The Eternal Optimist Presents: Is Daniel Bryan the Next Chris Benoit?

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Now that Daniel Bryan has been cleared to wrestle, are you still concerned for his long term health?

Hi kids.

Holy cow. The wrestling world is on fire with the incredible news that dropped this afternoon. Three years after concussions seemingly ended his career, Daniel Bryan has been cleared to wrestle!

The possibilities are endless. Daniel Bryan teaming with Shane McMahon to take on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at Wrestlemania 34 is a surefire reality at this point. Daniel Bryan finally giving The Miz what he deserves over the summer is something that can’t be missed. A dream match between Bryan and A.J. Styles would be breathtaking. The mere thought of Daniel Bryan winning the 2019 Royal Rumble and going on to de-throne Roman Reigns in the Wrestlemania 35 main event is enough to make our entire community shout with glee.

I wish I could shut my brain off and be as excited as everyone else. Unfortunately, I just can’t do it. Why is that? The answer is simple. When I heard the news of Daniel Bryan being cleared to wrestle, my first thought was as dark as dark can be.

I am terrified that Daniel Bryan will become the next Chris Benoit.

The similarities between Daniel Bryan and Chris Benoit were apparent long before Bryan began to suffer from concussions. Daniel Bryan’s journey to the top of the mountain at Wrestlemania XXX was special largely in part because to many it marked the first time that THEIR voice was heard. The WWE gave the diehard fans exactly what they wanted – Daniel Bryan to reign supreme.

Many of the fans who rejoiced that night were too young to realize that Wrestlemania XX played out in exactly the same manner. Chris Benoit was everything the diehard wrestling fan wanted in their champion, and exactly the type of superstar that the WWE brass NEVER gave the ball to on the biggest stage of them all. He scratched and clawed for everything that was given to him, but he kept coming up short when it mattered the most.

I was as diehard of an internet wrestling fan in 2004 as anyone is in 2018. When Chris Benoit inexplicably won the Royal Rumble that year, I knew instantly that Wrestlemania XX would be my first time attending the granddaddy of them all. Richard Boykin and I sat in the top row of Madison Square Garden screaming our heads off. When Triple H tapped out to the cross face, chills went up and down my spine. It was the one of the best nights in the history of my wrestling fandom.

We all know how it turned out for him. I’m not here to apologize for what he did. I’m here to talk about WHY he did what he did, and why I fear that Daniel Bryan could go down a similar path.

I have gone through the gambit of emotions regarding Benoit since the day he murdered his family. At first I was in denial. I was convinced that there had to be more to the story. After denial, I was angry. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how someone could do that to ANYONE, much less his wife and child. Eventually, as advances in medical research have abound, I have come to an understanding of the unfortunate reality of the situation.

Concussions are no laughing matter. Chris Benoit suffered from CTE. It might be an uncomfortable truth, but he had BRAIN DAMAGE. The person who did those horrible things was nowhere near the same person who had lived for the forty years prior. Chris Benoit was no more in control of his actions than an elderly person with dementia would be.

For years I have tried to balance my appreciation for Chris Benoit’s work with my disdain for what he did. Some have chosen to draw the line in the sand and never watch a single match of his again. I’m not in that camp. While I don’t actively seek his matches out, I won’t skip them when I’m re-watching an event either.

One thing that has always stuck with me is the tremendous head trauma that he took during his matches. He worked such a stiff style. I cringe each and every time I see his head connect with someone else’s while executing a swan dive off of the top rope. I can’t help but feel like each and every impact led him further down the path from which he’d never recover.

After Daniel Bryan was put on the sidelines, I found myself experiencing similar emotions when re-watching matches of his. He has taken an insane amount of damage to the head over the course of his career. Like Benoit, he executes the diving head butt that is a concussion waiting to happen each and every time. I couldn’t help but think that each match he competed in did more and more damage that would ultimately be irreparable.

Do I think Daniel Bryan is going to eventually murder Brie and Birdie? No, I do not. Do I think that the damage he’s taken is very real? Absolutely. I worry that like Benoit, he could end up a complete shell of himself – a human with a brain that has been greatly diminished, no longer in control of his actions and absent any significant quality of life.

There’s a reason that the WWE doctors, some of the best in the world, wouldn’t clear him for years. There’s clearly something wrong with his brain. As much as I hate to say it, I think there’s ALSO a reason that the WWE is clearing him now. His contract is set to run out, and he has made it crystal clear that he plans to wrestle elsewhere should the WWE not allow him to do so within the confines of their wrestling ring.

The WWE is well aware of the star power that Bryan possesses and has to be concerned about the legitimacy he could provide a rival organization in the future. Do I think they are intentionally putting him in danger? Not necessarily. Do I think that they are looking the other way on a marginal situation that they’d otherwise err on the side of caution? I do.

So go ahead and rejoice. Enjoy every kick, every yes chant, every flying knee and yes, even every diving head butt. Your hero has returned. I just hope that we aren’t looking at Daniel Bryan in ten years as a tragic victim of the business he adored.

That’s a wrap kids. Thank you for reading.

Facebook: David Fenichel
Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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