I was lucky enough to see this live. Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson in real life) had spent most of the previous few months in a program with then-champion Randy Orton, trying to win the title but constantly being denied due to the machinations of (on-screen) management because he wasn't big or telegenic enough, even though the crowds loved him and would loudly chant his name even during segments where he was not the focus. It seemed a little mean-spirited, even for a wrestling angle, and in many fans' eyes seemed to reflect the company's one-time (and maybe, as many suspected, then-current) feelings about the guy. But still the crowds chanted, even as he got shuffled out of the title picture and into a storyline where he became the thrall of backwoods cult leader Bray Wyatt and his Wyatt Family.
A storyline that lasted I think maybe a week. At the WWE Monday Night Raw from Providence, RI, on January 13, 2014, Bryan turned on his new masters in a cage match, beat them down, ascended the top of the cage, and earned the loudest, most continuous crowd reaction I have ever experienced... TV doesn't do it justice. From here the crowds chanted him all the way into the main event of Wrestlemania that March and the company's championship title at last - a move that many theorize, probably correctly, was not the original outcome at all. Professional wrestling as a whole, and WWE in particular, is notorious for pushing the people that the promotion itself wants as the Top Guys, but the crowd would not be swayed into anything less than exactly what they wanted, and what they wanted was Daniel Bryan.
Bryan announced his retirement Monday. His 16-year career has been an incredibly accomplished one, seeing him performing in parking lots and gyms to the main event of Wrestlemania at the Superdome in New Orleans, and all points in between both in this country and abroad. While it's a true shame to see his career end so soon due to injuries (repeated concussions, mostly, but also some back & neck issues, IIRC), I'm happy that it ends for understandable reasons, and not in tragedy. The man was an amazing talent, and by all accounts a hell of a nice guy, and I hope that the next chapter of his life entails that it brings him happiness and success however he happens to define that. He talked in his retirement speech on Monday about how grateful he was for wrestling and all that it has brought him, and I think it's safe to say his fans are grateful for everything he gave to us. I know I am, and I will remember for the rest of my life the energy of the crowd cheering "Yes! Yes! Yes!" as he sat at the top of that cage.