Earlier this week, Daniel Bryan had to retire due to his lingering injuries, primarily due to his string of concussions. I was never the biggest Bryan fan but like so many other fans, I was wrapped up in the mania that was the YES Movement and wanted to see Bryan win the title that he had proven he deserved. I’m not sure where this is going to go but today we’re going to look at some of the high points in Bryan’s WWE career. I know he wrestled everywhere, but it’s almost impossible to fit that long of a career into such a short space so we’ll stay on the top level.

We’ll start with what people might not realize: Bryan only wrestled in WWE (on the main roster that is) for about five years. He debuted back on the original incarnation of NXT as The Miz’s rookie and had his last match in April 2015. That’s not even counting the time off between his injury in 2014 and his return in January 2015. In reality, Bryan had about four and a half years on the main roster, assuming you count his time on the first season of NXT as the main roster.

However, in those years, he wrestled at five Wrestlemanias (including one pre-show). At those five Wrestlemanias, he wrestled for five different titles (United States Title, World Heavyweight Championship, Tag Team Titles, WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Intercontinental Title). How many people can say that they had a title match at Wrestlemania, and how many people can say they had five different title matches at Wrestlemania? While he may not be the biggest star of all time, it was clear that WWE saw something special in Bryan and treated him as something big while he was around.

Speaking of special, the moment that people remember is the title win over Randy Orton and Batista in the main event of “Wrestlemania XXX.” Now it’s true that it was one of the best moments in wrestling history and something that we’ll come back to later on, but the moment I always liked was “Summerslam 2013.” Let’s take a look back at this.

After “Money in the Bank 2013”, WWE World Heavyweight Champion John Cena needed a fresh challenger and was allowed to select his next opponent. At this point, it was clear that Bryan was the hottest act in the company and the only man who could really be given the title shot at that particular show. It was clearly Bryan’s time to ascend to the main event and there was no stopping him.

However, to the shock of a lot of people, Bryan not only hung with Cena every step of the way but he pinned Cena clean in the middle of the ring in a Match of the Year candidate. This was the rise of Bryan into the next main event star and the big ending of him pinning Cena with the debut of the running knee to the chest made the whole thing work as well as it ever could have.

Before we get to the biggest moment in Bryan’s WWE career, let’s take a look back at one of the things that really brought Bryan up to the next level: Team HELL NO. Now this is something that had been done before, but in this case it was done so well that it’s hard not to look at how great it really was.

The idea is very simple: Bryan was a small guy partnered with a monster in Kane. The idea had been done many times with people like Big Show and almost any other partner, but for some reason Kane and Bryan pulled it off as well as almost any pair ever had. The key to the whole thing was taking the team outside the arena and letting them interact in front of people.

For instance we saw the two of them at an anger management session (as the team was put together due to both of them having anger issues) with Kane listing off the history of his character, which really is strange when you hear it from outside the context of a wrestling show. Lines like “I buried my brother alive. Twice actually.” sound insane to normal people but the comedy works so much better when you see someone from outside wrestling react to them.

Bryan was more than a big deal in the team as well with his shouting more than matching Kane’s growling. This was where the goat face look and name started to become a bigger deal with Bryan embracing the new look and turning into what he would be best known as. It also started showing that Bryan had a strong personality underneath the wrestling persona and could showcase charisma instead of just being great in the ring.

That’s a forgotten part of the team: they worked very well together between the bells. Bryan could do the majority of the match before bringing in Kane for the hot tag and power stuff. The team certainly had success as well with the longest Tag Team Title reign in three and a half years and being part of the first three man team to defeat the Shield in a six man tag (with Bryan getting the fall). While they may not be an all time great team, they were one of the most entertaining acts in a long time in WWE and a lot of that was due to everything that Bryan was doing.

That leaves us with the big one: the YES Movement and Bryan’s rise to the main event of “Wrestlemania XXX”. Where do you even begin with this one? This is the kind of thing that you don’t see very often and the whole thing worked perfectly. Bryan became the everyman character that is almost guaranteed to be a huge hit but is also almost impossible to pull off.

The idea that the company was holding someone back that the fans wanted to see was straight out of Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon but instead of having it be the man who already was the big star, this was someone who wanted to be the big star. The whole story started back at “Summerslam 2013” when the Authority turned on Bryan and cost him the title, sending Bryan down the road to Wrestlemania as he tries to get what rightfully belongs to him.

And then, the show itself. Bryan defeated Triple H to open the show in one of the best matches of the year and then capped it off by defying the odds in winning the title in a triple threat over Randy Orton and Batista, finally making himself WWE World Champion once and for all (or at least until his neck was injured or until Brock Lesnar got to destroy him at “Summerslam 2014”, whichever came first). Music played, confetti fell and Bryan was the king of wrestling.

I was lucky enough to be at “Wrestlemania XXX” and I got a piece of that confetti that fell from the ceiling. Earlier today I found the piece in my closet and I looked at it for a second. While that show had multiple amazing moments, the one thing that I thought of more than anything else was Bryan. It was his story that brought a lot of people into the SuperDome that night and he’s going to be the thing that people think back when they remember that show. It was an amazing night, but it was Bryan’s night.

I’m sad to see Bryan have to hang it up before he was ready to, but no matter how it ended, Bryan’s career gave us some amazing moments that wrestling fans are never going to forget. I’m glad that his health can recover now that he’s out of the ring for good, but I’m actually going to miss him. That’s not something I ever expected to happen as I wasn’t the biggest Bryan fan even at the peak of his career, but Bryan managed to win me over through hard work and effort. Those are the things that Bryan did as well as anyone else and it’s going to be what he’s best remembered for, as he should be.

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