WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan is about to reach one of the highest moments in his nearly 14-year career as a professional wrestler. He’s walking into SummerSlam on Sunday (August 18) to challenge John Cena, the face of WWE, for his championship title.
Bryan’s rise in the company has been largely at the behest of fans who repeatedly chant his signature “Yes!” throughout nearly every WWE show, which with led to him being awarded a championship match at WWE’s second biggest annual event. Not bad for a guy who was fired by the company in 2010.
Bryan spoke with Zap2it to talk about his rise in popularity, who he thinks could be the star of the future and even his role on E!’s “Total Divas.”
Zap2it: There was a real turning point in your character that happened at Wrestlemania 28 in Miami. Suddenly you were completely embraced and championed by the entire crowd. What do you think led to that?
Daniel Bryan: It’s hard to say. I don’t know if you’ve ever read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. It essentially talks about how things catch on and how there’s a point, and it’s hard to tell what causes it or why it happens., but there’s just this point where something becomes really popular. Like, for example, Vans shoes. They were a very underground thing and then a couple stars started wearing them and all of a sudden everyone had Vans shoes.
I remember in high school, I had Vans shoes. I didn’t skateboard, I didn’t surf, I didn’t do anything like that, but here I was wearing this skateboarding/surfing company’s shoe, right? It was just this cascade. I feel like my popularity is kind of the same thing. I shouldn’t necessarily be a popular character in a mainstream wrestling organization. But somehow those people in Miami at Wrestlemania brought it to other people’s attention and it just cascaded off of that.
Now, a year and a half later, you’re in the main event title match at SummerSlam. Ironically, the show you returned at three years ago after you were fired by WWE. Did you see yourself challenging for the WWE Championship at that point?
When I came back at SummerSlam 2010 it was interesting, because it was the main event in a tag match. I thought “Wow, this is going to be huge! She sky is the limit!” And then it wasn’t. [laughs] After that I won the United States Championship and performed on a couple pay per views in a row, but then I wasn’t in a singles match on pay per view for a year.
It’s one of those things, when I’d gotten fired and then rehired and shortly after that you think “What can I do to get to the next level?” A lot of the guys on the undercard are thinking “How do I break through and get popular with the fans? How do I break through in the management’s eyes? How do I break through and get to that next level?”
Speaking of talent breaking through to the next level, WWE’s developmental system is essentially training the next generation of Superstars. Some of the more notable talent that have been introduced from there is the three wrestlers known as The Shield, who have found a lot of success very quickly. Of those currently training, who do you see as a big star in the future?
You know, it’s hard for me to say because I haven’t seen all those guys. Someone I have a soft spot in my heart for is Sami Zayn. He wrestled as El Generico in the independents. In the ring he’s just phenomenal. I saw a couple of his matches with Antonio Cesaro and it’s some of the best wrestling this year, as far as I’m concerned, even compared to the stuff you see on WWE TV.
If he can get the personality to match his wrestling skills, I haven’t seen any of his interviews, but he has loads of personality as a human being and I can only imagine if he’s able to transfer that onto television he should be a big star, I’d hope. But you never know, because size might hold him back for a little bit, but talent always shines through.
It does seem that talent is winning out over size in modern day wrestling, with WWE having a much smaller roster than you’ve seen in years.
Yeah and part of that is because fans no longer accept the slow-paced wrestling matches. Most of the big guys can’t wrestle the action-packed matches. That’s what makes somebody like Big Show so incredibly special. You see him and he’s seven feet tall and between 450 and 500 pounds. Yet, when I was wrestling him I’d dropkick him in the knee and he’d flip all the way around. He’s an incredibly agile guy, and he’s been wrestling since 1995. The same goes for Kane, who goes to the top rope.
If you’re a big guy and you can’t move well, you’re not going to last long in the modern WWE system.
Looking at your upcoming match with John Cena, is there anything you’re doing differently to prepare?
No, actually. One of the things that’s the hardest about big matches like this is to try to not do anything differently. People often think “Oh, I gotta amp up my training,” A lot of times that leads to injuries and the last thing you want to do is get injured right before a big match. So for me, it’s just a matter of doing the same thing. More than anything else, it’s just mentally preparing. With nerves and the position we’re being put in, the thing that gets me more tired than anything is being nervous.
I don’t ever get tired when I’m wrestling, except for when I have a lot of nerves. I’d like to think at SummerSlam I’ll be very relaxed, because these are the kinds of moments you want to be relaxed for so you can enjoy it and soak it all in and just have a great time going out there and doing what you love to do.
In addition to being a WWE Superstar, you’re also an E! Reality star now as part of “Total Divas,” which stars your girlfriend Brie Bella. How do you like your portrayal on that show?
Okay. So, I honestly have not seen a single episode. When the first episode aired we were in Australia and when the second episode aired I was literally on a flight. When you put that together with the fact that me and Brie actually don’t have cable [laughs], it’s hard for me to watch the show. Evidently the reception to it has been good. As for being on the show, it’s been fun but it’s also hard. We don’t have a lot of days off to begin with.
A lot of times we leave on Friday and I don’t get home until Wednesday. So Wednesday is kind of a half day, then you fly out early Friday morning. So that day and a half that used to be free time is no longer necessarily free time. But I think it’s excellent that it’s been so successful so far.
Besides your own WWE Championship bout, which SummerSlam match are you looking forward to watching?
I’m really looking forward to CM Punk vs Brock Lesnar. I think it should be a lot of fun. Me and Punk aren’t exactly best friends or anything, but we came up along the same path and I like seeing him being put in the big positions. I like seeing him wrestling The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. I like seeing him being put against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. It’s a little surreal that here we are, when I want to say in 2005 we were wrestling each other in front of 35 people. Now, here it is in 2013, and we’re in the two main matches at SummerSlam. It’s pretty surreal.
SummerSlam is live on pay-per-view, Sunday, August 18 at 8p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.