It's now been about three weeks since Daniel Bryan underwent minimally invasive neck surgery administered by WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon in Pittsburgh. The procedure, called a posterior cervical microforaminotomy and discectomy, was used to try to fix a disc herniation that was pressing on a nerve going to his hand.
While recovery time obviously varies wildly, Maroon once wrote an article that spoke of a series of football players who were able to return in that same three weeks that it's been since Bryan underwent surgery.
Not only is he not making the gains in strength that he should be making at this point in his recovery, but he's losing strength in his arm, so he's being sent to follow up with Maroon to find out what's wrong. In light of all this, the decision was made that if he can't wrestle at Money in the Bank on June 29, he's vacating the title, like in the storyline.
This is bad, bad news. It's not the first time a wrestler has had this kind of setback during the biggest run of his career, and there are some lessons to be learned from what's happened in the past.
Back in 1986, Hulk Hogan vs. Paul Orndorff was the hottest feud in pro wrestling, setting business records all over the U.S. and Canada. During the program, Orndorff suffered a neck injury. Since he was in the middle of the biggest run of his career, he didn't take time off. He suffered nerve damage in the process, causing muscle atrophy that made one arm noticeably smaller than the other, similar to the changes Kurt Angle has had on both sides from his own neck injuries.
Orndorff was never the same after the injury, regressing considerably as a performer and retiring to run bowling alleys. He had a brief resurgence around 1992 to 1993, but it didn't last long.
Steve Austin famously developed a number of neck problems that eventually led to a partial fusion surgery in late 1999, which kept him out of action for a year. When he came back in November 2000, it wasn't long before he turned heel and started working a riskier style, taking bigger bumps more regularly, like eating a vertical suplex on the ramp in seemingly every match. After WrestleMania 19 in 2003, he retired.
You can't take this stuff lightly.
Bryan Danielson loves being a professional wrestler, but he's also a guy who never expected to be in this spot and is planning on retiring within a few years to start a family with his new wife, Brianna, on a farm in Washington. He never expected to make the money he's made the last couple years, even if his honeymoon, his father's death and the injury have kept him off the road while he was in a position to make even more.
What should Daniel Bryan do?
I'm not saying he needs to retire right now, but this is some seriously worrisome news, and if he just cut his losses, he's one guy who I'd sort of be happy for that he got out. Realistically, though, we don't know what this means until he sees Dr. Maroon again.
It's a terrible sign, though, and I don't see how, barring a ton of obvious shortcuts, he could be working a pay-per-view main event in less than four weeks if his physical therapy is going that badly.
Thankfully, this is the one wrestler who admits he has zero professional ambition, so hopefully he'll realize he should just focus on his health.