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Hawke’s Top 10 Daniel Bryan Matches from 2018

January 1, 2019 | Posted by TJ Hawke
Brock Lesnar Daniel Bryan Survivor Series

After a three-year absence, Daniel Bryan finally made his return to the ring in 2018 after Vince panicked that he would lose one of his top stars to other promotions Bryan’s SEVERELY DAMAGED BRAIN was healed.

In typical fashion though for the nazi Trump Fundraiser, Bryan’s return has not been the phenomenon that it could have been. That was obvious right away when he returned at Wrestlemania in an AWFUL tag match with Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn.

The booking of Daniel Bryan of course would be troubling all year, but he proved the night after Wrestlemania against AJ Styles he was still the same, great Daniel Bryan. And that is the Daniel Bryan we will be focusing on right here.


10. Daniel Bryan vs. Rusev – 5/8/2018

This was a Money in the Bank qualifying match.

This match sparked a lot of #discourse in the moment due to the result. Bryan lost just about as clean as a top babyface can in the WWE, and that result became the source of much consternation. Yes, the outrage at the result was overblown but the actual presentation of the match was very interesting to speculate about.

For starters, this match was the total Daniel Bryan show. He was running around like a maniac to get the match over, and it absolutely worked. That was not the unusual part though. The odd thing about the work was just how much Rusev treated this match like just another day the office. Rusev did not really work like he had something to prove or that beating Bryan was a big deal.

While that aspect of it made the match seem ordinary and thus make Bryan losing seem ordinary, another aspect of the presentation made the match seem more notable. The result of this match was not really portrayed to be about Rusev winning but more about Bryan losing. And it was not in the “Man, Bryan is such a loser!” way that WWE can fall into the trap of either. It was more that the focus of this particular match’s story was that Bryan worked a great match but lost and now what is next for him?

All of this was a long way of saying, of course, theoretically this match’s result could push Bryan into an interesting direction. Bryan is not the type of wrestler who needs to win all the time from a character standpoint, and it would take a lot more to make him not over with the crowds than this here. While it’s important to keep that in mind, there is no reason to think that any storyline WWE produces will ever be Actually Good. So, everyone should probably just be happy that a perfectly solid match between two great wrestlers happened on their programming given The Absolute State of Vince McMahon’s Shit Travelling Circus. (***1/4)



**Commercial Break**

2018 was the year that Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura finally had a match together!



9. Daniel Bryan vs. Jeff Hardy – 5/22/2018

The only interesting thing in 2018 WWE is that Daniel Bryan got to wrestle again, and he just has ***-***1/2 matches every week on television. It’s really quite beautiful.

Here, they even did a nice beat where, recognizing that things were a bit too even for comfort, Bryan switched gears in the final minutes to attack one of Jeff’s knees. That set Jeff up to be defeated via knee bar.

In modern WWE, anything that can be considered “consistently good” is basically a miracle. Bless you, Daniel Bryan. (***1/4)


**Commercial Break**

One of Daniel Bryan’s best performances this year was when he worked the whole Greatest Royal Rumble. The match was not great, but there is only so much that Bryan can do.

Another one of his better performances was in a gauntlet match on Smackdown. Bryan vs. Big E in particular was great.


8. Daniel Bryan vs. Mustafa Ali – 12/11/2018

This was a very strong television contest and overall presentation. Bryan came out and cut a just-good-enough heel promo. Ali came out and stood up for himself after Bryan tried to position him as much lower than him.

They then proceeded to have the exact match they should have with each other. Ali showed a ton of fire. Bryan was perfectly generous. Bryan of course managed to put him away in a manner that helped set up his strategy for his PPV match with AJ Styles that was coming up in less than a week.

Bryan looked strong, and Ali looked better for being involved. Wrestling is really not that hard. (***1/4)


This feud continued the following week…


7. Daniel Bryan & Andrade Almas vs. Mustafi Ali & AJ Styles – 12/18/2018

This was a real good match. Everyone looked good in it, and Mustafa Ali continued to get elevated. While this match was good in its own bubble, the best part of it was that Ali continued to get presented well and made to seem like a bigger star. He managed to survive the onslaught from Bryan and Almas and then tag back in later to put Bryan away with the inverted 450. Once again, wrestling is really not that hard. (***1/4)


One of the better mini-feuds Bryan had this year was with Andrade Almas.

Bryan vs. Andrade Almas – 8/28/18

Bryan vs. Andrade Almas – 9/4/18


6. Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles – 11/13/2018

This was for AJ’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

While not anywhere near the level of their classic title match two weeks before, this was still a very solid television match. The action was worked to be competitive, urgent, and physical. There was a good sense of strategy throughout with both guys using limb work purposely and meaningfully. They also wisely did not do too much to truly make the heel turn seem like a super deflating ending. A fine match. (***1/2)



**Commercial Break**

While this year featured a ton of strong performances, it also contained one of his very worst singles matches ever against Luke Harper. That led to an awful tag team match with Kane vs. The Bludgeon Brothers.



5. Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass – 6/17/2018

This was actually quite good because Bryan was working like a mad man for no justifiable reason. He was running all over the place to make Cass looked good and even incorporated a great in-ring story of him constantly going after a leg of Cass to set him up for a heel hook finish. The work was rock-solid, and the crowd was into it. Yay. (***1/2)


This feud was not all sunshine and roses though to say the least.

Bryan & AJ Styles vs. Rusev & Aiden English – 4/17/18

Bryan vs. Big Cass – 5/6/18

Bryan vs. Big Cass vs. Samoa Joe – 5/29/18



4. Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz – 8/19/2018

This match was presented very well within its own self-contained bubble. Both guys were working cautiously and methodically but always with the intention of winning clearly being conveyed.

They were working as if they knew each other almost too well so they had to be a bit more cautious than normal less they telegraph something and leave themselves wide open. It made for a compelling match in a time when “compelling professional wrestling matches” was (is) a huge struggle for a company whose job it is to put on professional wrestling matches.

If there was a major knock on this one it was in the macro. The finish (Maryse helping Miz win by sneaking him an INTERNATIONAL object) suggested that this was simply the first in a series of matches to bring this near-decade long feud to a close. Instead though, WWE decided to avoid the obvious direction (Miz wins the big belt and CHASE), and Miz basically just won two PPV matches in a row against Bryan with no clear path to a payoff in sight. (***1/2)


These guys had two more matches on PPV in 2018.

Bryan vs. The Miz – 10/6/18

Bryan & Brie Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse – 9/16/18



3. Daniel Bryan vs. Shelton Benjamin – 6/12/2018

This match had such a simple layout, but in the bland WWE environment it stood out so much. Shelton found an opening by going after one of Bryan’s knees. Bryan was hobbled but not dead. He then targeted one of Shelton’s knees. Shelton never lost focus though and continued to go after his best shot to win. Bryan managed to reverse a submission into a heel hook though and escaped with the victory. This is gonna be one of those matches that will not get any attention now but will be beloved when it is watched on homemade Bryan compilations a decade from now. It short, sweet, and focused from bell to bell. (***1/2)


These guys had a second match later in the year.

Bryan vs. Shelton Benjamin – 10/2/18



2. Daniel Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar – 11/18/2018


This one is probably a great example of the futility of reviewing all wrestling matches in the moment that they happen. Aspects of this one that were irritating as they were unfolding might prove to be meaningless upon reflection or might only grow in in regards to holding down the match. It would be easy to guess how history will judge this one (or even if it’s deemed worthy of reflection), but it’s impossible to know for now.

In theory, a lot of this match was genuinely great, and the theoretical structure for it certainly played a role in its success. Bryan taunted Brock for the first couple of minutes. Brock was getting quite annoyed.

Brock dominated for a long time in a manner that once seemed fresh but now has been dull for years. At this point, this seemed to be another dull defense for Brock.

Bryan, as per his newly made heel ways foreshadowed, only managed to make it competitive after the ref got bumped and he was able to kick Brock in the nuts.

From that point forward, the match got objectively awesome. Bryan threw absolutely everything he had at Brock*, and Brock desperately fought back on pure instinct as he moved and operated like his life was on the line.

*Sidenote: no one falls from the ring to the floor better than Brock Lesnar. He makes it seem like he’s shoot falling and has no coordination whatsoever that would allow him to cushion the fall. It’s amazing every time. If only all wrestlers could work fewer than a dozen dates a year which would allow them to always fall like that. 

The crowd was electric. Both guys were working as well they have done in recent years. The in-ring story was flawless and organically came about through the action in the ring. Everything was on fucking point, and Brock’s last-second clean F5 win even felt earned.

So, what’s the problem?

This is WWE. And it’s really hard sometimes to even accept good things that happen in a bubble just for what they are.


I’m just gonna accept it anyway though.

For the moment, I will forget that Brock’s annoying as a human and that WWE catering to him at all times is annoying (especially when there’s a perpetual real need for new and younger talent to get the torch already).

For the moment, I will forget that Bryan should be treated like a star, and that the only reason he got to make this match competitive for so long was that he allowed himself to look like a dweeb who needs to cheat.

For the moment, I’ll just accept that an exciting main event happened on main roster WWE programming.

For the moment, I’ll just accept that Brock Lesnar managed to get pressured into actually working a real match for the first time in a long time.

For the moment, I’ll just accept that Daniel Bryan got to show off why he’s one of the greatest of all time yet again.

For the moment, a great match happened and everything comes before and after the bell on the programming does not have to matter. Because WWE is awful and a great thing bell-to-bell is more than you should ever expect from them anymore.

Time will likely make a fool of all who praise this match, but it was fun in the moment if you turned your brain off. And turning your brain off is the only way to get any level of satisfaction from WWE’s main roster. (****)



1. Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles – 10/30/2018

This was for AJ’s WWE World Championship.

In an age when it seems to be nearly impossible for WWE to produce anything on the main roster that feels genuinely great and inspired, this match felt like a near miracle in some ways. Obviously, you see Bryan vs. AJ on paper and expect good if not great, but WWE has been artistically stuck in (self-made) quicksand for so long you forget that genuine greatness is possible.

Both guys easily could have relied on their standard stuff to put on a crowd-pleasing affair. Instead though, they clearly set out to do something unique for WWE programming. This match was as physical and as vicious as a WWE match could possibly be. From the jump, both guys were looking for openings and scouting telegraphed moves to cause as much damage as possible. There was just a meanness to all of their movements that was born, not from a melodramatic story, but instead from an organic sense of competition.

They also included a story to hold the match together when needed. Bryan tweaked his knee on a tope suicida early on in the match. That did not immediately wreck his knee, but his knee got in progressively worse condition as the match wore on.

That decision allowed them to build to this dramatic sequence down the stretch where Bryan desperately went for various submissions to put away AJ before his knee fully gave out. It was all for naught though as AJ managed to reverse a triangle into the Styles Clash and immediately finish Bryan with a calf slicer on the damaged leg. Fantastic match. (****1/2)


These two had two inferior battles in the ensuing weeks.

Bryan vs. AJ Styles – 11/13/18

Bryan vs. AJ Styles – 12/16/18

article topics :

Daniel Bryan, WWE, TJ Hawke