Daniel Bryan left the WWE in 2021, after over a decade as one of the most popular wrestlers in the entire company. His list of accomplishments are second-to-none, with multiple WWE Championships and WrestleMania main events to Daniel Bryan’s name.
A few months after leaving WWE, Daniel Bryan changed his name back to Bryan Danielson and made the jump to AEW. With some of the top wrestlers on earth battling it out to be the best wrestler in the world, it’s not to get invested and fall in love with All Elite Wrestling.
Joining the list of Elite competitors like CM Punk, Kenny Omega and Adam Page is a man by the name of Bryan Danielson, or as he was known in WWE, Daniel Bryan. The American Dragon started fresh, bringing in a new style of wrestling from WWE that has helped solidify him as one of the top wrestlers not just in the world, but of all time.
While he was known more as the plucky underdog in the WWE, Daniel Bryan is now seen as one of the most vicious wrestlers in the company. As the leader of the Blackpool Combat Club, he teaches his students that art of sadistically beating down and destroying (both physically and mentally) any opponent he steps foot in the ring with.
AEW have instantly slotted him into the main event of their shows, owing to Daniel Bryan’s incredible run in the company. Whether he was wrestling John Cena, Brock Lesnar or Santino Marella, anybody who stepped into the ring with “The American Dragon” came out looking like more of a star than they walked in as.
He is but one of the top stars AEW have signed from WWE, albeit his is the greatest. He competes with other wrestlers like Malakai Black, Adam Cole and Jeff Hardy, although no-one quite matches up to the skills of Daniel Bryan.
But if he is such a big star, why did Daniel Bryan leave WWE? Why did WWE let his contract expire and release him to sign for AEW?
Why did Daniel Bryan leave WWE?
“Daniel Bryan left the WWE in 2021 because he felt “Daniel Bryan left the WWE in 2021 because he felt “detached” and had an “out of body experience” during one of the biggest matches of his career”. This forced him to think about his career and how he wanted to be a father to his children.
In WWE, Daniel Bryan was one of the most popular wrestlers of all time. Rivaling the likes of Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and John Cena for the biggest cheers in history, Daniel Bryan commanded the crowd like few others in his bid to become the WWE Champion.
He became so iconic and beloved in the company that his famous “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant has infiltrated the mainstream and can be seen around sports stadiums all over the United States and across the globe.
He was more beloved than any when he and the fans forced his way into the main event of Wrestlemania 30 and won the coveted WWE Championship in front of 80,000 “Yes-ing” fans. It was the pinnacle of his career, although he had some fantastic moments years after that, even at Wrestlemania.
His match against Kofi Kingston at Wrestlemania 35 is regarded as one of the greatest moments in history. Bryan turned from beloved hero to hated villain as he reclaimed the WWE Championship and went on a crusade of environmentalism in the most obnoxious way possible.
This led to him losing the belt to Kofi Kingston, the long-time WWE star who had failed to capture a world title in his long career. It was one of the most heartfelt moments in WWE history and could not be done with the immense skill of Daniel Bryan.
He also main-evented WrestleMania 37 in 2021, losing to Universal Champion Roman Reigns in a match that also involving Edge. It was this match that convinced him that he needed to leave WWE, and partly explains why did Daniel Bryan leave WWE.
Daniel Bryan left WWE because he “was detached” and had an out-of-body experience, and for him it was the signal for him to give up being a “full-time WWE superstar“.
“I felt very out of body in it. When I’m wrestling, I feel everything and feel like I’m enjoying it and I am having fun. This was weird, I was out there and it felt like I was detached. It was so strange that before the match started, I got this strange feeling like, ‘Oh no, is this what it’s like before you die? Am I going to die? Huh, well, okay.’
“It was really bizarre. I don’t know why or how it happened, but it was unlike anything I’ve felt while wrestling before. I haven’t watched it back. I don’t know if watching it back would help figure out why I was so detached,”
“Maybe it was a sign that it’s time to let go of being a full-time wrestler, which is something that I have been thinking for a while.”
While he made it clear that he did not want to be a “full-time wrestler” in WWE, this was not just about leaving the company due to hating it. In fact he loved WWE and wrestling as much as he can, but it was the schedule which he could not take any longer.
As the father of two young children, Daniel Bryan left WWE so he could spend more time with Buddy and Birdie (the two kids he had with his wife Brie Bella). With the schedule AEW provides compared to WWE, he could spend more time at home than at work and still have time to wrestle for other promotions like NJPW if he wanted to.
In an interview with BT Sport in 2020, he revealed that he wanted to start winding down his career and spend more time with his children. Daniel Bryan said;
“I’m just kind of switching priorities in my life where for years wrestling has been kind of the key focus and all that kind of stuff. Where like, my contract is coming up soon and not to say that but we’re looking at transitioning me to maybe less than a full-time wrestler.
Like my time of being a full-time wrestler are numbered and I’m more going to be like a full-time dad, part-time wrestler. Wrestling is my side-job. Daddying is my most important job,”Daniel Bryan hints on leaving WWE to focus on being a dad
Daniel Bryan’s father passed away after his triumph at Wrestlemania 30, which may be playing in his mind about taking more time to spend with his children.
Why did Daniel Bryan join AEW?
While we look at “why did Daniel Bryan leave WWE?”, we should also look at the reason why it was AEW he chose to sign for. Daniel Bryan has also revealed why he left WWE to specifically join AEW, with him signing for Tony Khan’s promotion in August 2021.
Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful also revealed the reason why it was AEW he chose to sign for, and not other companies like ROH or CMLL in Mexico. Sapp revealed that it was the young talent in AEW like Jungle Boy or Ricky Starks that excited Bryan, and that he wanted to work with the young talent and have the best wrestling matches he could have.
He is one of the best wrestlers of all time, so getting as much ring time with Daniel Bryan is exactly what would help these young wrestlers. Sean Ross Sapp revealed;
“Daniel Bryan says he loved working in WWE and was grateful, but still left. The reasons why were the talent, especially the ones who came from day 1. He wants fans to thank day one AEW stars for enticing former WWE names over. He says the second reason is the AEW fan base”
As Bryan Danielson, he has already put on some incredible matches in AEW. His bouts with Kenny Omega, Adam Page and Jon Moxley are amongst some of the best in AEW history and he still has a long time left to enhance his legacy in wrestling as the best technical wrestler in wrestling history.
So, why did Daniel Bryan leave WWE? The reasons were multiple and in combination forced his hand and made him leave WWE for AEW. His children, his health and his love for wrestling were the reasons for his departure and fans everywhere are thankful due to getting to see him compete in AEW every week in some of the best matches in company history.
Bouts with Kenny Omega, Ricky Starks and Adam Page have defined his run in the company, although probably his best match in AEW was the 60-minute Iron Man match with MJF at AEW Revolution 2023. While Bryan Danielson did not manage to win the AEW Championship, he lasted over an hour in the historic match.
That was the sort of match that Daniel Bryan would never have been allowed to do in the WWE. The last time WWE put on a 60-minute Iron Man match was at WWE Bragging Rights 2009, when John Cena defeated Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship (during the summer of “let’s switch the titles every week to inflate our number of title reigns”).
AEW has given Daniel Bryan the freedom to wrestle how he wants. With his impending retirement coming in 2024, it is unlikely we will ever see Daniel Bryan in the WWE again, with his match against Roman Reigns being his last match ever in the WWE.
Daniel Bryan’s Last Match
Daniel Bryan’s last WWE match was against Roman Reigns on Smackdown. On April 30, 2021, Daniel Bryan faced Roman Reigns in his last ever WWE match, with the dual stipulation of a title-vs-career match. If Daniel Bryan won, he would become the Universal Champion, but if he lost, he would have to leave WWE for good.
Roman Reigns pinned Daniel Bryan in a fantastic match that was rated 4.5 stars by Dave Meltzer. Daniel Bryan gave it his all, trying his best to beat down the champion, and left everything he had in the ring against Roman Reigns.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.