So now that we’re a week out from Daniel Bryan’s retirement announcement I figured it would be a good time to take a broader look at the whole thing. (OK not really, I just didn’t get a chance to do this until now.) There is a lot to unpack beyond what I said last week about it. To wit:
Vince McMahon Cares?
Of course he doesn’t. But one of the strangest developments out of all this was that Bryan was cleared more than once by his own personal doctors while the WWE doctors came to a different conclusion. That is a 180 from how these usually things play out. You add in that Bryan was lying about the extent to which his brain was injured, not Vince’s doctors, and it gets even more strange. This kind of thing just never happens in the sports and entertainment business; usually the promoter/head coach pushes the performer back on the stage or field and is willing to cut corners with their health in the process. So what gives here?
Call it the Chris Benoit effect. Taking chances with an employee’s brain is an absolute no no in 2016, almost entirely because of Benoit’s likely brain injury induced murder/suicide almost 10 years ago. If you don’t remember or weren’t around for it, that was a really dark time for the business and especially Vince McMahon. It was open season on both he and the WWE in the media, and the lack of a television rights hammer to hold over the networks head gave them free reign to fire away. As is the case when something bad happens with a pro wrestler anyone who worked five minutes for Vince and is still mad about how it ended is given a free mic and a segment or two to unload. After enduring that once there is no way Vince would take that risk again. So he did, in the words of his son-in-law, what’s best for business. And in this case it also happened to be the more humane thing.
The last two years with Bryan leading up to his retirement is a window into Vince’s choices of who to push to the top and who to leave out. While Bryan was struggling against injuries and backstage politics, a few other guys were dealt with in similar fashion thanks to concussion issues. Alberto Del Rio got a concussion in 2012 and was pulled from a pay per view title match against Sheamus. A year later Dolph Ziggler got one and his run at World Champion abruptly ended and Fandango, new to the company, got one and his debut run was abruptly relegated to the bottom of the card. There seems to be somewhat of a recent precedent here that concussions will get you shut down really quickly.
This can also be seen as a reason why Vince makes the choices he does about who he wants as headliner. Roman Reigns getting the nod over Bryan makes all the sense in the world when Bryan’s health is taken into account. A guy like Roman is likely to stay relatively healthy for the next eight to ten years while a guy in the mold of Bryan (think Neville or Kallisto) stands a good chance of his body giving out just as he hits the pinnacle. In Vince’s ideal world the headliner is someone like John Cena, who puts together a long mostly healthy run and is over enough to sell tickets and move a lot of merchandise.
He does not want a brief run by a guy who’s body is already on borrowed time when he gets the belt. And it’s not just Bryan who’s an example of this. Lest we forget, Stone Cold Steve Austin had two bad knees and a damn near broken neck when he was crowned champion in 1998; he missed a whole year from late 1999 to 2000 and was done in 2003. And Austin’s in ring style was dramatically changed due to the neck injury he suffered in 1997. Guys like Braun Strowman get pushed for this reason (among others of course; Vince has historically preferred bigger guys); there’s little to no chance of him getting a serious head or neck injury.
So that pretty much closes the book on Daniel Bryan’s retirement for now. Vince McMahon made the right call, and Bryan ultimately did as well.