The WWE deals with a lot of drama week in and week out, but there is one thing that gets in the way of any storyline: injuries. As reported by Dave Meltzer on F4WOnline.com (h/t MStars News), former heavyweight champ Daniel Bryan is going to be out of the WWE for a significant period of time after two surgeries. One, performed in mid-May, was on his neck, and the other will be on his shoulder.
Say what you will about the WWE, but there's no question that the performers are incredible athletes, combining elements of strength and agility. They take massive risks and "bumps," taking hits and falls that would buckle a normal man. Those do add up, and traumas happen from time to time as well, some with tragic consequences.
Over the years, WWE wrestlers have seen the bulk of those injuries mirror NFL football. Many of their injuries are mild trauma, but there are significant numbers of knee, hamstring and shoulder injuries as well as spinal injuries. When those happen, they tend to go to the same doctors that NFL athletes do, including Dr. James Andrews.
While neither the WWE nor Bryan has given specifics on Bryan's injuries, they did say that Bryan had a cervical foraminotomy. Instead of working on the disc, Dr. Joseph Maroon, one of the team doctors for the Pittsburgh Steelers, shaved down the edges of a section of the vertebrae in order to free up the nerve. The goal of the surgery is the same as with a microdiscectomy: to free up the nerve impingement, reducing pain and inflammations while increasing function.
With the shoulder, it's more complicated, as a cervical nerve issue could create issues in the shoulder as well. If the problems are neurological, caused by the impingement of the herniated disc, it should resolve from just the treatment there. There is likely other traumatic injury, such as a rotator cuff strain or a labrum tear that could be fixed in order to make the rehabs concurrent.
A similar surgical case to this scenario is well known: Peyton Manning. Manning had two microdiscectomies and was able to come back to the NFL in three to five months. Of course, several years later, he required a full cervical fusion, but he was able to return again.
Bryan should have a similar path back to the WWE, but he could be on a similar path to further surgery as well.
For Bryan, the cervical surgery should cost him two to three months while he heals and rehabs. A more complex shoulder procedure, such as a rotator cuff repair, would normally be six to nine months, but elite athletes tend to come back a bit more quickly. Three to four months seems like a reasonable time frame for recovery. Of course, the WWE could do many things to lighten his load as he returns.
Bryan is just 33 years old, which has led to some people saying this injury situation happened "young" and others saying that he's past his prime. The odd nature of the WWE and professional wrestling in general has allowed a few wrestlers to go on forever, such as Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. Most, especially in recent eras, do not continue nearly that long and have a short peak value.
Bryan's hard-hitting style may need to change. Bleacher Report's Ryan Dilbert did a great job in this article of explaining the history of WWE athletes who have had more severe neck issues, offering both the upsides and the downsides to Bryan's possible career path.
If Bryan can dial back on the physical side, as many of those athletes did, he could have a longer career.
The best comparison for Bryan is John Cena. While Cena is often injured, he's been able to come back time and again from these injuries, including neck surgery in 2008. Cena also had his surgery done by Dr. Maroon. The procedure was similar but not identical, but Cena was back in a matter of months. Cena and Bryan will now share a scar as well as the Bella Twins.
The additional complication of future shoulder surgery pushes Daniel Bryan's return back, but he will likely be healthier when he is able to return. The WWE may be without its superstar for a few months, but it should be able to plan a successful return, and Bryan should be able to resume what could be a long and successful run as champion after rehab.
In other words, can Daniel Bryan successfully return from these surgeries? YES! YES! YES!
The news on Bryan's shoulder was originally reported by Dave Meltzer on F4WOnline.com. Will Carroll is the lead writer for sports medicine at Bleacher Report. His dream was to replace Jimmy Hart as the "Mouth of the South," but he'd settle for writing for the WWE at some point.