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

Mike Johnson: The show WrestleDream this weekend is to celebrate the life and times of Antonio Inoki. You were part of the old Inoki Dojo out in Los Angeles. What are your memories of Inoki in that time period and what he brought to not just your career but everyone?

Bryan Danielson: So it's really crazy because interesting to see in a parallel universe what would happen if I never went to the Inoki Dojo. But I had started making a name for myself and Ring of Honor had just kind of started, right, in 2002. But in going to the Inoki Dojo, I was the first person to kind of go there who lived at the Inoki Dojo. I didn't have the money to... Because it was in Santa Monica. I didn't have the finances to rent a place in LA. And so I was like, "Hey, I'd really like to train at the dojo. Can I just sleep on the floor?" And it's not like the new Japan dojo in Japan where they have little rooms and all that. They have bedrooms and all that kind of stuff. There wasn't that. I was just sleeping on the mat, right?  And so they were open and accepting of me and allowed me to do that. And so it would be like... Antonio Inoki would sometimes be in there and you'd see just his take on wrestling and that sort of thing. And one of the things that he did was in our first Tokyo Dome match, it was actually... This was in 2002 and it was the night before the actual real Tokyo Dome show. And we're wrestling. It's me, Rocky Romero, and I think Ricky Reyes. We were in the six-man tag against Jushin Liger and two other people, maybe Tiger Mask and one other person. And so we are by far... These guys are the veterans, yada, yada, yada. And we go out there and we have a very good, fine professional wrestling match. And when we got to the back when we got to our hotel room, Inoki had our trainer at the time, Justin McCauley slap us all on the face to inspire us to do better because I understand that those people are your seniors and that you have to listen to them.  But my thing with pro wrestling is don't just do what everybody else is doing. Do what you know should do or do what you think is best or do what's going to push pro wrestling to the next level. And that's just kind of an idealism that I've taken with me throughout my entire professional wrestling career. And so that's what he's meant to me personally. I have some funny stories but I'm probably not going to share them. But he's just an incredible, unique pro wrestling figure who was really a dreamer, right? The shows that he put on in North Korea. What he thought you could accomplish through pro wrestling is grander than what pretty much anybody else in professional wrestling has ever thought.

Mike Johnson:  Tony Khan's a pretty grand dreamer as well. I wanted to get what was your knee-jerk reaction when you heard that he had stated publicly that if God forbid something ever happened to him and he was incapacitated, his father was to go to you to run AEW.

Bryan Danielson: It was really funny. He actually told me that he had said that to his dad maybe... Yeah. Or maybe he had told me that he said it in an interview. And I was a little bit blown away because I was like, "Oh, I'm just kind of hanging out." I mean, I love doing my thing and I help people and all that kind of stuff. And Tony and I would have good conversations or whatever, but I wasn't really that helpful. I was like, "Oh, okay." And then he asked me like, yeah.  He asked me to talk to a couple of the lawyers within AEW and start being like, "Okay, we'd like you to try to do this or try to do that or try to do these other things." Because, heaven forbid, something does happen to Tony, there's nobody else who even understands a fraction of how AEW works the way that Tony does, right? And so I think that was... It was really interesting and a little bit jarring for me when he said it but also that makes you feel respected, that makes you feel good about yourself when your boss thinks that about you.

Mike Johnson: You've had so many conversations with Vince McMahon over the years and others who have run companies, Gabe Sapolsky. When you think about the wrestling mind and just the vision of someone laying out their battle plans, how do you compare Tony to conversations you've had with others that have been in the industry who have obviously made their own way and their own waves?

Bryan Danielson: So I think from a purely wrestling booking standpoint, Tony might be the smartest wrestling mind I've ever seen. And what I mean by that is his... So he does most of the rest of AEW's booking on his own, right? He'll reach out to talent to get their feedback or their ideas or whatever it is and sometimes he'll run ideas by me. But most of these things that are coming across on this show, most of these are Tony's ideas, right, versus the time I was in WWE, you have a crew of 30 writers coming up with ideas who are then pitching them to say Vince or whatever it is and then he gets to pick and choose or come up with his own idea, right? It's different than facing the blank page. Now Gabe Sapolsky was a little bit different, right? I don't know how many shows we would do a year at Ring of Honor, but say we did 40 shows a year at Ring of Honor, doing 42 DVD products a year is different from doing five hours of television every week and doing it mostly on your own.  The idea that he's still doing that and doing it mostly on his own with input from other people, I mean, hey, nobody exists in a vacuum, right? But it's the most incredible thing I've ever seen in the sense of his recall. His recall and his memory is incredible for the things that we've done on the show, nothing... I don't want to say nothing. Very few things get forgotten. You know what I mean? And his ability to recall those things is really impressive. And obviously, and this is one of the things that I think me and so many other people in AEW love about Tony is that it's very apparent how much he loves pro wrestling. Still after now coming up on four years of running this wild, crazy pro wrestling show, he loves wrestling still.

Mike Johnson: Moving back over to Zack Sabre Jr. When you look at that match, you obviously have been in the ring with him before but it's been a long time. What sort of goals do you walk into when you have an athlete who can meet or exceed your own personal hype and your own expectations in terms of physicality? You talked about hope you're not in the main event at the end of a four or five-hour show but just bell to bell, talent to talent, what are your expectations when you have someone that you know can go at the level that fans expect of Bryan Danielson?

Bryan Danielson: Yeah. So I mean, one of the things, I have questions about myself and I have questions about him, right? So one of the things that I've relied on a lot in the last 14 plus years since we've wrestled is I rely a lot on my striking type stuff, right? And especially since, I don't know, the last several years, he's increased his reliance on heavy striking as far as the kicks and the upper cuts and all that kind of stuff. But I haven't done a lot of just purely mat-based stuff in a long time. And can I keep up with the guy who has really revolutionized technical wrestling for the modern era? And, yeah. So that's more of a question for myself. And then from a question of Zack Sabre Jr., I know you think like, "Okay, he wrestles in Japan, so obviously he can handle the physicality," but can he particularly handle my style of physicality? Because sometimes it gets a little intense out there and sometimes people take a step back when that happens and sometimes they take a step forward, and I like it when people take a step forward.

Mike Johnson: So let's talk about step forward and step back. Obviously, you had gotten injured. You broke your arm in the Okada match. There are a large segment of fans out there who have taken a very deep emotional investment in you and they've seen you go through a lot personally and professionally. What do you say to the fans who worry about you working as hard as you do given the concussion history and given injuries in the past? Obviously, you're not going to give away all the tricks of the trade or as you say in some of the scrums, you're a magician, you're not going to give away all the tricks. But what do you say to the audience that is concerned about Bryan Danielson given all the things that you have gone through on a physical level?

Bryan Danielson: Yeah. Well, I would like to let them know that I am also concerned and I do my best to keep myself safe. And I also do a lot of the other things that I keep brain safe in general that a lot of other people aren't doing or wouldn't think to do or don't do the research to do or that sort of thing. And that's across all levels of sports and people who have had concussions and that sort of thing. I think there's a lot of developing science around healing of brain injuries and that sort of thing. And there's things that you can do, but also that's one of the reasons why this is my last full-time year wrestling, right? This is not something...because right now, we're in this golden age for professional wrestlers where wrestlers make more now than at any point in wrestling history, right? The average TV wrestler in the United States makes more money than the average TV wrestler at any other time point in history in North America. So it would be very easy for me to be like, "Okay, this is not my last full-time year. I could sign another contract, make more money and do some more stuff."  But, that's not where my headspace is at. My headspace is at, okay, I've had a wonderful career and I want this last year to be incredible, but I also am keeping in mind that I have a life to live after wrestling. I have kids to take care of after wrestling, and I want to be able to play with my son and do sports with him and teach him how to throw a baseball and all those kinds of things. And I also think of, okay, when I first tested my dad, I was 15 years old. If my son tests me when he's 15, I'm going to be like 55 years old and I got to be healthy. I got to be spry. If he tries to double leg me, I got to be able to sprawl. So it's keeping the mental and physical capacities available and that's one of the reasons why I've chosen this year to be my last full-time year.

Interview concludes on Page 3.

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