Many people dream about winning the lottery.
Bryan Danielson, better known to WWE fans as Daniel Bryan, has been fantasizing about something else for the last few years and his dream finally came true this past week when he was cleared to return to active wrestling after being relegated to the sidelines for the past three years due to concussion issues. Much like his entire pro wrestling career, his story is one of perseverance.
Viewed by most as too small in stature to be a main event headliner for a major pro wrestling company when he first broke onto the scene, Danielson wowed crowds on indy shows with his wrestling wizardry, striking ability and innovative hold combinations developed from passionately studying the business and competing in a variety of places where he was exposed to different styles of the mat sport.
He worked for the New Japan promotion, starred in Ring of Honor and, despite early indifference and some burial booking at times by WWE, Bryan got himself over with the fans in a big way and they eventually forced the company to get on board for an incredible ride that included winning the world title at WrestleMania and the “Yes” phenomenon that spread to several major main stream sports stadiums and arenas.
Neck and head injuries forced Bryan to relinquish titles and eventually put him into retirement as the numerous concussions he suffered throughout his career began to take a toll on him at the same time the company was coming under fire by former wrestlers who joined in an unsuccessful lawsuit against WWE for the concussions sustained by them over the years that they felt the company ignored or downplayed.
When Bryan went down with his last concussion three years ago, Dr. Maroon, the organization’s respected leading physician said he would not clear the diminutive grappler to wrestle. Vince McMahon pushed for an emotional retirement speech on Raw that became wrestling’s version of the infamous Lou Gherig’s “Luckiest Man Alive” farewell.
At that point (and there is a lot more to the entire story-the details of which one can read in this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter), Bryan went on a rollercoaster ride of making plans to do other things to get away from his mistress, the wrestling profession, working through major depression and eventually plotting to try various treatments that might heal his injured brain and allow him to find enough evidence to convince enough doctors to convince Maroon that he was okay to wrestle again. He was relentless in his drive to heel his body and his brain.
Bryan’s unending efforts included treatments in a Hyperbaric Chamber, something legendary quarterback Joe Namath has been a big proponent of as a way to help heel his brain and increase cognitive function after he suffered from post-concussion syndrome at the end of his NFL career. While the AMA does not yet endorse it, and there is no way yet of proving it was a definitive deciding factor in Bryan’s improvement on cognitive testing, the treatments seem to be gaining in popularity. Several doctors were willing to clear Bryan, but it wasn’t until this past week that the one that mattered, Dr. Maroon, was convinced.
With Bryan’s clearance to wrestle, there was no time wasted as he got physically involved in an angle with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens on Smackdown this past week. Though he held his own for a spurt and looked like he had never been away, eventually the dastardly duo took over and put the hurt on Bryan to the point where he was stretchered out on the night of his big return in classic pro wrestling fashion. That looks to be leading to a big tag team match at WM 34 where Bryan will team with Shane McMahon against Zayn and Owens. Judging by the fan reaction Bryan got for his announced clearance, his return may be just the boost the Mania card needs to make this a must-see show.
There is likely to be close monitoring of Bryan after each of his matches. How often he wrestles and how much of a push he might get as a top talent will probably depend on how quickly he establishes that he can endure the normal physical punishment a typical pro wrestler takes on a given night. Concussion protocols will likely be followed very closely if there is the slightest hint of head trauma. Let’s hope his dream of returning to the squared circle does not become a nightmare.
Raw saw Brock Lesnar return this past Monday and attack the suspended Roman Reigns in a strong, well-designed angle that had the crowd booing Reigns less and cheering him more, but not at the level the company would like it to be this close to Mania. After defying Kurt Angle and a group of Texas Marshalls, or at least some folks dressed as such, Reigns was subdued and handcuffed. Lesnar took full advantage and put a lot of hurt on his Mania adversary leading to Reigns being carried out on a stretcher and Lesnar dumping Roman off the gurney.