Seattle’s Eco-Friendly WWE Champion

Aberdeen native Daniel Bryan once again tops the pro wrestling world, but this time he’s an intriguing environmental bad guy.

“Of course you don’t want to listen to this, because you and the entire baby-boomer generation are the great parasites of this world! You see, these people bow down to you when you came out, but they don’t realize that you and your entire generation, you take, you take, you take, and you give nothing back! Putting profits over both the people and the planet every single time! … It’s like you’ve pulled this incredible magic trick — this illusion — well, you’ve concealed from them all the economic and environmental debt that you’ve created, and they’ve become satisfied with trading Instagram likes, and Facebook messages, and social-media stuff. All while you’re in the back hoarding all the wealth, hoarding all the power. And they ignore it! Because they’re distracted!”

No, that’s not the latest anti-Trump rallying cry of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Kshama Sawant. It’s one of the latest rants by World Wrestling Entertainment Champion and Aberdeen native Daniel Bryan (real name Bryan Danielson) on a recent episode of WWE Smackdown. The tirade was directed at billionaire WWE owner Vince McMahon as part of Bryan’s storyline leading to last Sunday’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view event (at which he retained his title) and part of a unexpected character shift that has led him to the odd territory of being an environmentalist “heel” (wrestling parlance for the bad guy).

To get a grasp on the fascinating complications of the current character, one must first understand the larger story of Bryan’s career. To keep it brief: After making his name as a technical wizard capable of putting on stunning matches in-ring on the independent wrestling circuit in Japan and stateside with Ring of Honor, he moved to the big leagues of WWE. His undersized stature (5 feet 8 inches) made him a natural underdog, and he soon became a fan favorite and ultimate “babyface” (wrestling term for good guy) — in part because of his infectious “Yes!” chant — even though it became clear through booking decisions that the WWE didn’t view him as a top guy because of his size. Then one night in December 2013 at KeyArena, his hometown Seattle crowd took over — basically putting a halt to the live-show broadcast plans to promote John Cena and Randy Orton’s title match by continually chanting Bryan’s name. It was the birth of the “Yes! Movement,” essentially a hostile takeover by WWE fans that eventually forced the company to book him in the main event at 2014’s WrestleMania 30, where he won the title in storybook fashion.

And then the wheels came off.

Two weeks later, Bryan’s father passed away. A few weeks later, he lost all strength in his right arm and had to undergo neck surgery that would keep him out of action until January 2015. After a three-month comeback to start 2015, he was again on the shelf, this time due to concussions. When he couldn’t get cleared by WWE doctors, he was forced to retire from in-ring action, making the announcement to a tear-filled KeyArena on the Feb. 8, 2016, episode of Monday Night Raw. While the world of wrestling is filled with scripted storylines, this one was real.

As months and years passed, fans — aware of the seriousness of his concussion — mostly gave up hope of Bryan’s return. But on March 20, 2018, Bryan announced he was finally cleared by doctors to return to in-ring action. Much of Bryan’s 2018 was spent toiling away as a non-main-eventer until the Nov. 13 episode of Smackdown, where the babyface stalwart shockingly turned heel by hitting WWE Champion AJ Styles with an illegal low blow while the referee wasn’t looking to win the title.

In the months that have followed, Bryan has crafted a truly unique heel persona — one that’s just perfect for Seattle. In real life, Bryan is a crunchy, flannel-wearing Northwest vegan, so his new character is just an exaggerated extension of himself. He’s branded himself as “The Planet’s Champion,” and his promos now consist of screeds against the wasteful consumerism of ignorant WWE fans, the scourges of processed meats and high-fructose-corn-syrup sodas, and anything that could be seen as harmful to the environment. He’s even trashed the leather championship belt for an eco-friendly one made of hemp and wood (which actually looks pretty sweet). He’s laser-focused on making things better for the planet, but because he’s doing it in a way that’s supposed to come off as annoyingly preachy, he’s the heel.

The character’s actual backstage politics are so intriguing. On one hand, pretty much everything Bryan is saying in his rants are true environmentalist statements that he believes, but he has to present them through the mouth of a bad guy whom the masses aren’t supposed to like — he’s a condescending Al Gore who could also beat you up. The other layer of the equation comes from WWE owner and overseer McMahon. He’s a close personal friend of Donald Trump (who, in case you were unaware, is a WWE Hall of Famer), and his wife, Linda, even works in the Trump administration as the Administrator of Small Business Administration (note: clearly no editor got to approve that job title). So basically one of Trump’s pals has put his champion on as an eco-warrior and approves of him cutting damning factual promos in hopes that fans boo what he has to say. Ranting about consumerism as part of a mass-consumerism product like the WWE reaches a boggling level of logic folding in on itself. The layers… the layers.

This all leads us to next Tuesday, Feb. 5, when Bryan heads to Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena for a live broadcast of Smackdown. It’ll be the first time Bryan has returned for a televised performance in the Seattle area since his unretirement, and the reception is going to be huge. There is no chance the crowd treats their beloved WWE Champ as a heel, so it’ll be interesting how far he’ll have to go to get fans to boo him, as that’s his basic job as a heel. There are so many local options for his character to cut promos on: the greed of Amazon, the egotistical presidential campaign of Howard Schultz, the cheap plastic waste of the nearby Funko HQ in Everett. But here’s the thing: Seattle crowds are going to be way on board to boo those things too. (Perhaps he should just take a page out of fellow wrestler Elias’s book, who received news-making levels of minutes-long boos for bringing up the SuperSonics the last time Monday Night Raw was in town.) It’s easy to get heat being the condescending eco-intellectual Northwest prick in other parts of the country, but how do you do it when the arena is filled with other Northwest eco-intellectuals?

Even if Bryan calls us all weak, fickle, and impotent losers, it will be great to finally have The Planet’s Champion — and Seattle’s Champion — returning home.

WWE Smackdown

Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 4:15 p.m. (Airs on USA Network at 7 p.m.) | Angel of the Winds Arena (Everett) | $23–$113 |