Bryan Lloyd Danielson (born May 22, 1981) is an American professional wrestler best known for his time in WWE under the ring name Daniel Bryan.
Bryan Lloyd Danielson was born on May 22, 1981, in Aberdeen, Washington, the son of a lumberjack and a therapist. His parents got divorced when he was young. During his childhood, Danielson was shown a professional wrestling magazine by a friend and has been a fan of wrestling ever since. He considered himself antisocial in high school but competed in sports such as American football.
Danielson began his professional wrestling career in 1999 on the independent circuit, and signed an 18-month contract with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE), in 2000; he later went onto make uncontracted appearances in WWE until 2003. Danielson then wrestled under the moniker American Dragon for New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) between 2001 and 2004, and won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Curry Man). He signed with Ring of Honor (ROH) in 2002, winning the ROH World Championship and ROH Pure Championship once each, and was the inaugural winner of the annual Survival of the Fittest tournament. During this time, Danielson also won several championships across worldwide independent circuits.
During his sophomore year of high school, Danielson decided to pursue a pro wrestling career and attempted to train at Dean Malenko's wrestling school in Florida. However, by the time he graduated from school in 1999, Malenko's school had closed down. Following a friend's suggestion, he instead began training under Rudy Gonzalez and veteran wrestler Shawn Michaels at the Texas Wrestling Academy (TWA) in San Antonio, Texas. After his wrestling debut in December 1999, Danielson toured Japan with Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) alongside Lance Cade, a fellow trainee from the TWA, and they competed in several tag team matches. He won the TWA Tag Team Championship with Spanky in March 2000, but they dropped the titles back to Jeremy Sage and Ruben Cruz two weeks later.
While touring the country's independent circuit, Danielson was signed to a developmental deal by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) to work in their developmental system and was assigned to Memphis Championship Wrestling (MCW), where he gained exposure and was trained by WWF competitor William Regal, whom he credited as being instrumental in the development of his career. During this time, he adopted his moniker of the "American Dragon". WWF severed its ties with MCW in 2001, but not before Danielson won the MCW Light Heavyweight Championship and the MCW Tag Team Championship with Spanky. After 18 months with the company, he was released from his WWF contract in July 2001. Danielson revealed in his 2015 autobiography that he was close to being called up to the main roster during the 2001 Royal Rumble match: he explained that the WWF thought of using him as one of their key figures in the newly created cruiserweight division, which was inspired by World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
In 2002, Danielson joined the independent promotion Ring of Honor (ROH), where he is acknowledged as a "Founding Father" of the company. On February 23, 2002 he competed in the main event of the company's debut event, The Era of Honor Begins, in a three-way match against Christopher Daniels and Low Ki, a match that Low ki won. One of his matches with Austin Aries, performed on August 7, 2004 at Testing the Limit, lasted seventy-four minutes before Aries was finally declared the victor. One of the more notable rivalries he had in the early years in the company was with Homicide, as the two fought numerous matches with a variety of stipulations, culminating in a steel cage match on May 13, 2005 at The Final Showdown, where Danielson was victorious.
In 2002, Danielson wrestled two matches for the renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) despite not being a contracted performer for the company. He was quickly defeated by both Sean O'Haire and Little Guido in his two appearances. He went on to make four additional non-contracted appearances for WWE in 2003 on its secondary shows, Velocity and Heat, initially as enhancement talent before being allowed to compete in longer matches; he wrestled Jamie Noble at a Velocity taping in January, Rico at a Heat taping in February, John Cena at a Velocity taping also in February, and made his final appearance in November in a tag team match against Paul London and Spanky at a Velocity taping, in which he was partnered with John Walters. This was his final appearance for the promotion for over five years.
Aside from competing primarily in ROH, Danielson has also competed in a multitude of other independent promotions, both in the United States and abroad. In 2003, Danielson also toured the United Kingdom for British promotion, All Star Wrestling (ASW). While he was in the United Kingdom, Danielson won the World Heavy Middleweight Championship on May 6 in an eight-man one-night tournament in Croydon defeating James Mason. He spent the next six months in the United Kingdom, working for ASW, Frontier Wrestling Alliance (FWA), the World Association of Wrestling (WAW) and Premier Promotions. He returned several times over the next five years, working for various promotions. In February 2005 at New Dawn Rising, Danielson made his debut in ROH's sister promotion, Full Impact Pro (FIP), teaming up with Rocky Romero in a match against Austin Aries and Homicide. The next night at Dangerous Intentions, Danielson competed in a losing effort against CM Punk, which led to a brief feud between the two. Danielson's biggest success came in 2006 by winning the FIP Heavyweight Championship, holding the belt for eleven months before losing it to Roderick Strong. Danielson wrestled his last match for FIP in December 2006 at Florida Rumble, where he lost to Erick Stevens.
In 2009, Danielson relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he began training in MMA at Randy Couture's Xtreme Couture gym. He was also roommates with Xtreme Couture's head grappling trainer, Neil Melanson. Additionally Danielson previously lived with former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida and fellow professional wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura while they trained at the NJPW Dojo in 2003.
Danielson also wrestled in the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) promotion. He made his debut in November 2003 at An Inch Longer Than Average in a losing effort to PWG Champion Frankie Kazarian. He continued to appear in PWG over the next couple of years, winning the PWG World Championship in 2007 and holding it for six months before taking an eleven-month hiatus from the company. He made his return to PWG at the 2008 Battle of Los Angeles tournament. In April 2009, at PWG: One Hundred, Danielson defeated Kenny Omega. The match was notable for its opening, which included Omega and Danielson performing variable tests of strength, including arm wrestling and a thumb war, before singing "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" along with the crowd. In May, he made another appearance teaming with Paul London, referring to himself as "American Dolphin" in a parodied manner. On September 4 at Guerre Sans Frontières during his last night in PWG, Danielson defeated Chris Hero to win the PWG World Championship for the second time and immediately vacated it afterward.
Despite winning the company's inaugural Survival of the Fittest tournament in 2004, Bryan did not win a ROH title. In 2005, Danielson explained in the company's newsletter, The ROH Newswire, that he had quit ROH after being frustrated by his inability to defeat Austin Aries for the ROH World Championship. It was later revealed Danielson had become frustrated in general with professional wrestling and planned to take some time off to evaluate his career options. However, Danielson had several dates booked in Europe and Japan, leading fans to believe that the periodical was likely a storyline claim for Danielson's absence during this period.
Danielson went to Japan after his release from the WWF, competing in Japan's premier promotion, New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), where he used his American Dragon persona and donned a red, white and blue mask reminiscent of a dragon. As a part of the junior heavyweight division, Danielson had success in both singles and tag team competition in the company, winning (without wearing a mask) the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Curry Man on March 12, 2004.
Danielson defeated James Gibson for the ROH World Championship at Glory by Honor IV on September 15, 2005. The rest of the year saw Danielson have successful title defenses even against wrestlers from other companies, such as Pro Wrestling Noah star Naomichi Marufuji at Final Battle on December 17.
Following his return from his injury in 2007, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) published a video of Danielson stating his intent to challenge for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, as the establishment that sanctioned the title at the time, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, was relinquishing the title back to the NWA. A tournament, titled Reclaiming the Glory, was held to determine the new champion with Danielson making his way to finals, scheduled to compete Brent Albright on September 1, but due to the eye injury he sustained at ROH's Manhattan Mayhem event, he withdrew from the tournament and instead acted as the referee of the match.
On May 11, 2007, Danielson returned to ROH at Reborn Again and defeated Shane Hagadorn and Adam Pearce in separate matches. On May 12, ROH filmed its first pay-per-view, Respect is Earned, which had Danielson team with ROH World Champion Takeshi Morishima against Nigel McGuinness and Kenta. Danielson's team won after Danielson made Kenta tap out to his signature submission hold, the Cattle Mutilation. Danielson vied to contend for the ROH World Championship by defeating McGuinness at Domination on June 9, which appeared on the company's next pay per view named Driven which took place on June 23, but was aired on September 21. This allowed him, now as a fan favorite, to challenge Morishima for the title at Manhattan Mayhem II on August 25 in a losing effort in which he also suffered a legitimate detached retina. Following surgery, he fought Morishima again in a match at Man Up on September 15, but the referee stopped the match since Danielson was unable to respond to him. In a rematch at Rising Above on December 29, Morishima was disqualified. Morishima returned to the company at Final Battle on December 27, 2008 in a match billed as a "Fight Without Honor" in which both men were allowed weapons and which Danielson won. Danielson commented in March 2012 on how he felt validated at Final Battle 2008, because he and Morishima managed to get 2,500 people to see the show in New York City.
Danielson became a vegan in 2009 after suffering from elevated liver enzymes and several staph infections. In 2012, he was awarded a Libby Award from PETA for being the Most Animal-Friendly Athlete. That same year, Mayor Micah Cawley of Yakima, Washington declared January 13 "Daniel Bryan Day". Later that year, Danielson explained that he was no longer a vegan due to his inability to find vegan food while traveling with WWE. He later elaborated that he had developed a soy intolerance and could not find enough non-soy vegan food, but he still keeps a mostly vegan diet on the road. In 2018, it was reported that both he and his wife are vegetarians. Danielson has stated that he has vitiligo.
Danielson was prominently featured in the Wrestling Road Diaries documentary, which was filmed in 2009 before he signed with WWE. In 2011, Danielson recorded a single with Kimya Dawson that was a tribute to wrestling legend "Captain" Lou Albano.
In 2009, Danielson again signed with WWE, but was fired for three months in 2010. Upon his return, he went onto win the WWE Championship four times, the World Heavyweight Championship once, and the United States Championship and the Intercontinental Championship once each. Danielson also won the WWE Tag Team Championship as part of Team Hell No (with Kane), and the SmackDown Tag Team Championship (with Erick Rowan), thereby becoming WWE's 26th Triple Crown Champion and 15th Grand Slam Champion. He also won the Money in the Bank ladder match in 2011, won Superstar of the Year at the 2013 Slammy Awards, and headlined several major WWE pay-per-view events, including their flagship event, WrestleMania, in 2014 and 2021.
In 2009, Danielson also signed a short-term contract with German wrestling promotion Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw). Shortly after his debut, Danielson won the wXw World Heavyweight Championship against Bad Bones and held it over a month before losing it to Absolute Andy.
In 2009, Danielson's contract with Ring of Honor expired, which opened up Danielson to travel to other companies more freely while competing in his home promotion.
As part of ROH's agreement with Pro Wrestling Noah, the company held a show in Japan named Tokyo Summit on September 14, where Danielson wrestled GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru and won the championship. Following his victory, NOAH allowed him to defend the title in Ring of Honor, with his first defense being at Glory By Honor VII on September 20, defeating Katsuhiko Nakajima. However, this was his only successful defense as he returned to Japan on October 13 to lose the title to Kenta. Following his loss, Danielson challenged McGuinness for the ROH World Championship at the next ROH pay-per-view Rising Above on November 22, in a losing effort. Ring of Honor made its national television debut with the program Ring of Honor Wrestling and Danielson made his television debut in the main event of its third episode on February 28, 2009 by defeating Austin Aries.
Danielson re-signed with WWE in August 2009. He made his debut on January 4, 2010 in a dark match prior to Raw, defeating Chavo Guerrero. He went to Florida to train with Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), the WWE developmental territory, to acclimate himself to his new work environment and work on his ring rust. He debuted at the FCW television tapings on January 14 and lost to Kaval. At the February 11 tapings, Danielson was renamed Daniel Bryan. He later indicated that he was given a list of ten possible ring names to use in WWE (including Buddy Peacock and Lloyd Bonaire) and Daniel Bryan was one of them while his real name was not on that list. His name was given by William Regal.
Danielson, as Daniel Bryan, has featured in 10 WWE games, starting with WWE '12 in 2011 to WWE 2K Battlegrounds, released in 2020. He was the alternate cover star of WWE 2K14, alongside Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He made his first video game appearance under his real name in WWE 2K19, which featured a showcase story mode based on his career in WWE.
In late 2010, The Bella Twins began competing for Bryan's affection, leading to them supporting him at ringside and competing in mixed tag team matches together. On the January 24, 2011 episode of Raw, it was revealed that Bryan had been secretly dating Gail Kim, who began accompanying him to ringside. On the March 14 episode of Raw, Bryan lost the United States Championship to Sheamus, ending his reign at 176 days. Bryan was originally scheduled to have his rematch against Sheamus for the United States Championship on the main card at WrestleMania XXVII on April 3, but the match was rescheduled as a dark lumberjack match that ended in a no contest when the lumberjacks fought among themselves to trigger the start of a battle royal, which he lost. Bryan lost his title rematch the next night on Raw, after which he was saved from Sheamus by the debuting Sin Cara.
In January 2012, Bryan successfully defended his title three times: the first occasion against Big Show when Bryan goaded Mark Henry into attacking him and causing a disqualification; the second occasion a no disqualification rematch with Big Show which ended abruptly after Big Show accidentally ran into AJ, hospitalizing her within the storyline for which Bryan blamed him; and the third occasion against Henry in a lumberjack match when Bryan provoked the lumberjacks to interfere and cause a no contest. This culminated in a triple threat steel cage match to exclude outside interference at the Royal Rumble on January 29, where Bryan escaped the cage after freeing himself from Big Show's grasp to retain the championship.
In October 2012, a social media campaign was started in an attempt to help Connor Michalek meet Danielson, his personal hero. Michalek was six years old at the time and suffered from cancer of the brain and spine. The campaign succeeded, with Danielson meeting Michalek at the Consol Energy Center in December 2012 and again in October 2013.
In 2013, Danielson recorded the voice for the character Daniel Bryrock in the animated film The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown!, which was released on March 10, 2015.
—David Shoemaker of Grantland, while declaring Bryan as the MVP for the WWE Midseason Awards in October 2013
On April 11, 2014, Danielson married WWE wrestler Brie Bella, with whom he had been in a relationship for nearly three years. On April 6, 2016, nearly two months after Danielson's retirement, Bella also semi-retired from wrestling in order to start a family with him. They have a daughter named Birdie Joe Danielson (born May 9, 2017). On August 1, 2020, Brie gave birth to their second child, a boy, named Buddy Dessert Danielson.
The Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter wrote: "Leading into WrestleMania 30, the Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H program was the top draw of Raw each week. Coming out of WM30, Bryan as new WWE World Hvt. champion has been solidified as a ratings draw". This trend continued until at least May 2014, when Bryan had to undergo neck surgery due his first of the two major injuries that would eventually force him to retire in February 2016.
Bryan told WWE management that he wished to be the "face of SmackDown" to increase the show's viewership. Bryan returned to the ring on the January 15, 2015 episode of SmackDown, with his opponent Kane being disqualified due to The Authority's interference and later that night Bryan won the six-man tag team main event. The next week on SmackDown, despite more interference by The Authority, Bryan defeated Kane in a no disqualification main event to keep his Royal Rumble match spot.
On the November 13 episode of SmackDown Live, Bryan defeated AJ Styles to win the WWE Championship for the fourth time following a low blow. After the match, he attacked Styles, turning heel for the first time since 2012. As a result of his title win, Bryan was removed from Team SmackDown at Survivor Series with Jeff Hardy taking his place on the team. Instead, he faced WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar in an interbrand champion vs. champion match, which he lost. Two days later on SmackDown Live, Bryan explained his actions, stating that he was following his dreams and that the fans were not with him during his recovery to return to the ring. He then christened himself as "The New" Daniel Bryan, and a rematch between Bryan and Styles for the title was scheduled for TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, where he successfully defended the title. At the Royal Rumble on January 27, 2019, Bryan successfully retained his title against Styles once again, this time following interference from the returning Rowan. On the January 29 episode of SmackDown Live, Bryan threw the standard title belt in a garbage can (bemoaning the fact it was made from leather) and introduced a new belt, made from "entirely sustainable materials". Bryan was then scheduled to defend his championship in an Elimination Chamber at the Elimination Chamber event on February 17, where he successfully retained the title by last eliminating Kofi Kingston. At Fastlane, Bryan was originally scheduled to defend his championship against Kingston, but after Mr. McMahon replaced Kingston, Bryan successfully retained the title in a triple-threat match against Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali. Bryan eventually defended the championship against Kingston at WrestleMania 35, where Bryan lost, ending his fifth world championship reign at 145 days. After WrestleMania, Bryan was briefly sidelined by an undisclosed injury, but was cleared to return to action on April 30. On May 6, Bryan competed on his first match on Raw since March 2015, where he lost to Kingston in a WrestleMania rematch, ending their feud.
—Bret Hart in March 2015
At that time, after more than two years of evaluations, reviews of his medical history and neurological and physical evaluations, Bryan was cleared by three external independent neurosurgeons, neurologists and concussion experts — in addition to Joseph Maroon — to return to WWE in-ring competition on March 20. On that day's SmackDown Live, Bryan thanked fans for their constant support and vowed to wrestle again. In his role as General Manager, he (kayfabe) fired Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn for attacking Shane McMahon the week before, resulting in Owens and Zayn attacking Bryan. In response, Bryan expressed regret over favoring them and scheduled a tag team match at WrestleMania 34 pitting himself and Shane against Owens and Zayn, with the latter being rehired if they win. At WrestleMania on April 8, Bryan and McMahon won after Bryan made Zayn submit in his first match since April 2015. As a result of being medically cleared, Bryan resigned as general manager.
On July 21, 2015, Danielson published an autobiography entitled Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania which was co-written by Craig Tello.
Danielson retired from professional wrestling in 2016 due to injuries arising from multiple concussions, which led to seizures and a brain lesion. He made non-wrestling appearances for WWE until being formally cleared by doctors to return to in-ring competition in 2018.
—Dave Meltzer in 2016, reflecting just after Bryan's retirement
On February 8, 2016, Bryan retired due to medical reasons. Later on that day's episode of Raw, broadcast from Bryan's home state of Washington, Bryan gave a retirement speech expressing his gratefulness for the happiness wrestling had brought him. The following day on ESPN, Bryan revealed that he suffered ten documented concussions while wrestling, but more might have been undocumented or misdiagnosed. He said a recent EEG reflex test revealed slowing and a small subacute or chronic lesion in his brain's temporoparietal region, which explained Bryan's post-concussion seizures and led to his retirement decision. Bryan had been cleared by a doctor for the Arizona Cardinals and passed a concussion test at UCLA with "flying colors", but WWE's head of medical Joseph Maroon refused to clear him. Journalist Dave Meltzer suggested that this may have been because of Maroon having been portrayed in a negative light in the film Concussion. Initially, Bryan requested his release from WWE and was looking to return to NJPW and ROH as well as work in Mexico for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), but the request was turned down by Vince McMahon. Bryan underwent a new test, where the lesion in his brain was discovered, after which he himself made the decision to retire. On Thank You Daniel, a WWE Network tribute to Bryan, he confirmed that he had been asked about working for WWE in a different capacity while comparing this to "a partner breaking up with you, getting married to someone else and then asking you to be best friends", expanding to say that he needed time to heal emotionally before he could agree to such an offer. During this period, WWE confirmed that Bryan would continue to appear for the company in a non in-ring role alongside his wife Brie Bella, who served as a WWE Ambassador following her retirement from in-ring competition on April 3 at WrestleMania 32. Recognized as a WWE Legend, Bryan co-hosted the WWE Network tournament Cruiserweight Classic alongside SmackDown commentator Mauro Ranallo in mid-2016.
While having the ROH World Championship, ROH faced the issue of having another title with seemingly equal value, the ROH Pure Championship. Danielson and the ROH Pure Champion Nigel McGuinness had a match to unify the titles. They met at April 29 in a match fought under pure wrestling rules and McGuinness left Danielson outside the ring after a chair shot to win by countout—this was enough to retain the Pure title, but not to win Danielson's World Championship. They had another unification match in McGuinness's native England; ROH decided that there had to be a winner, with a title changing hands by countout and disqualification and a draw forcing a restart. Danielson won the match on August 12 and retired the Pure title as its last champion (the title would be reinstated in 2020). During a match with Colt Cabana on August 26, Danielson suffered a real injury when he separated his shoulder, tearing two tendons in it and he tore another tendon in his chest. Danielson returned at Glory by Honor V: Night 2 on September 16 and was challenged by Kenta, a guest competitor from NOAH, due to the two companies' talent exchange agreement—Danielson again retained his championship. At Final Battle on December 23, Danielson's fifteen-month title reign finally ended after he lost to Homicide at his 39th defense and he subsequently took time off from wrestling in order to heal his shoulder.
On the November 8 episode of SmackDown, Bryan was attacked by Universal Champion "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt. In response, Bryan challenged Wyatt for the Universal Championship at Survivor Series, which Bryan lost. On the following SmackDown, after Wyatt challenged Bryan to another match, Bryan accepted the challenge and said that the Yes Movement is back. During the Yes chants, Wyatt appeared as The Fiend and attacked Bryan, ripping out his hair and beard. Bryan, sporting a clean shave and hair cut short, returned at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs to attack Wyatt. On the December 20 episode of SmackDown, Bryan defeated The Miz and King Corbin in a triple threat match to earn another Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble on January 26, 2020, but Bryan was again unsuccessful at the event.