The fact that Daniel Bryan may be headed for a second neck surgery should make his fans temper their expectations and prepare themselves mentally for the possibility of a WWE without the talented grappler.
WWE history has shown cases of a single surgery leading to a shortened in-ring career. Combine that with the dangers of surgery and the fact that Bryan may not return to form, and there is reason enough to stop fantasy-booking his comeback.
A second surgery is no sure fix.
After folks thought that maybe Bryan could return from neck surgery in a month or two, perhaps coming back soon enough to keep the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, bad news came before Money in the Bank kicked off.
Marc Middleton of WrestlingInc.com, citing FWOnline.com, wrote back in May, "There was talk backstage at last night's RAW that WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan won't be out of action but for 1 or 2 months." That turned out to be wishful thinking.
A month-and-a-half after Dr. Chris Amman performed a procedure to decompress a nerve root, Bryan announced to fans that his recovery wasn't going well. Bryan told Michael Cole on the Money in the Bank pre-show that he hadn't regained strength in his arm and that doctors are now considering a second neck surgery.
As worrisome as that sounded, there was still talk as to who Bryan would face next.
According to F4WOnline (h/t WrestleZone.com), officials have been discussing Bryan continuing his feud with Kane. Also, Randy Orton was mentioned for a potential feud with Bryan once the latter was cleared to return. Before one figures out Bryan's next rival, though, WWE has to see if a second surgery can correct what the first one couldn't.
At the beginning of June, Middleton, citing Wrestling Observer Newsletter, wrote: "One person close to Bryan said that not only is he not making gains but he's actually losing strength in his arm while doing rehab."
Hopefully, Round 2 of neck surgery will solve that issue, get him back to full strength and let him do what he's great at once more.
Thank you to all the people who have wished me well during my surgery. You give me strength and you are my motivation to get back ASAP.— Daniel Bryan (@WWEDanielBryan) May 17, 2014
Surgery, especially if it involves nerves in one's neck, is not something to take lightly.
In the short term, it's going to keep him out of the ring even longer. Beyond that, there's the usual danger of normal complications possible when undergoing surgery and the chance that the procedure simply doesn't make Bryan better.
The fact that Bryan is struggling to rehab back to normalcy and has seen the strength fade from his right arm is a reminder that repairing the complex mess of nerves in the neck is no simple matter.
Wrestlers working on a repaired neck don't have a history of longevity. Neck surgeries, deemed successful at the time, have eventually spelled the end of careers.
Steve Austin underwent neck surgery in early 2000 and retired from in-ring competition just three years later. In 2002, Lita needed neck surgery after an accident in a stunt on a TV show. Like Austin, she wrestled for three more years before hanging it up.
More recently, Santino Marella has had to consider leaving wrestling behind thanks to neck injuries.
Santino posted a post-surgery shot of himself in January:
Success! more blood and pain this time but doctors are happy with the out come pic.twitter.com/qx0ooHcFUI— Santino Marella (@milanmiracle) January 23, 2014
Only months after that, he told Toronto fans on July 6 that a third neck injury had him thinking, "This might be the end of Santino Marella in a WWE ring."
There have been success stories following neck surgeries, including those of Rhyno, Sabu and John Cena, but there are enough examples of careers winding down after stepping from the surgeon's table to think that Bryan's time could be limited.
It's hard to imagine him going another decade in the ring.
If he's lucky, the surgery will go well and he'll continue entertaining WWE fans for years to come. If he is more Austin than Rhyno, though, fans could see the injury nag him and eventually force him to wrap up his career before he's 40.
At the very least, it's going to force him to tone down his frenzied, Tasmanian Devil-style ring work.
The more distressing scenario is that he will come out of surgery No. 2 with the same issues with his arm and thoughts of early retirement on his mind.
A second surgery adds questions about his future and concerns over his well-being, and it will require more precise work from doctors in a vital part of the body. It's a reminder to not look too far ahead. Instead, send Bryan positive vibes and hope for the best.