In the week since Bryan Danielson announced his retirement, I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions, as have quite a few wrestling fans. From the initial shock of the announcement, came the denial – the internet rumour mill had been saying for weeks that the only thing holding back his return was the WWE’s own doctors. Even without an official statement from Danielson, WWE or anyone connected to either party, the rumour was so prevalent that fans were taking it as the gospel truth.
So much so, that upon Danielson’s retirement, a section of fans were immediately targeting Dr. Joseph Maroon with abuse.
Then we had the sorrow, particularly during Danielson’s farewell speech, and the realisation that this maybe wasn’t a storyline. Danielson hadn’t come out in Mark Henry’s salmon jacket, not did anyone come out half-way through for the phony hug that turns into an attack, setting up a match down the line. With a heartfelt speech, a sixteen-year career was confirmed as over. Starting on a show in Texas for the Shawn Michaels Texas Wrestling Academy, and finishing in a dark match in London, England, the American Dragon would grapple no more.
From a personal perspective, Danielson’s retirement came as an expected shock, if that makes sense. Having been a big fan of Danielson’s in-ring work, it was so easy to turn a blind eye to the high impact spots that punctuated the majority of his matches. For every match that featured a diving headbutt, you could just as easily find a match where Danielson relied on technical holds. For every match where you saw Danielson viciously ramming his head into an opponent, such as his ROH match against Nigel McGuinness in Liverpool, or his final WrestleMania outing – the Intercontinental title ladder match – there’d be plenty more where he didn’t.
Sadly, as was alluded to in his retirement speech, a lot of the damage was done long before his arrival in WWE. In the first five months of his career, whilst training at the TWA, Danielson had picked up three concussions. Add those to all of the other head traumas, documented or otherwise, and you are left with what was effectively a wrestler whose days were numbered the moment he stepped foot in a WWE ring. To make matters worse, he’s far from the only one.
The likes of Jim Cornette have long bemoaned how the modern style of wrestling can only have a detrimental effect on careers, and we’re now starting to see the results. Early retirement is no longer affecting the wrestlers who relied on weapon shots, blood and brawls for matches in front of a few dozen people. Although we’ve seen how toning down your style has helped Dean Ambrose step far away from the shadow of deathmatch competitor Jon Moxley, it’s not going to get him any extra credit on his proverbial “bump card”.
Looking at the current WWE and NXT rosters, there is the potential for the company to remain haunted with their current injury woes. Sami Zayn’s already had a lengthy spell out with a shoulder injury, as has Cesaro, whilst the likes of Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hideo Itami and Austin Aries are all in their 30s, and have arrived with WWE following over a decade wrestling full time. None of those guys have exactly had light schedules, and that could come back to haunt these guys, as the work they did to earn their way to WWE could cut them off at the worst possible moment. That, of course, is not something that can be predicted, as (say) Chad Gable is just as likely to have a freak, career ending injury just as easily as (say) Roman Reigns is.
Bryan Danielson’s retirement effectively closes the door on another chapter of my wrestling fandom. Bret Hart was my first “favourite” wrestler, with the Hitman being the first wrestler that I saw, and followed closely. As I became a teenager and had access to WCW and the new-fangled invention known as the Internet, Chris Benoit was another of my favoured performers, particularly when it came to in-ring work. Fast-forward to the early 2000s, and as Benoit jumped to the WWE and subsequent demise of WCW, I turned to the independent scene, with the work of Bryan Danielson catching my eye.
As the matches I’m watching and re-watching for my series of Random Reviews on the career of Bryan Danielson will attest, Danielson very rarely had two matches the same. In fact, as seen in his outings at 2009’s CHIKARA King of Trios tournament, Danielson was talented enough to be able to have various “templates” of matches, rather than have a Ric Flair- or Bret Hart-like sequence of moves that get dropped into matches at set times. You could tell what Danielson’s signature moves were, without them having to stitch them together in a certain order to hammer the point home.
Those trio of Hart, Benoit and Danielson all had crowning moments at WrestleMania – Bret at WrestleMania 10, Benoit at 20, and most recently, Danielson at 30. Bret would last six years before a stiff kick from Bill Goldberg ended his full-time wrestling career; Benoit would take his own life (and two others) barely three years later, whilst Danielson’s career came to a premature halt not even two years after his WrestleMania moment. Jokingly, we should probably look to warn whomever leaves the main event of WrestleMania 40 in eight years’ time to start preparing for early retirement, those of us who profess to be wrestling fans should also look to enjoy what we watch, and appreciate what we have today, rather than when it’s gone.
It’s one thing to sing the praises of, say, Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada from this past weekend’s The New Beginning show in Niigata (and a recap of that show will be appearing on this site shortly, along with the prior Thursday’s show from Osaka). However, rather than reducing a match to a number of stars (and then knocking some off for interference), perhaps we should consider the wider picture, and appreciate the match and the performers in it. After all, as the lucky fans present for Bryan Danielson’s last ever match after last April’s SmackDown taping in London will attest, you’ll never know when you’re not going to get another chance.