Bryan Danielson rode his prodigious in-ring talents, a healthy helping of positivity, and a little MMA influence to the top of the wrestling world.
Currently a top star with All Elite Wrestling, Danielson has been a professional wrestler for over 20 years, a stretch that included a 12-year run with the WWE that made him a household name. Arguably more popular than Danielson himself is the “Yes chant” that became an essential part of his gimmick and was later adopted by sports fanbases across the globe.
It’s well known that Danielson himself was inspired by UFC veteran Diego Sanchez’s unforgettable entrance at UFC 95 in February 2009 and he recounted the birth of the “Yes Movement” during an appearance on The MMA Hour.
“I first saw Diego Sanchez when he was on The Ultimate Fighter, I think that’s when a lot of people first saw him and he would come to the cage and do, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ And I took it note of it, right?” Danielson said. “I thought, that’s so cool or whatever. They wanted me to be so over the top. I was an underdog who inexplicably won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in less than noble fashion and they just wanted me to be super excited about it and a little bit annoying.
“The first thing I thought of was, ‘Man, if I really took that over the top, it could be a lot of fun.’ But I never dreamed it would take on a life of its own, which it kind of did.”
Danielson initially used the Yes chant to get over as a heel, antagonizing crowds with his boisterous and unearned confidence, but his character eventually shifted and became an overwhelming fan favorite while retaining the one-word mantra. His career momentum carried him all the way to the headlining spot of WrestleMania XXX in April 2014 and a championship win in the main event that is still revered by wrestling fans to this day.
Much of Danielson’s success is owed to Sanchez. Danielson recalled meeting Sanchez (who he calls a “super nice guy”) during a WWE trip to New Mexico and he’s grateful that the fighter didn’t appear to have any issue of ownership regarding the now-famous chant.
“That’s what he said to me, like ‘I think it’s so cool that you use it and that it inspires other people,’ because that’s kind of really one of the reasons I think why he does it,” Danielson said. “It’s more of ‘fire yourself up,’ inspiration-type thing and to see other people do it. I think people who saw me do it — because this is kind of the life of the Yes chant — he did it, and I’m not sure where he got it. Somebody told me he may have gotten it from Tony Robbins but I don’t know if that’s true, I didn’t ask him about that. I got it from him.
“Then all of a sudden Michigan State is using it, the basketball team. The San Francisco Giants, I was part of the San Francisco Giants World Series parade because [longtime Giants outfielder] Hunter Pence had started using the Yes chant for the San Francisco Giants. Pence had no idea who I was even, it was one of his teammates who was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a wrestler thing.’ He saw the Michigan State basketball fans doing it and thought it was inspiring and a great way to bring positivity to the club, that sort of thing. Then he started using it with the Giants without any reference even to me, let alone Diego Sanchez. So it was a cool thing, people can kind of put their own meaning behind it and it takes on a life of its own.”
Danielson’s ties to MMA don’t end there as in the past he has trained with the likes of Wallid Ismail, Justin McCully, Ken Shamrock, and future Xtreme Couture head coach Eric Nicksick, among others. The theatrical side of combat sports is always what appealed more to Danielson and though he’s occasionally wondered what it would be like to compete in MMA or kickboxing, he admits he’s more suited to the world of professional wrestling.
How would he do in the do-or-die world of cagefighting? That’s a question Danielson is content to leave unanswered.
“To be fair, I’m not a very good athlete,” Danielson said with a laugh when asked why he never pursued an MMA career. “Honestly, it wasn’t even a thing when I got out of high school and realistically, I’m not very competitive, which is why I do so well in pro wrestling. They tell me — I hate to break it to everybody, they tell me if I’m going to win or lose — which has actually served me really well because I’m not competitive at all so when they tell me I’m gonna lose, okay, whatever. Some guy’s get upset by it. I’m not phased by it at all, I like the performance and I like the physicality of it.
“Although when I was training really, really hard, which was like 2009-ish, for a couple of years I was training a lot at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas with Neil Melanson a lot, and Neil Melanson’s a great, great coach. I had ambitions of doing a lot of grappling tournaments and stuff, but even at that point I’d had multiple concussions and that sort of thing so the idea of doing an MMA fight or even a kickboxing thing doesn’t sound super appealing to me right now.”
That doesn’t mean that Danielson has taken MMA out of the equation completely. On an episode of WWE’s Monday Night Raw following Anderson Silva’s second clash with Chael Sonnen at UFC 148 in July 2012, Danielson and future UFC fighter CM Punk reenacted a memorable moment from the Silva-Sonnen rematch.
Danielson can’t recall exactly whose idea it was to pay homage to Sonnen’s spinning gaffe, only that they definitely did it on purpose.
“We sure did,” Danielson said. “I don’t remember whose idea it was, if it was me or Punk’s or maybe the two of us conspiring to be idiots.”