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The Path To Daniel Bryan Getting Cleared

You’ve heard the news by now: Daniel Bryan was cleared to return to in-ring action by the WWE yesterday after spending over two years on the sidelines retired due to his concussion history. Now I’m going to elaborate on that news a bit, and hopefully clear some things up for the folks who haven’t been following the American Dragon’s neurology reports as closely as I have since 2016. If you need a recap on who he is, or why he’s so great, check out this biography I wrote on him last year:

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Now, onto the brain stuff.

I remember the night he retired like it was yesterday. RAW was in Seattle that night, and I was in class when I read the news via this tweet…

I was devastated. I mean, REALLY devastated. Family members were texting me what were basically their condolences throughout the day, which may sound ridiculous, and it kind of is, but hey, I’m really passionate about certain things in this world and wrestling is at the top of the list. In wrestling, Daniel Bryan’s at the top of that list. He’s my favorite wrestler of all time, bar-none. When he made his long retirement speech that night (which Dave Meltzer called the best segment he’d ever seen), I weeped. That’s the best verb to describe me while watching that go down – weeped – and that’s how you know it was bad. For me, though, Bryan’s not just any other wrestler. He’s a guy who’s 2013-14 run at the title brought me out of the worst depression of my life. He’s a guy who made me forget about all of the horrible shit that went on in my world and love wrestling more than I’ve ever loved it even if it were just for twenty minutes a week while he was in the 20×20, and for that, I felt a bit indebted to Daniel Bryan. That may not make a ton of sense to all of you, but I think most of you will get it and understand how much something like that can mean to somebody, so watching him have to walk away from the only thing he’s ever loved at just 34 years old was rough. The one caveat to this whole thing though was that it was for the betterment of his health, and it seemed he had some REALLY bad concussion induced issues, so I settled on it being the right call.

For the past two years now, Bryan’s expressed increased interest in getting back in the ring, going as far as taking on the General Manager of SmackDown role to un-freeze his WWE contract and claiming he’d ride it out until it expired, then go wrestle in New Japan or Ring of Honor because Dr. Joseph Maroon (WWE’s Medical Director) wouldn’t clear him. For most of this time, I’d been pretty disapproving of his “return” with the mindset that the WWE was looking out for his long-term health and would clear him if he were okay, but if they were refusing to do so, there had to be reason behind it. I even spoke to Bryan’s wife, Brie Bella, on the matter and my concern, but she reassured me that he was getting the green light from the best neurologists in the country and would be back in a squared circle whether I liked it or not.

Shortly after that conversation, Daniel made an appearance on Edge and Christian’s podcast where he pulled back the curtain on his retirement, and things started to get really weird when they discussed the circumstances around what happened.

Basically, he got his last concussion in the WWE a little while after WrestleMania 31, and Vince told Bryan he’d have to get evaluated before getting back in the ring, which is very standard procedure. With Bryan it was probably taken with a bit more caution because of his head trauma history, but again, standard stuff. Bryan’s doctors cleared him right away, but the WWE said that wasn’t not good enough. They then sent him to a hand-picked brain specialist in Phoenix, who also cleared him right away. WWE opted to seek a third opinion, this time with the concussion experts at UCLA, and they also cleared him and said he was good to go. So this is now three of the best neurology teams in the country telling both Daniel Bryan and the WWE’s medical staff that he was okay, but Vince was still skeptical. The WWE decided to send Bryan for some experimental non-FDA approved reflex and impact testing after all of that, where it was determined that there was a lesion on his brain. He called Vince the second he left that testing session, and during that phone call, Vince let him know that he’d have to announce his retirement on RAW the following night. Bryan didn’t want to do this just yet as emotions were running high and he barely even had a grasp of what this news meant in the big picture of his life, but those around him convinced him that it was the right call, so he retired in his hometown, and “called it a career”. He went on SportsCenter later in the week to discuss his concussion history, and he spoke about having concussion induced seizures in the past, and it really did seem like the right call then.

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After his retirement, one of the doctors that cleared him called Bryan to find out why he was made to retire, and Bryan explained that there was a lesion on his brain. The doctor informed him that a “lesion” on the brain in medical terminology doesn’t mean there’s a cut on the brain, it just means there’s something there. You and I could have lesions on our brains that are nothing right now and we’d never know it. So Bryan, a little taken aback by this news, looked more and more into the results of the testing that forced his retirement, and found that his reflex test was slow compared to mixed martial artists and professional football players that test at that facility, but no slower than an average human being. Combine that with the fact that they never had a baseline test for him to compare his “failed” test to, so they wouldn’t have any idea on whether or not things have slowed down from where they’ve always been, and nothing really adds up.

For the past two years now, Daniel Bryan has flown himself all over the country to each and every respected neurologist he could find to get his brain tested (all the while serving as SmackDown’s on-screen GM and planting seeds for potential return feuds everywhere he went, even some outside of WWE). Meltzer seems to think he had more testing done on his brain than any living combat sports athlete or performer of the like in history, actually, and ALL of the doctors he’s visited said the same thing…“You are cleared.”

Why did the WWE send him through more medical hoops than anyone since the company’s inception, while letting certain performers who’ve admitted going through much, much worse concussion issues get in the ring day in and day out, you ask? Well I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know. There’ll be conspiracy theorists who say it was an attempt to get Roman Reigns more over by losing Bryan as a distraction and there’ll be Daniel Bryan critics who say it’s because his brain is legitimately fucked and they’re only clearing him now in a PR stunt for WrestleMania or in a business move to not lose him to New Japan, but it probably falls somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum.

I understand the concern for the health and safety of Daniel Bryan, I really do. I was watching SmackDown last night like a concerned mother, and have written many a blogs on this website begging and pleading for him to stay away from the ring. After everything we’ve learned, though, I can’t sit here and argue with every neurologist in the country. Daniel Bryan is okay, and DAMN, it’s good to have him back.

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Oh, and one more note? Something tells me The Miz is gonna eat these words real soon…

…and my god, it’ll be fantastic.