The Best and Worst of Raw.
And just like that, he was gone.
I spent all night sitting here, staring at my computer screen, trying to think of something I could say that nobody else would.
I could run down a list of my favorite Bryan moments — the “yes” chants in the cage with Bray Wyatt, the title win over Cena at SummerSlam, the greatest one-night performance by a performer in WWE history at WrestleMania 30 — but that’s been done. You’ll see those lists everywhere. You’ll probably see two or three of them on With Spandex. I could list my favorite lesser-known Bryan moments — being the worst person in the world in a Cage of Death, getting a small package over as the deadliest move in Ring of Honor, cheating to win NXT contests with Derrick Bateman — but those will be done, too.
I could look at how he was important in teaching WWE that smaller guys can be top stars and make them money, or how he taught them that the Internet was a real fan-base and not the enemy, or how his presence on NXT season 1 episode 1 built a tiny foundation that would eventually turn it into an independent wrestling utopia, where Samoa Joe gets to come back to life and guys like Sami Callihan and Austin Aries get WWE jobs.
I could write about how he’s good at wrestling. How they told him he couldn’t make it and how he did it anyway, and what that means for downtrodden artists around the world who’ve been made to believe their dreams are impossibilities. These things are all true. Somebody will write each of them, and they’ll move you to tears.
I don’t know what to type.
“My favorite guy from my favorite thing is leaving.”
“My favorite guy from my favorite thing can’t do the thing he loves anymore because his brain won’t cooperate.”
He was my favorite guy. Life as a teenage wrestling fan pulled me away from Sting and pushed me in the direction of guys like Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. I got into Japanese wrestling and lucha libre, and learned to appreciate not only the fact that a person was a good wrestler, but why. “Technical wrestling” is vague as hell and most people equate it to “does a bunch of wristlocks and standing switches,” but these guys didn’t something special for me … they helped me create a sustainable illusion that what I was watching was real. Real enough to play along with, at least. I could lose myself in the stories and the wrestling like I did as a kid without having to feel stupid, and without having to pretend I didn’t see punches and kicks miss by a foot. They were misfit artisans, unappreciated geniuses in a medium of Hulk Hogan. They sorta pulled me aside and said, “hey, I know you’re growing out of this, but here’s a little something for you.”
When WCW folded, I followed the gaijin from my New Japan, All Japan, Toryumon and Michi Pro tapes to the American independents. Christopher Daniels, Reckless Youth, Mike Quackenbush … those guys gave me the impression that the next Benoit and the next Guerrero were currently working on their sh*t somewhere down the street, preparing for that day when they’d make wrestling real for someone. I grew up close enough to Tennessee to see a dorky little Jim Duggan in a mask named “The American Dragon.” Low Ki was doing things I’d never seen before. These guys ended up on a show called Ring of Honor, and while the show as a whole didn’t move me — skip the Christopher Street Connection at all costs — the main event did. There was an Opie Cunningham motherf*cker in tighty-whities wristlocking and standing-switching his ass off, and I was all-in. “I know you’re growing out of this, but here’s a little something for you.”
Here’s where we get to the sh*tty part of any “In Memoriam” writeup, or retrospective about a guy who was forced to retire too soon: the writer has to make it about themselves. It’s that Anthony Jeselnik joke about how when tragedy occurs, people run to social media to post “thoughts and prayers” as a way of saying, “don’t forget about me today.” The stuff I said earlier about his accomplishments and his great moments and all he did for wrestling, that’s what you need to take away from the column. It’s been said before and it’ll be said a thousand more times, because it’s the truth. It’s what’s important.