Examining the Evolution of Daniel Bryan's Main Event Persona

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Examining the Evolution of Daniel Bryan's Main Event Persona
Photo: WWE.com

Daniel Bryan's molting process has revealed his true self.

His evolution from indy favorite to main eventer saw him put on extra pounds, grow out his beard and upgrade his ring gear.

Looking back at his matches as Bryan Danielson, it almost looks like it was an entirely different person battling Nigel McGuinness or KENTA.

Bryan didn't stop transforming once he won the World Heavyweight Championship in WWE. In fact, his character evolution only sped up. Fans had already seen him go from indie star to nerd to Nexus member to submission specialist.

In the last two years, Bryan has grown into the hottest wrestler in the WWE by climbing into the skin of a character he clearly feels comfortable with.

The early knock on Bryan was that he didn't have enough charisma. As talented in the ring as he was, doubters questioned his ability to connect with the audience. Were we witnessing the next Lance Storm, the elite mat wrestler who gets passed over for flashier characters?

For those who knew his work at Ring of Honor and smaller independent promotions, this must have come as a surprise.

If he had no personality, if he couldn't connect with the audience, then why did fans chant about him kicking people's heads and why did they clap so passionately to "The Final Countdown" when he left for WWE?

WWE initially focused primarily on what Bryan did between the ropes, but it was after Sheamus defeated him for the world title at WrestleMania 28 in just 18 seconds that another creature began to sneak his head from out of his shell.

While wearing the gold, he'd mostly been portrayed as a weasel.

He used AJ to help him stave off a charging giant. He found a way to incite the lumberjacks around the ring in order to save his skin.

Heading into Extreme Rules, he grew more vicious toward AJ and showed us more of his acting range.

This is where his acting chops first emerged. In being dismissive and cruel toward AJ, he showed depth we hadn't seen from him before. Here was a man more than just a set of creative submission holds and chest-reddening kicks; here was a true heel.

Even during this time, when he was supposed to be a villain, there was a fun side of him shining through his wolf's sneer.

Fans were taking to his "Yes!" chants thanks in large part to the crowd at Raw after WrestleMania 28.

The trend was building heat and Bryan acted as if he thought the crowd was mocking him. He began to counter those chants with "No!" chants.

Whenever he got into a fan's face and traded opposing chants, there seemed to be a grin lurking under his villainous grimace.

There was a hugely funny and infectiously charming guy where we once thought a boring technical wrestler stood. It took a psychological evaluation, anger management classes and a partnership with a masked demon to fully bring that guy out.

When a psychiatrist evaluated Bryan on July 29, 2012, it was the first time that he was the clear best part of an episode.

He wasn't forcing any of that segment; the ridiculousness eased out of him. Mostly armed with a single word, he made the moment golden.

Had WWE stopped there, who knows where Bryan's journey would have taken him. Enrolling him into anger management sessions alongside Kane turned out to be a brilliant move.

It was during this time that we saw Bryan role-play with Kane in a diner, create an anger collage, and give WWE's most entertaining hug ever.

Bryan dove headfirst into these skits like he shoots himself from the top rope. The odd-couple team ended up winning the tag titles, which kept the spotlight on them.

(Photo: WWE)

That meant more opportunity for him to showcase what he could do beyond the ring.

From getting splashed with Gatorade to arguing with his partner over who was the tag team champion, Bryan endeared himself to the audience with memorable moments and a goofball charm.

This fork in the road could have then had Bryan travel into comedy relief territory.

Instead of letting him become the next Santino Marella, WWE had Bryan tap into his anger once more. Team Hell No dissolved because Bryan couldn't shake the thought that everyone thought he was the weak link of his team.

His Napoleon complex gave him a new wrinkle, another adaptation.

He would spend this period kicking people in the face trying to show the world that he wasn't what held Kane back or why his team lost the tag titles to The Shield.

It was easy for him to transfer this element of his character into his ring work.

Bryan has always been an energetic and passionate performer and this new hang up only amplified those traits.

The trick to giving a wrestler a successful character is to find something that is so closely aligned with who he or she really is, that playing that role is simply a matter of exaggerating one's self.

At only 5'10'' and having been once been fired from WWE, there was ample material for Bryan to work with here.

Beating Randy Orton on June 24 in a street fight marked the end of that phrase, the taste of that victory was apparently enough to dissipate his rage. Bryan was just a step away from his current incarnation, the main event star who many didn't expect.

In his recent promos, first aimed at John Cena, and now Orton and Triple H, Bryan has become a realistic and compelling character.

He talks about wrestling in high schools, embracing his indie background. He is positioned as the underdog, the technical wrestler not happy to just be the company's workhorse.

This version of Bryan is the perfect amalgamation of what he's been in the past.

Combine the fieriness of his heel days with the lightheartedness of his time with Team Hell No, throw in focus and confidence and you have the Bryan seeking to become WWE champ at Night of Champions.

WWE has let him grow and the results have been outstanding.

Even though he's fighting a McMahon-led regime, don't expect Bryan to be the new "Stone Cold."

He's not that guy; he's a Superstar who we've watched make shift after shift and is now ready for the brightest of spotlights.

Bryan has become the goat-faced, drop-kicking, spray-painting, smirking wrestler that was waiting inside the chrysalis all along.  

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