Tuesday 28 April 2015

Daniel Bryan's Achilles' Neck

If you watched Extreme Rules you'll know that Daniel Bryan didn't defend the Intercontinental championship as planned. He was officially pulled from his match against Bad News Barrett hours before the show aired because he wasn't medically cleared to compete. The issue was with a concussion, nagging neck issues or a knee problem, depending on your source of choice (personally I think the neck thing seems likeliest). Almost the exact same thing happened to Bryan last year. After winning the WWE championship at WrestleMania XXX he made one pay-per-view defence (against Kane, of all people) before being pulled from action by WWE's medical staff. He eventually vacated the championship and took time off for neck surgery and rehab.

That history has repeated itself, and so soon, will surely prompt WWE to assess the way they use Bryan, which is a shame because he's a dedicated, talented man who worked hard for years to make it to WWE and gain acceptance with their audience (and management team). The more he's afflicted by health problems the more it seems that the wrestling style that initially got him signed is catching up to him. It's a sad, ironic twist worthy of the finest wrestling storyline.

This man has had no luck with
title reigns over the last two years.
Obviously the right thing has been done by Bryan in the short term. He's been taken off TV and will presumably return only when he's healthy. Ultimately though, a long term solution is required to this problem. The fact that Bryan has been having these issues, on and off, for well over a year and that they resurfaced so soon after his return from a lengthy layoff indicates that there's something serious that needs addressing. While part of the problem can probably be taken as Bryan pushing himself too hard and coming back earlier than he probably should have done the issue is very likely something that's going to keep cropping up regardless of how hard Bryan pushes himself.

There are several options open to WWE. They can send Bryan home for months, possibly even years, and not use him as a wrestler again until he's passed the strictest medical tests. They can stop using him as a wrestler and keep him on TV in an authority figure role. They can lighten his schedule, giving him more time off to rest his knackered body. Or they can take the incredibly extreme route and release him from his contract.

The first option would be best for Bryan. He'd be getting paid to get himself healthy. Were he to be released (an extreme option, as I'll discuss below) he'd almost certainly begin taking non-WWE bookings at the first opportunity, which would not help whatever his current medical problems are. But if he remained under WWE contract he wouldn't be able to do this. WWE would benefit from this too, keeping access to a popular performer for their various media efforts and looking like a benevolent outfit. They'd look like scumbags if they released him.

The lengthy layoff doesn't seem likely though, not least because Bryan will apparently be cleared within a few months and is keen to get back. Only the incredibly useless or the incredibly useful get paid to sit at home by WWE. Look no further than JTG for a useless example and Shawn Michaels for a useful one. Bryan is clearly closer to the HBK end of the spectrum but I don't think he's quite useful enough to earn an extended rest break. There's also the fact that he may not want one and request a release if WWE stopped booking him.

Keeping him on TV and recasting him as a commissioner, commentator or manager would encourage Bryan to rest and keep a bigger name on television but it wouldn't play to his strengths. Bryan can handle the occasional lengthy promo but he couldn't spout the plot points needed for an authority role. Plus that scene's flooded with better suited talent at present, most notably Triple H and Steph McMahon.

The idea of Bryan as a manager anywhere in wrestling is ridiculous. He could probably make a good colour commentator for a company like Ring of Honor (especially when you consider his status in that promotion) but he'd be lost in the role in WWE. And again there's the issue of there being no vacancies anyway.

Releasing him would be, as noted, extreme. WWE have released one prominent star in relatively recent memory: Kurt Angle was cut loose in 2006 when he refused to take time off or go to rehab to combat his neck and addiction problems. This is about the closest parallel I can think of but it's still not especially strong. Nothing indicates Bryan has turned down help and he's definitely not coping with the addictions Angle had. There's also the fact that even though his stock had fallen by the late summer of '06 Angle was still probably more highly regarded by the WWE office than D-Bry is now.

The biggest difference in the two situations is WWE itself. In 2006 WWE was only just getting into the swing of drug testing. It was years away from being as coma aware a company as it is now. In other words, it wasn't a company as concerned with presenting itself as caring and considerate as it is now. This may sound cynical and to be honest it probably is but I don't believe the majority of WWE's management team care overly about the health of their in-ring performers because so much of the way the company operates contradicts that claim. But they do care about being seen to care and a by-product of that is that working conditions have improved, for the appearance of the thing as much as anything else.

All of which is a bit of a tangent. The bottom line is that I think it would take some very serious and unpredictable exchanges for WWE to reach the point where they're releasing Daniel Bryan, freeing him up to head to New Japan to get kicked in the head by Shinsuke Nakamura.

Personally I think the best thing WWE could do with Daniel Bryan right now would be to put him in a tag team. This would have several benefits. Firstly it would cut down on his in-ring time without affecting his TV time or house show schedule. It would encourage him to work a safer, or at least less spot-heavy, style. It would give the tag division a boost, which could tie in nicely to the recent great work done by New Day and the Brass Ring Club. Finally teaming with Bryan would be a good way to elevate someone.

I think the ideal candidate for a D-Bry partner is Dolph Ziggler. He wrestles at a similarly swift pace, he's every bit as popular, he could take a beating to set up a hot tag to 'The People's Elixir', and there are entertaining (to me, if nobody else) team names in Team DBZ or The DB-DZ Connection waiting to be used. No, strictly speaking 'The Show Off' doesn't actually need elevating but together I think Bryan and Ziggler could make the tag team championship mean more than it has in years. That, along with the health benefits for Bryan, makes it worth trying, in my opinion.

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