People love success stories that they feel personally connected to. Whether it’s a band that you saw for the first time in somebody’s basement that’s now headlining Bonnaroo, or a quarterback you took a shine to early in his career who just won the MVP award, it’s always nice to watch the rise of someone you’ve been following for a long time. For fans of wrestling, WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan is one of the biggest success stories of the past decade.
People love success stories that they feel personally connected to. Whether it’s a band that you saw for the first time in somebody’s basement that’s now headlining Bonnaroo, or a quarterback you took a shine to early in his career who just won the MVP award, it’s always nice to watch the rise of someone you’ve been following for a long time. For fans of wrestling, WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan is one of the biggest success stories of the past decade. Under his real name, Bryan Danielson, he built a worldwide reputation as the best wrestler in the world, wrestling everywhere from bingo halls to Japan’s famous Tokyo Dome. He’s been voted the Best Technical Wrestler in the world by Wrestling Observer each year since 2005 and was voted Most Outstanding Wrestler for five straight years, giving him the record in each of those prestigious categories. He’s held championships in every wrestling federation imaginable, most notably in Ring Of Honor. Holding the ROH World Championship for over a year, Danielson’s title run included a ridiculously high amount of now-classic matches. In his time before WWE, there were very few wrestlers that could hold a candle to the work ethic, technical proficiency, and amazing athleticism that Daniel Bryan showed in each and every match.
But for this wrestler, renowned everywhere from Japan to Europe, WWE didn’t seem like a possibility. Standing under six feet tall and only weighing a little above 200 pounds, he was definitely considered too small by WWE standards. His ring work, built on long matches that created tension and excitement subtly over twenty to thirty minutes, was considered untranslatable to the realm of WWE, where matches are televised and therefore subject to strict time constraints. Above all else, his supposed “lack of personality” was the biggest case against him ever making in WWE. Many considered him to be missing that “It” factor that elevates wrestlers to TV superstars. After a rocky first stint with WWE, which led to a highly controversial exit from the company in 2010, the wrestler from Aberdeen, WA overcame the odds to become not only the WWE World Heavyweight Champion at the end of 2011, but also one of the main WWE superstars within the company today. For the past nine months, his tag team with Kane has been one of most constant things on WWE television and with his patented chants of “Yes!” and “No!”, he has proven himself to be one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster. WWE comes to Richmond on June 10th at The Coliseum for a live taping of their flagship program RAW, the last one before this month’s Pay-Per-View entitled Payback. In anticipation of that event, I got a chance to talk with one half of Team Hell No on a variety of topics from his storied career.
So to start, what is going on with the beard-off since Josh Reddick (Oakland Athletics’ outfielder) trimmed his beard?
Oh my gosh! Yeah, I have no idea. I don’t know why he did it. I just can’t believe it. One of the guys who runs the YouTube stuff for WWE is the one who actually told me about it. I came back from a match and he said, “Congratulations!” I was like, “Uh, what are you talking about. I just did like a three minute match out there.” He said, “No, you won the beard-off. Josh Reddick just shaved his beard.” I’m still growing my beard, so if he wants to try and catch up, I’m more than willing to keep it up. Up to him.
So you guys are coming to Richmond on June 10th. Do you remember the first time you came to Virginia’s capital?
I don’t, actually. I have a very poor memory and we’re on the road like 250 days of the year, so I have a very poor recollection of the first time I was anywhere. But I love Virginia and that whole area – it’s just beautiful. My best memories of Virginia are just driving through it. Last summer we got to drive through and it was just absolutely perfect weather. I forget where we stopped, but I’m big into local foods, like foods that are locally grown and stuff like that. Anyway, we stopped at this cafe, I had like the best salad I have ever had in my entire life, and it was just awesome. No memory whatsoever of where it was though. I’ll find it again one day.
Now, you’ve spent the better part of the last six months wrestling The Shield and those matches are getting some high praises from the wrestling community, especially your interactions with Seth Rollins. You two wrestled a handful of times in Ring Of Honor when he was known as Tyler Black, and you were wrestling under your real name. How does it compare wrestling with him then versus now?
Well, I think we’ve both evolved as wrestlers, in some ways good and in some ways bad, but a big difference is the crowd. It’s way different wrestling in front of 500-700 people than it is wrestling in front of thousands of people, you know? Unfortunately we haven’t had a singles match yet, but I would love to be able to wrestle Seth Rollins in a singles match and really show people what we can do.
What are your opinions on The Shield since you & Kane have worked with them more than anyone on the roster, really?
I think The Shield has done a fantastic job. It’s very difficult to come into the WWE, be put in the main spot, and to hold up your end of the deal. Those guys really have. I think it’s because Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins spent years in the indies before getting here. Then Roman Reigns, who had very limited experience before coming to WWE, has really stepped up and done a great job. I have nothing but respect for those guys and they’ve done amazingly so far. More than half the time, they go out there and steal the show.
Well, technically you’re stealing the show with them.
But I’m humble and I don’t like to say that. The world’s most humble man!
Now, you were a guy considered not “ideal” for the WWE, and here you are in a main spot with the company. You were considered King Of The Indies and now you’re in focal points of television programs for the WWE. You’ve been on the main roster for almost three years with WWE–what does it feel like after all this time?
You know what? It’s actually very surreal. It just doesn’t seem like it’s real: the whole thing. Sometimes my music will hit and the people will react really big. It shocks me a little bit and it just puts a smile on my face. I have to actually hide that smile before I go out there, you know? It’s a very strange situation. Actually, when I got fired in 2010 and I went back and did some independent shows, it really felt like where I was supposed to be. It felt very natural and kind of like that was a brief vacation [from] the WWE, where you had water & showers in every building, trainers, and all that kind of stuff. The indie scene is my homeostasis; it’s where I feel most at home, so being in the WWE still just feels very surreal.
While you were known as the “Best Wrestler In The World” years before Chris Jericho or CM Punk were using the phrase, you’re known mostly now as being the “Yes!” guy on WWE television. Do you ever worry that the chant will follow you around for the rest of your career similar to the “What?” chants for Steve Austin?
I don’t worry about it. In fact, I hope it does! It’s funny because Shawn Michaels was on the live events a little while ago and he was the one who trained me and just remarked how amazing it was. I love wrestling and I love being a wrestler, but he said, “Now, you’re just a sell-out like the rest of us! You go out there and do your thing and people chant ‘Yes’ and that’s kind of your thing.” We just laughed about it. I still go out there and wrestle as hard as I can, but it’s amazing that something like probably one of the first words you learn in the English language has gotten me to the point where I am now.
You say you just love being a wrestler, but how do you think your wrestling now compares with the wrestling you were doing in 2005-2006?
Well, it’s just different because you’re wrestling for different people. The people that I was wrestling for when I was in the independents were a very hardcore fan base who wanted to see wrestling–like real, gritty, guys-fighting-each-other wrestling. A lot of times people in the WWE just want to be entertained. Sometimes it’s more important what you do from the top of the ramp to the time you get into the ring than what you actually do in the ring. But I take pride in what I do in the ring, and that hasn’t changed. You do have to change and evolve with the fans you’re wrestling for, but that was the same when I was in the independents. You couldn’t do the same match in Ring Of Honor that you could do in Japan, and you couldn’t do the same match that you did in Japan in England or Europe or that sort of thing. Even places like Ring Of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla were different crowds entirely, and you had to wrestle for those fans specifically. It’s the same thing here in the WWE.
To change gears for a second, you were famously touted as a vegan athlete for the longest time, but I understand you had to give it up, right?
Yeah, I developed a really bad soy intolerance, where it was making me really sick. Right now, I stick with a mostly vegetarian diet. Sometimes I’ll eat a little meat here and there just out of convenience more than anything else. I still eat mostly vegan and if it’s not mostly vegan, it’s vegetarian. When I’m at home, it’s not a problem at all. It’s just when you’re on the road so much. Finding vegan food without soy in it and still being able to get your protein and that sort of thing that you need as an athlete is very, very difficult. I’ve been fortunate because there’s a company called Vega who does vegan protein shakes and that sort of thing. They’ve sent me free vegan protein and all that kind of stuff, and their products are amazing. They don’t have soy in it, so that’s been fantastic, but finding real food besides that has been very, very difficult. Sometimes I have to eat some eggs or eat a little bit of meat just to get by, you know?
Now I know The Ryback rides with you, which leads to some hilarious moments. I just can’t imagine the two of you riding together honestly.
Actually, The Ryback stopped riding with me! It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s because of the constant hazing I’ve given him. We had fun together and it went both ways really, but he prefers to ride by himself. He has a very specific schedule that he likes to keep. It’s hard because when you’re riding with someone, your schedules have to coincide or else it just doesn’t work. I’m somebody who likes to go to bed early and wake up early. A lot of guys like to stay up later, wake up later, and get their stuff done. Different people require different riding partners really.
Now, there’s the upcoming reality show about the WWE Divas on E!, “Total Divas.” You’re dating Brie Bella (of the Bella Twins) so how much of an appearance are you going to be making on the show?
So I will be on the show, I think, but it’s strange. It’s reality television, so they film like thousands of hours of footage to do, I don’t how many episodes it is, but forty-four minute episodes. So it would be very easy for them to just cut me out of all of it. So as far as how much you’ll actually see me, I have no idea, but I know the actual focus is on the Divas.
With you both being on the road so much, how in the world does “dating” really work out?
It’s been harder, actually, now that they’ve been filming this reality show because Brie has to go do certain things for the show, you know what I mean? Before Brie came back, I’d be on the road and come back and we’d have our time at home just together just completely by ourselves before I would go back on the road. Now, it’s a little more interesting because she’s on the road sometimes with me, sometimes on a different brand or something like that, but we’ll see each other more on the road and we get less quality alone time at home. So it’s an ever-evolving situation.
I know a lot of hardcore fans out there want the answer to this one. CM Punk got “Cult Of Personality” by Living Colour as his entrance theme song so how likely is it that you’ll bring back “The Final Countdown” by Europe as your entrance song?
I’m not going to say there’s no chance, but I’m pretty sure there’s no chance. If I get to the point where John Cena or CM Punk is at, then they may pay them. People don’t realize those things cost a lot of money to get the license for and that sort of thing. I want to say when Ring Of Honor was trying to get it for their television show, they looked into it and it was like $40,000 to get “Final Countdown.” We had to get a weird version of it for the show. That kind of stuff is just plain expensive and unless you’re the top guy or the main drawing guy on the show, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Speaking of Ring Of Honor, your legacy there, besides your run as World Champion for 462 days, will probably be your intense matches with Nigel McGuinness. Have you gotten to see the documentary on the end of his career yet?
You know, I haven’t seen it yet. I have a copy of it and I’m waiting to watch it, but I haven’t been home in over three weeks. I’m actually planning on watching when I go home soon and I’m looking forward to watch it. It’s bittersweet though, because to me, Nigel was perfect for WWE. He was every bit as good of a wrestler as I am and actually was better at stuff that is important here, like doing in-ring interviews and all the personality stuff. He was very, very good at that and very natural at it. You know, he’s taller and bigger, that sort of thing too, so probably, look-wise, more TV friendly. It makes me sad for Nigel especially because we’ve been on the road together for so long and he worked so hard and it’s hard to see somebody work that hard and not get the fulfillment that they were looking for.
Who currently on the roster do you see in that similar position, someone who just works so hard and hasn’t gotten the fulfillment yet?
Well, one of the guys who I love watching every time out is Tyson Kidd. To me, he’s just fantastic. You know, he’s gotten little chances to shine here and there, but for the most part hasn’t been given that real opportunity to go out there and show people what he can do, which is sad. People like Dolph Ziggler come to mind too. He goes out there and just does his best every time out. You can see it in his work. Luckily for him, me, and a couple of other guys, the hard work has really paid off. That’s somebody who you wouldn’t have expected to get as far as he can. Just through pure will and determination, he’s gotten into the main event spot.
To wrap it up, you’ve been all over the world wrestling before some of the craziest fans out there. What would you say is the weirdest fan moment you’ve ever experienced?
There’ve been some strange ones and it’s hard to remember the weirdest one, but what I actually thought was the weirdest thing was the whole “Yes” thing at the RAW after WrestleMania 28. I just didn’t understand it. I mean, you kind of understand it, but not how it caught on with so many people. The Rock is out there and people are chanting “Yes!” It’s pretty surreal and I don’t know how or why it happened. It was just baffling. It was crazy backstage and I was really sad because I wasn’t actually on the show. I think I had a three second pre-tape in the back. Then I went out and did the dark match [the match that doesn’t air on television] and the place was just going nuts. I had a big smile on my face the whole night, even in the ring, so it was just pretty cool to say the least. Definitely the weirdest experience overall by far.