The Final Countdown

Look, I know that the news cycle is hectic these days but even still, this Daniel Bryan saga is fascinating to me. For those unaware, one of the last decade’s biggest stars is no longer under contract, a free agent after twelve years in WWE. Bryan is qualified enough for GOAT candidacy, a genuine gamechanger and one of the world’s most influential, consistently brilliant performers. Yes, that guy, he’s a free agent now. Well, only two months after that earth-shattering news broke, no one seems to cares.

I know, I know, we all share the same assumption. Deep down, everyone believes that Bryan is only headed in one direction, and that’s back where he left off. In that sense, Bryan isn’t even really considered a genuine free agent, as he’s just expected to land back on SmackDown after a lengthy stay at home. That’s fine, his choice of course, but the general discussion fascinates me. Basically, the wrestling world is quite hilariously divided, two opposing sides that are too scared to speculate.

One half of that equation has conceded defeat, certain that Bryan is returning to the show that they don’t watch anyway. The other half, well they’re comforted by that, quietly relieved at those expectations and now awaiting his comeback. With that, the conversation is stalled, everyone’s attention elsewhere while an icon sits the bench, apparently available. The truth is, the wrestling world is currently finding a form that’s been absent for twenty years. There’s another option now, another genuine option that doesn’t require much imagination.

As a fan, I’m certainly not dismissing a run in the Pure ranks for Bryan but it just doesn’t feel especially feasible. Dynamite on the other hand? Well, I think we’ve all see that visual in our head, unrealistic as it may be. Even though their roster is already oversized, AEW’s presence changes that dynamic, putting almost everyone back on the board. It may not be competition but it’s not a mere alternative either, it’s still the major leagues, they are simply playing across the road.

I do understand the resentment of that dialogue though, as it’s certainly hollow. Not every misused wrestler is worth speculating on, especially in a landscape so loaded with mystery. At the same time though, I think that movement in every direction is healthy and frankly, it’s nice to have these possibilities back. Things feel fluid again and that’s worth celebrating in my view, especially after such an era of stagnancy. Though the wrestling world was changing, its talent pool felt frozen in place.

In the US at least, WWE either had them or wanted them. That didn’t prevent great wrestling from happening elsewhere but their recruitment was so aggressive that as a result, everything below felt so incredibly secondary by comparison. It was leftovers, placeholders. The RAW and SmackDown rosters had never been better and yet, the product certainly had, creating a frustrating imbalance across the industry. Great performers were positioned where great performance wasn’t required, while the alternatives tried their best to piece together a competitive crew.

Now, as the wrestling world receives a necessary clean slate, things have very much changed. WWE’s strategy has shifted, cutting world-class talent monthly and slowly but surely, edging back towards a reasonably-sized wrestling roster. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never nice to see anyone lose their job but to me, this current redistribution of wrestlers is a positive for the industry. Steadily, as everyone finds their new home, the standard gets higher, each promotion adding fresh faces and experience along the way.

Now, more and more names can truly contribute, only adding depth to a landscape that’s already heating up. Daniel Bryan isn’t the story because for all his brilliance, he doesn’t really need to be. This is the last chapter of his career and obviously, he should shape it, whenever and wherever he wants. That goes without saying, he’s given us more than enough of his life, an unparalleled body of work in truth. Bryan isn’t some solitary hope to save the rest either, as they no longer need saving.

For the first time in a long team, the US alternatives can collectively compare to WWE’s colossal system. Not in a business sense of course, the industry leader won that game long ago but in terms of talent? The gap is closing. In fear of being awful cliché, this is an exciting time to be a fan. Multiple promotions are steady, mere content providers sure, but still safe in their setup. There are a range of national options and fans are back in the stands, all while with each passing day, more talent becomes available.

We’ve already seen some of the results, and more are ahead. In wrestling, the most exciting decisions aren’t handled by press release but instead, a lights out reveal or post-match attack. It’s electric, the sense that anyone can show up anywhere, that anything to happen. As more and more of these promotions unite, that feeling returns. We’ve already felt it, with an adapting wrestling world providing surprises that would’ve seemed unfathomable only eighteen months ago. There’s one interconnected scene, energetic and vibrant, even if distanced from WWE.

My point, or suggestion at least, is have fun with the speculation. Don’t be advising anyone or judging their decisions but as a fan, enjoy this moment. It wasn’t always this way folks. In fact, it wasn’t this way only a few years ago. This isn’t some naïve ‘new boom period’ statement either, it’s simply a celebration that to me at least, the wrestling world feels truly alive again.

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