Let’s talk about….the return (?) of Daniel Bryan

Let’s talk about….the return (?) of Daniel Bryan
It was the loudest ovation I’ve ever heard.
Wrestlemania weekend was coming to its final act inside the
Smoothie King Center, and I’m sure that I have more than a little bias in my unabashed giddiness; after
more than 2 decades as a fan, I had finally made the pilgrimage to attend the
granddaddy of them all, and after a weekend of wrestling that had filled my
palate with nothing but the most delightful of tastes, after live ROH, Shimmer,
the Hall of Fame, and Wrestlemania 30, we had reached our final moment together
at Monday Night Raw. It was transcendent for me to be a part of something I had
watched for so many years, to gorge on wrestling all weekend without anyone
asking me why I ‘still watched that fake crap’; it was truly one of the finest moments
I’ve collectively had with any crowd for any reason.

But still, even keeping that in mind, this crowd was LOUD.
We knew who we wanted from the opening jump – the ‘Yes!’
chants that had permeated Bourbon Street all weekend were fired up 20 minutes
before showtime with no signs that this crowd was going to slow down at any
point. Perhaps it was the less cavernous confines of the smaller arena, perhaps
it was the fans that had said ‘hey, we can take that extra day off work before
we go home’, perhaps it was the high from getting exactly what we wanted the night
before, I don’t know; all I do know is that when Raw started and Justin Roberts
began to introduce “The NEW World Heavyweight Champion….”, we became a force
unrivaled in my life of attending live events.
And there he was, the man of the hour. Daniel Bryan stood
tall, and for a little while, it sure felt like everything was going to be
all right. There was no time to let him talk; to do so would force us to stop
showering him with the much-deserved affection for the moments he had given us
the previous night, and the moments he had given us on the road to that final
coronation. And so we cheered on, cheered through his promo, cheered when he
thanked us, cheered when he smiled, we just….cheered. It was the truest magic
of professional wrestling, that moment of connection between wrestler and fans.
Less than 3 months later, it was all gone. He promised to
return, promised us he wouldn’t let this be his legacy, he wouldn’t let this
beat him. He held out as long as he could, and he had given all that he could.
And we saluted him as he left, scanning every dirt sheet, looking for any clue
to his return, any chance that it couldn’t be true, that he would be back
sooner than later.
But should he?
I try not to pretend to know what these wrestlers are like
in real life. After Benoit, I promised myself that I never would – it just hurt
too goddamn much. When the facts of what had truly happened began to emerge,
what he had put himself through and what it had cost his family above all, I
began to truly question my fandom in ways I never have before, and I have yet
to resolve those questions.
I am torn about Daniel Bryan in ways that I never thought I
would be. I am torn about how much he should have to give for me, for any of
Let’s make one thing clear: Daniel Bryan will do what he
wants. If he wants to wrestle again, he will. He is a big boy who can make his
own choices, and if he decides to lace up the boots again, it’s between him and
his family. I somehow doubt that most of the online fans enter into the
equation for him. We honestly know very little at this point except what we can
reasonably ascertain; the fact that he is sidelined at the time that he
should be making more money than ever before means that what has happened is
far more serious than something as simple as ‘he’ll be back any day now’. After
watching enough wrestler shoot interviews, I am sure enough that no one would
turn down a run in the main event unless they truly had no other options.
Clearly, this injury is career-altering.
But I want Daniel Bryan to return, triumphantly, to regain
what was taken from him. Not just in the storyline sense, but in the sense that
I want to see him beat this thing, I want him to get the chance to decide on
his own terms when he wants to stop wrestling. I want him to get those moments
at the top that have been denied so many, I want him to continue to put on 4*-
5* matches with Reigns, Rollins, Ambrose, Cesaro, and more.
I want. I want. I. WANT.
Thinking about it in those terms made me feel like the most
selfish son of a bitch on the planet. Like a leech, someone who wants his
entertainment, consequences be damned to
whoever is providing it. Broken neck? Who cares, put some tape on it and work
through it. I need my wrestling, so f--- you, get out there and dance, monkey!
And then I got over myself for a few minutes; I’m just a guy
who wants to see his favorite performer of the last several years come back,
not a monster. How can I punish myself for that? How does that square with the
wrestlers as characters, not men; how can I reconcile with the person I
resolved to make myself post-Benoit? That’s what makes this so difficult – I want
Bryan to return so BADLY, to give me more great matches, to give me more great
moments. It reminds me, in some ways, of my friend Rhianna’s reaction after her
favorite, Edge, was forced to give up the ghost in the ring; no matter what
happened next, she was never going to be the same fan. She would always think
about how her favorite had his career cut shorter than it should have been.
Wrestling is one of the cruelest endeavors one can imagine
in so many ways, I cannot deny. These guys bust their asses day in, day out, to
try to make it to the top. Not even the main event per se, but the chance to
entertain all of us. Whenever I hear now about a wrestler who has health
problems, I go back to Bret Hart in ‘Wrestling with Shadows’, where he compares the life of wrestler to that of a circus animal, and we all know what
happens when that animal heads behind the barn when their use has dried up. The barbarism of that simple explanation makes it much clearer why Bret has nothing to do with wrestling these days….oh. Right. 
But we’re talking about Daniel Bryan.
Daniel Bryan, newlywed.
Daniel Bryan, one of the best wrestlers in the world.
I don’t know how I would feel about Bryan returning. I know
that I would be screaming along with the rest of the crowd when he made his
return. I would rush to Twitter, I would be glued to the screen to see what happened next. But the first time he took a flatback bump off a dropkick, the first
time he went up for that headbutt, I would cringe. And it’s not because I’m a
good person. It’s because, deep down, I would be afraid that his career would
be cut even shorter and deny me more matches, and that’s actually a hard admission
for me to make. It’s the acknowledgement of my love of the performer over the
man, and it’s admitting that I have the ability to divorce their well-being from
my entertainment. And I wonder why that is. I wonder why I can’t look back at
his WWE career and have that be enough, I wonder why I can’t look back at his ROH
career and have that be enough. I wonder why nothing can be enough for me. Why is it so hard to satisfied with what I already have from this man?
The answer, I suspect, is the fact that I will never set
foot in a ring, take a bump. I’m the observer, the critic, the fan; I sit in
the seats and judge with the dollars that put me inside the arena. They are
actors, after all, and when was the last time that you worried about an actor
in a film being injured beyond repair while doing a stunt? Wrestlers are merely
a resource, right? Just another moving part in the overall show, albeit the
most necessary one. And thinking of them as people is dangerous, because that’s when you put your heart on the line and risk it getting broken. Better to just think of them as merely a piece of the puzzle.
Yet, I think of Daniel Bryan.
I think of him, and what he has left to give.
I think of him, and what he might have left to lose.
I think of him, and what could await him in the future, good
or bad.
I think of him.
Or do I just think of myself?
Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter