These days, pro wrestling is incredibly self-aware - in and out of the ring. WWE's main story line is the McMahon family's rejection of Daniel Bryan (real name: Bryan Danielson) as "the face of their company." WWE COO Triple H has screwed Bryan out of the WWE championship twice because the 5-foot-10-inch, 210-pound grappler with shaggy hair and a bushy beard doesn't look like his company's vision of a wrestler. (Think Venice Beach bodybuilder Hulk Hogan or ripped and veiny The Rock.)
"It's been a stigma for me for my entire career," Bryan tells The Pitch
. "Even when I started. You're 5-foot-8, 170 pounds. You don't look like a wrestler. And it's interesting to go out there and just through hard work and dedication and skill be able to prove to people and see the WWE Universe all over the world really get behind me."
WWE crowds have rallied around Bryan as an underdog challenger in his feud with Randy Orton, whose genetics are decidedly more company-approved: 235 pounds of lean, chiseled muscle standing at 6 feet 5 inches. In arenas around the world, fans scream Bryan's signature "Yes" chant in unison as his "Ride of the Valkyries" theme plays.
"I feel very connected to the crowd," Bryan says. "And there's no size or height or amount of muscle that can create that. That just happens organically. It's sad that some people don't see it that way."
Bryan will likely still be fighting the WWE's power structure when the wrestling promotion tapes SmackDown
at the Sprint Center on Tuesday, October 15. Bryan spoke with The Pitch
by phone less than 24 hours after Orton dropped him on his head through an announcers' table as Bryan's fiancée, Brie Bella, begged him not to on Monday Night Raw
. Here are excerpts.
The Pitch: By the time you arrive in Kansas City, you may be WWE champion again. What would that mean to you?
Even though I've won it twice, I've held it for less than 24 hours total. I want to come into Kansas City as the WWE champion. That's been one of my dreams and aspirations ever since I was a little kid to be able to go into all of these great cities and come in as champion and leave as champion.
It's crazy to see the people in the arenas doing your "Yes" chant in unison when you come out.
It's so bizarre. It feels like it's not even real. It feels like it's not my life. It feels like I am a character watching my life unfold, and I'm walking down and looking at all of these people and I'm doing the motion myself, but I'm also looking at them going, "What are these people doing? Why are they doing it with me?" Sometimes you get that moment of complete escapism, where it's almost like I'm looking down on myself in this arena as all this is going on, going, "What did I do to deserve something as awesome as this?"
You mention the surreal feeling. Now you're also on a reality-TV show,
Oh, my God. [Laughs.]
I imagine your free time is about nonexistent.
I'd say nonexistent is an understatement because right now, we're on the road usually five days a week. And then I come home, and those cameras are right there. I'm very lucky that I am not featured on the reality show. I am a guest that comes in and out of the shots based on them filming Brie. But Brie, they're filming her all the time, and it's brutal. [Laughs.] But it's a good show, and it's been doing really well, and I think a lot of good stuff is going to come of it.
Is it hard to sort out your wrestling character from your personal life when you're on two shows?
No, but it does feel like I live my life for the public as opposed to myself, which is very different from how I lived my life before I came to WWE. Before, I would wrestle all over the world, but then I could go back to my little house in Aberdeen, Washington, and just be me, just be a normal human, and nobody recognized me. I didn't have to live up to any sort of public persona. Now, even going to the grocery store, people will come up to you, and they expect you to be this character that they've seen on TV, whether it's from Total Divas
or wrestling. And the truth is, I'm neither. I'm just this normal dude.
You proposed on a hike. When did you know that's how you'd propose?
I actually got Brie's ring back in May, so it's been several months. The problem is, with our schedule, is finding time to do something special. And no offense to Bowling Green, Kentucky, but I don't want to propose to Brie in Bowling Green, Kentucky, while we're doing a live event on a Friday after taking a red-eye flight, and we're both exhausted. We were both ready to get engaged earlier this year, but I wanted it to be special, and it was worth the wait.
What was it like to have the
Total Divas cameras there?
Quite frankly, by the time that that happened, they were barely there because we'd just done a 5-mile hike. Imagine those people, they don't know where I'm proposing, right? They're hoping that it's at the beginning of the hike, but absolutely not. [Laughs.] I waited until we're at the top of the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and everybody's drenched in sweat, and they've got the cameras and sound stuff, and nobody was even sure that's when I was going to propose. They just had to film us that entire time. It was almost like my own practical joke on the reality-show people to make them hike this far with all of this equipment, and then that's when the biggest moment happens, when they're completely mentally and physically unprepared for it.
Thank you. [Laughs.]
Continued: Bryan talks about his beard, potentially shaving it and whether he's reached the level of a bus guy.