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Bryan Danielson is ready to embrace his AEW destiny

AEW, Bryan Danielson, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, AEW World Champion

Bryan Danielson didn’t just come to AEW to be average. He didn’t forgo a healthy paycheck and a chance to work for the company where his wife is a Hall of Famer just to coast on his name recognition, wrestle the occasional match, and fade off into the sunset with a new collection of fans to buy his merch as he walks out the door.

No, if Danielson was all about making money, being on television, and wrestling the occasional big-time bout, re-signing with WWE would have been a fine choice for the 41-year-old father of two looking to take on a lesser role moving forward. Frankly, Danielson would have been in an even better spot in 2022 than in 2021 had he re-signed with WWE thanks to the elevation of Paul “Triple H” Levesque as the new booker over Vince McMahon and very well might have had a resurgence in the final act of his career.

Danielson opted against pursuing that path. He left the company that employs his wife, his sister-in-law, and his father-in-law, John Laurinaitis, and embarked into the uncharted waters of All Elite Wrestling, the first company he wrestled for outside of WWE since 2010.

The results? Well, they’ve been excellent.

Sure, Danielson hasn’t won championship gold, making him the only member of the Blackpool Combat Club besides William Regal who has not, but he’s wrestled some of the best matches in the promotion’s history, from his Grand Slam draw with Kenny Omega to his trilogy of matches with “Hangman” Adam Page, his part in the first-ever Anarchy In The Arena match, and instantly became a fan favorite among oldheads and fresh faces alike. His in-ring style is brutal in the best possible way, his mic work keeps fans hanging on every word, and when the fists start flying, there isn’t a performer in the promotion with a more potent mixture of experience and ability.

But now, with the AEW World Championship vacated due to CM Punk’s suspension, Danielson isn’t just looking to rest on his laurels and continue to be one of the toughest wins to earn in Tony Khan’s company; he was notorious for doing that in WWE and probably left some championships on the table as a result. No, with a clear path to the belt once more, Danielson is looking to go all-in on the AEW World Championship Tournament and his first taste of championship gold since 2019, as he detailed to of Sports Illustrated.

Bryan Danielson is ready to become AEW World Champion.

When asked about his immediate goals in AEW by Barrasso in his feature interview, Danielson delivered a definitive answer.

“For me, it’s not about being the top guy,” said Danielson. “I don’t care about that. And it’s not about leading the locker room. You can be a leader without the title. I like the feeling of big championship matches. Championship matches are my favorite kind of matches to wrestle. It’s a different feeling from anything else.”

Speaking for AEW fans as a whole, seeing Danielson in a championship match once more is far from a disappointing end to the AEW World Championship Tournament; he’s widely considered one of the best wrestlers in the world and is willing to play the game against pretty much anyone. Fortunately, at this point in his career, just being considered the best isn’t at the top of Danielson’s to-do list, as he detailed to Barrasso:

I don’t worry about being the best. I try to be the best wrestler I can be, and I try to fulfill the vision of what I would like wrestling to be. This is a joy. I gauge matches on whether I enjoyed them, whether I was in the moment or felt how much fun it was to wrestle in front of thousands of people. A day or two later, that’s when I watch the match and pick it apart and see where I need to improve—but also to be proud of what I did well.

The idea of being the best, it’s so subjective. To me, that’s focusing on the wrong thing. Wrestling is a mirror to improve yourself. It allows you to get better at public speaking, for example. William Regal talks about a quarter-turn in a headlock. That little tweak makes the headlock infinitely better. I think I could work a 15-minute match exclusively using a hammerlock. That’s a mental challenge, the kind that makes me go deeper with every single thing I do. I love being a lifelong learner, and that makes me enjoy this even more.

Considering Danielson’s unwillingness to commit to a single finisher in AEW and instead has committed to proving he can win a match in a variety of different ways with a murders’ row of different finishers, his status as a life-long learner is as impressive as it is encouraging. With Danielson having already stated in the past that he won’t return to WWE when his contract expires and may hang up his boots entirely in order to focus on being a father when his current deal is done, giving the “American Dragon” a prolific run with the AEW World Championship and an opposites-attract feud with MJF could be a perfect bow on the top of a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

“I want to be world champion, because being in championship matches is unlike anything else,” said Danielson. “Those matches, they’ve got a different tension. I love the feeling of a big title match. Those are the feelings and emotions I’m chasing.”