The NXT Interview: Daniel Bryan
For over ten years, Daniel Bryan has traveled the world as one of the most renowned athletes on the independent wrestling circuit, utilizing his unique combination of submission maneuvers and Japanese-style striking to win acclaim on multiple continents.
Now, Bryan has joined the cast of WWE NXT as the most experienced of any of the NXT Rookies, and is an internet favorite in the competition. But nothing is ever easy, as the competitor found out on the debut episode of WWE NXT, clashing with his WWE Pro, The Miz, and putting his body on the line in a match against World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho.
WWE.com's Aubrey Sitterson caught up with Bryan to discuss his mentor, his fellow NXT Rookies, and the differences between competing in the independents and squaring off against the best WWE has to offer.
SITTERSON: First off, after having watched you on the independent circuit for years, I want to say how excited I am that not only are you in WWE, but you're doing so well on your first night out. Are you as excited as your fans are?
BRYAN: Well, thank you. I'm super excited. Nobody knew what WWE NXT was going to be when we went in. The show started and we knew nothing so it was an exciting process to just find it all out as it went along and I'm thankful for the opportunity. I forget what they said the rating was, but I wrestled in front of more people on Tuesday night than I've probably wrestled in front of in my entire career, so that's fantastic. I just hope the number holds up.
SITTERSON: I'm sure it will, because it was a great debut, and the match between you and the World Heavyweight Champion, Chris Jericho, was awesome. How are you feeling after that?
BRYAN: Physically I'm a little banged up, but I'm no stranger to that. Mentally I feel very good about the show, and now I know a little more about what to expect, and that's to expect anything. Any second they can pop up and say "Hey, say something!" and you have to be ready. You could just be standing backstage and all of a sudden they grab you and go "Hey, what do you think about what's going on in the ring?" and you've got to be ready to say something.
SITTERSON: Is that exciting for you, or just nerve-wracking?
BRYAN: For me it's exciting, because I'm confident in my ability to speak. For years, the knock on me has always been "Oh, he might not be a very good interviewer" or "He's not good at talking…"
SITTERSON: Which is something I never understood -- I never got that criticism of you.
BRYAN: Well, it's well-founded if you look at me in 2002-2005. You know, everyone has to work on things, and I've always been someone who in my regular life, I don't say a whole lot. I'm very quiet, I keep to myself, and so it really took a lot of work for me to feel comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I can go out there in the ring and feel very comfortable, but you put me in front of a camera against a blank wall, and it's kind of intimidating. So I was glad I got that opportunity, and now, because I've been able to do that, I've really been able to work on that for probably the last four years, that's really what I've been working on. And I'm still not the best at it, but I hope doing this and being around guys who are good at that will help me improve.
SITTERSON: Well, I think you certainly held your own with The Miz on Tuesday night.
BRYAN: I watched it back and you can see certain things -- his body language is fantastic. I'm not on the internet much, I'm not very computer-savvy, but a couple of my friends forwarded this blog that The Miz posted last week, and it's partially correct. There are a lot of things that I have to learn about being a WWE Superstar. The Miz in the ring, I feel, isn't as good as I am, but when it comes to public speaking and the way he presents himself, he's fantastic.
SITTERSON: He catches a lot of heat online, but he's definitely got his own skill-set.
BRYAN: Right, he has his own skill-set and there's definitely something to be learned from that. The only negative is how antagonistic he is about how good he is at it.
SITTERSON: Getting back to your first WWE match on Tuesday night, that suicide dive was a pretty risky maneuver, and you really hit the announcer's table hard. How are you feeling? Did you crack any ribs?
BRYAN: It hurts, but I've been in matches where I've detached my retina and still wrestled, so for me, this isn't a big deal. The doctors at the show wanted to take an X-Ray, thinking that I had a couple broken ribs, but I declined. This is the biggest opportunity I've ever had in my career, so I can't afford to take any time off right now.
SITTERSON: Can you talk more about competing against Jericho? Not only is he World Heavyweight Champion right now, but he's a WWE Legend in his own right. Were you a Jericho fan growing up?
BRYAN: I was super excited to be in the ring with Jericho, because he was one of my favorites when I was in high school. He came into WCW probably 1996, 97ish and he was the guy on TV who was never given that great opportunity to be with the main-eventers, but he was always the most entertaining guy on the show. It was awesome, and then his ring-work of course is impeccable. He was one of the first guys who showed, him and Eddie both, were some of the first guys that showed that smaller guys can not only be great in the ring but charismatic on the microphone as well. They were pushing the cruiserweights, and as a cruiserweight he was so good at antagonizing people and that sort of thing. And then he comes into WWE with the Y2J thing and he's been phenomenal ever since. He's one of those guys who as a smaller guy, I look up to and say "I'd like to be as good as that." So getting into the ring with him was a dream come true.
SITTERSON: I know it's early on in the process, so you might not have too many thoughts on this, but how do people's in-ring styles differ from what you're used to on the independent circuit? Is there a big difference?
BRYAN: There's definitely a huge difference. For one, guys here are a lot more powerful than guys on the independent circuit. You can see it just in the way they're hitting. The plus side for me is that they move a lot slower than they do on the independent circuit. I've wrestled guys who are 155 pounds and move like lightning, so the speed is slowed down from that, which gives me a little bit of an advantage. The other thing is that there aren't many guys in WWE who are throwing the level of kicks that I've experienced in Japan. They have their own things that they're good at, but going in there against Japan's best, you really get rocked with those kicks. In WWE I'm going to be one of the better kickers, so I think that's to my advantage as well. One of the negatives is that I'm one of the smaller guys on the roster -- I'm definitely the smallest guy on WWE NXT. I need to get used to wrestling bigger guys because even in Japan they have some big heavyweights over there, but I've traditionally only wrestled guys who are under 225 lbs.
SITTERSON: You mentioned it already, but the WWE NXT roster is massive. On average, they might be bigger than the rest of the WWE roster.
BRYAN: Yeah, especially like Skip Sheffield -- he is an enormous man. I have a big head, right? I watched the show back and was like "Man, I've got a big head." But Skip's arms are bigger than my head, so you know, that's huge.
SITTERSON: With the size of guys like Skip, are there NXT Rookies who you're concerned about, or aren't looking forward to facing in the ring?
BRYAN:I'm not concerned about facing anyone in the ring. I've dealt with guys who are super-strong and I've dealt with big guys. My biggest concern is that nobody knows how they're voting for the winner on WWE NXT. So there are easily some guys on the show who are more charismatic than I am, and that's one of the things I definitely need to work on.
SITTERSON: Can you point out anyone in particular?
BRYAN: If you look at a guy like David Otunga, he's got all the media behind him and all that kind of stuff. He's a very good public speaker and he even went to Harvard.
SITTERSON: Well, and he's handsome too, right? I mean let's just get it out there.
BRYAN: [Laughs] Well, yeah. I was watching the show on TV and I am not a handsome man.
SITTERSON: [Laughs] Ok, don't go fishing for compliments from me.
BRYAN: [Laughs] No, I've got this big head, my haircut looked so goofy, and all these guys have their Superstar haircuts.
SITTERSON: Speaking of fancy Superstar haircuts, aside from personal grooming, is there anything you could stand to learn from your WWE Pro, The Miz?
BRYAN: You know, I could learn a lot from The Miz if he was a better teacher. He's got a lot to offer, but he just doesn't seem overly interested in passing any of it on.
SITTERSON: Moving forward are you concerned about your interactions with The Miz? Are you going to be able to salvage that Rookie-Pro relationship?
BRYAN: I'm a little concerned in the sense of where do we go from here? You know, he jumps me after the match, so does he expect me to listen to him now? Is that proving some kind of point? I've been in this business for longer than he has, twice as long as he has, butI know that there are things I can learn from him -- you can learn from everybody. That said, when you're trying to learn something, you don't want to be talked down to, regardless of who it is. And there are a bunch of people who might talk down to me. I was caught off guard by Matt Striker interviewing me after Miz slapped me -- I feel like he talked down to me. You know, I'm very laidback, but as soon as you start talking down to me, especially guys like The Miz and Matt Striker, who I've been in this business longer than they have, gone and done more things outside WWE than they would ever be able to do if WWE didn't sign them, then I'm going to stand up for myself. So it'll be interesting to see how all that plays out.
SITTERSON: What about in the rest of the WWE roster, are there guys that you're excited about the prospect of facing?
BRYAN: There's so many guys that I'd love to be in the ring with. I would love to be in the ring with Rey Mysterio. I have a very similar style to William Regal's, so to compete against him would be incredible. I was trained by Shawn Michaels…my god, the opportunity to get in the ring with Shawn Michaels. Then there are younger guys too. I've wrestled CM Punk on the independent scene countless times, and so getting to do that on a major stage like WWE would be so cool. I think for our hardcore fans that would be awesome -- a lot of them would love to see that. So there's a ton of guys up at WWE that I'd love to get in the ring with.
SITTERSON: I believe it. Is there anything else that you'd like to let the WWE Universe know?
BRYAN: Just to expect the unexpected and be open to new ideas. In recent years WWE hasn't had a lot of submission grapplers, and me being a smaller guy and not a high-flyer like Mysterio, coming in with submissions, people might be taken aback. But be open to it and realize that I think that's a big part of the future of sports-entertainment.