Former WWE wrestling star Daniel Bryan is speaking out about why he retired at age 34. Bryan, along with his wife and fellow WWE star Brie Bella, told ABC News that he started to suffer seizures after concussions, leading to his decision to quit wrestling.
Bryan said he tried to keep the seizures a secret at first because he didn't want to quit wrestling. But witnessing one of those seizures was a traumatic experience for his wife.
"I was with him with one of his seizures after a concussion," Bella told ABC News. "It scared me so bad. I lost it."
Bryan said in spite of the seizures, he asked his wife to keep his secret.
"I just implored her, 'Please don't say anything to anybody,'" he told ABC News.
Bryan was a pro wrestler for 16 years, and he said he enjoyed his time in the ring so much that when he announced his retirement earlier this month, he noted, "I have loved this in a way that I have never loved anything else."
But that love of wrestling came at a price.
"Within the first five months of my wrestling career, I already had three concussions," he said during his retirement announcement. "It gets to the point that when you've been wrestling for 16 years, that adds up to a lot of concussions."
Bryan stepped out of the ring for good last year after having surgery on his neck. During his retirement announcement, he clarified that he did not blame the WWE for his injuries or his early retirement. He noted that the WWE even stopped him from wrestling after his last concussion, despite multiple doctors saying he could compete.
Paul Levesque, WWE Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, who is himself a professional wrestler and the current WWE Heavyweight Champion, said it's key to protect athletes from themselves.
"Athletes are like thoroughbreds. Someone has to pull the reins," he told ABC News. "They will run themselves into the ground if -- if given that opportunity."
The WWE also noted in a statement to ABC News that "unlike contact sports like the NFL, boxing or MMA, WWE performers are taught the art of perceived contact, which is cleverly choreographed. However, there are still some unintentional risks associated with in-ring performances, all of which our talent understand."
The WWE implemented in 2006 a "Talent Wellness Program" that now includes "ImPACT" concussion testing.
"WWE has been well ahead of sports organizations in implementing concussion management procedures and policies," WWE said. "If a performer shows symptoms of a concussion or suffers a concussion, they are immediately removed from the ring. We have the ability to conduct further testing at arenas if a suspected concussion occurs during an event. There is strict prohibition of deliberate and direct shots to the head."
However, the WWE is facing a lawsuit from two former wrestlers who accuse the WWE of failing to diagnose concussions and sending athletes into the ring while injured.
The WWE told ABC News that the lawsuit has "no merit and we will vigorously contest it."
"Our referees are taught to look for signs," Levesque told ABC News. "Our talent themselves are made aware of signs in themselves and in each other."
Bella said she also plans to retire this year as she and Bryan plan to start a family together.
"Feeling and seeing everything he went through with his retirement," Bella said, "I just feel that it's time for me to hang up the boots. It's gonna be hard on me, as well, but that day is definitely very close."