Exclusive interview: Shawn Michaels on Daniel Bryan’s journey to WWE Superstardom
Since being named the special guest referee for the WWE Championship Hell in a Cell Match between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels has made no bones about the fact he has history with both Superstars, never mind WWE COO Triple H.
On last Monday’s Raw, HBK explained that he “always liked” Bryan, “never liked” The Viper and, of course, remains best friends with The Game. Although The Showstopper’s relationships with Orton and Triple H largely played out before the WWE Universe’s eyes, perhaps less familiar to WWE fans is his background with “The Beard,” whom he helped train “many moons ago.”
In this WWE.com exclusive Q&A, HBK recounts his days instructing a clean-shaven Bryan at the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, discusses how he kept tabs on his star pupil’s development, and comments on parallels drawn between he and Bryan.
WWE.COM: What were your earliest impressions of Daniel Bryan as a student?
SHAWN MICHAELS: Heck, I knew at first glance what a talented young man he was. He came in good, for heaven’s sakes. His work ethic, his integrity, his dedication, all of that stuff was all phenomenal from the get-go. And honestly, he had an understanding that it was going to be tough. He knew it was going to be a long road for him, and none of those things bothered him. He had a fantastic attitude absolutely every day, day in and day out. Our [training] facility — it was no WWE Performance Center. It was dirty, it was hot and there was never a complaint out of him. I cannot remember one time the young man ever had anything other than a good and positive attitude.
If you become something to the people, you’re going to become something to WWE.
WWE.COM: During his training, did you ever expect he would end up excelling in WWE the way he has, given his size and style, or did you see his career going in a different direction?
MICHAELS: I always tried to be honest with him. I knew he was talented. And I knew he was going to face the same uphill battle that every guy his size does, myself included. It was simply a matter of if he had the patience and the ability to adjust in areas where other people thought he needed to adjust — as far as personality, character, things of that nature.
I saw him as a young man who had a very good blueprint for how he wanted to work out his career as far as the order in which he wanted to progress, which was learning his in-ring skills and honing them to a point where he felt very secure in his ability and could then build on that incredibly solid foundation. And he was always very open and excited. It certainly wasn’t very tough to get him to go to Japan the first time. When that opportunity came, he was still at our school. I knew he was one of the guys that we wanted to send, and he was thrilled about it an
WWE.COM: After he left your academy, did you follow much of his time spent outside WWE, and if so, what were your thoughts on his development, whether it was on the independent scene or in Europe or Japan?
MICHAELS: Well, I kept up a little bit with the things in Japan. I would get updates on him from guys I corresponded with, and then certainly when I came back to work in WWE on a full-time basis, I always heard things through the grapevine. Then, obviously, he came in on a number of occasions for tryouts. And through, again, other guys in the locker room, I always heard how he was progressing in Ring of Honor.
But honestly, I was never really concerned about checking up on him. In my opinion, I knew it was only a matter of time. Every time he came in for a tryout, so to speak, I would ask him how it went and then I would sort of say, ’It’s really up to you whenever you want to leave what you’re doing and come here. And when you come here, it will still be an uphill battle.’ Not to imply in any way, shape or form that I called him years ago and I take any credit for anything, because I don’t.
I just knew that he was unbelievably talented, and that can’t be denied. I don’t care if you’re three inches tall. If you’re as talented as he is, you’re going to get an opportunity if you’re patient and you stand the test of time. And he’s done that part, so absolutely nothing that’s going on with him right now is any surprise to me whatsoever.
WWE.COM: Can you speak a little bit about the stigmas associated with being what’s considered an “undersized” Superstar in the WWE main event? And you alluded to it before, but it sounds like you see parallels between what he’s going through now, perhaps, and what you experienced in the 1990s.
MICHAELS: The thing is it was a stigma then. Now, it’s really just something that everyone’s gotten so used to saying, they keep saying it. But I mean, sure, it’s there in the respect that if you’re 6-foot-5 and 250 lbs, you certainly get a look first. But that sort of mold was broken back in the 1990s and numerous people have been successful since then. And again, I want to reiterate that it’s not there in bits and pieces, but to imply that it’s anywhere even in the overall general vicinity of the same ballpark that it was in the ’90s is, respectfully, laughable, because it isn’t.
To WWE and to everyone who owns WWE, it’s a business, and if you become something to the people, you’re going to become something to the company. It’s just that simple now. Will you be what everyone wants you to be? No, because there are way too many people with too many different opinions, and it’s impossible for any one person to be everything for everybody.
But to become a main player in WWE on a regular basis for a long period of time, it’s anybody’s ballgame. It’s just that, with some guys, it’s going to take longer and you need more patience, but talent always rises to the top.
WWE.COM: What’s your long-term projection for Daniel Bryan?
MICHAELS: I believe he’s going to be a player in WWE for a long, long time, and that’s when greatness is established — over time. It’s not in one day. Greatness is something that stands the test of time, and I think that’s what he should focus on.