COMMENTARY | As "Monday Night Raw" went off the air on Sept. 23, Daniel Bryan, a man who four years ago was wrestling in bingo halls, stood in the center of the ring with the entire arena chanting his catchphrase with him. It was a scene that hasn't happened often over the last 10 years in the WWE, but a much welcomed one.
After not even having singles match at Wrestlemania 29 in March, Bryan has taken the WWE by storm this summer. His unlikely ascent into the main events of almost every WWE program and pay-per-view has mimicked another superstar's rise to the top some 17 years ago: Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Back in the summer of 1996, Austin was just another middle of the card heel with no real connection with the audience. After toiling around with the Savio Vega's of the world, Austin got his break during a feud with Bret "The Hitman" Hart.
Even though he was the "bad guy" in the feud, fans slowly started to root for Austin and eventually he became not only WWE Champion, but the biggest draw in wrestling. Fans flocked to arenas to watch Austin raise hell and drink beer in the middle of the "Attitude Era."
Admittedly, Bryan will never reach the levels of financial success that Austin did - it's highly unlikely anyone ever will - but he has made a connection with the audience that no one since Austin or The Rock has made.
We've all seen the wide angle shots of the various arenas around the country filled with fans chanting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" with Bryan while thrusting their arms in the air. It's not just small sections of the arena joining in, the entire venue is behind this guy every time he steps in the ring.
As popular as John Cena has been for the last eight years or so, he never connected with the entire audience. When CM Punk unleashed his "pipe bomb" promo two summers ago, he connected with a large chunk of the audience, but even he didn't reach the levels of Bryan's recent success.
And that success, much like Austin's didn't seem likely just 18 months ago.
In March 2012, Bryan was the World Heavyweight Champion, who did his best to annoy fans by chanting "Yes!" and pointing to the belt on his way to the ring. When he lost his championship to Sheamus in just 18 seconds at Wrestlemania 28, it looked like Bryan was done.
But a funny thing happened. While the next match was going on, fans started chanting Bryan's name, a sign that they still supported him. Bryan continued with the shtick while partnering with Kane to form Team Hell No last year.
Eventually he started winning over a larger portion of the audience and once he received his break by earning a championship match with Cena at this year's Summer Slam, the entire audience was behind Bryan.
Unlike Cena, Bryan not only captures the attention of young wrestling fans with his trademark beard and chant, his in-ring ability keeps the "smart" wrestling fans from claiming he can't wrestle.
It's no coincidence either that once Bryan became a force in the WWE, a storyline developed between him or the powers that be which involved the people in charge trying to stop Bryan from becoming the face of the company.
If that story sounds familiar, it is. Vince McMahon spent the majority of 1998 and 1999 trying to stop another superstar from reigning supreme in the WWE: Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has watched professional wrestling since he was 3 years old. Not just a WWE fan, Matt enjoys Ring of Honor and Japanese wrestling. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.
- Sports & Recreation
- Daniel Bryan
- Stone Cold Steve Austin