A new year means a lot of things to be excited about if you’re a fan of professional wrestling. The last few months of the year are typically below average, but once January hits WWE fans know that the Royal Rumble is coming at the end of the month. There’s even excitement for fans outside of WWE because of how hot New Japan Pro Wrestling is right now led by the likes of Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho, who had an incredible match with Omega earlier this week.
While I’m also excited about the Royal Rumble, I think the most interesting WWE story this year (and possibly the wrestling business in general) is the in-ring future of the current Smackdown general manager, Daniel Bryan.
The last professional wrestling match that Daniel Bryan had was at a Smackdown taping on April 14, 2015 that aired two days later. Bryan, the Intercontinental Champion at the time, teamed with his future brother-in-law John Cena against the duo of Tyson Kidd and Cesaro. After the match, which Bryan won with the Yes Lock, Bryan was sent home due to a concussion he suffered during one of the matches prior to that one.
Following that match, we all wondered when Bryan would be cleared to wrestle again. A year earlier in 2014, he dealt with a neck issue and had to give up the WWE Championship because of it. Seeing Bryan back in the ring in 2015 was wonderful to see, but it ended up being short-lived.
On the Feb. 8, 2016 edition of Raw in Seattle, Washington (his home state), Bryan ended the show with one of the greatest retirement speeches you’re ever going to hear. He talked about being grateful for everything he had in his life because of the wrestling business.
“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 and for years after that I would get a concussion here and there or here or there. And then it gets to a point when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years that that adds up to a lot of concussions, and it gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore.
“For a long time I fought that because I’d gotten EEGs and brain MRIs and neuropsychological evaluations and all of them said this, that I was fine and that I could come back and I could wrestle and I trained like I would come back and I would wrestle and I was ready at a moments notice if WWE needed me I wanted to come back and wrestle. Because I have loved this in a way that I have never loved anything else.”
Bryan owed a lot of things in his life to wrestling because that’s also how he met his wife, WWE superstar Brie Bella. On May 9 last year, the couple welcomed their baby girl Birdie Joe Danielson into the world.
I remember watching that speech, feeling sad about one of my favorite wrestlers having to retire at 34 years of age and I also marveled at well he seemed to be handling it. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but he said goodbye the best way he could. It only made people love him even more.
Pro wrestling is all Bryan has known since he started training as an 18-year-old. I highly recommend reading his autobiography Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania because it chronicled his career very well.
Daniel Bryan’s Journey to the Top of WWE
Bryan’s run in WWE wasn’t supposed to lead to a WrestleMania main event, but he sure earned it. Bryan started with WWE in 2010 after being one of the best indy wrestlers in the world with a lot success in Ring of Honor. He was even fired at one point for aggressively choking Justin Roberts with a tie in 2010, but was back in a prominent role in the main event of SummerSlam 2010. In the summer of 2011, Bryan won the Money in the Bank contract for the Smackdown brand (the “B” show) and a few months later cashed it in to become the World Heavyweight Championship.
During Bryan’s initial run as the World Champion on Smackdown, he started doing something that has become a fixture on WWE shows – the “yes” chants. Bryan got the idea from UFC fighter Diego Sanchez, who gave Bryan his blessing to do it. Sanchez would do it to hype himself up for his fights. When Bryan did it, he started out as a heel who annoyed the crowd by chanting “yes” repeatedly.
Fast forward to WrestleMania 28 in 2012 in Miami. I was there that night rooting for Bryan as he defended the World Title against Royal Rumble winner Sheamus. I can remember so many “yes” chants in the parking lot before the show and while going to our seats. Bryan was the bad guy, but the people loved him. The match went 18 seconds after Bryan got a good luck kiss from storyline girlfriend AJ Lee (the future Mrs. CM Punk) and Sheamus decked Bryan with a Brogue Kick to win the title. We were so mad. Bryan losing was understandable, but why such a short match? He is such a good worker and we wanted to see more. It took about an hour to get over it as we tried to enjoy the rest of the show.
(As a side note, if you want to see an excellent Bryan match with Sheamus, check out Extreme Rules 2012 because it was outstanding.)
The “yes” chants really caught on after that, serviing as a rallying cry for fans to tell WWE that we loved this guy and wanted to see him do more. Bryan ended up turning face as a tag team partner with Kane, which led to the duo being called “Team Hell No.” It was a comedy team that helped make Bryan a bigger star. The “anger management” classes were hilarious in helping to get Bryan’s personality over.
At SummerSlam 2013, Bryan beat John Cena to win the WWE Championship for the first time. The celebration was short-lived as referee Triple H dropped Bryan with a Pedigree and Randy Orton cashed the Money in the Bank briefcase in to turn heel, leading to The Authority vs. Daniel Bryan story.
What happened next should have been obvious. Daniel Bryan should have won the 2014 Royal Rumble and gone on to win back his WWE Title at WrestleMania. Nope. Didn’t happen. Instead, Bryan wasn’t even in the Rumble because he lost to Bray Wyatt on the undercard (a great match, by the way). The fans were so mad about it that they hated the Rumble and booed Batista’s win, even though Batista was supposed to be a face. But something else happened later which changed Bryan’s path when CM Punk quit WWE the next day because he wasn’t happy about the plans they had for him.
The original plan for WrestleMania 30 was for Punk to beat Triple H at WrestleMania 30 while Batista would beat Randy Orton for the WWE Title at WrestleMania 30 as well. Bryan was only scheduled to beat his former rival Sheamus. With Punk gone, plans changed and Bryan’s momentum was stronger than ever. The “Occupy Raw” segment on March 10, 2014 set up Bryan to face Triple H at WrestleMania 30 and then Orton and Batista in the main event for the WWE Championship.
Bryan beat Triple H at WrestleMania in an outstanding opening match. Then in the main event, Bryan beat Orton and Batista to become WWE Champion again. I was there for that one as well, and the ovation he got that night was massive. It was my favorite experience as a WWE fan. Bryan’s run as WWE Champion lasted a couple of months because he had to give up the title due to his neck injury and then the following year the concussion issues were back.
I think what’s most important to remember about Bryan’s career is that he always had the in-ring talent, but once he got the momentum of the “Yes Movement,” he really won the people over like nobody else in this business this decade. At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, he’s not the ideal top guy for Vince McMahon like a John Cena or Roman Reigns is, but when you can connect with a crowd as well as Bryan did, it was the right call to push him to the top.
In July 2016, five months after his retirement, WWE brought back Bryan as the Smackdown GM since they were splitting the roster and he was so beloved by the fans. Bryan has done a fantastic job in the role.
Over the last couple of months, Bryan has started to have some on-screen tension with his storyline boss, Commissioner Shane McMahon. Their issues have led some fans to believe that maybe Bryan will be cleared to wrestle again and perhaps he’ll face Shane McMahon at WrestleMania. Is it possible? Maybe.
Daniel Bryan Really Wants to Wrestle Again
Bryan has talked openly about wanting to wrestle again. According to him, his concussion issue isn’t as bad as people think and doctors are even optimistic that he would be fine if he were to be cleared.
Let me share with you some comments Bryan has made publicly within the last year about his desire to wrestle again. Keep in mind that at 36 years of age, he’s certainly young enough to keep wrestling and if he never got injured, he probably would have been wrestling full time for the last two years as well. Most wrestlers go into their 40s as long as they are healthy, so I have no doubt that Bryan would have kept going if not for his injuries.
In June 2017 on Twitter, Bryan congratulated former WWE superstar Cody Rhodes on becoming Ring of Honor Champion and Bryan also mentioned when his current WWE deal is up.
— Daniel Bryan (@WWEDanielBryan) June 25, 2017
— Daniel Bryan (@WWEDanielBryan) June 25, 2017
September 28, 2018. If WWE doesn’t clear Bryan to wrestle, that’s when he will be able to walk away from the company and perhaps wrestle elsewhere. If Bryan left WWE, he would have to go back to using his real name Bryan Danielson because WWE owns the Daniel Bryan name.
Here’s Bryan explaining his current situation with The Trentonian from September 2017.
“I’m trying to get cleared as we speak. All my tests have come back fantastic, better than people who have never had any concussion-type stuff. But it’s a weird thing. We’re in a weird situation politically with the climate around concussions; right now, it’s very difficult. WWE would love to have me back, but is that the smart thing for me as a business to bring me back? If I was to come back, and they let me back, would they get a lot of flak for it? They have a ton of stockholders that they’re responsible for. It’s more than just, ‘Is he healthy to do it?’”
In November 2017, he told the Busted Open Radio show that there was a chance WWE clears him.
“I think there is an 85 percent chance that I will wrestle again, and a 20 percent chance that WWE will clear me to wrestle.”
If you’re wondering about Bryan’s wife Brie Bella, she supports his desire to wrestle again because she knows how much it means to him. This is what she said about it in August 2017 on the From the Top Rope podcast.
“From that moment, which was pretty much two years ago, he has been doing every kind of testing to every kind of experiment you can imagine for the brain. And he actually found one, it’s this oxygen hyperbaric chamber or something.
“I told Bryan, ‘You do have a daughter, so always remember that. But if the doctors finally give you the green light,’ I go, ‘Go! This is your dream and passion. You have one life to live and I will never hold you back.’ Because I love to wrestle, and I would hate if someone told me you can’t do it. And if WWE doesn’t allow it, then I said, ‘Go somewhere else. It’s all on you.’ Obviously, he would love to be able to get back in that WWE ring, but I know for a fact my husband is going to find his way back to the ring. He honestly is.”
The last quote I’ll give you is from earlier this week with Bryan talking to Sports Illustrated, where he offered up a timeline for when his WWE return might be.
“I assume that if I don’t wrestle by WrestleMania, I probably won’t be wrestling with WWE at all. That’s my assumption. It’s not a black and white answer. There are a lot of issues with me getting cleared by WWE. They have a very strict protocol, which is a good thing, but the timeline of all that happening was not the best for me. It’s an interesting situation that will develop.”
Very interesting stuff there. In case you’re wondering, there have been no comments from WWE’s side.
The WrestleMania comment from Bryan has made people wonder if WWE would clear Bryan again because of the current storyline he’s in with Shane McMahon, AJ Styles, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. It certainly feels like Bryan could be in a match against Shane or part of a tag match, but as of right now, nothing is planned as far as we know.
Final Thoughts on Daniel Bryan’s Wrestling Future
I don’t know if Bryan will wrestle again. I want him to because I know how much he wants to be in the ring again. There’s also concern, though. What if he’s in a match with somebody who kicks him too hard in the head, which leads to a concussion and then something bad happens to his brain? It would be awful. When you’ve had over 10 documented concussions like Bryan has, you’re more susceptible to suffering another one. That’s what makes it so scary.
We are fans of the wrestling business, but we don’t want to see this guy risking his life just to put on wrestling matches. Bryan and Brie don’t need money since they both made a lot as wrestlers, while also being part of successful reality shows Total Divas and Total Bellas. This would be Bryan fulfilling a passion of his not because he needs to do it, but because he loves professional wrestling.
If I had to predict something, I’m leaning towards WWE not clearing Bryan ever again because if something bad happens, they would be held accountable. I think Bryan will leave the company when his deal is up at the end of September. If that does happen, Bryan would be a huge draw on the independent scene. I think Bryan will wrestle for Ring of Honor towards the end of 2018, possibly against Cody Rhodes or somebody else. Bryan may also end up wrestling at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 13 next January 2019 too.
If WWE did clear Bryan, it would likely produce a huge surge in the business because he’s a big name that people like to watch.
The only thing I’m sure of is that Bryan’s future in wrestling will be one of the most interesting stories in the business in 2018. I hope he thinks about it a lot and is smart about it because risking his future to have one more match isn’t worth it. But if he really wants to do it and doctors clear him, who are we to tell him what to do?
Good luck to Daniel Bryan this year. No matter what he does and where he does it, we’ll be watching.