In his live interview with Byron Saxton on this week’s SmackDown, the Miz took great pains to undermine (and by doing so, underline) the story line beef that he and Daniel Bryan have had for the better part of a decade. “I’ve been a little busy … performing in a WWE ring, somewhere he wishes he could have been,” went one jab.
Even with all the jawing, this rivalry is not all talk. Despite Bryan’s long stretches on the disabled list and Miz’s regular hiatuses to film an infinite number of Marine sequels, they’ve even tussled in the ring on occasion, with varying degrees of consequence. More than anything, their rivalry has been a long tease—a misalignment of popularity, health, and direction that has evolved into one of the most compelling story lines in WWE. But finally, at next Sunday’s SummerSlam, the two are at last squaring off in earnest, out to settle the question of—to invoke AC/DC—who made whom. Is there any kernel of truth to Miz’s claims that, for all Bryan’s legendary stature in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, et al., Miz deserves credit for sherpaing him into the mainstream by being his mentor in the WWE tryout show NXT? Or does Miz, despite his hard work and charisma, benefit disproportionately from being associated with an internationally admired grappler such as Bryan? (Incidentally, the two are separated in actual age by a scant seven and a half months.)
The real answer is a little bit of both. But maybe the more important question to resolve as we head toward the season’s marquee PPV is—this time to paraphrase an artist one imagines Bryan might favor, David Byrne—how did we get here? How, exactly, did reality star turned WWE champion-turned reality star the Miz manifest this seemingly very personal animus with VFW hero turned WWE phenomenon (and occasional reality star) Bryan, and how did their back-and-forth evolve from studio-show taunting to the kind of feral physical attack Bryan unleashed this past Tuesday? For your convenience and consideration, here’s a timeline of the pair’s gradually shared path, dating back nearly 20 years all the way up through the doorstep of a grudge match that will be, yes, awesome.
- Real World: Back to New York naïf—and avid pro wrestling fan—Mike Mizanin horrifies his roommates with alter ego the Miz in the season’s 15th episode, which aired on October 16. His commitment extends to keeping a replica WWF championship belt at his bedside and doing the job for two female roommates.
- Meanwhile, according to CageMatch.net, up-and-coming grappler Bryan Danielson (Bryan’s real name and then-stage name) claimed the NWA Canadian Junior Heavyweight title against Chance Beckett at an Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling event in British Columbia.
- Mizanin, now a contestant on Real World spinoff Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons, gets wasted celebrating his 21st birthday in Episode 11 and transforms into a less-than-endearing version of the Miz. Coral, his onetime nemesis and default racial-tolerance counselor from the Back in New York days, tames the unwieldy heel, advising “no more Miz before dinner.” (Incidentally, if you thought Miz’s many WWE hairdos were something, get a load of this.)
- Bryan, now performing as the oft-masked American Dragon, is fresh off winning the East Coast Wrestling Association tag belts with partner and eventual indie luminary Low Ki, toppling no less than Ring of Honor legend Christopher Daniels and cochampion Xavier. On April 27, five days after Miz’s debauchery aired on MTV, Bryan was on the losing end of a five-man gauntlet for then-two-month-old promotion ROH. (On the upside, he’d soon begin earning some notches in sporadic, noncontracted dark matches for WWE against the likes of, oh, John Cena.)
- On December 16, Miz, a contestant on Season 4 of WWE’s Tough Enough, loses the competition to fellow finalist (and Kurt Angle bully) Daniel Puder. The silver lining is his performance throughout catches company exec John Laurinaitis’s attention, and Miz scores a development deal with nascent WWE workshop Deep South Wrestling.
- Four days prior, Bryan wrestled to the rare draw with James Gibson, a.k.a. on-screen and behind-the-scenes WWE talent Jamie Noble, at a Christmas-themed New Japan Pro Wrestling event in California. As participant Rocky Romero has testified, that card was stacked.
- The Miz as we (more or less) know him today was, crudely, introduced to the world. Now performing for WWE’s Triple-A franchise, Ohio Valley Wrestling, Mizanin debuted his eponymous MizTV segment on the January 18 episode as a kind of guerilla, backstage experiment. Though to be fair, he might have actually been further along in terms of screen presence at that point than CM Punk.
- Bryan (once again competing as plain old “Bryan Danielson”) is on a real roll at this point, having just captured the Ring of Honor World Title over Chris Hero (yep, current NXT fan favorite Kassius Ohno, lest you think Bryan’s the only one with a circuitous path) and Full Impact Pro’s heavyweight championship in a triple-threat match over none other than ROH/TNA icon Homicide and—wait for it—NXT’s own Roderick Strong. Oh, and who did Bryan take down to retain his ROH Gold later that month? The present-day face of SmackDown himself, AJ Styles.
- The Miz makes his proper in-ring debut on SmackDown against Tatanka (go figure) on the first of the month, looking both manic and panicked. It was not awesome. Nevertheless, the potential Hall of Famer (really) was off to a 1-0 start.
- After toppling everyone from Colt Cabana to Kevin Steen (a.k.a. Owens) while ROH champ Bryan meets Miz’s implicit challenge by taking on a legend of his own—and losing, via disqualification, to Kamala. (He’d finally drop the belt to Homicide that December.)
- Gravity has officially brought Miz and Bryan closer to each other’s orbit. Bryan, signed to WWE’s developmental outfit Florida Championship Wrestling, takes the first of consecutive losses to—fittingly—Low Ki, performing as Kaval.
- Miz is riding high as an established WWE veteran with a cocksure persona and entrance theme to match (not to mention his having encountered future wife and Miz & Mrs. costar Maryse while judging the Diva Search). By late winter ’10, he was simultaneously U.S. Champion and one half of the tag team champions with Big Show.
February 23, 2010
- In what could be viewed as the rivalry’s true date of origin, WWE airs its premiere episode of NXT. Miz, acting as a “pro,” selects Bryan as his “rookie” (har) from a crop including Ryback, Wade Barrett, and Heath Slater. (Ryback, sorely, did not elicit any compliments on his Western Chippendales wardrobe.) Bryan goes out to try to upset no less than Chris Jericho, impressing most onlookers in defeat—except Miz, who beats him down in something of a tough-love initiation. (If there were any question that NXT was less of a reality show than its forerunner, Tough Enough, this was the answer.) As Bryan himself recounts, the seeds were already planted for the two to personify each side of a now-ubiquitous debate among fans over which skills matter most: mat or mic.
May 31, 2010
- Because in WWE, basically anyone with a whim can masquerade as onscreen booker, Raw guest star Ashton Kutcher set up the first-ever one-on-one match between mentor-in-his-own-mind Miz and theoretical protégé Bryan. There’s no arguing that Miz, who took the L that night, was putting his seasoned colleague over. (Miz would essentially repeat the formula against his next NXT underling, Alex Riley, that summer.)
June 7, 2010
- Bryan, now a member of an insurgent NXT-alum stable known as Nexus (Barrett, Slater, Darren Young, Ryback, Justin Gabriel, etc.), helped storm the Raw ring and dismantle John Cena. Only problem was cameras caught him getting a tad overzealous choking out ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie, a transgression that was out of step with WWE’s emergent PG leanings and therefore led to Bryan’s release (if only to save face) four days later. (And, sadly, predated the proliferation of viral memes.)
- In case you were curious, Miz and Zack Ryder teamed up earlier that evening and defeated R-Truth and Miz’s real-life man pal John Morrison.
August 15, 2010
- Bryan’s exile back to the proverbial high school gyms was short-lived (and probably predetermined), as he was re-signed by WWE and slotted as the surprise entrant on the anti-Nexus good-guy team in an absurd, 14-man tag-team elimination match at SummerSlam. (Bryan’s teammates included Bret Hart.) Miz, who thought he’d be the seventh member of Team WWE, threw a fit backstage and then sneak-attacked Bryan during the match (his side still won), effectively resuming their hostilities.
September 19, 2010
- Bryan once again gets the best of his supposed superior, conquering Miz and taking his U.S. Championship at Night of Champions. Miz would pivot admirably, winning the Money in the Bank briefcase and cashing it in a couple of months later on Randy Orton and becoming WWE Champion. September 19 wasn’t the end of Miz and Bryan’s story, but it did culminate one hugely significant chapter.
April 3, 2011
- Defending WWE Champion Miz headlines WrestleMania XXVII (as he is eager to remind people to this day), hanging on to the title ostensibly by default, as his primary purpose was to help grease the wheels for challenger John Cena and that night’s host the Rock’s (who interfered on Miz’s behalf) vaunted showdown a year later. But as Miz would point out, a main-event win is a main-event win.
- In perhaps a cruel confirmation of what many view as WWE’s harsh initiation process (or further proof that they were carefully damage-controlling the Justin Roberts tie-choking fallout), Bryan opened the show that night in a dark match for the U.S. title against champion Sheamus. It was a no-contest that devolved into a clearinghouse battle royal, with Bryan eliminated by a boot to the face.
December 18, 2011
- Thank goodness for the magic bullet that is Money in the Bank. Bryan, having earned his own briefcase not long after Mania XVII, cashed it in on then–World Heavyweight Champion (the various titles’ semantical history could warrant its on separate timeline) Big Show at the TLC PPV. He and Miz, who main-evented that night in defeat against CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio, were, for the first time, simultaneously world champs in WWE—and on a fairly equal footing.
April 1, 2012
- Bryan had been messing around with his Diego Sanchez–inspired “Yes!” chant, fingers duly hoisted, as an obnoxious heel tic for several months. Scattered, snarky shows of support for his antics surfaced, but after the embarrassing 18-second loss and dropping his World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus (again) at WrestleMania XVIII in Miami, majority sentiment shifted. By the next night’s Raw, the majority of those in attendance were vocally behind the little guy, and a so-dubbed “Yes! Movement” took flight, captivating mainstream athletes, entertainers, and their fans in its dopey simplicity.
- Miz was squarely in the middle of Mania XXVIII’s card as part of an orgiastic 12-man, interpromotional tag match.
April 8, 2014
- Bryan and Miz were at their greatest story line distance during the mid-2010s. That was owed largely to Bryan’s surging popularity and his yearlong uphill battle against corporate-authoritarian oppressors Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, a story line that kept viewers rapt like no meta-feud since Steve Austin vexed Vince McMahon. Bryan, inserted into the WrestleMania 30 main event very much by popular demand (an extremely unusual C-suite concession to fans’ will, the story line conceit that he had to run through Triple H first notwithstanding), won the World Heavyweight Championship in a triple-threat against Randy Orton and Batista (long story). Sadly, just weeks after his win, neck surgery that caused him to lose feeling in his right arm forced Bryan to relinquish his title, setting the somber tone for what was soon to come.
- Miz, in something of a lull (setting aside his burgeoning success in mainstream entertainment), was eliminated 12th in the first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
January 15, 2015
- Bryan puts a half year of speculation about his long-term health to rests and comes back to action on SmackDown, now with more ponytail.
February 8, 2016
- Less than a year after his 2015 comeback from injury (highlighted by winning the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31), Bryan stunned and saddened his legions by permanently calling it a day due to serious, recurring neck problems.
- Miz was busy busting heads with Chris Jericho and new WWE addition AJ Styles, laying a foundation for an arguably career-best couple-year stretch.
July 18, 2016
- Bryan is welcomed back to WWE TV as SmackDown general manager, where he was mostly relegated to playing the yin to Shane McMahon’s SmackDown commissioner yang and struggling somewhat to exist entirely in a noncombative role. Reenter the Miz …
August 23, 2016
- On Talking Smack, the much-missed studio aftershow, Miz cuts a promo that reignites the flames of their discontent. Miz was in the midst of a career renaissance and was the reigning Intercontinental Champion for a fifth time (he has since reacquired it on three more occasions) and was newly drafted to SmackDown. After repeated criticism from Bryan on Talking Smack, Miz showed up to take exception. While not quite a shoot, Miz’s evisceration of Bryan as a reckless coward who never rose to his level of prestige cut close to the bone and, along with a subsequent MizTV bit, might in retrospect have telegraphed Bryan’s eventual medical clearance and return to action. (If anything, it was so compelling that fans started fantasizing about a Bryan comeback.) Even after Miz was sent to Raw in April 2017, a blustery dynamic between the two would continue.
March 20, 2018
- In a shocking turn of events, Daniel Bryan announces he is ditching the suit, lacing back up, and medically cleared to compete full-time.
- Miz’s eighth Intercontinental run ended in a WrestleMania 34 loss to Seth Rollins on April 8. The next week, he was traded back to SmackDown as part of the most recent “Superstar Shakeup,” where Bryan was setting off on a thankless program with soon-to-be-fired Big Cass, followed by a fleeting reunion with Team Hell No frenemy Kane.
July 17, 2018
- With Team Hell No vanquished by the Bludgeon Brothers at Extreme Rules two days prior, and Kane (a.k.a. Glenn Jacobs) en route to a real-life mayoral victory in Knox County, Tennessee, Miz was ready to revel. His mock funeral for Bryan and Kane’s short-lived revival meant there was nothing and no one left to stand in the way of these two doing battle in a show-stealing SummerSlam tango for the ages (grudge match might be a stretch, given Bryan’s win-loss TV ratio). The combination of fortuitous timing and time-tested tension had incubated the era’s most anticipated and natural-feeling reckoning, nonsensical Miz & Mrs. tie-ins (how did Bryan not see the old “fake-baby-doll deke” coming?) be damned.
August 19, 2018
Whomever the winner will be at SummerSlam (the Miz, totally the Miz), it’s likely, hopefully, a first salvo in a deservedly epic epilogue to the most unlikely rivalry in reality and wrestling lore. Hell, yes.