No, no, no: Hard as it is to say, Daniel Bryan needs to retire

daniel bryanFor the second time in a year, Daniel Bryan had to vacate a major title belt weeks after a huge WrestleMania victory due to injury.

On Monday Night Raw in Cincinnati, Ohio, earlier tonight, Bryan, the reigning Intercontinental champ, told the stunned crowd that he has been given conflicting advice by doctors treating him for an injury sustained during WWE’s recent European tour, and that it’s a possibility that he may have wrestled his last match.

Unlike former WWE champ Edge, who was forced into early retirement in 2011, Bryan hasn’t been given his official career death sentence, not yet. But it can’t be far behind, given the nature of Bryan’s issues, which started last year after his memorable WrestleMania 30 main-event win over Randy Orton and Batista that completed his magical run to the WWE title.

Neck and shoulder injuries put Bryan on the shelf for seven months, leading to his vacation of the WWE title and the first round of speculation about a possible premature end to his career, given his aggressive, intense in-ring style.

Some cringed when Bryan was inserted into the ladder match for the I-C title at WrestleMania 31 for that very reason, and Bryan certainly didn’t seem to alter his approach in that match, as if one could, given the gimmick, involving the myriad ways one could injure oneself climbing ladders, falling onto and being thrown into ladders, and the rest.

The latest injury doesn’t appear to be related, but WWE has been mum on the exact nature of what was and is wrong with Bryan, denying reports that it was a concussion, but otherwise not really saying what it was.

Concussion, neck, shoulder, any of the three, none are good options for a small guy (5’10”, 210 pounds) who is over with fans because of the way he puts his body on the line against much-bigger opponents.

It’s not like Bryan can reinvent himself as a muscleman, the way Scott Steiner, a former high-flyer, was able to do for a few years after suffering a back injury that literally grounded him.

Pack 20, 30, pounds of muscle on him, he’s still 5’10”. That’s just reality.

As is this: Bryan turns 34 on May 22, which is early for a guy to be considering retirement. He really is just now entering the prime years of his career, with rightful expectations, if healthy, for a run of five, six, seven years, maybe more, at the top of the game.

Edge had to step away at a similar point in his career arc, just 37 when he had to call it quits.

It’s better to call it quits than to have quits called for you. Too many of our favorite wrestlers die young because they don’t listen to their bodies. Countless others live on shells of their former selves plying their trade and hawking their wares of yesteryear for a pittance of their former value because they waited too late to make the transition to a post-wrestling career and have no other options for making a living.

Bryan still has a long life ahead of him, which means he has plenty of time to translate his skills in getting over a 5’10”, 210-pound goat-faced wrestler to the point where that goat-face was the face of WWE into the next big thing in his life.

Maybe it’s as an on-air commentary talent; maybe it’s working behind the scenes in creative or in developmental at NXT. Maybe he moves into mainstream sports TV; maybe there’s something else out there that he’s not even thinking of right now.

Daniel Bryan did what only a few have ever done or ever will do, headlining WrestleMania, leaving ‘Mania with the big strap on his shoulder, with confetti and the sounds of 70,000 fans erupting into a “Yes!” chant at the bell forever etched into the memories.

That’s his legacy.

For his own sake, let’s hope that his legacy doesn’t include any more wrestling.

– Column by Chris Graham


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