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By Mike Johnson on 2023-09-29 13:29:00

Bryan Danielson, The American Dragon, returns to the ring this Saturday as part of AEW WrestleDream in Seattle, facing his UK counterpart Zack Sabre Jr. in what is certainly expected to live up to the hype as a dream match for diehard fans of technical wrestling.  Yesterday, Bryan sat down with to discuss the bout, reflect on what is planned to be the last full-time year of his career, his health, the pursuit and drive he has in the ring, Tony Khan and much more,

Mike Johnson:  It's Thursday, September 28th, 2023 as we're recording this, which means we are just about 48 hours or so away from the very first ever AEW WrestleDream pay-per-view taking place at the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington. The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to our guest who will be one half of the WrestleDream main event. And in the annals of professional wrestling history, there's all sorts of talk of who is the greatest scientific wrestler of all time, who had the best technical finesse, what feuds showed that sort of aspect of professional wrestling. And in the great tradition of Jack Brisco against Dory Funk Jr., Eddie Guerrero against Dean Malenko. This weekend, Zack Sabre Jr. comes into the United States to face our guest, the American Dragon, Bryan Danielson.   How are you?

Bryan Danielson: I feel great.

Mike Johnson: Just great. Nothing else. All right, awesome!

Bryan Danielson: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. [Both laugh]

Mike Johnson:  Many years ago, you were working for another wrestling company and you were going to headline a Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. And I interviewed you the day before and I said, "What's that pressure like?" And you said, "Ah, it's nothing compared to having to wrestle Roderick Strong at the end of a six-hour ring of honor pay-per-view when the fans in Chicago have seen everything there is to see." So let me bring up this question again. What is the pressure like going out there at the end of an AEW pay-per-view to wrestle Zack Sabre Jr.?

Bryan Danielson: Well, so I'm hoping we're not at the end of the pay-per-view. So that's my hope. I have joked but only half joking with Tony Khan. I was like, "I never wanted a main event, another AEW pay-per-view ever again." Right? And this is a positive for AEW. The AEW pay-per-views are outstanding, right? And it is hard for me as a 42-year-old still trying to do this professional wrestling thing to match, say for example, the physicality of something like the Kenny Omega-Will Ospreay match before.  So when I wrestled Okada, we had to follow that match and it's in Canada with Kenny Omega and it's like oh my gosh. And at the end of a very long show, that's a tough ask. And so I was very grateful that me and Ricky Starks were in the middle of all out for our Strap Match. And that's why I was so odd by Jon Moxley and Orange Cassidy from All Out is because being the last match on an AEW pay-per-view is tough. It's a tough, tough thing, and they did a fantastic job. So yeah. I've been trying to convince Tony this whole time that me and Zack should not be in the main event.

Mike Johnson: You may be the first professional wrestler to politic to open the show. [Laughs]

Bryan Danielson: Well, so actually, that's not true anymore. I mean now, so many wrestlers who know that they're not in the main event per se are politicking to go on first because that's the best spot on the show, right? You go out there first, you're the first match, people haven't seen too much. But even with AEW, the buy-ins for the shows, the Zero Hour, those also have great matches on them. You know what I mean? So it's just one of those things. But yeah, everybody now is jockeying to go on early.

Mike Johnson: When you were sidelined by WWE, I referred to you at the time as America's last great starving artist professional wrestler because you've always had this drive to have these incredible in-ring performances, whether it be in WWE or even in Memphis back in the day or in Ring of Honor obviously.  As you get older and your body is hurting and you look towards the end, do you still feel that drive to make sure that you have the best match on the show, or is it just an impossibility because of the sheer amount of great performers that there are now? Because the level of talent out there is not what it was in 2002 when you walked into the Murphy Rec Center for the first time and put Ring of Honor on the map. The world has changed. How hard is your... Obviously, you want to have a great match and you want to make the fans happy, but how much do you still feel that drive to go out there and I guess steal the show would be the statement but maybe not steal the show because people are kind of waiting for you to do so. How do you equate your drive to go out and perform now versus almost 20 years ago when you were one of those talents who were, as I said, a starving artist?

Bryan Danielson: So I think the drive comes in not in being the best match on the show. So for example, in Ring of Honor it was really hard because I wanted to be the best match on the show or at least one of the best matches on the show because a lot of times when I was the champion, I was main eventing those shows and those were long shows. And the last thing that I think you want to do is send the crowd home after a great show and then compared to everything else like, "Oh, that main event was okay," right? So part of that is business-driven because in Ring of Honor we were constantly struggling to survive, right? And so now, I don't have any drive whatsoever to have the best match on the show. I'm not even concerned about that. What I'm concerned about is having the best match I can have within the realm of the responsibility of what my match is on the show, right? And I know that there's a lot to unpack in that statement but it's like, okay, if I am in a technical wrestling match with Zack Sabre Jr, I don't know that we should be doing DDTs on the concrete, right? Will that make our match better? I don't know. Maybe it could but I don't know if that's taking away from what other people need to do for their particular match on the show. So those are a lot of the things that I think of. I'm thinking of not only just my match but the overall card, how everybody's matches are going to be perceived up and down the card. And that's just kind of how I look at it. My drive is always about how to put on the best performance that I can, right, and bring out the best in my opponent as well.

Interview continues on Page 2.

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