The path Daniel Bryan has taken to travel from independent wrestling hero to WWE megastar is a bizarre yet compelling one.
Bryan himself is an incredibly intriguing character—you can go all the way back to 2002 and his days in Ring of Honor to trace his first serious footsteps on the independent scene
Go back even further, though, and there are several failed attempts to make it with WWE as a youngster. He is notorious for being one of William Regal's young proteges, which is no bad thing. However, whilst fighting with Memphis Championship Wrestling, the company severed its ties with WWE and Bryan was gone.
However, he had another opportunity when he fought on the likes of Velocity and Heat. He even went at it with John Cena on one occasion, an interesting glimpse into the future. However, he once again ended up leaving the company.
So how is it that a guy who wasn't considered good enough on several occasions has become arguably the most popular wrestler on the roster? Many would argue that is the result of one word: "yes."
It prompts an interesting debate: Where does Bryan rank, in terms of his popularity, against some of the most famous wrestlers to ever grace a WWE ring? The simple answer would have to be very highly indeed.
You would struggle to think of anybody over the last 10-15 years who has garnered as much popularity and success as Daniel Bryan has. Perhaps it is his tough road to the top that has endeared himself to many wrestling lovers. That seems to be a trait people dig—just ask CM Punk fans.
However, there are many people who have fought their way through the independent ranks to make a name for themselves in the WWE. Yet Daniel Bryan is effectively the chosen one in the eyes of many WWE fans because of the "YES!" chants.
Nobody has really carried a chant off so well. It is so simple and yet so brilliant at the same time. The fact it is so simple makes it magnificent in terms of a pro wrestling skit. That is almost an area where Bryan is exclusively on his own (with perhaps the exception of Ric Flair and his infamous "Woo!").
The other thing people seem to love is Bryan's ability to bring a crowd to its feet by way of technical brilliance. His high energy and aerial ability separate Bryan from the current crop in the WWE in quite a big way, which is another advantage in his favor.
But this still leaves us with the original question of where Bryan ranks among the most popular wrestlers ever. That is a point that is surely better left open to interpretation; however, there cannot be many who leap above him.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is perhaps the only "modern" wrestler to be on the same level as Daniel Bryan. He was without doubt a supremely popular man, and sent the crowd absolutely delirious on plenty of occasions during the Attitude Era. Bring him back for one night nowadays, and you see crowd reactions like no other.
Going further back, though, there are clearly many who are on par with the popularity Daniel Bryan currently owns. Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior are two who immediately spring to mind, but there are several others too.
Bryan is at a stage in his WWE career now where few get to. He has become so popular it is almost unthinkable to envisage a heel turn happening ever again (although the WWE did turn Stone Cold heel in his own backyard).
Clearly Daniel Bryan has a long way to go in his WWE career. It would therefore be unfair to suggest he is at a level comparable to Hulk Hogan. However, at this rate Daniel Bryan will be forever remembered as one of the most popular men ever to step into a WWE ring. In an era where face and heel turns are all too common, that would be some feat.