Interview conducted by Mike Mazzarone and Brett Buchanan
WWE superstar Daniel Bryan returns to the ring on Thursday’s episode of Smackdown on Syfy against Kane, just over two weeks after announcing his intentions to wrestle at the Royal Rumble on January 25th. Bryan was on top of the world at last year’s WrestleMania 30, winning the WWE World Heavyweight Title, but just a month later he was sidelined with an injury that kept him out of action for 8 months.
In this exclusive interview with AlternativeNation.net’s Sports section, Bryan discusses meeting James Hetfield, seeing Metallica in his hometown of Aberdeen (also the hometown of Kurt Cobain), how long he will continue to wrestle, if he will alter his wrestling style after his injury, Vince McMahon recently calling out the WWE roster to reach for the ‘brass ring’ in an interview with Steve Austin, WWE’s lack of competition, Triple H’s leadership in WWE, a potential match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31, Sting’s WWE debut, Randy Savage’s WWE Hall of Fame induction, Batista’s 2014 WWE comeback, and the original plans for him at WrestleMania 30.
First off a music related question, what was it like meeting James Hetfield a few months ago? Are you a big Metallica fan, do you have any favorite albums?
Okay, so I’m not necessarily the biggest Metallica fan, it was actually really neat to meet him because I got to talk to him. I forget what year it was, but MTV ran this contest or lottery where you could enter, and Metallica would come do a concert at your house. Somebody from Aberdeen, Washington, which is where I grew up, actually won the contest. (Laughs) So Metallica did a show in Aberdeen, Washington in this guy’s backyard, and so when I met him and said that to him, he was like, ‘Oh my god that was this and this and this.’ He kind of told me the story of [how they got there], it was a neat and interesting conversation. So I don’t know any Metallica albums, but I know when I was in the high school weight room, they would play non stop all the time.
Your first match back will be on Smackdown on Thursday, which surprised many fans who thought you wouldn’t be back until the Royal Rumble. Did you have any input on when your first match back would be?
Absolutely, I requested my first match back to be when Smackdown moved to Thursday nights. I think it’s a good time to change the branding of Smackdown, it’s a very important show for us, to get new viewers on a new night, and I wanted to be the guy to bring the new viewers to the new night. So once I got cleared, I actually asked for the spot. My vision of Smackdown is going to be [it changing] in 2015. I would like it to be the show that would actually be more fun to watch than Raw, and this is all part of the process, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Will you alter your in ring style after your injury?
I will, but not necessarily because of my injury. It’s something where your style has to constantly evolve. I like to look at wrestling as the most artsy of all the martial arts. It’s a very creative process, what we’re doing is artistic creative combat. So as such, it needs to evolve. Being able to sit at home for the last 8 months and watch the product, and I see things where there’s too much of this, or there’s not enough this, and here’s what I can bring to the table that’s different, and more exciting for the fans. So yes, my style will be changing. Will it be any easier on my neck? I have no idea (laughs). Yeah, my style will be changing, but it’s not necessarily going to be physically easier.
How long do you see yourself being able to continue to wrestle, and who would you like to wrestle before you retire?
Those are very difficult questions. I would like to wrestle as long as my body is physically capable of it. I love what I do, I used to do this for very little money (laughs). It’s one of those things where, I do this because it’s fun, being with WWE is the first time I ever made any real money doing it. It’s just a blast, it’s my passion. It’s like asking a musician how long do they want to play music for. It’s very difficult to grapple with the idea of not being able to wrestle any more, but you also have to come to the realization that this is a very physical business, and your body will only last you so long. So I would like to say that at some point I would have the mental intelligence, or maybe the mental support from my wife or somebody, to know, ‘Okay, it’s time for you to stop, because if you don’t, you’re going to have to replace your hips, your knees, all that kind of stuff.’ So I don’t know when that time will be, but I’d like to wrestle as long as I can, but at the end of it still be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle afterwards.
What was your take on Vince McMahon’s interview a couple of months back on the WWE Network where he encouraged talent to reach for the brass ring?
(Laughs) You know it’s funny, because one of the things that he had mentioned was, he said something about the Millennials not having any ambition, right. It’s funny, because the WWE does this personality test with some of their more successful superstars, where they rank you on all of these scores, like your desire for power, and your personality, and all that kind of stuff. One of the things they ranked was ambition, and it’s funny, because in this personality assessment, I got the lowest score for ambition that the lady had ever seen. So they do it on a percentile basis, so from 0 to 100, I was in the bottom 1 percentile of ambition.
(Laughs) It’s funny because the lady was like, ‘How on earth are you so successful given that you seem to have no ambition?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s where there’s a flaw on the test. I have no ambition for what society says is important as far as things like money, and all that kind of stuff.’ What I am ambitious about is I want to be the best wrestler that I can possibly be, and I think there’s some sort of mistake in generations, as far as what he thinks as far as our generation lacking ambition. Our generation just wants different things than what his generation wants, and I think that’s a societal thing as well. There’s an older generation of people who say, ‘No, you guys should want this, you guys should want this, you guys should want this.’ Whereas our generation, a lot of us say, ‘No, we don’t want that, we want something different, and a lot of the things that you guys wanted, are the reason that the world is messed up. We need to change our value system.’ So that’s it, that’s a very different take on what’s going on.
But people do need to stand up and say, ‘No, this isn’t what I want, I want to do this. This is me, this is how I want to present myself on television. This is how I want to be within WWE, this is how I view professional wrestling, this is what I would like it to be.’ People have to have the courage to come up and say that. But the hard thing is, he was talking about the Attitude Era and how things were different, well things wouldn’t have been that much different if there wasn’t a WCW. Like guys could say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to do this. If you want to fire me fine, because I’m going to go to WCW and make just as much money.’ That doesn’t exist right now. It’s people who are okay with like, ‘Hey, my life without WWE, is as good as my life with the WWE.’ They have to be able to say, ‘Okay, if I’m going to say this is what I want to do, or else I’m taking my ball and going home.’ They have to have some sort of plan for when they take their ball and go home, they have something else to do, which is hard, especially when you have a family, and all that kind of stuff. So yeah, I have very interesting thoughts on that whole podcast. It’s a very interesting look into the mind of Vince McMahon, so it was fascinating.
CM Punk recently mentioned that he thinks you could have a successful MMA career. Is that something you’d ever be interested in trying, and have you done any MMA training?
Yeah, I’ve actually done a lot of jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. The Yes Lock that I do, it was actually taught to me by Neal Melanson, the head grappling coach at Xtreme Couture. It’s a move I use regularly when I do jiu-jitsu, it’s a [type of] kind of face lock to keep the guy from rolling. So I love doing jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, I will probably never do and MMA fight, and here’s why: I am not competitive. So I love jiu-jitsu, I love going in, I love going on the mat, I love rolling the people, but I love doing it with my friends.
It’s like the way dogs play, dogs play like they’re fighting, but they’re not trying to hurt each other unless they’re actually really fighting. That’s what I’m like with my friends, like, ‘Hey, let’s spar a little bit with kickboxing, but I’m not going to punch you in the face as hard as I can. I’m just going to see if I can touch you, and by me touching you, we both acknowledge that I’ve done something good.’ Or likewise with grappling, when I can turn an armbar, and in no way shape or form am I trying to break your arm, and if you don’t tap out because you don’t think you’re in that much trouble, I’m not going to crank it just to prove to you that I do have this armbar, right (laughs). So I love martial arts, I love that sort of thing, but I’m also not competitive enough to go in and be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to break this guy’s leg.’ That’s just not my personality type.
Triple H’s role in WWE management has been expanding in the last couple of years, especially with him spearheading NXT. What do you think about Triple H’s work with the NXT talent he’s selected, and have you talked to him about what his vision is for the future of wrestling?
I have never actually talked to him about his vision for the future of wrestling, and that is actually something I should talk to him about, because we think a lot alike in a lot of ways. I like what he’s done with NXT, I think NXT is an awesome show. That last special that they did was an awesome product. I think Hunter is very intelligent wrestling wise, like he knows wrestling, he knows what works wrestling wise. I’m not exactly sure what are his ideas, and what aren’t his ideas within the WWE, but I want to say two of the most successful current acts that happened in the last year, like The Shield and the Wyatts, I think those are Triple H ideas, but I’m not exactly sure, as far as their execution and that sort of thing. The only way I can really gauge him is by what happens on NXT, and NXT is a wonderful product, it might be the best wrestling product out there. I love watching that show, and I think they’ve chosen some pretty awesome guys to be the stars of that show: Sami Zayn is incredible, Adrian Neville is incredible, Finn Balor is incredible, Hideo Itami, who used to be KENTA, and I wrestled on the independents and Japan, he’s incredible. So they’ve got some incredible talent down there, and they’re doing some really good stories.
Many thought you would face Brock Lesnar last year at Summerslam before your injury, and you recently stated you’d like to face Brock at WrestleMania. Could you envision incorporating any Japanese or strong style elements in a match with him?
Oh absolutely. I truly believe that if I wrestled Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 31, for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, it might be the most physical, realistic, style of pro wrestling match that has ever been seen in the United States. Whether it would be the most physical, realistic pro wrestling match that has ever happened, I don’t know, because there’s been a lot of awesome stuff like that in Japan. But it would just be something very, very different from what people are used to seeing now in WWE, and I think we need something like that, something that feels like a spectacle. I think it would be incredible.
How was it working with Batista during his comeback run last year? Were you both surprised by the crowd reactions going into the WrestleMania match with Randy Orton?
(Laughs) So I was never supposed to be in that match, and the crowd reactions are what forced me to even be given that opportunity. I was surprised that the crowd was so vocal, because it was clear when Batista came back that he was supposed to be the returning hero. He was going on to main event WrestleMania against Randy Orton, and that was the big plan, but the fans changed that plan. That’s one of the amazing things about WWE that doesn’t happen in any other sport, or any other area of entertainment, is how much power the fans have. The fans literally changed the course of the biggest wrestling event of the year just through their actions, just through making their voices heard.
I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the top of the card. I think I was scheduled to wrestle Sheamus, and probably be 5th or 6th match from the top, and maybe get a 10 minute match if we were lucky, but because of fan support, all of the sudden now I’m doing 2 matches and I’m in the main event of WrestleMania. I kind of had thought that the fans might react the way that they did as far as booing him and cheering for me, but in no way shape or form did I expect it to be as vocal as it was. It turned into a transformative amount of cheering, you don’t get anything like that in any other form of entertainment or sports, so it was pretty incredible.
On Monday we found out Randy Savage was getting into the WWE Hall of Fame. Can you discuss how much influence he had on you as a sports entertainer?
I’m thrilled he’s being inducted, he’s clearly one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time. As a kid I had a Macho King wrestling buddy. I had bunk beds in my room, and I would jump off the top bunk bed and do an elbow drop onto the Macho King wrestling buddy. When you watched him, he was one of the best at mixing being an entertaining character, and flashy, and also being great in the ring. Like that match he and Ricky Steamboat had was awesome, the matches he had with Ric Flair were awesome, the matches he had with The Ultimate Warrior were awesome. He was a guy who was so good at blending entertainment and wrestling, and that’s something that a lot of wrestlers could learn from when you watch him.
How was it meeting Sting last year, and would you like to wrestle him in WWE?
Yeah, I’d love to wrestle Sting. Whether he would love to wrestle me, I have no idea (laughs). The first night I met him was at Comic Con last July in San Diego, and meeting him, he just seemed like such a nice man. He hasn’t changed into an egotistical person because of his success in wrestling. Obviously I didn’t know him before he was a big star in wrestling, but he just seemed like a very nice man, somebody who you’d love to hang out with, because he’s so cool.