All Elite Wrestling star Bryan Danielson is a familiar face to wrestling fans, but as he grapples in Philadelphia Wednesday, he'll be just a few miles away from a key launching point in his career.
"The American Dragon" recently made the switch from WWE to AEW, wrestling his first match against AEW World Champion Kenny Omega, who helped launch the promotion in 2018.
He's scheduled to wrestle alongside Jungle Boy, Luchasaurus, and Christian Cage against the Elite, as part of AEW' Dynamite's 2-year anniversary inside the Liacouras Center Wednesday night. Bell time is set for 7 p.m., with the TNT broadcast of Dynamite beginning at 8 p.m.
Danielson, who was known as Daniel Bryan in WWE, spoke with WDEL about flipping wrestling organizations, and how a stint for a wrestling promotion in Delaware helped set him up for future success.
It's been a big 2021 for you, you started in WWE, you're now in AEW, why was making that switch the right move, and how have you liked it so far?
I was just ready for something new, that was one of the bigger reasons, plus I look at this as the apex of my wrestling career. I feel like I'm the best wrestler I can be, and I want to be able to wrestle as hard as I want to be able to wrestle. I believe AEW is the best place to do that, AEW is a very wrestling-centered product. My first match was against Kenny Omega, it was 30 minutes. You very rarely get the chance to do that in WWE. I love the AEW fans, and my experience has been incredible thus far.
We've gone from empty arenas that we saw in sports over the past two years, and you just had the big event at Arthur Ashe Arena, how does it change for a wrestler/performer when you go from an empty arena where you have to build your own energy to having 15,000 or so fans?
It's interesting because I think I'm one of the few people who loved empty arena wrestling. I saw it as a huge challenge, I have been wrestling for 22 years (first match October 4, 1999), for me the uniqueness of the empty arena was invigorating, but to be honest, there's nothing like a wild, rabid crowd, that are super into wrestling. It's one thing if it's an indifferent crowd, that feels horrible. If you go out there, and you're wrestling your heart out, that's one of the worst feelings on Planet Earth. But going out there and having a crowd that's super into what you're doing, there's nothing like it.
You've been a fan favorite, you've been a fan enemy, which do you prefer better?
I do like being booed, I think it's a lot of fun. But both are good, as long as you're getting a strong reaction either way, both are good. I think it's always more fun to be the villain.
You mentioned the 22-year career, some was right here in Delaware in the ECWA, how much time did you spend in Delaware?
I spend a good amount of time, and it wasn't a huge number of shows, but they were very important shows. It was in 2001 when I first wrestled in Delaware for Jim Kettner's ECWA. When I first came and wrestled for him, I was under a developmental deal for WWE, and I came in and did his Super 8 Tournament. Shortly after that I got fired for WWE, but what that did was get my name out on the East Coast, it wasn't out on the East Coast at all. Jim brought me in for another couple shows and I wrestled Low Ki with Ricky Steamboat as referee, and when people saw that, other promotors started booking me, and that was the basis for me getting opportunities everywhere after I was fired from WWE.
You end up with injuries, the concussions, why did you want to get back into the ring so badly?
I legitimately thought I was healthy, and still think that I'm healthy. One of the reasons I was forced to retiree was not because of the concussions, but because I lied about that. You have to understand from WWE's point of view, I had been wrestling for them for six years, but then all of a sudden they opened this Pandora's box about lying about his medical history, and now we can't trust him. A lot of that was building the trust back, but they were also legitimately looking after my health. Going to see doctor after doctor, and doing everything that I could to improve brain function to show above and beyond that my brain was healthy.
It's also my love of wrestling. It felt like I wasn't really to be done yet. I still needed to come back. I also think there's a lot left on concussion research to be done, and when you're seeing the top doctors in the country and they're all clearing you to do what you love to do, I think you should be able to do that.
What are the real physical demands? We see people put on Figure 4s and headlocks, what's the real aspect of the pain of this sport?
I think your body adapts to so many things. We were actually just talking about this in the locker room, someone said every fall hurts now. I was like, really? I think it really depends on the crowd. When you wrestle in front of a rabid crowd, nothing hurts. I do extensive warm-ups before I go out, and then every night when I get back to my hotel room after a show I'm foam-rolling, I'm stretching, and making sure my body is in a healthy position to recover. I think for me, one of the hardest things is being on long plane trips. When you get to be 40, and you just wrestled a 30-minute match with Kenny Omega, no matter how much stretching you did, the next day if you're on a 6-hour plane trip, you're going to hobble getting off the plane. Realistically, I hadn't wrestled in 5-months, I wrestled Kenny Omega for 30 minutes, and did a 6-hour plane trip the next day, and I felt pretty good. There are a lot of physical demands, but if you keep up with your body, and maintain your body, it's manageable.
You've been wrestling a lot of shorter matches in WWE, then you start in AEW with a 30 minute match, how did your training change?
My training never really changes, other than changes to make sure your body doesn't adapt to a single thing. I didn't do anything special. I've never had an issue getting tired in matches. I also live at high altitude (Lake Tahoe, NV), so it makes breathing easier at low altitude, it's almost like a breeze. I'm also very, very active. Today I've already done a 90 minute workout with weights, I'll likely do some Ju-Jitsu, and then some kickboxing. I do this several times a week. Doing all of those things keep you in good condition naturally. If you have to worry about your conditioning, you already have one worry before you go out there, and I want to have as few worries as possible.
If someone is listening this to this and they've never been to a live event, how is it different live than what they see on television?
I think the live atmosphere for wrestling shows if different than anything you'll ever experience. I think it's a very cool atmosphere, and one of the things you feel, and the wrestlers also feel, is the energy in the building. That's very true in AEW. We did a show in Rochester last Wednesday, and the crowd was just going crazy. That energy was infectious to both the wrestlers and the fans. You walk out of the arena buzzing, it's a rush. From an entertainment standpoint, there are few things better than live wrestling. My sister doesn't watch wrestling on TV, but she loves going to live shows, and so do my nieces, so I think that's a big selling point. There's nothing like it.
Is there something they should be looking for, a New Fan 101?
I think go with an open mind and enjoy it, but one of the fun things is people watching. You're going to get caught up in these moments, but also people watch, you'll see people going wild. It's like going to a football game where people are passionate about their teams. It's incredible to watch the reactions, people get emotional. Also to be able to sit back and get caught up in it, and enjoy the feeling, the moment, the energy, the pyrotechnics, enjoy all of it.
ECW was based in Philadelphia, is there something special when you come to the Delaware Valley?
Philadelphia has a very vocal fan base (laughs), to say the least. They'll be very vocal about what they like, and they'll be very vocal about what they don't like. As a performer, that keeps you on your toes. One of the awesome things about being able to travel around the country is seeing different audiences reacting differently. The Philadelphia audience is notorious, for us, for voicing their likes and their dislikes.
What's next for Bryan Danielson?
One of the things about how AEW presents wrestling is it is a very sporting concept. The records and rankings are important. Kenny Omega doesn't want to give me a rematch, so I'll earn a rematch. I'm trying to build up and go through as many people as possible. AEW has a lot of great, great wrestlers that I want to get in the ring with, but I'm not getting into the ring to have a great wrestling match, I want to kick their heads in, and eventually get a shot at Kenny Omega, but this time for the AEW Championship.
If people watch a Brian Danielson match, what do you want them to take away from the match, other than obviously a victory?
I would like them to enjoy it, but I think there's a physical nature that I bring to my wrestling matches that others do not. Wrestling tends to be a physical sport, but I tend to be more physical (laughs). In AEW we have Mark Henry and Paul Wight (WWE's Big Show), and they're both giant men, they'll both say the same thing, they've never been kicked as hard as when I picked them. If you go to the show, look for that, that's one of the things that makes me stand out."
What else do you want people to know about AEW?
The one thing that I think is really cool about AEW is that if you haven't watched wrestling in a long time, or you've fallen away from it, I encourage you to check it out because AEW is modernizing professional wrestling. A lot of professional wrestling has been stuck in an older mindset, but I think younger fans are really being drawn to AEW because they're modernizing. The world has changed so much in the 20 years since I started wrestling. The speed at which we expect things to happen has changed so much. AEW has taken those changes and put them into the wrestling. When you watch the 2-hours on Dynamite or the hour on Rampage, it flies by. It feels like such an incredible experience. You can see it because of the people in the building, it's a different experience.