By Jeramie McPeek
Posted: July 10, 2012
In front of the cameras and in front of the live crowds, WWE superstar Daniel Bryan is a smarmy, arrogant and manipulative heel – the insider’s term for a villain – who throws his fists and his thickly bearded chin into the air and chants “YES! YES! YES!” after every win, no matter how cheaply they come.
Outside the ring and behind the scenes, however, he is a charming, funny and self-deprecating young man, who is grateful to be living in the bright spotlights of the WWE Universe after struggling to get noticed for more than a decade on the independent circuit.
On Monday afternoon, mere hours before getting down on his knee in the center of the ring to propose to WWE diva, AJ – who just happens to be the special guest referee for his title match in Phoenix this coming Sunday – the 5-8 submission specialist sat down with USAirwaysCenter.com.
Bryan, or “Goat Face” as his opponent CM Punk has referred to him, discussed his career, his rivalry with the current-WWE Champion, and the “Money in the Bank” pay-per-view.
USAirwaysCenter.com: What can fans expect from your match with CM Punk this Sunday?
Daniel Bryan: I don’t know what fans can expect. Obviously, whenever I wrestle CM Punk, they’re going to get a great wrestling match. But the one thing that is unknown about this whole thing is that AJ is going to be our referee. So when you put a 95-lb woman in a referee shirt, you never know what’s going to happen.
USAirwaysCenter.com: You two have had a lot of matches over the years, especially the last few months. How do you take it up a notch for this one?
Bryan: Well, it’s interesting. This is a pay-per-view match and it’s for the WWE Championship, so that obviously ups the intensity. I expect to be in the main event of the pay-per-view, so anytime that happens, and you have two guys with as much pride as me and CM Punk, you know it’s going to be intense.
USAirwaysCenter.com: You tweeted recently that you and Punk once wrestled in front of 35 people. Is that true?
Bryan: (Laughs) Yeah, that was in Florida. I want to say it was 2005. We probably wrestled in front of 35 people and we probably wrestled for 45 minutes. We’re pretty far removed from that now.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Is that bizarre to think about now, just how far you both have come?
Bryan: Yeah, it is. Especially when you’re doing things like going out and wrestling at WrestleMania in front of 70,000 people. Or wrestling this Sunday at US Airways Center. I know that’s going to be a packed house. It’s pretty incredible to walk out and see thousands upon thousands of people out there, but not just out there, but into what you’re doing and looking forward to seeing you. That’s a pretty cool feeling.
USAirwaysCenter.com: You guys had a feud back in 2005 in Full Impact Pro on the independent scene. What do you remember about those early meetings, and how have your styles or matches changed over the years since then?
Bryan: Well, I would think that we’ve both evolved. You have to. The first time CM Punk and I wrestled was in 2004, and we’ve become more complete wrestlers. We’ve both become better wrestlers. I would like to think that as we’ve progressed and as we’ve gotten better, that the matches have gotten better and have become more intense. We hit each other harder now than we hit each other then, which is great for the fans, although not so great for us (laughs). So yeah, I would like to think we’ve both evolved in good ways.
USAirwaysCenter.com: It’s got to be fun wrestling him now in the main events of WWE pay-per-views having that history between each other.
Bryan: It’s fun and it’s cool, and it gives you a certain amount of respect for the other person that isn’t necessarily there between a lot of the WWE superstars. I mean, a lot of us respect each other for what we do, and we all work together. But the first time I ever met CM Punk, which was at an independent show in 2001 or 2002, and he fractured his skull in the tournament and had to go to the hospital. And he’s been there for shows where I’ve gotten hurt really bad and kept on wrestling.
We each know about the long drives that we’ve made, the 500-mile trips, where we’re showing up, only to get paid $125 on the independents and we’re helping set up the rings. So that being said, we appreciate how far the other has gotten on hard work.
If you look at CM Punk or you look at Daniel Bryan, we’re not necessarily what you would think of when you think of WWE superstars. But somehow each of us, through our own hard work and through our determination to get to the elite level of this business, we’ve gotten to here we are in the Money in the Bank pay-per-view and we’re in the WWE Championship match.