A warning: This is another one of my pro wrestling posts. It’s not about wrestling per se, but rather the brilliant performers that sacrifice their health to entertain us. Even if you don’t like wrestling, you might still like this.
On Monday, my favorite wrestler Daniel Bryan (real name Bryan Danielson) retired from in ring performance. A man that dedicated his entire adult life, suffered and climbed and martyred his body for us, and walked away from what he loved most. The reason: Concussions.
In his beautiful farewell speech, he cited the numerous concussions over the years, more than he can count. When he went on the injured list last year, he was sure that he’d be back. He went to every neurologist in the country, clinging to the hope that he’d get cleared to wrestle again. He thought that his brain was fine. Of course it was fine: he wasn’t losing memory, he wasn’t having dizziness or erratic behavior (unless you count risking your neck as erratic). He was good to go. Except that he wasn’t.
A new test revealed that he has some swelling on the brain and a small lesion. There was no way that he could perform again.
Besides being proof that hard work and talent will get you as far as size and strength (he’s 5’8″ and 190 pounds), he has a likable, humble demeanor that resonated with the crowd. He wasn’t much to look at–long beard, wild hair, and hippie-tarian beliefs–but that made him even more likable. Unlike other “common men” like Dusty Rhodes and Mick Foley, both of who had size to go with talent (for a long time, Mick was my hero), he was the common man. He was no bigger than you or me. He was what we hoped to be, no matter the goal. His fans took over the WWE. He led a revolution. The YES Movement shines as one of the greatest story-lines (and a real one) in wrestling.
I hope that he goes on to be a trainer. If he can pass on his skill, wrestling will be a better place.
At the same time, I finished Box Brown’s graphic format biography, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. I can’t help but compare these two wrestlers, one larger than life, the other completely average.
Andre had a tragic life. He knew that he was destined to a life of pain and an early death. He had Acromegaly, a disease that would cause his body to grow forever. His size would break his joints and tax his organs until he died. When he finally passed away, he was close to 700 pounds.
Unlike Bryan, there was no hiding in a crowd for Andre. He scared children. He saw looks of horror everywhere he went. He was a freak, and monster, but most of all, a man. He drank a lot, and his drinking exploits are legend. I used to think that it was because he liked to party. No, it was from the pain, physical and emotional. Unlike Bryan, there would be no riding off into the sunset with a happy ending. There was only a sad ending to a painful life.
These two men are responsible for two of the greatest moments in wrestling. The first was the match between Andre and Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. The second was the “Occupy Raw” incident that, for a brief time, allowed the fans to overpower the establishment, a victory of the people.
I’m so happy that Bryan is at peace with his choice. I wish that Andre found peace, but I don’t think he ever did.
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