The Journey of Bryan Danielson
Today at Causioncreations.com, I present an excellent article written by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, which commemorates the career and retirement of Bryan Danielson. Please take your time and read this one.
Thanks Dave and more importantly, Thank you Bryan.
Pro wrestlers train their bodies and hone their skills at bumping, so they can take any move their opponent uses.
Very rarely do we get injured by a move on its own.
But the sad truth is that, these days, there are many moves being used which just don’t make sense logically; moves which require too much risk.
There are also many matches which focus more on use of thrilling moves, instead of putting over the impact of each and every move. I think this trend is very strong with wrestlers from overseas, those who grew up watching tapes of recent Japanese matches.
Wrestling isn’t all about moves. It’s a form of entertainment where the characters portrayed by the wrestlers, and the pacing between the moves, are to be enjoyed.
It’s not about striking fear into the hearts of fans. It’s not about using dangerous moves and risky offense that leaves them wondering, “Couldn’t they get hurt doing that?”
While it may be true that these dangerous moves and risky offense are sure to pop a crowd, it’s a slippery slope.
Going too far down that path could cause another unfortunate tragedy to occur in the ring.
As one of the people who started this trend of dangerous moves and risky offense, I sincerely hope that wrestlers gain the courage and skills to abstain from relying on them.
Eiji “Hayabusa” Ezaki
Ezaki was one of the best high flyers of the 1990s. On October 22, 2001, in a match at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo against Mammoth Sasaki, while doing a routine quebrada (a move he’d done hundreds, if not thousands of times, the same move Chris Jericho does in almost every match), he slipped slightly on the middle rope and landed in the ring right on the top of his head. He broke his neck in two places and was thought to be a paraplegic for life. One year later, Hiromichi “Kodo” Fuyuki, who was dying of cancer, visited him in the hospital. Ezaki had already given up on ever being able to walk again. At the time, he had only, and just barely, regained movement in one arm. Ezaki told Fuyuki that he was doomed to spend his life in a wheelchair. Fuyuki told him, “I don’t have much time left. I already know it’s over for me. But you? Your chances of getting better are not zero. Don’t lose hope. You can do it.” He eventually got out of the wheelchair. On August 5, 2015, at the same Korakuen Hall, in a ceremony, while wearing his mask, he used his cane to help himself out of the wheelchair, while an audience of fans and legendary wrestlers including Genichiro Tenryu, Kenta Kobashi, Keiji Muto, Naomichi Marufuji, Tatsumi Fujinami and rival Mr Gannosuke were moved to tears. He took a few small steps, and with some help, got up on the ring steps and walked into the ring and gave his speech.
“To the man you’ve become, and the son you’ll always be.”
The inscription on a silver bracelet that was presumably a wedding gift from Bryan Danielson’s father, but that he never saw until two weeks later when he was given it at his father’s funeral.
There is a Pandora’s Box in the sports world, and Bryan Danielson’s version of the Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech as he retired from pro wrestling on the 2/8 Raw at the Key Arena in Seattle, was one of many key moments as the box continues to open wider.
Danielson, better known as Daniel Bryan, announced his retirement at the age of 34 in a nearly 25 minute speech that combined humor, sadness, unbridled joy, and nearly every other emotion possible. In reality, it was a longer and even better version of the sports speech it has already been compared with, even if it will never come close to the notoriety. It was also the single greatest segment in the history of modern televised pro wrestling.
A diagnosis of a brain injury caused Danielson to make the decision that he was adamant only two weeks earlier that was not going to happen. He believes he will never wrestle another match. In doing so, he made the decision to give up the life he’s loved for 16 years, that he’s been one of the best in modern times at, and was a childhood fantasy that through a ton of skill and a ton of luck, became a reality. Good things don’t always come to good people, but in this case, at certain times, they really did. But every bit of unbridled joy and reaching the top of the mountain was followed by some of the worst kinds of reality checks.
And while he’s riding an emotional high today in the aftermath of the speech, and the reaction, he still now has to deal with the hardest part, the full realization that his career, where should have had so much left to offer, is really over.
“I’ve gone through all these complex emotions in the last few days, angry, sad, frustrated, all of that, but today, when I woke up this morning, I felt nothing but gratitude, because I have gotten to do what I loved for nearly 16 years,” he said.
Danielson will be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. But, with the exception of a few months in 2014 where a combination of the fans and fate changed the axis of the wrestling Earth, he was never portrayed in major league promotions as anywhere close to that.
The reality is that through all the incredible matches he had, before dozens or hundreds of people, through being the star of WrestleMania 30 before 65,000 fans, there were three moments that defined his career, even if much of his best work was done long before that before far smaller audiences.
The first was in Seattle, on December 9, 2013, when on a live Raw segment to build up “the biggest match in WWE history,” between John Cena and Randy Orton to unify the WWE and world titles, they brought all the former holders of both titles that were still in the company into the ring. Bryan was meant to be nothing more than a background face in the crowd, but the crowd took over the show and made him the star, loudly chanting his name, to the point the planned segment couldn’t go on. It was only the quick thinking of John Cena, under pressure, that averted the segment from being a complete disaster.
The second was his being the star of WrestleMania 30, working the first match, and the main event, having two of the best matches in WrestleMania history, and ending up as WWE champion on a card that he was originally booked sixth from the top in. Except fans and fate had intervened.
The third was on the night of his retirement as an active competitor. The great worker who was too small, or not good looking enough, to be that larger-than-life personality that the business needs on top, ended up showing that by being himself, he was actually more larger than life but all but a handful of people who graced the industry in the modern era.
The emotions Danielson went through in his mind over the past few months, and likely more so since 1/27, culminating in the final segment was the emotional cleansing of one life changing experience after another over a few month period two years ago that he focused on during his speech.
Danielson grew up in Aberdeen, WA, which is actually 111 miles away from the Key Arena in Seattle. Most would assume, wrongfully so, that the Key Arena was the home arena he grew up attending matches in.
Aberdeen is a 16,000 or so population city not far from the Pacific Coast, with two high schools that a century ago was called “The Hellhole of the Pacific,” known for its numbers of whorehouses and saloons. It’s best known as the home town of Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana fame, as well as Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers. One of the biggest wrestling stars of the 50s and 60s came from the city, Yukon Eric Holmbeck, billed as one of the strongest men in the world, who ended up being best known for having his ear sliced off by a kneedrop from Walter Kowalski in Montreal. This led to Kowalski getting the nickname Killer Kowalski, and leading to one of the biggest feuds of the era. Holmbeck committed suicide 16 years before Danielson was born. But as a child, it was another powerhouse, the Ultimate Warrior, who caught Danielson’s eye and made him a huge pro wrestling fan.
But Seattle was the closest major city, and on December 9, 2014, his father, Donald “Buddy” Danielson, a logger, was at the Slammy Awards show where his son was not supposed to be featured at all.
“I am grateful because a little over two years ago, in this very arena you guys hijacked Raw,” he said. “They were trying to do a championship coronation with Randy Orton and John Cena, they were combining the WWE championship with the world championship and they were having the `most important match in WWE history.’ And you wouldn’t stop chanting `Daniel Bryan.’ But that’s not why I’m grateful. My dad was sitting right over there where the guy with the goat mask is sitting with the Daniel Bryan sign. My dad got to see that, his son getting that kind of a reaction from all you people. And that was the last time my dad ever got to see me wrestle, and you guys made it special for him, and me, and for my entire family.”
A wrestling genius, Bryan Danielson was working as a heel, given the name Daniel Bryan, a somewhat comedic and upper card version of the role the late Mike Lockwood played earlier as Crash Holly. The idea was there was this small guy who was so deluded that he thought he could beat the real men. He wasn’t portrayed as completely oblivious as Crash Holly, but still as naive, as this little guy who thought his submission moves would actually work against bigger guys. Fans could see he was very good, although in many of his earliest matches you wouldn’t even get a glimpse of it. You were supposed to see that visually it was a joke that he was in the ring with people like Kane, Mark Henry, Batista and Big Show. But the fans still reacted to him, many because they knew just how good he really was. And at times, a few wrestlers, Chris Jericho and Batista immediately come to mind, didn’t squash him when they were supposed to because they recognized his talent. He wasn’t completely squashed. At some points he was given underdog wins, picked up mid-card titles and even won Money in the Bank. And then, just as quickly, the decision making process would change and he’d be booked to lose all his matches, and he was supposed to fade to the land of Zack Ryder, and then, just as suddenly, the thought process would, on a moments notice, change again.
He actually got a world championship immediately after several months of burials. On December 18, 2011, Big Show won the world heavyweight title from Mark Henry in a chairs match. Bryan had won the Money in the Bank match months earlier, but the company immediately got buyers regret on him, the same emotion that later happened with Damien Sandow when he won, and Sandow’s career never recovered from. But at literally the last minute, someone came up with the idea of having Show beat Henry, get destroyed after, and having Bryan cash in his briefcase. The bad part of this is that it was the day of the show, and Bryan wasn’t even booked to be there. He lived far enough away that he wouldn’t have been able to get to the show on time, but in searching for him, in a weird fluke, he was booked for a public appearance not too far away, and would easily be able to get to the building after all.
The story come up with on that day was that the world title would go on an annoying guy who very clearly didn’t deserve it, but would brag that he beat the Big Show in seconds, and then he’d fluke his way into retaining it as he’d survive as Show and Henry would continually cost each other the title, until people would hate him so much that he’d then be dropped like a gnat by the company’s next superstar babyface, Sheamus.
Early in his tenure, he was put in a storyline where Brie Bella, of the Bella Twins, thought it was a challenge to seduce this undersized nerdy character who she thought was a virgin. It was a play on words, because at the time, Danielson was a vegan, which in the world of Vince McMahon, a 5-foot-7 ½ 190 pound vegan could be the greatest technical wrestler in the world, but he could never be a real star. So he was made a comedy figure. Of course, as far too often happens in wrestling, both with relationships created in storyline, and real life relationships broken up in storyline, the real life Bryan Danielson and Brianna Garcia-Colacie later fell madly in love and ended up as reality show couple, a role he or nobody else probably ever dreamed he was destined for.
He was also linked with A.J. Lee in a love relationship to get him over as a heel, the arrogant and deluded guy who would browbeat the pretty girl that he doesn’t deserve, but he’d actually act like he was the one way above her. Guys would be mad that a guy like him doesn’t deserve a hot girl. Girls would be mad that a pretty girl like her doesn’t realize she’s in love with a little loser when there are all these studs all over the place, and was allowing him to treat her so badly. Of course, the crowd when it came to Bryan Danielson, far too often didn’t react the way it was supposed to.
The idea was to eventually have her explode on him, dump him, and move on to greater heights as a bigger star and be linked with bigger stars.
In trying to come up with an idea to make him more annoying, Danielson, an MMA fan, watched Diego Sanchez, who would scream, “Yes, Yes, Yes” as he’d walk to the ring for his fights.
“I started doing that to be annoying,” he said on ESPN SportsCenter after his retirement. “It’s funny, because looking back on it, you can see how it would be a fun thing to do. But I honestly didn’t start doing it to get people to do it, I did it to annoy people. But it really turned the other way and it really propelled my career forward.”
So he copied that. The chant was supposed to annoy fans, who at first would chant back “No, No, No,” but eventually the chant took on a life of its own. Even after the chants got popular, on different occasions they attempted to turn him heel, with the idea that Bryan hated when fans would do the chants, and claim the crowd was mocking him.
The chants made their way to nearly every major team sport at one time or another. Had this been John Cena or Roman Reigns, or HHH, or even Sheamus, who was inspiring these chants, the WWE would have beaten its fan base down their throats with it. Daniel Bryan, even though he was easily the most well liked star in the company by this point, when he became the de facto mascot of the 2014 World Series winning San Francisco Giants, it was largely ignored on WWE television, even with WrestleMania months later in that same market.
The chant for a time, was more over than the wrestler, as WWE tried at times to transfer it to Big Show, and use it for a variety of different situations with other people as something you do at WWE shows.
Fans just loved going to wrestling and chanting “Yes,” which became a big part of the TV experience whether Bryan was active or injured at the time.
It wasn’t until Monday night that it was the chant that was in the shadow of the wrestler, and not the other way around.
But from a visual standpoint, you would watch television and think nobody was more popular. And while most key metrics didn’t support that, the truth is nobody in the company was more liked, and there’s a place at the top for that, especially when you combine it with a guy who can connect with the public on interviews. Not to mention that the same person had the ability to consistently put on as good or better matches than anyone else on the roster.
So the goal in 2012 was to make him an annoying and unworthy world champion to lead to anointing the company’s next handpicked top superstar babyface, a tall, pale-skinned smooth-talker with a big smile named Sheamus. Sheamus would squash Bryan in seconds at WrestleMania, and Bryan would retain his heat, so to speak, when he’d go on interviews and blame it all on girlfriend A.J. Lee, who he’d then dump, but then of course, would then realize he screwed up and want to get back with, and she’d have the last laugh on him. But like most of his WWE career, the fans sabotaged the plans.
A Daniel Bryan match with Sheamus was considered by the WrestleMania audience as one of the highlights of that show. While not pushed as a top guy, as fans became smarter, more and more recognized than Bryan was the best in-ring performer at the time in the company. With the audience that attended WrestleMania, the Daniel Bryan match against anyone by that time would have been a show highlight, even if it was just pushed as an undercard match with minimal build. The quick win backfired, as a vocal portion of the crowd blamed Sheamus, as they blamed every person they saw as a management pick to better Bryan over the next few years. Sheamus didn’t make it as a top tier babyface, and the idea was given up on.
Despite the chant and the fact that even if he wasn’t really No. 1 as far as marketability at that moment, he was still easily and clearly the company’s hottest rising star. He may have been the company’s second or third biggest full-time star. He was behind Cena and dueling for the second spot with C.M. Punk, even if the company’s version of the pecking order was a little different. As WrestleMania 30 plans for the top five matches were made, he wasn’t even figured in.
The day after the Seattle Raw was the WrestleMania press conference in San Jose to announce the show more than 15 months later at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. All the company’s big guns, the ones they felt wowed the people, like Cena, HHH, or the giants like Big Show, Great Khali and Henry, or pretty girls like his soon-to-be-wife and her twin sister, and even people like Fandango and R-Truth because they thought they were entertaining, or Alberto Del Rio, because he was tall, good-looking and bi-lingual, were flown from TV. Daniel Bryan didn’t make the cut. He was almost the elephant in the room that day, as Cena acknowledged what has happened the night before, and rather than acting frustrated at a segment that the fans flipped the script on, or furious as some backstage were, he chalked it up as just being part of the job, noting that when he was a kid, maybe he would have been one of those fans.
The next few months were a whirlwind. Bryan actually turned heel after all that just weeks later to join the Wyatt Family, but quickly was turned back face. The Royal Rumble took place on January 26, 2014, in Pittsburgh at the Consol Energy Center.
It was clear that Bryan was the hottest star in the company. That doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest star, but as noted, he was probably a clear No. 2 by that point, even if those in charge couldn’t fathom the idea that a guy who looks like Randy Orton could be a lesser star than Daniel Bryan, or that more people would want to see Bryan in a main event than Big Show.
Orton and Cena were rematching for the undisputed world title, so fans figured with those two out of the picture, Bryan or Punk should logically win the Royal Rumble and headline against either Cena or Orton for the title at WrestleMania.
Some fans also knew that Batista, who had just been brought back, was earmarked to win the Rumble as a babyface and face Orton for the title. Batista, like Roman Reigns a year later, and like Rey Mysterio later that night as well when he came in at No. 30, were the babyfaces who were largely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crowd crapped all over Batista. They booed the hell out of Mysterio. A year later under similar circumstances they even booked a confused Dwayne Johnson.
The idea of Orton vs. Batista as the WrestleMania main event was clearly a disaster waiting to happen. Then Punk, who was supposed to wrestle HHH at WrestleMania, quit the promotion.
In late 2013, the key storyline was that Bryan was the fans’ choice in going for the title. He actually pinned Cena clean to win it at SummerSlam, only to have HHH turn on him and Orton cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase and win it immediately at SummerSlam. The storyline was to rub it in the fans’ face with reality. They may like the guy, but he’s not like Orton, in the sense he’s not a guy who could carry a promotion, and he was a B+ player.
The idea of him chasing the title, being screwed out of it for a long time, building to the big win, which actually happened, would have been the perfect storyline. And in reality, that’s exactly what happened, culminating at WrestleMania in New Orleans.
Sometimes those in WWE when they get insecure about criticism of booking even try to pretend that was the plan all along.
But the plan was that Bryan would chase Orton to fill time since John Cena was injured, but that he’d eventually fail and the Big Show, someone who people thought could really beat Orton, would follow up and kill whatever time was left. Eventually the bigger stars, Cena and Batista, would return during the money part of the company’s year, and get the WrestleMania title match. Perhaps if business piked, as it did when Edge got his first world title win against Cena, the company would have at least viewed him as a top guy for years. But that didn’t happen either.
Bryan got his title shots with Orton. The first match didn’t do well on PPV. The second, a Hell in a Cell match with his original trainer, Shawn Michaels, as referee, who turned on him at the finish, did better. But the evidence was there, that with all the chants and perceived popularity, he headlined three straight PPVs and while a very vocal segment of the crowd liked him a lot, he wasn’t moving numbers. Of course, at Survivor Series, when Bryan was taken out of the main event picture and replaced by Big Show, they did even worse, which would indicate that if there was a problem with PPV numbers, it was either Orton, or the company as a whole, more than Bryan.
Batista wasn’t getting over as a babyface. And HHH had no WrestleMania opponent. HHH had bullied Bryan for several months during his main event program, including costing him the title he had beaten Cena for, so Bryan was the only logical replacement for Punk. And Ray Charles could see that Orton vs. Batista was headed for being the most rejected main event in WrestleMania history. Fans didn’t want either as champion, nor did they care about who won. It only made sense to put Bryan in and make it a three-way. So they did both.
Bryan, scheduled sixth from the top against Sheamus once again, was now put in the position to be the star of the show. There was little doubt in that year, at that time, in that position, nothing short of an act of God would cause him to fail.
The show, on April 6, 2014, at the Superdome in New Orleans, was suddenly built around him and his quest to win the world title.
First, he’d have a match with HHH. If he won, he’d come back and join Orton and Batista in the three-way main event. He was destroyed in both matches, but came back to win cleanly and decisively each time. The triumph of Daniel Bryan, completely unplanned by the promotion and coming from fan reaction and situational flukes, ended up one of the great finishes and moments in WrestleMania history.
Connor “The Crusher” Michalek, an adorable eight year old from Pittsburgh, who had battled spine and brain cancer for the previous five years and whose favorite wrestler was Bryan, was at ringside. He was flown to New Orleans to sit in the front row.
In October 2012, as part of a video that ended up on YouTube where Michalek talked about wanting to meet his favorite wrestler, it led to a Facebook campaign called, “Help Connor meet Daniel Bryan.” The WWE quickly set up the two meeting at a December 18, 2012, Raw event in Pittsburgh. Michalek was also at the Royal Rumble when the fans, being so upset that Bryan not only didn’t win, but was never even in the Rumble (and he was never advertised to be in the first place), saw the key match completely backfire.
As Bryan celebrated at ringside with Connor after winning the title, the truth is that he had a pretty good idea Connor wasn’t long for the world.
After being the star of WrestleMania, achieving a pinnacle in the industry that decision makers would have never considered for him on their own, Bryan Danielson and Brianna Garcia-Colace were married six days later in Sedona, AZ, and went on their honeymoon to Hawaii. He had traveled all over the world as a wrestler, but had never been to Hawaii. It was a rare real-life actual vacation in a business that doesn’t give much time off when you’re a top star unless you are recovering from surgery.
His father, who he last saw on Christmas day, missed the wedding. His father’s wife was suddenly hospitalized with a bad case of pneumonia. His father sent word that as much as he wanted to come, if anything happened to his wife while he was gone, he would never forgive himself.
On April 21, just as they had gotten back from Hawaii and getting ready to go to the arena for Raw in Baltimore, they got the news. Donald “Buddy” Danielson had died suddenly, totally unexpectedly, and with no warning, at his home at the age of 57. Four days later, less surprising but no less sad, Michalek passed away. In the space 15 days, he’d have the moment that was the symbolic apex of his dream and high point of his professional life, five days later was the single greatest day of his life, and nine days later was easily the worst, and four days later it got even worse.
It caused him to completely reevaluate everything.
“Whenever anyone has asked me if wrestling is worth it, meaning, is the reward worth the pain, worth the travel, worth the being away from your family, I’ve always answered yes,” he wrote in his autobiography. “And it always felt like it was.”
“Instead, of being proud of my accomplishments, all I feel is regret about not being there for the most important people in my life, the people who have loved me in away that had nothing to do with wrestling. If you were to ask me today if all the reward was worth the sacrifices, I would say no. Yet I keep on because I’m not quite sure what else to do with myself and because stopping now won’t give me any more time with my father.”
Danielson had known for months of his neck issues. In 2013, he and HHH had a real-life backstage confrontation. Daniel Bryan was scheduled to get what was to be his biggest career win, a clean submission victory over Orton on Raw. It was a result that would have been unfathomable months earlier, and was the first sign that the company really took him as a serious top tier babyface. But, late in the match, he suffered a stinger. HHH, watching and noticing he was trying to work with one arm limp, ordered the match stopped immediately. Danielson was furious. The confrontation was bad enough that he could have been suspended or fired, easily. But in fact, HHH, who had been in a similar position in a famous 2001 match, and not had his match stopped because the mentality of the business was different, empathized with him and the confrontation was largely forgotten.
Rather than take time off, he was on a hot run, which ended up being hotter than anyone imagined when the fans largely forced him into being the featured star in the company.
But the problems got worse. They worsened to the point that on the May 12 Raw, Bryan announced he would need neck surgery, and then to set up his return program, with fans already knowing his neck was badly damaged in real life, Kane gave him a piledriver on the ring steps on the way out.
At first, the feeling was that he’d only miss one PPV, or possibly two. He’d come back as champion to continue his program with Kane throughout the summer, before losing the title in a one-sided match with Brock Lesnar. Bryan had noted that working with Lesnar to him was going to be a career highlight, as he couldn’t wait to put together a David vs. Goliath storyline.
The idea of Bryan coming back quickly was such that while gone, they ran a program based around Bryan not vacating the title. It became awkward when the whole idea of the program, which involved Stephanie McMahon heeling on his wife, was that he’d come back and defend the title rather than give it up. Then, ruining the storyline, he wasn’t healing from the surgery nearly as fast as expected.
Bryan’s role would be the guy the people liked so much, but Lesnar would be the big guy to bring back the reality of the real world of pro wrestling, and be so hated for it, that the people would be ready to get behind the guy who could finally beat the monster.
The idea is that Roman Reigns would be larger than-life when he won the title from the guy who had beaten Undertaker at WrestleMania, the company’s hottest and most genuinely liked star (Bryan) at SummerSlam, and biggest star (Cena) at another PPV, presumably the Royal Rumble.
At one point it was feared his career was over as his strength wasn’t returning. A second surgery was talked about. With his future very much in doubt, he was pointed in the direction of a completely new technique for the problems he was battling, Muscle Activation Techniques. After the first treatment, he noted a major difference. After a few treatments, suddenly his strength had come back to not quite full strength, but, but there was a clear bright light at the end of his tunnel.
The irony is that in seeking out medical answers that some of the best sports doctors couldn’t find, he was able to extend his career. Less than two years later, under similar circumstances, that same quest to find out the truth to save his career, ended up ending it.
On December 29, 2014, Bryan announced he would be returning, and be in the 2015 Royal Rumble. The company evidently figured what happened the year before was a jolt of lighting. You know, something that never strikes twice in the same place. Or at least on the same PPV show a year later.
Reigns was planned for the Batista spot, with the idea that he would win the Royal Rumble and beat the unstoppable Lesnar for the title, and becoming the new top babyface, replacing the older Cena.
Bryan was put in the Rumble early, and then eliminated early by Wyatt in rather uncreative fashion. The Philadelphia crowd was furious.
It was the crowd vs. the promotion even more than ever before. Reigns became the victim of being the babyface who was picked to be on top instead of Bryan. There was social media talk about canceling the WWE Network to send a protest message. WWE pretty much laughed at the idea since Network subscriber numbers increased to a new record while the boycott was all over social media. Still, the decision was made, based on the fan furor, to change plans and go with Reigns vs. Bryan at Fast Lane, with full knowledge Reigns wasn’t getting cheered in that match.
But, with Bryan in there, it would be a great match. The crowd would be hot. They figured Reigns in a super match would gain the respect of the audience. And even if they didn’t like the outcome, they figured with the post-match of Bryan putting him over on the mic, the crowd would flip.
At one point those involved with the promotion of the show locally were told there would be a disputed finish and a three-way, with champion Lesnar, at WrestleMania. But those plans were short-lived. Instead, the idea was for Reigns to win and for Bryan to endorse him. Rock endorsing Reigns at the Rumble backfired. But Bryan endorsing him after losing a great match was supposed to be the emotional moment that would give Reigns momentum going into his big triumph. But that didn’t work either.
Vince McMahon, recognizing the landscape, changed his mind about his year-long plan a week or so before WrestleMania.
Bryan’s role at WrestleMania was to win a seven-man ladder match for the IC title, with Bad News Barrett, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper and Stardust. The finish saw Bryan and Ziggler on top of the ladder head-butting each other over-and-over until Ziggler went down and Bryan grabbed the title belt.
The idea at the time was that the secondary titles had become meaningless. Many wrestlers privately dreaded them because everyone who got them ended up far less over with them than before. The idea was to make Cena the U.S. champion and Bryan the IC champion, and use their star powers to have great title matches regularly on television. The idea is it would elevate each title to what they meant decades earlier, similar to what New Japan had done with its secondary titles due to putting them on Shinsuke Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii.
Two days later, on 3/31, Bryan got banged up badly in a match at the Smackdown tapings in Fresno against Sheamus. We were told at the time that he was injured and may have gotten a concussion. He didn’t work a match on Raw the next week, but did a six-man tag on Smackdown the next day. He flew to Europe, where he said that on 4/9 in Dublin, he suffered a concussion in a six-man tag teaming with Ziggler & Erick Rowan against Barrett & Wyatt & Sheamus.
He was obviously injured. He remained on the tour and worked the next five nights. In working six-mans, he limited his time to the last 30 seconds of the match where he’d his a running knee finish, the Busaiku knee that he took from former rival KENTA when they worked in Pro Wrestling NOAH and ROH. On April 14, 2015, Bryan & Cena beat Tyson Kidd & Cesaro at the Smackdown tapings at the O2 Arena in London. He again only worked limited time. The next day he was sent home from the tour. It was the last match of his career.
We were told at the time it was a concussion, the same thing most of the wrestlers believed. WWE officials claimed it was absolutely not a concussion, likely because of concussion lawsuits that had been filed, and the fact that the company’s protocol is, no matter who you are, if you have a concussion, it’s nothing to mess with.
Most likely they didn’t know he had a concussion because in no way would he be working a minimum of five, or a maximum of seven matches with no break after a concussion. Yet, the word concussion was being used to me while he was still wrestling in limited capacity every night. They clearly knew he was hurt significantly after Dublin, protected him in matches, but they didn’t pull him.
It wasn’t until months later, in July, when Bryan was doing media work for the company, that he was asked what was up, why he was sent home and hadn’t been back. Most had figured that his neck problems from a year earlier had flared up, and it was questioned if maybe his neck couldn’t hold up to the rigors of working full-time in the business.
Bryan, in his autobiography admitted that he had lied, even to his best friends, to protect an angle once or twice when specifically asked, but also noted just how uncomfortable he was to do so. I used to joke about him giving honest and direct answers to questions that clearly management wasn’t going to like as him being a guy with Sodium Pentothal running through his veins.
He said exactly what was wrong with him, that he was suffering from a concussion and awaiting clearance, something the company couldn’t have wanted given how it talks about its strict monitoring of brain injuries and that nobody with a concussion can get back in the ring without passing Impact testing. Somehow, whether a late diagnosis or whatever, he did those pesky five to seven matches after the injury, and the company was already involved in lawsuits with a number of former wrestlers on the concussion issue.
The WWE’s head of medical, Dr. Joseph Maroon, the father of Impact testing, later told him that he should never wrestle again. Maroon, played by Arliss Howard, was the villain in the movie “Concussion.” Maroon was portrayed as an NFL controlled doctor who rejected new discoveries on brain injuries, claimed they were quackery, and was loyal to the protecting the public image of football above its athletes and dismissing the ramifications of concussions.
It was Bryan’s tenth documented concussion, plus he likely had others that weren’t documented and scores of sub-concussive blows during his wrestling career. His wife, at first, also wanted him to retire.
He ended up getting tested, and cleared, by an Arizona Cardinals doctor. After a series of tests, it was determined that Danielson’s cognitive skills were well above that of the average person his age.
Danielson said he largely felt fine, and wanted to wrestle. His wife, by this time, seeing that he had passed tests, was now supportive in his returning to wrestling.
Danielson is wired differently than most in wrestling. Wrestling is the love of his life, not his job. The money he was making in WWE was great, but he was just as happy wrestling in front of 300 people as 13,000 people.
He went to concussion experts at UCLA for a battery of tests, EEG’s and MRI’s of the brain. He passed with flying colors. Maroon still wouldn’t clear him. Vince McMahon told him he was not going to allow him to wrestle. He didn’t take that lying down. He later argued his case again to McMahon, who gave him a line that he would think about it or consider it, but it came across like a 95 percent no, and if there’s was five percent hope, he wasn’t sure if it wasn’t just McMahon trying to pacify him for the moment.
He asked for his release. He was looking at working for New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor, as well as work a regular indie schedule, just like he had done before WWE. Unlike many who would be negative about those prospects, feel they were stars above it and go around doing little but wanting to cash the check, there was little doubt he’d come back with the same motivation he had years earlier when he was the best wrestler in the world.
He was watching those promotions and it was something he was genuinely excited about doing, thinking he could help the industry as a whole to use his stardom to help build a larger following for the other companies.
In 2010, he was fired because there was an issue with sponsors when he violated policy by spitting and choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own neck tie in the Nexus beat down of Cena angle. When future father-in-law John Laurinaitis called to fire him, he was shocked that Danielson didn’t appear the slightest bit despondent. In his autobiography, Danielson noted that he had actually made less money in his first year with WWE than he’d made the last several years of working indies, and figured with coming off being fired by WWE that he’d be able to charge a higher price than before for his services. He’d had nothing but fun before living in that world, and figured there was nothing wrong with going back. He started taking bookings and making plans, with no sense of sadness at all. He loved the wrestling and he even loved the long car trips with the guys. He was a guy when faced with the decision of going 450 miles to the next town, either take a one hour plus flight or drive with his crew for seven plus hours, would choose the car ride.
He was about to finalize a New Japan deal when WWE called to offer him a new deal, to bring him back at SummerSlam as a mystery partner in the main event on the WWE team against Nexus, who in storyline had gotten rid of him when he was fired. Unlike most, after returning to WWE television and participating in SummerSlam, he continued to work out the next seven weeks of independent bookings.
There were reports that he had been studying CMLL heavily, and watched the recent anniversary show main events. He had outright said that one of the things he was most looking forward to doing was to continue to grow his hair, to go to CMLL, and build for a mask vs. hair match at an Anniversary show with Atlantis.
Vince McMahon told him he wouldn’t release him. Worse, he couldn’t even sit patiently by, let his injuries heal, get in shape, and wait for his contract to expire. The WWE in its contracts has the right that if a wrestler is injured for a considerable length of time, that they can freeze the time frame of his or her contract. The time left on the contract doesn’t start rolling until they are ready to work in the ring and fulfill it as an active wrestler. The WWE was able to use that clause to keep Rey Mysterio from season one of Lucha Underground even though his contract time frame had expired, although they did eventually release Mysterio. Danielson’s time left on his contract was frozen until he could return. But, the ice age would never end, since he could never be cleared to return and fulfill that time left. He would get paid his downside guarantee until the company made the decision to fire him. The company wasn’t going to fire him as long as there was any residual value left from his 2014 big run and where he could help a potential competitor.
A lot of wrestlers would love the idea of guaranteed money for what would likely be the next several years to sit on the sidelines, heal up, start a family and be home full-time.
But he was the exception. He was still looking for ideas where he would either prove to WWE that he should wrestle, even though he knew the odds were 95 percent or more than it wouldn’t happen, or to come up with an ingenious way to force them into firing him, or figure a way out of his never-ending contract.
But today, that’s all a moot point.
He was also looking for the right answer. He had been very careful to never criticize Maroon nor McMahon, stating that he believed they were acting in what they thought were his best interest. But he wasn’t convinced they were right, particularly after passing the UCLA tests. It was clear that if there was a legitimate problem, he could accept it and move on with his life. But the way he felt, and the fact he was passing tests, that he could train and he was physically ready to step into the ring with past injuries all healed, made him think there may not be a problem.
And one can easily be skeptical. Maroon’s reputation took a hit in the movie, and the last thing he’d want is to clear someone with a history of concussions, and then have him suffer another concussion. There was also the lawsuit against WWE, and the idea of putting a star back in the ring after ten concussions could possibly convince a jury that they had been lax, and still are lax, on exactly what they were being sued over.
A few weeks ago, Danielson came across Evoke Neuroscience, a new brain testing procedure that essentially examines all the different parts of the brain. Unlike Impact testing, where athletes have learned to pretend to be slower in their baseline test, thus if they get a concussion, their follow-up tests wouldn’t be so different, this test you can’t cheat on. It has the potential, if proven effective, to be the new state-of-the-art in brain testing to see when athletes can return to the playing field after concussions.
Also, unlike all the cognitive tests he had passed, his high IQ and the potential of his brain creating new pathways around a possible damaged part of the brain to compensate for injuries wouldn’t be hidden.
It also should be noted that this testing is new science, actually first created by a doctor from the military looking at examining brain trauma in soldiers, as well as a prominent sports doctor looking for something that could help with examining all parts of the brain, to find if there is a weakness that is being overrode. Athletes at times that have had a brain injury but were no longer showing any symptoms, may have the damaged portion overrode and new pathways created around the injured region. This is most notable in athletes with high IQ’s.
A fluke mention by Kevin Kelly on the 1/5 New Japan New Year’s Dash show on New Japan World is really a key in what sets the wheels in motion on this. Kelly remarked the main event of that show, during the Briscoes match, that they did an IQ test of the entire ROH locker room many years back, and that Danielson scored the highest. The reference was made when Matt Striker actually was making a joke about what you would figure Mark Briscoe’s IQ was. Striker in making the joke, clearly thinking what most would think about Mark Briscoe based on his character. Kelly responded that Mark Briscoe actually had the third highest IQ in the promotion at the time, noting it was behind only Danielson and Nigel McGuinness. Essentially that line set the wheels in motion about a week later that led to Danielson finding out about this testing, which has just started to be used in some MMA circles. It was demonstrated that same weekend on the Inside MMA television show where Al Iaquinta was shown being examined, and the Ray Longo/Chris Weidman camp were the first team to use it to see if fighters were truly ready to return to hard sparring after a fight or knockout.
On 1/21, he flew to New York to be tested. Six days later, he got the results.
Danielson’s test showed a small subacute or chronic lesion in his temporal parietal region of the brain, the area of the brain that causes seizures. Danielson has had post concussion seizures for a long time and nobody could find any evidence as to why.
What is key here is that Danielson made the decision on his own to retire after finding evidence that something was wrong. He was not told after getting the test results that he had to retire, and he will be undergoing more testing, but the damage was still in evidence more than eight months after his most recent concussion.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old, and within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’d already had three concussions,” Danielson said in his interview on Raw. “For years after that, I’d get a concussion here and there and it gets to the point when you’ve been wrestling for years, that adds up to a lot of concussions. It gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore. And for a long time, I fought that, because I’d gotten EEGs and brain MRIs and neuro psychological evaluations and all of them said I was fine and I could come back. I trained like I was coming back and I was ready on a moment’s notice if the WWE needed me. I wanted to come back and wrestle because I love this in a way in a way I’ve never loved anything else. A week and a half ago, I took a test that said maybe my brain isn’t as okay as I thought it was. I have a family to think about. My wife and I want to start having kids soon.”
Even before he got the test results back, his wife had been planning on retiring very shortly to start a family.
I have a ton of personal memories of watching his matches, really starting with the masked American Dragon who wrestled in San Antonio that people were raving about from his earliest matches.
Danielson graduated high school in 1999, and was actually planning on heading to Florida to learn pro wrestling as the Malenko school. He found out that school didn’t exist and that Shawn Michaels was doing a school in San Antonio. So after graduation, he took the money he’d saved from working various jobs in high school, drove from Aberdeen to San Antonio, and was part of the first class of Michaels’ students.
Michaels not only trained students, but got local television and ran shows in the area off the television, like an old-time promotion, except in 1999, those economics didn’t work at all and before long, he gave up on he idea and stopped training wrestlers.
The masked American Dragon was similar to an Owen Hart or Chris Benoit when they started in Calgary or Jun Akiyama or Kenta Kobashi in Japan, or Kurt Angle in Memphis, in the sense you could tell they were naturals at this business. He was, from the start, already good. He was immediately the star wrestler in the promotion, but in no way was he considered the top prospect. The future star of the class was supposed to be Lance McNaught, a tall 19-year-old who reminded people of a teenage Barry Windham.
Jim Ross, as head of WWE Talent Relations, signed Michaels’ four top students, Danielson, Brian Kendrick, who wrestled as Spanky, McNaught, who wrestled as Lance Cade, and a guy who is largely forgotten, who used the name Shooter Schultz.
The four were sent to Memphis Championship Wrestling. Darren Matthews, better known as William Regal, was there trying to get his own life turned around after major issues with pain killers had seriously threatened to not just end his career, but destroy his life. The two hit it off, and Danielson always credits Regal as being his primary trainer and friend.
“In 2004, I wrote in my book that the proudest thing in my career was having a hand in the training of Bryan Danielson, now Daniel Bryan,” said Regal this past week on Twitter. “That fact hasn’t changed. He’s had an unmatched career and changed the world of pro wrestling and sports entertainment. On top of that, he is one of the nicest people I have ever met and a truly great man. I can’t ever see a time when he won’t be a part of my life. What a lucky man I am.”
He did well in Memphis, to the point they were considering bringing him to the main roster in January 2001, as there were moves made by those in creative to introduce a cruiserweight division. But the idea was dropped. Six months later, when the decision was made after all kinds of problems to drop affiliation with Memphis Championship Wrestling, some of the talent was moved to developmental outposts in Louisville or Cincinnati. Others, like Danielson, who they apparently didn’t see potential in, were released.
A few months later, Danielson was in Vallejo, CA, for Roland Alexander’s second King of the Indies tournament. This was the first time I ever saw him wrestle live. Alexander had done a similar tournament a year earlier, although the talent was much better this time. Still, it was just a local indie show with names that at the time almost nobody knew. My radio co-host and spiritual younger brother, Bryan Alvarez, who was still wrestling, was booked for the weekend shows, and even though we had been good friends for a couple of years, we had actually never met before. In no way could anyone see the ramifications of what would happen that weekend.
16 largely unknown wrestlers were brought in and the beginning of a major change in underground pro wrestling started on October 26, 2001, before about 300 fans.
The unknown talent brought in included Scoot Andrews from Florida, Doug Williams from the U.K., Adam Pearce from Southern California, Danielson from Aberdeen, WA, Brian “Spanky” Kendrick, also from Washington, Super Dragon from Los Angeles, A.J. Styles from Gainesville, GA, Low Ki from Brooklyn and Frankie Kazarian from Yucca Valley, CA. A couple of guys in the tournament had achieved some stardom already. Christopher Daniels had a reputation as maybe the best unsigned wrestler in the U.S., and was a star in Japan as the masked Curry Man with Michinoku Pro Wrestling. Samoa Joe, while having little name in the U.S., had become a star with Zero-One in Japan. Area wrestlers from Alexander’s All Pro Wrestling school and promotion, Donovan Morgan, Mark “Bison” Smith, Tony Jones, Jardi Frantz and Vinny Massaro rounded out the field.
Alexander had also brought in legends from around the country, including Pepper Gomez, Dick Beyer as The Destroyer, Kinji Shibuya and many others. I ended up sitting with Red Bastien, one of the greatest workers of his time and pioneer high-flyers of the 50s, 60s and 70s, and Nick Bockwinkel, one of the greatest all-around performers the industry ever had
They were enjoying the action. Virtually none of the 300 fans had ever heard of Bryan Danielson, or Spanky, when they got in the ring. Very quickly they had won everyone over and had something like a ****1/4 or better match. While they both liked Spanky, it was Danielson who really caught their eye. Bastien said that people from his generation wouldn’t want to admit it, but Danielson was as talented a wrestler as the best guys of their era. Bockwinkel said that he would have been proud to been in the ring with Danielson when he was world champion. He also told me he wanted to meet Danielson and tell him just that.
When the match was over, we all went backstage. Morgan, who along with Michael Modest was the top wrestler in Alexander’s promotion, was supposed to win the tournament. Bockwinkel went to Alexander and told him he’s nuts if he doesn’t put “this guy over,” pointing to Danielson. Alexander had so much respect for Bockwinkel, that everything changed. Danielson beat Williams in the semifinals the next day, and went about 30:00 with Low Ki in a ****½ match to win the finals.
A short time later, Rob Feinstein, Doug Gentry and Gabe Sapolsky were watching a tape of the tournament. Feinstein claimed he watched the tape first and told Gentry that there’s enough talent there to start a wrestling promotion. Sapolsky was negative at first, because he worked the closest with Paul Heyman in ECW and understood the pitfalls of actually doing a wrestling company. The three names they wanted to build around were Joe, Low Ki and Danielson.
The very first Ring of Honor show was February 23, 2002, at the Murphy Rec Center in Philadelphia, before 500 fans, headlined by Danielson vs. Low Ki vs. Daniels. Because of the quality of the main event, the promotion was immediately put on the map.
ROH in its early years was built around Danielson, Joe and C.M. Punk. At first, Joe became the biggest star of the three, and established their title with his nearly 22 month title reign in 2003 and 2004. Danielson got the next long reign, just over 15 months in 2005 and 2006. During that period, he battled through some serious injuries to have some of the best matches in wrestling anywhere in the world with a variety of different opponents. It wasn’t just great matches, but it was that every match was different. ROH is very different from WWE in the sense it caters to a small group of aficionados, so the idea is to constantly create new things. In WWE, catering to a larger clientele, the idea is to create things that get over and constantly train the audience to recognize and pop for them.
At the time, and even more in hindsight, the most memorable moments were matches with Nigel McGuinness, one of which featured both men running at each other with a series of sick ramming head-butts.
“Bryan was pivotal in building ROH during my time there,” said Sapolsky, who booked his rise to underground fame and his title run. “His matches made us different and set us apart. He gave us a guy we could promote as the best, and he was, so it was believable. The main thing about Bryan is he matured over the years. He learned how to carry the promotion on his back an champion and grew into that role. He was always two steps ahead of things and looking to improve and fine tune his craft. He has a different way of looking at something. Instead of just accepting something, he tried to figure out how he could put his own slant on it and make it his own.”
Ring of Honor was the stage that led to a number of today’s biggest stars getting their breaks, most notably Danielson, Punk and Seth Rollins. It also set the stage for the entire new style of independent wrestling, instead of untrained guys copying spots that the television stars do, a number of promotions opened up with the idea of doing what was perceived as the implementing the wrestling style of the future, instead of a weaker version of what was done in the past. Without King of Indies, there is no Ring of Honor. Without Danielson, Low Ki and Joe in particular, and later Punk, Ring of Honor would have gotten little attention and would have made no change in the landscape or future of the industry.
It was the success of Punk and Danielson that changed, not all the way, but to an extent, the entire mindset of WWE when it came to talent.
“Bryan became a leader, but not by choice and not in a traditional way,” said Sapolsky. “He never asked for respect. He didn’t have a demeanor that would demand it. He didn’t yearn for it. He just always got it and people listened to and followed him. He isn’t a loud leader that owns a room. Rather, he did it by example and how he conducted himself. He was looked up to by everyone. That is what made him a leader.
“He had a gift I’ve never seen in anyone else in talking a small simple thing and getting it over. The word “Yes,” and “I have till five,” and the small package as a viable finisher in the midst of the independent landscape when everyone did a numbing amount of big moves. I still can’t explain how he got those small, simple things over as major parts of his act. But he did and it’s a real gift I’ve never seen in anyone else.”
At first, the mentality was that they would rather not scout the indies, because the guys didn’t know how to work, and didn’t look like stars. Punk was signed because there was a buzz about him, and put in developmental. He’d have likely been dropped had Paul Heyman not pushed for him. Danielson was signed in August 2009, went to developmental and told he needed a new name. Names like Buddy Peacock and Lloyd Bonaire (likely a play on words for Boner) were suggested, until Regal came up with Daniel Bryan.
He was brought up as one of the top developmental stars for a new TV show on Syfy called “NXT,” a reality show that was to replace their version of ECW, a failed attempt to revive the Heyman brand from years earlier.
Bryan and Wade Barrett were considered the favorites. The company’s pick was Barrett, a 6-foot-5 wrestler with a great delivery of words and a movie star face, with the idea of making him a star right out of the box. But there was a fan voting element. Rather than risk the voting going the wrong, Bryan was booked to lose every week. He ended up losing something like ten of 11 matches and then he and Michael Tarver were the first people cut from the competition, long before there was any risk the wrong guy would win.
For years, the WWE rule was that they were looking for people who could be headliners, and to be headliners you needed to be 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds. For a long time, the doctrine in developmental is that nobody smaller than that could even be signed. Because of Punk and Danielson, while the size and physique, as well as looks, are still favored, even when the crowd reacts otherwise, the door wasn’t closed on people like Kalisto, Neville, Sami Zayn or a guy with a belly like Kevin Owens as it would have been years earlier.
If ROH never existed, no way Danielson, C.M. Punk ever would have made it to the level they did, and one could greatly question if Seth Rollins would have as well.
There will be a number of stars going forward who would have never gotten a chance had all these things not happened, and would not wrestle the way they do.
I bring up Bockwinkel and Bastien for those who remember them and were fortunate enough to watch them. They were two of the best wrestlers of their era. Both came from a generation that if you were hurt in any way that wasn’t debilitating, or had a concussion, you ignored it, drove to the next city, and you worked through it. Bastien was one of the most upbeat, open-minded wrestlers around, as evidenced by, at the age of 70, within minutes of seeing him for the first time, recognizing Danielson’s talents, and 15 minutes later being one of the first people on his feet to give him and Kendrick a standing ovation. He was from North Dakota and was a shooter in the carnivals who was considered too small to make money as a pro wrestler, and became one of the great high-flyers. In his late 50s, Bastien became a fan of Lucha Libre and even tried to start a promotion in the U.S. When people would bring up how athletes today make so much more than in his generation, he had no jealousy, saying, “We made more than the average person in our era, and I guarantee that nobody had as much fun as we did.” Both, like so many wrestlers of their generation, suffered all kinds of cognitive problems later in life. Their last years were not kind, and were heartbreaking to family and close friends.
I hope that fans and young wrestlers can call Bryan Danielson for advice, or talk about his contemporaries and his era in 40 years and he'll be able to tell them wonderful stories, talk about his great experiences, the people he’s met, an the people he shared the ring with in exquisite detail, and that he will live a wonderful life.
A lot of people in this and other high contact professions were not so lucky. So personally, I'm saddened by the news, and everyone around pro wrestling should be as well. Wrestlers like Bryan Danielson don't come around very often, who change, even if it's some small fashion and even if there's some resistance to it, the way everyone views what wrestling is and should be. This business is so much better off for his being a part of it, in ways people probably understand now, and in ways they may not fully grasp for a long time.
There is no political bad guy in this. Every doctor involved gave their honest opinions and he across the board was always going to make what he or she believed was the most rational and best decision. Nobody knows Bryan Danielson and his condition better than himself. I'm confident his decision was made for all the right reasons long-term. As much as I'd love to see him in the main event at WrestleMania this year, or to see him work programs with people like Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, Chad Gable, A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens and so many others who will fill those roles going forward, and while there is a lot of sadness, there is absolutely no madness at what happened this past week.
That said, the Pandora’s box is opening before our eyes. If the testing that caused Danielson to make the rational decision that it’s in his best interest to retire is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the leading concussion specialists in the world, has predicted we are only a few years away from testing that will be able to detect CTE while people are still alive. Tests like these are going to change every contact sport, because for teams and organizations, the liability will be too high to allow someone who has signs of CTE to be allowed back on the playing field, whether they want to accept it or not.
Some people are going to decide that contact sports aren’t good for them. Parents, more and more, will try and keep their children from participating in them at least while they are still growing up. Those who are good enough to make money, will get out sooner, and we’ve seen evidence in that in MMA with the early retirement of Brian Stann and several others, and Carlos Condit talking retirement even though he is at his peak and has never been knocked out in a fight. Those who don’t have money, maybe forced out by testing even if it’s the only way they know to make money. Endeavors like pro wrestling, which have the ability to change, will likely have to do so. Those that are actual contact sports, will have to change the rules, trying to find a balance between safety of the participants while maintaining excitement for the fans. Careers will be shorter.
Five years ago, the only chance Bryan Danielson wouldn’t be wrestling this week would be if he had an injury that would temporarily keep him out of action until he returned. Ten years ago, he’d have worked through the concussions, likely suffered more by not taking time off, and his later life could be impaired greatly. And in reality, four months ago, he’d be right now trying to come up with a way to get fired or somehow get out of his contract and he’s be walking into programs with Tanahashi, Okada, Atlantis, The Young Bucks, Jay Lethal, Adam Cole and others, and if successful at getting fired, would be an odds-on-favorite to be the 2016 Wrestler of the Year. Or he could be lucky, wrestle for another 15 years, and be like the guy who smokes two packs a day, never gets lung cancer and lives to be 95.
Perhaps if there was no lawsuit, or no movie, Dr. Maroon would have cleared him to return a long time ago and he wouldn’t have sought out the test in the first place, and he’d be facing Undertaker, or Lesnar or Styles or Owens at this year’s WrestleMania. Yeah, of course, it probably would have been Sheamus. Perhaps none of that had any impact on Maroon’s decision and those elements played no part in how the story turned out.
But make no mistake about it, in three or five years, or whenever the these new tests come to fruition, they will become the standard used in all sports.
But there is also a positive in all this. As more and more research is done on sports and combat related brain injuries, more and more work will be done on trying to come up with cures as well.
Injuries do heal, even to the surprise of doctors. As more and more knowledge comes with the specifics of brain injuries, solutions, and aids in healing those specific issues, will also be worked on. This is a science that is changing rapidly. Whether he realizes it today or not, it is entirely possible that time and knowledge will lead to healing his small subacute or chronic lesion in his temporal parietal region of his brain.
It is unlikely, but it’s far from impossible, that one day he will show up on television and surprise everyone, telling them, “Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
We may never see a segment like we saw on Monday night again. But we will see the same end story unfold before our eyes, again and again.
And in response to so many requests, the Best Technical Wrestler award, which Bryan Danielson won every year from 2005 to 2013, will be named from this point forward, the Bryan Danielson Award.
Some highlights of the Danielson speech.
*As people where loudly chanting for him, he smiled and closed his eyes. “I was able to close my eyes and really fell that in a way I’ve never been able to feel this before, because we have to keep our eyes open. That experience, I’m never going to forget.”
*“It’s time for me to address the giant elephant in the room. I know, I didn’t want to shave my beard either. But the thing is, I wanted to cut my hair, and once I cut my hair, I looked really silly with this giant beard.”
*He said that he cut his hair to support an organization called “Wigs for Kids,” which makes wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer. He noted that boys in particular often don’t like female hair wigs. He also noted that the organization doesn’t charge the families at all for the wigs. “If there is anything worthwhile that comes from what I’m saying, that’s it right there.”
*As the crowd was going crazy chanting “Yes, Yes, Yes,” in a totally out of character moment, he said, “That’s what Brie says all the time.”
*“I also love right before my music hits and it makes that weird sound when you guys react every single time, even if I’m tired or hurting, I get this weird little smirk on my face and it brings joy to my heart and I love it every single time.”
*“I love hitting the ropes and diving right here (he went to the spot between the middle and top rope that he’d fly through doing a tope). It has made me feel like Superman and you guys reaction to that made me feel like Superman.”
*“I have gotten to meet the most amazing people on this planet, somebody who looks like a monster but is the smartest man I know, like Kane, a man who has been a mentor and friend for 16 years in William Regal. I have gotten to meet children that are stronger that I ever thought I could ever be like Connor.”
*“I am very grateful because wrestling doesn’t owe me anything or anyone anything. WWE doesn’t owe us anything. You guys don’t owe us anything. We do this because we love to do this.”
“I am grateful because of wrestling I got to meet the most wonderful woman in the world, she’s beautiful, she’s smart and she completes me in a way that I didn’t even think was possible, and that’s because of wrestling.”
*”I am grateful because I got to come out here in front of my hometown fans. I got to announce my retirement in front of a bunch of people who love me, that special moment I had with my dad, I got to share that moment with my mom, with my sister, with my family and with my friends. I get to share that with them. I get to share it with my wife in the back and with all these wonderful human beings I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life with.”
“Now tomorrow morning, I start a new life, a life where I’m no longer a wrestler. But that is tomorrow and that is not tonight. I have one more night to feel this energy and feel this crowd, and if I can get one last ‘Yes’ chant, I will really appreciate it.”