When Daniel Bryan was Brogue Kicked and pinned in 18 seconds by Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII, WWE had produced a memorable moment, but not the one they had intended to create. Instead of fans viewing the World Heavyweight title switch as a Honky Tonk Man-esque heel getting his comeuppance with a whirlwind defeat, the match was instead looked at as an unnecessary burial of someone who had worked his ass off to get to the main event tier and was to be celebrated, not deigned as unworthy.
Ultimately, the fans would have the last laugh two years later, when Bryan stood tall at the end of WrestleMania XXX, thrusting his arms up and down whilst holding the company’s two unified World Championships in each hand. The reported 75,000 fans in hand that night in New Orleans, along with the millions watching globally, rejoiced at this coronation. They had forced WWE’s hand, refusing to let ‘Mania 30 pass by without Bryan getting crowned.
In order to get to that point, there would have to be more bones of contention between the crowd and the firm, the vocal fans and the ones with the final say. Fans have invested deeply in their heroes before, but never to the extent that they did for Daniel Bryan en route to the thirtieth WrestleMania.
10. The New People’s Champion?
When Bryan’s part-comedic/part-serious partnership with Kane, Team Hell No, dissolved in the spring of 2013, Bryan all but transitioned back into the singles ranks on a regular basis. There, he would score notable wins on TV over the likes of Sheamus, Christian, and Randy Orton, the latter of whom Bryan would force to tap out in a street fight.
It was during this time that Bryan’s popularity truly began to soar, more than at any point over his previous three-and-a-half years with the company. Bryan’s natural everyman affability began to manifest once more, and his ability to connect with crowds was greater than that of any of his then-contemporaries, including the still-beloved CM Punk and the polarizing John Cena. When Cena handpicked Bryan to receive a WWE Championship match at SummerSlam, it rang as an acknowledgement that WWE heard the fans’ cries loud and clear – Bryan, to some extent in their eyes, was a worthy WWE main eventer.