Craig Shultz takes a look at Bryan Danielson
“The Best in the World.” A simple phrase used to describe “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson. Of course most know him as Daniel Bryan now on the weekly show NXT. While I really don’t follow the WWE much like I used to I find myself tuning into NXT just to see this guy and what he’ll do next. This isn’t about what he’s doing currently in the big leagues. I think everyone can make their own opinions on how he’s doing and being used at the moment. How did he become “The Best in the World” is a question that some casual fans might find themselves asking. Compared to some of the big time stars in the WWE, he’s pale, small and just looks vanilla. Just think about who else in the past was considered just like that.
Anyways, Danielson long made his reputation on the indy circuit for quite some time wrestling how he wanted to wrestle. While other people like Samoa Joe and CM Punk were becoming big stars on a national stage, Danielson wanted to stay behind and accomplish things before he finally got the offer and signed on the dotted line. While wrestling in high school gyms, National Guard Armories among many other small venues that most would consider to be bush league, he made his reputation as the quite possibly the best wrestler in the world.
I’d like to take a look at a few of his matches during his indy days that I feel are his best along with some of his best rivalries. Keep in mind that I haven’t seen every single Danielson match that might be floating out there, I simply don’t have the means to track them down and watch them. Let me just put this into perspective for a moment before I begin to list. A couple of years ago I made a list of my top ROH matches and Danielson was in the most at a total of fifteen. And I kinda fancy myself as a harsh guy to really impress these days. Also, as a disclaimer, this will cover his work in Ring of Honor.
My first exposure to Bryan Danielson was purely by accident. F.Y.E. actually had a copy of The Era of Honor Begins in stock. It wasn’t the full show as some of the matches were clipped out but the main event grabbed me by the shoulders and slapped my face repeatedly. It was Chris Daniels vs. Low-Ki vs. American Dragon. That was when I began to take notice of the indy scene and in part started to become a Bryan Danielson fan.
On the second Ring of Honor show, the main event was Low-Ki vs. Danielson in the finals of a Round Robin Challenge set up from the first show. While the match they had that evening isn’t for everyone, it was thirty minutes of mat wrestling and high impact. I was simply blown away seeing Danielson wrestling on the mat. Before that my biggest chain wrestling sequence I’d seen was from the Wrestlemania XIX main event. But this match just had that it factor. The crowd was buying into what the two men were doing. When they got to the finishing sequence I found myself sitting at the edge of my chair wondering when it was going to end or what was going to end it. Finally Danielson won with what I believe was a full nelson version of his Cattle Mutilation hold.
That match being all the way back in 2002 hasn’t aged well considering how much better Danielson has gotten during that time period. He was still a pretty fresh face to the wrestling scene at that point and what he was able to do with Low-Ki on that night was something special that left the crowd talking when they left either way. I mean when you’re able to go for thirty minutes and keep the crowd into the entire time, you’ve done something fantastic. That was really my first lasting memory of Bryan Danielson.
My second match that made me take notice wasn’t a singles match for the most part. It was the first Survival of the Fittest match that also featured Austin Aries, Colt Cabana, Homicide, Mark Briscoe and Samoa Joe. It was an elimination rules match and it surprisingly came down to Danielson and Austin Aries. The match had already gone on about twenty minutes before they got to the final two and on that night Bryan Danielson helped make Austin Aries into a player in the Ring of Honor promotion.
The two men battled for another twenty minutes with trading submission holds and high impact moves along the way. Danielson was able to put away Aries that night but Aries still looked strong against Danielson and it seemed a natural rivalry was born that night. While I haven’t fully seen their match from Testing the Limit that went 76 minutes, I’m told it was pretty great. I couldn’t imagine two men going for 76 minutes but it seems like the longer Danielson goes into a match, the better he gets.
Such was the case with his series of matches against Roderick Strong when Danielson was Ring of Honor World Champion. They had a series of three matches that saw the two just paste each other with hard strikes and tons of mat wrestling. It was like they were taylor made to face one another. Each time the matches got longer because the two men had each other scouted so well. I guess you could say their best contest against one another was at the first Supercard of Honor where their main event match was overshadowed by that infamous Dragon Gate six man.
With a crowd that was on the verge of literally falling asleep as it was getting late into the night, they still went out there for 56 minutes and went back and forth until Danielson was able to walk away the victor in the end. It helped make Strong into a viable title contender for quite a long time. It was like that Danielson helped elevate both Strong and Aries from a series of matches for a long time.
My favorite Danielson match showed just how tough the man can be when he needs to be the “Best in the World.” It was Glory by Honor V Night Two as he was scheduled to defend the ROH Title against Pro Wrestling NOAH wrestler KENTA. KENTA had Danielson’s number, pinning him twice in matches earlier that year. But this was different. Danielson had a separated shoulder and he refused to miss any time to let it heal because the title meant so much to him.
He went out there for thirty minutes against KENTA and his arsenal of kicks and came out the winner. There were times where it appeared that the kicks of KENTA were inflicting so much pain that Danielson was going to give up the match and the title he loved so much. To his credit he kept fighting and clawing his way in the contest. KENTA was the favorite and with that shoulder injury, no one thought Danielson had much of a chance. Everyone except Danielson.
Ironically the next match again shows how tough the man is. It was his match against Takeshi Morishima at Manhattan Mayhem II. Morishima was a big boy, weight in at three hundred pounds while Danielson was barely at two hundred and he took the fight to Morishima. A little funny side note here. It always seemed against bigger wrestlers, Danielson would wear kickpads because his usual take them down to the mat style wouldn’t work so he needed to work a different way.
In this match he would kick away the knee of Morishima to get him down to the mat. However, Morishima was striking Danielson with such force that his orbital bone was fractured, making it nearly impossible to see out of one of his eyes. He kept going once again, never giving up. But Morishima was just too much of a mountain to climb with nothing in Danielson’s favor as he lost that one. That one incident led to Danielson wanting revenge on Morishima for quite some time. Sadly I’ve never seen their contest from Final Battle 2008.
Really the last of my exposure to Danielson on the indy circut was the 6th Anniversary Show when I began to lose interest in continuing to follow professional wrestling. So that’s where my journey really ended with Danielson’s indy career. For those six years though I don’t know if there was anyone consistently better then what Bryan Danielson was. It seemed he could wrestle anyone and make the match watchable which really should bode well for him if given the chance.
For those who want to really see what he’s capable of, try to check out the following Ring of Honor shows; Round Robin Challenge, Survival of the Fittest, This Means War, Vendetta, Arena Warfare, Supercard of Honor, Unified, Glory by Honor V Night Two, Final Battle 2006, Manhattan Mayhem II, Driven and the Sixth Anniversary Show. I’m sure there’s quite a few more shows out there Ring of Honor, PWG, IWA Mid South or whatever you might like to watch that has some fantastic matches of the man now known as Daniel Bryan.