In 1988, the Honky Tonk Man lost the Intercontinental title to the Ultimate Warrior in 31 seconds. Honky Tonk would never reach that level of success in the WWE again, while the Ultimate Warrior was catapulted into the main event, winning the WWE title less than two years later.
In 2012, Daniel Bryan lost the World Heavyweight championship to Sheamus in 18 seconds.
But the rest of this story isn't a repeat of the Honky Tonk Man in 1988.
Instead, something completely different happened. The WWE audience seemed to band together, rejecting the idea that Daniel Bryan is some sort of throw-away talent, and voiced their discontent in the form of prolonged chants for the man born Brian Danielson.
Bryan had a different view on how fans would take his 18-second loss on April 1 at WrestleMania.
“I actually thought the people might enjoy [the quick match]," Bryan said in an interview Thursday. "It was something really different, [to start WrestleMania like that]. The whole situation is very unusual. I'm just happy that the people have gotten behind me. It's really incredible."
Leading the charge in terms of fan support are three letters -- something Bryan picked up from UFC fighter Diego Sanchez, who repeated the word on his way to the cage at UFC 95 -- “YES”. The WWE universe chants this word in unison when Daniel Bryan is on screen. They chant it when Daniel Bryan isn't on screen. When a villain attacks a hero with repeated strikes during a match, the chant becomes “NO.” When Mexican-born Alberto Del Rio appears, “YES” becomes “SI.” The chant has been heard outside of WWE events, in the MLB, NHL and NBA. The chant, like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin's “WHAT?” has transcended the superstar.
“It's one of those things that it's not necessarily specific to me, although I think it's in, like, relation to me kind of," Bryan said. "When we just came back from the European tour, people on the Raw side said that there were fans at the show chanting 'YES' even though I wasn't even on the show. I'm [not even] a Raw wrestler. So, it will be interesting to see where this whole thing goes.”
Daniel Bryan meets Sheamus at the WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view this Sunday, but their saga started even a year before WrestleMania 28. At the 27th WrestleMania in Atlanta, the pair were set to face off in a U.S. title match that was relegated to the pre show. Finally, in a 2-out-of-3 falls match this Sunday, fans might finally receive the match between the two they have been waiting for.
“Hopefully this [match] doesn't end in 36 seconds.” Bryan jokes. “I'm hoping that we can go out there and really steal the show. That's what I was aiming for at Wrestlemania, but it didn't actually happen, so hopefully it turns out this Sunday. Me and Sheamus are two of the hardest-hitting guys in WWE. And I don't think there's anybody that can put on a match like Sheamus and I can. So we're gonna go out there and beat each other up, and I think people are really gonna enjoy it. The crowd in Chicago should be rabid as well, so it should be a really fun show.”
As part of the push towards this rematch at Extreme Rules, Bryan appeared alongside WWE Hall of Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his famous “Piper's Pit” segment.
“Working with Roddy Piper was amazing because growing up, Roddy Piper was the man," Bryan said. "He was the first guy I remember thinking, 'This is the first cool bad guy.' Just to be on the Piper's Pit was awesome. And then to slap Roddy Piper in the face, I mean if you would have told me that 12 years ago when I started wrestling that I would be on Piper's Pit slapping Roddy Piper in the face, I would have never believed you. It was an incredible experience.”
While Bryan’s career skyrocketed in 2012, there was a time in 2010 when it all came to a halt. After being a part of the first season of NXT, Bryan became part of one of the more memorable moments in the WWE in 2010 when all NXT contestants banded together, forming a group known as the “Nexus,” to attack John Cena and dismantle Raw. In the segment, Bryan choked announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie. Eleven days later, Bryan was let go by WWE. While many may have seen that as the door closing on their career for good, the 12-year pro wrestling veteran didn't flinch.
“I honestly at the time wasn't worried about it," Bryan said. "It was a huge moment on WWE programming. Then they fire me for being what was reported on the internet for not being PG. As far as independent bookings go, there is nothing that can make me more marketable than that. [WWE] apologized and said they had sponsors they had to deal with and whatnot. And I said don't worry about me, I'm probably going to make more money this year than I did the last year when I was on NXT. I had people from Japan calling me, I had TNA people talking to me, not directly, but through other people. It was just a fascinating time for me in my career.”
As might be indicative in his offensive arsenal in the ring, Bryan is not only a fan of MMA, but also a practitioner. Bryan trains in MMA at Xtreme Couture near his home in Las Vegas. His roommate is Neil Melanson, who is the gym's head grappling trainer.
As it turns out, Bryan is now a colleague of a former UFC Heavyweight Champion returning to the WWE in Brock Lesnar, who meets John Cena in the main event in an Extreme Rules match Sunday. In recent vignettes leading up to the pay-per-view, Lesnar has said he will “legitimize” WWE, calling Cena “fake.” Bryan is intrigued.
“It will be interesting to see how Extreme Rules [performs] as far as pay-per-view buys to see if that part of it is really connected with the audience," Bryan said. "I know the reactions in the live crowd when Brock Lesnar has been there, it's been incredible. From a performer's standpoint, I'm very, very interested to see where it goes. It's peaked my interest.”
While Bryan originally sought training at Texas Wrestling Academy, led by Shawn Michaels and Rudy Gonzalez, Bryan credits William Regal as being instrumental in the development of his career. The pair had a match in 2011 on Superstars where, during Regal's entrance to the ring, his villainous/arrogant entrance music mysteriously switched to his old “Real Man's Man” campy tough-guy theme. Bryan insists with a chuckle he wasn't in on the rib.
“I did not have anything to do with that, nor did I know it was going to happen," Bryan said. "I was in the ring, and my entrance was first, and he comes in the ring and then they busted the 'Man's Man' music and he starts laughing, I start laughing. And William Regal is probably the most professional man you will ever meet. You don't see him crack much, and he's been in some really funny segments, where 99 percent of the people would crack, That got him. So that was pretty cool.”
Bryan has a Twitter account, @WWEDanielBryan. At one point, being inspired by Zack Ryder and his Z! True Long Island Story YouTube video series, Bryan attempted to create a splash on YouTube of his own. Admittedly, it's didn't really go as planned.
“[WWE was] on this big kick on us using social media and at the time I wasn't really doing anything on TV," Bryan said. "I just had a website built and my website lady said you should do a YouTube channel. The idea was that I would do mostly training videos, kind of like Dean Malenko, the way he was introduced to WCW, where he would go in there and show a hold each week and each week it would get more progressively more violent. I thought it was a cool principal. And then my idea also was to put it in funny music so at the end it would be kinda funny. But we did a couple of takes and it just wasn't very entertaining.”
In one tongue-in-cheek video, Bryan promised to “bury” fellow WWE Superstars. “I never ended up burying anybody,” Bryan admits with a laugh.
Bryan will face Sheamus in a 2-out-of-3 falls match for the World Heavyweight Championship this Sunday at WWE Extreme Rules. In the main event, Brock Lesnar meets John Cena in an Extreme Rules match, while Chris Jericho meets CM Punk for the WWE Championship in a Chicago Street Fight. The action begins at 7:30pm ET on WWE's YouTube channel, where a free pre-PPV U.S. title match between Santino Marella and the Miz will be shown.
Arda Ocal is an on-air personality for theScore Television Network. Watch his recent 1-on-1 video interviews with Roddy Piper, DDP, JJ Dillon, Rick Martel, Jimmy Hart and “Mean” Gene Okerlund here: