WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan took time out of his busy schedule to talk with me regarding his training in MMA and the main question of where the YES idea came from. Bryan will be at the Allstate Arena this Sunday to wrestle in the Extreme Rules PPV.
In 2009 you started training Mixed Martial Arts. How did that relationship develop with you training at his gym?
I went to a lot of different gyms in the area and I tried to find the one that suited me best. It was also one of the closer ones to me at the time on where I was living. I developed a very good relationship with Neil Melanson who is one of Randy Couture’s coaches and former corner-men. His style of training and grappling was something that really appealed to me. It’s a very hardnosed style and Neil is a catch wrestler and trained under a lot of great names. Neil and I actually live together now in Vegas so we have developed a great relationship.
I typically just go in on days that I can and train with Neil. With my schedule I only get two and a half days off so I do what I can and once in a while I’ll take some kickboxing classes with Joey Varner. I use to train a lot more when I had time but now it's tough. Any waking moments I have I try to get into the gym.
How much of your MMA training really helps you in terms of doing your job as a wrestler?
I feel that it’s very important because pro wrestling needs to evolve. What people bought in the 80’s and 90’s don’t necessarily buy it today. There’s a big difference the way I throw a kick and the rest of the roster throws one. I don’t think the fans can necessarily identify the difference, but they can tell the difference. I think my training has really helped me in that aspect of mixing in the real legit kicks. My wrestling style has always been tight and my MMA training has helped me incorporate that in the ring.
Was MMA something that you ever considered as an occupation while you were wrestling?
No I just enjoy the training part of the entire process. I know there are a lot of guys that rarely succeed unless they have a great background such as Brock Lesnar. Most of these guys have been training since they were 15 and 16. It’s hard to just step into MMA and right now you need to start when you are young. But when I’m done wrestling I can see myself getting into a lot of grappling tournaments. I love the submission aspect of it and even the kickboxing and boxing. But after wrestling if I never get kicked or punched in the head again I’ll be thrilled.
You touched on the product that was so widely popular in the late 80’s and 90’s but hasn’t been recently. What do you think the problem is that isn’t being wrestling fans that once were a fan of the WWE?
It’s interesting because we had a huge departure of stars. You look at the guys that left the WWE the last couple of years and it’s almost the entire main event scene. With that said, many aren’t being pushed into those roles until recently. For example CM Punk last year stepped into that role last year and just flourished. They did the same for me and I cherished it. Also look at Mark Henry who has been with the company for a very long time. He did an amazing job taking that role last year. It’s just people putting faith and trust in others, which they may have not have done before.
Do you think that will take time before the future generations of wrestlers get that faith and trust to get a chance at those higher roles in the company?
I’m not really sure. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book entitled “The Tipping Point” and he talks about taking something that goes over to the edge to get into mainstream pop culture. There’s a fine line and something that can strike a chord with people that makes wrestling cool like the Attitude Era. And what that is nobody knows until it gets there. Right now the WWE is widely popular, minus the movie business but the wrestling business is tremendously profitable.
In terms of using the word wrestler, the WWE has tried to shy away from using that word and refer the roster members as sports entertainers. Do you feel the world wrestler should be used more often or are you happy being referred to as a “sports entertainer”?
I personally think so, but honestly I don’t think it makes a difference. People still consider us as wrestlers and if somebody asks me what I do for a living I tell them I’m a wrestler. It’s a branding thing and I think it’s smart to call us superstars. There are wrestlers on the independent scene like I was, but the WWE brands their wrestlers as superstars. I think it’s a branding thing and really helps the company get more and more people interested in the product.
The phrase that is catching wildfire is the repeated use of the word yes. What is the story behind you using this phrase that is slowly becoming this generations Stone Cold’s “What”?
I’m huge a fan of MMA and particularly how Diego Sanchez presents himself walking into the cage. He would use the word YES to get himself hyped up for his fight when he walked out from his locker room. I thought that would be perfect for professional wrestling. I would do it more celebratory than what he did it for which is obviously
It is directly from Diego Sanchez but with my own twist. I think Diego is amazing character and even his last fight he was walking out with a cross warding off vampires. He’s an amazing fighter and his entrances are cool.
This past Wrestlemania your match with Sheamus was only 18 seconds. With the show being the biggest the WWE puts on yearly, is that something that irked you?
Of course it bothers me. I love wrestling and I love going out there and putting on the best match possible. Especially when it comes to Wrestlemania, I pride myself of being one of the best or the best wrestlers on that show. All the eyes are on this, so of course I was a little upset with not being able to display what I am capable of.
Looking to next year, who would you like to face going into Wrestlemania?
I would think it would be really cool and how both are careers have gone, it would be CM Punk. I think that would be a major important match and be awesome to go out there in front of 70,000 people and show them what we can do. Both of us wrestled in front of 35 people so having that kind of crowd in front of us would be amazing.
You are widely known as a vegetarian, and use that as part of your on camera character. How tough is being a vegan on the road and your day to day meals?
I started being a vegan at the end of 2009 due to health issues. The toughest part is finding places to eat while on the road. At home it’s easy because you know what you are going to eat and have it right there for yourself. With a lot of vegans they can just eat a lot of junk food. I’m doing this for health issues and my doctor gave me some books to look at.
On the road I have to pack a lot of protein, nuts and seeds and then stopping to get fresh fruit. When you are driving 250 miles to the next show many guys are stopping at Burger King for food. There’s nothing for me there so I have to pack away a lot of stuff that will get me through the weekend.
You have wrestled Chicago many times; do you think it’s still a great hotbed for wrestling no matter what company?
I think it’s one of the greatest cities in the world for wrestling. Just the reactions the fans gave off are enough for me. Last year when I won Money in the Bank, the crowd was unreal. That was the same night CM Punk won the title and the reactions of people in the stands was just amazing. Chicago has given me a lot of great memories such as me losing my hearing in my left ear wrestling Kenta.
I think it’s a great wrestling city and the fans will always be passionate about it no matter what company.