I've been trying to put together my thoughts on this for a few hours now, but in reality a lot of that was me stalling until Raw, hoping against hope that this was all some sort of angle. But it's not. Bryan Danielson has had too many concussions, and now he has to retire.
Bryan plays a huge part in my five favorite matches of all time (vs. Nigel McGuinness at Rising Above 2008, vs. KENTA at Glory By Honor V: Night 2, vs. Roderick Strong at Vendetta, vs. Low Ki at Round Robin Challenge, and the first Survival of the Fittest match... and I'm sure if I rewatched them, there'd be quite a few more Danielson vs. McGuinness matches up there, too). He was in the semi-main event of the first show I ever saw live and the main event of the second. He was the first guy I had the opportunity to point to and say "I saw this guy on the indies and he's going to make it in WWE" and he did. His WWE World Heavyweight Title victory at WrestleMania XXX is one of my favorite WWE moments.
I was at my cousins' house for a family occasion one night and got to chatting wrestling with my cousins' uncle (on the other side), who has worked for WWE as a photographer (he even did Hunter and Steph's wedding). He asked me who my favorite wrestlers were, and I said Bryan, Kane, and Taker. He then went on for about three minutes just talking about how nice Bryan was to everyone backstage. Never in my life had I been more relieved to find out that an athlete I admired was a legitimately nice person. (As fate would have it, twenty-four hours after this conversation took place, Bryan won his first world title in WWE).
When it comes to Kane, I am a mark. I enjoy watching him because I like big, cool power moves and when I first started watching, he had a really cool aura about him and used my all-time favorite move, the chokeslam, as a finisher. I think Kane is a lot better than most people give him credit for, but I know that he's not Shawn Michaels.
I know that Bryan Danielson isn't Shawn Michaels, either. Bryan Danielson is better than Shawn Michaels.
Bryan is someone who appeals to me on all levels of my fandom. He one of the all-time best in the ring (and possibly the single most versatile competitor ever: he can do strong style, pure wrestling, faux-MMA, World of Sport, Strong Style, Lucha Libre, American pro wrestling, comedy, indy-riffic spotfests... anything). He is a great babyface and a great heel, both in the ring and on the mic. He can be intense, funny, angry, sad, happy, sympathetic, or any other emotion you need, and comes off as completely sincere... because Bryan Danielson is completely sincere. There is a fantastic honesty about him and thus everything he says, even when he is playing a character, comes off as honest.
With Bryan, he is simultaneously someone I mark out for and someone who I smark out for, and also someone who is just such a great guy that you can't help but want to see him succeed. And succeed he did. Much farther than anyone thought he could possibly go in WWE. But he overcame every obstacle, every stereotype. He beat all of Vince's preconceived notions and he made it to the mountaintop.
And now the journey is over. I had been holding out hope that he would come back, or that, like Rey Mysterio Jr., they would let him out of his contract and he would go wrestle for ROH and New Japan and EVOLVE and NOAH and I'd get to see him put on killer matches again. But it was not to be. I'm sad and I'm upset and a little bit angry at the world for taking this fantastic performer away from us the fans and away from what he loves to do... but if he's okay with it, I guess I have to be, too.
Between DVDs, the WWE Network, and puro matches on YouTube and DailyMotion, I've got fifteen years' worth of Bryan Danielson footage and I've never been more thankful for it than I am right now.
THANK YOU, DRAGON!