Rising Dragon: What You Don’t Know About The Underdog Life And Career Of Daniel Bryan

Earlier this week, Daniel Bryan celebrated his 35th birthday, which makes now a perfect time to look back on his incredible, too-brief career. The term underdog gets thrown around pretty liberally in wrestling, but Daniel Bryan truly is one of the most unlikely world champions of all time. Bryan’s journey from unathletic, small-town loner, to worldwide phenomenon is a story full of perseverance, luck and plenty of unexpected twists and turns.

Without further ado, here’s a final countdown of the things you might not know about the expectation-defying career of Daniel Bryan…

The Ultimate Warrior was his favorite wrestler as a kid.

Bryan Danielson (we’ll refer to him as Daniel Bryan throughout most of this article for clarity’s sake) was born on May 22, 1981 in the small logging town of Aberdeen, Washington. Unlike most other world champions, Bryan wasn’t particularly athletic as a kid, a high school Coach’s Award for hard work is the only legit athletic honor he’s ever won, but he did love professional wrestling.

Bryan had a backyard wrestling federation of sorts, but this wasn’t Mick Foley jumping off his roof stuff. He and and his friends mostly just wrestled around on an old mattress, and the league’s champion was a giant teddy bear named Big Bad Brown. Really, the whole thing was just an excuse to get together and watch wrestling, and early in his life, Bryan’s favorite wrestler wasn’t who you might think. No, it wasn’t a technical master like Dean Malenko, or his eventual trainer/mentor Shawn Michaels, it was The Ultimate Warrior, a champion Bryan ended up being the diametric opposite of. Too bad he never tried out the neon face paint – it might have worked.

Bryan had a run in WWF developmental in the early 2000s.

Daniel Bryan’s legit wrestling career began when he got into Shawn Michael’s short-lived Texas Wrestling Academy, where he trained alongside other future WWF/E stars Lance Cade and Brian Kendrick. As you may have heard, Shawn Michaels has a bit of pull with Vince McMahon, so less than year after beginning training, Daniel Bryan had himself a WWF developmental contract.

Back in 2000, developmental wasn’t the well-oiled machine it is now – Bryan reported to Memphis Championship Wrestling, where he routinely wrestled in front of a dozen people in dive bars and Walmart parking lots. That said, it was in MCW that Bryan met his career-long mentor, William Regal. In 2000, Regal was serving time in MCW until WWF was satisfied he’d kicked his pill habit, and while there, he introduced Bryan to his technical European style of wrestling. From this point on, Bryan would call Regal first whenever he found himself in a difficult spot in his career, and wore Regal’s trademark maroon tights as a tribute.

Unfortunately, Bryan’s time in MCW was relatively short-lived. In early 2001, WWF bought WCW and scooped up much of the company’s talent at fire sale prices. They no longer needed their Memphis scrubs, so most of them, including Daniel Bryan, were given their walking papers. It would be almost a decade before Bryan got another shot with the company.

He was once roommates with Shinsuke Nakamura.

Bryan and WWE may have been done, but he kept busy. Of course he helped found Ring of Honor in 2002, but more instrumental to his development was his time in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Bryan was well-liked by the Inoki family who ran NJPW and lived at the Inoki Dojo in Santa Monica in the early 2000s. Eventually the Inokis even let Bryan move into a fancy apartment they usually reserved for clients of their sports management company. That meant he ended up being roomies with a number of people important to the Inoki family, including a young, pre-swag Shinsuke Nakamura and eventual UFC Light Heavyweight Champ Lyoto Machida.

Bryan had his first battle against John Cena (and his ridiculous yellow pants) in 2003.

Around this time, Bryan continued to do the occasional “enhancement” match for WWE. The most notable of these was a 2003 Velocity match where he took on none other than John Cena and his banana-yellow slacks. Bryan and Cena wouldn’t face each other one-on-one again for nine years, and by then the circumstances were just a bit different.

There were plans for him to get involved in HBK and Jericho’s 2008 feud.

Daniel Bryan’s next shot at the big leagues came in 2008, thanks, once again, to Shawn Michaels. HBK was immersed in a memorable feud with Chris Jericho, and Michaels wanted to bring in his former students Lance Cade and Daniel Bryan. The idea was Cade and Bryan would be brought in to help Michaels, but would eventually turn on him, forming a team with the dastardly Y2J. For whatever reason, the plan never came together, but the idea to bring in Daniel Bryan was planted and would soon bear fruit.

Daniel Bryan could have become Buddy Peacock or Lloyd Boner.

A WWE opportunity finally came knocking again in 2009, and by that time, real names were out, so Bryan Danielson needed a new identity. WWE asked him to come up with a list of names, and, well, there’s a reason the guy had mostly wrestled under his real name. After much thought, Bryan came up with a list that included gems such as Buddy Peacock and Lloyd Boner (his personal favorite). Thankfully WWE threw their hands up and just reversed his first and last names, and thus Daniel Bryan was born.

Sheamus the spoiler ruined his first night with Brie Bella.

Sheamus has been the big orange monkey on Daniel Bryan’s back for much of his WWE career, and it turns out his spoiling ways extend to Daniel Bryan’s love life, as well. In 2010, Bryan was cast as the nerd virgin being taunted and toyed with by the Bella twins, a rather unflattering, but ultimately life-changing role. Bryan and Brie Bella started spending some serious time together off camera, and one night the two found themselves in Bryan’s hotel room. Unfortunately, just as the Yes Movement was about to get started in earnest, a drunken Sheamus and Ted DiBiase Jr. burst into the room. Knowing Sheamus, he probably interrupted the adult proceedings right at the 18-second mark.

Brie took refuge under the blankets, an understandably frustrated Bryan launched a buck-naked flying kick at DiBiase (which missed), and Sheamus proceeded to thoroughly ruin the mood by being his loud, Sheamusy self. The interlopers were kicked from the room, but needless to say, the rest of the romantic evening did not go as planned. Goddamn Sheamus.

Bryan was supposed to have a match with Charlie Sheen.

Yup, believe it or not, Daniel Bryan almost got to kick Charlie Sheen in the head in 2012. Sheen had recently quit Two and a Half Men and was in the midst of a very public, very stupid meltdown, and so, naturally, WWE decided they should have him feud with their best wrestler. Sure, makes sense. Apparently everything was set up, but then, shock of shocks, Sheen flaked at the last minute. Despite being left high and dry, Bryan still ended up, ahem, winning, as the anger management skits he filmed with Kane to set the groundwork for the Sheen match ended up being an unexpected hit.

Both Bryan and Kane hated being named Team Hell No.

Speaking of Team Hell No, neither Bryan nor Kane wanted to be called that. Fans chose Team Hell No in a poll, but both men were in favor of the far-cheerier Team Friendship. Aside from just being funnier, Bryan and Kane had practical reasons for preferring Team Friendship – most parents still won’t buy their kid a shirt with the word “hell” on it, so Team Hell No merch never sold particularly well, despite the team’s popularity. Turns out Bryan and Kane had a legit reason for being so cranky.

He almost got in a legitimate brawl with Triple H.

For a guy who made his name headbutting opponents into bloody messes, Daniel Bryan is, by all accounts, remarkably laid back in real life. There’s really only one story of Bryan being anything less than chill backstage, but it’s a big one. On the June 17, 2013 edition of Raw, Bryan went for a dive during a match with Randy Orton and collided with the barricade. Shortly after the crash, he lost all feeling in his right arm. Bryan tried to continue the match, but eventually it was called off on Triple H’s authority. Bryan was not happy about that.

Daniel Bryan got right up in Triple H’s face backstage, throwing f-bombs like a sailor. Both guys were getting ready to throw down for real, but thankfully the locker room separated them. Eventually Bryan would apologize, but he took a while to cool down. Unfortunately, it was eventually discovered Bryan had a bulging disc and compressed nerves in his neck, and was forced to sit out a lot longer than a single match.

The most pivotal night of his career was important for a more personal reason.

The Yes Movement reached the height of its power on the December 9, 2013 Slammys edition of Raw. Daniel Bryan not only won pretty much every trophy that night, he ended up completely stealing the spotlight from world champs John Cena and Randy Orton in front of a rabid hometown Seattle crowd. The main event was a “Championship Ascension” ceremony, meant to hype Cena and Orton’s upcoming WWE Title unification match. Every current and former WWE Champion was in the ring, and WWE was doing everything they could to make it feel like a big deal, but all anybody wanted to do was chant for Bryan. It was this moment, more than anything else, that convinced WWE to give Bryan his big, world-beating moment at WrestleMania XXX.

There was also a more personal reason Bryan was smiling from ear to ear at the end of the show. The December 9 Raw was the one, and only, time Daniel Bryan’s father got to see him wrestle in person. Sadly, Bryan’s father would pass away only months later, following WrestleMania XXX. If Bryan’s father could only watch his son live once, he at least picked a hell of a night.

He’s undefeated against bears.

Yes, Daniel Bryan has suffered his share of losses throughout his career, but he will never lose against bears. Bryan is no B+ player, but he will always be a bear+ player.

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There you go, a few things you might not have known about the best wrestler in the whole dang world. Know any Daniel Bryan factoids I missed? What are some of your favorite memories from his eventful career? Kick out some comments, below.

via Yes! My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleManiaThe Sportster, InquisitrWrestling Inc. & WWE.com