In the aftermath of the announcement that Daniel Bryan is undergoing neck surgery, both Bryan Alvarez of F4WOnline.com (subscription required) and Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com) have reported concern among wrestlers that the damage will be worse than doctors expected once they open him up.
It's supposed to be a minor surgery, but there are reasons to believe the damage is more severe than anyone realizes.
Bryan has worked a very hard style for most of his career. Whether it was his rookie year as a high-flyer, using stiff strikes in ROH and Japan, or his WWE style, where he throws himself all over the place, he's surely taken more of a pounding than the average wrestler.
Last year, Bryan suffered a "stinger" in a match with Randy Orton. He was supposed to get a clean win, the biggest of his career, to help get him ready for his title shot against John Cena at SummerSlam. The ringside doctor legitimately stopped the match, leading to the normally even-tempered Bryan screaming at Triple H backstage in an incident WWE.com played up as part of the storyline, even though it wasn't.
By all accounts, Bryan felt that after wrestling for the better part of 15 years around the world, working hurt plenty of times, he knew his limits better than the doctor or the producers.
He certainly should know his own body: He worked for months on a separated shoulder in 2006 and even had some of his very best matches during that period, including his Ring of Honor title defense against KENTA.
Earlier that year, he suffered both a concussion and a knee injury in a Triple Threat match with KENTA and Samoa Joe, though that match fell apart due to all three wrestlers getting hurt. The following year, he suffered a detached retina while wrestling Takeshi Morishima which required surgery.
Maybe that match should have gone on, but I can't blame WWE for erring on the side of caution. In the end, it didn't hurt his standing one bit to do the match over a few weeks later.
WWE has their fair share of experience dealing with neck injuries. From 1999 to 2004, Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, Lita (though that injury was caused by an accident while doing stunt work), Edge, Rhyno, and Test all had to undergo spinal fusion surgery.
There were noticeable changes in the WWE in-ring style after the neck injuries really piled up around 2003, with moves like the German suplex adjusted for safer landings. Upon his return, Benoit went several months before the diving headbutt was reinserted into his repertoire. The previously unseen severe neck injuries became common enough to necessitate change.
Bryan has had bad injuries before, but they haven't led to much of a noticeable change in his style. Now it's different. He's entered his peak earning years, and on Total Divas and other places he's spoken of wanting to retire with his wife in a few years to start a family.
Both for his financial security and his own well-being, he needs to focus on getting through the next few years with his health intact. Yes, given the money he's making right now and his plans to start farming and become self-sufficient when he retires, he's likely set for life already, but he should make sure he's able to enjoy it all.
When you think about the trademark moves of Bryan's most likely to impact the neck, the most obvious is the diving headbutt. Harley Race, who popularized the move, would later openly regret using it because of the neck damage it caused.
For someone like Bryan, who uses it just to get a pop for a near fall, it's something he can easily dispose of. Really, he already did it: He stopped using it for months before bringing it back recently.
Even if it's just a coincidence, the timing of the neck injury is certainly interesting, since he just brought that move back. His trademark rope dive to the floor sees him lead with the head, similar to those Edge and Rhyno spears that caused problems. It's a very common move in Mexico and hasn't necessarily caused problems there, but I do wonder if it could be an issue.
Still, it's not just about specific moves. Bryan will need to change his style, probably focusing on pinballing around the ring less more than anything. He deserves a nice life after wrestling, so I hope he doesn't have bad tunnel vision when it comes to in-ring compromises.