SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA // Four-time WWE world champion Daniel Bryan is out to win the Intercontinental championship for the first time in his career at WrestleMania 31 on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Graham Caygill hears from the American on his recovery from a neck injury that ended his last world title reign early and sidelined him for six months, the importance of the Intercontinental champion, and a possible match with Brock Lesnar.
On health concerns in competing in a ladder match so soon after returning from six months out injured
“It is interesting as this entire process of me coming back has been a testing of my neck. So OK, I am going to do this, now I am going to do a little more, and push a little more. I think the WWE is concerned about how far I am going to push it. Even Shawn Michaels spoke to me yesterday and said: “You know, this ladder match, you know there are more important things than that”. But I worry about that like any time I step in the ring now as far as, how is it going to hold up? It is not really worrying, it is testing it. I have taken German suplexes on my head now since I came back and you know what? It hurt like a normal German suplex getting knocked on your head. It did not hurt any worse than that, so I am pretty confident for Sunday.”
On the lowest point of his rehabilitation period
“It was a mix of so many things. There was a point about five months in when nothing was getting better and then they said they we may need to give you elbow surgery. I was like ‘OK, great that is a problem that is solvable, we need to do this elbow thing’.
“But then another doctor said wait, let’s do this other thing and test to see if you actually need it. Then that doctor said this elbow surgery is not going to help you. This is not going to help you, the problem is still with your neck.
“It was frustrating because now we are looking at we don’t have a solution and one person told me, one of my physical therapists, that the nerve heals at about an inch per month. And when you think of the nerve healing at an inch a month going all the way from your neck all the way down to your arm, that is a lot of months, if it comes back at all.
“Essentially what I had done is I had hurt my neck in a match with Randy Orton in the summer of 2013 and I wrestled with it for a very long time, knowing at some point I would need surgery but trying to wait until the absolute last second.
“WWE was actually the one that forced me because it was just pain going down my arm for a long time. My wife [Brie Bella] and I do not have automatic locks, so I went to unlock the car door and I couldn’t because I was so weak and that was when they [the WWE] were like ‘you can’t do this, you need to get surgery.’”
On the consequences of Sunday’s seven-man ladder match for the Intercontinental title
“My fear in losing is getting lost in the shuffle, which happens all the time in the WWE and that is the worst place you can be in – lost in the shuffle and not having very much to do and that sort of thing.
“Winning, I see a huge upside in winning. When I came back, one of my goals was to win the Intercontinental championship. It is the only title I have not won since I have been in the WWE, obviously other than the Divas title, but also to make the Intercontinental championship something that can main event other shows.
“One of my friends is Shinsuke Nakamura, who wrestles for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and we used to room together. He did that with their Intercontinental championship to where at this last Tokyo show the Intercontinental championship main evented over their Heavyweight championship, which if I win the Intercontinental championship that would be my goal. I want people to be more excited to see what I am doing with the Intercontinental title than anything that is going on with the Heavyweight title.”
On a possible match with Brock Lesnar for the Intercontinental title in the future
“It is interesting as I am not sure that Brock Lesnar wants to fight for the Intercontinental championship at the moment. But for him to want to fight for the Intercontinental championship against me in the future, then I would have to consider that a huge success. If Brock Lesnar, who most of the time does not want to be on Raw and does not want to be on most of the pay-per-views, if he wants to fight for the Intercontinental championship, then that would be a huge success.”
On the idea of unifying the Intercontinental and United States titles in the future
“If you were to make my ideal situation, I would like to keep them separate and treat the Intercontinental championship as a world championship. The way they had it before, where they had the WWE championship and the World Heavyweight championship, but then they combined those two.
“Now there are these two main stories. So you would have a main story with the WWE World Heavyweight championship and a main story with the Intercontinental championship. Because if things were as they are now, with all the focus only on one title, then I would never have got the opportunity to be in a main event spot. Because if they didn’t have the World Heavyweight championship in 2011 when I first won it, I would never have got the opportunity to be in a main event position and in a position to main event Smackdown and all that kind of stuff because it was a good testing ground.
“OK, can this guy get over? Can this guy get popular? All that stuff before they put me on Raw and in bigger spots. I think that is needed because there are a lot of guys, if there is only one main title, then there are lot of guys who are not even going to be given the opportunity to be put in main event spots.”
On the Intercontinental champions of recent times losing non-title matches regularly
“I don’t want to say it has become a joke, but it is like when you win the Intercontinental title belt that is the end of you winning, right? I personally don’t like it, but I think differently on a lot of things.
“To me, it is something where I’d like the Intercontinental champion to be strong. I would like our US champion to be strong. I would like our tag-team champions to be strong. I think Cesaro and Tyson Kidd [the current tag-team champions] are a phenomenal tag team, and if you present them as a phenomenal tag team like they are then it will be awesome.
“But on the flip side, some of that stuff may sound negative as to the job the WWE are doing, but then you look at the job they have done in building Rusev [the reigning United States champion]. He has only been in the WWE a year and you look at how strong he has been presented, how strong Roman Reigns has been presented. Seth Rollins is now in one of the biggest matches of WrestleMania. Bray Wyatt has been in one of the biggest matches in WrestleMania two years in a row.
“The WWE have done a good job of building young stars within the last year. But now we need to build even more stars. I would love it if, for example, next year they said we are not bringing any guys from the past or anything like that, it is going to be all full-time guys and for the next year we have to build those guys on our television. And you would see guys like Cesaro and Tyson Kidd do what they do, and you would see guys being brought up from NXT who are just unbelievable. So when you had a special addition, someone who was added to the show, a Sting or someone like that, it would be extra special. That is what i’d like to see.”
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