In the era of kayfabe-breaking shoot interviews and autobiographies, honesty as a selling point has become somewhat distorted. It’s often interpreted as somebody “shooting” in the form of spilling scandalous secrets and viciously attacking those who have crossed them. Daniel Bryan’s autobiography comes across as among the most honest WWE books ever published and yet it has none of these mudslinging characteristics.
Much of the honesty comes instead the form of self-deprecation, with Bryan readily admitting to his perceived weaknesses, whether they be a lack of athletic talent as a child, never having weighed more than 205 lbs regardless of billing, or believing he failed as a headline attraction during his run with Randy Orton.
The flipside of that is that his matter-of-fact approach brings far more credibility when he writes things that cast WWE in a less-than-glowing light, of which there are many. Bryan discussed the relatively low pay (given the associated costs) of working at the bottom of WWE cards, the way he was almost set up to fail in the initial NXT run, and the lack of long-term planning in many aspects of booking. Most notably he puts paid to any theory that his character’s treatment in late 2013 was a carefully-thought out plan to garner sympathy and turn him into a genuine headline star when he finally got his revenge.
Bryan dishes out both praise and criticism alike, but at no point does it feel like a measured approach. Instead it appears simply to be his genuine reflections, made without malice or pride. While the book has been ghostwritten by WWE.com staffer Craig Tello, it doesn’t feel like it has been shaped either to promote WWE or fit its corporate message.
Tello’s main influence on the book appears to be the formatting, with each chapter beginning with a section from the WWE.com’s daily coverage of Bryan’s public and personal events in the week of WrestleMania 30. It’s a neat stylistic trick and Tello even manages to tie some chapters to the theme of their intros, resisting the temptation to do so where it would be awkward or clunky.
Reading will be an odd experience for long-term hardcore fans as so much of Bryan’s career was chronicled on the tape trading circuit. Hindsight brings a strange perspective as you are reminded that when Bryan made his breakout performances at King of Indies and then the debut Ring of Honor show, he was still aged just 20 and had been wrestling barely two years.
However, while there are no shocking revelations, there is plenty of insight and detail that won’t be familiar to even the most dedicated of backstage gossip readers, such as descriptions of Vince McMahon personally leading promo classes for the NXT contestants.
The book feels comprehensive, giving fair weight to his childhood, training, independent career and WWE runs. One minor drawback is a lack of depth at times, with even his most famous matches usually getting a page or two at most.
British readers may find particular interest in Bryan’s description of his time working for All Star, including on the holiday camp circuit, where he notes that if the payoffs had been better he may never have left. The book is also filled with praise for the mentoring of William Regal, both in terms of ring action and navigating the politics of the business.
The irony of the book is that it perfectly fits Bryan’s on-screen character of a humble, relatable character whose skills and likable charisma overcame physical challenges. It reads smoothly and genuinely feels like having a conversation with a man who enjoys talking about his career and, while acknowledging his talents, feels genuinely surprised and humbled to have reached such heights, even if only for a brief period. It seems impossible somebody could read the book and not wind up rooting for Bryan the performer and the character, making it all the more frustrating that his career was at the very least curtailed before the book’s publication.
Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)
Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)
(This review originally appeared in issue 122 of Fighting Spirit Magazine.)