Daniel Bryan Talks Incredible WWE Return And Dream Opponents
WWE fan favourite Daniel Bryan was on these shores as part of WWE's recent tour of the UK and SPORTbible had the privilege of speaking to the leader of the Yes movement less than two months after he got the all-clear to return to the ring.
It was a long, arduous process for the 37-year old, and one that needed the seal of approval from a slew of medical experts.
"I was in Bahrain and then told I needed to go to Pittsburgh, so I went from Bahrain to Dubai, to Abu Dhabi, back to Dubai, to Dallas, to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Maroon and four other doctors," he told SPORTbible before performing for WWE in Sheffield.
"At 9:30pm on the Monday, I get a letter that was the typed-up paperwork but in Dr Maroon's handwriting it said, 'Finally you are cleared' - and then they announced it the next day at 3pm."
Having retired from WWE in 2016 due to neck issues and a series of concussions, Bryan pushed for the company to re-look at his case.
Once his contract was up, the four-time world champion's plan was to wrestle elsewhere, specifically in Japan. But eventually it all worked out in the end.
"I realised it was getting more likely the closer we got because originally they weren't even willing to look at my case and I kept pushing for it," he added.
"Finally they were willing to re-look at it and the deal was, 'Hey, send me to the best neurologist in the country'.
"I kept getting cleared after doctor, after doctor, after doctor and they would send me to more doctors. At some point I just thought, 'Ok I think this is the last one and if I get cleared by this one I think I'm good' but I was crossing my fingers and I didn't know for sure.
"But it's interesting because four months before, I didn't think it was going to happen and Brie and I bought a house in Washington State because we were like 'We love Washington state' - I'm from there but then too, flights from Seattle to Japan are a little easier!
"That's kind of what we thought was going to happen. My contract was up, they're not going to let me wrestle so I'm going to do it somewhere else."
After receiving the news he'd been waiting so long to hear, the 36-year old made his return to action in front of 78,000 people at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans - the same stadium he'd lit up four years prior when he won the world title in the main event of Wrestlemania 30.
While Bryan says he's still not reached his optimum level, he says he didn't feel any ring rust and is pleased with the work he's done since slotting straight back in.
"I honestly didn't feel any ring rust. It was strange because the day I was cleared, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens attacked me and I did the running dropkicks - just dropkick, dropkick, dropkick.
"You have to understand, I wasn't prepared for this to happen. I'm wearing the shoes which I'm wearing now - which are from a thrift store and they're a half size too big! I was wearing a sportscoat and I haven't done the dropkick in the corner for three years - it's a very exhausting thing to do because you're sprinting, running, jumping and then kick.
"I was a little bit concerned but that night I didn't feel tired or anything, I was excited, it was fun. Same thing at Wrestlemania, I felt like nothing felt weird or awkward - everything felt like normal and how it used to feel.
"Obviously I am doing these live events and there are more singles matches - there's stuff where I'm like, 'Ok I'm a little bit rusty at this' - I haven't done a fireman's carry in years and that's a very specific movement that I haven't done a lot of.
"Stuff like that is going to take me a while before everything's back to normal but overall I'm very happy with it."
Bryan had been working as Smackdown General Manager when the brand split came into play and still got to make his entrance down to the ring. But at Wrestlemania 34, he heard his music play and knew he wasn't going out to announce a match; he was back where he belongs.
"It was just the best. It was weird because as the GM they would play my music, sometimes I would get a really good reaction and it would make me smile sometimes but it didn't make me happy. There's a difference, right?
"A lot of the time I get this thing where I feel very lucky to be in the position I'm in doing this thing that l love, to where I would go in front of 50 people, my music would hit and nobody cared. You're trying to work to make them care and no matter how hard you work, they don't care.
"The hard work is the in-ring stuff but sometimes the hardest thing is getting the fans to accept you. That's already done [for me] so it's really cool."
As enjoyable as it was seeing him on our screens as the authority figure on the blue brand, Bryan did not enjoy being the GM - the fact he was surrounding by everything but unable to get physical was something he found extremely tough.
"It was very difficult. I disliked it, strongly. I would try and leave as soon as I could and if I found out they might not have a segment for me on TV, I would be texting the writers being like, 'Hey can I just stay home' - a portion of that is not liking it and portion of that is because now I'm being away from Brie and my baby to do something I'm not passionate about. That was a weird mental thing for me."
With 10 documented concussions during his time as a wrestler, many wondered whether he would have to tone down his high-impact approach in between the ropes.
Him taking powerbombs on the apron on the same day as he was cleared, as well his chest being caved in by Roderick Strong in his 70 minute performance during the Greatest Royal Rumble would suggest he hasn't shifted his style.
However, Bryan reveals he has made some tweaks that would bring less risks but retains the same level of intrigue and entertainment.
"The idea would be that I do things differently and people aren't able to perceive it. Specifically with the Wrestlemania match, we wanted to show people that the old Daniel Bryan was back - I want to change my style but I'm doing it gradually.
"This last week I attacked Cass and ended it with a heel hook - in my mind this is a new direction in how I'm wrestling and then focussing more on the 'Yes!' Lock than on knee and that sets up different things.
"This is probably in more detail than fans would probably want to know but I'm setting up those things so the matches are still entertaining and interesting - if you're watching it for a story front to back, it's more interesting with less risk. That's kind of where I'm going with it, while still making it exciting."
Plenty of people have taken issue with the fact that Bryan's return was announced on the WWE app and not as a surprise moment on WWE TV. Yet the man himself was more than pleased with the story in which his comeback came about, in addition to the stage it occured on and the personnel involved.
"I was very happy with it. It's weird with society with things like this where it's like, 'Is this enough? Well it could have been better' - if you're always looking at how things could have been better then you're always going to be unhappy, thinking it wasn't good enough.
"For me, one of the things I really wanted when I've come back is to just experience the joy of wrestling and being able to do what I love. I'm really just enjoying it and I was very happy that it was against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
"I thought the story built up for months and it wasn't the planned finish - this was a bonus; the cherry on top. I was really happy it was against Zayn and Owens who I've known for years and years - and [with] Shane McMahon, who is someone I really, really like. It was a lot of fun."
Mere days after he made a triumphant and poetic return to action, Bryan mixed it up in a dream match against WWE champion AJ Styles, rekindling their rivalry from Ring of Honor on a WWE platform.
Bryan saw it as a challenge to see if he could hang with the Phenomenal One and hopes they are given more time when their next encounter rolls around at some point in the future.
"I consider AJ to be the best right now as far as in-ring performance. It was good to be able to go out there and see if I could keep up with him not only physically but mentally because a large part of what we do is mental.
"I actually wish we had more time; the match we had was 10-12 minutes or whatever it was and hopefully soon we'll have the chance to do a solid 30 minutes and do our thing."
In the time he's been away from the squared circle, the landscape of WWE has changed dramatically and there are a whole host of dream matches left for D-Bry. Some of his desired opponents have already come up against him in the past, though there's a fair share of fresh bouts for him.
Smackdown's top talents are on his list, as is the polarising figure that is Roman Reigns. But Universal Champion Brock Lesnar is the match he's been desperate to get for so long.
"I want to work with everybody. When I look at the roster of Smackdown Live specifically: Shinsuke Nakamura - yep! Samoa Joe - of course. Andrade Cien Almas - sure! I did the match with Rusev - it was the first match we had ever wrestled each other before. I've been wanting to wrestle Rusev for a long time.
"I also think there's something there with me and Roman Reigns, somewhere down the line. I just feel there's something there.
"And the big match that I always say - I really want to wrestle Brock. I've been wanting to wrestle Brock for years, when I came back from my neck surgery in 2015, it was the match that I wanted. I'm sure Brock doesn't want it, he doesn't care!
"But there's a lot of stuff that I get really excited about when I think about it and also that a lot of my friends from the independents are now here in the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. I think that's the coolest."
We'll have more Daniel Bryan content from our jam-packed interview so keep your eyes peeled...
Featured Image Credit: WWE