Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Yes! Daniel Bryan’s pro wrestling memoir is worth a read

Photo: St. Martin's Press

Daniel Bryan is known by wrestling fans around the globe as World Wrestling Entertainment’s ultimate underdog: a superstar of independent wrestling who struggled to gain his footing in television’s land of giants, only to overcome the odds with a fan base that helped propel him to the 2014 main event of the sports entertainment organization’s biggest annual event, WrestleMania.

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But the man who started as Bryan Danielson is also known for—and admits to—being something of a bland personality. Fans love his technical style, and he has always prided himself on working hard, which has endeared him to hardcore professional wrestling fans. But a good portion of the business involves cutting promos and “getting over” as a character, and Bryan will never be one of the greatest showmen on a microphone.

That, however, is part of what made his journey to WrestleMania such an interesting and unusual rise. Bryan did not have to speak much for himself; the fans did it for him. In the midst of a fictional story based on some real-world perceptions, Bryan squared off against The Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon), who thought a guy like him could never amount to more than a “B+ player.” Both fictionally and as a real-life performer, he proved everyone wrong.

His memoir focuses on that moment in his career, with help from Craig Tello, WWE’s vice president of digital content. Each of its 27 chapters starts with a blurb from the perspective of Tello, who shadows and interviews Bryan in the week leading up to and on the day of that fateful event.

The rest comes from the first-person perspective of Bryan, who goes back to his childhood to tell the story of how he not only became a professional wrestler but ended up as one of WWE’s top guys. At times—especially early in the game—that jump from the narrative Tello is trying to spin to Bryan’s personal stories can be a strange tonal shift. But it hits its stride around the notably longer third chapter, finding a better pace and ultimately getting to what fans want to learn about Bryan. And the end is actually pretty cool, when Bryan’s backstory ultimately catches up with the “present”-day events Tello chronicles.

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Bryan does not drink with the guys, spent time being a vegan, and (outside of wrestling) his biggest passions are ecological (he calls it “hippie”) issues. There are no real stories of debauchery like the ones found in memoirs of wrestlers of a different era. But Bryan makes up for it with something else: the fascinating story of a wrestler who made it to the top despite lacking any apparent drive to get himself there. It came to him out of respect from fans and colleagues, and the book offers a close look at how that happened. While Bryan may not ever have a conquer-the-world mentality, there’s no questioning the work he puts in or his passion for the craft by the end of Yes.

Along with his career arc, Bryan offers a well-woven blend of behind-the-scenes views at the world of pro wrestling and road stories, the latter of which are peppered with a noticeable degree of finesse. There are also a few surprises, like how Bryan might have scammed his way out of high school and how he actually has a lot of respect for The Miz. He explains the origins of things like his signature LeBell/Yes! Lock submission move and rags on the original NXT arc for its stupidity. There is an attention to detail, as with a chronicle of Bryan’s signing up for a gym. And he gives some killer insight into a series of Vince McMahon’s “promo classes.”

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Yes also serves as an interesting example of a shift in generations of wrestlers, from the hard-drinking, hard-nosed guys of the 1980s to the socially conscious new guys who are more likely to be found having a cookie-eating contest in the lobby of a hotel than getting drunk. With that, though, Bryan also makes sure to pay respect to the likes of Shawn Michaels and William Regal, who both inspired and mentored him. With the mentions of other wrestling memoirs, Yes sometimes has that delightful feel of liner notes (from the age of compact discs), paying tribute to the influences of the artist and in turn encouraging younger fans to delve deeper to discover those old greats on their own.

Sure, Bryan may be one of the least charismatic wrestlers to main event a WrestleMania, but there is a reason people love the guy. Yes depicts a persistence of style, a focus, and a commitment while recognizing his shortcomings. He would rather be the “starving artist”—a great wrestler—than untrue to himself in finding monetary success. Fans respect that. And fans speak with their money—and in WWE, with their voices as well. That’s why even if Bryan sometimes uses “ironically” when he really probably means “coincidentally”—and Yes has a few typos as it nears the finish line—his story is much better than that of “B+ player.”

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