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Daniel Bryan injury: In absence of legend, there is legacy

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From what I've been reading, the outlook is pretty bleak when it comes to the return of Daniel Bryan.

What started as neck surgery, one that was expected to sideline him for no more than a couple of weeks, has snowballed into myriad problems, including a bum shoulder that may also need to be cut open.

Talk about shitty timing.

Bryan, pro wrestling's little engine who could, defied the odds and not only beat John Cena to win the WWE Championship at SummerSlam, but also headlined WrestleMania 30 and defeated two former titleholders to win it again.

As far as feathers and caps go, that's about as good as it gets.

Then, to top it all off, he got to marry the lovely Brie Bella and take a week off to enjoy his honeymoon. When he came home, however, he discovered that his father was dead.

Then came the injuries, the stripping of the titles, and the dreaded "out until further notice."

Will he come back?

At age 33, he's right on that magic line between "done" and "still got it." But it's not outrageous to think his best days inside the ring are behind him, and that the performer who resurfaces may be vastly different from the one who left.

WWE is a hot-and-cold business, so what works today may not work tomorrow. Bryan's epic YES! movement existed in a distinct place and time, and that will be difficult to resurrect at a later date. Difficult, but not necessarily impossible. The good news is, he went out on top, so his pop -- assuming he stays off television -- should be deafening when he returns.

Or perhaps "if" he returns.

There has been a lot of chatter online about his place in the industry if he A) is forced to retire -- a la Edge -- or B) if he comes back and toils away on the mid card for the remainder of his career -- a la Christian. Is "D-Bry" a future hall of famer?

Probably not.

I know getting into the WWE hall of fame is like getting into the amusement park. Assuming you're taller than that little clown hand at the gate, you're pretty much guaranteed entry. But for the discerning fan, there should be an established body of work, something Bryan just didn't have enough time to generate.

Okay, you made it to the top, but can you stay there?

Bryan couldn't, reinforcing the somewhat-kayfabe knock on the flying goat that he was too brittle to be an A+ player. So you can't really say he "made it," because the play was ruled dead the second he caught the ball. But in absence of legend, there is legacy.

Bryan blazed a few trails on his way to the top.

So too, did CM Punk, another Indy standout who proved you don't have to fit Vince McMahon's vision of what a pro wrestler should look like in order to get over with fans. But underneath that success, Punk struggled to hide his disdain for the industry that made him famous.

And it showed.

But getting behind Bryan was easy, because we believed him when he said he was fighting for us, fighting against The Authority, an easily-relatable cause. Even when he wasn't, and he was yelling NO! NO! NO! we cheered anyway, because he made us like him even when we weren't supposed to.

And success begets success.

Think about some of the guys working top programs right now, like Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Those are a couple of performers who are outstanding in any capacity and as expected, are killing it every week on television. I would reckon Bryan's success had a lot to do with that.

He didn't just prove to the suits backstage that talented Indy guys could run with the big dogs, he proved it to the fans, too.

That's why the WWE Universe no longer recoils when NXT call ups are featured prominently on RAW and Smackdown. "Indy wrestler" has become a Ring Badge of Honor, rather than a punchline. Because of it, NXT has earned a little street cred, a place where the "real" wrestlers are putting it on the line every match.

And now we get to see them on the big stage, thanks to guys like "D-Bry" who proved it can be done on a grander scale.


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