This week’s episode of USA’s “Monday Night Raw” was an extremely emotional one for wrestling fans worldwide as Daniel Bryan, who announced his retirement via Twitter on Monday, gave a farewell speech before a sold-out crowd in his home state of Washington.
“In the past few days, I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, I’ve been frustrated,” Bryan said. “But since I woke up this morning, I’ve felt nothing but gratitude. Because I got to do what I’ve always loved to do for 16 years.”
After being sidelined by injuries for months, the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion made it official on his Twitter account Monday, citing “medical reasons.”
The 34-year-old Bryan has been sidelined for much of the past year due to health issues.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old. Within the first five months of my wrestling career I had three concussions,” he said Monday night. “And then after that I got a concussion here and a concussion there. For a long time I fought that…but a week and a half ago, I took a test that said my brain wasn’t as good as I thought it was, and I have a family to think about.”
In July, he announced that he had suffered a concussion-related injury and was awaiting clearance to wrestle again from the WWE.
Bryan, who’s married to fellow WWE wrestler Brie Bella, has wrestled under the ring names American Dragon, Bryan Danielson and Daniel Wyatt at various times during his wrestling career.
Despite his popularity, Bryan was seen by WWE as an upper-midcard talent rather than the perennial main-eventer his fans hoped he would become. But after a feud with WWE’s top star John Cena, Bryan’s underdog status became the impetus for an eight-month story arc that culminated at Wrestlemania XXX in 2014, where Bryan won two matches in one night to become WWE’s heavyweight champion.
Unfortunately, Bryan’s time on top was short lived. Two months later, he was forced to relinquish the title after suffering a neck injury that required surgery. Last year, he returned to WWE and won the promotion’s intercontinental title at Wrestlemania 31. WWE planned to use Bryan’s popularity to make the intercontinental title a more prominent part of their show, but Bryan was once again forced out of the ring, this time due to concussion-related injuries.
In the past eight months, Bryan had been denied clearance to return to the ring by WWE’s medical team. Some wrestling insiders believed that WWE’s reluctance to clear Bryan was due at least in part to a series of lawsuits filed by former wrestlers and their families last year. One lawsuit claimed WWE had committed “egregious mistreatment of its wrestlers for its own benefit, as well as its concealment and denial of medical research and evidence concerning traumatic brain injuries suffered by WWE wrestlers.”
Last month, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that Bryan underwent tests at the UCLA Medical Center to get a second opinion. The UCLA doctors cleared Bryan to compete, but as he revealed during his speech on “Raw,” later tests proved that continuing his career might lead to long-term damage.
Bryan’s in-ring career may be over, but he leaves behind a legacy of groundbreaking performances in wrestling. He is one of the wrestlers credited with raising the profile of independent wrestling, in large part to his career prior to WWE as “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor Wrestling.
Bryan arrived in WWE already a household name among hardcore fans, and since then, WWE has signed and promoted stars who similarly made a big name for themselves on the indie circuit. These include rising stars like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, both of whom honored Bryan today on Twitter.
— Sami Zayn (@iLikeSamiZayn) February 8, 2016
— Kevin Owens (@FightOwensFight) February 8, 2016
Bryan ended the speech by recalling his favorite moment in his career, when his late father drove to Seattle from their hometown of Aberdeen to see Bryan on Raw in December 2013. Bryan was part of a segment that included multiple former world champions and WWE legends, but the crowd only chanted Bryan’s name. Bryan told the crowd it was the last time his father saw him in the ring live before he died, and he thanked them for making it special.
– WWE (@WWE) February 9, 2016