Often people have these strange connections to celebrities – singers, actors, etc. I never really did, I never understood how you could find people that you had never known personally so important, until along came these two.
CM Punk is the main reason I started watching the pro-graps. I used to watch it when I was younger but slowly lost interest and thought I had just out grown it (hate that phrase). I would flick on Smackdown every now and then to see what was going on but nothing ever peaked my interest, until one day I put it on in 2009 and saw a chap with long hair and a beard banging on about how much drunk people pissed him off and how it was his mission to get everyone sober, he was a villain at this point but of course me being me he sounded like a top chap and I was bang on board with this. So I started watching Smackdown again (not Raw) to keep up with CM Punk’s antics of beating up a drug addict who refused to go to rehab and pulling people out of the audience to join his sober club (how is he the villain here!?).
After watching for a while you start to appreciate who is good at this and who isn’t (not good as in made to win but which guys are the best at their job) and found out there were similar minded people on Twitter, so I’d watch the show and chat shit on Twitter and slowly began to have a rapport with the twitter folks and as CM Punk’s wider popularity grew it seemed like more and more people would chime in and over time out of the random mess of trolls, bots and weirdos online I ended up somehow making actual friends. (Sup grapple pals? I kinda assume you’re the only ones still reading this).
Just prior to the peak of Punk’s popularity another guy started to be prevalent in folk’s conversations – Daniel Bryan. Before joining WWE, Bryan had travelled the world working for different companies and had become much respected within a certain group of fans but on WWE TV he was made to look like a joke. The commentators would call him a nerd and he never did anything important, but all of my pals liked him so I thought I’d try and find out why. I found some of his matches from when he worked with a company called Ring of Honor and stumbled across a match he had there with none other than CM Punk. After finding this I watched a boat load of pre-WWE Punk and Bryan matches, discovering different kinds of wrestling and other wrestlers that I really liked that had never worked for WWE, then getting super excited when they did get signed (Oh, Chris Hero what happened?) and started going to UK Independent Wrestling shows (stories for other times).
During CM Punk’s main title run he displayed how good of an all-round entertainer he is, he provided strong, emotional and interesting interviews, had matches that were always different and exciting and despite growing to like other people on the roster he was always my main reason for watching. However, despite positive fan reactions and the quality of his work he grew frustrated that he was not being advertised as the main attraction and was always written to lose against wrestlers that only had one or two matches a year e.g. Undertaker, The Rock. (Imagine being top goal scorer for a football team who played every game but the manager always raves about how well the other strikers do) and because of this was becoming disillusioned with wrestling.
In the meantime Daniel Bryan had lost a title match at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania in 18 seconds. Fans rallied behind Bryan’s lack of time at ‘Mania by taking his catchphrase, repeatedly shouting yes \o/ (which originally got him booed as a villain) whenever he appeared or if he didn’t appear on a show. He began to gain more popularity and was gathering popularity in a comedy tag team with Kane (he’s a demon, but sometimes kind of a lawyer) and he began to become the most popular man on the roster. However, the people who decide what storylines play out on TV and who is positioned as the best and worst didn’t see Bryan as the top guy, but the fans did and this is where there was a problem. Every week the fans were told that Bryan wasn’t a top competitor and referred to as a B+ player – not bad, but not great. Similar to the role that CM Punk had played, but without the title. At one point they even tried to transition Bryan into a villain again, but the fans weren’t having any of it. On screen moments that were supposed to be full of gravitas and be iconic were spoiled as fans would repeatedly chant Bryan’s name.
The 2014 Royal Rumble was a key point for both men, a catalyst for Bryan and the end of the road for Punk. The Royal Rumble is a big match with 30 men and the winner gets to wrestle for the title in the main event of WrestleMania. A large majority of fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win the Royal Rumble but alas, he was not even in the match; because of this the fans rejected it and booed everything that happened. Fresh from filming Guardians of the Galaxy, Dave Batista won the Rumble and was met with a bombardment of jeers. The main brass at WWE wanted Batista to win the rumble, be a hero, win the title, then take the belt to all of his movie premieres. However, due to Bryan’s popularity, this didn’t happen. The original plan for Bryan at WrestleMania was to fight an Irish guy while CM Punk was originally planned to wrestle Triple H.
After an exchange backstage with medical staff and the company’s main brass CM Punk was suspended and then belatedly fired on his real life wedding day, although by that point it was obvious that we would never see Punk in a WWE ring ever again.
The WWE tried as best they could to continue with big hero Batista two months before giving in to fan demand and positioning Bryan to not only take CM Punk’s place in fighting Triple H and in the main event making Batista’s title match a three way (Randy Orton was WWE Champion at the time.)
This is tantamount to everyone wanting Leonardo DiCaprio to win an Oscar, but the academy really, really wanting to give it to Jason Statham, and everyone knows they’re going to give it Jason Statham, and everyone promises to ruin the Oscars unless they don’t stop acting like prats and do what’s right and give Leo his wee shiny action man.
This all takes place over the course of six years; can you imagine watching Game of Thrones every week for six years with no time in-between series, through diabolical shows and amazing ones before you got to the satisfying ending? Then can you imagine watching that satisfying ending on a giant screen, at 4am dressed as a skeleton surrounded by friends who are also dressed in weird costumes, and most of them crying (Hi Joe).
Punk and Bryan should never have been the stars they were in WWE. They didn’t wrestle the way the company liked, they didn’t look the way the company liked, and they didn’t talk the way the company liked, but because of those two the wrestling industry has been changing. Fans of mainstream wrestling are now are now more focused with in-ring ability ever before. The eyes they brought to independent wrestling and wrestling from other countries meaning that there’s growth and interest and development in areas of wrestling where without them there may not have been.
Since leaving WWE, Punk has since been signed to the UFC, training for over a year and is due to make his Octagon debut at UFC 199 or UFC 200. He also writes comics for Marvel and is currently being sued by the WWE doctor, after Punk called him “A piece of shit human that ignored a staph infection for four months”.
Daniel Bryan sadly had to retire tonight.
Over his 16 year career has suffered a vast amount of injuries, including many concussions. To the point where he can no longer be cleared to wrestle as any more damage to his brain could cause serious injury and is now planning on starting a family with his wife.
He spoke at length about how grateful he was for everything wrestling had given him, how grateful he was for the people he had met, how grateful he was for the experiences he had and that he was able to do something he loved for so long and get paid for doing it.
It was during his speech that I realised with his retirement & Punk’s disdain for WWE that I would never see either of them wrestle ever again. Without these two I never would have experienced some of the most fun moments I’ve ever had, I would never have met some of my absolute favourite people in the world; specifically to Punk I would have never appreciated and enjoyed something that I now feel is one of the least appreciated forms of entertainment.
I am so grateful for everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met because of those two and the hours I’ve spent enjoying watching them do what they loved.
I hope the rest of Bryan’s life was as fulfilling as the first half and I really hope Punk does well in the UFC.