The mysterious story of Daniel Bryan's current WWE status just got a whole lot stranger.
As our regular readers should recall, Daniel Bryan suffered a career threatening concussion injury last spring. Since that point, WWE's Medical Director, Dr. Joseph Maroon has steadfastly refused to clear him to wrestle, despite the Arizona Cardinals' neurologist and concussion specialists at UCLA being willing to do so.
According to Dave Meltzer, some time during this standoff, WWE froze Daniel Bryan's contract because he's injured, similar to what happened with Rey Mysterio in 2014 whose contract was unilaterally extended by Vince McMahon for one year due to his lengthy injury layoffs. What this means is that Bryan is still getting paid his downside guarantee by WWE, but the time left on his contract isn't being run down. Apparently, WWE has offered Bryan several non-wrestling jobs in the company, like being an announcer, which he has constantly turned down, because he is insistent on continuing his wrestling career.
In an unsurprising twist to this mystery, given that Bryan claimed last December that he believed his WWE career could be over but his wrestling career might not be, Dave Meltzer recently posted on the Wrestling Classics message board that WWE recently blocked Bryan from handing in his notice:
"He did give notice and was told he did not have the right to give notice."
Looking at the publicly available booking agreement between WWE and Stephanie McMahon Levesque (h/t Wrestlenomics expert Chris Harrington), which follows the template of a standard WWE wrestler contract, it is true that Bryan would not have the right to give notice. Here, are the relevant clauses on early termination:
"11.1 (a) This Agreement may be terminated by PROMOTER during the Term for any or no reason whatsoever by providing WRESTLER at least ninety (90) advance written notice of said termination. The ninetieth (90th) day shall be defined as the "Termination Date".
(b) This Agreement may be terminated prior to the end of its Term by a written instrument executed by each of the parties expressing their mutual consent to so terminate without any further liability on the part of either party.
(c) This Agreement may be terminated by PROMOTER immediately due to WRESTLER’s breach as set forth in Section 12.1.
(d) In the event of a termination pursuant to Section 11.1(a) or Section 11.1(b), PROMOTER shall be obligated to pay WRESTLER a pro-rated portion of the Minimum Annual Compensation up until the Termination Date and to pay WRESTLER any royalties which may be due WRESTLER in accordance with Section 7 for the use of the WRESTLER Intellectual Property.
11.2 This Agreement shall automatically and immediately terminate upon WRESTLER's death and PROMOTER shall have no further obligation to WRESTLER or WRESTLER's heirs, successors, personal representatives or assigns pursuant to any of the terms herein including but not limited to any payment obligations as described in Section 7."
So other than faking his own death (see clause 11.2), there is no way for Daniel Bryan to get out of his WWE contract other than by suing the company to do so, unless Vince McMahon agrees to let him out of his contract. On the other hand, Vince can terminate anyone he likes, even if they don't breach their contract, as long as he gives them 90 days notice. This "indentured servitude" doesn't seem morally fair, even though Bryan likely agreed to similar clauses when he signed his WWE booking agreement.
Although I'm somewhat sympathetic to the argument that WWE shouldn't let Bryan out of his contract without a fight because they currently believe he would be endangering his long-term health if he were to ever wrestle again, I also think WWE has done a terrible job of convincing Bryan that he should retire for his own good. If Maroon's medical opinion is correct, then it shouldn't be too difficult to find other experts who would corroborate his assessment. Instead, WWE are in the horrible PR situation where they look like the villain of the piece, because there seems to be more doctors on Bryan's side clearing him than there are against clearing him.
The frustration of being out on the sidelines having nothing to do other than advertise laundry detergent and trim his shaggy hair and beard is taking its toll on Bryan, if this cryptic tweet is any indication:
Hopefully for Daniel Bryan, he finds closure to this maddening standoff soon and it is the right one for his future wellbeing, even if that means we will never see him wrestle ever again.