Let’s switch things up here for a bit. Usually, WWE.com goes internal for its Editors’ Choice lists and gives our writers a chance to talk about not just why a match was special, but why it was special for them as a fan. Well, this time we’re riding shotgun to one of the biggest wrestling fans, and biggest Superstars, out there: Daniel Bryan. WWE.com initially approached the then-WWE World Heavyweight Champion about taking the helm on a “Superstar’s Choice” list wherein he would select his 15 favorites and we’d play rhythm section, adding our own observations and memories on top of his.
Of course, then Bryan went down with a neck injury and the experiment was shelved in the name of good taste. But with The Beard back in action and headed to the Royal Rumble Match, we’re back on track and cooking with gas. So, without further ado, we give you Daniel Bryan’s 15 favorite Daniel Bryan matches, as selected in no particular order by the man himself.
WE SAID: If there was any one moment that cemented Daniel Bryan as a main eventer and an “A+ player” in the eyes of the WWE Universe, it was The “Yes!” Man’s WWE Championship clash against John Cena on Aug. 19, 2013. Hand-picked by The Champ himself to vie for the WWE Title at SummerSlam, Bryan faced his fair share of critics and detractors — including WWE management — as he approached the biggest match of his career at that point.
Despite the grueling uphill climb to the spotlight that would have emotionally exhausted most of his peers, Bryan gave the indomitable Cenation leader one of his most challenging matches yet. Countering Cena’s time-tested array of power moves with swift strikes and the very same mat tactics that dazzled more modest crowds in armories and high school gymnasiums, Bryan brought the capacity STAPLES Center crowd to its feet as he stunned Cena with an incredible running knee strike to score the pinfall and the title. Even though Randy Orton and the bout’s nefarious special guest referee, Triple H, would spoil Bryan’s WWE Championship celebrations with a Money in the Bank cash-in plot, no one could truly take away what The “Yes!” Man had earned in his clash at SummerSlam. Daniel Bryan as we know him had arrived. —JAMES WORTMAN
HE SAID: “It was my first time really being in the main event of a pay-per-view as a singles wrestler. It was just an amazing moment, because SummerSlam was always my favorite event as a kid.”
WE SAID: Give Daniel Bryan credit for his improvisational skills. Saddled with a “weak link” label after Team Hell No split unceremoniously, Bryan kicked off summer 2013 on a mission to prove he was a top player in WWE. Standing in his way was one of sports-entertainment’s entrenched standard-bearers, Randy Orton.
Squaring off in this epic finale to their mini-rivalry, Bryan and Orton hit each other with everything but the kitchen sink in an App-voted Street Fight, but Bryan’s ability to adjust his skill set to Orton’s brutal style made his victory memorable. While trapped in the “Yes!” Lock, Orton reached for a Kendo stick to pound his way out of the hold. But Bryan blocked the first hit and stretched the foreign object on the bridge of Orton’s nose for a lethal twist on his signature hold. With splinters flying, Orton tapped, and the rest is history. — JEFF LABOON
BRYAN SAID: “One of my favorite matches as far as my career advancement was wrestling Randy Orton on Raw. [A couple of] weeks before I was wrestling Randy and the match got stopped because I had a stinger. It was very frustrating and I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’ But it ended up being one of the springboards that led me into the match with John Cena at SummerSlam.”
WE SAID: While the main event of Over the Limit 2012 was John Cena vs. John Laurinaitis, the longest and best match on the card was, without question, CM Punk defending the WWE Championship against Daniel Bryan. With the WWE Universe evenly split in their support of the indie veterans, the two overachievers put on wrestling clinic in front of a sold-out crowd.
WWE Network: "LET'S-GO-BRY-AN/C-M-PUNK!"
In the end, CM Punk countered the “Yes!” Lock by bridging and putting Bryan on his shoulders for a pin, only tapping a split-second after the three-count sealed the match in his favor. Was it a screwjob? A decisive win by the champion? Or a lucky break by the narrowest of margins for The Voice of the Voiceless? As if you didn’t have enough reasons to subscribe to WWE Network, the pleasure of reliving this match and deciding for yourself is one more. — @JOEYSTYLES
BRYAN SAID: “It was really neat for me to be able to wrestle Punk for the WWE Championship on a pay-per-view because we’d had so much history on the independents. We went out there and we did a lot of wrestling, which you don’t see a lot of anymore.”
WE SAID: A perfect example of bitter rivals coming to a brutal endgame, the bout was one of the best mixes of hardcore, technical and Japanese strong-style competition that sports-entertainment has ever produced. The two warriors pulling each other by chain off aprons and turnbuckles, Bryan hitting a man nearly twice his weight with a German suplex and the vicious chain-wrapped elbows to Morishima — followed by a Cattle Mutilation for the win — are moments that are forever etched in anyone who was lucky enough (myself included) to be in the crowd that night.
The match’s stipulation meant anything was legal, and Bryan used it to showcase his abilities to go extreme and never say die. It was apparent the instant it was over that Ring of Honor couldn’t contain this man, and Daniel Bryan would one day take WWE by storm. — MIKE MURPHY
BRYAN SAID: “This is where you’re going to start hearing the word ‘aggregate.’ I’m picking this match, but it’s really an aggregate of matches [I had against Morishima]. The match at Final Battle 2008 was nearly a year and a half in the making. It’s called a Fight Without Honor in Ring of Honor, which was essentially our Street Fight. It’s something I was very proud of because we were the main event of that show in New York City and we sold out the Manhattan Center of 2,500 people without any television, [because] that was before Ring of Honor had TV. That, to me, was really cool and special and shows just how into the product the fans were at the time.”
WE SAID: Asked to vote for Daniel Bryan’s opponent on the WWE App, WWE fans paved the way for the first WWE meeting of Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins. Thank God they did. While the two had faced off on several occasions in Ring of Honor, the settings of those matches could not compare to doing battle on global television. Not surprisingly, it was a spectacular match that demonstrated to the world that a younger and hungrier group of WWE Superstars were ready to take over WWE’s main events. In the closing moments of the outstanding athletic contest, Randy Orton thwarted the interference of Roman Reigns, allowing The Beard to catch his opponent with a small package for the win. — @JOEYSTYLES
Superstar roundtable: NXT's hungry young lions tell all
BRYAN SAID: “Again, this is an aggregate pick. I picked this one because Seth Rollins is an interesting case for me. He was a fan of Ring of Honor when I was main-eventing Ring of Honor, so he would come to shows. And then he main-evented shows at Ring of Honor with me. And then here we are wrestling each other live on Raw. We went out there and had a great match. Our styles just meshed so well. Same thing with …”
WE SAID: Prior to squaring off with John Cena in SummerSlam 2013’s main event for the WWE Championship, Daniel Bryan competed in a grueling gauntlet of matches on the July 22 edition of Raw that would further validate The “Yes!” Man’s upcoming spot atop WWE’s summer classic.
Facing the second of three opponents, The Beard went toe-to-toe with fellow indie legend and Ring of Honor veteran Cesaro in a bout that had an electric Austin, Texas, crowd chanting, “This is awesome!” Between The Swiss Superman’s jaw-rattling Very European Uppercuts and Bryan’s skin-smashing kicks, these two ring generals traded thundering strikes that could be heard throughout the Lone Star State.
Just as Cesaro attempted to land yet another devastating Very European Uppercut, the resilient Bryan countered the impactful maneuver with a small package to overcome his hard-hitting foe in one of the year’s top matches. — SCOTT TAYLOR
BRYAN SAID: “Being able to go out there with [Cesaro] and just wrestle in front of the WWE crowd and [having] them really be into it … it’s a different style than most WWE [Superstars] who come through NXT. It’s a different style of wrestling for those who have been on the independents and wrestled each other for years. And I really like that.”
WE SAID: In every competitor’s career, there are bouts that change them — sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, sometimes both. For Daniel Bryan, it took a trip across the pond to Liverpool, England, to learn a valuable lesson of what going too far truly means.
The match had tremendous implications, as the winner would unify Ring of Honor’s two most significant singles championships: Bryan’s ROH World Title and Nigel McGuinness’s ROH Pure Title. The American Dragon, caught up in the moment, seemed determined to leave his opponent — then considered one of the world’s best — in a messy heap. The Englishman had his hometown country’s support, despite Bryan mounting a relentlessly vicious beating.
Bryan’s victory foreshadowed his hoisting up the WWE World Heavyweight Title belts at WrestleMania 30, but the conquest ultimately provided an education in limits and the genuine dangers of ring battle. — ZACH LINDER
BRYAN SAID: “Again, I picked this one, but there was a whole slew of matches with Nigel that I could have picked. This one in particular was memorable because we were in England. Nigel is English, and the crowd was just going crazy for him. They hated me. He was bleeding, the emotion was running high. It was a really cool match.”
WE SAID: In the final months of his 462-day reign as Ring of Honor Champion, Daniel Bryan defended his title in New York City’s Manhattan Center against a Japanese sensation who would later emerge in WWE NXT as Hideo Itami. Then billing himself with the stylized handle of KENTA, the Pro Wrestling Noah standout possessed a style that was extraordinarily similar to Bryan’s — both favored heavy strikes, wrenching submissions and an unmistakable arrogance — and the resulting battle became one of The American Dragon’s defining bouts as champion.
In a match that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin may have described as “snug,” Bryan and KENTA exchanged blistering kicks that seemed capable of shattering bone. At one point, the champion became so frustrated with the challenger’s constant boots that he began throwing careless headbutts that cautioned his own wellbeing. Despite his recklessness, Bryan ultimately locked Itami in his Cattle Mutilation submission hold — after countless attempts — to secure the victory. It was ugly, but the war instilled a respect in both men that persists to this day. — RYAN MURPHY
BRYAN SAID: “I’d just separated my shoulder and torn a couple of tendons maybe three weeks before going into the Manhattan Center again in New York City. The emotion was very, very high, everybody knew I was hurt, and KENTA kept kicking the crap out of my arm. My sister was in the crowd and she actually cried. I consider wrestling art. You want people to be entertained. If you can, make ‘em laugh, but when you really get ‘em, you make ‘em cry. And that was one of those matches that was able to do that.”
WE SAID: One of the great things about Daniel Bryan is that he can pull off any type of match. And this catch-as-catch can clinic wasn’t the type of thing you’d typically see The Beard competing in on Raw or SmackDown.
Bryan and William Regal have plenty of history together as the grappler from Blackpool, England, was very influential in the Aberdeen, Wash., native’s early career development. So, naturally, when WWE traveled across the Atlantic in 2011, Bryan and Regal treated the British fans to an old-style grappling match on “WWE Superstars.” Paying tribute to the style of British greats like Marty Jones and Pete Roberts, the student and the teacher proved you didn’t need top rope dives and tables to create a stirring classic in the squared circle. — TOM LIODICE
BRYAN SAID: “When I think of my favorite matches, there are things I have an emotional connection to. And although this probably isn’t the best match we ever wrestled against each other, I was thrilled it was filmed for WWE TV, because we’ve had so many matches that I consider to be such a huge learning experience. He’s the reason why I’m the wrestler that I am today.”
WE SAID: At first glance, the Six-Man Tag Team Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match from WWE TLC 2012 appeared to be the night The Shield emerged as one of sports-entertainment’s most unstoppable factions — and it was. But take another look at the bout and you might notice a transformation that began on that evening. Up until that point in his WWE career, Daniel Bryan had been seen as a mix between a great in-ring technician and a lighthearted comedy act. It was TLC 2012 where he finally proved his tenacity. The brutality of the encounter would be a precursor to the year-and-a-half journey to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship that Bryan was about to embark upon. Whether he was shaking off a double superplex through a table or fighting back after getting his face crushed through a chair, one thing about Daniel Bryan became very clear on that night — he always got back up. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
WWE Network: Bryan sent to hell at TLC
BRYAN SAID: “I really liked the Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match from 2012. It was fun because it was The Shield’s first match and the tables, ladders, chairs and all that stuff added a certain element to it, an excitement, and people didn’t know what they were going to get out of The Shield. I think it set the precedent for what The Shield would go on to do from then, just having the best matches and stealing the show nearly every night.”
WE SAID: Behold, one and all, what may well go down as a once-in-a-lifetime event, never to be preceded or repeated again in this universe or any of the others that follow: Daniel Bryan, just weeks before reaching the peak of his powers and exploding out of the post-Team Hell No gate, uniting with not just his hug buddy Kane but his markedly-less affectionate brother, The Undertaker, against the most dominant faction there ever has been in WWE.
WWE Network: The Deadman defends The Streak at WrestleMania 29
There were masterful performances by all six Superstars, but it was Bryan who truly rose to the occasion. As a collective, The Shield were beyond reproach even then, Kane and Undertaker are and have been institutions for years, but Bryan was still a bit of a wildcard. Much of his top-tier success had been predicated on chicanery and showmanship, not the pure, in-ring talent that brought him to the dance in the first place. The question of whether Bryan could truly,trulyhang with the big boys was still up in the air. He answered it, resoundingly, in this match, a black-sheep Brother of Destruction if there ever was one. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
BRYAN SAID: “I loved teaming with Kane the whole time I was [in Team Hell No]. It was hard for me to pick only two matches with Kane. But the two I picked were both Six-Man Tags, and this one in particular was cool, because I had never gotten to share the ring with The Undertaker except for that one night. Doing it with Kane against The Shield was just a lot of fun.”
WE SAID:Even though Daniel Bryan and Sheamus’ 2-out-of-3 Falls Match came just weeks after the Dublin brawler Brogue Kicked Bryan’s skull and captured the World Heavyweight Title in a blink-and-you-missed-it 18-second match at WrestleMania XVIII, the rematch was anything but a carbon copy of their first World Title encounter. For more than 20 minutes, champion and challenger walloped the heck out of each other in a masterful bout that encapsulated the best of both Superstars.
WWE Network: Bryan and Sheamus get "Extreme"
Sheamus’ full-speed-ahead, pounding fisticuffs decimated Bryan’s comparatively small frame. (Case in point, Sheamus catching Bryan off the ring apron and driving him back-first into the barricade.) Bryan, meanwhile, was at his creatively cruel apex, kicking the bottom rope into The Celtic Warrior’s resting head and sacrificing the first fall so that he could further damage Sheamus’ shoulder en route to claiming the second. Repeat Brogue Kicks ultimately sealed the match for Sheamus, but Bryan’s vicious performance, though a losing one, confirmed the lopsided WrestleMania defeat was a total anomaly. — JOHN CLAPP
BRYAN SAID: “We both felt really screwed at WrestleMania XXVIII. This was our chance to go out and just show them what we could have done. It was a really fun 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. It was really good.”
WE SAID: This was never supposed to happen. Triple H made it his goal to beat The Beard into giving up all hope of ever becoming WWE World Heavyweight Champion. But Bryan and his fans remained determined, hijacking Raw to get the leader of the “Yes!” Movement the title opportunity he deserved at WrestleMania 30.
WWE Network: Bryan plays The Game in The Big Easy
To get that chance, Bryan would have to get through The Game in the opening match on The Grandest Stage of Them All. With 75,167 passionate fans behind him, The Beard strode into battle with an injured shoulder. Triple H quickly targeted Bryan’s limb, slamming it into the announce table and wrenching away on it in the ring.
But despite The King of Kings throwing everything he had at him, Bryan refused to give in. The Beard fought through it all, answering The Game’s every move. Although it seemed as if Triple H had finally beaten the life out of Bryan, The Beard escaped the Pedigree and a back suplex, catching Triple H with his trademark running knee for the win and setting the stage for one of the biggest nights in WWE history. — BOBBY MELOK
BRYAN SAID: “ The whole WrestleMania 30 experience was incredible. Just to start off the show in that way was really incredible, with 70,000 people. Which leads into …”
WE SAID: The notion of destiny is something of an overused one. Somehow every fan favorite who climbs the mountain loses control of his own story and his accomplishments are attributed to the fates themselves, which, while certainly reassuring — who wouldn’t like to think that fulfilling their wildest dream will come down to a mere matter of time and place — takes away from the hard work required to overcome those odds in the first place.
WWE Network: The dream comes true
That said, it’s hard to argue that Daniel Bryan’s triumph at WrestleMania 30 wasn’t pre-ordained by some higher power. He’d already put in the work and reached his dream of the WWE Championship, but conspiring forces had robbed it away. And somehow, despite all that, it seemed that Bryan wasn’t just going to get back what was his by virtue of his talent, but that he was going to main-event WrestleMania and win it all. He had to. Anything less would have been an affront to the cosmos itself. Long story short, a few hurdles ( and one potential usurper) aside, he did. It was glorious. Some things were just meant to be. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
BRYAN SAID: “Legitimately everything you’ve ever dreamed of ever since you were a kid. It’s main-eventing WrestleMania. It’s a Triple Threat Match, it’s a chance to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title in front of 70,000-plus people. You could feel the emotion from the crowd. At first they were just drained from the Undertaker-Brock Lesnar match and then you could just feel them getting back into it more and more and more. That was really cool.”
BRYAN SAID: “A match that nobody will ever be able to see but was one of my favorite matches I’ve ever done was against Robbie Brookside, who’s a trainer now down in NXT, in 2003 in Germany. In Germany they had these tournaments that would go on for weeks. And Robbie had talked to the promoter — he was the champion at the time — he said, ‘I’d like to bring Bryan in for just one match, just a title match.’ And the guy went, ‘I don’t know. He’s small.’ And Robbie said, ‘No, he’sreally, reallygood.’
They do rounds systems [in Germany], so we went out there and I want to say it was a match that was 10 rounds [Editor’s Note: Close. Brookside retained in Round 9]. And after the match the promoter went up to Robbie and said, ‘You were right, this guy was great.’ It was just one of those things where Robbie Brookside helped train me, he helped me be the wrestler that I am today. It’s also one of those moments where people don’t think you can do it, and then you come in and the promoter is like, ‘Holy cow, he is what you said he was.’ And that was really cool.”