Cubed Circle Newsletter 222 – Daniel Bryan Retires
In this week’s newsletter we look into the retirement of Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan from a number of perspectives, recap the events leading up to Monday’s retirement, comprehend the possible effects it may have on the future of pro-wrestling injuries and protocol, the rest of the RAW show, WWE financials, Titus ‘O Neal, and more!
The Pro-Wres Digest for February 7th – February 13th
There is only one place to start this week, and that is with the retirement of one of the best professional wrestlers I have ever seen in my near 24 years of being a fan, Bryan Danielson, at the age of just 34. Danielson sent out a Tweet on Monday afternoon and revealed that the serial drama that had become his struggle to get medical clearance was finally over. “Due to medical reasons, effective immediately, I am announcing my retirement. Tonight on Raw, I’ll have a chance to elaborate. #gratitude,” he revealed. Danielson’s 35 minute retirement speech on RAW was one of the most genuine and relatable segments in the history of live Monday night wrestling and was among the best send-offs in pro wrestling history. But to understand the full story, you have to go back to March 31st 2015, two days after Bryan won the Intercontinental championship at WrestleMania 31, in Frenso, CA, when Danielson wrestled Sheamus in the main event. At the time I wrote about the match, “they had a good, hard-hitting match. Maybe too hard-hitting.” Little was I aware of just how accurate this assessment would turn out to be.
Danielson was in a bad way after the match with Sheamus and the rumours at the time were that he had suffered a suspected concussion. He missed the following RAW, but worked the SmackDown tapings the next day in Dallas,TX, teaming with Roman Reigns & Dolph Ziggler to beat Wade Barrett, Sheamus & Big Show. After flying to Europe as part of the annual post-WrestleMania tour, Bryan worked another six-man at a house show in Dublin, Ireland, teaming with Erick Rowan & Dolph Ziggler against Bray Wyatt, Wade Barrett & Sheamus. Again, Danielson reportedly suffered a concussion during the match, however he still worked the remaining five dates of the tour as part of more six-man matches where all he had to do was come in and hit the Busaiku knee for the finish. At the SmackDown tapings in London on April 14th 2015, Bryan would wrestle what would turn out to be his final ever match when he teamed with John Cena to beat Tyson Kidd & Cesaro. At the time I wrote, “A short 8 minute match. The whole match was built around Cena selling and teasing the hot tag. When it finally came Bryan didn’t take any bumps at all; he even managed to land on his feet doing a Frankensteiner. Finish saw Cena AA Cesaro and Bryan tapped Kidd with the Yes lock.” This was also the night where a “prank comedy” group came out of the crowd and stormed the ring while Bryan, Cena, Cesaro & Kidd were in there and they proceeded to do some horrible spots until security dragged them out. Danielson was sent home from the European tour the next day and was not seen again until he vacated the IC title on the May 11th RAW. WWE tried to keep his condition quite at the time, which furthered the speculation that it was concussion related problems that Danielson was having, although without any confirmation it seemed just as likely that it could have been a re-occurrence of the neck injury that forced him to vacate the WWE World title in 2014.
We didn’t get any news on Bryan’s condition until he started doing media appearances in the summer of 2015 and he began to answer the questions about his health in a typically candid manner. “I told them, regardless of them, if they won’t clear me, we’re independent contractors, in theory, I will wrestle again,” said Danielson in July on “Busted Open” Radio. The “they”, Bryan was referring to was Dr Joseph Maroon, WWE’s head of medical and one of the pioneers of impact testing. Maroon told Danielson in no uncertain terms that he should never wrestle again, as this was his tenth documented concussion and there were almost certainly many more undiagnosed concussions that Bryan had suffered throughout his 16 year career. Danielson sought out a second opinion from the Arizona Cardinals team doctor and after a course of tests it was determined that he was perfectly healthy. “I’m cleared by the neurologist in Phoenix that I’ve been going to see. It’s not like he’s a quack doctor. He was the neurologist for the Super Bowl,” Bryan said in the same “Busted Open” interview from July. He later underwent a battery of tests at UCLA, including, EEGs and MRIs, and once again he passed all the tests and even scored higher in cognitive ability than the average person in his age group. However, Dr Maroon was unflinching and still refused to clear Bryan to get back in the ring. In his fantastic story in this week’s Observer, which everyone should go out of their way to read, Dave Meltzer noted that Danielson argued his case with Vince McMahon but when it was clear Vince wasn’t going to budge, Bryan asked for his release. McMahon obviously wasn’t going to let one of his top stars go to another company, even if he was on the injured list, and refused to let Bryan go. There is a clause in WWE contracts which allows the company to effectively freeze an injured talents’ deal until they are healed and ready to return to action. Rey Mysterio was a victim of this clause for the last year or-so of his contract and the company kept him around solely so he didn’t go to Lucha Underground.
Finally, on January 21st 2016 Danielson went to Evoke Neuroscience, a New York based manufacturer of pioneering brain analysis systems, and underwent the new tests which were originally created by military doctors looking at brain trauma in soldiers and sports doctors who were looking for a more accurate testing method than the impact tests. Bryan explained during his Sports Centre interview on 9/2, the day after his farewell on RAW, that the new test he went through in New York were EEGs which measured his brain activity while simultaneously going through reflex tests. He noted that the tests had found a “small, sub-acute, or chronic legion” in the temporo-parietal junction of his brain, which is an area of the brain that causes seizures. Danielson revealed that he had hid post-concussion seizures for a long time, which led a bunch of conspiracy whackos to find a clip of him selling during his 31/3/15 match with Sheamus and claim this was one of those seizures. It wasn’t. Bryan was never told to retire by any doctors in New York, however the results of the tests and the discovery of his seizures being linked to his concussions were enough for him to make the decision on his own. So in the end, it turns out that Dr Joseph Maroon, who took a lot of criticism for being overly cautious when it came to Danielson and was also portrayed in the movie “Concussion” as a behind the times quack who was turning a blind eye to CTE, was right all along and most likely did Bryan a huge favour by not clearing him to wrestle.
The ramifications of the Danielson case going forward could be enormous. There are almost certainly active members of the WWE roster who, if subjected to the same testing as Danielson, would undoubtedly have a hard time getting cleared to wrestle. The Dudley Boyz, Bubba Ray in particular, were notorious for taking hard unprotected chair shots in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The Undertaker, after 30 years in the business and being the archetype for working through injuries in the 90’s, must surely have a worked with a concussion or two in his time. The same goes for HHH, however I’m sure guys like Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, all of whom had long tenures working the hard independent style, except Ziggler, who has a history of concussions and just takes stupid bumps, would find some kind of concussion related issues if they underwent the same tests as Bryan. What about John Cena, who has been taking awkward bumps for over 14 years, or Brock Lesnar, who was brutally knocked out by Cain Velasquez and a gassed up Alistair Overeem? You could go on and on. With this new wave of CTE and concussion testing, guys could be more likely to try and hide any type of head injury for fear of having their careers cut short just like Bryan. WWE didn’t send Bryan to Evoke Neuroscience in New York, he went there on his own to try and get more proof that he could return to the ring. I can’t see many wrestlers volunteering to go get themselves checked out if there is even a slight chance that there could be something wrong. On the other hand, with Dr Maroon’s medical opinion being vindicated in the Danielson case, once Maroon refuses to clear a talent it is going to be virtually impossible for them to fight the decision with a second or third medical opinion. The science is still relatively new and no doubt there are still more cases of athletes having their careers ended due to concussion related issues to come. However, in five or ten years time we might be looking back at the case of Bryan Danielson in a similar way the Chris Nowinski/Chris Benoit situation, in that it could be a real turning point in our understanding of CTE, concussions and brain trauma.
Some utterly bizarre news broke on 10/2 when WWE announced that they had suspended Titus O’Neil for 90 days due to “unprofessional conduct” during the Daniel Bryan retirement celebration on RAW. After Bryan had walked to the back and with all the wrestlers still on the stage, Titus grabbed Vince McMahon’s arm in a jocular fashion and Vince shoved him back in what at the time seemed to be nothing more than a little horseplay. We’ve all heard the stories of Vince wanting to be one of the boys and acting like a frat boy after one too many Jägerbombs, so it was certainly a shock when it was revealed that Titus has been suspended for the incident. WWE even went so far as to take down the post-RAW celebration from the Network because the closing shot was Vince shoving Titus back. However, perhaps the most damning thing for Titus was that Stephanie McMahon was right next to Vince when all this went down and she came very close to getting bumped into, which cannot have gone down well at all. Clearly, Titus acted inappropriately during what was supposed to be a serious deal and I don’t care who you are, grabbing the owner of the company you work for when he is not expecting it is just plain stupid. Still, there was a lot of negative reaction online to what many viewed as an extremely heavy-handed punishment on WWE’s part and some people even speculated that it had to be a cover up for a wellness violation. O’Neil was cut a little slack when it was revealed later on 10/2 that his suspension had been reduced to 60 days, however he is still going to miss out on the WrestleMania pay day. The grab-happy, Celebrity Mega Dad of the Year, Titus, was not informed of his suspension until he showed up at the SmackDown tapings on 9/2 in Portland, OR and now has two months to come up with a new story to tell all the kids about why you should never grab your unsuspecting 70 year-old boss by the arm. The New York post website ran a story on the deal with the headline, “Fans call Vince McMahon a racist for suspending black wrestler” and they included a bunch of Tweets from imbeciles who labelled Vince a racist. WWE responded with the following statement: “The suspension of Titus O’Neil had nothing to do with race and everything to do with unprofessional conduct,” and they also revealed an apologetic text message sent from Titus. “I feel like sh*t now so if you have to let me go, I understand. Stupid mistake,” O’Neil wrote. Dave Batista stuck his nose in when he was asked on Twitter to contact WWE and protest O’Neil’s suspension. Big Dave responded, “I did something better. I called @TitusONeilWWE and told him to ask to be released.”
Finn Balor sprained his ankle on 5/2 in Nashville, TN during a match with Samoa Joe. Balor injured himself performing his double foot stomp finish, as his ankle gave out upon landing. He didn’t work the 6/2 show in Indianapolis and posted a picture on Twitter of himself on crutches, however the fans in Indianapolis were treated to an awesome segment involving Bayley & Balor. Bayley wanted to know if there was anything she could do to cheer Finn up and Balor told her, “I don’t know Bayley. I’m feeling pretty sad.” Balor whispered in her ear then told her that was the only thing that would make him feel better. Bayley then proceeded to perform Balor’s full entrance, complete with his Balor Club jacket and she threw up all the applicable hand signs in the process. Balor was so excited that he joined in with the synchronised posing to his music, but he took a prat-fall then rolled around on the mat with Bayley. It was a really fun little deal.
After the UFC show on 6/2, it looked like CM Punk finally had an opponent for his long-awaited MMA debut. Mickey Gall blitzed 0-0 fighter Michael Jackson and submitted him in 45 seconds and he posed in the Octagon with Punk to begin the hype for their fight, which probably would have been at UFC 199, however on 10/2 Punk had surgery on his back due to a herniated disc which he attributed to pro wrestling. “My back has always bugged me. Figured it was just wrestling sh*t. Turns out it was. It got bad enough to the point where I couldn’t do anything the week before I went to train with the New Jersey Devils last month. One day I could manage, the next day I couldn’t. I’ve been in agony for almost a month,” Punk told Ariel Helwani. The recovery time is 4-6 weeks, so he wouldn’t have much time for a training camp to make UFC 199 in June; UFC 200 on July 9th, or even UFC 201, look to be more likely at this stage. On a side note, before the fight was postponed, Punk opened at a 23/10 (+230) underdog, while Gall was the slight favourite at 1/3 (-300).
WWE announced their fourth quarter earnings and year ending financial numbers on 11/2 and Vince McMahon commented during a press release on Corperate.WWE.com, “Our record revenue in 2015 reflected innovation across all of our businesses, which was highlighted by the successful execution of our network strategy. Over the next year, we will continue to focus on producing engaging content across all platforms, investing in emerging markets, and deploying technology across the enterprise to drive our long-term growth.” For the quarter ending 31/12/2015, WWE reported a Net loss of $1.2 million ($0.02 loss per share), as compared to a Net loss of $1.6 million ($0.02 loss per share), in the previous quarter. Excluding items affecting comparability, Adjusted OIBDA was up $11.1 million from $5.1 million. Adjusted net income was $3.4 million ($0.04 per share), as compared to Adjusted net loss of $0.6 million ($0.01 loss per share), in the fourth quarter last year. The Network subscriber number for the fourth quarter was 1.22 million paid, which was down slightly from 1.233 million subs at the end of the third quarter. They also noted that they reached a record 1.24 million paid during the fourth quarter and the overall peak came the day after WrestleMania 31, with 1.327 million subscribers.
Here are some of the highlights from the conference call on 11/2 discussing the financial report. Vince noted they did a record $659 million in revenue and he claimed that the average WWE Network subscriber watched more hours of Network content than any cable TV channel. George Barrios reported that live event profits were up 9% in attendance and 13% in ticket price; he credited NXT becoming a touring brand as a contributing factor to the increase. WrestleMania 32 will fall during the second quarter of this year and Barrios said they would release another subscriber count the day after Mania. A caller asked about the number of injuries possibly affecting WrestleMania and Vince said that by, “being creative” they can work around it and promised that WrestleMania would be “just as awesome this year as it was last year.” Vince played down a question about the decline in TV ratings by pointing out they were dong better than the average numbers on the networks they are affiliated with and used the “chord cutting” excuse. He also said TV was “old media” and stated they don’t live or die due to the TV ratings anymore.
Lucha Underground will be taping season three in Boyle Heights from March 19th – May 15th, although the shows will not air until early 2017. It is unknown at this point if the company’s biggest star, Rey Mysterio, who debuted on last week’s TV show, will be part of the season three tapings due to an on going conflict with AAA. Konnan claimed on his MLW podcast that Mysterio would not be working for AAA again until their financial disputes are resolved. According to Dave Meltzer in the Observer, during season one of Lucha Underground, the talent would have their cheques sent to AAA, who would then take off a booking fee and pay their own contracted talent the rest of the money. However, now Lucha Underground is sending the cheques directly to the wrestlers and apparently a lot of the talent are unhappy about how much AAA skimmed off for their booking fee during season one. Also, AAA now have to go to the wrestlers themselves for the booking fees, which you can imagine has caused some conflict on both sides. There is also an issue with the changing of direction due to AAA removing Konnan as the booker. The plan for Mysterio was to make him the top star in AAA and Lucha Underground, but now that appears to be out the window for some inexplicable reason, at least from AAA’s side of things. Why they wouldn’t want to use a huge star like Mysterio is beyond me. Konnan claimed that Mysterio was open to going back to WWE on a part-time schedule, but WWE made it clear when Mysterio was still under contract that it was either full-time or nothing. I suppose it is possible that WWE could sign Mysterio to some kind of legends deal just to keep him off the third season of Lucha Underground.
Jim Ross was revealed as the face of FITE TV this week, a new streaming service from Flipps Media that will air live pro wrestling and other combat sports like MMA, boxing and kickboxing. There will also be on demand content and some of the promotions already signed up to be pat of the deal are, TNA, ROH, Global Force, the WWN live companies of Evolve, Shine & FIP, Future Stars of Wrestling, Wrestlelicious (!!!), Tuff-N-Uff MMA, Legacy FC, World Armwrestling Championship and USA Sumo. Ross commented, “It is the future of televised fighting sports. There is no easier way to stream wrestling, MMA and other fighting sports content including special commentaries on those sports by me.” Mike Weber, the Senior Vice President of Flipps Media has a long history in the pro wrestling business. He worked as the Director of Media Relations for the WWF from 1986-1989, the Director of Marketing for WCW from 1992-1999 and was Vice President of Marketing for TNA from 2008-2013.
New TNA Knockout, Raquel (Gabi Castrovinci of WWE Tough Enough “fame”) told TMZ that she was “assaulted” during a three-way match for WXW on 6/2 in Miami, FL. Castrovinci was working against Regina and another Raquel and ended up with some nasty bruises, a hairline fracture of her jaw and a chipped tooth after things apparently got a little too stiff. Castrovinci stated in her interview with TMZ Sports that the reasons behind the attack were due to her becoming, “very successful in wrestling” and receiving a “HUGE” contract with TNA, plus TNA gave her the name “Raquel”, which was the name of another woman in the WXW three-way. I’m not condoning what happened, but it should come as no surprise that a former fitness model, with zero pro wrestling background whatsoever, who got a deal with TNA after six weeks on Tough Enough, was treated in such a manner by the independent women. It probably didn’t help that Castrovinci was booked to go over in the three-way either.AJ Styles was on Chris Jericho’s podcast this week; I suggest nobody tells Bill Watts that two men who are feuding on TV sat down together for a nice friendly chat for fans to listen to. Some of the highlights included AJ talking about WWE flying him to Tampa and sneaking him into Orlando for the Royal Rumble. The only people that knew were his close friends and family, however his son told one of his friends he had signed with WWE and Styles made his son go back and tell his friend he had lied. Styles noted that Nakamura gave his notice to New Japan a week before AJ, Anderson & Gallows, which if true is very interesting. He also said his favourite match in New Japan was his G1 match with Tanahashi from last year. Styles revealed that his back is feeling much better and credited Jericho for turning him onto DDP Yoga.
Styles also worked his first WWE house show on 7/2 in San Jose and beat Miz in the opener. Also on that show, Brock Lesnar beat Rusev and Roman Reigns downed Alberto Del Rio in the main event.
In more AJ Styles news, this week on SmackDown Styles lost clean in the middle to Chris Jericho. So even the hot new star, who came in with more buzz than anybody for a long time, cannot escape the black hole of WWE’s 50/50 booking. You can use all the excuses in the world to try and justify this: “they”re doing a program,” “AJ will get his win back so it doesn’t matter,” “he can’t have stayed undefeated forever,” but the simple fact is that when a new guy comes in with as much momentum as Styles you don’t just beat him in his fifth match on TV because Vince McMahon has forgotten how to get new people over.
Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay is set for the Saturday 2/4 Evolve show in Dallas over WrestleMania weekend. Ospreay will be making his Evolve debut and will be also on the Friday show on 1/4.
Mark Nulty, creator of the WrestlingClassics.com and former pro wrestling commentator and ring announcer, sadly passed away on 11/2 after losing his battle with lung cancer. The news was announced by his friend, Paul Herzog, who stated that Nulty was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer which had spread to his brain despite undergoing chemotherapy. Nulty started out in South-West Championship Wrestling for Joe Blanchard and later moved onto World Class in Dallas. Dave Meltzer credits Nulty as being one of the “key people in the direction of [his] life,” as the two became very close friends when they both lived in Dallas during the peak of World Class. Meltzer also noted that Nulty was a pioneer of wrestling audio, as long before anyone even conceived of a podcast, Nulty was recording shows with Robert Hernandez onto a cassette and sending them out via mail. What a great concept that must have seemed like at the time. Nulty started WrestlingClassics in 1999 and while both men were still alive, Lou Thesz and Jack Brisco used to post regularly on the forums, which almost seems unbelievable; Lou Thesz posting on a wrestling board is honestly mind-blowing. We offer our condolences to Nulty’s friends and family during this difficult time.
In more tragic news, Kevin Randleman, only the fifth man in history to hold the UFC Heavyweight Championship, passed away in hospital on 11/2. He was just 44 years-old. Bleacher Report’s Jeremy Blotter confirmed that Randleman went into hospital with pneumonia and suffered heart failure. Randleman’s family issued a statement to MMAWeekly.com saying,“With saddened hearts, the Randleman family confirms the passing of Kevin ‘The Monster’ Randleman. While travelling on business, Kevin became ill unexpectedly and passed due to complications from pneumonia.” Randleman, “The Monster”, was one of the pioneers of the early MMA scene, fighting out of Team Hammer House along with Mark Coleman, Phil Baroni and Wes Sims among others. Randleman joined Coleman in PRIDE in 2002 and went on a three fight win streak before losing to Rampage Jackson and Kazushi Sakuraba. Randleman would bounce back with arguably the biggest moment of his career, when he knocked out Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at 1:57 of the first round in the PRIDE 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix. His following fight was against the then PRIDE Heavyweight Champion, Fedor Emelianenko, in the Heavyweight Grand Prix quarter final. Randleman lost the fight in 1:33 via Kimura, however not before he dumped Fedor right on his head with a spectacular German Suplex. He also dabbled in pro-wrestling and debuted in 2002 for All Japan’s sister promotion, Wrestle-1, teaming with Coleman in a losing effort against Hiroshi Hase and Satoshi Kojima on November 17th 2002 in Yokohama, Japan. Later, he moved to Zero-One where he teamed with “The Predator,” Sylvester Terkay, in the 2003 Tag Team Festival. In 2004, Randleman was brought into Hustle as part of Nobuhiko Takada’s Moster Army heel group. Randleman & Coleman even defeated Shinya Hashimoto & Toshiaki Kawada at Hustle’s second ever show on March 7th 2004 in Yokohama. Randleman continued to do pro wrestling until 2007 and made a couple of appearances for Antonio Inok’s IGF, before going back to Hustle for one last tag match with Coleman against Kohei Sato & Piranha Monster at Korakuen Hall on September 13th 2007. Our best wishes go out to the friends and family of Kevin Randleman.
Bret Hart posted a message on Instagram on 12/2 following his surgery for prostate cancer in Calgary on 10/2. Hart said, “Surgery’s over and on the long road to recovery. I want to thank Dr.Hyndman and the nursing staff at Rocky View Hospital for an outstanding job. I also want to thank my family, friends and fans for all your love and support. Things are looking up and I should be home in the next couple of days. In the words of Vince McMahon: “It’s onwards and upwards.” Best of luck to Bret on a speedy recovery.
The RAW ratings were up after an 18-year record, non-holiday, non-football season, low for last week’s show. The Daniel Bryan retirement episode did 3,681,000 viewers and the rating was up by 10.5% to a 2.62, however there was a big drop in the third hour. 8pm did 3,907,000, 9pm did 3,905,000 and 10pm did 3,368,000 viewers. SmackDown on 4/2 did 2,664,000 viewers and a 1.86 rating which was slightly down from the previous week. The 3/2 Lucha Underground show did a record 125,000 viewers for the 8pm premier and another 76,000 for the 9pm replay. IMPACT on 2/2 drew 295,000 for the 9pm airing and 112,000 for the midnight replay. That’s 407,000 total which is down from 442,000 the previous week.