2013 was a breakout year for you. What went right?
I think teaming with Kane in Team Hell No was really entertaining for the fans. I think WWE fans have always appreciated my wrestling, but they wanted something more as far as personality goes, and Team Hell No really gave them that. And just being given the opportunity to be seen as a main-event guy. For John Cena to pick me as his opponent for the SummerSlam main event was huge for me. That was the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had. Very few people are given that kind of opportunity.
You headlined four pay-per-views in a row this year. You’re one of WWE’s biggest stars. When do you feel like you’ve made it?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve made it. But “making it” is different than being satisfied with what you’ve done. If I got hurt today, I’d be very satisfied with what I’ve done, but I would have said that before I even made it to WWE. I was happy with what I accomplished on the independent scene and internationally — it was already much more than what people ever thought I could do and what even I thought I could do. But one of the things that keeps me going is the pursuit of constantly being better, and I haven’t “made it” like I’m at a point where I’m happy to stay at this level. I was actually talking to John Cena about this. He told me Steve Austin talked to him at one show and asked him how things were going, and John said, “The show’s going pretty well.” And Austin looked up at a part of the arena that was tarped off — the building was maybe 90 percent sold out — and he said, “Back when I was here, these arenas were full.” And that motivated John. There’s always something to strive for. So what do I need to do to feel like I’ve made it? I need to be the main-event guy, the top guy, and we need to be selling out every arena every night. Maybe then I’ll feel like I’ve done what I need to do.
Are you a different person with the beard? Daniel Bryan seems like a totally different character than he was a couple years ago.
Wrestling is so weird. There are a lot of things you need to set yourself apart. I’m not the guy who’s the biggest, or the guy with six-pack abs, but in the mainstream you need a unique appearance. Especially for kids. I didn’t think about that when I started growing it, but now WWE is selling fake beards, and I see kids wearing them all the time. It’s borderline cartoonish, but they get to be like me, and they love that.