WWE’s website has published the first two chapters from Daniel Bryan’s new autobiography, “Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania.” The book comes out on July 21st and can be pre-ordered now through Barnes and Noble to get a signed edition.
Here are both chapters:
WWE recently asked many of their successful Superstars to take a personality inventory. In theory, these tests are able to assess personal qualities, such as sociability, prudence, and interpersonal sensitivity. The idea is that different professions require different personal characteristics, but these sorts of analytics had never been done with professional wrestlers. If WWE could find out the personality traits of their most successful Superstars, perhaps when they were recruiting, it would give them more information about the likelihood of a new signee being successful. I was one of the many people chosen to take the test.
The test involved reading many different statements and then indicating if the statement was true or false. For example, one statement would be: “I would want to be a professional race car driver.” My answer: “False. I would not want to be a professional race car driver.” Another example: “I rarely lose my temper.” My answer: “True.” Stuff like that. You respond to hundreds of those types of statements and voilà! Therein are your personality traits. In theory.
I actually enjoyed taking the test and was interested to hear the results. The next day I met with a woman to talk about them. Everything was done on a percentile basis, and as we went over the results, she became more and more baffled. In all the primary markers except one (learning approach, for which I was in the eighty-fourth percentile), I scored low. And I mean very low. For interpersonal sensitivity, I was in the bottom eleventh percentile. For the adjustment category, the bottom ninth percentile. Sociability, bottom third. But the one that really puzzled her was my score for ambition, which was the lowest she had ever seen in her history of administering this kind of testing and data. I was in the bottom one percentile.
She asked me how I had managed to be so successful given that I seem to have no drive, few social skills, and an inherent apathy toward most of the ideas our modern business culture seems to find so important.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I just love to wrestle. The success has come mostly by luck.”
My “lack of ambition” must have been a part of my personality even from my inception, because I stayed in the womb for over ten months. When my wife, Bri*, heard the story, she said it explained me perfectly. She could just imagine me being completely satisfied sitting there with an umbilical cord for a feeding tube, being constantly fed and warm and never wanting to come out. When they finally induced my mother, one can imagine how painful it must have been. My mom, Betty, was a small woman, and when I, Bryan Lloyd Danielson, finally decided to come out on May 22, 1981, I was more than ten pounds. Looking back at the pictures today, I’m the fattest baby I’ve ever seen. More importantly, I seem to always be smiling. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.
My mother has told me I was very quiet. I spent a lot of time on my own because I wasn’t overly social, which is essentially the same as now. My father, Donald “Buddy” Danielson, remembered me being easygoing but also having a really stubborn side. My dad’s most consistent example of this involved cookies, which could be my favorite food group. He always talked about this time I was reaching for a cookie and he told me no. I reached again and my dad slapped my hand, then again said no. I started crying but continued reaching for the cookie. Each time my dad would lightly slap my hand, and each time I would cry a little harder, relentlessly reaching for the cookie. Telling the story, he howled with laughter but never did say whether he eventually gave me the cookie.
As a young child, I had a tendency to follow my older sister, Billie Sue, around everywhere. Our relationship growing up is probably why, even today, she remains very nurturing and protective of me. Billie Sue was—and is—so much more social than I am. I just followed her around, happy as a clam, and listened to whatever she said. I picked up on whatever she did. For example, when I first learned to talk, I didn’t have a stutter, but my sister did. As I spoke more and more, I started to stutter as well. Billie Sue grew out of her speech issue way before I grew out of mine, which probably wasn’t until I was nearly twelve years old.
*In text, Daniel Bryan refers to his wife, Brianna, as Bri, who is known by WWE fans as Brie Bella.
A good six months before I started my professional wrestling career, I was a senior sitting in an English class where we were all reading our essays aloud. The teacher, Dr. Carter, liked arranging our desks in a U-shape around the room, so we didn’t have to go to the front of the class. Stand up, read your essay, immediately sit down—that was all we had to do. I was terrified.
Some people thrive when they’re being looked at and feed off the energy from being put in the spotlight. Not me. I hated it. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been shy. Personality is an incredible, fascinating thing. We are all born with certain tendencies and predilections in terms of the sorts of things we enjoy. Some of it’s nature, some of it’s nurture, but it’s one of life’s many amazing mysteries. We are all unique.
Watching my sister’s children grow up, I marvel at how different they both are and how they got that way. She and I are equally different. For one, I don’t think she ever had a problem speaking in front of people. Even now, she seems to do it with the utmost ease. At my wedding rehearsal, I put her on the spot. Not because I wanted to, but mostly because I am pretty much clueless on how any sort of practical thing works, including weddings and all the surrounding mayhem. I learned a little late that, apparently, a family member of the bride and one of the groom are supposed to welcome the new person into the family with a speech and a gift. I had no idea!
So three minutes before she’d go up to do it, I told my sister she needed to make a speech welcoming my wonderful bride-to-be into our family. This was not only in front of about thirty people—most of whom she barely knew—but also in front of a reality-TV camera crew filming the whole shindig for E!’s Total Divas … meaning it could be seen by well over a million people.
Billie Sue gave me kind of an exasperated look, asked my best man, Evan, for some advice, and then went on to speak. She did it with perfect poise and was funny, sweet, and, in her own way, elegant. Simply stated, she nailed it. Not only did she nail it, she was also aware of this gift-giving custom and gave my wife a clam-digging shovel to welcome her to our family. If roles were reversed, I probably would have thrown up, even after years of experience going out and doing interviews in front of strangers in, essentially, my underwear.
Before those years of experience, I was even worse. Sitting there in the U in senior English class, I was the fifth one in line to read my essay. I watched, one by one, as each person stood up, spoke—some better than others, but all of them decent—then sat down. Each time someone finished, the feeling of dread only got stronger.
It’s not so hard, I kept telling myself. Just get through it. By the time Dr. Carter called my name, I was full of anxiety, moist with sweat, and, frankly, scared to death. I actually started off fine; I sped right through the first paragraph, sacrificing the maximum effect of my essay’s message to wrap up quicker, which I thought was the way to go, given how I was feeling. Starting with paragraph two, I began to stutter, a problem I’d had since I was a small child. Becoming keenly aware of all the eyes looking at me, I read on, and the stuttering only got worse and worse. I paused, tried to start again, paused, tried to start again. By this point I was messing up ever other word—my sweat beading heavily from my forehead—and I was shaking. Finally I just stopped.
After a long pause, I looked to Dr. Carter and sheepishly explained that I didn’t think I could continue. I couldn’t do it. He allowed me to take my seat back in the comfort of the U, and, horrified, I sat down so the next student could take his turn. I never finished reading my essay, and I was the only one who didn’t make it through. I was incredibly embarrassed.
I felt a similar unease years later when seven of my peers and I stood nervously on the WWE set as we were about to debut on the new television show WWE NXT. The eight of us were called “Rookies,” though at that point I had been wrestling for ten years. None of us knew what to expect that night. We hadn’t been told anything prior to standing there, ready to be seen on live WWE programming. About three minutes before showtime, a producer came in and told us one of the WWE Pros was going to come on set and speak. We were to react accordingly.
Another producer screamed out, “Going live in fifteen seconds!” Then, “Five, four . . .” The final three numbers were counted down by the motion of his hand. Suddenly the camera was panning over us and music was playing throughout the arena. The Miz, who was my assigned Pro, walked onto the set. He eyed each of us up and down, turned to the camera with his back facing me, and said, “Daniel Bryan, come here.” I stepped forward.
The Miz started talking, but I could barely focus on what he was saying. I heard the words “Internet darling” and “a star in the minor leagues” and could only assume he was talking about me. He asked me if I thought I was ready, and ironically enough, my first word in WWE was “Yes.”
Miz continued, “One thing you have to learn in WWE is you have to expect anything. So right now, I want you to go to the ring and I want you to introduce yourself. Tell everybody exactly who you are. I want you to show personality. I want you to show charisma. I want you to give these people a reason to watch you every Tuesday night.” He rambled on for a little longer, then added, “Oh, and have a good catchphrase.”
During the ten years prior to my NXT debut, I had garnered a reputation for being a very skilled wrestler. But I had also garnered a reputation for not having a whole lot of charisma or verbal skills. My “character,” if you could call it that, was essentially just me, and I could be as understated or as over-the-top as I wanted to be. For the most part, if I had nothing to say or didn’t want to say anything, nobody could make me. Otherwise, since I lack a natural inclination for lighting up the microphone, if I was going to do an interview, I typically would ensure I had plenty of time to prepare.
Needless to say, having to do a live in-ring interview on no topic whatsoever with no time to prepare was not how I envisioned making my television debut. And I hated catchphrases.
It feels like an eternity walking to the ring in WWE when no one knows who you are. WWE fans tend to be very hard on people they don’t see as “stars,” and I could hear the groan when I came out to the Miz’s entrance music. In the ring, I did my best to stay confident, or at least appear that way. By the time the ring announcer handed me the microphone, I still had no idea what I was going to say. I ended up thanking the fans for being so accepting even though the Miz was my Pro, and I told them I wished my Pro had been my true mentor, William Regal. From there, I basically babbled on about NXT for another thirty seconds. Losing my train of thought and seeing the crowd lose their patience, I started to worry. Luckily, Miz’s music hit and out he came. Thank goodness. (Yes, I really said that.)
Miz immediately started ragging on me—well deservedly, I might add. He asked where my personality was; where was my charisma? We bantered back and forth until he finally asked me for a catchphrase. As soon as he asked, something I had just heard in my grappling class immediately came to mind. I told him if we were to ever step in the ring and fight, he would only have two options: He would either “tap or snap.” It wasn’t the best catchphrase in the world, and I actually couldn’t use it because someone owned the rights to it, but it was enough for me to get through the interview and get a decent reaction. In response, Miz slapped me in the face and left me standing in the ring to end the segment.
Not exactly a home run, more like a solid single. I knew I needed to keep working on talking, but I considered this a success, especially given I had no idea what was coming. And that’s one of the reasons NXT was the most unusual wrestling experience of my career: A huge part of it was unscripted, and none of the show’s Rookies knew what was going on. I didn’t know Miz was going to come out and save the interview, and I definitely didn’t know he was going to strike me at the end. Miz is self-admittedly not the toughest guy in the world, and much later on, he confessed to me that he was mildly concerned I was going to fight him for the slap.
The rest of the episode played to my strengths, and I wrestled Chris Jericho, who was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time, in the main event of the show. Chris is a true pro, and even though the match was only five minutes and I lost, he made me look like a star. After the match, Miz started beating me up, and again I had no idea he was going to do it. Neither did he, apparently, as the instruction was sent to him from the producers through the referee in the ring. Despite the confusion and the chaos, it had been a decent debut. Yet it all went downhill from there.