It’s been a year since Daniel Bryan shocked the world and became WWE Champion again. While it wasn’t a shock that he became the World Champion, it was the nature in which he did it. In retrospect, it’s safe to say that it was the best WWE Championship run in 4 years and perhaps the best heel title reign since Seth Rollins‘ one in 2015.
2018 was a mixed bag as a whole for Daniel Bryan. It started off on the highest of highs as he was cleared to return to in-ring action after being forced to retire two years prior. It was the dream come back and to make the story even better, his return match was at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the same arena where he won the WWE Championship in the main event 4 years before.
It was only expected that he would have his honeymoon period, but within a couple of months, that period came to an end and he knew it. Even though SmackDown had a stronger roster than the year before, something wasn’t clicking for Bryan. He was even feuding with his long-time rival The Miz, which should have meant that logically, things would get more intense – but it didn’t.
Something wasn’t clicking with Daniel Bryan, but that didn’t stop his popularity as a babyface. It was as good as ever and one thing led to another and he found himself as the next challenger in line for the WWE Championship. The man he had to get past was none other than The Phenomenal AJ Styles, a man who had held the WWE Championship for nearly a year at that point.
They were originally scheduled to face off at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, but political controversies stemming from the country meant that a few WWE superstars chose not to go. Among a few of them were John Cena and Daniel Bryan, both of whom pulled out of their appearances. Many believed that Bryan refusing to go to Saudi Arabia meant that he would be punished, but the opposite turned out to be the case.
While he did lose a title match prior to the event, they continued their rivalry afterward and the week of Survivor Series, things reached a boiling point between the two, with AJ Styles demanding to put the title on the line against Bryan. They would, of course, have a fantastic match, but what happened at the end left the entire arena stunned. Something was different about Daniel Bryan. The way he acted and wrestled was among them, but when he decided to hit a low blow on Styles when the referee wasn’t looking, the entire arena gasped in shock.
To top it all off, he hit the running knee and ended Styles’ year-long WWE title reign in the craziest way possible. He looked like a man possessed and after the bell rang, he further attacked Styles, cementing his heel turn. The final shot of the show was a demented Daniel Bryan holding the title and fans knew that things weren’t going to be the same.
It came as a shock because Daniel Bryan seemed to be one of those eternal babyfaces. It had been over 6 years since he was last a heel and to see him turn in that manner took everyone by surprise. It was a very different Daniel Bryan and many were hesitant, but many also knew that it was the right time to change things up since he didn’t have much momentum going for it.
And just like that, from having little to no momentum, he had all of it. He unsuccessfully challenged Brock Lesnar in the main event of Survivor Series but took him to his limit similar to the way AJ Styles had done one year before. After that, he declared himself as The New Daniel Bryan and had taken an entirely different persona. His run from November 2018 until WrestleMania 35 was nothing short of fascinating, with Bryan truly revealing why he’s among the greatest wrestlers of his time.
For many babyfaces, it’s hard to get booed. But Bryan belongs to the cream of the crop and managed to make himself the most hated heel in the company. Had it not been for him, there likely would not have been a KofiMania. While many would have loved to see Bryan have a long reign, the KofiMania story was simply too powerful to be denied and Bryan put over the perfect babyface at the right time. Although he would gradually turn face less than a year later, that run is one of the most unforgettable ones in recent times.