More than eight months after a neck injury sidelined Daniel Bryan and forced him to vacate his WWE World championship, the popular performer is ready to pick up where he left off.
The leader of the ‘Yes Movement’ makes his much-anticipated return to the ring against Kane when SmackDown returns to Thursday nights starting Jan. 15 on Syfy. Bryan will also participate in the 30-man Royal Rumble match on Jan. 25 on pay-per-view and WWE Network.
There was much uncertainty if Bryan would ever wrestle again following his surgery. However, the driven performer worked hard in rehab for the opportunity to continue doing what he loves.
“The day I announced I was coming back for the Royal Rumble is actually the day I got cleared to wrestle,” he said. “I started healing in November, as far as thinking, ‘Wait a second. Things are starting to turn around for the better.’ It was that December episode of Raw I went on to say I was finally able to be cleared by WWE where they said, ‘You’re ready to go.’”
Bryan does remember a period where he had doubts about his future.
“I just had to get into this mental frame of mind and not thinking about the negative. When you are sitting at home and all you do is physical therapy and all this stuff and nothing seems to be getting better, it’s very frustrating. If you get into that deep hole of thinking you are never going to come back. That’s a hard mental place to escape from. I dealt with that for a little bit, but then I realized I couldn’t have this type of negativity. If I was going to get better, I had to be positive that I can come back and come back better than ever.”
Rather than save Bryan’s squared circle comeback a surprise, WWE decided to announce it ahead of time. The 33-year-old likes how everything is panning out.
“Had I just come out during the Royal Rumble, I don’t know if it would be as impactful. To me it’s more impactful to give fans something to look forward to. If it happened at the Royal Rumble and that night, it would have been great. Though I like the idea of building toward something, so I’m happy with the way we’ve done it.”
Bryan’s first taste of any kind of physicality happened during a segment on Monday Night Raw to set up his SmackDown battle with Kane. The tag partners turned rivals brawled inside and outside the ring. It was a way to show the audience the bearded warrior hasn’t lost a step. The event was also held in New Orleans, the site of WrestleMania XXX when Bryan won the WWE world heavyweight championship.
“It felt so good,” he said. “It’s funny because there is nothing that gets you in wrestling shape quite like wrestling. One of my big concerns was if I was going to get really tired. It’s funny because one of the things that can get me more tired than anything, especially at the end of matches, is when they want me to keep yes-ing.”
Yes-ing is Bryan’s signature gesture where he yells “Yes!” as he points to the sky repeatedly. Fans and other people from all walks of life have turned the simple act into a craze. Look no further than YouTube if you need proof.
“They are always in the back telling me to keep yes-ing,” Bryan said. “This can get you even more tired sometimes than a long match. After that I was doing the ‘Yes!’ chant so much that my shoulders were so tired. I got a little bit concerned about that and how my neck will hold up. I’m just excited about being back …I do honestly think though a “Yes!” workout would be pretty good as far as workouts go.”
During the few minutes of fighting with Kane on Raw there was a point he flew through the ropes just like he has done before. Executing the signature move showed fans he wasn’t going to hold back.
“I’m not going to be apprehensive about it,” Bryan said. “If you go in scared and you don’t do things the best you can, you’re actually more likely to get hurt. For example, if you do a suicide dive at half-speed and worry about getting hurt, you’re actually more likely to get hurt. Will my style change? Yes, but that is not because of my injury. It’s because I’ve been sitting back and watching WWE. For me, that’s a creative process. It’s the creative process and the evolution of my own style. Things will change, but will it be because of my neck or anything else? Absolutely not.”
Bryan’s high-risk moves have been a topic of conversation with WWE officials.
“They’ve told me, ‘Hey, maybe you shouldn’t be doing the diving headbutt or this or that,” Bryan said. “I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. We are all individual entities. Not to say I ignore their advice, but you also have to know your own body and where you’re at physically. Part of the thing about coming back is it’s a trial-and-error. If I started doing the top-rope dropkick and notice it jarred me, then it may be something I stay away from. I won’t know until I try. I’m not afraid to go out there and give it my all.”
One of the reasons the WWE Universe loves Bryan is because he is among the best workers bell-to-bell. It’s hard to find a bad Daniel Bryan match. He is thrilled to be associated with SmackDown’s monumental shift from Fridays to Thursdays.
“I actually requested for my return to be on this particular night,” Bryan said. “I wanted it to be in the main event of SmackDown when it moved. There is nobody better for me to wrestle in this type of situation than Kane. He is the one who put me out of action. He is the one I’m coming for retribution against. It should be a pretty awesome match and an awesome show and a pretty awesome way to get people to watch on Thursday nights.”
The longtime WWE show will always conjure up memorable moments for Bryan. At the top of the list is a favorite episode from 2011.
“I was holding the Money in the Bank briefcase and getting the first opportunity to be in the main event of SmackDown,” he said. “I tried to cash-in on Mark Henry and actually held the World heavyweight championship for 30 seconds before Teddy Long came out. There is this whole story, but it led to me being in the main event of SmackDown against Mark Henry. It was a cage match and really the first time I was in the main event of any show. We did the main event match. We ended up losing, but it was the first time I was like, ‘There is no reason why I can’t do this.’ I enjoyed it. It was a good match. Fans were going crazy for it. It gave me that confidence to say, ‘Hey, I can do this in the right situation. I can be a main event guy here.’”
- SmackDown returns to Thursday nights at 8 EST starting Jan. 15 on Syfy. The historic evening is highlighted by Daniel Bryan’s first match since his injury. He faces Kane.
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