Wrestlemania xXx & the parallel journey
of Daniel Bryan and Frank Turner
- 04.04.14 -
I know some of you don't like to admit it to yourselves, but pro wrestling and WWE exists. And while fans tend to be quiet and hide in cupboards when normal people are around, Wrestlemania is their Superbowl. Fans like me get to shout about it a bit and say things like "look, you'd really like it if you just accept that it's stupid but it's all about the hard work, athleticism and being entertaining". Trust me when I say, Wrestlemania 30 - which takes place this Sunday (6 April) - might well be the best WWE gets and that is VERY good.
But rather than make you feel funny with talk about suplexes and piledrivers, perhaps you'd prefer this blog post about the most popular star in WWE, Daniel Bryan, and the most popular artist at Xtra Mile, Frank Turner. It's been acknowledged that Daniel Bryan is a big fan of Frank's music, and both of them are happy about this. This blog post compares their respective careers. The similarities in success and milestones are quite impressive, especially when you know they are a similar age (Daniel Bryan is seven months older than Frank), do drastically different things for day jobs (Frank isn't particularly sporty, and Daniel Bryan can't sing), and both have beards. Facial hair has nothing to do with anything, but it should be noted - they both have BEARDS.
Here's an edited version of the post for you all. Enjoy. See you on Sunday!
It’s Wrestlemania 30 (I refuse to call it Wrestlemania xXx for obvious SEO keyword issues) this weekend. That’s a big deal. It’s the 30th consecutive year that the pro wrestling equivalent of the Superbowl has been unleashed on the world. And while there are a few exciting attractions at the event, the man everyone’s attention is on is a relatively small, impressively-bearded former vegan who listens to indie rock called Daniel Bryan. It is highly likely that this unassuming superstar will end the night holding the wrestling industry’s grandest prize – the WWE World Heavyweight Championship – over his head and chanting “YES!” along with every single person in the stadium.
Who cares right? Well, I do and not just because he’s great at what he does, and has worked harder than anyone else to get to the top. But also because he’s a Frank Turner fan.
A while back I found out that Daniel Bryan loved Frank Turner’s music during this Twitter exchange.
This was a surprise as I don’t think of Frank - a man I know in real life and whose music I’ve very much enjoyed since 2003 – as someone who would feature in any way within the bizarre world of pro wrestling, let alone WWE which is the monolith of sports entertainment. It was surreal to think someone from that world knew and loved the music of someone I know and love. C’mon! WWE “superstars” are associated with Limp Bizkit, Drowning Pool, and Motorhead. “Tough” music. Rap metal. Radio-friendly “classic” rock. Not a middle-class Englishman playing folk and country-tinged love songs.
But then Daniel Bryan – or Bryan Danielson, as he is known outside of his current day job – isn’t your typical pro wrestler, just like Frank isn’t your ordinary arena-touring rock musician. In some ways, their careers have run in some sort of parallel. They’ve struggled but continue to fight, hit low points and broken through previously impenetrable glass ceilings, become respected, grown in popularity and are now swooping to previously unimaginable peaks almost simultaneously. It’s fascinating and exhilarating to watch and be a part of, especially considering they both know of each other’s existence and recognise the similarities.
I admire both men for their devotion and creative approach to their respective art. Most people wouldn’t argue with music as a form of art, though Frank himself might balk at the term in regards to his own songwriting, I don't know. Wrestling, though, might take some convincing for most of you. I haven’t got the time for that though, so just shunt your prejudices aside for a bit please.
So, how does a rational and, I guess, intelligent 32-year-old man like me who reads novels, dates other human beings (sometimes successfully), and can probably tell you the name of every country in the world and at least half their capitals, enjoy the work of a pro wrestler enough to compare it to music? He’s a 5’ 10”, 95kg, 32-year-old white dude with a long scraggly beard, wearing burgundy-coloured pants, often seen throwing himself around a four-sided ring kneeing people in the face. How is that even good?
He loses at his job a lot too, which is, perversely, part of why people like him. Also part of it is the underdog factor. He doesn’t look like a wrestler really, a bit like Frank doesn’t initially appear capable of commanding entire arenas of people. Yet both of them do that very thing. It’s the blurring of fact and fiction that makes Bryan’s story so compelling, too. Match results are pre-determined - yeah, yeah, wrestling is fake, yawn - so when he loses, it’s the company’s bosses making him lose in reality. But why? Probably to make him look bad or perhaps gain sympathy for him. That’s not always true, but the way Daniel Bryan’s WWE career has travelled, this isn’t too far from the truth. But because we, as fans, believe he’s been mistreated, this perception has become vital to the storyline that has been built towards Wrestlemania 30. The reason for him losing so much in the past six months is…well…that the company’s bosses are making him lose. So we're right, right? Confused? So am I. I don’t know what’s real or fake any more, and I consider myself clever and that. This whole post proves, I’m probably not.
But before we dive further into that Inception-style wormhole, let’s do a bit of a timeline comparison between hardcore punk advocate Frank Turner and independent wrestling fanatic Bryan Danielson. Because timelines are always fun. I think you’ll be surprised at how much these similarly aged, hirsute-preferring, forever-touring men have in common along their chosen paths.
Both Frank and Bryan began their tentative steps towards some semblance of a career in their chosen fields around 1998 – 2000. Bryan trained with the legendary WWF star Shawn Michaels, while Frank had already made some records and played shows during this period, which is essentially how you train in the hardcore punk scene; you don’t practice, you play live. He began in a band called Kneejerk, and their first show was supporting excellent political hardcore types Boysetsfire. By 2002, both Frank and Bryan were establishing the core of their legacies.
A legacy to be proud of:
Frank was in a savage and undeniable rock band called Million Dead, who played their first live show in September 2001 (you can find this online somewhere), the same year that Bryan’s first brush with his current employers took place. Bryan trained with English wrestling legend William Regal at Memphis Championship Wrestling, part of WWE’s developmental territories. As Million Dead continued to gain ground, touring all over the UK and into Europe while releasing two exceptional records in A Song To Ruin and Harmony No Harmony, Bryan became one of the key wrestlers at the heart of independent wrestling organisation Ring of Honor.. It was a tough but fulfilling, character-building time for both men, and they did their best to learn and grow within the limitations they faced – being in an unpopular heavy rock band and part of a barely-watched, fledgling wrestling company. In September 2005, Bryan had finally captured the ROH World Championship, while Frank had split from Million Dead and gone solo, which would lead him to far greater things, eventually.
First album and pay-per-view show:
In August 2006, the two men reached new milestones. Bryan unified the ROH World Championship with the ROH Pure Championship, leaving one top belt to fight for in the company. Frank played his biggest sold out solo show to date at the Camden Barfly. His performance of ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ was recorded that night for his first solo album Sleep Is For The Week, released at the end of January 2007. Bryan had a rough beginning to 2007 recovering from various injuries but, appropriately, he would headline ROH’s first ever pay-per-view event Respect Is Earned in May.
Development and changes:
With personal benchmarks set, Frank and Bryan continued practising and performing their art. Between 2008 and 2010, Frank would release two more albums, Love Ire & Song and Poetry of the Deed. In October, he played his biggest sold out headline show to date at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Bryan, meanwhile, was also making professional strides, leaving his beloved Ring of Honor at the end of September 2009, winning his final match against Englishman, Nigel McGuinness. He had just signed with the biggest wrestling company in the world, WWE, a month before. He spent the next three months preparing for the big leap.
WWE & Wembley Stadium:
While Frank continued to tour with his band, tearing through the new songs like never before, Bryan trained at WWE’s developmental environment FCW, building himself up for the big time. In February 2010, Bryan appeared in the new NXT television show, which was essentially a reality TV version of wrestling, where “rookies” engage their opponents in silly challenges to impress the judges and, ultimately, win a permanent WWE contract. The whole reason for this experimental show was to introduce these new wrestlers to an audience before the rookies invaded an episode of Monday Night RAW in mid-June, where they all attacked everyone at ringside and tore the ring apart in front of a live audience. It was brilliant. Unfortunately, it also led to Bryan being fired from WWE for being “too violent” on national television. Frank had a much more successful month. On 19 June 2010, he played Wembley Stadium, supporting Green Day, and also got his first Kerrang! cover feature that summer.
Redemption and further success:
Bryan was called back to WWE again in August, where he took part in the Summerslam main event. Frank meanwhile was having a ball by playing Reading and Leeds Festival for the fourth time in a row (possibly a record for any act). Here, he flexed his crowd-motivating muscles by getting everyone in the Radio 1/NME Tent to sit down and leap up in time with the chorus of Photosynthesis. I know. I was there, and I’ve not seen anyone who can really control a crowd like that. Well, not until this year anyway. In September, Bryan won the United States Championship, his first championship in WWE. Things were looking up.
A taste of rewards to come:
Although Bryan would lose the US Championship and have his match kicked off Wrestlemania XXVII’s card, 2011 would prove huge for both Bryan and Frank. June saw England Keep My Bones reach number 12 in the UK charts upon release, Frank’s biggest chart success to date and a great indicator of his growing popularity. In July, Bryan unexpectedly won the important Money in the Bank Ladder match, which entitled him to a World Heavyweight Championship match at any time of his choosing. So, both landmark life moments.
Later in the year, rewards were flowing. In November, Frank was deservedly awarded Hardest Working Artist and Best Live Act by the AIM Independent Music Awards. In a similar gesture and testament to incredible hard work, Bryan managed to successfully cash in his Money In The Bank contract to win the World Heavyweight Championship in December. Vindication. Naturally, within a few weeks, Bryan had already become irritatingly sure of himself and his over-the-top celebration for every and any victory – no matter how minor or tainted – saw him pointing to the sky and shouting “YES!”, to the annoyance of pretty much everyone. He would narrowly escape losing his championship though - justifying his outrageous self-confidence - all the way until Wrestlemania XXVIII, where a moment of posing arrogance would be his undoing.
Winning the popularity contest:
In April, both Frank and Bryan would have career turning points. Frank Turner, a man who used to play in hardcore punk bands and scream politicised lyrics in people’s faces, and who in 2005 was playing to six people at London pub shows, headlined Wembley Arena to a sold out crowd of around 12,000. Only two weeks before that milestone show, Daniel Bryan, who had wrestled almost constantly for ten years suffering injuries including multiple shoulder separations, torn tendons and even a detached retina, finally made it to the grandest stage of them all: Wrestlemania XXVIII. He was in the opening match and was greeted by a sizeable proportion of a 78,000 strong audience chanting “YES!” along with him. He had experienced the slow groundswell of support leading to this but no one expected a reaction on this scale. Unfortunately, Bryan’s night wouldn’t get any sweeter than that, as he lost his beloved championship in 18 seconds – a record World Heavyweight Championship loss at Wrestlemania. Fans were understandably pissed off. The next night on Monday Night RAW, the support for Bryan was somehow even more vocal. Bear in mind that through all this, he was still playing the “bad guy”.
Hard work pays off – Tag Team Champions and Olympics:
Bryan would have an incredible 2012 in most ways. Although he lost his World Heavyweight Championship rematch the following month, the match was undeniably one of the best of the year. He then spent three months feuding and having excellent matches with WWE Champion CM Punk, with whom he had brief history in Ring of Honour. The sight of two independent wrestlers fighting for the top prize in wrestling was any hardcore wrestling fan’s dream and they more than stole each night they fought. No one could touch their efforts. Bryan failed to win the big one though, which led him to a feud with pyromaniac monster Kane. After both of them attended “anger management” classes (welcome to WWE sports entertainment, everybody!), they became a reluctant tag team who ended up winning the WWE Tag Team Championships in September. While Bryan would shout “NO!” as fans shouted “YES!” at him, the team would also bicker constantly, with each man claiming “I AM THE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS!”, which is clearly incorrect however you look at it. In a parallel with Frank’s hard-touring lifestyle, Bryan would end 2012 having wrestled the second most television and PPV matches in the company with 90 contests in all.
Frank’s year did not peak with his incredible Wembley Arena show in April either. Not only would he unveil his heavy side project Möngöl Hörde – a dream come true for fans of Million Dead, especially as the band reunited him with his old drummer, and one of his best friends, Ben Dawson – but he would perform in front of one of the largest televised audiences on the planet. He performed at the pre-show for the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in June, to millions of people worldwide. All in a days work, then. He would end the year with a huge autumn/winter tour and launched his own beer, ‘Believe’, which is way better than playing the Olympic Games. If I’m gonna make this a competition (which I am) Frank thrashed Bryan’s match total of 90 by playing 158 gigs in 2012. They’re both impressive totals though. More than you did at any rate.
Reaching for the stars:
At this point, 2013 was bound to be another huge year for Bryan and Frank. April would see Frank releasing his fifth and most successful album so far,Tape Deck Heart. It reached number 2 in the UK album charts on the week of release, only beaten by soft ballad bore Michael Bublé. And he probably cheated. In comparison, Bryan and Kane lost the Tag Team Championship in May, but at 245 days they hold the fourth longest reign in history. And besides, Bryan was about to do the once-unimaginable. In July, Daniel Bryan was named as WWE Champion John Cena’s Summerslam opponent. John Cena, as the company’s top superstar, is the biggest challenge any wrestler faces whether he has the WWE Championship or not. The fans had really embraced the “YES!” chants by this point, with arenas full of people yelling it out with glee and Bryan had stopped shouting “NO!” at them in frustration. His popularity would not be denied and this was almost the entire reason for Bryan being chosen to headline Summerslam, the company’s second biggest show of the year.
Success, failure, injury:
Despite a back injury which was making itself apparent in June, Frank would tour extensively throughout the year, with high spots on several summer festivals including headlining 2000trees and getting main stage slots at T in the Park and Reading & Leeds. Almost poetically, Frank would play second album Love Ire & Song in its entirety at 2000trees, within days of Bryan being told he would headline Summerslam. Don't forget, Love Ire & Song is one of Bryan’s favourite records. Just as poetically, Bryan would go on to defeat Cena cleanly at Summerslam and win his first WWE Championship. But poetry and tragedy go hand-in-hand, so just like at Wrestlemania the previous year, he would lose the belt almost immediately thanks to special guest referee and COO of the company HHH attacking Bryan and allowing his own former protégé Randy Orton to win the belt from Bryan. Fair? Nope. Popular decision? Couldn’t have been more unpopular, but it made for excellent television. So, yay?
The long road to victory:
So here we are. 2014. So far, it's been a year of build and anticipation for both men. Frank has continued to actively tour since summer last year, as well as recording vocals for the anticipated Möngöl Hörde album, but has had to do so while going through intense physiotherapy for his back injury. It was obviously important to be fit and healthy for his most ambitious UK tour to date after all. Meanwhile, a storyline in mid-January which saw Bayou-dwelling hillbilly cult The Wyatt Family dominate and enslave Daniel Bryan (yes, I know but this also made for amazing television) concluded with possibly Daniel Bryan’s loudest crowd support ever. I mentioned how I couldn’t think of another time a crowd could be encouraged en masse quite like Frank getting everyone to sit down and leap up during a song, right? Well, as I wrote that, I was thinking of this example which definitely tops it. This is incredible. Especially watch how the crowd change their timing to fall in line with Bryan’s “YES!” pointing. Full video below (“YES!”ing throughout, but conducting by Bryan at 3:20):
It’s almost frightening. This chant goes all the way back to Wrestlemania XVIII. To see it co-opted by everyone on a grand scale is amazing. Now everyone does it. Hell, even the winners of the Superbowl thanked Bryan and the YES movement.
Reaching the peak:
Frank’s personal victory in January was - in distinct contrast to Bryan beating up a bearded cult leader - winning Celebrity Mastermind. His specialist subject? Iron Maiden. Of course. On 12 February, Frank’s professional victory was embarking on his first UK arena tour, highlighted by his biggest headline show at The O2, London. While not a sell out (this time), just playing an arena of that size filled with over 10,000 singing, cheering, clapping fans was beyond most people’s expectations for Frank. He’s surprised even the most devoted believers. In another bucket list-friendly move, he and his band the Sleeping Souls will now perform alongside Frank’s first favourite band - Iron Maiden, who else? - at Sonisphere Festival in July.
So, this is where we're at with our two all-conquering overachievers.
Frank's music can be heard on shows as divergent as BBC’s Countryfile and NBC’s Parenthood. He is slowly conquering America, tour by tour, and just a week or so ago he played his first few dates in South Africa. He has played 36 countries in the world – including China, Israel, Russia, and Vietnam - and 86% of states in the USA. He has high goals to shoot for and, despite all he’s achieved, is only just getting started.
Daniel Bryan is set for (potentially) two matches at the biggest Wrestlemania yet – the big 3-0. He will be competing against the COO of the company, and respected combatant in his own right, HHH. After six months of being screwed out of championships, thrown into unfair multi-man matches, dismissals and insults (“You’re a solid B+ player…we’ll see if we can find you a spot on the card at Wrestlemania” - HHH), Daniel Bryan’s challenge – with the help of his legions of fans and the so-dubbed “YES movement” - has been answered. Not only will he have a chance at proving he’s worthy of being in the ring against the 13-time World Champion, but if he beats HHH, he will then be entered into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship main event match with champion Randy Orton and Royal Rumble winner (and Guardians of the Galaxy star) Batista. Which, frankly, is what he deserved in the first place.
After years of the company embarrassing him, booking him to lose in matches against far inferior opponents, and generally trying to demean his independent background, his popularity has forced the company to take him seriously. Hell, even some of his army of internet fans have turned on him for becoming the “people’s favourite”. That’s popularity right there. Frank could possibly relate. He too has experienced years of being outside the norm; ignored, ridiculed for being different at school, playing music not in tune with the mainstream. Then, after some success with Million Dead, he stripped back to a solo acoustic folk sound and he was suddenly back where he started; former fans ignoring and turning on him, with a few hangers on and disinterested punters attending his shows. Similar to Bryan, his popularity has gradually expanded to previously unbelievable levels where young and old of all sexes, colours, creeds relate to his universality, his charisma, his passion, attitude, and most importantly, his performances. The only thing Frank’s missing is he doesn't dropkick people in the face. But then, Bryan can’t sing. So they’re probably even.
Both men, regardless of backgrounds, have worked hard and refused to compromise. They’ve taken every opportunity, and they are gathering rewards. But rather than just sitting back and accepting plaudits – like Daniel Bryan collecting Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Best Technical Wrestler NINE years in a row, or Frank’s growing number of silver discs – they continue to prove they’re the best at what they do, and that they won’t stop striving for higher standards or greater victories. We can learn something from these guys.
If Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson manages to win both Wrestlemania matches on Sunday and gain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he will have achieved what only one man before him has managed. That man, Bret Hart performed in two matches and won the championship 20 years ago at Wrestlemania X. But even he only managed to win the second of his two scheduled matches. Bryan will have to win both. Meanwhile, Frank Turner can be the only man in musical history who has played the Olympic Games, and also played the main stage of Sonisphere and two Canadian Folk Festivals. That’s a pretty niche set of achievements between them.
And I can guarantee Daniel Bryan is the only Wrestlemania headliner who has ever hummed along to Love Ire & Song.
You can read about Frank Turner’s reaction to finding out about Daniel Bryan being a fan at (former WWE Champion) John Bradshaw Layfield’s the Layfield Report.
This ace GQ interview explains some of the unexpected popularity Daniel Bryan received in the wake of his Wrestlemania XXVIII loss as well as mentioning his love of Frank’s work.
Wrestlemania xXx takes place this Sunday, 6 April 2014. It might be really good. Even The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan are there. You remember them, right? If Daniel Bryan wins, you are going to see a real “moment”. Follow Daniel Bryan on Twitter, and tell him to win for us all.
Frank Turner continues to rule at touring. His latest dates are here and you can buy ALL of his records (and you should) from here. Follow him on Twitter. He does lots of things because he hates boredom.
YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!
Daniel Bryan announced his in-ring retirement. This is to celebrate the happiest times. Go watch his matches, we urge you.