Ever since Mick Foley hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list with his autobiography, Have A Nice Day, it has been de rigueur for popular professional wrestlers to tell their life stories in print.
These range from the excellent, the aforementioned Foley book and Ric Flair’s To Be The Man to the reputedly garbage, Chyna’s If They Only Knew, and now former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan (aka ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson) has added his to the mix in the form of Yes! My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of Wrestlemania (a companion to a recent DVD box set).
The most noticeable thing about this particular autobiography is its format. While a majority of it is Bryan (I’ll go with his WWE name as it’s a WWE book) telling us his story, each chapter starts with a section from WWE.com writer Craig Tello focusing on the days leading up to Wrestlemania 30, undeniably the protagonist’s biggest moment in ‘sports entertainment’.
Tello’s sections have a few interesting moments, particularly in relation to Bryan’s training (focusing on legit kickboxing and MMA based work) and his attempts to maintain a near vegan diet, though they often veer into somewhat ‘celebrity’ territory which isn’t so much where my interest lies.
Bryan’s sections however are far more interesting. Tracking his life from school in Aberdeen, Washington (the same town that gave us Kurt Cobain, fact fans) through his early interest in pro-wrestling to training, his run as ‘King of the Indies’ and on to becoming a WWE ‘Superstar’.
Throughout his story the already modest and likeable wrestler comes across even more so and it is clear that from a young age he was a genuine and huge fan of pro-wrestling. He tells of taking in everything he could from the monsters of the then WWF to the early technical and cruiserweight style performers that gave him his real inspiration.
As a fan of wrestling seeing this side of Bryan and hearing his insight into the wrestling I grew up watching is genuinely fascinating, as is seeing his love grow into his journey into the industry as he clearly shared many of the same thoughts as me (and no doubt many others).
As the book goes on we get an insight into his training and his time wrestling on the ‘indies’ travelling from Texas and California to Japan, England and Germany and each brings out some fascinating and entertaining stories. While a lot of these stories are similar to ones told by Chris Jericho in his book, Bryan gives us a very different perspective on them that feels much more down to earth.
Across all of this Bryan isn’t afraid to discuss wrestling as the entertainment it is, which gives another interesting angle on things as he speaks about it from both an athletic context (and with a hard-hitting, intense, style like Bryan’s athleticism is key) but also the pre-determined elements. Most interesting in this regard is a short section talking about his rivalry with Nigel McGuinness and the problem with concussions that continue to affect both men and a section about performing at British holiday camps.
As we get up to his WWE run Bryan isn’t afraid to address some of the issues he’s had and reflect on how their translation onto TV is one of the things that elevated him to the level of appearing in the main event of Wrestlemania.
Alongside this his stories of some of his fellow performers have given me a new respect for some of them that has rarely come across on TV and, in the case of William Regal, has just increased my respect and appreciation for his work.
The book ends, as the title suggests with the events around Wrestlemania 30 which, a year and a bit on, leaves a bit of a bitter after taste due to what came next.
Ultimately though this is a solid, if slightly on the short side, story of true fan living a dream and all the time that comes with the feeling that isn’t just the party line but is the actual truth of the situation – something often hard to find in the strange world of professional wrestling.