Fans are picking up on what seem to be obvious cues, most notably the tensions that are being played out in a storyline involving Bryan, as the on-air general manager of the Smackdown brand, and Shane McMahon, the on-air Smackdown commissioner.
It feels like the underpinnings to an eventual match, but so does the back-and-forth between Bryan and former Intercontinental champion The Miz, who famously dissed Bryan on an episode of “Talking Smack” several months ago.
Throw in the off-camera chokeslam that Kane delivered to Bryan in the walk-up to Survivor Series for good measure, and this seems like a lot from WWE for a guy who is not being eased back into in-ring action.
But Wrestling Observer is reporting that WWE confirmed this week that Bryan has not been cleared for a return, and that its medical staff will make the final call, at least as long as Bryan is under contract to the company.
Bryan, for his part, has made it clear in recent interviews that he feels like he is ready to get back to work in ring, and has hinted that if it isn’t in WWE, it could come after his contract expires on the indies, where he would no doubt command top dollar.
Even if Bryan is given clearance to return in WWE, it would have to be on a limited working schedule, akin to what Brock Lesnar works – basically a set number of pay-per-views and weekly TV, a handful of high-profile house shows, and that’s it.
You can’t rely on Bryan to lead a brand from a touring perspective, the way Roman Reigns is expected to sell tickets on the marquee for Raw house shows, and A.J. Styles carries the flag for Smackdown on the road.
And in-ring, Bryan can’t be the old Daniel Bryan, flying around the ring, taking ugly bumps from bigger opponents, diving off ropes onto the floor.
One more concussion doesn’t just mean the end of his career. It could mean a different life for him post-wrestling, in terms of exposure to the effects of CTE that we’ve seen demonstrated in numerous aging football players who worked through far too many brain injuries for their long-term good.
Managed carefully, Bryan can contribute again in-ring, and he clearly seems to want to be able to do that.
The risks are obvious, though. Even managed carefully, mistakes can happen in what is essentially combat theater, and Bryan could be one botched move away from disaster.
Story by Chris Graham