Daniel Bryan clearly attended a different school for rebels than WWE anti-establishment icons of the past.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin, CM Punk and D-Generation X used more forceful and crass methods. Bryan is instead merging lessons from Rocky and Henry David Thoreau in his struggle to upend unjust authority.
WWE's early history didn't often touch on conflicts between authority figures and wrestlers. Those in charge stayed several steps from the spotlight for the most part.
Jack Tunney served as a figurehead WWE president in the '80s and early '90s and clashed with men like Jake Roberts. Gorilla Monsoon later played the same role and had little in the way of conflict with the Superstars on his roster.
It wasn't until the Attitude Era that such narratives emerged in a big way.
Vince McMahon stepped in front of the camera and served as WWE's onscreen kingpin. He played the ruthless, corporate villain as D-Generation X, Austin and others bucked his tyranny. Fans fell in love with the irreverent rebels who opposed "The Man."
Bryan is in a similar fight today.
WWE's Director of Operations, its COO and one of its principal owners all aim to flatten him. He has battled against their injustice much like Austin once did and Punk did most recently, but with a far different approach.
Shawn Michaels aligned with Triple H and Chyna in 1997, creating a group that soon irked McMahon and any other forces that tried to control them.
In that and future incarnations, they were uncontrollable. They did whatever they wanted, said whatever came to mind and knew very few limitations.
Bryan, on the other hand, has relied on gutsiness over brashness, raw emotion over penis jokes.
Triple H and Company's highlights featured moments such as the group mocking the McMahons, playing with sausages and dumping feces onto the boss and his family. They lived out fantasies that many folks have had, telling off their bosses and being joyfully defiant rather than enjoying the safety of obedience.
Bryan, fighting his battles after WWE's move to a PG-TV rating, has approached his resistance much differently.
For much of it, he has simply stated his case and fought hard in the ring, regardless of how many times he has fallen. This toughness, this Rocky-like inner will is the centerpiece of Bryan's character as opposed to D-Generation, who relied more on flippancy.
When Triple H's underling Kane smashed his arm on Raw in February, Bryan just kept fighting on.
The toughness he's showed in moments like these has endeared himself to fans.
In addition, Bryan appeals to a wider audience. Those who were turned off by D-Generation X's antics would have no reason to take issue with Bryan. He's a wholesome rebel, a perfect fit for his era.
That was true for Michaels, The New Age Outlaws and Triple H back then as well. The audience responded to their defiant ways, the group becoming a linchpin to a period built on attitude.
Triple H's rebellious past made his metamorphosis into a corporate bully that much more startling.
When Triple H first began his quest to prevent Bryan from winning the WWE title, comparisons to Austin were commonplace. To some, it seemed WWE had found this generation's "Stone Cold."
Bryan had the goal of becoming champion in common with Austin as well as having to face a heartless boss blocking the way to that goal, but the parallels were finite. They were of two different species, one an aggressive, belligerent beast, the other far more docile.
Police officers surrounded Austin in the ring on Raw in 1997. McMahon told him that he wasn't cleared to compete and "The Texas Rattlesnake" hit him with the Stunner.
The scene ended with Austin in handcuffs, barking at the camera, smiling.
Putting that side-by-side with one of Bryan's early run-ins with The Authority showcases the differences between the two. Bryan, fired up after Triple H cost him the WWE Championship at SummerSlam, argued with Stephanie McMahon in the ring.
When she felt he crossed the line, she asked security to escort him out.
Bryan made his exit with far less of a fight than Austin. He led chants of "No!" but there was no Stunner, no need to hold him back.
Austin's moral code was just looser than Bryan's. While Bryan has been willing to bend rules, Austin made his reputation on shattering them.
Take their acts of vandalism as evidence.
When anger drove him to the point where he felt he needed to damage McMahon's car, Austin pulled a cement truck next to the boss' convertible and left it beyond repair.
Triple H gave Randy Orton a new car last year to celebrate his title win. Bryan, like Austin, took out his frustrations on the vehicle. The result was far less destructive, though.
Bryan spray-painted the gas-guzzler with the word "yes."
His acts of rebellion have been tamer than Austin's. Austin is a spiked mace while Bryan is more of a rubber bat.
Austin chased around his archenemy on an ATV, attacked him while he was still in the hospital and had him thinking that he was going to get shot in the head. As powerful a moment as Bryan's "occupation of Raw" was, it comes from a more rational and peaceful place.
Rather than employ the brutish but entertaining tactics that Austin employed, Bryan went for an act of civil disobedience.
That choice makes him a unique character. He's Thoreau in a world that has seen guerrillas rule.
Punk blazed his own path as WWE's resident rebel in 2011.
His now-famous speech about wanting change in the WWE served as the catalyst for his run as the defiant fan favorite opposing the system. With his contract set to expire, he demanded that McMahon give him his own jet and bring back WWE ice cream bars.
He smirked throughout the speech as he watched McMahon simmer in his chair.
He didn't need to destroy cars or pour liquid onto McMahon's head to get his way. Instead, he relied on leverage and smooth talking.
Punk snatched the power from McMahon and took control, something many fans at home no doubt dream about doing at their own jobs.
Bryan, in comparison, had purer intentions.
Even when he held Raw hostage, he didn't make the kind of demands that Punk made. He only asked for a fight against the man who had prevented him from keeping the WWE title and then later another opportunity for that championship.
It was a methodology that suited Bryan's personality, just as his style of dissent is perfect for him.
Punk was an anti-hero. Bryan is playing a character who occupies less gray area.
John Laurinaitis eventually took over for McMahon as Punk's primary corporate rival. Punk became more aggressive in this rivalry, getting into the General Manager's face and threatening him when his frustration poured over the brim.
Their story had unfairness aplenty as Bryan's does today. Punk, though, was more of the bully in that relationship.
Laurinaitis, despite his abuses of power, was a pathetic figure. The slippery executive had no chance against Punk if things got physical. That and Punk's harshness made for a drastically different dynamic than that between Bryan and Triple H.
Bryan threatened Triple H and raised his voice on a recent Raw. His speech was more of a funneling of the crowd's dissatisfaction than a personal attack, though.
Even as thick as Triple H's condescension got during that moment, Bryan never went berzerk. He was in control, rational and sensible throughout.
Dr. Shelby must have done something magnificent to Bryan during their anger management sessions in 2012.
Punk might have started throwing punches had he been in there. Austin would have certainly resorted to violence and/or property destruction that night. D-Generation X would have had some profane words for that version of Triple H.
Bryan is a quieter warrior, though.
He fights his own way, one that requires a lot of patience from the audience. Gratification comes infrequently in Bryan's tale, and so far it has come in a form previously unseen.
Hijacking Raw with the help of fans is something Austin would never have done. That raucous takeover was a reminder that the audience is wasn't watching a repeat—a new narrative is being born.
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