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By Mike Johnson on 2016-01-19 13:35:36
Could WWE, Daniel Bryan and his fans soon get a final answer as to the future of the former WWE champion's status with the company as an in-ring performer?  It appears that might soon be the case as multiple sources have confirmed that Bryan is scheduled to head to Pittsburgh, PA later this week, where Dr. Joseph Maroon (who oversees the company's Wellness Policy) is based, which could suggest WWE and Bryan are working towards some form of resolution on the issue. It should be noted Bryan is also scheduled for a signing appearance during the same visit.

Bryan was just coming off the biggest push and win of his career at Wrestlemania 30 when neck issues required him to vacate the WWE championship and spend the remainder of 2014 convalescing and trying to be cleared by WWE after he declined to have surgery to correct issues with his arm.   Bryan finally found proper treatment and was cleared to return to the ring in January 2015.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself and just weeks after winning the WWE Intercontinental championship in a Ladder Match at Wrestlemania 31,  Bryan was injured again during a live event in Dublin, Ireland.  Bryan was pulled from the ring by WWE in what they stated at the time was a "precautionary measure."   The nature of the injury was not immediately disclosed and Bryan was expected to return within a few weeks. 

When he went to get cleared, however, Bryan and the company learned that he wasn't going to be released to compete in the ring and Bryan was instead forced to vacate the IC championship.  It was later revealed that Bryan had suffered a concussion and that a WWE physician (likely Maroon) would not clear him for an in-ring return. 

If and when Bryan would be cleared remained up in the air.  So he, and his fans, waited, and waited and waited.  With no update in sight, there was a question of whether he would ever return, especially as the company was now also fighting multiple lawsuits from former talents alleging the company did not properly protect them from head-trauma related injuries.  Those lawsuits remain ongoing in the State of Connecticut.

Bryan has continued to push to be cleared to return as a performer.   In October 2015, Bryan told that he had gotten a second evaluation that was more favorable with results that would clear him....but WWE would not agree.

"One neurologist who specializes in concussions - who was the neurologist for the Super Bowl last year - cleared me with no limitations," Bryan said to "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. 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."

Last month during a promotional tour of Singapore, Bryan explained that he and the company were trying to come up with a compromise regarding his situation.  He told The Strait Times, "Because of my history with concussions, the WWE medical doctor wouldn't clear me. We're in the process of trying to figure out some compromise.  They keep sending me to do more tests, brain MRIs, brain EKGs and all my tests have come back great to the point where my brain is better than someone my age with no concussion."

Still, there are no guarantees Bryan will ever be allowed to return.  WWE made the decision to retire Adam "Edge" Copeland in 2011 after the determination was made that after he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, he should never be allowed back in the ring as a performer.

During the December promotional tour in Singapore, Bryan told The New Times that not being cleared could be the end of his work as a wrestler for the company, noting, "I think it could be the end of my career in WWE, but I don't think it will be the end of my career. I could find another passion, but it would just be sad because this is what I have been most passionate about since I was five."

The situation is unique in that due to his overwhelming popularity with fans and the high level of in-ring performance Daniel Bryan brings, he's an obvious "go-to guy" to help shore up the WWE roster as the company continues to find itself struck by numerous talent injuries leading into Wrestlemania 32.  He would be an immediate boon to the company.  The frightening potential downside, however, is obvious: should Bryan be cleared and find himself injured yet again, it opens the door for the conversation of whether WWE would have been irresponsible by allowing him to return to the ring, even when it's obviously what Bryan himself wants to do...and whether such acts could reflect badly on the ongoing concussion lawsuits.

Of course, should he be cleared, even if everything works out perfectly, there are other elements at play here.  When does he return?  In what role?  Should elements of his work be eliminated from his performances?  How should he be protected in the ring?  How does WWE keep Bryan and his fans from overwhelming their creative plans, especially given the history of the audience rejecting talents and even complete segments in favor of chanting for Bryan?

Then, if you flip the coin and ask what happens if Bryan won't be medically cleared ever again, it puts WWE in another interesting quandary: what to do with him.  Bryan is still under contract and while there's been talk of him as a commentator or as a developmental Coach, the belief is that Bryan hasn't been extremely passionate about having another role in the company.   Bryan himself wrote in his autobiography that he didn't feel he was a strong teacher during his stints running the APW and Ring of Honor schools.  Sure, he'll be great at being an ambassador for the company but at 34, would he be content with a non-wrestling role?  How content could he have been watching the last two years of his career pass by as he's getting older?  When does the ego of the performer, even one as laid back as Daniel Bryan, kick in?

Unlike Adam Copeland, who went on to build an acting career post-WWE, Bryan has publicly intimated that he feels healthy enough to still wrestle, which opens up the door for the possibility of Bryan's career as a performer continuing, just not under the WWE umbrella....and that creates another issue for WWE.

Letting Bryan go elsewhere because he wants to wrestle and the company won't clear him pretty much dictates that WWE would be taking a star talent that they helped cultivate and delivering him to a hungry landscape where other, smaller, promotions are always greedily seeking star power for themselves.  

TNA is starting to spend money to sign talents again and Bryan would bring eyeballs from fans who usually would not watch TNA.  Likewise, a Bryan return to Ring of Honor would be seen as a homecoming for a legend that put the company on the map, similar to Samoa Joe's run before signing with WWE.    Bryan has a long history and affinity for Gabe Sapolsky which would mean he'd likely immediately work for EVOLVE as well if the opportunity was there.  Bryan went right back to Sapolsky during the short time period he was released from WWE.  While WWE may be working with EVOLVE, they don't want to hand them, or anyone, an asset that can then be used to get a bigger piece of the pie that WWE commands.

Plus, Daniel Bryan could just as easily get hurt working outside of WWE as he could under their umbrella...and that would just mean getting hurt again, but without all the resources WWE affords him as a member of their roster.

With so many different elements at play here, it's a complex issue and while Bryan's in-ring career essentially comes down to (as silly as this irony sounds, given the wrestler we are talking about) the words "Yes" or "No", the reality is that the ramifications behind either of those answers have ripple effects that no one can foresee.

As irony has it, when the new season of WWE reality series "Total Divas" premieres tonight, one of the themes of the episode will be Brie Bella trying to help her husband Daniel Bryan plan for a potential future outside of WWE due to his extended time away from the ring. 

Whether those scenes end becoming rehearsals for the next chapter in Bryan's life and career remains to be seen, but hopefully in the next weeks, Bryan, WWE and his fans will get closer to their answers.

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