Welcome again, Daniel Bryan.
He has returned to the active WWE list since WrestleMania, but Daniel Bryan's second act as a great fighting star has been largely disappointing until last week. He was treated as a supporting cast member in his first leg game, a long-awaited fight with The Miz as if there had been no real reason after a few exceptional first weeks, and Bryan had not really had a great game since his return . The good news was that this did not seem to have anything to do with the health problems that had previously led to retirement. It was a WWE bad practice of a standard theme: Bryan was not receiving particularly good stories and the best ones were repeatedly surrounded. Seeing such a brilliant actor, a talent of all times as a fighter in the ring and a great legitimate talker too, suffocated to such a degree, was increasingly frustrating. Bryan was known for his experimental narrative outside the WWE, but he did not seem to have a story to tell.
Anyway, that's over now. Bryan is back, and he's fine.
As part of a last-minute reorganization at the 32nd annual event of the WWE Survivors Series, which took place on Sunday, Bryan won the WWE Championship of A.J. Styles That match itself was quite fun, but the one he created for Bryan was more attractive: a champion versus champion fight with the universal champion Brock Lesnar. It's a game that fans have been demanding to go back several years, especially once it became known that they were scheduled for SummerSlam 2014 before Bryan was left out due to a neck injury.
In retrospect, it was probably better to wait. That SummerSlam was during the middle of the rehabilitation tour of Brock Lesnar, when years of bad post-come-off creativities were undone to make Brock the company's big monster. John Cena took on the role of Bryan in that process, until the original plan: get the shit out of him in a dominant way on the road to Lesnar that took his world title, which had previously been Bryan's. Since Bryan's return, he and Lesnar have been on the separate lists of Raw and SmackDown, which made the now annual untitled championship against Survivor Series champion the only clear way to make this particular dream match happen. out of an elaborate WrestleMania story.
However, there is a complicating factor here: most of Lesnar's matches are a little stinky these days. When it is delivered, it is thanks to the shortcuts (blood, weapons, fast games, etc.) or to be in the ring with one of the best professional wrestling narrators in the world. His good recent matches with The Undertaker and Bill Goldberg were the first kind of success, his game Survivor Series a year ago against Styles was the last. However, Lesnar's relative lameness did not matter against Bryan. Revitalized by the victory of the title and a sudden villain turn, starting on Tuesday night SmackDown LiveApparently, Bryan has found clarity / been crazed thanks too much time in a hyperbaric chamber. Bryan not only brought the necessary visceral emotion, although he did. He also delivered Daniel Bryan's first real game in years.
When Bryan left his mark as the world's best fighter on the independent scene from the mid to late 2000s, under his real name of Bryan Danielson, he set out to make his narrative differently from everyone else. Especially once he became the Ring of Honor champion in 2005, his matches were as likely to end suddenly as they were through his distinctive moves. One night I'd have an elaborate chain of fake finishes, just to catch a quick crib on a different opponent the next, or go over with a sudden flurry of punches in the game after that. This approach recognized something elementary about wrestling as a form that, however, is often overlooked: a wrestler who can win in multiple ways also has multiple ways to make a match spectacular.
The best fighters can do this; just look how much A.J. WWE Styles matches benefit from having four different and established final moves. Daniel Bryan's best games are like that, but because it's not usually so flashy, he perceives a greater danger for any new movement that could explode. His defense of the ROH title of 2006 against KENTA (now Hideo Itami in WWE) is still one of the best matches I've seen live, largely due to the way his story was developed. The public loses the feeling that it is ahead of the artists. In an era of excessive movement, Bryan never seems to be trying to overcome his last movement with something bigger. It seems that he is trying to win the fight he is in.
In WWE, one of Bryan's best games came in his title win against John Cena at SummerSlam 2013. Despite Bryan's victory very different dance buddies, that SummerSlam match is more like your classic against KENTA than anything else Bryan has done for WWE. Dinner can be Dinner, that is, a square-jawed bodybuilder, oddly geeky and a joke fan who works in a very entertaining but very WWE style, but somehow it fit perfectly into a starting design that Bryan had previously mastered against a Japanese junior heavyweight punter who worked a very physical style, not WWE. And as it is about Bryan, the end saw him beat Cena cleanly with a new final move, the old Buisaku Knee Kick from KENTA, something he had never used in the promotion before. And because Bryan, you know, beat John Cena With it, it instantly became one of the most protected and protected movements in the WWE.
But let's go back to Bryan and Lesnar on Sunday night. The first half of the match was, inevitably, like all Brock Lesnar's games. Lesnar defeated Bryan, threw him too high and upright in some suplexes before mitigating the big potholes, and made a point of showing the crowd that he was playing with his food. Instead of dropping the count of referees, Lesnar would pick up Bryan and continue the beating. It is an old troop, but it was enough to think that this match was not going to end and avoid taking the same tired and demoralizing aspect of a typical Lesnar squash match. When Brock finally decided to get Bryan out of his misery, he became careless, trying to get his F5 player to come too close to the referee and knock him down. Bryan took the opportunity to strip Brock in the trash. From there, the game was rolling.
Bryan stomped on Lesnar. He kicked hell out of the legs of the beast. When the greatest man recovered the signs of life, Bryan would attract him to chase and dodge, causing it to crash and burn. Bryan was technically a villain and, convincingly, a happily violent cocoon, but somehow he did all this in a way that was clearly designed to make you support him. That is an incredibly difficult line to handle, and somehow it made it work. When Brock picked him up for the F5 again … only to collapse in Bryan's Yes Lock because his leg had been chewed, work. He turned Lesnar's implacable habitual inevitability into something wilder and more surprising. Immediately he thought that, somehow, DANIEL BRYAN could make BROCK LESNAR tap.
(It is also, to be perfectly fair, a testament to Lesnar's brilliant ability to make his opponents look good, which is a limit genius when he decides to do so).
However, unlike most of Lesnar's games, when Brock went off again and finally reached the F5 for the win, it did not feel like an anticlimactic stupidity. He felt entirely won. Both fighters did their job brilliantly. Each one elevated the other.
There are many great professional wrestlers these days. Many of them are really smart, and many are better athletes than the ramshackle two-decade-old professional who shared the ring with Brock Lesnar on Sunday. But game by game and moment by moment, there is still only one Bryan Danielson, and he is the absolute and undisputed genius of the professional fight of his generation. After these last five years, which made him the biggest and most unexpected star in wrestling just for the pursuit of his life to be torn out of him in a brutal and depressing way, Bryan deserves all the recognition he can get. He has returned, and we should treasure it for as long as we have it.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, New York, who is co-host of the podcast Between The Sheets every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and anywhere else where podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and see his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.