Wrestling fans rejoiced on Tuesday when WWE announced that after two years in retirement, Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson had been medically cleared to return to action. Hours later, he bookended this week’s edition of SmackDown Live, opening the show with his return speech and closing it by shooting the angle for his return match at WrestleMania. In a weird way, seeing him take a powerbomb on the ring apron, the part of the ring with the least give and where moves have to be done extra carefully, was everyone’s way of telling us that everything was back to normal for Bryan. The guy who spent three years on the shelf (and almost a full year just before that with neck injuries and related nerve damage) was not just back, but back with no official restrictions on what he could do in the ring.
The entire saga had been, on a day-to-day basis, quite possibly the most talked-about pro wrestling story in recent memory. When he first went out of action, that was because the injury went unnamed for a long time. With WWE having been sued over its handling of concussions the previous year and Bryan’s concussion history, it wasn’t exactly difficult to discern what was going on, though. Eventually, during his book tour a few months later, Bryan went public about his mystery injury being his latest concussion. “I suffered a concussion in April, and I’m trying to get cleared back from that,” he told Sports Illustrated. “It was during a six-man tag match, and I don’t remember if it happened during a particular move, but it was during the trip to Europe.”
It later came out—surprisingly, in a WWE-produced documentary—that the initial concussion actually took place right before the European tour and he continued to wrestle for the first few shows on the tour. Reports at the time from fans at the show were that he had a limited physical role in those matches, and in his last bout, a short TV match during the tour, he was very noticeably avoiding taking bumps. With Bryan famously being the most honest man in wrestling and the lawsuits looming, it’s especially curious that he publicly chalked up his injury to the wrong match.
In the WWE Network documentary released after his retirement, Bryan and his wife Brianna (former WWE wrestler Brie Bella) discussed that they had made a pact at some point before this specific injury: The next time he got a concussion, he would tell WWE about his entire concussion history. The issue was not just the number of concussions, but also that early in Bryan and Brie’s relationship she had witnessed him having a post-concussion seizure.
It’s not as if the number wasn’t an issue, though: Going by publicly reported concussions, he had three in his rookie year and at least six in a nine-year span. All of this led to WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon electing to permanently (well, until now) sideline Bryan.