In two of his contributions to Fighting Spirit Magazine and Cornette’s Commentaries, Jim Cornette discusses the thin line between love and hate in wrestling in one, and the historic rise of the art form in both Britain and America, highlighting the key contributions of legitimate tough men in the business. This theme is expanded upon in the book ‘Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling’ by Jonathan Snowden, which concludes with a resounding chapter that suggests Daniel Bryan maybe the latest in a long lasting tradition of legitimate tough athletes in professional wrestling.
In his FSM article, “It’s a thin line between love and hate”, J.C. analyses the Daniel Bryan situation, i.e. where a performer is so good at being hated, the fans inevitably end up cheering them. For example in his autobiography, The Rock mentions an incident when he asked Vince why the fans were cheering him when he was trying to be booed; McMahon responded simply “They appreciate creativity.” Although Cornette credits the modern audience as being the quickest to respond to someone being so bad they’re good, he also acknowledges that this phenomenon is not new and that the anti-hero has existed throughout history, citing ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, the Dirty Dusek brothers in the 1930s, the original ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers, Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher in the 1960s and even Memphis legend Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler.
This appreciation from the fans might be achieved in a number of ways, whether being anti-authority or a cool guy people would want to get a drink with, being that damn good for that damn long every night or a cocky smartarse that always had something memorable to say. During his days in ROH, Cornette states that they allowed the fans to chant for whomever they wanted, and whoever was able to obtain the largest reaction from the crowd would receive more bookings.
Daniel Bryan appears to satisfy these criteria without a doubt and has been rewarded as such. For people complaining about his position, he has main evented three consecutive pay-per-views (SummerSlam, Night Of Champions and Hell In A Cell), gone on to work a programme with another of WWE’s hottest products with The Wyatt Family and is now back in contention for a title match against Randy Orton (having defeated him twice on Monday Night Raw no less). Prior to this, although losing a large number of matches, he was always in some angle or another, with Team Hell No, the World Heavyweight Championship, AJ Lee, Sheamus, the Money in the Bank, the U.S. title and The Nexus – not to mention receiving the loudest reactions from the WWE fans, so loud they even eclipsed The Rock, Shawn Michaels and the Championship Ascension Ceremony.
But there is another reason why WWE may want to get behind Daniel Bryan. In ‘Shooters’ and summarised in an article written by Jim Cornette on the ‘Cornette Commentaries’ section of his website, professional wrestling has had a long time affiliation and attraction to legitimate tough men in wrestling. Chronicling back to the days of William Muldoon, George Hackenschmidt, Frank Gotch, Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis, Lou Thesz, Danny Hodge and more recently Ken Shamrock, Steve Blackman, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, professional wrestling’s affiliation with tough men has been a long one and Daniel Bryan is another to add to the list.
As a passionate and dedicated practitioner of the grappling arts, Daniel Bryan has rolled around with UFC legend Randy Couture and trained alongside Neil Melanson, a catch-as-catch-can aficionado. Melanson described Bryan as “a tough bastard” and “a legit grappler.” Bryan credits Melanson with teaching him the LeBell lock, taught to Melanson by tough man ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell himself (the move is an omoplata with a cross face).
In addition to a well-received reputation as one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, Bryan appears to be winning on three fronts as someone who respects wrestling’s long lineage and proud tradition, a good representative for the company as a genuine human being and a connection that is currently second-to-none with the WWE fans.
Triple H stated in his promo after his actions at SummerSlam, costing Daniel Bryan the WWE Championship, “It always makes me laugh how short sighted you people are, you can never see the bigger picture”. Let’s hope that was meant tongue in cheek and that we continue to see the rise of Daniel Bryan, for whichever reason: his in-ring talent, his charisma or his respect for the business.
Originally written for Wrestle Talk TV, available HERE, on 20/02/14.