Daniel Bryan returns tonight to SmackDown Live to reprise his role as General Manager and co-host of Talking Smack on the WWE Network. However, the role most people would prefer to see Bryan in is back inside the ring as the premiere talent on SmackDown.
“I’m working on it,” said Bryan. “Wrestling is more of a creative outlet, and especially for somebody like me, I view it as my creative outlet. Not all WWE superstars and not all wrestlers view it that way, but that’s how I view it and that’s one of the ways my mind works creatively.”
Bryan officially retired in 2016 and shortly after became the first-ever GM of SmackDown Live. He brought a measure of authenticity to the show in his new role, and adds a tremendous amount of insight alongside the talented Renee Young on Talking Smack, which airs every Tuesday after 205 Live on the Network. Yet he has been unable–and perhaps unwilling–to replace the creative rush that fills his veins when visions of pro wrestling fill his head.
“I always think of it in terms of music,” said Bryan. “You’re not always going to be a huge rock star in music, but musicians can play until the day they die. With sports, it’s different. You can’t always do it until the very end, and that’s a hard reality of sports. The blessings wrestling has given me have allowed me to find some new passions, but it’s really hard when you’ve got that first love and nothing really replaces it.”
Bryan is returning to SmackDown Live after his paternity leave. He and his wife, Brie Bella, welcomed their daughter, Birdie Joe, this past May, and Bryan celebrated his first-ever Father’s Day this past Sunday.
“Father’s Day was just a normal day, but our normal days are very nice, so I can’t complain,” said Bryan. “My wife and I are very blessed. I am very grateful for the life that we lead. WWE has been great about giving me paternity leave, and Brie and I are very fortunate that we’re both home to raise this baby.”
The SmackDown roster also delivered a successful Money in the Bank pay per view this past Sunday. Bryan made a lasting mark upon Money in the Bank in 2012 when he and CM Punk combined to wrestle a sublime 27-minute encounter. Bryan remains forever intertwined with CM Punk, but noted chances for the two to speak are, at best, rare.
“I haven’t talked to Punk since I texted him when he came on the UFC show in a suit and said he was going to fight in the UFC,” said Bryan. “I just texted him and said, ‘Hey man, I just saw that and think it’s awesome. I hope you do great.’ Punk texted back, ‘Thanks.’ That’s the last I’ve heard from him.
“I’ve always respected and appreciated Punk, but we never really hung out. We came from the same route, but we didn’t necessarily hang out in the same circles. I’ve always had a great appreciation and respect for his hard work.”
Another former rival of Bryan’s is The Miz, and the two have shared some tense moments on Talking Smack. The Miz completely eschewed the journey through the independent wrestling scene, parlaying his reality television notoriety into a very successful career in WWE. Despite traveling an entirely different path, Bryan noted that he does respect The Miz.
“I never once doubted how hard Miz works,” said Bryan. “I don’t think people need to take my route to have success in pro wrestling. My wife didn’t go through the indies, but she still worked very hard and was passionate about what she did. I don’t think there is a certain route you need to take. Like most of the WWE superstars, Miz is on the road 200-plus days a year, and he does a lot more media than a lot of the other guys, so he’s working all the time.
“My critiques of him have always been, ‘Hey, I would do this differently.’ We just have different views on wrestling. He wants to live in LA in a million dollar mansion, and I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. My wife and I live in an under 1,400 square foot house and we really enjoy that. It’s different takes on different styles of living, but I respect every WWE superstar. Everybody puts a lot on the line. We’re all gone from our families a lot, and wrestling takes a toll on our bodies, regardless of the style you wrestle.”
A highlight to Bryan’s tenure as GM on SmackDown Live has been working with Shane McMahon.
“I really hadn’t worked with Shane before, but one of the things I love about him is he has a very positive attitude towards everything,” said Bryan. “He’s a positive person to work for. For example, there was a shot we did backstage, and the camera guy was new and didn’t quite understand what Shane wanted on a live shot, but Shane spoke to him in a positive way. He doesn’t demean people and he’s always about lifting people up.”
Bryan also noted that McMahon has offered him valuable advice on parenting.
“Shane has three boys, and he is so proud to be a father,” said Bryan. “He talked to me a lot about how the most important thing as a father is to treat your wife the best you possibly can. Brie is taking care of the baby because I can’t breastfeed, so what can I do to take care of Brie? Shane offers these really positive life lessons and he’s been through the experiences. I see him do that with so much of the talent we have at WWE.”
An integral piece of Bryan’s appeal is his honesty. When he dislikes a segment of WWE programming, he is willing to speak his beliefs. Bryan admitted that this past April’s “Superstar Shake-Up”, which restructured the rosters for Raw and SmackDown, could have been executed in a more realistic fashion.
“I always think more depth is better, especially when you have the opportunity to explain something,” said Bryan. “For example, the Seahawks are my football team. If they, for some reason, traded Russell Wilson, I would want to know why. Another example is Marshawn Lynch, who got traded to the Oakland Raiders. He wants to go to Oakland because that’s where he is from and he wants to do good in the community. We’re very grateful for Marshawn Lynch, and we were given a good explanation as to why he was traded to the Oakland Raiders.”
Unlike the WWE roster draft that was held last July, which was presented in a legitimate and compelling fashion, the Superstar Shake-Up restructured the rosters with little to no explanation, and did not include any negotiation from Bryan and Raw GM Kurt Angle.
“The more depth you can give to those types of processes, the more invested fans become,” said Bryan. “I also know that things happen and this is a moving train. Sometimes things happen above my pay grade. I would have liked to explain the moves more on Talking Smack, but I believe the quality of SmackDown Live is really high.”
Bryan was asked which talents from NXT would be the best fits on SmackDown Live.
“There are so many talented people in NXT, and I hate to single out any specific person because that alienates a whole group of people,” said Bryan. “I think the vignettes they’ve done with Roderick Strong have brought his personality to the forefront. I’ve known Roderick Strong for years, and as much as I would love to have him on SmackDown, I would like to take these ideas and use them for the people we already have who are already super talented.
“American Alpha is a great example of that, and the Colons, who were on the pre-show match on Sunday night. We have so many outstanding talents, and we need to do a better job of helping people relate to them. There always needs to be an infusion of new talent, always. That’s the cycle of wrestling. There also needs to be new talent to be excited about, and an example is Sami Zayn. I really wanted Sami Zayn to go from Raw to SmackDown, and I would like to use him better on SmackDown Live.”
Bryan’s presence on WWE television always enhances the product, and this week’s SmackDown Live will include the return of a certain effervescent charm found from the man in a flannel shirt and beard.
“If you traditionally just watch Raw and only sometimes tune into SmackDown, I think you should turn that around,” said Bryan. “You never know what is going to happen on Talking Smack, where we shoot from the hip, and SmackDown is a much more fun show, especially when Shane and I are involved.”