Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon
Two Disc Set
Ring of Honor Wrestling
Call him Daniel Bryan, call him Bryan Danielson, call him “Best in the World”, but these days, call him the most controversial figure in mainstream professional wrestling.
The story of the most inexplicable rise of an indy great to a mainstream player surrounded CM Punk all of last year, but more quietly, even more incomprehensible, and to the point of being the most unlikely Champion since some fleeting A-list comedy actor held the WCW big gold belt, Daniel Bryan holding one leg of the WWE’s legacy still seems impossible.
And then came that WrestleMania match of less than a score of seconds.
Sure, Bryan didn’t even get a Main Event slot, and wasn’t even in anyone’s top five matches of the night, but with the spotlight on him, and with the job of putting over one more musclehead into the WWE top of the card picture, there seems to have been a resignation that:
A) Daniel Bryan was definitely doing a job
B) Daniel Bryan should have cherished his Title Reign
C) At least Daniel Bryan could say that he defended a WWE Championship at WrestleMania
But even the most cynical of the cynical subset of professional wrestling fans felt that this match would be interesting, exciting and a showcase – of sorts – for Daniel Bryan’s talent.
In the end, the fact that the WWE “screwed” the guy better known to a lot of us as Bryan Danielson, seems like a no-brainer. The fact that the WWE took the cheapest possible way to both diminish Daniel Bryan’s wrestling career, and also the most inexplicable way of putting over a strong, new Champion, seems to be one reason why professional wrestling fans are so vocal post-WrestleMania.
Sure, there’s some disgust, some semblance of screwing with the WWE Universe mentality of force-feeding decisions, and some mockery of the ongoing undercurrent that Bryan didn’t have the proper charisma to hold his slot.
That, my friends, he proved over and over.
But maybe, just maybe, the WWE smart mark set has finally vocalized over the latest incarnation of the WWE screwing around with wrestlers and potential to the detriment of sports entertainment and fan investment into an interesting wrestler.
What’s ironic is that Sheamus is no stranger to the WWE Universe, and while the reality that his looks and his lifting buddy would allow him every opportunity possible, and while he’s never seemed to overly “fail” – he’s one more guy on the roster that’s been around too long, been unable to main event, and has never fully ‘clicked’ with the fans.
Ironically, Bryan had clicked far more than the WWE Creative and decision makers would have every imagined.
Whether the vocal responses are the response of fans tired beyond belief of one more botched potential, or whether they just truly wanted to see the Daniel Bryan heel train derailed, here’s hoping they continue, and here’s hoping that Daniel Bryan at least maintains some ability to keep his career going.
Because, over the years, he’s earned his due and he’s battled the best of the best.
As I saw in the two-disc set produced by Ring of Honor Wrestling, Danielson has that rare ability to work to the strengths and talent of his opponent. Unlike some of the upper echelon of “greats” and very much like some others, Danielson has evolved his look and his approach as well as mixing in his own brand of style to the expectations and style of his opponent.
Danielson’s style can be different to fans of different eras.
At the core of his style, he epitomizes the top American indy style – mixing in mat wrestling, high flying, submissions, creativity and often working to long matches as a badge of honor, Danielson also brings to the table a strong sense of storytelling, selling and working to a finisher.
But Danielson has always risen to the strengths of his opponent.
He flew with Paul London and AJ Styles. He went crazy with Homicide. He ran at the Junior Heavyweight styles of both Jushin Liger and Naomichi Marufuji (New Japan vs All Japan, if you will), and he went toe-to-toe with the best of the best of the indies: CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries.
The subtleties are there, if you watch for them, but the only consistencies of a Bryan Danielson match are these: excellence in workmanship, and long, long matches by mainstream standards.
Which, in the end, means that the WWE Fans of today are never going to see some aspects of his greatest work – they’re never going to see an hour long match, and they’re very unlikely to see the Cattle Mutilation Finisher that once made him infamous in his “Best in the World” circles.
That finisher can best be described as a sort of reverse full nelson, with a bridge.
Inescapable? Likely not, and there have been some clever counters. But the main point of Danielson’s work during the period of this set – 2003- 2005 – was working to that finish, setting up the opponent, weakening them, and then working in the hold.
Later, he added in the Airplane Spin. Later, he added in the Small Package. Later, he worked in MMA inspired elbows and forcing the referee to call an end to the match, but all the while, there’s a definite sense of Bryan Danielson being in control, rising to the level of his opponent, and elevating his own work, pushing himself, earning his way to that “Best in the World” moniker.
A baker’s dozen of matches appear on this set – “The American Dragon” is featured in quite a few Ring of Honor Title matches, and while he doesn’t win them all, he elevates the title, raises the bar of workrate and never fails to deliver the highest standards of professional wrestling to the fans.
It was interesting to see a younger Danielson, a mop-headed Danielson, a bearded Danielson, and more often than not, a heelish twist to his approach. Also interesting to see that his physique seems consistent along the way.
A full review of each match --- many of which went more than 20 minutes, is not in the cards here, but let me make a few points …
Vs. Paul London
This was from “The Epic Encounter”. London never fully reached his potential, but yeah…. The WWE tends to do that to people. Danielson’s style is already apparent here, yet the two put on a more fast-paced, high-flying match.
Vs. AJ Styles
A Dream match ahead of its years. The ROH announce crew of the era was solid, selling the live aspect of the events, and pushing DVD sales… all the while keeping the action explained in the ring. Weird, though, how much more the audience felt like it was a Japanese one.
Vs. Jay Briscoe
Jay with a head of hair and a goatee of sorts?!? Danielson still with more high flying spots than normal, but works well with the Briscoe psychology, and plays a bit rougher here.
Vs. CM Punk
I believe the truly classic match is on the CM Punk Set (Which I will get to soon), but if you want to see what these two can do together, don’t re-watch the 10 minute clash from TV, watch the long form. Yeah, Ricky Steamboat is the guest referee.
Vs Austin Aries (two matches, second is best 2/3)
These are the matches that put Aries on the map in 2004, and there’s talent galore in the ring. Did Danielson make some of these guys? No, they mostly proved themselves at the highest level, but with Aries, he gained a great deal of respect by going toe-to-toe with The American Dragon.
Aries is among the best now, but would he have gotten there without these two matches?
Vs. Samoa Joe
What’s awesome here is the big man/little man dynamics, and yet Danielson at the end of 2004 had the reputation that nullified the 70 pound weight difference. This was one more example of Danielson’s ability to work the “NWA Style” Championship match – long match, getting both guys over and further elevating the prestige of the title.
There’s a nifty spot with Joe chasing/kicking Danielson around, which the announcers played up well, which showed two guys at their best, doing their best.
Vs. Jushin Liger
Another dream match of sorts… best in the world 90’s vs 00’s.
Setting aside the excellent match, is it just me or would the WWE have had a corner on the market if, instead of jacking Rey Mysterio up to a Heavyweight, they brought in the top high flyers, guys like Danielson, guys like Low Ki, and had a world class undercard?
Yeah, like that would ever happen…
w/Low Ki vs. Liger & Joe
This is the only tag match on the set.
Well built up with the commentary, in terms of Liger picking Samoa Joe, and then Danielson picking Low Ki, and the various connections and stories going on. I believe Low Ki was involved with New Japan at the time, and Low Ki and Joe had some early ROH Battles.
Vs. Homicide (in a Steel Cage!)
Can Danielson out-violence Homicide, the Notorious 187? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Danielson in a cage, is it different? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Ok, enough of that. Danielson busts out the color, brings it with a fork, and both the opening video montage building up the Daneilson/Homicide war as well as the match itself, elevate the heat.
Was that finish really the longest Airplane spin in history?
Vs. James Gibson (for the ROH World Championship)
Ironically, James Gibson would be anyone’s guess as to the slotting of Danielson if he got to the WWE, but look how far he did go. It plays out as an epic battle, with a rather unlikely Gibson holding the belt, and with Danielson “spurning” the WWE and TNA at the time, and ending up with the gold.
The victory gives a glimpse of his most famous celebrations with the confetti and the emotion…. No Yes! Yes! Yes!, but that same look in his eye and the same passion. In other words, his WWE celebration was his old celebration on steroids.
Ok, poor word choice there.
Vs. Christopher Daniels
This match was in 2005. Crazy how time flies, and how both had already established reputations seven years ago…. Well, both already “had it” long before 2005. Another great example of playing out a match according to expectations, raising the expectations, delivering creative spots, and proving that the “Best in the World” moniker was well earned.
Vs. Naomichi Marufuji
Final Battle 2005, and Danielson proves that “Best in the World” means battling …. the best in the world. I know he’s not the only ROH guy to wrestle in Japan, against the best of Japan, or against other international talents, but whether against Liger a little past his prime, or Marufuji at his prime, Danielson never misses a beat.
For those who don’t know the whole Daniel Bryan story, here’s a great opportunity to learn who so many people are so hyped up about him. For those who do, here’s a great opportunity to relive some of the highlights of the career of one of the true claimants of the modern day title of “Best in the World”.