here was certainly not different.
Team Hell No would formally disband the next week on Raw while The Shield continued to rule the foot of the WWE as a unit for another year until Seth Rollins “bought in” and aligned himself with The Authority.
This match did so much for Bryan’s standing in the grand scheme of things. His victory here elevated him and helped him transition into the main event scene after spending the past year as the center of WWE’s tag team division.
After getting mega-over in his own right while teaming with Kane, Bryan finally started getting pushed into main event caliber matches with some top tier WWE performers as 2013 wore on.
No one could get an exciting match out of Randy Orton like Daniel Bryan did. These two had barn burners on Raw on multiple occasions and main evented several big events, including WrestleMania XXX.
However, when looking at all their great one-on-one matches, this one is the outlier. This took place a few months before we saw Daniel Bryan screwed out of his WWE Championship by Triple H and before Randy Orton would become the centerpiece of The Authority’s vision for the WWE.
So while this match lacked the Authority angle, it did tell a very relatable story of the underdog finally being able to compete at the level of the “big boys.”
While Orton’s television matches are often formulaic and a proverbial yawn, he seemed particularly motivated while in the ring with one of the hottest babyfaces on the roster at the time.
My favorite moments from this match come from the two’s excellent use of the Singapore Cane. Especially Bryan, who used the cane as an alternative to his kicks as the fans chanted “Yes!” Then he worked it into the finish of the match as he locked in the Yes Lock to a prone Randy Orton. What an awesome visual!
After the match, Orton stared down the man who just made him submit and shook his hand. This match was Bryan coming into his own and finally getting that first push up the ladder he deserved.
An early favorite of mine from Bryan’s first year in the WWE. It was a match between the reigning WWE Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler, and the WWE United States Champion, Daniel Bryan.
This was for, as the Pay-Per-View implies, Bragging Rights as the second tier belt holder from Monday Night Raw battled the holder of the belt from Smackdown!
In 2010 Dolph Ziggler had really been picking up speed as a heel by capturing his first (of many) Intercontinental Championships. Daniel Bryan, on the other hand, was still just barely scratching the surface of his potential, but had already captured his first singles championship from his former NXT mentor, The Miz, on an episode of Raw.
The two future world champions wrestle a silky smooth match where Ziggler bumped harder, faster, and stronger than I have ever seen him bump before or since. He made Bryan look like an absolute badass with every swing of the leg. He may not have had the nickname yet, but Ziggler was definitely “showing off” here.
This was just a very interesting match-up between two men fans knew would go on to achieve so much. Their styles meshed very well together, and thankfully this wasn’t the last time we got to see the two of them go at it in the ring.
However, this still stands out as the men’s finest encounter. They were clearly both out to steal the show and make a statement that they were the most entertaining in-ring acts on the roster.
The only thing that could have made this better if they had had a decent story/rivalry to build this match. The action here was palpable, but it could have ascended even further up this list had they had a program to go along with it.
Yet another brilliant match in which Daniel Bryan faces off against another alumnae from Ring of Honor.
This match is even more impressive considering that it was Bryan’s second match in a row. He had just defeated Cesaro’s tag team partner, Jack Swagger, just moments before. He would, after defeating Cesaro here, then finish running the gauntlet by defeating Ryback.
This gauntlet was organized by Bryan and the Raw General Manager, Brad Maddox, to help prove that Daniel Bryan was a worthy challenger for John Cena’s WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2013. It turned out, he was more than worthy.
This match was between two of the stiffest performers on the WWE roster so everything they did to one another looked pretty magnificent.
In a change of pace for his styles, Bryan spent a portion of his match targeting the legs of the “Swiss Superman.” But after a multitude of uppercuts it looked like Cesaro might put Bryan down with the Very European Uppercut! Bryan doges and rolls up Cesaro for a quick three count before he could even realize it.
The real brilliance of this match was that neither men really relied on their finishing maneuvers to make the match engaging, despite going nearly twenty plus minutes.
It aided in making the performances feel fresh and unusual.
This is another instance where I wish we could have had a story to go along with the amazing in ring action. A few month long program between these two would have yielded some really interesting matches.
The apex of the “Yes Movement!”
The defining moment. The Daniel Bryan match that will live on for as long as wrestling is broadcasted on the airwaves.
The WWE really played this so wisely. The fans in New Orleans were not going to be cheering for Randy Orton to retain his WWE Championship after already holding the belt multiple times over the last decade. They were not going to be excited at the prospect of 40+ year old freshly returned Batista winning the title. Daniel Bryan was the one everyone wanted, and the Superdome fans let them know it.
This match was very much like a tribute to the Triple Threat main event from WrestleMania XX, ten years prior. In that same vain, the fans went into this match with same mindset of only wanting and cheering for one man to win. In this case, Daniel Bryan was far and away that man.
Orton and Batista of course were not going to be leaving WrestleMania with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but damn did they do a stupendous job of suspending our disbelief.
“The Apex Predator” seriously looked like he was going to defy every WWE fan’s wishes and escape with his unified championships at several points in the contest. Even “The Animal” looked to have a viable three count on one of the other two challengers at a few points.
The action was furious and every bell and whistle was put on this to stack the deck against Bryan. Two challengers. Triple H. Stephanie McMahon. The crooked referee, Brad Armstrong. It just wasn’t enough.
Daniel Bryan made Batista submit to regain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship which had been stolen from him over six months prior.
This will go down as one of the definitive moments of our generation, and one of the most heartwarming victories in WWE history.
This one gets overlooked a bit when talking about Bryan’s greatest matches, but I think, in-time, it will get its due place among Bryan’s most notable encounters.
Easily the best match Bray Wyatt has ever had and one of Bryan’s most brutal in the WWE. This opened the Royal Rumble event on the night when fans the world over were clamoring for Bryan to enter the Royal Rumble match and cement his spot in the main event of WrestleMania.
The fan reactions that Bryan were getting in the late months of 2013 and early months of 2014 were indescribable. Steve Austin level of reactions from fans who wanted nothing more than to see “their guy” climb to the top of the WWE. They fans in Pittsburgh were into every second of this.
Wyatt’s mannerisms and psychotic behavior really pull you in as well his illogical action. While Wyatt has no clear strategy, as he is supposed to be an unpredictable lunatic, Bryan smartly targets the apparent ankle injury of Wyatt and works on it with swift kicks for a large portion of the match.
Even though his offense and strategy were sound and made it appear as though victory was all but certain, Bryan lost to Wyatt and his haphazard tactics. Bray Wyatt was chaotic in this, and even hit a Sister Abigail to a still airborne Bryan on the outside directly into the barricade in one of the sickest spots of the night.
Another Sister Abigail to Bryan in the center of the ring spelled the end.
This was probably the best Bray Wyatt has ever looked in a WWE ring and at a time when his act was still very focused and fresh. Bryan really made him look like a crazed monster in this amazing clash of styles.
In 2012 CM Punk was the reigning WWE Champion and at the peak of his powers as Daniel Bryan was only just beginning to really find his niche with the WWE audience.
Of course, these two had done battle several times before they ever stepped foot in a WWE ring, but this was their first one on one encounter in the WWE.
Bryan was still finding his footing here as a main event player and wrestled a very brutal match here delivering a multitude of knees and kicks to Punk’s torso and limbs throughout the match.
It was just such a surreal experience to see two men who were once staples of Ring of Honor wrestle for the WWE Championship on pay-per-view. This was 2012, before WWE had really begun to sign every other internet darling the fans clamored to see in a WWE ring, it was still a very big deal to see two ROH alumni battle on the big stage in this manor.
The conclusion to this match was very much in question as Punk had already been the champion for over six months at this point, but despite the many believable false finishes he retained after turning the Yes Lock into a pinning maneuver and scoring the three just a moment before submitting.
They had another great match at Money in the Bank 2012, that could have far exceeded this one, had it not been for the overwhelming amount of focus the match put on special guest referee, AJ Lee.
This match was thrilling and technically very sound. It did a lot to establish Bryan as a believable main event draw going forward as he would eventually win his first world title several months later.
This match had everything going for it. The hottest babyface in the company, a great lengthy storyline to play off of, and two of the best wrestlers in the world.
This was part one of the two part culmination of Daniel Bryan’s “Yes Movement!” that proved to be one of the most frustrating and fullfilling times in recent professional wrestling memory!
After months of built up anger the rabid Daniel Bryan fans got what they wanted when Triple H agreed to battle Bryan in a match at WrestleMania XXX in which the victory would continue to the main event and battle Batista and Randy Orton for the WWE Championship.
The COO of WWE only agreed after Bryan and his “Yes Movement” took over Monday Night Raw and demanded a match with Triple H at WrestleMania.
Despite viewer’s anger and impatience the WWE’s slow build towards Bryan’s ascension up the ladder was masterfully told despite many fans worrying that Bryan wouldn’t be in the main event of WrestleMania at all. Battling WWE’s COO Triple H, the man who shortened his first WWE Championship reign to just a few minutes, for a chance to regain the title made perfect sense.
The two were perfect foils for one another as “The Game” has always worked some of his best matches with smaller, more agile, submission based athletes. Bryan, naturally, worked well with anyone they sat in front of him.
Triple H brought all the technical wrestling and ring psychology to this match as he spent a majority of the show’s opener targeting the injured shoulder of his challenger.
Regardless of this tactic Bryan would hit the Running Knee for the victory and one of the biggest wins in his career. The crowd was so into it and win Bryan was announced as the winner the crowd lost their mind as they knew their uncrowned champion might leave WrestleMania XXX with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
For me, this is the match that finally surpassed Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart’s iconic clash in London as the definitive SummerSlam classic.
Some might see that as an overestimate on this main event, but it stands as the best match and story between the two most over men in the company at the time.
John Cena entered this match with a huge target on his elbow as an injury had caused it to swell and force the WWE Champion to wear a protective elbow pad. It played well into the story of the match as Bryan took advantage of the weakness at every opportunity.
So many false finishes, submission holds, and even a hilarious spot were the two just start slapping the shit out of one another repeatedly.
It was an amazing match and a very memorable clash as Cena and Bryan had very few interactions before or after this main event. Bryan beat John Cena after a sick looking knee to the head and won the WWE Championship all on his own!
Though only for a moment as Triple H, the special referee, would Pedigree the newly crowned champion making way for Money in the Bank winner, Randy Orton to cash in his championship opportunity.
Huge props to Cena for doing the favors on this night and helping make Daniel Bryan look like the superstar he deserved to be.
This was the first night of what would go on to be an over six months story line that featured Daniel Bryan struggling against The Authority. It was the perfect set-up to what would go on to be “The Yes Movement” and the definitive story of Daniel Bryan’s career.
“Here I stand. Unbroken. With these people behind me. I am stronger than ever.”
— Daniel Bryan