Daniel Bryan announced last Tuesday on SmackDown that he would serve as a second referee for the tag team match of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn versus Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton. Citing concerns about original guest referee Shane McMahon’s impartiality, Bryan added himself in to assure KO and Zayn that they would not be screwed out of a win or unfairly fired from WWE. This announcement also added more tension between the SmackDown general manager and commissioner over the latter’s vindictive treatment of Owens and Zayn.
During the match this past Sunday, the two were going against each other quite a bit in regards to how to call the match down the middle, climaxing in the two almost coming to blows about how they thought the other was overruling their orders and decisions. Seeing that Shane would not give Owens and Zayn their just due, Bryan took matters into his own hands and fast-counted a roll-up by Zayn to give the leaders of the Yep! Movement the controversial victory, leaving a disappointed McMahon in the ring alongside Nakamura and Orton.
While all signs point to more conflict to come between the two authority figures, I predict this will not end in the two of them settling their differences in the ring like how Shane has handled feuds in the past like with Owens or AJ Styles. This match won’t be held up by backstage politics or bad storyline writing, but because of WWE’s apprehension of medically clearing Bryan after a concussion he suffered in 2015 (the most recent of many suffered in Bryan’s career) made him more of a liability than an athletic asset in the company’s eyes.
Admittedly, I am not happy about this take. Like many WWE fans, I believe Bryan has been one of the shining examples of worthwhile television the company has spotlighted in the last five years, no matter how maddening or disappointing his presentation became. His feuds with the Authority and the Wyatt family were some of the highest points WWE has had in the “Reality Era.” He’s had some of the better matches in the last decade with the likes of John Cena, CM Punk, Triple H, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. It was even rumored that a large factor that led Nakamura to sign a contract with WWE was the prospect of working again with his old friend in Bryan.
Bryan’s recent concussion woes with the company started in March of 2015, when he was diagnosed with a concussion after an in-ring beat down at the hands of the recently returning Sheamus during a SmackDown taping. The newly crowned Intercontinental champion was placed in six-man tag matches during WWE’s European tour the following month as a precaution before ultimately being pulled from the tour.
As Bryan’s condition failed to improve, he was forced to relinquish the Intercontinental title on the May 11, 2015 edition of RAW after undergoing an MRI. After appearing again on the Elimination Chamber pay-per view later that month, Bryan would not appear on WWE television for over seven months. He finally made his return on the February 8, 2016, edition of RAW, where he announced his retirement due to a recent medical test that showed Bryan his brain wasn’t “as OK as [he]thought it was.”
Bryan made headlines following his retirement when he revealed he often suffered seizures after suffering concussions as a result of his multiple head injuries throughout his career. It was also revealed on Total Divas that Bryan has been suffering from depression over the last decade, which was exacerbated again in early 2016 after his retirement. A lesion in his brain, discovered during the medical test he submitted to before retiring, is believed to be responsible for the seizures he had been suffering from.
Despite these developments, Bryan, a man with a self-professed love and obsession with professional wrestling, still wants to wrestle again. The only person standing in the way of Bryan coming out of retirement is Vince McMahon. But looking deeper, the only person that could change Vince McMahon’s mind on Bryan’s in-ring status is Dr. Joseph Maroon, the medical director for WWE.
Maroon has remained steadfast in his belief that Bryan’s brain is not 100 percent, and therefore, is not medically cleared to work. It’s worth pointing out that Maroon was recently portrayed negatively in the 2015 movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith regarding the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its role in the NFL concussion crisis. Given his name and reputation is negatively associated with allowing concussed players back into games as a doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, letting any potential risk like Bryan back into competition would be a public relations nightmare for not just his name and his practice, but for any company he consults for, specifically WWE.
Bryan has gone out of his way to consult other physicians outside of Maroon to get secondary opinions on his neurological health in the last three years. Bryan was reportedly okayed by doctors from UCLA in January 2016, roughly a month before announcing his retirement, as well as by a neurologist for a recent Super Bowl.
WWE has been sued multiple times by former wrestlers in recent years claiming the company knew of the long-term neurological effects wrestling inflicts on the human mind while still sending performers out to compete. Most notably, Vito “Big Vito” LoGrasso and Evan “Adam Mercer” Singleton filed their suit in early 2015, while a trio of separate superstars sued the company a few months later citing “egregious mistreatment” by the management. A class of over 50 former wrestlers including Joe “Road Warrior Animal” Lauranitas, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff in 2016 filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, as well. None of these cases have found WWE at fault.
In an effort to ease potential avenues for concussions, WWE instituted a no tolerance policy for several moves aimed at the head and neck areas. For example, Bryan and Orton were fined an undisclosed amount in 2013 after their match on RAW featured a chair shot to the head. This extends as far as banning moves all together like Seth Rollins’ former “Curb Stomp” finisher getting nixed by Vince McMahon after his Wrestlemania 31 title win, just months removed from LoGrasso and Singleton filing their concussion suit. With all of this negative press around the company and around concussions in sports in general, it’s no wonder WWE considers Bryan’s in-ring career to be a hazardous case.
Another reason why I think WWE will not clear Bryan to compete is because they engineered a ready-to-go feud for him to lace up his boots again…and it ended without so much as a punch thrown. Last August, The Miz undid years of resentment by fans by passionately exploding into one of the best promos of his career directed toward Bryan. After Bryan directly commented on Miz’ “soft” and “cowardly” wrestling style, Miz turned around the SmackDown GM’s words back at him asking why he doesn’t just quit if he loves wrestling so much when he won’t get cleared by WWE. After the work-shoot, Miz began to work jabs at Bryan in his weekly promos as well as appropriating Bryan’s “YES!” kicks during matches.
Eventually, the feud evolved to focus on Bryan’s Talking Smack co-host Renee Young and her real-life husband (then fiancé) Dean Ambrose. Miz and his wife Maryse Oullett would go on to have an inter-gender match with John Cena and Nikki Bella at Wrestlemania before the power couple was drafted to RAW in April away from Bryan. No resolution. No match. No violence. Miz was able to run his mouth on Bryan’s tenure as SmackDown general manager for six months with no direct violent recourse coming from Bryan. As of this writing, the feud between Shane and Bryan has not escalated to the intensely personal levels that Miz and Bryan’s feud got to. But, if Miz could put on arguably the performance of his career insulting and demoralizing Bryan’s real-life insecurities without a climactic conclusion to the feud, I don’t hold the same hope this feud with Shane will be different this time around.
As I look into my crystal ball to predict the future, I don’t see WWE clearing Bryan to wrestle for the company in any form. But, when Bryan’s contract comes to an end next September, I can definitely see him jumping ship to another company like Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling for a short run as a way to prove he still can do it well, and safely.
As for his feud with Shane, I think this will build to Bryan naming a wrestler to fight on his behalf against Shane at a major pay-per view like Wrestlemania. Or maybe it will end up where Owens and Zayn team up with Bryan in their corner going against Shane and a partner of his choice at the “Grandest Stage of them All.”
Like everyone, I want what’s best for Daniel Bryan. I don’t want him to risk his mental health and well-being as well as the happiness of his wife and newborn daughter just so he can prove he can still do the one thing he thinks God put him on this Earth to do. But, if given the proper medical clearance and precautions with all the forms signed off by the right people, I can put any anxieties I have aside to see one of the best in-ring performers of the last twenty years lace up his boots again for the first time in nearly three years for a wrestling promotion like Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Again, in my own eyes, I don’t see that day coming under a WWE banner. But hey, if I end up being wrong, I will gladly eat crow for it. Although admittedly, I may be too busy losing my mind watching the match.