From A "500" Fan To The "500" Man
DANIEL BRYAN TOPS THE LIST FOR THE FIRST TIME

TEXT BY STU SAKS

If someone were to ask Daniel Bryan what he’s doing with all his time off as he recovers from surgery, they should get ready for an earful.

Life in Arizona isn’t about sitting by the pool or feasting on nopalitos or submitting burglars with rear-naked chokeholds. He’s a busy man, spending the bulk of his waking hours doing the one thing athletes dread: physical therapy. In the condition Bryan’s in, PT is practically a full-time job.

Bryan underwent neck surgery in May to alleviate two compressions of the nerve, and the recovery didn’t go as well as he anticipated. The strength just wasn’t coming back to his right arm. It turns out he was left with a nerve conduction problem, and it was still not decided as this issue went to press whether or not he would require a second surgery to fix it.

If he does, it means a recovery time of at least another three months. “Sleeping in my own bed every night is pretty cool,” he said, “but I want to get back. If I do have to have a second surgery, I just want it to happen already.”

Aside from being able to flop onto that familiar Beautyrest every night, his current lifestyle is not what he signed on for: an hour of therapy in the morning, a one-hour drive to receive a specialized therapy for his nerve condition called Active Release Techniques, an hour drive home, and then another hour of traditional PT in the afternoon.

All things considered, Bryan would much rather be in the ring with Brock Lesnar.

“People tell me that you must be bored or enjoying your free time. Neither,” he said. “My whole day is filled with therapy, ART, more therapy, plus I'm writing my autobiography. By the time I'm done with all that, it's time for bed."

The best words to describe Daniel’s lifestyle at this point would be busy boredom. He has plenty to do, but none of it is particularly stimulating. When his bride, Brie Bella, is on the road (which is often), the only real company he keeps is with his French Bulldog, Josie. (We won’t even go into the laughable charges Stephanie McMahon conjured up about an affair with his physical therapist.)

Daniel has plenty of time to replay in his mind the events of the past year. He reached the zenith of his professional life (the WWE World heavyweight title) and experienced the pure joy of marrying the love of his life. But he also experienced the frustration of The Authority’s desperate attempts to prove he was not worthy of what he has actually accomplished, the sorrow of losing his dad, and finally the uncertainty of a career-threatening injury.

“It’s been quite a year,” said Bryan, “but the rollercoaster always goes up again. I just have to make sure I don’t fall out.”

The news that he was selected number-one in the 24th annual “PWI 500” didn’t exactly knock him out of his chair; with what he accomplished during the evaluation period of July 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014, it was expected. Still, the selection holds a special meaning for someone who, as a young man, considered this particular issue a must-read.

“I never had cable growing up, so I followed what was going on through the magazines and videotapes,” he said. “The ‘PWI 500’ issue was especially cool because you got to read about all the Japanese and Mexican wrestlers, plus wrestlers from the indy scene. I remember reading about guys like Reckless Youth and thinking, Who is this guy who I never saw on TV? Well, you'd read about them in the ‘500’ and when you got the tapes, you'd already know who they were."

Bryan first cracked the “500” at number 206 in 2001, a year after his pro debut. Just two years out of high school and having trained for a year under the watchful eyes of Shawn Michaels and Rudy Gonzalez at the Texas Wrestling Academy, Bryan quickly made tremendous strides as a professional. The recommendation of HBK and his success in the ECWA Super 8 Tournament, in which he lost to Low-Ki in the finals, convinced WWE that he was worthy of a developmental deal. The timing couldn’t have been worse. WWE severed ties with Memphis Championship Wrestling as one of its feeder groups and Bryan (then known as American Dragon) was out. Being that six other wrestlers were dumped at the same time, he had no reason to think he was being picked on.

That, of course, would change. WWE signed Bryan again in 2009, and that’s where the roller-coaster ride began. “Look,” he said, “I’ve always wrestled as if I had something to prove. The most important thing is that I’ve proved myself to the WWE Universe.”

Indeed he has. PWI readers voted Bryan four Achievement Awards (Match of the Year, Feud of the Year, Most Popular Wrestler of the Year, and Wrestler of the Year) for his accomplishments in 2013. His fans also stormed the ring during the March 10 episode of Raw, demanding that he get a title match at WrestleMania 30.

He had to work a little extra to get that title shot, beating Triple-H early at WrestleMania to earn his way into a three-way, along with fellow challenger Batista, for Randy Orton’s WWE World title. But fighting two men most of the way and then having to pull himself off a stretcher, he dug deep to prevail. It was an amazing highlight to an amazing year that was made even more amazing with his first number-one selection in the “PWI 500.”

“I just want to be able to thank everybody who has supported me along the way,” he said, “and the best way to do that is coming back strong and beating Brock Lesnar.”

After seeing what Lesnar did to three-time “500” winner John Cena at SummerSlam, we don’t think we’re going too far out on a limb by saying that if Bryan can come back and beat Lesnar, we’ll be calling to inform him that he’s earned the top spot in the “500” a second straight year.

 

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