Daniel Bryan’s absence from the WWE reiterates the grueling toll wrestling takes on the human body.
The American is currently out of the organisation’s plans because of several career-threatening concussions and for a man with such a large fanbase –2.3 million Twitter followers no less – it has been difficult to handle being out of the spotlight.
After sustaining a heavy concussion during a Smackdown match with Sheamus in April, WWE pulled Bryan from competing in the remainder of their European tour as a “precautionary measure”. He was due to defend his World Heavyweight Championship title against Bad News Barrett several weeks later but it was cancelled, as Bryan was medically unable to compete. Subsequently, WWE stopped advertising Bryan from all future events. This led many fans believing that his career could be finished.
“No, at least not in my mind,” he says to Sport360 a wry laugh when asked about retirement. “WWE might be thinking that but I feel great. I feel like I’m ready to wrestle. If they called me to wrestle tomorrow I would. It’s just a matter of getting cleared. I’ve had a long history of concussions, so they are a bit hesitant to get me back.
“I’ve learned a lot about concussions during this process. I met with one of the top neurologists that specialise in concussions in the United States. They can check me after every match, but to make sure I reach a baseline level to what my mental capacities are.
“We have an impact test which they have in a lot of sports. It’s a 15 minute test that measures your brain function. I have that test which they can take after concussion, but now I have even more extensive tests. I did a two hour neuropsychological exam. This means if they think I have a concussion, they would first have me check with the doctor, then have me doing the impact test, to make sure it’s up to par with my previous impact test, then do a neuropsychological evaluation, which is a two hour pen and paper test.
“From this, they have all these ways to check my brain function. What they are finding out about concussion, is not the amount of concussions you have, it’s about how your brain heals after it. Learning all this has made me confident in my ability to recover,” he said.
A multiple championship winner and an ebullient personality outside the ring, Bryan only headlined one pay-per view as champion due to a constant string of injuries that saw him ruled out of many WWE events. In April, for example, he was stripped of his World Heavyweight title for his inability to defend it at Money In The Bank.
“It’s was very frustrating, but more the health aspect of it is: the title part isn’t the big deal,” Bryan explains. ”The big deal is how wrestling is the way I express myself creatively, not being able to do it has made me frustrated. I’ve tried to transition this into gardening but it’s not the same. I’m working on it though!
“When I came back from neck surgery I felt like I didn’t miss a bit in terms of fan support. It will be interesting to see what it will be like when/if I come back from this one. I feel like when you get multiple injuries then fans start to lose faith in you.”
Bryan’s WWE career began after his rise to prominence on the Independent Circuit and WWE NXT, where he won multiples titles.
“When I was on NXT, it wasn’t the NXT that it is now. It is stupid when I was in. They had me doing monkey bar challenges. We were drinking soda in one of the episodes as a challenge, and I don’t drink carbonated beverages. A minute of live television was me trying to drink this big gulp of soda.”
“Going from independence to NXT didn’t feel like a big step up, but going from that to Summerslam to RAW felt like a huge step up, especially the pressure of live television, knowing that millions of people are watching you. That pressure can get to you.
Taking the step up from bowels of the organisation to the bright lights and large attendances is a difficult transition that has been made by all of the world’s top wrestlers. Like many, it is something that Bryan struggled with initially.
“I don’t think there’s anything that prepares you for it. You go in, you feel the pressure, you get used to it and it just feels like the normal thing. It’s crazy. When I first did it, I was so nervous. I was wrestling at that point for 13 years. Nothing really changes, and that’s something you have to accept in your mind. This is what I love to do, and I just want to go out and do it to the best of my ability.”
DANIEL BRYAN’S FIVE FAVOURITE WRESTLERS
5. Ric Flair
4. Yuji Nagata
3. Dean Malenko
2. William Regal
1. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels vs Brett Hart – Iron match match – Wrestlemania XII 1996
“First time I got to watch Wrestlemania live on PPV. I love that story. These guys are the two best wrestlers, they’re going to wrestle, and were going to see who wins.”