On Daniel Bryan

The Daniel Bryan of 2014 is among the more nuanced characters in wrestling’s Stephanie era, an era in which so many winding threads of complexity have morphed the WWE’s metaphoric narrative from sideshow gladiator sport into finely tuned, formidable cable drama. In much of this wrestler’s early career he sported well-tended short hair and often a clean shave, but this current Daniel Bryan look is sloppy, with a scruffy beard and a mop of overgrown hair. That longish hair is not deliberate – it’s the hair of a guy who’s got other pressing stuff to do besides getting round to the barber, hair that drives a young dreamer’s disapproving father to bark about going to get that hair dealt with and getting a damn job! Other than the hair and beard, though, Bryan has an earnest, good-kid look about him – no visible tats, no flamboyant costume, just brief-style shorts, boots, and a T-shirt for his entrance, removed once the match begins. There’s not a hint of irony in his gimmick, in which he cries “Yes! Yes! Yes!” with both fists raised high and pumping the air to accent each yes, thereby rousing the typically potty-mouthed crowd to chant his positive, heartfelt mantra right along with him.

Daniel Bryan does have alliances, but he’s at his best when he’s a lone little guy among giants, also navigating heavyweight dark personas like the black-ops looking Shield tag-team and the deep-south, screw-loose stylings of the Wyatt Family. He also tangles regularly with towering, charismatic muscleman heels like Randy Orton and Triple H. At 5’10, he is dwarfed by the big and tall talent pool that dominates the WWE, but Bryan doesn’t cower or hang back in some cruiserweight category. Instead he makes his mark as a little guy who just keeps on coming against these dizzyingly big guys, sometimes whole posses of them at a time, forcing his way into the headlining, heavyweight echelons and sometimes, despite all odds, finding himself in a championship belt. This has become the cornerstone of his character – he is the perennial underdog, a guy who has built a remarkable career on the premise that he does not belong where he is determined to be.

The hair of Daniel Bryan signifies that his persona has its roots in professional wrestling’s vast underworld, where wrestling schools of varying degrees of seediness and refute have for decades been training zealot hopefuls across the country. The majority of these hopefuls are working class young men with dreams of the ephemeral glory only a select handful can attain for brief intervals inside the WWE ring ropes. These guys crave like a fix the cheers of a crowd as they posture and flex, even if the crowd is just a smattering of folks on folding chairs in a VFW hall or the ratty bleachers of a high school auditorium. Some of these guys are original, distinctively charismatic, or particularly talented as mike men, musclemen, or dramatists, but the true rank-and-file of the indy wrestling schools and feds are full of guys with hair just like Daniel Bryan – heartbreaking in their eyes’ eagerness, awkward in their costumes, unskilled at crafting gimmicks or working the mike, and not a few of them with hair in some state of in-between or disarray, not all that many with the careful buzz of a Randy Orton or the long glossy mane of a Roman Reigns.

As far as I can tell (since I didn’t pay attention to wrestling for a few years when life got complicated), it seems like Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan’s alter-kafabe-ego) came up through the independent circuit and WWE developmental leagues with a reasonable amount of smiling grace and haircut coif. He has only arrived at this iconic indy-like persona in the pinnacle of his WWE career, thereby making inverse the normal progress of a man’s career, not unlike the way he inverted his first and last name to arrive at his character. Daniel Bryan is a meta-underdog, an everyman’s wrestler and a wrestler’s everyman, which should earn him pantheon status with some of WWE’s everyman/underdog greats – Mick Foley, Steve Austin, and Spike Dudley, to name a few of my favorites in that category.

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