Once upon a time, CM Punk was widely recognized as the best all-around performer in the WWE.
It’s rather funny to think that the biggest knock on Bryan was once that, although he was a good wrestler, he lacked the charisma to ever truly succeed on the biggest stage in pro wrestling.
Ha. So much for that.
Ever since Bryan was first thrust into the main event picture when he won the World Heavyweight Championship at WWE TLC in 2011, all he’s done is prove the haters and doubters wrong.
The second that he was given his first real shot at succeeding in the WWE, he took the ball and ran with it, immediately becoming one of the most entertaining performers in the company during his heel run in early 2012.
Then, Bryan got too popular, so he turned babyface last summer. Since that time, the man who supposedly had no charisma has evolved into the most charismatic performer in all of pro wrestling.
His run as the overly excited heel in early 2012 worked really well, but it was when his partnership with Kane began toward the end of last summer that his abilities outside the ring really began to shine through.
We always knew that Bryan was a great in-ring performer. He proved that on the independent scene and in Ring of Honor, and his 2010 Bragging Rights match against Ziggler gave WWE fans a taste of what to expect from him down the road.
But it wasn’t really until about a year ago that Bryan became a huge focal point of the WWE’s storylines. That’s when he feuded over both the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships, put on great bouts with Sheamus and Punk and then started his fantastic run with Kane as Team Hell No.
A year later, the verdict is in: Bryan has replaced Punk as the best overall performer in the WWE.
That’s not a knock on Punk by any means. Rather, it’s a true testament to the amazing abilities of Bryan.
Bryan has shown some superb range as a talker over the last year-and-a-half, cutting promos successfully as a serious heel, a goofy babyface and everywhere in between.
Of course, he’s also given us some fantastic matches during that span. He’s put on a number of great TV singles matches against the likes of Cena, Ziggler and even Ryback, and on Monday’s Raw, he absolutely tore the house down in a phenomenal singles match against Seth Rollins.
We also can’t overlook all of the excellent tag and six-man tag team matches that Bryan and his partner Kane have participated in against The Shield. Those bouts extend all the way back to WWE TLC 2012, and still to this day, Team Hell No continues to blow the roof off the building any time that it steps into the ring with The Shield.
We could probably sit here all day and talk about Bryan’s in-ring greatness. But that’s not even what truly makes him so great.
What has turned Bryan into the most over babyface in all of the WWE (yes, even more so than Cena) is that he is perhaps the only man on the roster who consistently generates a genuine reaction from the crowd—and a deafening one at that.
When Bryan simply enters the arena these days, the volume of the crowd is almost unbelievable. “Yes” chants ring throughout the building so loudly that you would swear that the fans in attendance are witnessing the greatest thing ever.
Bryan may not be the greatest thing ever, but his incredible rise in popularity is certainly impressive.
At no point in recent history has there been a guy who can make the crowd go absolutely berserk night in and night out whenever he gets the hot tag during a tag match or is on offense during a singles match.
The fans react to everything that he does in the ring—whether it’s a simple kick, a diving headbutt or a perfectly executed submission. That’s something that not even the biggest babyfaces in the WWE like Cena and Sheamus can say.
Bryan has the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand right now, a result of its appreciation for his great in-ring ability as well as its love of him as a performer.
It’s nothing short of amazing to see Bryan’s magical run continue because it’s a run that has taken him to a spot that hardly anyone expected him to ever be in: The best all-around performer all of pro wrestling.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!