Yes, he’s back.
Daniel Bryan was officially cleared to return to in-ring competition on Tuesday, bringing the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion out of his forced retirement and giving him a second lease on life in the industry that made him a household name. Speculation is already rampant as to whether or not The Beard will be competing at next month’s WrestleMania, but while the events of SmackDown LIVE continue to sort themselves out, WWE.com did some thinking as to which matches we want for Bryan as he returns to the squared circle. After all, it’s been a few years since he’s laced ‘em up, and there are some Superstars who are dying to meet him between the ropes.
Similar styles? Check. Bryan and Finn Bálor could go kick-for-kick for 20 minutes and nobody would complain. Similar looks? Check. Both are lithe, hybrid competitors who are as lethal in the air as they are on the mat. Similar stories? Double-check. Both scratched and clawed to become World Champions, only to abdicate their titles due to injuries. Similar demonic alter-ego? Kind of. Bryan might not be able to transform in the literal sense like Bálor does, but nobody who’s seen him get that wild-eyed look right before he caves in a dude’s sternum — that's the one right there — can argue that something doesn’t snap in his affable, environmentally-conscious psyche. Anyway, the point is: Sign us up, please and thank you.
The idea of this one actually caused a bit of a stir last fall when Bryan served as a Special Guest Referee during Shinsuke Nakamura's match at WWE Clash of Champions, with The King of Strong Style remarking his disbelief over sharing the ring with The Beard. Of course, that was with Bryan in an authority figure capacity. But with Bryan back in the ring and still a SmackDown LIVE Superstar, that disbelief may turn into a whole new kind of reality sooner rather than later … something The King of Strong Style wasted no time acknowledging when news of Bryan’s return broke.
In a similar vein, this is a match that’s long been bandied about as a pie-in-the-sky contest for sports-entertainment aficionados who wanted to see a clash between the pre-eminent grapplers of their respective generations. Bryan and Angle even talked about it in an interview before WrestleMania 33 last year when neither man had been cleared to return to the ring. It didn’t take long for Angle to clear that hurdle. Now, Bryan has, too. And much like Nakamura, Angle is already planning ahead. We're right there with him.
Oh yes, we want some. The Phenomenal AJ Styles has, in many ways, followed the path that Bryan helped blaze, streaking up the ladder to WWE Championship status despite carrying just about every stigma that pundits said would disqualify him from even making it to WWE. Fun fact: These two actually tussled in Ring of Honor once upon a time, but that was many, many moons ago, before AJ was a phenomenon and Bryan was a world-beater who’d defied every obstacle -- medical or otherwise -- placed in his path. With both Superstars at the peak of their powers, it’s time to see this one on a much grander stage.
We don’t think we’re going too inside-baseball by saying that Brock Lesnar is the opponent that Daniel Bryan always wanted. He wanted it when he was champion, he wanted it during his short-lived comeback (Roman Reigns ended up beating him for it), and he’s been talking about it ever since. He even has a plan as to how he’d beat The Beast Incarnate, which he teased to — no lie — Sami Zayn on an episode of Total Bellas. Paul Heyman once said that Bryan boasted nothing less than a direct pipeline to God, as he’d managed to pull out more unbelievable wins than he or Brock had ever seen. Maybe it’s time to see, finally, if that line still works.