WWE announced today that Daniel Bryan, who retired more than two years ago and hasn’t wrestled since 2015 due to repeated concussions, has been cleared to return to pro wrestling.
In the announcement, WWE said Bryan had been cleared by three doctors: Robert Cantu, Javier Cárdenas and Jeffrey Kutcher. WWE’s medical director, Joseph Maroon, also cleared him to return to in-ring action.
Cantu is a respected doctor in the concussion field, but many believe he’s been compromised by a complex web of relationships with the NFL, among others. Cárdenas has also worked for the NFL. Kutcher was Michigan football’s neurologist in 2014 when Shane Morris was allowed to return to the game with a concussion. Maroon, formerly a member of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, once claimed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was “rare,” and declared football safe.
It’s unclear what changed for Bryan in the three years since he wrestled his last match. His last full year of wrestling, really, was in 2013, as he missed time in 2014 due to a neck injury. The Wrestling Observer reported last week that Bryan had been cleared by new doctors in recent months because of Bryan’s “belief that his brain has responded favorably to hyperbaric chamber treatment.” Former Jets QB Joe Namath says he believes this has helped him. Studies have shown hyperbaric oxygen therapy to be potentially successful as immediate treatment of mild traumatic brain injuries, but it is unclear if it is effective for post-concussion syndrome.
Bryan admitted WWE was previously preventing him from competing; he had been pushing to return to in-ring action. His contract with WWE was set to expire later this year, and he even teased returning to the non-WWE wrestling circuit.
A Bryan return has been rumored for months. It’s been teased on WWE SmackDown, where he is the storyline commissioner. Bryan hinted at it in an interview with The National during an appearance in Abu Dhabi, saying that he wanted to return to wrestling.
“I have done everything in my power,” he told the paper. “Everything they have asked me to and I have gone above and beyond as far as ‘Ok, what doctors do you need me to see. Send me to any doctor you want, any doctor that you want and lets get their feedback on what is going on with me’. So far every doctor has cleared me that they have sent me too and so there is a chance.”
Bryan’s last match, per the Internet Wrestling Database, was on April 14, 2015. He teamed with John Cena to defeat Cesaro and Tyson Kidd.