Wrestlemania XXX on April 6 last year was a massive milestone for pro wrestler Daniel Bryan. Already a huge fan favourite, he ran the gauntlet that day on his way to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. First, he defeated the formidable Triple H to earn a spot in the main event title match against the reigning champ Randy Orton and the top contender Batista (Dave Bautista).
Despite a post-match attack by Triple H, Bryan made it to the main event and made Batista submit to his Yes! Lock submission hold, winning the title and closing out the landmark 30th WrestleMania on an incredible high.
But the following weeks proved to be an emotional roller coaster for Bryan. Part of it involved Connor “The Crusher” Michalek, an eight-year-old fan who had battled cancer of the spine and brain since age three. After Connor expressed his wish to meet his hero Daniel Bryan in a 2012 video that went viral, WWE brought the two together.
Connor met Bryan on several other occasions, and was at ringside to watch his idol win the championship.
“I got to know him decently well and he got to see me main-event WrestleMania XXX,” says Bryan, who hugged Connor after his victory. “And about two and a half weeks later, he passed away.”
At this year’s WrestleMania festivities, Bryan inducted Connor posthumously into the WWE Hall Of Fame, where he is the first recipient of the inaugural Warrior Award, in honour of former WWE great The Ultimate Warrior. It is meant for individuals who have “exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance, and who live life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of The Ultimate Warrior”.
“It was really hard because there were three people involved in that induction. One was me, one was Dana Warrior, the Ultimate Warrior’s wife, and one was Steve, Connor’s dad. The timing of all this was really strange.
“WrestleMania XXX that I main-evented was on a Sunday, the Saturday before that Ultimate Warrior went into the WWE Hall Of Fame. That Tuesday, the Warrior passed away.
“The Friday after WrestleMania I got married (to WWE Diva Brie Bella). That Sunday, we went for our honeymoon. I came back, and on the following Monday my Dad passed away. And then the following Wednesday, Connor passed away.
“So WrestleMania XXX meant a lot to all three of us. The Warrior had been away from WWE for a long time and he was finally coming back to be inducted. It also meant a lot to Connor and his dad because they got to spend it together and they didn’t think Connor was even going to make it to the show.
“And then we all lost significant loved ones around that time, so it was the three of us trying to prepare this thing to honour Connor and it was very hard emotionally. Dana was going to present this award in honour of her husband who had just passed away the year before, I was having to present this award to a child who’d passed away, with all of this reminding me of the experience of my father passing away.
“Steve had the very unenviable task of having to go up and talk about his son who had passed away. It’s very amazing when you think about the bond the three of us created through this thing.
“If my speech was emotional, you should watch Connor’s dad, Steve – a man who is not a public speaker – talking to 10,000 people about his son, and it was just heartbreaking. At the end, Connor has this little brother Jackson, and he comes out and he just says, ‘I love you Connor,’ and it was the perfect moment. It is one of the favourite moments of my entire career.”
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