In addition to being on WWE Backstage, Daniel Bryan sat down for an extended interview with Renee Young and CM Punk. The two reminisced about the first time they had met at the JCW Jersey J-Cup, a one-night tournament that also featured AJ Styles, Colt Cabana and Reckless Youth, the winner of the tournament.
“I was just talking about this with somebody. The first time I met Punk, you fractured your skull in this tournament,” Bryan revealed. “It was a 16-man, one-night tournament in the middle of the northeast somewhere. Do you remember where that was?
“It was Garfield, NJ,” Punk replied. “Yeah, you don’t forget where you fractured your skull.
“That was the first time I met Punk, so I’m in the middle of this thing, and he has to leave because he had his skull fractured,” Bryan reiterated. “So that must have been 2002-ish, and it’s just neat and interesting that’s still part of this story of me and Punk. At that point, Punk was already a legitimate main, top WWE guy and that was the process of me getting there. I think that’s all just really cool.”
In addition to talking about Bryan’s dream opponents like Zack Sabre Jr., Young asked if the younger Punk and Bryan could ever imagine themselves in WWE. Punk talked about how they were doing well for themselves in the indie scene and didn’t need WWE explaining the outside factors that they would have to deal with if they went to WWE.
“I think if you asked us back then, we wouldn’t have cared, not in a negative way either,” Punk noted. “I think I always looked at Bryan kind of like how earlier on the show, he described Zack Sabre. I remember not being conceited about how good I thought I was. I was convinced. Then you branch out, and promoters start flying you places and you meet all these other different guys. I always remember hearing about American Dragon and Spanky from the northwest. You would hear about Low Ki and Homicide from New York. I was always one of the mid-west guys.
“So you eventually start mingling with all of these guys. I think there was a nucleus of guys that wanted to be wrestlers, and they did it. Then at some point, they could make a living out of it, and they did it going to Japan, Puerto Rico and all of these different tours supporting themselves, while you’re a single guy, from wrestling. That was always the goal, but [you were] challenging yourself and always looking to the future for what’s next. What’s beyond Ring of Honor? What’s beyond all of this other stuff?
“WWE was there, and I think the both of us, tell me if I’m wrong Bryan, we always knew we were good enough to be there, but there was always a lot of different hurdles when you’re on TV, when you work for WWE. It’s different on the independents when you’re good and successful there. It’s completely different than being successful in WWE. It’s a lot more fluid. There’s politics, there’s different parts, promos travel [and] being your best on your worst day. There’s no excuses. Go. Go. Go. I think back then, the both of us, we would have said, yeah, we could go there and be the best there, have these wonderful careers, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen with where we are and what we’re doing because it’s more the art for guys like me and him.”
Bryan agreed with Punk. He revealed that he didn’t want to go to WWE because he enjoyed being able to have his own schedule. He also talked about how WWE was very promo heavy and admits that was not his strong suit.
“Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. So one of my things was that I actively didn’t want to go to WWE,” Bryan revealed. “I really liked the DIY aesthetic as far as I liked handling my own schedule. I liked being able to be like OK, well, I’m gonna go take a couple of weeks off here, and I’m gonna go watch a Seahawks game with my dad.
“I remember when Punk signed with WWE, and I thought, man, if they give him a shot, he’s gonna blow them away. I didn’t think that about myself, and the reason why is because WWE is so promo heavy and so interview heavy. At that point, I was not good at promos. I would say actively bad. I could do a sports promo like, ‘hey, you’re fighting this guy. I’m gonna go in there, and I’m gonna do this.’ As far as being entertaining, I could do that a little bit, but that’s not what they would do with smaller guys.”
Bryan says that he got to a point in his life where it was either WWE or move on from wrestling. He said that the point came as injuries were pilling up for him.
“My interest has always been in for my love of wrestling,” Bryan said. “I’ve never wanted to be famous, and I only needed enough money to survive. So the rest of it was like OK, whatever. Actually, when I started to get a decent amount of injuries, I looked at my life. I was like, OK, either I’m gonna have to sign with WWE, where I can save up enough money to I could be taken cared of for the rest of my life, or I’m gonna need to start looking at another path, where it’s like I’ll still wrestle on the weekends, but I’m gonna start going to school.
“At 2009 was this make-or-break year for me. I was like OK, I’m gonna spend all year training in MMA just because I’ve always wanted to do it and never got the chance to do it, and I’m working really hard to get into WWE because this is my make-or-break year. If that doesn’t work out, I’m gonna start going to school and cut down on my independent dates to start working towards a normal life.”
Bryan also talked about the experience of working without a crowd. He admitted that another thing he struggled with was the walk from the ramp to the ring. He said that he never knew what to do with his hands and credits the “Yes” chant for giving him something to do.
“It turned out, and everything became what it did, but when I saw Punk and his interview and the way he carried himself, it was like he carried himself like a star,” Bryan stated. “I thought if they give him a chance, it’s gonna be awesome, and one of the things I never thought about myself and I still have a weird time. It’s really weird with no fans. You really see how awkward I am, but the hardest part about wrestling for me was promos, which I’ve gotten more comfortable with but walking to the ring. The moment from the time you get out to the time you get into the ring, I always felt weird.
“I don’t know if it’s a Will Ferrell thing, but it’s like what do I do with my hands? I got away with it [with the ‘Yes’ chant]. Now, with no people there, it feels really awkward. They still kind of want me to do it, but if I don’t do it, what do I do with my hands?”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit WWE Backstage with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.