Daniel Bryan is losing a battle that he's not even in as WWE collides with attorneys over concussions.
Forced to stand on the sidelines for months, Bryan has had to watch plaintiffs and lawyers go on the offensive rather than him. WWE has blocked him from returning to wrestle, as the company is spooked by the potential legal ramifications of his suffering another head injury.
Bryan knows that his future with WWE is unclear.
The former world champ spoke with IGN's Meghan Sullivan about his current status and what's ahead for him. Bryan reiterated once more that he's healthy enough to compete again.
He said, "All my testing came back excellent. But the WWE's medical doctor is skeptical, because of my history of concussions and that sort of thing. So they will not clear me."
A neurologist with expertise in concussions cleared Bryan. And his last concussion happened back in April. He's showing no signs of the injury lingering, but WWE has kept him out of action. The company remains trigger-shy with him.
It's no secret why. As Bryan told IGN, "Obviously they're very hyper-sensitive about concussion stuff right now."
WWE's legal team has spent much of the year fending off lawsuits from former wrestlers firing off various concussion-related claims.
Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton (known as Big Vito and Adam Mercer in the ring, respectively) filed lawsuits against WWE early this year, as ABC News reported. They claimed that WWE was negligent in diagnosing concussions.
In April, a trio of new plaintiffs emerged. Russ McCullough, Ryan Sakoda and Matt Wiese (better known as Luther Reigns) all sued WWE, as reported by TMZ Sports. They claim that "the brutality in the ring has resulted in dementia, Alzheimer's disease and a lot more."
It's gotten to the point where WWE is trying to prevent any other former employees from leaping onto the dogpile. The Associated Press reported (h/t Fox News) that WWE asked a federal judge to block these lawsuits.
And so while these cases hang over the company's head, WWE remains overly cautious.
Seth Rollins' Curb Stomp move is now gone. Replays of his famous WrestleMania win don't even show the move.
The move is not especially dangerous; it just looks like it is. One imagines that a non-WWE fan sitting in a courtroom somewhere would believe it to be barbaric and evidence of how chaotic the wrestling business is. The chance of that thought crossing minds is enough for the WWE to push the Curb Stomp to the side for now.
That's what WWE has done with Bryan, as well. Despite a specialist clearing him and a lengthy time after the injury, WWE refuses to budge.
Should Bryan get concussed again and develop serious health issues as a result, WWE would take a massive public relations hit during the heart of a concussion controversy. The company has shown that it is not willing to do that, even with as much as it needs Bryan right now.
As Jason Powell noted on ProWrestling.net, last week's Raw "scored a 2.33 rating, down from the 2.47" number the previous week's show garnered. Those are shoddy numbers that would certainly lead one to expect WWE to respond with an all-hands-on-deck approach.
The fact that ratings are tanking and WWE is still letting a former world champ and top-tier star sit on the bench is a sign of just how hesitant the company is right now.
The company has not laid out a timetable for his return. It has just kept Bryan on an unending hiatus. Officials have to recoil at the thought of his concussion history leading to a bad injury during a time when plaintiffs are busy claiming that pro wrestling left them damaged.
The standstill is set to end one way or the other, though.
In his interview with Sullivan, Bryan explained where the situation stands today. He said, "So now, we have two doctors: one saying no, one saying yes. They're going to send me to a third doctor at some point in the near future and that doctor will decide my fate."
If WWE does not clear him, he told IGN that he would consider returning to the independent circuit and traveling to Mexico.
It's unthinkable that WWE would allow a wrestler with the kind of crowd connection that Bryan has to just walk away, but that's looking like a real possibility. It's not his value as a wrestler or his skills that would lead to that choice but rather a legal firestorm.
In a way, one can't blame WWE for freezing up here. This is a multimillion-dollar enterprise at stake here.
And so Bryan has become the proof that WWE can hold up to show that it does indeed care about concussions and won't put wrestlers at unneeded risk. He's a pawn in a game of legal chess, forced to stand on the same square, unsure when his next move is coming.