Just as he seemed poised to ascend to the top of WWE, Daniel Bryan suffered a concussion.
The reported severity of the injury will endanger his chances of competing in and winning the Royal Rumble and could force the company to head in another direction en route to WrestleMania.
Bryan was last seen celebrating with fans after breaking away from The Wyatt Family. Monday's Raw ended with Bryan sitting on a cage, the crowd shaking the arena and his journey back to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship given new hope.
Clearly, celebrations don't last long for Bryan.
Rumors of a possible concussion occurring in the steel cage match on Raw started to make their way around the Internet. Numerous sources have since confirmed those rumors as true.
Marc Middleton of WrestlingInc.com wrote, "A WWE spokesman just returned our request for comment on the rumors and confirmed that Bryan is suffering from a concussion." F4WOnline (h/t WrestleZone.com) reported that "the concussion appears to be serious."
That's the part that will have fans worried.
Alberto Del Rio suffered a concussion on the Dec. 9 episode of Raw. He didn't miss much action, though, as The History of WWE indicates that he took on Rey Mysterio at a house show on Dec. 26. Should Bryan have a similar concussion to what Del Rio experienced, he may be ready to return to the ring in time for the Royal Rumble.
However, what if his situation mirrors what Dolph Ziggler experienced last year?
According to PWTorch.com, Ziggler suffered retrograde amnesia thanks to a severe concussion in May. He told Complex.com that he didn't remember the last few minutes of the match and he had headaches for five weeks straight.
The injury kept Ziggler from performing for over a month. Soon after he returned, he lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Del Rio.
"The Show Off" saw it coming.
"I'm sitting at home with a pounding headache, and I'm thinking I'm going to lose this one opportunity that I was basically never supposed to have," he told The Washington Times.
WWE didn't strip him of the belt while he was on the mend, but his reign was over not long after he came back. He has since fallen several rungs on the WWE ladder.
Should Bryan's concussion be as bad as Ziggler's or worse, he too will lose out on a huge opportunity. If the company isn't sure when Bryan will be back kicking folks in the head, any plans for him to win the Rumble will have to be thrown out.
That means someone like Batista will be asked to take his place.
As Ziggler found out, top spots don't wait for concussion symptoms to clear up. WWE moved on without him, placing the title around Del Rio's waist again and leaving Ziggler to wonder, "What if?"
Bryan is a bigger star than Ziggler, but in spite of the electric responses he garners each night and his immense talent, it isn't as if WWE's confidence in him is unwavering.
Commenting on last year's SummerSlam, which was headlined by Bryan and John Cena, Vince McMahon famously said (h/t PWTorch.com) that it "was not the right attraction." Many took that as a shot at Bryan's ability to be a top draw.
PWInsider (h/t WrestleZone.com) later reported that Bryan was reportedly taking some of the blame for the low pay-per-view buyrates during his time as a main eventer and "his best position is in the mid-card having great matches."
While all of that is old news, it's pertinent again because it speaks to how long WWE will be willing to wait for Bryan. Cena could go a year on the bench with a concussion and shoot right back up the top. For Bryan, it provides another obstacle to overcome.
The setback forces him to step to the side for the moment. During his recovery, the company could fall in love with another option as the man to challenge the world champ at WrestleMania.
Perhaps Batista gains momentum, Roman Reigns convinces WWE creative that he's ready for the next step or, while wondering what will happen with Bryan, the company could decide to have CM Punk return to championship status.
As Bryan undergoes testing this week, fans will surely be nervous. A determination that his concussion will have him out past the Royal Rumble or longer will slow the momentum he recently regained.
His injury could have him watch someone else sit in the throne fans have expected him to occupy for a long time now.
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