When things get real
When people think about the business of professional wrestling, the word "fake" quickly comes to mind, along with the outlandish storylines and the colorful characters. Injuries and hardships usually don't make the cut.
It's all perceived as an illusion. It's supposed to be all smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand--a testosterone-filled three-hour male soap opera created in a board room with a team of writers.
For the most part, it is. The results are predetermined. The feuds are planned months in advance. The promos are scripted.
However, contrary to popular belief, things often get real. When the performers are in that ring, their bodies are put to the limit for more than 300 nights a year. There are bumps, there are bruises, there is blood, and sometimes, there is much worse.
That was the case for popular WWE superstar Daniel Bryan--who was recently forced to retire from the business because of his long history of sustaining concussions.
Bryan was one of the most beloved wrestlers the industry has ever seen. He wasn't supposed to main-event Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans, but the fans were so much behind him that they forced the WWE's hand.
They had no choice but to have Bryan headlining the show and winning the titles. If he didn't, the other superstars would have been booed out of the building.
At just 5-foot-9 and weighing 200 pounds soaking wet, he was far from what the WWE envisions when picking a champion. But he connected with the fans. He was a scrappy, overachieving every-man that battled the odds and threw his body around with reckless abandon.
Unfortunately, that in-ring style has ended his career short.
Bryan has said that in his 16 yeas of wrestling, he has sustained 10 documented concussions. He said that there have probably been more.
With what we know now about the long-term effects these injuries have on the brain, he had no choice but to walk away. He has a family to think about.
Bryan isn't the only wrestling superstar to have his career ended by an injury that was far too real.
Bret Hart was forced to walk away after sustaining a severe concussion. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Edge were both forced to retire early after injuring their necks.
Wrestling may be just a "work," but the ring is often unforgiving. Injuries happen numerously. Just look at the predicament the WWE is currently facing.
Four of their top superstars will not be able to compete in this year's Wrestlemania because of injuries. John Cena, Randy Orton and Cesaro are all out after having shoulder surgery. Seth Rollins is going to end up missing close to a year with a torn ACL.
Bryan's early exit from the wrestling business makes me think of the many professional athletes that have been forced to retire because of injuries.
Two Hall of Fame NFL quarterbacks that won four Super Bowls between them--Troy Aikman and Steve Young--both walked away after enduring one too many concussions. Like Bryan, Aikman suffered 10 head injuries during his career.
Though both retired before they had planned, they were at least in the latter stages of their careers. They had already reached their summits. Unfortunately, Bo Jackson never got to say the same.
The Heisman Trophy winner was quickly emerging as one of the best running backs in the NFL. He was off to the best season in his three-year career when he sustained a hip injury that ultimately ended his days in football.
Terrell Davis was another great running back cursed by injuries. Davis was the 1998 NFL MVP and Super Bowl XXXII MVP. He would certainly be a Hall of Famer right now if knee injuries hadn't forced him to retire after just seven seasons.
Ankle injuries plagued Bill Walton. Walton was one of the greatest college basketball players of all time and won two titles in the NBA, but he was forced to retire after nine years.
In baseball, Sandy Koufax was one of the greatest pitchers in Major League history. He was a seven-time All-Star, four-time World Series champion, three-time Cy Young Award winner and pitched four no-hitters in his career.
Though, Koufax was forced to retire at just 30 years old because of an arthritic condition.
No matter the sport, it's always tough to see a great career end or great potential lost because an athlete is betrayed by their body.