Daniel Bryan became famous in WWE in the 2010s but almost made his debut a decade earlier as part of a new project in the WWE.
The future WWE Champion debuted as part of the NXT Game Show in 2010, although he had wrestled in a series of c-shows and dark matches years prior to this. He was under contract with the WWE in the early 2000s as part of a developmental deal. He was situated in Memphis for Mephis Championship Wrestling (MCW) which is where he met his mentor and lifelong friend William Regal. He learnt a lot from the English wrestler and the pair wrestled many times as part of the promotion, one of which you can watch on Youtube below.
He was released by the WWE in 2001 but continued to make appearances on a pay-per-appearance basis until 2003. After that he went to work back on the indies where he became one of the best wrestlers in the world. He had a legendary reign in Ring of Honor (ROH) as the ROH Champion under his real name, Bryan Danielson, and had a number of classic matches against a wide variety of opponents, including KENTA, Jamie Noble and Nigel McGuiness.
He would re-signed by the WWE again in 2009 and brought into the company as part of the NXT Game Show. He was the rookie to his pro, The Miz, and competed in a number of challenges that had no relation to wrestling, such as races and downing pop. He was fired by the company after The Nexus debuted for choking Justin Roberts with his own tie. He would later be re-signed and rise to the top of the industry, winning multiple WWE Championships and main eventing Wrestlemania twice – first at Wrestlemania XXX and then again at Wrestlemania 37.
However, his career almost went so, so different. The American Dragon revealed in his book “Yes!”, Daniel Bryan revealed that he almost made his debut in the WWE in 2001, around the time of the 2001 Royal Rumble. He was supposed to be called up from developmental to be part of a new Cruiserweight Division in the WWE, mimicking WCW’s use of the smaller, more technically advanced wrestlers.
“Another real demoralizer for most of the guys was that very few people were being brought up to the main roster from Memphis. It didn’t bother me too much because I’d never really gotten my hopes up that I would be brought up anytime soon. The only time my getting called up to TV was alluded to by WWE was around Royal Rumble 2001, when we were told WWE was looking to start a new cruiserweight division like the one that was popular in WCW. Brian and I were told they wanted to use us for it. Of course, that never happened.”
Unfortunately, he never received the call up and was released six months later. Luckily that was exactly what he needed to motivate himself to become the best in the world and pushed him to become the Daniel Bryan, or Bryan Danielson that we all know and love.