The Internet didn't make CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, but it played a major part in creating the buzz that helped get them to their spots atop the WWE today.
Fans on the Internet worked like a candidate's campaign staff, spreading the word about both men. By the time Punk and Bryan arrived on the WWE's main roster, they had a vocal fanbase behind them.
In the days of territorial wrestling promotions, one area's star could be virtually unknown elsewhere. Eddie Graham was a tremendous star in Florida but certainly not as big in other parts of the country. Fans in Washington or Maine just weren't exposed to Graham or Championship Wrestling from Florida in general.
The popularity of the Internet changed this limitation.
Punk and Bryan have long been labeled as "internet darlings" as fans watching and discussing pro wrestling on the Internet looked past their lack of size and applauded their wrestling ability.
Their early careers saw them work their way up the independent circuit, wrestling for various promotions, most notably Ring of Honor. The buzz that fans created talking about these two on the Internet and the availability of footage of their work allowed the world to enter the small gyms and recreation centers that these indie shows were held in.
The Best in the World
The attitude and swagger that Punk possesses today, part of what makes him so popular, was on full display long before his WWE debut.
One didn't have to travel to Oolitic, IN or the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles to experience Punk's talents. YouTube videos shared his wrestling skills, unique offensive style and microphone prowess with the world.
Had he said his infamous "I hope your parents die" line at an indie show before the days of the Internet, perhaps it would have just been a funny story shared among the folks that were there. Instead it became something discussed on wrestling forums, an entry point for some into Punk fandom.
The same is true for his invisible microphone bit (warning: video NSFW due to explicit language) which showed glimpses of his potential as a heel.
The Internet also helped expose a larger audience to Punk's early in-ring work. Videos of his battles against Chris Hero, Samoa Joe and Bryan himself floated around the web.
About 3,500 people saw his showdown with Joe in Coventry, England live, but tons more set eyes on it thanks to the Internet.
It's hard not to create a committed fanbase when one gives performances like that one. Punk had the advantage of his reputation preceding him by the time he signed a developmental deal with WWE.
The World's Toughest Vegan
Ring of Honor would be a different entity without the Internet.
The promotion where Bryan's rise to stardom took off shows it's pay-per-view via the web, has many of his matches being passed around on YouTube and is an oft-discussed topic on online wrestling forums.
This is where Bryan's fame first bloomed.
His technical wizardry and palpable passion were hallmarks of his ROH career. The Internet helped spread the word about those talents and allowed more people to see him in action before he made it to the big stage.
Fans around the world had access to this East Coast-based promotion.
While in the past fans would have to settle for reading about Bryan's exploits in magazines or trying to get their hands on VHS cassettes, YouTube gave them easier access to classics like his battle with Nigel McGuinness in 2008.
In 2010, WWE released Bryan after he choked Justin Roberts with a tie on the air.
He was fired as reported by PWInsider.com as "punishment for going beyond the company's PG standards and practices." The Internet then became abuzz with angry comments on articles about the subject like this one or a mix of confusion and disbelief on wrestling forums like this one.
While Vince McMahon surely isn't hunched over his computer reading every complaint fans have about his product, the Internet provided a voice for disgruntled fans, a means to show how popular Bryan was with this particular segment of the audience.
There were certainly other factors in McMahon's decision to rehire Bryan just a few months later, but one has to think that the online outcry had some effect.
Those vocal fans had come to know Bryan's immense talent long before the "Yes!" chant. Bryan was no expendable piece, he was a megastar in the making.
Like it will surely do with other wrestlers, the Internet helped give Bryan and Punk a running start to their careers. It's a means for word of great talent to catch fire, a means to see the independent promotions' best before they hit it big.
Casual fans now love these two former ROH world champs. The Internet Wrestling Community and the larger WWE fanbase's favorites are melding. Perhaps that's a sign that WWE is listening to the much-maligned IWC or simply that talent finds a way to announce itself, Internet or otherwise.
Wrestlers pegged as "internet darlings," like Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, are garnering real success in WWE. They surely won't be the last.
The Internet is filled with complainers and folks spouting nonsensical opinions, but like in the cases of Bryan and Punk, it's also home to fans who are simply ahead of the curve.