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On Raw, Daniel Bryan gave an emotional farewell speech as he explained that his career was over from suffering too many concussions during his time as a wrestler. While his retirement seems earnest, is he really going?
In September 2005 Bryan Danielson won the Ring of Honor World Championship and brought a very snug, stiff style to the title matches which made for compelling viewing but had many questioning the wisdom of two men hurting themselves in a ‘sport’ where the idea is to pretend to hurt each other. His defences were intense but his series of matches with Nigel McGuinness took things to a whole new level.
Their matches were so stiff that both men ended up working hurt. While both men made names for themselves with the feud, Danielson himself would later say that the price they both ended up paying was too high. Even after the feud was over both men were so beaten up they would go on to suffer further injuries – after a 60 minute match against McGuinness, Danielson would separate his shoulder in a match against Colt Cabana and spend the next 4 months working while injured.
In August 2009 WWE decided to sign both Danielson and McGuiness subject to standard medical testing. Bryan Danielson passed despite the shoulder injury, past concussions, a ruptured eardrum and surgery for a detached retina but McGuinness, having suffered two bicep tears and spinal compression from a botched piledriver failed. McGuinness would instead go on to sign with TNA and debut as Desmond Wolfe but end up having his career cut short when it was discovered that he had contracted Hepatitis B during his time in ROH from bloody matches.
Once signed by WWE most wrestlers will tone their style down because a. They’ve now made it and don’t need to kill themselves to get noticed and b. Because WWE wants talents to work a safer way in order to prolong their careers and in turn generate money for WWE. The newly renamed Daniel Bryan didn’t adjust his style when he debuted in WWE and after only 5 months was fired for being ‘too real’ when he ‘strangled’ ring announcer Justin Roberts on air with his own tie. WWE advertisers were a little disturbed by the spectacle especially as it came only a few weeks after the third anniversary of Chris Benoit murdering his wife and child by strangulation. WWE let Bryan go and then brought him back 2 months later once the heat had died down. A month later Daniel was the US Champion as WWE’s way of apologising.
From this point onwards Bryan’s intense style would feature in the Money in the Bank match, The Elimination Chamber and others which were high risk matches. Often it felt like any moment Daniel may seriously injure himself with his breakneck pace. Also during this time he adopted the diving headbutt, a move invented by Harley Race but popularised by The Dynamite Kid and then adopted by Chris Benoit. Considering that The Dynamite Kid is now wheelchair bound and Benoit suffered so many concussions, many from the headbutt move, that he became so brain damaged he’d end up killing himself and his family, it seemed a spectacularly unwise decision.
Daniel without doubt picked up concussions and worked through them as WWE talents are prone to doing as any time off will see them lose their spot and then have to rebuild momentum after time off.
On June 17th 2013 the beginning of the end started as Daniel Bryan suffered a stinger during a match with Randy Orton that had to be stopped as Bryan had lost feeling in both arms. Backstage an irate Bryan exploded at Triple H for calling for the match to be stopped as Triple H had finished a match years earlier with a torn quad.
Less than a year later on May 14th 2014 Bryan had to undergo neck surgery to repair nerve damage in his neck. While the surgery was successful, he refused to have a second operation that doctors wished to perform and concentrated on a return to the ring which didn’t happen until the 15th of January 2015. By this time WWE clearly wanted to avoid building the main event scene around Bryan while he was still freshly back but then bizarrely put him into the most dangerous match of Wrestlemania 31 – a multiperson ladder match.
Shortly afterwards, Bryan would be injured during an April match with a seemingly reckless Sheamus. While the details of the injury weren’t disclosed, Bryan was pulled from all advertised dates and eventually announced that he’d be taking an unknown amount of time off for a concussion related injury.
By May Daniel Bryan was openly saying he was fine to wrestle and was waiting to be cleared by WWE, but WWE wouldn’t clear him. In July Bryan stated during a radio interview that he’d been cleared by a concussion expert from Phoenix who was used by the NFL but that WWE still wouldn’t allow him to compete and wanted to bringing him back in a non-competitive role. He even went on to say that if WWE wouldn’t clear him then he’d return to wrestling anyway, just not for them.
After being cleared by doctors at UCLA the WWE’s doctor Joseph Maroon still refused to allow Bryan to compete. Speculation started to build that WWE was being overly cautious due to the Benoit case or due to legal action between CM Punk and Maroon over claims of negligence.
At the end of the year Daniel Bryan was now telling people he was ready to return including posting on his Instagram pictures of him training for a return. Most WWE talents expected him to return as a surprise entrant at the Royal Rumble last month but yet there was no sign of him.
At the end of last week a number of sources had stated that Bryan had given his resignation to WWE as he fully intended to return to the ring but the resignation was rejected as WWE had frozen his contract months before. WWE contracts have a clause where if a talent doesn’t complete their deal then the contract can be extended; this clause was used against Rey Mysterio to prevent him from leaving after he’d been injured for nearly two-thirds of his contract and WWE had considered using the clause against CM Punk, opting instead to firing him on his wedding day.
Within 48 hours Bryan went from being held hostage by WWE’s contract to retiring. The announcement was made on Twitter presumably to entice a larger viewership for Raw and various talents were told by WWE to post on Twitter using the hashtag #ThankYouDanielBryan
It seems strange that Bryan was so dead set on returning only to suddenly retire. In an interview yesterday he said that he’d been suffering seizures and has developed a lesion on his brain but there’s still a chance that Bryan is actually following the example of Ric Flair.
When Flair retired in 2008 it was after WWE pressured him to do so while Ric wished to continue. What WWE say goes so Flair retired but by the end of the next year was working in a ring again after leaving WWE and continued to wrestle intermittently for the next 3 years.
It’s possible that Daniel Bryan has staged his retirement so he can exit his contract and make a return to Ring of Honor or TNA at a later date especially considering his battle with WWE in his attempt to get cleared. At 34 years old Bryan is a millionaire who only has 85% of the strength in his right arm and suffers from some brain damage, it’s definitely time for him to put his health above the need to compete before he becomes another Chris Benoit or Dynamite Kid.
In 28 days WWE will hold Wrestlemania 32, the Superbowl of professional wrestling/sports entertainment but this year will be a little light on stars. A lot of fuss has been made about certain fighters missing the upcoming UFC 200 supercard but their problems pale in comparison to WWE’s.
Just to highlight how bad it is – every single person who walked out of last year’s event as a champion is injured and in fact most of the participants from Wrestlemania 31 are on the shelf.
Wrestlemania 31’s matches were as follows with their current status in brackets:
1. King Barrett (injured) lost his Intercontinental Title to Daniel Bryan (injured) in a ladder match also involving Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Luke Harper, Stardust and Dean Ambrose.
2. Seth Rollins (injured) v Randy Orton (injured).
3. Sting (injured) v Triple H
4. Nikki Bella (injured) and Brie Bella v Paige (recently returned from injury) and AJ Lee (retired)
5. Rusev lost his US Championship title to John Cena (injured)
6. Bray Wyatt v The Undertaker
7. Brock Lesnar v Roman Reigns saw Seth Rollins cash in his title shot and win The World Heavyweight Championship.
With a number of stars out WWE had hired Alberto Del Rio along with AJ Styles and the rest of Bullet Club to try and fill some gaps but unfortunately Del Rio got injured by Brock Lesnar and may be out of Wrestlemania.
With Del Rio, John Cena, Seth Rollins, Sting, Cesaro, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, Nikki Bella and Tyson Kidd all injured, Sheamus and Sin Cara both injured but still appearing and then Sasha Banks and Paige only just returning from injuries, that’s a lot of people to book around. So much so that the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion is semi retired wrestler and WWE head honcho in training, 46 year old Triple H.
WWE has reached out to numerous former stars and Hall of Fame inductees including The Rock and Dave Bautista to secure appearances though even that has a somewhat dark cloud as Bautista has apparently said no and Hall of Famer Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart has just announced that he has prostate cancer. As Hart’s late brother, Owen, was expected to be inducted to the Hall of Fame this year by Bret, it’s unclear now what the plans are.
It’s not all bad news though.
While WWE’s roster is lacking star power some of the injured are making good progress with their recoveries and so Wrestlemania 32 may see at least one return. Also the lack of stars means that some talents lower on the card have a great opportunity to elevate their status.
Right now WWE has a roster of 54 wrestlers, not including the injured ones, so that’s a lot of talent who normally have to fight for screen time. Wrestlemania 32 could be a big day for Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, New Day, Braun Strowman, Kalisto, Neville and others who would not ordinarily be considered for a upper echelon match at Wrestlemania.
There’s also one other man who could make Wrestlemania 32 a must watch…
AJ Styles was one of the hottest talents in wrestling last year and now he’s landed in WWE at a time when they can’t afford to do the usual routine of breaking down a talent who isn’t home grown and then rebuilding them. Styles has reportedly signed for a massive amount of money; quoted as being a $450,000 or $500,000 per year downside guarantee. At 38, Styles is also one of the oldest men on the roster so presumably WWE will be looking to get a good return very quickly for their investment
AJ Styles is someone who lives up to his ‘Phenomenal’ nickname and is certainly capable of 5 star matches, so with all eyes on him it’ll be up to him to prove he’s worth the money and steal the show.
WWE has a history of pulling a win out of the worst situations and with a roster full of hungry talent looking to get noticed, Wrestlemania 32 may actually end up being one of the best.