Daniel Bryan has bonded with fans in a way reserved for only the biggest names in WWE history.
In his case, personality and talent intersects perfectly. Bryan is not blessed with intimidating size, a comic-book physique or the ability to mesmerize on the mic. His path to being the hottest star in WWE is instead lined with hard work and classic bouts, a monosyllabic catchphrase and a likability that speaks to the entire audience.
The difficult task of becoming a top pro wrestler requires a myriad of talents from athleticism to toughness, charisma to acting ability. Beyond those components, though, an elite WWE Superstar must make the fans care about what happens in the ring.
That's where Bryan is excelling like no one else right now.
In the most recent example of Bryan's unparalleled connection with fans, he celebrated atop a steel cage after defecting from The Wyatt Family on Jan 13. It was hard to find the right word to describe the audience's response as words like "thunderous" seemed to undersell the electricity of the moment.
That was no one-time peak either.
Bryan has been getting those kind of reactions for a long time now. Whether it's when John Cena chose him to be his SummerSlam opponent or when Bryan won the Superstar of the Year Slammy, an echoing, raucous reaction is the result.
Even when attacking a beloved wrestler like Shawn Michaels, the crowd is firmly behind him.
This connection has fans thinking back to Steve Austin's prime or the height of Cena's popularity. A relationship this strong with fans is sure to make Bryan get opportunities that those men had. It's just too rare a quality not to take advantage of more.
People within the industry who have seen the conveyor belt of flops, also-rans and megastars that has been the WWE timeline have taken notice of what Bryan has been able to accomplish.
Kane, Bryan's one-time tag team partner, told Mike Mooneyham of The Post and Courier that he was "an enormous fan" of Bryan and remarked that he's "been able to make a connection with our fans which not many people are able to do."
Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross summed up Bryan's latest peak perfectly. On his personal blog, Ross wrote of Bryan:
He's white hot and has done what many wrestlers only dream of doing and that's making a strong, emotional connection with the fanbase. Bryan is SO connected of 'over' in rasslin' vernacular and he's still evolving well even without the WWE Title.
How has Bryan been able to succeed regardless of what position he is on the card, regardless of how he has been booked? The first part of the Bryan equation points to his unique charisma.
As much as he's the guy who awes us with wrestling skills and grit, he's also easy to relate to. There's a genuineness and "aw shucks" charm about him that's hard not to like.
His gimmick is that of a lack of gimmick; Bryan is an underdog powered by intensity.
Before his match with Randy Orton at Hell in a Cell, WWE used his straight-forwardness, indy wrestling background and sparks of that intensity to craft a promo video that sums up who he is as a Superstar.
This stripped-down character has spoken to fans. Maybe it's easier to see ourselves in a smaller, hard-working regular guy than a musclebound behemoth. Maybe it's just proof that it factor requires no special packaging.
Either way, it's been a fun ride seeing Bryan climb up from the bottom.
A guy who was released in 2010 and ignored for much of his early run has caught our attention by the uphill nature of his rise. Much of the discussion surrounding Bryan has been his stature (5'10'' 210 lbs) and whether or not he could be enough of a larger-than-life presence.
Immensity isn't a requirement of extreme popularity, though, it seems.
The narrative of Bryan's continuing journey to prove himself worthy has tapped into fans' love for the underdog. Anyone who has been told they aren't good enough can relate to Bryan and will pull for him.
There is something innately compelling about seeing someone show the necessary heart to survive in a business that they weren't genetically designed to be a part of.
It's elating to see a scrapper, a runt with moxie, a hound dog holding his own in a wolves' den.
That elation is captured perfectly in his "Yes!" chant. Either watching or being a part of that chant is an infectious experience.
It has been a medium that has helped extend his popularity and to make him a marketable entity. It translates to the entire audience and even stretches beyond the wrestling ring.
Great mat wrestlers are often limited to a niche fanbase. Dean Malenko and William Regal, both wizards inside a ring, never reached the kind of mainstream success that Bryan has been able to garner. The "Yes!" chant is one reason for that.
It's an entry point to Bryan fandom that those men just didn't have.
His personality and charisma also help him stand out from other mat technicians, but the buzzing energy in his ring work further elevates him. There are few things more exciting in WWE than Bryan going on a rampage.
He begins to shake with fury as he darts from corner to corner, hurling himself at his opponents.
He seems to pour every last drop of his energy into those moves. The end result is hard-hitting blows that require no suspension of disbelief and an electric pace to the match.
Counters and submission holds are paired with a reckless, high-flying style that is a thrill to watch.
That helps make him such a consistently entertaining performer. Put him in the ring with Ryback and the result is excellence.
The same goes for Erick Rowan or whoever WWE lines up next to him.
His work ethic, back-story and charisma would be enough on their own for him to highly successful. Add to that some of the best in-ring skills in recent memory and his popularity should be no surprise.
Bryan is the perfect amalgam of ingredients to appeal to fans. WWE could not have culled a Superstar from its dreams that can appeal to the crowd the way that Bryan is doing right now.
It won't matter if WWE ever decides to give him a lengthy run with the WWE title. "The Flying Goat" has found ways to connect regardless of his positioning. With his fanbase only growing louder, though, the company will have no choice but to award him the top spot.
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