The Return Of Bryan Danielson

The rumor mill was swirling yesterday regarding the status of Bryan Danielson, the grappler known as Daniel Bryan that exited the WWE after a career vs. title match on Smackdown in April. The former World Heavyweight champion spent three years on the sidelines based on the WWE doctors recommendation before he made a comeback, still as one of the most popular competitions on the roster.

However, after those three years of the prime of his career outside of the ring, it seems like the former Ring Of Honor champion might shift the latter stages of his career to a purist perspective and accomplish some of his remaining career goals before he finally hangs up the boots entirely. Obviously, this is much easier to do at this point in his career because his WWE tenure granted him financial stability, and the exposure itself made him a big enough star that he will make top money outside of the WWE bubble as well.

Ironically, the former ROH star was trending on Twitter at the same time as another ROH alumni, CM Punk, but as is the case with his career as a whole, CM Punk is a much more complicated issue for a return to the ring than Bryan Danielson.

Of course with “The American Dragon” as a free agent, the speculation started almost immediately after his WWE exit that he might eventually ink a deal with All Elite Wrestling, which seems even more reasonable now because of the company’s working agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling, an organization that Bryan had said he wanted to compete for in the past. Granted, American Dragon doesn’t need the AEW bridge, but it certainly makes things easier if one of two of the opponents he would like to work with are brought into All Elite for the matches because it could be one less trip to Japan, which might be an important factor because of his family.

As mentioned, Daniel Bryan is at a point where he can do specifically what he wants to do in his career, an aspect that we saw from Rey Mysterio several years ago when he opted to decline a WWE offer to get to work in Mexico again before he concludes his time as a full-time wrestler. Quite simply, WWE doesn’t offer that flexibility or freedom for performers that take more of an artist approach to the sport. That’s not to say that there’s anything necessarily wrong with WWE’s view point because that strict ideology of WWE as the top priority is one of the many reasons it’s a billion dollar company today.

That said, the overall landscape of the pro wrestling industry is at an unprecedented status in some ways because there are continuous global working agreements among major promotions that are beneficial to everyone involved. Jay White made a surprise appearance at the conclusion of the recent Impact pay-per-view, the New Japan IWGP US belt changed hands on an episode of Dynamite, and Nick Gage, an unsigned wrestler, is scheduled for a match against Chris Jericho, one of the biggest stars in All Elite Wrestling. Considering the current climate and the dynamics of the industry, there are definitely opportunities for Bryan Danielson to compete against virtually anyone he wants to in any major promotion, assuming they can meet his price.

As much as his early career helped put Ring Of Honor on the map, I really don’t see any productive opportunities there for him, particularly because of the status of the organization. Keep in mind, ROH is still used as relatively cheap original programming for Sinclair Broadcasting more than a major player in the sports entertainment industry. Basically, Sinclair is in the television business, not the pro wrestling business. It goes without saying that New Japan has several potential dream matches on the table for Danielson and it’s a win-win for the promotion as well as the fans. Danielson vs. Tanahashi, Okada, and Suzuki are just a few of the bouts that would generate a major buzz for the company. That would be extremely helpful for the Japanese group because their revenue and tour schedule were affected during the pandemic. The American Dragon actually worked for NJPW relatively early in his career, but he’s a completely different performer now and the company is on a different level as well so there’s major money for everyone involved if he inks a Japanese deal. Danielson talked about potentially working some matches in Mexico, but the economics of the two major promotions, AAA and CMLL, probably make it an unrealistic option.

Obviously, All Elite Wrestling will be on the table and there are already some reports that Danielson signed a contract. I don’t necessarily have any reason to doubt it, but until there’s an official announcement or he shows up in AEW, I will consider it just a rumor. That said, it would be a major acquisition for All Elite on a number of levels. Danielson is one of the best in-ring performers of his generation and there’s an argument that he could be considered one of the all-time greats of any era. Furthermore, he’s one of the most popular stars of his generation so he would undoubtedly bring more exposure to AEW.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this, particularly because of the rumors of CM Punk potentially signing with AEW as well, two stellar talents that WWE management never fully utilized could bring main stream exposure to an alternative option for fans. The WWE never fully got behind Punk and only did so after his status as a potential pop culture figure was hinder in the few months following the pipe bomb promo. Remember when Punk dropped the title the month after he beat John Cena at the legendary MITB PPV in Chicago and then a month after that Triple H pinned him? Despite the narrative that WWE tries to spin now, there were originally no plans for Daniel Bryan in the main event of Wrestlemania in 2014. It was initially supposed to be Randy Orton vs. Batista based on the publicity of Batista’s movie role. The office didn’t want Daniel Bryan as a top star, and it took the fans chanting his name throughout the entire show for management to get the point. Even after the main event run, Bryan probably wasn’t utilized to his fullest potential because the following year, Roman Reigns became the top priority for a baby face push that flopped for several years. Maybe if management had a better track record of making the most of potential opportunities then this AEW scernio wouldn’t be a consideration for Danielson. Daniel Bryan got over organically and spontaneously to become the most popular performer on the roster. That is something that the dozens of writers on the writing team can’t script or plan. When the opportunity presented itself management didn’t truly run with it so there’s a limit for how Daniel Bryan will be pushed in WWE. Taking that into consideration, what else can he accomplish in the WWE? The rumors suggest that if Bryan Danielson is signed that his debut would be at the stadium show in September, which makes sense because it’s a major stage. Considering that Tony Khan is willing to pay for music rights, it would be quite a spectacle if “Final Countdown,” Danielson’s signature ROH theme song, played throughout the building when he made his debut for the company.

It’s often said that professional wrestling is about the moments and it would certainly be a memorable moment for the industry if Bryan Danielson showed up in AEW with an enthusiastic crowd cheering for him.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta
E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta