In an interview with ABC 6 Action News in Philadelphia, AEW star Bryan Danielson reflected on what brought on his decision to join AEW after spending over a decade in rival WWE. Danielson talked about contemplating retirement prior to the pandemic, but the challenge of wrestling in front of no fans rebuilt his love for pro wrestling.

“So my contract with WWE was coming up,” Danielson said. “Brie and I thought when I signed that contract that after this, I’m going to be kind of done. I had told them before the pandemic started, I said ‘we’ve got a little over a year left on my contract, I’m kind of done being a full-time wrestler so let’s use this next year and a half that we have for me and use it to build as many stars as possible.’ What’s the most effective way I can be of use? But then I started really, really loving wrestling during the pandemic again. Empty arena wrestling. For me it was such a unique challenge. Oh my gosh.

“When we were in the WWE Performance Center, there was no people, there was no extra audio, there was no crowd sweetening, there was nothing, and I loved it! Because it was such a unique challenge as far as like ‘whoa, what even is wrestling? How do you even present this?’ Some people just did their same old thing and that clearly doesn’t work with no crowd. And so it made me look at wrestling differently, it challenged me. It was a lot of fun. And then my daughter’s going into preschool and I was like maybe it’s just time for me to just be dad. I had all these conflicting ideas about what I wanted out of my life. I thought 40 was going to be the tipping point where I was just like physically, I won’t be able to do what I want to be able to do. Turns out I’m 40 and I feel great!”

Shortly after joining AEW, Danielson penned a letter for the Players’ Tribune to thank the fans, wrestlers and staff of WWE for their support over the years. He explained why.

“It’s weird. There’s a decent amount of tribalism in our culture today,” Danielson said. “Let’s say politically. If you’re right, everything on the left is bad; if you’re left, everything on the right is bad. Same thing with wrestling. The worst ones (fans) would be like sending (messages to) me on Instagram saying ‘I hope you die’ or ‘I hope your son dies.’ But that’s a small minority. I think wrestling fans for the most part are great people and great humans. But what it does is it’s kind of like conspiracy theories. Because the really bad conspiracy theory, like flat Earth or something like that. The issue is distrust. They don’t have a trust. So the most hardcore of these people who are saying these horrible things, why are they mad? Well, because they think ‘we supported you for years and years and we’re the ones who pushed you to this level, and we feel like you’ve betrayed us or we feel like you’ve left us.’ And from a personal standpoint, I never got a chance to say goodbye to a lot of people. A lot of people didn’t even know it was my last day. I didn’t know if I was going to go back or not. My contract was up. Most people in the company didn’t know my contract was up that day except for a handful of people, and I didn’t know if I was going to come back. I didn’t know if I was going to go to AEW. I didn’t know if I was going to stop wrestling for a while.

“So there was never really a chance to say goodbye and I also just kind of wanted to express the gratitude that I have not just for the fans of WWE who pushed me to such a high level, but also for the people in WWE. You have to understand, it’s everybody. It’s like the catering people who when I came in as a vegan, nobody else was a vegan on the roster, they would make me my own food every week. They took the time to make me extra food, and this is before I main evented WrestleMania, this is when I was barely on TV. They would still make me food. It’s like the creative team like Ryan Callahan. They asked me to be part of the creative team a little bit. And it’s the conversations with Ryan Callahan where we would sometimes be talking for an hour about the show, sometimes we’d be talking for 30 minutes about the show, and for 90 minutes about other stuff. Them just welcoming me with open arms. It’s the other wrestlers. So it’s so many people that you don’t get a chance to say ‘thank you, these past 11 years were awesome and it’s thanks to a lot of you.”