Last year, I wrote that I didn’t want to see Daniel Bryan wrestle anymore. I wrote about just how uncomfortable it was to watch Bryan fall on his neck and continue to rack up concussion after concussion. I wrote about why a man who had already given us so many memories and so much of his body and passion didn’t need to do it anymore. And last night, I got my wish.
In a career that is riddled with five-star performances, Daniel Bryan gave us one last moment that transcended the sometimes-flimsy world of pro wrestling. Bryan’s story is something that Hollywood producers would probably laugh at. Bryan’s story is Rudy with diving headbutts. It’s a story that people who have no idea about wrestling or what it means to people like Bryan because it connects on a level that anybody can understand.
The same passion that had Bryan wrestling in gas station parking lots and high school gyms and headlining WrestleMania at the New Orleans Superdome was in full display last night as Bryan called it a career at the age of 34. Within the sometimes (okay, a lot of times) fake world of professional wrestling, things got entirely too real for Bryan for the past two years since Bryan headlined WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans. Smart fans like us believed Bryan was a victim of the fans’ undying support for him. The same cult-like appreciation for Bryan that brought him to the main-event picture years ago is the same thing that was holding him back, is what we all wanted to believe. Even as Bryan took to Twitter and other forms of social media begging to be cleared by doctors to return to the ring, we were all certain it was Bryan’s fanbase, who essentially hijacked numerous shows in which Bryan wasn’t the main focal point, that was proving to be a liability to the former champion.
Oh, if it were all as simple as a wrestling storyline.
“Within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’d already had three concussions,” Bryan told the Seattle crowd last night. “For years after that, I would get a concussion here and there, or here, or there, and it gets to the point when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years that it adds up to a lot of concussions. It gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore.”
The hope that this was all part of a major storyline that was going to lead to a big WrestleMania push and for Bryan’s eventual return was immediately sucked out of the arena with those words.
“I have loved this in a way that I have never loved anything else,” Bryan continued. “But a week and a half ago I took a test that said maybe my brain wasn’t as OK as I thought it was. And I have a family to think about, and my wife and I want to start having kids soon.”
What would follow after those sobering words from a man walking away from the only thing he’s loved for the past 15 years of his life was some of the most gripping, heart-wrenching things you’ll ever see on a television screen. Daniel Bryan was Lou Gehrig-esque in his final speech to the WWE faithful.
“My dad was sitting right over there where the guy with the goat mask with the ‘Daniel Bryan’ sign is standing right now. And, my dad got to see that. His son getting that kind of reaction from all you people…” Bryan told the crowd as he began to whimper.
“And that was the last time my dad got to see me wrestle, and you guys made it special for him and for me and for my entire family. I am grateful. I am grateful because of wrestling, I got to meet the most wonderful woman in the world who’s beautiful, she’s smart, and she completes me in a way that I didn’t even think was possible, and that’s because of wrestling. I am grateful. I am grateful because I get to come out here in front of what I feel is my hometown fans, I get to announce my retirement in front of a bunch of people who love me, right? That special moment that I had with my dad I get to share this moment with my mom, with my sister, with my family, with my friends. I get to share that with them, I get to share that with you, I get to share it with my wife in the back, I get to share it with all these wonderful human beings that I have spent the last fifteen years of my life with. I am grateful.”
Wrestling is such a strange form of entertainment. You’re asked, in essence, to suspend your disbelief for a few moments and believe that you are watching superheroes. For a few moments, you are asked to believe that a wizard-mortician guy has magical powers. You’re asked to believe that a well-placed elbow after much theatrics should be enough to incapacitate a man. You’re asked to believe a lot of things about wrestlers and who they are, but at the end of the day they are people. They have families. They hurt, and bleed, and have feelings just like you or me. And unlike Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man and other superheroes that they want you to believe that they are, they don’t live forever.
Daniel Bryan’s career has mirrored that of Chris Benoit’s. Bryan, like Benoit, was seen as one of the best technicians of their era. Bryan, like Benoit, overcame the odds of “not being big enough” in the land of the giants. Bryan, like Benoit, found the love of his life through Brie Bella. Hell, even the “Yes-Lock” is a modified version of the “Crippler Crossface.” Those diving headbutts that Benoit used to do? Yup, Bryan’s was just as good. However, the world is much different now than it was when Benoit was a top star for the WWE. The technology and the knowledge that has come along since Benoit’s terrifying last week of his life is the same exact thing that is saving Daniel Bryan’s.
Movies like Concussion and studies on CTE and the damage to the brain is in the spotlight now more than ever, and thankfully, the WWE saved Bryan from himself in not granting him clearance to return to the ring. One of the most beloved stars of the squared circle was given his roses while he can still smell them, and now he should be able to enjoy the next chapter of his life without having to risk life and limb for our entertainment. He’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of his tireless labor, and in short, get a happily ever after. It is a thing that used to be rare in professional wrestling, but now, starting to be more common. Doctors saved Adam “Edge” Copeland’s life much like Bryan’s, and he’s just as involved with the WWE and still just as entertaining as ever.
I don’t expect Bryan’s post-wrestling life will be any different. He’s great on Total Divas, judged on Tough Enough, penned an amazing autobiography and will be beloved throughout the entertainment world especially as his emotional speech continues to make waves through mainstream media. Not many athletes get storybook careers, but in wrestling, this is as close as you’re going to get.
Daniel Bryan has the type of positive outlook on life that all people should strive to have. Coupled that with the type of work ethic he has, and it’s easy to believe that Bryan would’ve been successful in just about anything he chose to do. All of us should be, as Bryan put it so eloquently last night, grateful that he decided to be a pro wrestler. Your work alone makes wrestling fans like myself proud to show you off as an example.
You did well, Daniel. Thank you.
Photo Credit: WWE