Examining Injury Risk of Daniel Bryan's Diving Headbutt

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Examining Injury Risk of Daniel Bryan's Diving Headbutt
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The diving headbutt, which Daniel Bryan has used throughout his career, is a move that even when everything goes right is a self-inflicted car crash.

The injury history of the men who have used it most, as well as the lack of a protection a wrestler has when executing it, makes this exciting move one that is simply not worth the risks. One can please a crowd with moves that don't cause as much damage to one's self.

Bryan's recent need for neck surgery may have come without it, but the soaring crash that is had to have upped his chances of leaving his body busted.

Pro wrestling's scripted nature doesn't remove the danger from the industry; it curbs and controls it, and in some cases just shifts it to the attacker rather than the recipient.

When done correctly, a Tombstone piledriver doesn't really crack a man's head on the mat, it forces the man hitting the move to crash onto their own knees. It's the same for a running splash. The man flying in the air lands more on his hands and knees than he does onto the man underneath him.

Like with Bryan's diving headbutt, the aggressor does more harm to himself.

Bryan's stunning flight from turnbuckle to mat is not done by many wrestlers. It not only requires great body control and agility but is like smashing a hammer onto one's own hands.

That's likely a big part of why Bryan didn't make the move a regular part of his repertoire. He pulled it out for big matches, when the spotlight was the brightest. The latest example of him slipping it out of the holster was at the Extreme Rules event. 

In a memorable match that saw cars smashed and tables burned, Bryan leaped from a forklift onto Kane

Credit: WWE.com
Daniel Bryan dives onto Kane at Extreme Rules from a forklift.

Is it just a coincidence that eight days after that, Bryan announced to fans on Raw that he would have to undergo neck surgery? Is it just coincidence that the other men famous for the same move have suffered concussions and neck issues of their own?

Unlike with many moves, there is little a wrestler can do to protect himself when performing a diving headbutt.

He must leap forward and make his body horizontal as it soars toward a prone opponent. There isn't a head-to-head collision, as it is meant to look like, but there is still a collision. 

The attacker's head smashes into a shoulder or perhaps a foe's chest. Regardless of the landing spot, there is almost always a snapping back of the head, a jarring ride into flesh.

With a punch, it's far easier to control how much impact one actually makes. At the height and speed that the diving headbutt requires, one has about as much control as one does driving a car with elbows. 

In Ric Flair: You Got To Beat the Man, Ric Flair wrote of the move,"the human body is not supposed to land that way."

Flair saw the move firsthand on many occasion. One of his biggest rivals invented the move. Harley Race apparently created it in the same way that many discoveries occur—by accident.

He fell onto his opponent, hitting him with his head and a new move was born. His version wasn't as dramatic a flight as those who followed him would take.

Harley Race's best moves, diving headbutt at 1:36

Still, it took its toll on his body. When David Ditch of Inside Pulse interviewed Race, the former world champ pinpointed the headbutt out as a move that damaged him.

Race said that "use of it over the years" hurt his back and that it "aggravated" internal injuries largely because it caused "a lot of impact to the chest."

"Dynamite Kid" Tom Billington would later adopt the move.

Billington's in-ring style was much like Bryan's today—a warrior throwing himself around in battle with little regard for his own safety. As TJ Madigan of Slam! Sports writes, Billington employed a "high-flying, high-impact style" and suffered a myriad of back injuries. 

The diving headbutt, one of his signature moves, was certainly not the only reason for those injuries, but one has to believe it contributed heavily.

With as much as we now know about blows to the head causing concussions and other brain issues, one also can't help but think that ramming his head into wrestlers' bodies contributed to Billington's stroke.

WWE reported late last year that Billington "suffered a stroke, and that he may have endured more than one in the past few weeks."

Chris Benoit modeled his wrestling style after Billington, borrowing a number of his moves, including the diving headbutt. The Masked Man (David Shoemaker) wrote for Deadspin, Benoit "idolized Tom Billington."

Like Billington did with Race's move, he amplified it. Benoit flew from higher heights. He launched himself from a ladder and the top of a steel cage.

Many in the wrestling field believe that this move played a large part in the state of Benoit's brain at the time of his death.

Shoemaker writes"His brain was destroyed by years of diving headbutts that probably concussed him a little every time." Richard Berzer wrote in A Fool for Old School...Wrestling, That is, "Performing this maneuver for the length of his 22-year career, the resulting concussions appear to have been the primary cause of Benoit's descent into madness, murder and suicide."

It's not clear how much the headbutts damaged his brain. Chair shots and the everyday abuse a wrestler takes no doubt played their own parts as well.

Looking at other wrestlers who employ the diving headbutt and just watching the nasty impact it requires points to it being a risky move that invites concussions.

Christian, who has used the move from time to time, suffered a concussion last September and another one this March, per F4WOnline.

Christian hits Jack Swagger with diving headbutt.

Did the added abuse he took from the headbutt make him more susceptible to these injuries? Again, it's hard to pick apart one violent act from another, but it's only natural to link the head-jamming move with the head injury.

Bryan suffered a concussion earlier this year that F4WOnline (h/t WrestleZone.com) reported "appears to be serious."

Now, according to PWInsider, via Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc, Bryan is set to lie on an operating table to repair "a minor break" in his neck. Any part of his reckless style as a whole could have done this to him.

The diving headbutt, though, requires him to absorb the most force of any of his in-ring weapons. 

Benoit's concussions and Race's back are among the move's residual effects. It appears that its fangs have sunk into Bryan now as well. Author Kevin Sullivan isn't the only one who wants to see Bryan take the move out of his arsenal. 

Even with as thrilling as it can be and as gorgeously as Bryan executes it, the diving headbutt's track record begs for him and his peers to stay away from it.

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