Daniel Bryan vacated his Intercontinental Championship on the May 11 edition of “Monday Night Raw,” as he continues to battle injuries that could keep him out of action for a long time. Addressing the crowd that has made him the most popular WWE superstar of the last two years, Bryan admitted that he might never be able to wrestle again.
"They don't know how long I'll be out,” Bryan said. “They said maybe weeks, maybe months. They said I might never be able to wrestle again. You deserve to have WWE Superstars fighting for this championship."
Over the past year, Bryan’s story has gone from inspirational to heartbreaking. Bryan overcame the odds to become the company’s most popular wrestler in 2014, forcing WWE to insert him in the main event of WrestleMania 30. But since winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at last year’s biggest show, Bryan has been bogged down by injuries, forcing him out of action for nine of the last 12 months.
After neck surgery forced Bryan to give up the WWE World Heavyweight Championship last June, he made his return in January and won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31 on March 29. He was soon pulled from WWE’s European tour after suffering another injury, never having a chance to defend the belt at a pay-per-view. Bryan has battled shoulder and neck issues since last year, though WWE has denied reports that he recently suffered a concussion.
Even though Bryan might not be able to wrestle anytime soon, he’ll still be on WWE TV regularly. Along with Hulk Hogan and Paige, Bryan will be a part of the panel of experts on “Tough Enough,” helping to determine which contestant becomes the next WWE superstar. The series will be hosted by Chris Jericho and returns to USA Network on June 23.
Bryan might no longer be in an Intercontinental Title match at the next PPV, but he’s expected to make an appearance. He’s reportedly still scheduled for Payback, and he could show up on the next episode of “Raw,” as well, as WWE looks to crown the next IC Champ. The match for the vacant Intercontinental Championship is scheduled for Sunday, May 31, with the return of Elimination Chamber. The event had been removed from WWE’s yearly PPV schedule, but it was recently added as a second PPV event for the month of May.
Despite his injuries, Bryan still receives some of the biggest pops of anyone on the roster. With ratings for “Raw,” at the worst they’ve been all year, WWE could look to utilize Bryan in a non-wrestling role. Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the few wrestlers who’s ever generated a crowd reaction like Bryan, was used in a similar fashion when he battled through injuries in 1997 and 2001.
WWE could also insert Bryan into a storyline involving his wife, Brie Bella. With Bryan out of action last August, WWE added him to the build towards Brie’s match with Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam 2014.
During his recovery from injury last year, Bryan only made a few appearances on WWE TV. His most notable appearance came on the Nov. 24 edition of “Raw,” one day after Survivor Series.
If Bryan does eventually return to in-ring action, it might not be as the same performer that fans have been accustomed to seeing. The former champ gained popularity through his exciting wrestling style, but Bryan might be forced to tone down his style in order to stave off any more injuries. Signature moves like his diving head-butt off the top rope might not be worth the injury-risk.
Bryan has held every major title in WWE since joining the company in 2010. His three WWE World Heavyweight Championship reigns have lasted a total of just 65 days.