Uncertainty clouds wrestling superstar Daniel Bryan's return to the ring with concussions threatening to cut his career short. But, not ready to be knocked out yet, the determined former WWE World Heavyweight Champion is training hard to get back in action while at the same time touring countries across the world, including India, to promote the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
“Wrestling is always on my mind. I wake up in the morning and I think about wrestling, this is how my brain works,” Bryan told thestatesman.com in an exclusive interview.
When asked how he is keeping himself busy these days, the “American Dragon”, breaking into a laughter, said, “Well, I have been doing a lot of gardening. I am training really hard to be back to wrestling. So, yeah, I have been mostly planting trees.”
The India visit
In his maiden visit to India where he has a big fan following, Bryan was awed by his fans’ attention and was happy that “everybody” he met was “excited about WWE coming here.”
“The fans in India have been very polite…when people see you on TV, they feel you are larger than life… this happens everywhere… but, here, they treated me like a regular human being, like looked into the eyes, and shook hands…and those things mean a lot,” he said.
The Yes! Chants
Bryan had a dream run in the independent circuit prior to joining the WWE. He won many titles, including World Heavyweight Championship, two PWG World Championships, and the FIP Heavyweight Championship.
But, it wasn’t easy for the “King of Beards” to start wrestling in WWE as he wasn’t sure if he could connect with the fans being a “5 ft 8 inches, 105 pounds average person”.
“The thought process was that somebody like me… I am an average sized guy, that’s what captivates kid’s imagination… when they see someone like John Cena, he literally looks like superman… then I was like what am I going to do, to capture those children’s imagination,” the 34-year-old wrestler said.
“Even when I was a kid, what captured my imagination -- Jake “The Snake” Roberts, people with animals, people with fancy face paint. So, there was a lot of hesitation and they (WWE) had doubts about me for a long time,” he added.
Whether it was a regular episode of Smack Down or a usual RAW match, Bryan’s “Yes!” chant grew in popularity and he connected with the crowd like nobody else except, perhaps, The Rock.
As the “Yes!” movement spread in a euphoric manner, the former WWE Intercontinental Champion realised that “it doesn’t matter if you are big or small or whatever” and if he “goes out there” and the fans react, then he has “done” his “job”.
WWE’s ‘natural evolution’
Speaking on the “natural evolution” of WWE, Bryan said, “Now, what we see is a three hours RAW and two hours Smack Down. While the previous generation’s struggle was getting exposure, we battle overexposure. So, the ones who handle overexposure the best and manage to not get the fans bored are the ones who end up wrestling for years. They know how to interact with people in all the settings, so it’s just natural that they become popular.”
In 2009, Bryan signed the contract with WWE, following which he successfully beat Chavo Gurrero in his first match on January 4, 2010. He won several titles, including WWE (World Heavyweight) Championship three times and the World Heavyweight Championship once.
Hell No and Kane
Along with Kane, “The Beard” also championed the WWE Tag Team. As a part of the team Hell No, the two refused to see eye to eye initially, competed in a “Hug it out” match, and then battled the opponents to become champions before parting ways.
“Literally, working with Kane was one of the finest parts of my career. It took me to the next level. People couldn’t wait to see us together on TV because we were really entertaining,” the US born wrester said.
“He has wrestled for a while and he has been wrestling for a long time, with all the great guys, including The Rock, Steve Austin, so it was a great learning experience. Kane is a wonderful human being. He is a pleasure to be around,” he added.
“Mr. Small Package” is often termed as one of the most technically proficient wrestlers. His style is influenced by Toshiaki Kawada, Mitsuharu Misawa among others. He, however, considers William Regal as “the most influential person” in his career.
“My favourite wrestler while I was growing up was Dean Malenko, who is a very technical wrestler, and when I trained with Shawn Michaels… he wasn’t that kind of wrestler… he wasn’t that kind of a technical wrestler…when I finally met Regal in 2001… he knew what I was talking about and he knew how to do it,” the 26th Triple Crown Champion said.
Bryan added: “Regal knew the technicalities of English wrestling and could integrate that into American wrestling... in a ring when I am fighting another man, how do I want to fight this other man and there are infinite possibilities, and he opened those possibilities for me… his ability to integrate was a mental shift for me.”
Of highs and lows
Calling 2014 “the biggest part of my career by far”, Bryan said that the year was “weird too” with many “highs and lows.”
“2014 was a strange year for me because I had these amazing moments, I had Wrestlemania, five days later I married Brianna (Monique) and then we went for our honeymoon, which I consider the greatest two weeks of my life.
“Then I get home on Sunday, that Monday my dad passed away, that Wednesday Connor Michalek passed away. After four weeks I had to get my neck surgery and I am out of wrestling for seven-eight months.”
This phase is “difficult” for the 15th Grand Slam Champion because he has been wrestling since he was 18 and finds the entire injury situation “frustrating”, but remains “transparent” as he feels that his career, more than anybody else’s in WWE is “based on fans’ support” and they are the ones who “want it so bad” and he “almost let them down.”
“My wife is a wrestler, so she is on the ring, and I am just sitting, it is difficult… when I am upset, when I am angry, wrestling was always there as an outlet.. I could go, drop and kick… you can call your mom and you can call your sister… but sometimes you just need a physical outlet… I don’t know how to cope with this situation,” Bryan said with the hope of returning to the ring soon as he awaits WWE’s nod.