September 13, 2016
Former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and current SmackDown general manager, Daniel Bryan, was in Philly on Monday promoting the SmackDown Live event from the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night. Part of that promotion was Bryan throwing out the first pitch at the Phillies-Pirates game on Monday night [which was a strike, by the way.]
He also spoke to PhillyVoice about his career now, his career then, and what the future might hold for the possible WWE Hall of Famer.
On the similar paths he and AJ Styles have taken in their careers:
“Yeah, it’s crazy how similar [our paths were]. He actually had a longer path to get here [in WWE]. I was on the independents for a long time. But, he was in TNA and went over to New Japan and all that kind of stuff. The crazy thing about AJ is he’s been successful everywhere he’s been. I don’t know if there’s been anyone else in history who’s been TNA Champion, IWGP Champion and now WWE Champion. So, yeah, it’s pretty incredible.”
On what he thought when Styles finally signed with WWE:
“I didn’t know he was signed until he kind of showed up. I heard rumors or whatever. So there wasn’t that kind of like, ‘OK, they officially announced they’ve signed AJ Styles. Oh, no. What are they gonna change his name to?’ Whatever, you know. There was never that period.
“He’s so adaptable. He’s done short TV matches in TNA. And he’s done long matches. I know in WWE that he’s got the kind of style and kind of personality where I knew he was gonna do well. It was just a matter of how long it was going to take him before people within the company started to see how good he is. It was relatively quick.”
On being back on television on a weekly basis:
“It has its pluses and minuses. I love being around it. I love that part of it. I love being around my friends. I’ve grown up wrestling, right? I started when I was 18. So my friends are wrestlers. Which is how it works. I still have friends that I grew up with, but those friends are people that you see a couple times a year as opposed to these people that you see 200 days a year. So, yeah, it’s good to be around my friends. I like getting out in front of a live crowd and that sort of things. Sometimes when a crowd reacts too good, then now I just want to wrestle. So, yeah, it’s got its plusses and minuses, but it’s been really fun being back.”
On trying to elevate SmackDown after the brand extension:
“So we try, especially with the brand extension and especially with SmackDown, because it’s always been taking a second, like ‘Oh, it’s SmackDown… Raw is our flagship show, what’s gonna happen on SmackDown? Meh, we’ll see when we get there’ for the last several years. Now we’re really trying to change that perception. Still, I feel like those of us that are responsible for SmackDown, we still got less guys. Raw got three picks for every two picks we got. As far as a lot of the “up and comers,” for example like Sami Zayns or whatever, you know, we didn’t get a lot of those guys. But we’re very happy with the crew that we got. To me, the most important thing in wrestling is making the most use of the people you have.
“It’s interesting because WWE has evolved. I think part of that is Raw being three hours. You can’t have guys who don’t regularly put on really good matches. With a three-hour Raw, everybody has to wrestle more."
“Look at the Philadelphia wrestling scene in the ‘90s with ECW. How good were those guys? Meh… they weren’t that good. But Paul Heyman saw, ‘OK, what makes this person really good? What part of this person can I really accentuate to make people care, and what are the negatives that I need to downplay? Right? Sandman - not a great wrestler. But, [he was] captivating when he would come through the crowd with the cane and all that kind of stuff. The presentation and everything. So, with SmackDown, we’re really trying to put our best foot forward with every guy that we have, because we have a lot of guys who have been on TV for a long time. When you have people like Dolph Ziggler and Miz, and you have those kinds of guys – we were talking about this with guys like Zack Ryder. Zack Ryder has been on WWE TV longer than Hulk Hogan in his initial WWE run. Hulk Hogan came in 1984 and was gone by ’93. Ryder has been in WWE over 10 years. So, when you think of that – and it’s not like he’s been a main event guy – he has this kind of stereotype that he’s in this position, what do we do to try to elevate him? What do we do to try to elevate Dolph Ziggler? What do we do to try to elevate Miz? [We have] all these different types of people. But we also have John Cena, who’s only here sometimes. So we really try to think, ‘What are the strengths of these people and how do we push them forward?’”
Thoughts on WWE’s main roster as a whole today compared to when he debuted in 2010:
“It’s interesting because WWE has evolved. I think part of that is Raw being three hours. You can’t have guys who don’t regularly put on really good matches. With a three-hour Raw, everybody has to wrestle more. If you’re just a decent wrestler, but you’re a really good interview guy, those guys in the past would be really protected, so they wouldn’t have to wrestle long matches all the time. Now Raw is three hours, so you have to wrestle two-segment matches nearly every week, and do a promo, and do this and that sort of thing. You have to have guys who are capable of doing it and making it still interesting every week. To me, that’s why you see a lot of the former independent guys doing really well. Like a guy like Kevin Owens. He’s a really good talker, he’s a really good personality, but he can also go out there and have great matches. That puts him in a good position to succeed there.
On the WWE Cruiserweight Classic:
“I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it. The concept is so good. And it’s not like this wild concept, right? It’s just unique to WWE in this day and age to just do a tournament of the best guys in the world at a lighter weight class. When they started [the tournament], the only person who was signed to WWE was Rich Swann. And now because of this tournament, so many guys are getting signed to the cruiserweight division. I think it’s awesome and it’s been really fun for me, too. I’ve never done a ton of commentary; I’ve done it here and there. But being with Mauro Ranallo, Mauro to me is the best commentator of this generation once you get past Jim Ross. He’s really good at that, so it’s been fun working with him, too.
“I wasn’t really nervous about it. The thing I was most nervous about was doing the guys justice. Sometimes when I would watch WWE programming – and a lot of times it’s not the fault of the announcers – they’ve got headsets on and they’re like, ‘OK, you have to plug this and you have to plug this’ and then all of a sudden in the middle of the match, and it’s a three-minute match, they haven’t talked about the guys at all. The format makes it easier, too. I don’t have to plug Doritos. I don’t have to do anything like that. I can just talk about the matches and what it means to these guys to be in the tournament. That was the one thing that I wanted to be able to do was try to talk about the guys in a way that even if they lost, say their first-round match, this tournament was good for them. It’s good exposure and that sort of thing. It is. Most of the guys, with a couple exceptions, have never been on that kind of platform before. Nobody knew how well it would do, either. It’s done really well on the WWE Network as far as the viewers and stuff. But most of those guys have never been seen by 15,000 people, let alone hundreds of thousands of people watching the Network. So, I think that’s really cool.”
On if he pulled for a Cruiserweight Division on SmackDown:
“Honestly, I don’t have any pull. Even if I did, I would like the guys on SmackDown. The reality is Raw is three hours and they probably need the Cruiserweight Division more than we do. I would love a few select guys to not be cruiserweights and just be on SmackDown. I would love for Brian Kendrick to be on SmackDown. That would create an interesting dynamic with me and him, especially with Miz and that sort of thing. There would be a lot you could do with those kind of stories … I think there are a lot of good stories you can tell with that. Even somebody like Tajiri, who came in at 46 and he had two matches and both of them were really, really good. Somebody like him we could really use on SmackDown as just an extra featured part of the show. But, yeah, I can’t say enough about how good the Cruiserweight Classic has been and I’m just excited for those guys to get opportunities regardless if it’s on Raw and SmackDown.”
On changing the perception of smaller wrestlers:
“It’s weird because I was a very prominent figure in the last several years of like a smaller guy who’s wrestled like a smaller guy style. But when you look at, for example, Zack Sabre Jr., he’s heavily influenced by British wrestling and when you look at British wrestling, the smaller wrestlers there, and he’s watched a lot of British wrestling. So, we both know that he’s taken some of my stuff and we joke about it, and I joke about it with him as that he’s taken some of my stuff and he does it better than I did. But the amazing thing about the evolution of wrestling, and this is gonna happen with all different sorts of art forms, music, all that kind of stuff, is that now everybody has such a broad base of knowledge. Right? Whereas before, when I started wrestling, if you wanted to watch Japanese wrestling, you had to order tapes. And they cost $10-$20 apiece, sometimes more. And then you would watch the whole show – just random generic matches, everything, to the main event because you spent money on it.
“Well, now, you can watch old ‘70s British wrestling. Then watch ‘80s lucha libre. Then watch ‘90s Japanese wrestling. The stuff that’s on the Network – they just released Hidden Gems last week – The Last Battle of Atlanta – and it’s this match that nobody thought there was ever even footage of. You know, Buzz Sawyer and Tommy Rich, the end of this epic feud! There’s so much footage out there for everyone to learn from. I don’t know if anybody would have the guts to say, ‘Well, I changed this in wrestling now!’ especially with younger guys now. They have so much access to so much different stuff. If anything, I was a further evolution to help smaller guys for WWE to see that these guys could succeed.
“It started with Rey [Mysterio]. When they brought Rey over from WCW and he was so successful, and then Eddie [Guerrero] and that sort of thing, and then even when you get to, OK, those guys were already stars in WCW. They came over, they furthered them as stars in WWE. Then they take an independent guy who doesn’t necessarily have a great build like [CM] Punk and then he becomes so successful. Then I’m shorter than Punk and not as good on the microphone, and then I become successful. It’s an evolution of what’s happening.”
Thoughts on the emergence of NXT:
“I was part of the first season of NXT, but you can’t even say it’s the same thing. And I had no part in it becoming as good as it is now. I think it’s great. It’s given guys an opportunity to show WWE that they can succeed in the WWE style. So Jimmy Jacobs, who is an old independent wrestler who I used to wrestle with, is now on the WWE writing team. We were talking about Finn Bálor, and I was a little bit frustrated because I think he should have been up on TV a long time ago. But, one of this first matches in, he gets hurt. But the reality is, would he have come in at such a great spot if it weren’t for NXT? If it weren’t for him building – WWE has gotten me into this lingo, “building brands,” but building the Finn Bálor brand down in NXT, would he have come in and gotten that opportunity without NXT? Probably not. You know, so I think it’s done a tremendous job bringing people up and all of a sudden people already know who they are. They kind of have an idea about what they’re about and that sort of thing. When American Alpha came up on SmackDown Live, they’ve been getting great reactions because of the work down in NXT. So, I think it’s really cool and a great opportunity for people.”
On CM Punk’s fight at UFC 203:
“A lot of people have been telling me to not let the ball hit the ground. But, it’s funny, so if you go online and you look up ‘10 Best Celebrity First Pitches,’ apparently The Miz is on there. And he made that very well known to me yesterday. But then when you go look at that, there’s also the ’10 Worst Celebrity First Pitches,’ so I’m excited and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be the worst. There’s no way I’m going to be as bad at 50 Cent."
“I did watch the fight. Punk and I have never been best friends or anything like that. I don’t even think I have his number in my phone, but I really support him in that fight. I was really hoping he would win. The reality is that even though he lost, he was dead on in his promo afterwards. It’s the whole thing with me and him, and guys like Sami Zayn and Neville even trying to wrestle. Right? It’s just this idea of you have this dream that everybody tells you that you can’t do, but you just keep going after it. Sometimes, you’re not successful, right? He wasn’t “successful” in the fight. But he fought a professional fight in UFC. That’s crazy! You know? It’s crazy and it’s awesome and he may have lost and he may have gotten beat up, but hey, he tried it. How many people would be afraid because of their ego to not even put themselves out there like that? I like to train jiu jitsu and I like to muay thai and the number of people who train all the time but won’t put themselves out there to even do like a tournament and nobody knows who they are. The ego part of you that says, ‘Well, if I go and I do it and I lose, what does that mean?’ Well, [Punk] went out and did it, right? He’s a huge public figure. I have the utmost respect for him trying to go do it.
“It’s hard, too. At that age, and I know at my age and how many injuries I have, just getting up out of bed every morning, you know, for the most part, I feel really good. But then to get up and go train with killers – that camp is a great camp. And so you go in there and train with great guys and getting beat up every day. It’s tough. That’s the job. The job is getting beat up every day. And right towards the fight, then you have to lose a bunch of weight. So, it’s like, ‘OK I get beat up every day, now go lose 15 pounds. Oh, just like that? Oh, OK.’”
On what he loves about Philly past and present:
“So, the first Ring of Honor show was at a place called the Murphy Rec Center here in Philly. And that holds a very special place in my heart. And there’s The Armory where we did stuff there. But then, I also had like a 76-minute match with Austin Aries. And I don’t remember which hotel it is, but every time I drive by it with Brie [Bella] – it’s an airport hotel – and every time we drive by it, I tell Brie that’s the hotel in the ballroom where I wrested Austin Aries for 76 minutes. So there’s that kind of thing.
“One of the things that a lot of people probably don’t know about Philadelphia is it’s a great location for vegans. There are so many great vegan spots. Today, I forget what the place I ate at was, but I had a carrot hot dog. It sounds weird, right? They don’t fry, but they cook the carrot, put all sorts of spices on it, put it on a hot dog and put relish and everything on top of it. It was the first time I’ve ever even heard of anyone doing that. It was so good. Because, carrot, when you cook it, it has a really good texture to it … It’s not hard because they cook it. I don’t like to eat a lot of fake meats or anything like that, so something like that, like wow. A lot of that kind of stuff is seasoning, too. You can season stuff however you want.”
On his first pitch at the Phillies game before he took the mound:
“A lot of people have been telling me to not let the ball hit the ground. But, it’s funny, so if you go online and you look up ‘10 Best Celebrity First Pitches,’ apparently The Miz is on there. And he made that very well known to me yesterday. But then when you go look at that, there’s also the ’10 Worst Celebrity First Pitches,’ so I’m excited and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be the worst. There’s no way I’m going to be as bad at 50 Cent. So, yeah, I would like to be better than The Miz, but the reality is I haven’t played baseball since I was 12 or 13, so who knows? I think it’ll be fun even if I get booed. We’re wrestlers, we’re used to getting booed.”
You can watch Bryan’s first pitch below:
A closer look:
Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickpiccone