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.