ince today is your birthday, how are you going to celebrate?
Well, by going to SmackDown TVs. [Laughs] And somebody made me a nice little surprise for my birthday, so that was good.
What was the surprise like?
Well, it was just the stuff sent to my hotel, like gifts and stuff like that. Some cupcakes, some nice vegan cupcakes.
Excellent. Well, I wanted to focus on the boring parts of your life in this interview — less on stuff in the ring and more on the stuff away from it because that's where you're an especially interesting guy. Let's talk about the music that you're into. I know about your interest in Townes Van Zandt after seeing Wrestling Road Diaries, and you talked about Frank Turner in your GQ.com interview. What other stuff are you into?
Well, I really like Kimya Dawson. She did the Juno soundtrack, and I actually did a hit single with her. [Laughs] Yeah, I did the back-up rap for a tribute song to Captain Lou Albano. I really like Kimya. I really like Jeffrey Lewis. I really like Gaslight Anthem and stuff like that.
Hear Daniel Bryan's in-song appearance:
Tell me about your more boring hobbies. People who are Daniel Bryan fans will likely know about your dog Asparagus, your veganism, and a few other aspects here and there. What are some other things you're into that people might not know about?
Well, I would assume that people who know about Asparagus also know that I'm into kickboxing and grappling. I'm a really big reader, and I'm really big into gardening — really old-man-type stuff. But I suppose I am 31 today, so I am getting older.
What kind of gardening? Any particular plants or flowers?
Fruits, vegetables, stuff like that. I like growing stuff I can eat. To me, that's a big thing. I own a house in Washington state and I have raspberries, I have a big apple tree, I have strawberries. I don't get to plant stuff there because I'm never there. I really enjoy that sort of thing.
Today is your birthday, but how would you ordinarily spend a Tuesday? Run me down through your basic schedule. Your TV tapings aside, what are the other things or obligations you have?
On TV days, we try to work out. Today, we didn't because we had a 320-mile drive last night after Raw, so we didn't get out of the building 'til 11:30. By the time I got to Wilkes-Barre, it was 5 in the morning, and because it's my birthday, I'm not working out today. [Laughs] Typically, we get up, we go to the gym, we head to the building. When we get to the building, you try to find different things to do. You're getting ready for the show, you're talking to the guys, you're joking around. You're just having fun.
How about your weekly schedule then? How often do you make it home?
I make it back to Washington a couple of times a year. I live in Las Vegas right now. I'm going to be moving to San Diego soon. I spend a lot of my time just trying to recover, you know — just trying to recover from this physically grueling schedule we've got. But when I have energy, I like to go and kickbox and grapple and stuff like that.
In the GQ.com interview, you said a similar thing about how that there's no time to heal because you've got a week between shows. Are you in any pain constantly?
Well, for right now, I'm not in any pain whatsoever. It's just times when you have a nagging injury and you don't have any time off, that's when that nagging injury can become something like, 'Oh, it's hard to sleep because this is bothering me.'
How do you keep from getting burnt out on all this? Even if you have your hobbies, this is a pretty rigorous schedule, and you have so many obligations. How do you mentally separate yourself from this very demanding schedule?
I don't really feel like it's that grueling. The most grueling part to me is waking up at 6 a.m. to take a flight because it's hard for me to get back to sleep. As long as I'm not flying, it's not grueling for me at all. I enjoy being on the road. I'm a gentleman of the road!
On Colt Cabana's The Art of Wrestling podcast, you talked about the locker room tradition of pro wrestlers shaking hands when greeting one another. While you do that, you're not super into it. You're more of an informal guy, and people always paint you as being a sort of Average Joe. How accurate do you think that is? Do you think of yourself as a particularly normal person compared to other people within your industry?
Yeah. I mean, if I weren't good at wrestling, I don't think there's anything special about me really. It's like, 'Oh, he's a nice guy.' I would think people would say that. At one point, I was kind of smart. I don't know how smart I am now, but it's one of those things where yeah, there's nothing especially memorable about me if you were to meet me for the first time.
Do you like that about yourself or do you wish that you were a bit more larger than life like some of the other guys on the roster?
Well, I mean, you always sometimes wish, 'Oh, I wish I was a little bit more like the Rock.' When you meet the Rock, you're like, 'Wow, this is such a dynamic person!' But really, I don't. I like being low-key. That's my thing.
Before your match with CM Punk at WWE Over the Limit, Punk did an interview where he did an impression of Vince McMahon. He said that a decade ago, Vince wouldn't have ever imagined a match between you two being one of his main events. How accurate do you think that portrayal of what he thought is?
Oh, I think one year ago he would have said that. One year ago, he would have been like, 'Daniel Bryan's going to be in a WWE Championship match at a pay-per-view? [Incredulously] No! Against CM Punk? No!' [Laughs] I'm absolutely certain that's correct. The 10-year time frame is a little longer than it should have been. He could have said a year ago and been accurate.
When you came to WWE, you were on NXT as a rookie, which is a bizarre thing considering that you've been wrestling for ages. You might have even been wrestling longer than the Miz, and you were his rookie. How did it feel coming from a place where you were venerated as this paragon of great indie wrestling, and then coming to WWE and being called a rookie? What was that juxtaposition like?
See, I don't have a problem with being called anything as long as people treat me with respect. I felt like when I got to WWE, all the wrestlers treated me great, but coming from independent wrestling, you really have to prove yourself more to the office than anybody else because I don't look like your prototypical WWE superstar. I don't have a lot of the qualities they look for in a WWE superstar, so it's [about] going out there and proving that you belong there. At first, it took me a long time to be able to do that. I felt like only in the last six, seven months, I've really proved to the people on top that I really belong here.
What do you think it was that pushed you over the top to this point? Was it winning the World Heavyweight Championship, the 'Yes!' chants or something else entirely?
It's been a series of things, really. When I won the championship, I don't think they expected me to hold it that long, but then I was able to go out there and do the things that nobody really thought I could do. Everybody knew I could wrestle, but [it was about being able to] go out there and do the interviews; do the eight-minute, ten-minute interviews; do the stories with the Big Show and Mark Henry and stuff like that. But then the 'Yes!' chants really took me to that next level.
Your 'Yes!' chant came from a UFC fighter, right?
Yeah, it came from UFC fighter Diego Sanchez.
No, I think it's a conglomeration of assholes that I've met throughout my entire life. [Laughs] You know, you see people who act like jerks, especially in sports, and you just think, 'Man, I don't like that guy.' I'm not that person really, but it's easy for me to take from those people because when I see it, I'm like, 'Ugh! That's stupid.'
When the Raw crowd in Miami did the 'Yes!' chants, you were with AJ. After the show finished airing, you came on and talked a bit. You did a thing where you said, 'AJ, what do you have to say?' and then right as she was about to respond, you took the mic away from her and said, 'Get out of the ring.' What did you use as inspiration for that particular moment?
[Laughs] Okay, when we joke around with the guys, sometimes you say and do things [like that]. Everybody knows I'm not mean-spirited, but you say things just because it's a really jerk thing to say and then everybody laughs because it's funny. That's completely where that comes from.
See Daniel Bryan's post-match speech:
What do you talk about when you talk to other wrestlers about your character?
I don't know. The only person I really talk to a lot about it is William Regal, and that's because he's been my mentor since I was young. For me, it's been hard adjusting to television — not necessarily the wrestling but the television aspect of it and directing things toward the camera and making sure that the camera picks up your face and stuff like that. All that's really important.
Were there any other things that you weren't really into before coming into WWE — stuff that wasn't a big priority on the independent circuit that is big now?
Yes, your entrance! [Laughs] When I walk to the ring in independent wrestling, the show kind of starts when you get to the ring because it's not like there's a big stage or anything like that that people can see. Well, here, it's been a big adjustment to figure out what to do on that long walk from the ramp to the ring.
How did you figure out what you do now?
I started doing the 'Yes!' thing when I won the championship and it's really worked for me.
Tell me about what your family thinks about you being in the wrestling business. The Wrestling Road Diaries had scenes where you stopped by your sister's place while on the road, but how do others in your family approach you being in this very unusual line of work?
Well, it's interesting because although my mom kind of appreciates it now for the good — you can benefit people being in the spotlight — before she wanted me to do something a little more like [what she does]. She works with underprivileged kids and Native Americans and stuff like that. She wanted me to do something like that. My dad thinks it's cool that I'm living my dream. For him, it was cool because he's a log scaler right now. He was working at a paper mill. So for him, he really likes that I get to travel the world and see all these cool things.
What kind of goals do you have for your wrestling career? Putting aside winning the WWE Championship or main eventing WrestleMania, do you want to stay within the business for a long time or have any other specific goal?
Well, for me, it's all about enjoying my life. I don't have a specific goal set like that necessarily. I just want to, at the end of my life, look back on it and be like, 'Yeah, I enjoyed that,' because as far as we know, we only get one life, and I want it to be good. I don't want to waste it. I wrestle because I love to wrestle, so for me, [my goal is] to keep enjoying it. You see a lot of people lose their passion for it, and I don't ever want that to happen.
Do you have any other interests outside the ring you want to pursue? One wrestler will go into a band, another will start a real estate business. Do you see any of that for yourself?
No, I would just like to pick strawberries, but I don't want to pick strawberries like people who really pick strawberries pick strawberries. I want to pick a few strawberries, eat a few strawberries, pick a few strawberries, eat a few strawberries. That's for about an hour, and I don't want to do it when it's raining. I want to do it when it's sunny, and after about an hour or two, I want to be able to go home if I want. [Laughs] Given what berry pickers are paid, I'd probably get paid about $10 a day for doing something like that.
I really want my life to be simple and easy. I don't want all these complex things. A lot of guys want to be rich and have nice cars and all that kind of stuff. I don't want any of that. I want to be comfortable. I don't want to have to worry about money. I just want to be happy, you know?
What got you into the wrestling business in the first place? You mentioned grappling earlier, so why this and not kickboxing, MMA or something else?
I don't know. I think it's mostly because you don't get to pick your passions, you know what I mean? I've always wanted to be somebody who loved playing the guitar, and I bought a guitar and I have played it maybe two or three times. I like kickboxing, but I don't necessarily want to go in there with the top kickboxers in the world and get knocked unconscious. [Laughs] For me, kickboxing and fighting [are] like fun. When dogs play, what dogs do is fight, but they don't fight to hurt each other. They fight to have fun, and that's how I look at grappling and kickboxing. For me, it's just fun. That's what we would be doing for fun if we didn't have all this technology.
What was the match, feud or company that got you to the point where you said, 'I really love wrestling. This is something I seriously want to commit my life to'?
It wasn't necessarily a feud. It was specifically when WCW started bringing in cruiserweights. I would never admit this to him now, but the guy who I was like, 'Man, this guy is my favorite' [about] was Dean Malenko. I love the technical style that he did. He was a muscular dude, but he was small enough [for me] to be like, 'Man, I could do that.' [I'm not saying,] 'That's easy, I could do that,' but there was no physical limitation here holding me back whereas before that's what I always thought. Even Shawn Michaels is six feet tall, and in WWE, he was portrayed as a small guy.
Aside from people making jokes, are there any specific issues or prejudices you have to deal with as a smaller guy?
No, not really. It actually makes some things easier, like traveling. For example, those guys who are six-two, six-four, six-five [don't have it easy]. For a guy like Wade Barrett to travel to Europe, that's not a comfortable flight. For me, it's easy, so there's a lot of benefits that people don't expect, so I think the biggest drawback is the idea that in pro wrestling, people marginalize smaller guys and think that they can't draw, but [their drawing ability has] been proven in MMA, boxing, and wrestling, with guys like Rey Mysterio.
Compared to when WWE released you in June 2010 after the Nexus invasion and you returned at SummerSlam that August, how do you feel about where you are now? Give me an idea of what the forecast of your future was like then versus now.
It's interesting because when they brought me back, I was thinking, 'Man, they're bringing me back in this main event spot at SummerSlam. This is going to be great.' I was very optimistic for it. But then, I won the U.S. Title. For a while, I wasn't doing much. I was supposed to wrestle Sheamus at WrestleMania 27; we got bumped to the pre-show match. I got moved to SmackDown. Sometimes, I would be on TV; sometimes, I wasn't. I really didn't feel like I was on the upswing until when I won Money in the Bank. That helped, but there was a time after that even where I wasn't around to do very much. Once I won the World Heavyweight Championship, that's when things really turned into an upswing.
It's tough to stay on top. Think about where the Miz was a year ago versus where he is this year. What can you do to keep your momentum and your place on the card?
The only thing you can do in anything is go out there and do your best. Go out there and perform the best you can. Sometimes, you hit strings of bad luck, and sometimes, people don't like you, and sometimes, there are other politics and stuff involved, but all you can do is go out there and do your best and treat people well—that sort of thing.
Last thing I wanted to ask you: Do you have any good road stories you could share? CM Punk has Kofi Kingston as his “road wife.” Do you have a road wife?
Right now, my road wife is the Ryback [Laughs] and Cody Rhodes. We don't have any particular good road stories because I feel like we're kind of boring. We just kind of drive to the next town. But what me and Cody really like to do is make up stories about the Ryback and then spread them amongst the locker room. For example, yesterday, we were working out in a gym. He was doing kettle bell snatches with only 35 pounds. You look at him, and you'd think, 'Oh! This guy is way stronger,' but he was lifting this kettle bell and he couldn't control it, and it hit him in the eye and now he's got a black eye. That story spread throughout the locker room all day yesterday.
One thing that we have really gotten into is crushing apples with our bare hands. We like to give the Ryback a lot of crap because he's the only one among the three of us who can actually do it. [Laughs] We only think it's just because of cheating and stuff like that.
Now how about any of the other mannerisms you do, especially as a heel? Can you think of anybody in particular you take from? Was there ever a real asshole you met when you were younger where you were like, 'Man, I'm going to take stuff from him?'