Monday, 12 October 2015

Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes!

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 432 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 15 2015

In 2015, the Yes Movement were thrilled to learn that the first proper WWE DVD would be released on Daniel Bryan, combining a WWE Network documentary with a selection of Bryan's most memorable matches in WWE. Bryan has long stood out as one of the world's greatest wrestlers, even before joining WWE as he perfected his craft and built a strong legacy on the independent scene, with a 15-month reign as ROH Champion being a key highlight during that period. Given Bryan's high standards for wrestling excellence, then, would this 3-disc DVD match expectations for him and his fan base, or would it have his most loyal followers shouting "No!"?

To begin with, this really is a DVD of two parts, as it's clear that the documentary and the match round-up are separate projects. Case in point: this DVD is called Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes!, whereas the documentary clearly states (as it did during its initial WWE Network showing) the title Daniel Bryan: Journey To WrestleMania. That being said, the documentary is fine as it is, looking in-depth at Bryan's final preparations before his show-stealing performances at WrestleMania XXX, and blending in some additional footage and talking head comments that track Daniel's career up to the weekend of WM 30.

Besides the lead-up to the 2014 Mania, Included is footage of Bryan in Shawn Michaels' Texas Wrestling Academy, where he was trained; initial dark match and Velocity footage from his days as a nameless face getting minimal offence in against star WWE performers; his independent exploits, including footage of him in Ring Of Honor; his initial WWE exposure on NXT, as well as the bafflingly entertaining feud with Michael Cole and his controversial firing in June 2010; his subsequent success in WWE up to the point of cashing in Money In The Bank and winning his first World Heavyweight Title in WWE (although his relegation to the dark match at WM XXVII is also covered); the 18-second malarkey at WM XXVIII that actually ended up making Bryan a star in a roundabout way; the development of his relationship with Brie Bella, who Bryan would marry shortly after WM XXX; and his rise up the headline ranks in WWE, which through a number of unforeseen circumstances over the weekend of Royal Rumble 2014 saw Bryan gain entry into the main event of WM XXX. The documentary ends, of course, with clips of Bryan achieving the once-unthinkable and becoming WWE World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania XXX.

The documentary is very good, although the Road To WM XXX have a slightly scripted, kayfabe-ish feel to them that one normally sees on Total Divas. The sections which cover Bryan's career are very honest, from noting Bryan's perceived lack of charisma when he first entered WWE proper to his true feelings on his two WrestleMania-related nightmares with Sheamus, and they add up to a profile feature that is never less than engaging. I think an obvious flaw is that the documentary isn't that long; the original Network transmission lasted an hour, and this only adds a slight percentage of additional footage, whereas expanding it to a 90-minute feature (like on the most recent Ultimate Warrior DVD) or to two hours would have made it far more informative (for instance, we don't get anything concerning Team Hell No, his hilarious on-off partnership with Kane) and, potentially, one of WWE's greatest documentaries to date. As it is, though, Bryan fans should still appreciate most of the content in this portion of the DVD, even if they will be hoping deep down for a more in-depth look at the life and times of their hero in the future at some point.

The documentary is the only content on disc one, which is disappointing; we could at least have gotten a few bonus stories here. Instead, we jump right to disc two, and the second part of the compilation, evidenced by the mini-intro which ends by displaying the title of the DVD, something we don't see repeated on disc three. In other words, this is essentially two separate Daniel Bryan DVDs rolled into one.

That aside, the final two discs run through Bryan's WWE highlights, accompanied by new footage of Bryan discussing each bout and/or key chapters of his career, again with refreshing honesty. We also get some more talking head appearances by those seen on disc one, with an Easter Egg coming by right-clicking the menu chapter which previews Bryan's first PPV encounter against The Miz (the EE in question sees Bryan talking to ... The Miz, although it's impossible to tell if it's a real-life discussion or a blatantly scripted chit-chat because the cameras are rolling; I think the latter). We unfortunately don't get any non-WWE matches (surely WWE could have gotten at least one from ROH, since we do see footage and photographs of Bryan in his ROH days during the documentary?), but we do some nice rare footage prior to Bryan making his official WWE debut in the form of an intriguing yet overly long dark match from 2000, where we see a very young Bryan as American Dragon team up with Shooter Schultz (no idea what happened to him) against future WWE stars Brian Kendrick and Lance Cade, as well as a 2003 Velocity bout pitting Bryan against Jamie Noble (where Noble incidentally gives Bryan a very generous amount of offence, which unfortunately the people do not appreciate; how times change).

We then move onto Bryan's official WWE run, beginning with a short yet exciting NXT scrap with the then-World Heavyweight Champion, Chris Jericho. Following this is his United States Title win over The Miz at Night Of Champions 2010 (which is probably Miz' best match ever), and then Bryan cashing in Money In The Bank on Big Show to win the World Title at TLC 2011 (beforehand, Bryan notes his topsy-turvy ride in WWE up until that point, and notes the true circumstances behind him becoming champion that night; it would have been nice to see the MITB Ladder match that gave him the briefcase, though). Next up is Bryan against Big Show for the gold from an early 2012 episode of SmackDown, featuring commentary by Mark Henry that on the surface seems dull, but when you listen closely, it's actually hilarious at times; whether Henry intended for his lines to come across humorously is anyone's guess.

Bryan then recounts the WrestleMania XXVIII situation and his 18-second defeat to Sheamus which, as noted earlier, ended up being a boost, actually to three careers: Sheamus won the World Title (and KIND OF preserved his body a bit by not having to take bumps on this night); the manner of Bryan's defeat ended up influencing die-hard fans to furiously support him, which ended up leading to his explosion in popularity that took him to the top; and even AJ Lee, Bryan's on-screen girlfriend, would develop her psychotic character as a result of Bryan dumping her for supposedly causing him to lose so quick. Granted, most fans and the combatants would have still preferred a lengthy World Title match that night in Miami, but in the long run, it all worked out. Except maybe for Sheamus, who is currently treading water as a heel despite holding the MITB briefcase himself these days.

Anyway, the next match is Bryan's brilliant Two Out Of Three Falls match with Sheamus from Extreme Rules 2012 (both note that this was more or less the match they should have had at Mania 28), and is followed by Bryan facing CM Punk for the WWE Title at Money In The Bank 2012 under No DQ rules (and with AJ as referee). I preferred their first scrap at Over The Limit 2012, but this is still really good, and the pre-match clips are humorous for two reasons. Firstly, Bryan tells a funny story about his ring gear that night. Then, as is the case with many matches on this DVD, we get the full recap video as used on WWE television for the match (a nod to old-school WWF/WWE compilations), which stands out as humorously ironic because, when recounting the whole AJ storyline, and all the male wrestlers she supposedly went with, the only one she ever proposed on-screen to was ... CM Punk, who of course she ended up marrying for real (and are both paying for that now, or at least their WWE legacies are since both left the company, which in AJ's case is WWE at its most petty).

This part of the DVD does cover Team Hell No, with some very funny clips of Bryan and Kane in Anger Management and "hugging it out" on Raw, leading to their unspectacular yet entertaining WWE Tag Team Title win over Kofi Kingston and R-Truth (one of the most forgettable teams in WWE history) at Night Of Champions 2012. I thought we should have gotten one more Bryan/Kane match, which ideally would have been the superb 6-man TLC match from TLC 2012, but instead we jump ahead to Bryan dethroning John Cena for the WWE Title in a great if slightly long match at SummerSlam 2013, with all the post-match shenanigans included (which I loved as a shock PPV ending, incidentally). Bryan's refreshing honesty comes through here when he notes that he feels the match with Cena was ultimately unsuccessful because it didn't do a great PPV buy rate, although some would argue that this was down to WWE's questionable promotion of Bryan prior to SummerSlam (Bryan also seems to cover WWE when he notes that he didn't main event any PPVs alongside Punk in 2012 as if it were their fault, rather than it being due to WWE's obsession with pushing Cena, which was at its most frustrating in summer 2012 for that very reason).

Oh, I almost forgot: before Bryan vs. Cena, we see arguably the greatest Gauntlet match ever from a July 2013 Raw. Bryan firstly faces Jack Swagger in a basic, yet watchable opening salvo. But then we get a truly epic singles collision with Antonio Cesaro, which stands up as one of the year's greatest matches on its own. Finally, Bryan battles Ryback, then in his heel run (which never seemed right to me, nor to most fans really), which despite the poor ending is a very respectable end to a fantastic overall match presentation and a first-class performance by Bryan across the three matches. (Its showing here is slightly damaged, though, by WWE cutting the final few minutes where Cena endorses Bryan and the fans give Bryan a well-deserved standing ovation, presumably because Cena challenged Ryback to a Tables match during that scene, since Cena vs. Ryback obviously wouldn't be included here. If you want to see it, look for the July 22 2013 episode of Raw on the WWE Network and it'll be there. Hey, maybe that was WWE's intention!)

A decent No DQ match with Randy Orton on a March 2014 Raw is book-ended by Bryan discussing the true story behind his rise to the main event of WM XXX, including acknowledgements of CM Punk leaving WWE and of his disappointment when he initially learned that he would face Sheamus at that year's Mania. (Incidentally, the question must be asked: what was WWE's obsession with pairing Sheamus up against Bryan? There were even rumours at one point that the two were supposed to face off at WM 31, which if true means that WWE in some way planned Bryan to wrestle Sheamus at four of the last five WrestleManias!) We don't get Bryan's first Mania bout with Triple H, which is slightly disappointing, but of course we see Bryan defeat Batista and Orton for the title in the WM 30 top-liner, which in hindsight suffers greatly in crowd noise from Brock Lesnar shockingly ending The Undertaker's Streak (it was noticeable on the night, but besides a quick burst when The Authority interfered, the fans are almost silent until the final few minutes.)

The DVD enters slightly strange territory next when the compilation based around Bryan becoming World Champ at WM 30 goes on to cover almost the next year of his career. There isn't much footage to show, though, because as Bryan explains, shortly after WM, he suffered a neck injury which sidelined him for the rest of 2014, which combined with the sudden passing of his father made the late spring and summer of 2014 a very difficult time for him. It all led to his appearance on the final Raw of 2014 (shown here) where Bryan, after teasing retirement, announces his long-awaited return at Royal Rumble 2015 (which didn't turn out so well, not least for RR winner Roman Reigns). Speaking of Reigns, he and Bryan meet in the DVD's final match, the Fast Lane 2015 main event with a WM 31 WWE Title shot at stake. Reigns won, convincingly and after putting forth a pretty good effort. It feels like a weird way to end the DVD; however, the DVD was in production between Fast Lane and Mania, meaning that we couldn't see Bryan win the Intercontinental Title in a 7-man Ladder match from Mania 31 on this release.

It's awkward as well to see Bryan end the DVD (well, his comments on the DVD, since it fades to black with Reigns celebrating funnily enough) discussing how his health is back to 100%, because as we all know shortly after WM 31, Bryan was again injured and hasn't wrestled since, with conflicting reports on when he will return or even if he will return (and if he does whether it'll be in WWE). It'll be very sad for Bryan if his career is over, and even if he ends up wrestling again but outside WWE, because bad luck has ultimately denied him the chance to prove himself as a main eventer after spending so many years developing, without exaggeration, into one of the all-time great wrestlers. Hopefully, things will improve and we will see Bryan compete in a WWE ring someday, even if it is only for one final swansong encounter.

The Blu-ray includes more than a dozen additional interview chapters, as well as four extra matches that given their rarity are worth buying the HD discs for: a 2003 Velocity match against a young John Cena; a shockingly brief NXT match with William Regal from 2010 (their November 2011 match from Superstars in Liverpool, which I attended, is far better, and even Bryan at one point said that the latter was his favourite match); a basic mixed tag match that exists here only to show him and Brie, as they face Ted DiBiase and Maryse; the full Anger Management footage of Bryan and Kane (which is well worth watching again); and a Cage match pitting Bryan and Bray Wyatt against The Usos during Bryan's quickly-forgotten association with The Wyatts (although this ends with Bryan leading virtually 100% of the arena into a thunderous and perfectly-influenced "Yes!" chant, which is a Raw moment in itself).

As an overall package, this is a great wrestling DVD. The gaps in the documentary are minor at best, the tone is almost entirely honest, and the match selection thoroughly delivers with any notable omissions being acceptable (besides possibly there being no Bryan matches from ROH or any other indie promotions). I would still like to see another Bryan DVD someday with a longer, truly career-spanning documentary (and one filmed for use on a DVD and not a WWE Network rerun), complete with some of Bryan's ROH and indie scraps before bringing us more of Bryan's greatest WWE matches and moments. So, is this a DVD which all Daniel Bryan fans should purchase. Take a wild guess at the answer ...

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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