Daniel Bryan is a WWE superstar, and a vocal minority of fans should be mourning his loss.
In a world where satisfaction goes to die and the WWE is evil, zealous superfans align to form the Internet wrestling community—or IWC for short.
Once upon a time, the undisputed champion of this contingent was Bryan Danielson. Danielson was a well-traveled mainstay on the independent circuit. Far from a conglomerate, Danielson represented everything that was pure about wrestling. Long matches. Unique submissions. Once signed by independent wrestling king Ring of Honor.
He was an underdog.
Danielson would go on to sign with the WWE as Daniel Bryan. Even though he had made it to wrestling's biggest stage, Bryan was still unproven as a sports entertainer. It wouldn't be long before Bryan was fired from the WWE. The promotion released Bryan for getting too graphic following the Nexus' attack of John Cena in 2010.
Bryan returned in time for SummerSlam that year. Still, he personified more of an underdog than ever after having been wronged by the man.
After a little fine-tuning and character development, Daniel Bryan in present day is as far from an underdog as one can get. World titles. Palling around with John Cena. Dating models. Bryan is now equivalent to the apartment tenant who moved into a condo.
He's a WWE guy.
But understand the distinction between Bryan Danielson and Daniel Bryan.
CM Punk—another internet darling—has prided himself on being CM Punk from day one. This applies both in and out of character with Punk routinely challenging authority. Punk's Best in the World documentary basically serves as an instructional video of rebelling one's way to the top. Punk's refusal to go with the flow is best demonstrated in his story of how the Straight Edge Society was created:
"I main evented SummerSlam and then, like, at the next pay-per-view I was in a dark match against R-Truth. And I went to Vince and I was like 'this is unacceptable' and I went home and I wrote 14 weeks of TV and I came in next week and I threw it on his desk and I said 'that's what I'm doing'".
Daniel Bryan has taken a more company-friendly approach to the top. Bryan Danielson used to be known as the American Dragon. But dragons may be too scary for families and children to embrace.
Goats are much friendlier, and oh so adorable. So on June 11th, 2012, as Bryan began growing an epic beard that lasts to this day, the term "Goatface" was born. Ironically enough, the term was coined by CM Punk during a promo. In that promo, Punk described how Bryan has changed en route to the top of the WWE.
"Goatface" is now fully embraceable by the WWE Universe with Bryan now being a babyface Goatface.
Bryan's "Yes! Yes! Yes!" catchphrase is simple, catchy and has been made into a t-shirt, also monetized by the WWE machine.
"Stunning" Steve Austin—once a long-haired, clean-shaven wrestler deemed a Hollywood Blonde—was fired by WCW. He would later become branded "Stone Cold" Steve Austin—a bald redneck with a goatee—by the WWE.
Austin's "What?!" catchphrase was also simple, catchy, made into a t-shirt and still resonates with WWE fans at live shows.
Sure, residual tension between the IWC and the WWE still manifests itself through Bryan. There was the time when he lost the world championship to Sheamus in 18 seconds during his WrestleMania debut.
The outrage that followed was somewhat justified, if not annoying, yet short-lived.
It wasn't too long before Bryan would enter the WWE championship picture. Bryan worked a series of outstanding matches with fellow ROH alum CM Punk.
Said WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross about their tilt at WWE Over The Limit:
"The WWE Title bout was the overwhelming show stealer in Raleigh. @CMPunk vs. @WWEDanielBryan had one of the best bouts that I can recall seeing in years."
Despite failing to capture the WWE championship, Bryan somehow gained momentum.
He would go on to form a tag team with WWE lifer Kane. These strange bedfellows—equipped with quirky anger-management skits—have helped restore tag-team wrestling in the WWE.
Bryan's best days in the WWE look to be ahead of him. There's no looking back for Daniel Bryan, now a corporate success. Bryan fell out of a high school gym and landed on top of the world. He represents a success story borne out of the independent wrestling circuit. But the WWE will forever be linked to his arrival as a superstar.