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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Where does Daniel Bryan go from here?

Daniel Bryan's been sent home from the European tour, understandably in physical distress. He's only been back on the road for about 100 days, after missing close to eight months with neck, arm, and nerve issues, which spelled the end of his storybook WWE championship reign, and killed off his push when it was at its white-hottest.

The issues must be severe enough if WWE didn't even keep Bryan around to be 'guest host' for the remaining shows, or serve in some other sort of non-physical capability. Dave Meltzer's speculating that Bad News Barrett's getting the IC Title back at Extreme Rules, owing to what he knows about Bryan's condition.

It's unfortunate that somebody so easily loved and respected as Bryan, the well-toned avatar of the lifer-fan, is experiencing what looks like repeated dead ends in his career. He turns 34 next month, which doesn't sound so bad until you remember that he's been wrestling since he was 18. The schedule he's kept and the break-neck (pun kind of intended) speed and style that he's cultivated for himself aren't kind to the body. The diving headbutts, the elevated bumps, and the stiff strikes he's taken certainly ravage any body over the course of a decade and a half, let alone a body as lithe as Bryan's.

I can't imagine Bryan working a part-time schedule. Those schedules only work best for characters with billowing egos (Rock from Hollywood, Lesnar as a power-broker, Triple H as an executive) or benefit from absence (Undertaker receding into his vague darkness). Bryan's story is always the underdog that fights night in and night out to prove his merit as, well, a fighter. He's a bold competitor, which is what made him so likable in the first place. Granted, the fans would still pull for him if he worked no more than 15-20 dates per year and skipped house shows, but that's also a built-in character lure that would go by the wayside. Bryan by definition is a relentless competitor. Rock makes movies, Lesnar hunts Kodiak bears with a prison shank. What would Bryan's outworldly character get for a time-off reasoning, touring with The Decemberists?

If it comes down to it, I could imagine Bryan leaving WWE, especially if they refused to allow him to compete for legal reasons. This mirrors the Kurt Angle situation, where WWE didn't want a renowned gold medalist dying on their watch. As such, inconceivable as it may be, I can imagine Bryan returning to Ring of Honor or New Japan, maybe not in 2015 or 2016, but beyond. But that also depends on how realistically he looks at his situation. Despite his competitive nature, I could also see Bryan becoming a stay-at-home loving husband and doting father to his future kids. He'd probably be able to land on his feet financially.

At the same time, can you imagine WWE letting Bryan go? That'd be a PR nightmare in some sense. Punk's exit drew headlines, as did those of Del Rio and Mysterio, become of their unwavering fan bases. Latino fans couldn't believe how Del Rio was treated, while #FreeRey became a rallying cry for AAA. Bryan falls into the Punk camp, where two groups of fans (the ones that followed their career timeline and the ones that jumped on their bandwagon in the WWE years) are extraordinarily vocal. If WWE is unwilling to put Bryan in the ring, as understandable as that may be, there are millions of fans who aren't going to understand that. Trying to ease Bryan into an authority role may mollify that somewhat, but it's not the same if he can't kick someone in the face to the tune of shouts of "YES!"

Foremost, I hope the best for Bryan physically. The history books have too many Dynamite Kids, Chris Benoits, and others that crumbled from the hyperphysical grind. I'm not saying Bryan will ever kill anybody, but I hope a normal life for him in whatever the next pages read. If he returns to the ring, I hope it's with some realm of safety and comfort.

It would be hard to imagine Daniel Bryan not wrestling, and now it's just as hard to imagine wrestling without Daniel Bryan.

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