WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan doesn’t do much tentatively. He’s confident when he enters the ring. But when he took batting practice with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the waning moments of the season, he was nervous.
He didn’t think he would connect with the ball, but much to his surprise, he cranked one out of the park.
When Bryan returns to Chase Field it’ll be on his terms. The Royal Rumble rolls into town Sunday, January 27, with ancillary events like NXT Takeover (Saturday, January 26), Monday Night Raw (Monday, January 28) and SmackDown Live (Tuesday, January 29). Started in 1988, the Royal Rumble happens every January and features 30 to 40 wrestlers entering the ring at timed intervals. It’s considered one of the WWE’s four top events with Wrestlemania, Summer Slam and Survivor Series and will be streamed worldwide on the WWE Network.
“The WWE’s big events are unlike any other type of event you go to, whether it be a rock concert, baseball game or football game,” Bryan says near the Arizona Diamondbacks’ dugout after batting practice.
“WWE shows have a unique atmosphere. Everybody is so emotionally invested. Whether or not you like it, the music hits and until the show ends, everyone enjoys it. One of the things that’s great about our big shows is you feel that solidarity with people. My sister isn’t a huge wrestling fan, but she loves coming to the shows. We get the ‘F’ word a lot. Fake. Until you experience it, you get caught up in the same way you get caught up with a fictional TV show. That’s the same thing.”
Known for his beard and shouting “Yes!” during his monologues, SmackDown’s Bryan is excited to bring one of the WWE’s signature events home. He and wife, Brie Bella, have been splitting time between Phoenix’s Arcadia area and California with their baby, Birdie, due to Brie’s reality shows.
“I’m excited because we’re actually going to be living in Phoenix at the time,” says the Washington-raised Bryan, whose real name is Bryan Danielson. “I love wrestling in Phoenix, but I also love being close to where I live, where I can just wake up, get out of bed, spend the morning with my daughter and then drive to the show.”
Bryan has climbed the ranks during his nearly 20 years in the sport. However, he has been injured on and off since May 2014. He retired from professional wrestling in February 2016, due to medical issues, including seizures, from concussions. That summer, he became the SmackDown general manager.
On March 20, 2018, he was cleared to return to in-ring competition, just in time for Wrestlemania. His retirement and return speeches were moving — and written by Bryan, instead of the WWE’s creative department.
“For my retirement speech and the speech I came back with, those were just me,” he says. “It was just free-flowing thoughts. With my retirement speech, I was in a very negative state of mind and I didn’t want to express that. If I was never going to wrestle again, I wanted it to be because I’m very grateful about my career, my life and the amazing things I was able to do because of wrestling.
“For the past 16 years, I didn’t have to work a ‘real job.’ My last real job was at a video store/tanning salon. They don’t even have video stores anymore. I wanted to express what I was really trying to focus on and push the negativity aside.”
Bryan doesn’t want his injuries to return, so he regularly spends time on his rehab exercises and in hyperbaric chambers.
“I’m big into brain function now because of my issues,” he says.
He really enjoys watching fans’ reaction to his trademark shout “Yes!” with his index fingers in the air. Bryan says it’s surreal to see arenas and stadiums full of people imitate him.
“I’ve wrestled in front of 17 people, 45 people or whatever,” Bryan says. “I’d be in the ring and I could hear someone say to his buddy, ‘These guys aren’t very good, are they?’ It’s just demoralizing.
“When I come here (to Chase Field), maybe 40,000 people are going to be here. They’ll all be chanting ‘Yes!’ in unison. It almost feels like I have this out-of-body experience where I’m looking down and I’m like, ‘Is this really my life?’ It’s almost like we’re a singular organism all doing it in unison.”
He also loves the quiet of home and everything Arizona has to offer.
“I love Camelback Mountain,” he says. “I love the restaurants here. This is a great foodie city. It’s lowkey. People don’t even know. That’s the great part. People aren’t coming here for food. Most people come here for the nice weather, the golf courses or whatever. They then discover the food is awesome.
“I love being here during the monsoon season, though. When the rains come out, just the fresh smell of the desert is unlike anything else.”
While he was at Chase Field, he befriended fellow bearded wonder, Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley.
“We’re fortunate because we get to go around and meet these incredible people and incredibly skilled people,” Bryan says about his career. “He’s an amazing pitcher and to be able to come here, hang out with him and exchange beard tips was a lot of fun.
“We have different styles of beards, though. His is very coiffed. Mine is a bit wilder. One of the best things was he took me to the team barber and had a trim,” he adds rubbing his beard. “This is why I have hair all over me.”
Words by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski.