Bryan Danielson Is Embracing The Chance To Become The Face Of AEW

Nearly two years ago, Bryan Danielson turned the wrestling world on its head when he became the latest WWE superstar to jump to AEW. His arrival signaled an opportunity to become the face of the company, and it’s one that remains top of mind as he approaches another shot at the promotion’s biggest prize on Sunday. Danielson will hit the squared circle in the main event of AEW Revolution, where he’ll face Maxwell Jacob Friedman with the opportunity to ascend to the top of the company.

“The AEW World Championship is the centerpiece of the promotion,” Danielson tells Uproxx Sports. “You can’t say that about every wrestling company in the world, but you can say that about AEW. That’s why guys like Jon Moxley have been considered the man in AEW for the last couple years, Kenny (Omega), a little bit after that. When you’re the champion, you’re the one in charge of carrying the company. And it would be … for really the first time since I was in Ring of Honor that I’d get the opportunity to do that.

Danielson views it as a privilege to be the face of a promotion, even if he understands there’s an inherent challenge which comes from having that much responsibility. When Danielson was in WWE, he main evented WrestleMania 30 and won the World Heavyweight Championship in one of the best examples in wrestling history of an individual’s undeniable popularity with the fans serving as a springboard to the title.

But despite that, Danielson recalls, he “was never the guy” in WWE.

“After WrestleMania 30, when I had won the championship and just main evented WrestleMania, they had a meeting with me where it was like, ‘Okay, what we’d really like is to do is to set this other guy up to be the guy,'” he says. “I think the phrase was the next John Cena. And I was like, ‘I would like to be the next John Cena,’ (and they said) nobody can be John Cena.

“I literally just main evented WrestleMania, and you’re already telling me directly — and I actually appreciated that — that you don’t see me as the guy,” he continues. “That’s good for me because (I knew) this is what I have to overcome if I want to be that. I never got there in WWE as far as being the company’s guy. When Ric Flair talked about to be the man, you gotta beat the man. In AEW, that’s really how it is. To be the man, you’ve gotta be the AEW World Champion.”

Danielson’s decision to go to AEW involved much more than simply becoming the face of a promotion. He jokes about being the “best first match wrestler in the history of WWE” — Rey Mysterio is, in his eyes, the exception — and he loved the opportunities he was afforded, specifically calling back to his program with Drew Gulak. But he saw more main event opportunities in AEW, the latest being his program with the controversial MJF.

“Everybody unanimously agrees that he is an asshole,” Danielson says with a laugh when describing his working relationship with the champ. “So, you have to deal with that. But I’m ok with people being assholes. The one thing I want out of people is to put effort and thought into it. And MJF is very thoughtful and he loves wrestling.”

Outside of main eventing another show for AEW, Danielson points to the opportunities to work with emerging talent and pass knowledge to the next generation as a source of joy for him in AEW and a factor in his decision to join the company.

He sees individuals like Darby Allin, Wardlow, FTR, the Young Bucks, and Dante Martin as folks he’d love to get in the ring with. Backstage, there are plenty who stop by to seek advice when he’s watching the show on a monitor — Danielson identifies Wheeler Yuta and Daniel Garcia as the ones who are most often reaching out for mentorship.

With a heavy mix of young talent and veterans — Danielson makes it a point to call out Blade as a veteran leader no one talks about — the locker room is a blend of lightheartedness and “very good, serious conversations” about shared experiences, mental health, and how to navigate life on the road.

Part of that shared knowledge includes what it takes to rise to the top of a promotion — his championship run at WrestleMania 30 is a perfect example. Should the stars align, he sees Wardlow, Hangman Page, Ricky Starks, and Garcia as talents who could eventually reach the level of global superstardom these days associated with the likes of Roman Reigns and Kenny Omega.

“Where I got to in wrestling is partially because of working hard and being good at what I do, but also it’s a lot of luck, too — luck in not getting injuries, luck in being at the right place at the right time,” Danielson says. “I felt like I’ve wrestled people who, if things fell into the same place, same kind of positions that I’ve been, could have been just as successful, if not more successful. And they never got those things right. And so, wrestling is not like basketball where if you score 25 points a game, somebody’s gonna put you on their team in the NBA. Wrestling’s not like that. In wrestling, it’s not always the cream rises to the top. So, that’s all of that to say with the right bit of luck, any of those guys could do it.”

Danielson compares his love for professional wrestling to an artistic expression, like gardening, pottery, or playing music. It’s a release that gives him a feeling of freedom, and it’s something he wants to do as long as he possibly can. But of course, Danielson’s life has changed considerably over the years, which in turn means wrestling is no longer his top priority.

“You have to be smart because, MJF cut a promo on me last week saying you’re not gonna be able to hold your children or play with your kids and all that kind of stuff,” Danielson says. “And one of my things that I’m very diligent with is working with neurologists to keep an eye on how I am physically, from a brain perspective, at all times. I’m constantly getting checkups on it. My number one priority, more so than wrestling, is my family.”

Keeping his health top of mind, Danielson believes his decision to join AEW allowed him to very easily change his in-ring style and extend his wrestling career.

“(WWE) hires these enormous humans, and then you get somebody like me, who is 5’8, two inches below average height, I think, for an American male. But you take me and then automatically, part of my role is to go in there as an underdog and get bumped around,” Danielson says. “In AEW, the hiring practices aren’t necessarily that we’ve got to get all these big guys. It’s most people my size, some a little bigger, some a little smaller, but what that does is it allows me to do more mat wrestling, more hard-hitting stuff. For example, if you look at some of the people from a longevity perspective to do really well in Japan, they do hard shots, but they’re not taking these huge bumps, the stuff that really wrecks your neck. I’ve cut some of the stuff that literally I just can’t do anymore, like springboard dives in to the crowd.”

On the subject of Japan, Danielson would love to return to the country and wrestle, particularly if it would involve the opportunity to compete in the upcoming G1 Climax tournament. He’d need an extended break from AEW, though, and understands why his pursuit of the title might make that untenable.

“I don’t know because that requires Tony (Khan) to allow me to be off of TV for four weeks or whatever,” Danielson says. “You have to look at it from a Tony investment point of view, right? Does he really want somebody like me who is older to go through that many hard matches, be off of TV for four weeks, and potentially get injured? Probably not.

“Although, I do have a dream that me, Mox and Claudio [Castagnoli] and maybe Eddie Kingston, just so we have somebody to pick on, would all be able to go do one G1 together, because that would be just so much fun,” he continues. “To go do those incredible matches, but do it with your friends so that you all have this experience together. I think that would be incredible. Now, if you’re asking me if Tony is going to let me go do a G1 and is it a smart move for him? Probably not, but the odds of him letting me do it, I would say a 33 percent chance. The odds of him letting me, Mox, and Claudio all be gone for a month off of TV, an astronomically small percentage, but I haven’t even talked to him about it. So maybe with this interview he’ll see it.”

For now, Danielson will focus on the job at hand: winning the belt from MJF on Sunday, and just maybe becoming the next face of AEW in the process.