Daniel Bryan Talks His Return To WWE & SmackDown

When you can see the star's epic comeback and another surprise that's on the way.

Joshua Caudillby Joshua Caudill

  

It was eight months ago when WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan was living his dream, standing alone atop the mountain of sports entertainment as the WWE Champion. That was until neck surgery sidelined him for the remainder of 2014, causing him to vacate his championship and undergo a long and challenging recovery process. His future was uncertain. In fact, it’s safe to say Bryan shocked the world with his most recent announcement … He’s back.

WWE SmackDown has had no shortage of monumental moments but all of them seem like a distant second to Daniel Bryan’s highly anticipated in-ring return that takes place this Thursday night when he squares off against Kane.

Bryan took a moment to chat with us at CraveOnline about healing from his injury, his new in-ring style, whom he wants to face at WrestleMania, his most memorable SmackDown moment, NXT, married life, beards, football, and a new project in the works that will have fans chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” again.

The comeback

CraveOnline: We’re glad that you’re back. When did you get the news that you were finally cleared and how did you keep it a secret until Monday Night RAW a couple of weeks ago?

Daniel Bryan: Okay, so I actually did not get cleared until that RAW [laughs] so that’s how I was able to keep it secret … Nobody was really keeping a secret but what they weren’t really telling anybody was when I started getting better. I started getting better in November. I started going to a guy in Denver who does Muscle Activation Technique. He worked with Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals and got Carson Palmer from the point where he was hardly able to pick up a football at the beginning of the season to where he was playing. That’s incredible.

The first time I went I saw a lot of improvements and flew out there a second time, and the second time, it was like “Oh my Gosh! What’s going on right now?” It seemed like a miracle healing [laughs]. I was frustrated for a long time. For a long time there weren’t any improvements. Once I started doing that, things started getting better real quick.

CraveOnline: SmackDown is moving to Thursdays and you’ll be having your first match in 8 months this week on the show, which makes it a must see. What does it mean to you to finally have this match on SmackDown? Are you psyched or nervous?

Daniel Bryan: I’m a little bit of both. You know, I love wrestling. Wrestling to me is pretty much the most fun thing in the world. You give me the opportunity to go on vacation to Hawaii or do a match in front of a rabid crowd in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and pretty much, I’m going to pick doing the match in front of a rabid crowd in Baton Rouge, Louisiana [laughs]. I’m excited because that’s my passion and it’s what I love to do.

But I’m also, a little bit nervous. It’s hard not to be when you haven’t been in a wrestling match in eight months [laughs] and especially when you’re expected to be very physical. This is the first time I’m really testing it, really going out and testing my neck and seeing how it’s going to be. So it’s a combination of both but I’m excited that I’m coming back when SmackDown moves to Thursday. I have a lot of big plans in 2015 and a lot of them involve SmackDown.

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CraveOnline: Will we see any tweaks to your in-ring style coming off surgery?

Daniel Bryan: There will be but it’s not necessarily because of my neck. So every time in the past in my wrestling career when I was on the independents and what not, if I would leave an area for an extended period of time and predominantly the independents would work with Ring of Honor and so there’d be times I’d go to England for six months but when I came back to Ring of Honor, I would have a slightly different style.

To me, this whole thing is an art, right? If you look at the most artsy of all martial arts and I love martial arts. It’s a very creative expression of what we do and you can’t just be going out there doing the same thing all the time. People do, do that and that’s okay but to me, it’s a continuing expression of my creativity and so it also, has to evolve. Regardless of what my neck feels like, watching WWE this whole eight months I’ve been off, I’ve realized “Okay I need to do this differently and I need to do this differently.” I think the fans would enjoy this more because they see a lot of this and they’re not seeing a lot of this. So my style will change but will it make it any easier on my neck? I have no idea [laughs].

Favorite memory

CraveOnline: What is your most memorable moment of SmackDown?

Daniel Bryan: Oh my Gosh! One of my favorite matches I did on SmackDown was actually with Mark Henry. It was during this time period where I was the Money In The Bank holder and Mark Henry was the World Heavyweight Champion and I hadn’t really been given an opportunity to main event anything at that point. We were main eventing a SmackDown that was a special on Tuesday and it was airing live and Mark and I did a steel cage match and it was that first time I got to main event SmackDown. Even though I lost, the match was really good, the crowd got behind me and they gave me this confidence that like “Hey the company doesn’t necessarily see me as a main eventer but I just got to main event SmackDown but I did a really good job and the crowd was with it. So that gave me the confidence to be like “There’s no reason I can’t be doing this nearly every week.”

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CraveOnline: NXT has garnered a lot of praise lately with a lot of independent stars landing in WWE.  Do the indie guys look at you as a trailblazer who made it possible for them to succeed in WWE after great indie careers? Do they come to you for advice?

Daniel Bryan: They don’t necessarily come to me for advice. A lot of them are my friends. I’m friends with Sammy Zayn, friends with Finn Balor, I’m friends with Hideo Itami. It’s hard for me to remember. It’s weird when you meet people and they’re one name and then you go to WWE and they’re a different name. My friends were confused on what to call me when I came to WWE and I was no longer Bryan Danielson and now I’m Daniel Bryan. Like Hideo Itami, I wrestled him in Japan as Kenta and they don’t necessarily come to me for advice but we just talk. We just talk about “Hey, what do I need to do from where I’m at now to get to where I’ve been and back up to the main roster” and the steps for that sort of thing. It’s interesting because I can give people what I think but I can’t give people a road map. I don’t know how I got here myself. A lot of it is just luck [laughs]. For some reason, the fans got behind me and I don’t know exactly why that is. I wasn’t supposed to main event WrestleMania XXX but the fans were so vocal about it that the fans had no choice but to put me in the match. I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks.

There are so many good guys who I have wrestled on the independents who are down there and are now up on WWE TV. You have Seth Rollins, you have Dean Ambrose, you have Cesaro all those guys I wrestled on the independents and down in NXT, you got the Finn Balors, the Sammy Zayns, Kevin Owens, and the Hideo Itamis. You can see that these guys are different and that these guys are awesome and would make great additions to the WWE roster.

“I want Brock Lesnar”

CraveOnline: You declared your intentions of winning the Royal Rumble, who would you like to face for the championship at WrestleMania?

Daniel Bryan: I want Brock Lesnar. It’s funny. Ever since I got my surgery and even before that, if somebody said “Hey, who would you want to wrestle if you were to main event at WrestleMania 31?” I’ve always said “I want to wrestle Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.” That is my dream match for WrestleMania 31 and it’s because Brock is the ultimate monster. He’s legitimately a beast and I’m the ultimate underdog. I think it would be a great story but I also, think it would probably be the most physical match you’ve seen in WWE history. We could do something special and something great. That’s the match I want and I think it’s the match the fans want to.

DVD on the way

CraveOnline: You’ve had an epic career so far. Are there any plans for a Daniel Bryan DVD that you can speak of?

Daniel Bryan: You know what, I think there actually is. I’m actually supposed to be doing..I don’t even know if I can say this. They tell me things but they don’t tell me what I can tell you guys but what I can’t tell you guys. [Confirmed later there will be a Daniel Bryan DVD]

The game-changer

CraveOnline: Can you tell us about the influence of William Regal in your career?

Daniel Bryan: William Regal has been the most influential person in my entire career. When I first started wrestling, I was training with Shawn Michaels. I thought that I had to be a high flyer because of my size and all that kind of stuff but what happened was within a span of three months, I got three concussions in a row and it was pretty serious. I had a second-degree separation in my shoulder trying to jump off an 18 ft. ladder that was in the ring to the floor and hurt myself there.

I had already been signed to a WWE developmental deal in 2000 and they moved us to Memphis because that’s where their developmental system was and that’s where William Regal was and I always loved technical wrestling; the Dean Malenkos of the wrestling world. Shawn is a great wrestler but he was never necessarily ‘that guy’ but William Regal is ‘that guy.’ He knows an unbelievable amount about technical wrestling. His mindset about wrestling is very similar to mine so we clicked right away as far as him being my mentor and everything like that. Also, our personalities are very similar. Even after I got fired from WWE in 2001, Regal kept in touch with me the entire time. He’d ask me “Hey, I heard about this match you did, can you send me a tape?” and we’d talk about it and he’d be like “What you did here was really great but this here I think needs a little bit of tweaking or this needs work.” He helped me get into England for the first time so if anybody is a fan of the stuff I did with Kane or Team Hell No, the comedy stuff, a lot of that came from wrestling in England for six months where I was doing almost exclusively comedy wrestling.

Regal was the one who told me to do that and to embrace it and said “there are times you’re hurt but you still need to be able to go out there and entertain and if you can learn how to do that, you can do anything.” He’s been an invaluable influence. It would literally take us probably an hour for me to tell you all the things William Regal has meant to me.

Married life

CraveOnline: This one comes from my wife, who’s an avid watcher of Total Divas. With you and your wife Brie being on the road a lot with such hectic schedules, what is the ideal ‘date night’ for you guys?

Daniel Bryan: Literally what we love to do on the date night we’re at home…so you also, have to keep in mind we have very strict diets [laughs] so as a couple it makes it a little bit less fun when you have very strict diets but what makes it more fun is on the days you are cheating on your diets. One of the things we love to do, because we’re on the road so much, for us, a great night at home is ordering in some pizza, renting a movie, and having our little French bulldog Josie between us and just relaxing and eating a bunch of pizza and maybe some cookie dough or some gelato [laughs] .

CraveOnline: You’re definitely a married couple now.

Daniel Bryan: [Laughs] Absolutely!

Repeat for the ‘Hawks?

CraveOnline: We know you’re a massive Seahawks fan. Do you think they’re going back-to-back and do you have any ‘fan superstitions?’

Daniel Bryan: It’s funny. For years, this goes back to the mid-90s. Every year, I tell everybody the Seahawks are winning the Super Bowl. Even when they end up the season 2-14 or something like that, until they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, I will always say “The Seahawks are winning the Super Bowl this year.” This is the first time in my entire life that I have not said that because I don’t want to jinx them [laughs]. Because last year they actually won and now people are like “Oh my Gosh, they may repeat.” I think there’s a very good chance. Anything can happen in the NFL. But I think they’re playing better than any team in the league and I’m rooting for them very, very, very, very, very hard.

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Beard maintenance 

CraveOnline: Your beard has reached gnarly proportions. Do you have any grooming tips for us men trying to grow a beard like that?

Daniel Bryan: If you want to grow a beard like mine, the only thing I can tell you is that you have to have patience. You just have to let it grow. I’m not somebody who is genetically gifted when it comes to facial hair. I don’t know if you pay attention to beard competitions but what they do is beards are judged in follicles per square inch which is a weird thing to even talk about. I’m not ranked very highly in the follicles per square inch but it’s just guts, determination, and letting it look awful for a long period of time until it gets to the point of “Oh! That is a real beard” so for a long time it did not look like a real beard. It’s just patience of letting it grow out and also, being in a relationship with somebody who lets you go through that stage where it looks awful.

CraveOnline: I can’t believe creative let you do that. It’s pretty awesome!

Daniel Bryan: The whole thing is funny because nobody said anything to me about it. I just started doing it and so then my beard started getting kind of long and then people didn’t realize until after it was already long because it was not like I was doing a whole lot. I think at the time I was doing a thing with Kane and Team Hell No so I wasn’t like a huge part of the show and all of a sudden my beard was getting longer, longer, and longer. Then one of the awesome things to is that people didn’t realize I was growing my hair out either because they were so focused on the beard. So now I got this whole long hair and long beard and people are thinking “where did this even come from?”

What’s next?

CraveOnline: What can the WWE Universe expect from Daniel Bryan in 2015?

Daniel Bryan: I think they can expect the best Daniel Bryan they have ever seen. I think some people may be thinking that I’ll come back and my style is going to be different because I had a neck injury and that sort of thing. My style will be different but it won’t be because of the neck injury. I think I’m going to come back better than ever and more excited than ever and I have some fun things in store for the WWE Universe so its going to be a great 2015.


 

SMACKDOWN® MOVES TO THURSDAY NIGHT 

The show that averages 3.1 million viewers on Friday nights and beats all Friday primetime viewing on any cable network is moving to Thursday nights on Syfy beginning January 15th at 8pm ET.  With more than 800 original episodes, SmackDown is the second longest-running weekly episodic program in U.S. television history, only behind WWE’s other flagship program, Monday Night Raw®

Photos courtesy of WWE

Cover Photo: Getty

Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline Sports, a surfing enthusiast, an unhealthy sports fanatic, and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like”CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.