American Dragon: The Search for a Superstar
I'll be frank. In my time bouncing around the internet wrestling community and almost from the moment I witnessed The American Dragon's debut in Ring of Honor, I was a detractor of Bryan Danielson.
I saw the so-called "Founding Father of ROH" the same way I saw the rest of his type of wrestler.
It was 2002, and the fallout from the closure of ECW and the purchase of WCW couldn't have been more relevant than any other year.
For most of 2001 into early 2002, the industry was experiencing a honeymoon period with professional wrestling still appearing focused on the future. The WWE's roster was stacked to the tee, and anyone who was anyone was working for the WWE.
The WWE had potentially its greatest roster of all time, from future Hall of Famers like The Rock, Chris Jericho, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, Undertaker, and Kane to a stellar upper-mid card featuring Chris Benoit, Edge, Christian, Eddie Guerrero, Rob Van Dam, The Hardys, The Dudleys, etc. The talent pool development system delivered future World Champions such as Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, John Cena, and Dave Batista.
Professional wrestling had just come off its greatest high. ECW kick-started a revolution, while WCW would give the mighty WWF giant the fight of its life. This era would be defined in one word, "attitude." Wrestling was exciting, dangerous, and broke new ground in regards to social values.
In the coming year TNA Wrestling would introduce independent wrestling to a wider market. AJ Styles within the decade would go on to become the greatest wrestler in the world. From Low Ki to Jerry Lynn to Amazing Red, the first year of TNA would be defined by its explosive mix of lucha libre, strong style, and good old fashioned cruiserweight wrestling.
As TNA delivered more and more independent talent to the national and international stage, it opened the door for Ring of Honor's growth. Simply researching some of TNA's top cruiserweight talent, you would quickly discover Eddie Guerrero helping to establish ROH. AJ Styles stealing show after show. Low Ki and Amazing Red going Matrix for a moment. Christopher Daniels, Brian Kendrick, and Paul London would all cement the company's foundations.
Then there was...wait for it, the greatest wrestler on Earth...*cough*..."The American Dragon"...*cough*...Bryan Danielson.
Now, that I've cleared my throat...
Short. Bland. And I'm not just talking about his haircut. At just 180 lb. and wrestling in William Regal's castaways, you're telling me after everything I've witnessed in the last few years that this is the greatest wrestler on Earth? You're kidding right?
Lance Storm's blander, younger cousin working in as much of Dean Malenko's and William Regal's spots as possible just didn't live up to the hype.
For the next seven years, nothing changed. For the most of it, my argument that Bryan Danielson was nothing more than hype and the hopes and dreams of the anti-WWE faction of the online community remained true. Multiple hirings and firings from the WWE and little interest from TNA Wrestling supported this.
I saw The American Dragon the same way I saw the rest of his type. I saw something I didn't agree with. I saw a community of wrestling fans excuse storytelling and most importantly, character. The two most important factors in a wrestling match for "athletic ability" and "technical skills."
Professional wrestling isn't a sport nor an athletic competition. It's a soap opera in and out of the ring. It's a story, a stylized one built on emotions. It's the age old epic of good versus evil centered on a universe saturated with heroes and villains. A true testimony to this is the success of the current Undertaker/Kane chapter. Oh, and more importantly it's the formula that delivered professional wrestling its greatest period in history, the Attitude Era.
Today, I remain one Bryan Danielson's few detractors. I respect his abilities in the ring. The boy can wrestle, as could Lance Storm and William Regal. I respect Danielson, as he remains one of the only "wrestler's wrestlers," a dying breed.
However, I still question the WWE's motives for Danielson's dramatic rise to prominence. With its continual focus on the internet community, most notably through social media and networking, I can't help to think Daniel Bryan's push is nothing more than to silence the aggressive internet wrestling community's opinionated assault on the WWE production line.
This is why I question the length of Bryan Danielson's longevity in the WWE and that of a real "Superstar."
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