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.
9. Summer Screwjob
After weeks of looking strong in singles matches on Raw, SummerSlam had finally arrived. With COO Triple H presiding as referee, Bryan fought Cena tooth and nail in what was a highly-physical contest, with the efforts made all the more impressive by the fact that Cena was working through a torn tricep with noticeable swelling in his elbow. After 27 gruelling minutes, Bryan vanquished Cena with a charging knee to become the new WWE Champion.
But it wasn't to last - Money in the Bank contract holder Randy Orton emerged, prepared to use his free title shot on an exhausted titleholder. And his opportunity would become even easier once Triple H spun Bryan into a sudden Pedigree. Seconds later, Orton pinned the motionless Bryan, claiming the gold for himself. The treacherous act by Triple H would mark the first time in more than seven years that "The Game" would portray a heel.
8. Be All You Can B+
Sometimes WWE storylines manage to weave reality (or even the perception of reality) in with the scripted work, and that was the case as Bryan found himself the victim of the newly-named Authority. In justifying Triple H's Pedigree of the new champion at SummerSlam, Bryan was told that he was a "B+ player", someone that fans enjoyed seeing, but not exactly somebody that was going to move numbers.
As Triple H and Stephanie McMahon told it, Bryan was not the idealized "Face of WWE" that somebody like the 6'5", comparatively-muscular Randy Orton was. Bryan had been cast as an underdog before, but this time, he was an underdog babyface on the main event level, and conventional storytelling would have Bryan prove The Authority wrong by becoming the face of the company that they didn't believe that he could be.
7. Trilogy Of Error
Across the three pay per views that followed SummerSlam, Bryan would compete against Orton for the WWE Championship, and the bouts would boast some of the more unsatisfying finishes to major events in recent memory. The first of this particular trifecta took place at Night of Champions, and saw Bryan regain the belt, albeit on a fast count levied by corrupt referee Scott Armstrong. The belt was vacated (or rather, "placed into abeyance") the following night.
The rematch took place three weeks later at Battleground, and frustrated fans further when Big Show knocked out both men with WMD punches, the event fading to black without a winner. Three weeks after that, Orton defeated Bryan at Hell in a Cell in the titular match, when guest referee Shawn Michaels Superkicked Bryan over a perceived slight involving Triple H mid-match. And that would mark the apparent end of Daniel Bryan as a main eventer.
6. One Night In Seattle
It was less than a two-hour drive from Bryan's hometown of Aberdeen, WA to Seattle, the location of the 9 December 2013 episode of Monday Night Raw, which was a special Slammy Awards edition. The show may as well have been held in Bryan's backyard, given the deafening cheers that the former champion received for his earlier appearances on the card, in which he accepted several awards, including Superstar of the Year. But Bryan's best endorsement would come in a segment in which he was not supposed to be the focus.
With Orton and Cena unifying the WWE and World Heavyweight titles at TLC six nights later, the company held a special 'Championship Ascension' ceremony at the end of the night. A who's who of past World Champions joined Cena, Orton, and The Authority in the ring for the symbolic raising of the belts, but all the crowd cared about was Bryan, who was unable to blend into the sea of ex-titlists. Cena deftly acknowledged Bryan, while working his popularity into his match promo, but no matter: Daniel Bryan was the clear star of the segment.
5. Family Matters
At the time that Bryan was being toasted by his fellow Evergreen State natives, he was immersed in what was basically a midcard feud with The Wyatt Family. By the end of 2013, Bryan would submit to joining the Wyatts as a mentally-weakened lackey. Bryan looked like a miniature Erick Rowan with a full head of hair when he became the fourth member of the backwoods cult. While unified champion Orton was moving forward with his rivalry with Cena (and a planned Batista feud on the horizon), the still-popular Bryan appeared to be getting lost deeper into the shuffle.
Two weeks later, the union between Bryan and the Wyatts was dissolved. After refusing to let Wyatt drop him with Sister Abigail, Bryan took down all three of his supposed stablemates, leaving them laying with a series of kicks. The fans in Providence, RI almost blew the roof off the arena, chanting "YES!" along with their self-liberated hero. The visual of Bryan and thousands of fans doing the "YES" taunt in unison to close out Raw made for an incredible visual.
4. Stumble In The Rumble
26 January 2014 would mark the date of some of the ugliest fan receptions in WWE history. While crowds have turned on wrestlers, matches, and angles before, there was a different tone to their collective hostility the night of the 2014 Royal Rumble in Pittsburgh. When Bryan lost clean as a sheet to Wyatt in the pay per view opener, fans groaned, but many figured he would show up in the Rumble match itself, as his popularity simply could not be denied.
The Steel City crowd made it clear that they didn't give a fraction of a damn about the Orton/Cena WWE title bout, but even the acidic chants for that match were nothing compared to their reaction when they realized that Bryan was absent from the Rumble match. Rey Mysterio, the number 30 entrant, has never been booed louder in his career, simply for not having a mountain man's beard. Batista, the selected winner, was noticeably annoyed by the post-match chants for Bryan and the general anger. If WWE ran with Orton vs. Batista at WrestleMania, it was going to be a real problem.
3. Occupy RAW Street
WWE had more troubling issues than just a hostile crowd when less than 24 hours after the Royal Rumble as CM Punk walked out on the company for a litany of reasons. This would alter the configuration of WrestleMania XXX, as Punk was set to wrestle Triple H at the event. Punk looked to be staying away, and fans weren't warming to Batista in the ensuing weeks. That's when the power brokers went back to the drawing board, and restructured the biggest event of the year.
The storyline impetus for the change brought Bryan and The Authority back at odds once more, as on the 10 March Raw, Bryan and a large group of fans wearing his t-shirt "occupied" the ring, refusing to leave until Bryan got Triple H at WrestleMania. As Helmsley and wife Stephanie seethed from a distance, Bryan goaded the COO into accepting his challenge. While Bryan had the tiger by his tail, he sweetened the pot for himself by saying he wanted in on the World title match, should he win. Helmsley accepted, and would later tell an irate Batista and Orton (after chastising both of them) that if he beat Bryan, he was going to enter himself into the title match. So no matter what, 'Mania 30 was ending with a Triple Threat of some sort for the WWE Championship.
WrestleMania XXX would be book-ended by two stellar Daniel Bryan performances, involving three-quarters of the former group Evolution. In the night's opening match, Bryan wrestled Triple H in a contest that would settle their eight months of acrimony, as well as who would be the third man in the championship main event. The two mixed consummate wrestling with the usual sports entertainment flair, before a ragged Bryan polished Helmsley off with the running knee. In retaliation, Helmsley further injured Bryan's already-ailing arm in the post-match, planting a seed of doubt that Bryan would be able to properly compete in the finale.
But neither Bryan nor his faithful (The YES Movement) would be denied. Taking on Orton and Batista in the closer, Bryan fought off interference from The Authority, as well as referee Scott Armstrong, and managed to bounce back from a Batista Bomb/RKO combo in the closing stages. After Batista dropped Orton with another Powerbomb, Bryan seized the moment, toppling Batista with a running knee, before snaring him in the YES Lock. Seconds later, the Rumble winner tapped out, giving Bryan his third WWE Championship. Both Bryan and the fans got the ending they desired most, celebrating beneath pyro and confetti as the thirtieth WrestleMania came to a close.
Sadly, Bryan's moment on top would be short-lived. He would make one successful defence with the title, defeating former partner Kane at Extreme Rules, before being shelved long-term after neck surgery. On 9 June, Bryan vacated the WWE Championship, and would not return to the ring until the following January. Bryan would have to retire in early 2016 due to multiple concussions and a brain lesion, but would regain medical clearance two years later, returning to the ring in time for WrestleMania 34 (coincidentally in the same New Orleans Superdome where his biggest triumphs took place).
The Authority still persists to this day, acting as the villainous neutralizer for many a babyface character, from Sting, to Ronda Rousey, to John Cena, to all three Shield members, to a host of others. Their issue with Bryan ultimately ended that summer when Stephanie McMahon defeated Bryan's wife Brie Bella at SummerSlam, after twin sister Nikki turned on Brie. Other than Stephanie's occasional squabbles with Bryan during his time as SmackDown's general manager, the feud between the two sides was long over.