Bryan Danielson is still very much in his prime at 40. Having signed with All Elite Wrestling in 2021, the multiple-time WWE champion hasn’t missed a beat and is turning out some of the greatest performances of his career against the likes of Kenny Omega and “Hangman” Adam Page.”
Muscle & Fitness sat down with the high-flyer to find out how the “American Dragon” trains for those lengthy, physical matches, and soon learned that he’s got plenty of gas left in the tank.
AEW’s “Marathon Man” occupies a special place in the hearts of millions of pro wrestling fans around the world. Having started his career by training at “Mr WrestleMania” himself; Shawn Michaels’ Texas Wrestling Academy, the underdog from Aberdeen, WA, made his own unforgettable mark on the “Show of Shows” storied history when he defeated Triple H, and advanced to a world championship win over Randy Orton and Batista in the main event of WrestleMania XXX. In the years that have followed, Danielson has kept us on the edge of our seat. There was of course, a heart-breaking temporary retirement for the “YES” man in 2015 due to medical reasons relating to a history of concussions, but our man bounced back in 2018 and worked his way back up the card, culminating in one more WrestleMania main event against champion Roman Reigns, and Edge.
Bryan Danielson is AEW’s Marathon Man
When news broke that Bryan Danielson was AEW bound, many observers felt that the star would be able to cash-in on his hard-earned fame while taking it easier in the ring, but those critics failed to take into account just how much this man loves to wrestle at the very highest level. Case in point? On the Sept. 22, 2021 edition of AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam, The American Dragon wrestled to a nerve-jangling 30-minute draw with Kenny Omega. On Dec. 15, he took things even further by taking AEW Champion, Adam Page, to a 60-minute draw. Danielson says he didn’t know ahead of joining the company that he would get those opportunities, but he says that he was very much hoping that they would come.
“A lot of the world, right now, is transforming into short attention span type stuff,” he says. “I’m trying, in my own personal life, to expand my attention span. One of the things that has always interested me in wrestling, is the long form, right? You know, I’ve been doing short form for so long with WWE. The TV matches are usually around three minutes but very rarely much longer than 10. I’ve been very interested in long-form story telling for a while.”
On Jan. 5, Danielson narrowly missed out on dethroning Page in a pulse-pounding rematch, but not without displaying a highly physical performance that saw both men get busted open, proving once again that Danielson can’t get enough of the physicality that pro wrestling provides. “I really like very physical matches,” says the pro wrestling icon. “There’s something about it that makes you feel very alive.”
How Bryan Danielson Trains for Success
Still, there must have been some nervousness ahead of coming to a new territory and feeling like there was a lot still to prove? “The first one, against Kenny Omega, there was a little bit of nervousness there,” shares Danielson. “It was just because, in my own mind, I had put it on a pedestal because this was my first match outside of WWE in over 10 years. This was kind of a statement, as far as what I want the next three years of my career to be. Also, I’d been looking forward to wrestling Kenny for a long time. The reality is that I was a little bit nervous before, but then once the music started playing and I went out there, it was just pure joy.”
Physically, Danielson has kept himself in shape for the entirety of his in-ring career, experimenting with different body compositions as far as his weight and muscle mass is concerned. He uses jiujitsu and kickboxing as great ways to condition and replicate the requirements needed for pro wrestling. “I’m very lucky in the sense that cardio has always been one of my strengths,” he says. “It’s always been very difficult for me to put on muscle but cardio vascularly, I never get tired. I can recall twice in my entire career in which I was tired [laughs]. And both of those are because I put on too much muscle. One example was in 2003 when I got up to 210-pounds and I looked great, but I did a 40-minute match with Paul London, it was two-out-of-three falls, and 30 minutes in I was like, ‘My legs are tired! What is this?’”
Leading into the 60-minute match, Danielson undertook two workout sessions per day, where the first sessions was comprised of HIIT-style weight training, and then later in the day he would do 60 minutes of steady-state cardio. “If you feel like you’re out of shape wrestling, and you want to get in shape wrestling, I feel like burpees are one of the fastest ways to do it. Because they engage a lot of what you use while wrestling,” he adds.
Wrestling with Hydration
How does one prepare for a marathon wrestling match and make sure that they’ve taken in enough water without fear of needing the bathroom halfway through the bout? “I’ve done some long matches, I did one that was 76-minutes (at the Greatest Royal Rumble in 2018), and I’ve never felt the need to go to the bathroom,” says Danielson. “But I was concerned about hydration in the 60-minute match. I didn’t have any coffee that day (because of the diuretic effect). I focused on super-hydrating before 4 p.m., and then after that, just drinking a little bit here and there when I was thirsty. That’s kind of my hydration strategy on wrestling days. I also do zero-calorie electrolytes.”
Food for Fighting
As relates to nutrition, Danielson is very much in favor of a plant heavy diet, but while he was completely vegan at one stage, he says that these days he doesn’t allow himself to stress too much if he feels like eating off-plan. “What I do really focus on is nutrient density,” says the grappler, explaining that he has undertaken tests to find out which foods work best for him. “For me, sweet potato, arugula, and oats are super-food for me.” The wrestling great has also found that intermittent fasting works well for him, with one of the added benefits being better quality sleep.
How Bryan Danielson Stays Headstrong
Despite Danielson’s elite conditioning, wrestling those marathon matches still brings plenty of challenges. “To me, the biggest one is mentally,” says Danielson. “How do we, in this era of short attention spans, keep people’s attention for a full hour?”
So, if AEW booking required it, would he say “YES!” to more than an hour? “After the match, backstage, the trainer was like ‘are you tired?’” shares Danielson. “I was like, ‘Hell no! I’m not tired’ and then I dropped and did five burpees just to prove it [laughs].” For our man, going for longer is limited more by the confines of television, and the requirement for other matches to fit on the card, rather than his own physical ability. “I’d be interested to know, how long, cardiovascular-wise I could go, before it’s like, ‘OK, that’s it! I’m done!’” he says. “
A Family Affair
Famously, Bryan Danielson is married to fellow wrestling superstar Brie Bella, but what does she think of her husband’s desire to give fans the best performance that he can, given the toll it might take on his body? “The last match with ‘Hangman’ Adam Page, in which I was a bloody mess, she was a little perturbed by that one,” says the American Dragon, while laughing mischievously. “But she knows that also, I am very conscious of my health.”
Of course, the wrestling boot will be on the other foot when Brie, along with twin sister Nikki enter WWE’s Royal Rumble later this month, and Danielson is thrilled that his wife will get a chance to enter the ring once again. “I’m very excited,” he shares. “Mostly, I’m excited because Brie is excited, right? Whenever you love somebody, and they are doing something that makes them happy, or makes them excited, you are excited and happy for them.”
Ready for New Challenges
“I feel better at 40 than I did at 30,” says Danielson, looking lean, athletic, and muscular. The pro wrestler is 10 pounds lighter than he weighed towards the end of his run with WWE, and is perhaps in the best shape of his career, anticipating some mouth-watering dream matches in AEW. “I’m super excited, and it’s crazy because it seems like AEW keeps adding people to the roster on a weekly basis. But there’s a lot of matches that I’m really looking forward to,” says Danielson. “I’d really love to wrestle Derby Allen. I’d really love to wrestle Sammy Guevara, Daniel Garcia, MJF, there’s all these people, and then there’s like the big one, and I have wrestled him before, but it would be CM Punk. That would be really cool.
I’d love to wrestle Moxley in this [AEW] scenario, versus the WWE scenario, you know what I mean? Where we are a little bit freer and more unleashed, because I think he’s fantastic. There’s one more that would just be supercool for the fans, and for the kid inside of me, and that would be Sting.” Take our money now! Catch Bryan Danielson on AEW including Dynamite every Wednesday on TBS, and Rampage each Friday on TNT. For more info visit allelitewrestling.com.