Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE
If history has taught us anything, it’s that we like the underdog. The world of wrestling is certainly no exception.
With the abrupt retirement of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Daniel Bryan this week, due to injuries, the wrestling world, along with its fans, took pause to reflect on the legacy left by a guy who was more or less told he could never make it to the top in a world of muscular giants whose personalities often were as large as their builds.
Thankfully, Bryan proved everyone wrong.
Not only did he succeed, but he conquered every single obstacle that came his way, including winning the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the most memorable main events in WrestleMania history.
Bryan will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest examples of beating the odds that pro wrestling has ever seen. But he’s certainly not the only.
In fact, Bryan is merely the latest to beat the odds, capture the collective imaginations of fans and pundits everywhere and take the wrestling world by storm.
Following is a list (subjective, obviously) of some of the greatest examples of overcoming the odds in wrestling history.
1) Stone Cold Steve Austin: Flat out, no one in the 1990s was buying into the idea that a bald white guy in plain black trunks who defied authority could be the face of the company. Dare I say, not even Steve Austin himself could have predicted he would take a trash-talking, middle finger-waving, authority defying, ass-kicking amped up version of his real self and get it over more than any wrestler in the history of wrestling. But we’re all sure glad he did. Austin is quite simply the reason WWE became the financially success giant it became. He’s sold more merchandise than anyone in history and he’s arguably the most popular wrestler of all time. Not bad for a bald guy in black trunks.
2) Daniel Bryan: He was so small and un-wrestler-like that his size even became fodder for a storyline in which WWE brass referred to him as a B-plus player at best. In spite of that, Bryan won over the hearts and imaginations of fans and wouldn’t be denied. His Yes! chants following key wins were not only deafening, but simply awesome to watch. His world title win at WrestleMania is a top-5 WrestleMania moment and his career gives hope to any kid, of any size, who aspires to become a WWE superstar.
3) CM Punk: Too small, too vanilla and unlikely to get over with fans or brass. That was the rub against CM Punk when he made his way from Ring of Honor to the mighty WWE. Blending an unrivalled skillset with unmatched microphone skills, Punk not only shut his naysayers up, he blasted them to another universe. Easily the best in the world during his run, Punk’s pipebombs were outdone only by his 434-day run as WWE champ, unheard of in the modern era and unlikely to be repeated any time soon. Punk did things his way.
4) Mick Foley: Overweight, unattractive (he admitted Vince McMahon put the Mankind mask on him when he hired him due to his looks) and athletically challenged, Mama Foley’s baby boy beat, violently I might add, all the odds, single-handedly opening the doors for future stars such as Kevin Owens, Bray Wyatt and others. Foley’s WWE championship win on Monday Night Raw delivered the death knell to WCW during the Monday Night Wars and his violent Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker will never be forgotten, or duplicated. Foley then reinvented the wrestling autobiography genre, penning a New York Times best-seller, unheard of at the time.
5) Trish Stratus: The Canadian-born diva came aboard as a pretty face, but quickly established herself as a force. She would lead the way as the WWE found uncharted heights in popularity with its women’s wrestling, capturing an unprecedented seven WWE women’s titles and finding worldwide fame like no one before her. Quite simply, Trish blazed a new trail for women in wrestling.
6) Rey Mysterio: At five-foot-six, 179 pounds, I’m not sure there’s been a smaller WWE world heavyweight champion. Mysterio helped revolutionize the cruiserweight division and ushered in a new style of aerial-based wrestling, one that has become a staple in the sport today. One of the most decorated “small” guys in WWE history, Rey broke down a lot of barriers in his illustrious career, capturing the WWE title three times, winning the Royal Rumble and becoming the 21st Triple Crown champion. Mysterio opened the door for a lot of foreign wrestlers. He did it all while looking nothing like the prototypical wrestler.
7) Shawn Michaels: Another of the so-called “too small” variety, Mr. WrestleMania broke free of the tag-team division and dominated the singles division like few before him and since. Michaels was a dominant force during a dominant era and many of his matches and title runs are the stuff of lore and legend. Few could even perform at his level, even fewer could do it for as long as he could. He owned WrestleMania, quite frankly, and his ability to rise to the occasion, through all kinds of serious injuries, put him in a league of his own.