Ring of Honor Weekly

There’s a crazy amount of news and happenings within ROH for this Sixth Anniversary Weekend! Come inside to see all of it along with the Top 25 Bryan Danielson ROH Matches!

(Thanks to the Pulse Wrestling staff for helping to compile this list!)

News of Honor

Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin will return to ROH April 18 in Detroit and April 19 in Chicago

At at least one show they have challenged the Briscoes. This is huge and according to Gabe doesn’t mean that any other TNA talent is coming or that the PPV deal is dead.

FIP Redefined featured a FIP Title change and making FIP and ROH stories and characters gel

This is awesome, especially since the title change has come with the announcement that the FIP belt will be a second ROH championship and that it is the best match in FIP history. All we need now is a trios title and we’re set!

Go Shiozaki debuts this weekend

He will face Erick Stevens in LI and Austin Aries in NYC. Both can be absolutely great, so long as he doesn’t start a storyline where he’s in over his head.

The first night of Wrestlemania weekend will feature three dream matches with Dragon Gate Talent

Naruki Doi and Yoshino will face Kevin Steen and El Generico, The Briscoes will battle Dragon Kid and Ryo Saito, and Tyler Black and Jimmy Jacobs will face off with Shingo and BxB Hulk. There is still CIMA and Genki Horiguchi to be booked. I’m glad ROH is bringing the heat since TNA will be taping Impact on the same night in the same area.

Jigsaw might unmask if he loses Saturday’s tag title shot

He and Ruckus will face Davey Richards and Rocky Romero for the tag titles. It should be a fun match as they have good chemistry, but I expect Jig to unmask.

NewROH Video Wire with FIP title change and an awesome Nigel Profile

High quality stuff as Nigel steps up his promo game.

ROH is reportedly making changes to tighten up shows

These look to be very helpful indeed.

This Week on Inside Pulse

The Cult of ROH Previews this Weekend’s shows. Wiswell also does a review of Unscripted 3.

Jesse McGurk reviewsRace to the Top Night 1 and Andy Mac does Night 2.

Danny Cox has two ROH reviews, the first for Caged Rage and the second for Motor City Madness 2007.

Phil Clark discusses the awesome Nakamura and the end of NJPW and TNA’s direct crossovers.

Mark Allen covers everything from the last week in the WWE.

Last week I spoke out on both ECW and TNA. Vinny also discusses TNA.

Lastly, VS. Returns! and issue #2 of New VS.

The Fool in the Stands: The Top 25 ROH Matches of Bryan Danielson

With the week falling between Valentines Day and ROH’s Birthday, I could think of no better time to pay tribute to the wrestler Pulse Loves the most (in a totally heterosexual way… besides Kirschner, not that there’s anything wrong with that) who has been with ROH since their very first show. Only singles matches were considerred for this list, since we aren’t kinky that way. Credit for sections is as given. Uncredited sections are authored by me.

25. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Homicide- Final Battle 2006

Sometimes the story in a match can truly make the match. This is the perfect example. Danielson, wrestling for months with a hurt shoulder, had taken to using every dirty trick he could to maintain the title, including having Homicide attacked and his shoulder hurt before the match. Homicide meanwhile had never won ROH gold and vowed to leave the company if he didn’t win the title on this night. He also had issues with Jim Cornette and Adam Pearce, who vowed he would in fact leave the company without gold.

These two had faced each other numerous times and they had a match much like their others, but the story is the reason this one made the list. Early in the match when Homicide looked too strong for Danielson to defeat, Pearce ran out and attacked ‘Cide, getting Danielson disqualified intentionally. When the ref restarted the match, Danielson freaked out. Of course, for a champion of Danielson’s caliber this was only momentary, as he snatched the heretofore unbreakable small package, only for Homicide to somehow escape. ‘Cide then went the Hogan route, running over the American Dragon and overcoming all odds to finally become the man with the gold in ROH as the Manhattan Center gave one of the loudest pops in company history.

24. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Roderick Strong – This Means War – From 2005, their first encounter, by Chris Sicoli.

One of Danielson’s first title defense after winning the belt in his return match against James Gibson back at Glory By Honor IV (9/17/05). Strong had been on a hot streak for the better part of the year, putting on incredible performances and winning big matches left and right, leading to many fans calling this his breakout year, and I can’t help but agree. Unfortunately, because this is so early in Danielson’s title reign, the fans pretty much knew Strong wasn’t going to take the strap, which took away a lot of potential heat and excitement. This followed the same pattern as most of Danielson’s early title defenses; feel-out proccess, Danielson acts like a cocky prick, challenger unexpectedly fires back, Danielson takes control for a while, and the two have a competitive mat-based match. The thing that’s special about this match though is the level of physicality shown by both men as they really lay into each other with their strikes; especially Strong’s chops. In fact, this match is practically career-defining for Strong, as it really put over how hard of a striker he is, emphasis on his thunderous chops (which he’s now famous for in ROH). However, the match also shows that Strong wasn’t ready for the long main event type of matches just yet, because there were moments when Strong was in control where the match heat would just die and the action would be extremely dull. It didn’t last too long, but it was there, and it hurt. The finish came when Strong seemed to accidentally knock out Danielson with a strike to the head, and as Strong tries to turn Danielson’s limp body over, Danielson springs up and traps him in a fujiwara armbar that has Strong tapping immediately, despite no previous work to the arm. Uhh, what? To those that don’t know; the finish was a worked-shoot of sorts, and while it looked really cool, it didn’t fit the context of the match at all, and I have a problem with that. Some people absolutely love this match and call it the second best of their series. I feel it was a very good match, but the dull moments and cool-yet-out-of-place finish leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Very mixed feelings on this match.

23. Bryan Danielson vs. Paul London – Night of the Butcher – From 2002, their first non-gauntlet encounter by Travis Leamons.

Danielson’s second attempt to become the number one contender for the ROH Championship would came a month after his first, at Night of the Butcher against Paul London. This match, I liken it to a standout match on a B-level WWE PPV. And in some ways I think it gets overshadowed by other matches Danielson had in 2002. Since London and Danielson have a history, having been trained at the Texas Wrestling Academy, there was no need for a feeling out process. So in that regard, the match has a quicker pace than the previous month at ASE. The announcers like to compare London to the legendary Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. I can see that. Except for maybe the Shooting Star Press. Not even on his best day would Steamboat attempt something like that. If you like Knife-edge chops that make you want to go WHOO! this match has got plenty. Again Danielson likes to fall for the dreaded Superkick to the side of the head. Some might complain at the ending exchange, but having been weened on WWE and WCW most of my life it felt fresh. Usually when you see two competitors punching each other on the top turnbuckle trying to gain the upper hand you expect the one closest to the ring mat to lose and fall, then the guy left on the turnbuckle would do a flying elbow drop or body press for the 1-2-3. Well, the crashing to the mat happens with Danielson on the wrong end. But he doesn’t stay down. He recovers and tries to soften up a dazed London who still sits atop the top turnbuckle. London fights back and again Danielson crashes to the match. But he keeps getting up. This happens on three occasions until London can compose himself and do his SSP.

22. Bryan Danielson vs. Austin Aries – Testing the Limit – From 2004, two out of three falls.

This two out of three falls match was special in that each fall had a 60 minute time limit. With that much time, these two master workers took their time and wrestled for 80 minutes. The match is slow, due to how much time they had to fill, but is an absolutely fascinating display of what story can be told when two of the best in the world have time to go through everything they know. When Aries hits the final 450 at the end, you will be exausted and drained from so much wrestling and so much filling the time.

21. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Homicide – From mid-2006 by Chris Sicoli.

Homicide was awarded this title shot because he came to the rescue of Ring Of Honor at Ring Of Homicide (5/13/06) and battled the Necro Butcher, beating him in a wild brawl. Homicide was declared ROH’s savior and labeled the ‘CZW Killer’, and was arguably the most over he has ever been to that point. The crowd was hot for this match because Homicide had a legitimate chance at winning the belt, and many believed it was definitely happening as shown by chants like “New F**kin’ Champ”. Samoa Joe comes out as the special guest ring announcer (he couldn’t wrestle due to a shoot leg injury), further putting over the fact that this match is going to be ‘special’. The match starts with both men feeling each other out until Homicide gains the upper hand and goes crazy on Danielson; almost too crazy as Sinclar threatens to disqualify him numerous times. Homicide tones down his actions to stay within the rules, which gives Danielson the opening he needs to tip the scale in his favor. Danielson works over the bad shoulder of Homicide and physically dissects him in numerous ways for a large portion of the match, until Homicide is able to make a big comeback and the two men go into a series of extremely believable near-falls, as the crowd goes wild for each one. The true beauty is in the booking of the finish as Danielson rains down his MMA elbows on Homicide and Sinclair stops the match, however Homicide never gave up nor did he seem to lose consciousness. CONTROVERSY! It made both men look good coming out of the match and set-up the ‘Road Of Homicide’, the storyline that ROH practically revolved around the rest of the year. Also, the aftermath really puts everything over-the-top as Adam Pearce (commissioner during absence of Cornette) comes out and tries to resolve the dusty finish, and Homicide attacks Sinclair out of frustration. The match itself is really awesome, starting slow and building up progressively into the hot and controversial finish. Both men really played up their characters as well, which added a certain flair to the match. I’d say the only thing really lacking was long-term selling from Homicide.

20. Bryan Danielson vs. AJ Styles – All Star Extravaganza – From 2002, by Travis Leamons.

Six years it’s been for Ring of Honor. I remember when I first heard of the promotion back in 2002 and my then subsequent decision to pick up the first few shows on VHS. The technical prowess in the ring was a night-and-day difference compared to the monolith called World Wrestling Entertainment. ROH pushed its Code of Honor – a series of rules that made the promotion unique from the rest of the independent feds. This would not last forever, however. Neither would Low Ki who was the company’s headline attraction; his series of match of the year contenders is what established him as Ring of Honor’s big name star.

But there was a wrestler who was also a participant in Low Ki’s first two MOTYCs: Bryan Danielson.

Danielson, like Ring of Honor, has undergone some changes – both cosmetically (Hello, Lumberjack Danielson!) and technically (if Hogwarts had a technical wizard it would be Danielson).

Outside of main-eventing The Era of Honor Begins and Round Robin Challenge, Danielson seemed to be regulated to participating in gauntlet matches for much of 2002. Well, at least three events. But two of his stellar matches from late 2002 involve him competing for the Number One Contender’s Trophy.

His first attempt to win the trophy was at All Star Extravaganza against AJ Styles. Supposedly this was their first encounter; it definitely was in Ring of Honor. Without much history, there is feeling out process to start things off. This continues for several minutes as the Philly, PA crowd applauds the back-and-forth action to try to gain an edge. Watching it again, I love seeing the action spill to outside only to see Styles jump the guardrail that Danielson tries to whip him towards, and then Superkick Danielson in the side of the head as he tries to charge Styles. Even better is Danielson (legit?) getting busted open, most likely because he delivers one too many headbutts to Styles. What is distracting from the match, though, is Styles playing off Danielson’s work of his left arm. Danielson works the arm to set up his finishing submission the Cattle Mutilation. But late into the match Styles seems to have no trouble holding Danielson in his Styles Clash. Not a big issue (unlike the finals for the Pure Wrestling title against CM Punk) but an issue nonetheless.

19. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Deirious – Ring of Homicide – From mid-2006, their second encounter, by Chris Sicoli.

After Danielson murderized Delirious at 100th Show (4/22/06) in an impromptu title match, which saw Delirious’ mask shredded and blood pouring from his head as well as a huge gash on his hand, Delirious was given a second chance to go for the gold. Pre-match, Danielson starts to cut a promo talking trash to the crowd and Delirious, but Delirious interrupts and returns the favor, cutting a passionate promo that…well, didn’t make much sense, but you can clearly make out the words “kick your ass” at the end, and that’s all that matters, right? Delirious starts like a man possessed, beating Danielson senseless with the fans going nuts, until Danielson cuts him off and takes control. Like most of Danielson’s title matches, he acts like a cocky prick as he methodically works over the entire body of his opponent Delirious manages to get small bursts of offense, but almost immediately gets halted by Danielson every time. Finally, Delirious is able to turn Danielson’s top rope belly-to-back suplex into a crossbody in midair, and from there Delirious manages to not only hit his Panic Attack and Shadows Over Hell manuevers, but he also locks on the Cobra Stretch! However, Danielson makes it to the ropes, and despite Delirious’ best efforts to stay in control, Danielson manages to trap him in the dreaded small package to retain his title. The crowd was eating up the last few minutes, which were exciting to say the least, and the finish fit perfectly with the story of the match; Danielson underestimated Delirious and toyed with him too much, so instead of cleanly beating Delirious he seemed to instead get lucky with his surprise pinning combination. This was my second ROH show, so this match and show in general holds a special place in my heart. Plus, I’m a sucker for underdog stories done right, and this was most definitely done right.

18. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Ring of Honor Pure Champion Nigel McGuinness – Their first encounter from mid-2006 featured Pure rules and title vs. Title.

This fantastic match featured some of the best use of the Pure Rules since the title’s inception. The match was all about bringing Nigel up to Danielson’s level, and since Nigel is now champion, you can see that the journey begun that day paid off. They do a lot of intense mat wrestling here with the story that Danielson is probably better at that, bug Nigel’s clever uses of Pure Title rules more than even the score. It is this that allows for Nigel to get the surprising upset, but ironically fall short of his surprise. Nigel is inventive and clever, while Danielson is phenomenal in the role of the ever-so slightly better wrestler who’s just being frustrated to no ends by Nigel’s chicanery.

17. Bryan Danielson vs. Takeshi Morishima – Glory By Honor VI Night 2 – No titles on the line, their third encounter is pure hatred from late 2007, by John Wiswell.

The first three Danielson/Morishima matches were critical darlings, but the Glory By Honor 6 Night 2 match was my favorite. Just like in 1 and 2, these guys had incredible auras of importance, that physical gravitas that is so rare in wrestling, and so enamoring to watch when two guys in possession of it clash. Just like in 1 and 2, they had a hot audience. But this match was tighter and even more aggressive; it had little or none of the awkward pauses from Manhattan Mayhem 2, no points where Morishima sat there while Danielson set himself up for something. Here Morishima kept moving and made his moments of stillness matter, especially in goading Danielson.

And man did they move. They went all over the place and took hard spills, not just hitting each other brutally in that so-called “strong style” fashion, but falling and landing with impact that would have made a weak shoulder block look devastating. This was epitomized by the hard spill Danielson took off the apron to the floor at one point, where he could have landed much more softly and gotten away with it. What this leant the match was a sense of repercussion, rather than just anger and violence. It had plenty of anger and violence, fun brawling and smart references to each others wrestling history (like Danielson purposefully going for a sunset flip just because Morishima always reversed the move). The greater sense of repercussion made all the offense mean that much more.

It also came across as the most reckless and passionate, as they moved faster outside the ring, and they were happier to go into the crowd or pick up a weapon. Danielson stalking around with the hammer from the ring bell dripped of viciousness. That viciousness built up to a great response to the ending of Man Up, with Danielson coming to care more for hurting Morishima than beating him. As far as disqualification finishes go, this was easily the best of 2007. At least half of the shots to Morishima’s testicles looked too slow to be real, but I saw enough to make me cross my legs.

16. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Jimmy Rave – 4th Anniversary – From early 2006 when Danielson was in full “wrestle as long as I want to” mode, by Vinny Truncellito.

Reigning ROH World Champion “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson defended against the “Crown Jewel” of the Embassy, Jimmy Rave, with Prince Nana. According to Dave Prazak on commentary, Rave earned this shot be being on the winning side of a trios tournament along with his Embassy cohorts.

Predictably, the crowd tossed TP at Rave and sang along with Dragon’s ring entrance music, “The Final Countdown” from Europe. There was no question about the face/heel alignment in this match. Surprisingly, Rave was able to wrestling with Dragon early. But his disrespectful attitude quickly drew the ire of the champ, who was clearly in no mood for any of Rave’s monkey business.

Rave threw some vicious chops at Dragon’s chest and also displayed some very good mat wrestling skills. Danielson answered back with some wicked chops of his own, which I haven’t seem him utilize much outside of this match. Just another example of how deep Dragon’s offensive bag of tricks can be.

In a blatant case of gimmick infringement, Rave reminded senior official Todd Sinclair that he “has until 5” to break an illegal hold. What a jerk! Showing his determination, Danielson kept attempting to utilize a Mexican Surfboard until he was able to successful apply it. But Rave would not be denied, making the most of this opportunity. He kept on coming, absorbing the champ’s attacks and laying in as much offense as he could on the American Dragon.

At the time, Rave was stealing opponents’ favorite maneuvers and using them himself. For example, he used his own Mexican Surfboard, and late placed Danielson in his own “Cattle Mutilation” submission hold, forcing the champ to escape by reaching the ropes. Rave applied it again, and Dragon again found the bottom rope to make his way to freedom.

Rave’s second Cattle Mutilation woke the sleeping giant, as Dragon responded with a flurry of high-octane offense to take command of the match. Danielson busted out another rarely used move, a diving headbutt from the top rope! He really displayed a varied arsenal in the contest.

Rave had another comeback attempt thwarted by Dragon’s wrestling skill, as Danielson caught Rave’s leg in a knee-strike attempt and rolled through into a half Boston Crab. It was an outstanding counter, but again, the challenger kept on coming. Rave managed to apply a sleeper, and ground the champ down and nearly unconscious. But once more, Dragon wrestled his way out of trouble, escaping the sleeper and cinching in Cattle Mutilation. Rave made contact with the bottom rope to slip out of the hold, and the match raged on.

After hitting a big belly-to-back superplex, Dragon applied another Cattle Mutilation, then converted it to a Tiger Suplex. When Prince Nana got physically involved and rescued Rave from a pinfall, Dragon dove through the ropes onto Nana to take him out. But the distraction worked, as Rave used Dragon’s divided attention to take control.

Finally, after enduring all the Embassy’s shenanigans, cheap shots, and shortcuts, Danielson was able to deliver his pattented group of elbow strikes to the side of the challenger’s head, knocking Rave out and successfully defending his title.

This match was noteworthy because it forced Dragon out of his normal comfort zone of submission holds and mat wrestling, and he displayed an expanded repertoire, proving he truly was at that time the “Best in the World”, which many fans still consider him to be today. Great match to include in any collection of Danielson classics.

15. Bryan Danielson vs. Ring of Honor World Champion Takeshi Morishima – Man Up – From fall of 2007, Danielson’s first rematch against Morishima.

After Bryan Danielson had his eye broken by Morishima in their first title match, he was out for another shot at ROH’s richest prize, the ROH World Championship. Prior to the match, Morishima swore he would win honorably and not attack Danielson’s hurt eye, so the stage was set for another classic encounter.

Early on Danielson came out again with unmatched intensity. Morishima went on the attack, but despite his physical dominance again struggled to put Danielson away. Danielson, now without his eye being attacked was taking it to the champion. Of course, Morishima, not one to go down without a fight, lost his temper in his desire to remain champion and attacked Danielson’s hurt eye. Left with no choice, the valiant challenger had the match ended for him as the ref tried to preserve his sight. From rivalry, a hatred brewed within Danielson for the monster Morishima and all within the context of a match, we had a great, storyline and feud develop.

14. Bryan Danielson vs. Ring of Honor World Champion James Gibson – Glory By Honor IV – From Autumn 2005, by Big Andy Mac.

Perhaps the best example of a “Thank You” reign in RoH history was that of James Gibson. He burst onto the scene in early 2005 and showed RoH and the world just how great he could be. He had classics with several wrestlers and won the championship to end the “Summer of
Punk.” Gibson’s reign however would be certainly short as he was given a new contract with WWE. Gibson turned away challenges fromColt Cabana, Spanky, and Homicide during his short reign, but when he was faced with the returning Bryan Danielson, he met his match. Dragon had been gone since losing a title match against Austin Aries. His only goal was the Ring of Honor title and he got a shot in his first match back. The match was a technical classic, among the finest pure matches in ROH history, and Dragon was able to score the win after debuting his cross-face chickenwing finisher. The match is great and truly set the tone for what would become one of the best world title reigns in the history of Ring of Honor.

13. Bryan Danielson vs. Go Shiozaki – Live in Tokyo – From mid-2007, Go’s ROH tryout match.

This is old school storytelling perfection. Go is a young gun trying to prove himself to Danielson and ROH. Doing so he shows he can hang on the mat and physically with Danielson, but Dragon HATES strong chops like Go’s so he destroys Go’s arm. Go can compete on the mat and by using his power, but one armed, he can’t win this way, so he goes to his other arm and takes it to Dragon. Dragon begins to sense the match slip away and turns it up a notch, barely escaping without a loss to young Shiozaki. The crowd simply didn’t care at first but totally marked out by the finish. That’s a match! It’s in my top five favorites of the year.

12. Bryan Danielson vs. Austin Aries – Glory By Honor VI Night 1 – From late 2007, this is the third in their best of three series to see who the Ace and number 1 contender would be and seventh match overall.

Aries and Danielson’s third match in their series is often overlooked as a great, but it’s still one of the best of the year. Neither man is too intent on mat wrestling, Aries because he fell to a small package in match 2, and Danielson because it set up too much trouble for him in match one, so instead both men try and go with moves that worked in match 1 and 2. Both men have many counters on hand for these moves and as they cycle through them, it becomes a who will make a big mistake first scenario. Danielson, it turns out is that man, as he has clearly prepared for Aries new submission at the expense of worrying over the Brainbuster and 450, so that ends up being his undoing in a fast, cerebral match.

This is how you build on previous encounters. At first glance you have just another smooth match between two great wrestlers, but each and every moment of match one and two of the series comes into play in the third match. Aries has an answer for both the small package and the Cattle Muttilation. Danielson can handle the Horns of Aries, but focused on it too much. What a match.

11. Bryan Danielson vs. Austin Aries – Honor Nation – This is first in the aforementioned best of three and fifth overall, by John Wiswell.

One of the great charms of Honor Nation was ushering back in the style of athletic competition and technical wrestling that flagged in 2007’s glut of gimmick matches and intense feuds. Sometimes you just want two guys who can go to… well, go. Here Danielson and Aries traded holds methodically, frequently innovating and coming up with some very slick reversals. Few people could wrestle this match, and certainly fewer could wrestle it this well. They couldn’t just go for high-octane offense or world-enders because the other guy was too technically sound to be caught. By pacing themselves they were able to play with other factors, like Danielson sandbagging instead of countering, having a better sense of using his weight after matches with Morishima. Little things like that and all the sound technical wrestling accelerated into a beautiful finish and the best introduction of a new finishing hold in ROH since Danielson’s MMA Elbows from Vendetta in 2005. The audience had never seen the Horns of Aries before, but by its positioning in the match and what Danielson gave Aries, it instantly became a believable world-ender.

10. Bryan Danielson vs. KENTA – Driven – by Jake Mulligan.

The third match in this series is not for any title, and doesn’t take place in any foreign promotion, but you could say it was just as important as match 1 or 2. Danielson, just a few months back from major shoulder surgery, was main eventing against KENTA, making his last ROH appearance for about 5 months. Clearly, this match needed to live up to some extremely high expectations, and live up they did. The match tells a story of two men who know each other VERY well, and we see that perfectly. First, they exhibit how they know to counter each others moves, making it a defensive match. But as the match goes on, and KENTA’s strikes get harder, and a win becomes closer and closer, they start to use each others moves, with Dragon nailing a perfect go 2 sleep (which KENTA no-sells, because no one can hit it like him), and KENTA locking in Cattle Mutilation. When even that fails, they each resort to the hardest hitter in their offense, as while KENTA is lifting Dragon for go 2 sleep, Dragon is constantly railing him with elbows. In the end, KENTA’s fighting spirit shines through, and he hits that knee, and gets a three count. This is likely to be the last Dragon vs. KENTA match for at least a year or two, and they certainly left quite the match to hold us over.

Glazer continues – Okay, first know that this was slow and these guys basically eschewed all major spots, telling their story mostly with the basics and kicking the shit out of each other, but oh- what a story.

In their early encounters, Danielson would wrestle a regular match in which KENTA would simply match him before using a big strike to knock Danielson out. Their big title match occurred right after Danielson hurt his shoulder, so KENTA spent much of the match attacking that, not the head, and the big move, the Go to Sleep, wasn’t enough to put Danielson away as a result. That combined with Danielson, wounded and dangerous, deciding that since his offense wasn’t enough decided to borrow liberally from previous opponents offense. In this way Danielson was successful in the defense.

In this match, Danielson, cocky as always and undefeated since his return, went back to his basic offense, just adding new twists. This was effective and he controlled much of the match. KENTA this time, however, didn’t stray from his strategy of trying to knock Danielson out. Danielson actually hurt his right shoulder in the middle of this match and KENTA all but ignored it, knowing that it cost him the title in their first singles encounter. Danielson, this time, attacked all the limbs of KENTA, trying to wear down the striking power, but in the end, he couldn’t do it enough. KENTA is stronger and faster and when he stuck to his strategy and didn’t go off attacking any limbs, but stuck with the knockout blows, his offense managed to pay off before Danielson’s wear and tear attack. Great stuff.

9. Bryan Danielson vs. Ring of Honor World ChampionSamoa Joe – Midnight Express Reunion

The debate will rage on as to who was the better champion Dragon or Joe. Before Dragon ever got the chance to run with the belt, though, he was a challenger to the mighty Samoan. In October of 2004 Samoa Joe was twenty months into his reign and had been pushed to the limit by most notably CM Punk. The atmosphere in the Philadelphia National Guard Armory seemed ripe for a title change, and every match leading to it was firing on all cylinders. As a fan live in attendance it was one of my favorite experiences in RoH to that point. This match may even rank in the top three of Samoa Joe’s title defenses. Dragon literally threw every move in his arsenal at Joethe rarey seen strategy of working the leg so that he can slow Joe’s comebacks down, while attacking the arm to set up Cattle Mutilation, but was unable to keep him down. Joe had to go outside of his normal offense to get the win himself and succeeded with a combination camel clutch/chokeout. If it wasn’t for the classics with Punk this match may have been RoH’s match of the year for 2004.

8. Bryan Danielson vs. AJ Styles – Main Event Spectacles – Their second meeting in mid-2003, by Chris Sicoli.

Danielson returned after a 7 month absence from Ring of Honor, with his last match being versus Paul London in a 2/3 falls five star classic back at Epic Encounter (4/12/03). This marks the second singles match in ROH between these two men, and the winner gets the Number One Contenders Trophy, which lets them challenge for the ROH World Title. Crowd is split between both men at the start, but spends most of the match quietly watching on with anticipation; don’t confuse it with being dead, they were being respectful. A very aggressive start as the two men lock up and refuse to break, spilling to the outside and still struggling in a collar-and-elbow tie up. Danielson chooses to work over the arm of Styles in the early portion, and successfully does so until getting dumped to the outside and ‘hurting’ his leg, which Styles then targets. Each man tries to physically incapacitate the other as the match wears on, but when neither man can really target a body part because the other is playing such good defense, they decide to just hit what they can and go for the victory. Lots of neat counters/reversals in this one, which finally ends when Danielson seems to have Styles down and out, but he fires back and quickly hits the Styles Clash for a sudden victory. Danielson is in his ‘intense prick’ mode, while Styles in his ‘competitive fighter’ mode. The two, when combined, produce quality action. People always mention ‘human chess’ in wrestling matches, but this match truly defines that phrase, and it’s freakin’ awesome. It was basically a one-fall version of Danielson/London with not-as-great of selling (not a fault though, as the selling in that match was, pardon the pun, epic). Comparisons to that match are always a good thing.

7. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Roderick Strong – Vendetta – Their second incounter, by John Wiswell.

Two very noticeable improvements from their act at This Means War were Danielson leading more of the mat wrestling and both men hiding Strong’s face. Strong has always had very weak facial expressions, and back then it was embarrassingly bad, but here they purposefully attracted attention to Danielson, hid Strong’s head in holds and generally positioned him away from the cameras so that he could use other parts of his body to convey pain.

When Danielson could out-strike or out-maneuver Strong, he played smart offense that was compulsively fun to watch even though he was the antagonist. Dominating or leading the mat wrestling made it more fluid, and again, compulsively watchable. He’s always been the closest thing ROH had to a mat general. And while Danielson dominated more this time out, he didn’t dominate too much, building up some great comebacks and eating plenty of high-impact offense (he bled from the chest, for crying out loud).

It all played off of the stories of This Means War, and played into the emotion of that great two-week angle. Danielson’s character also tried to initiate more in this match, jabbing at Strong, taunting, dodging and stalling outside the ring, and even resorting to hard chops (Strong’s trademark at the time) to try and get Strong to lose his cool. Strong getting too emotional cost him the This Means War match, and especially in the first half of the Vendetta match, Danielson made it a plot thread.

The ending was beautiful. We’d never seen that elbow barrage before (and still don’t know what it’s called), but there was something about its brutality, and in the striking and mat wrestling in that match that built a possibility for a totally new striking-based finisher to work. It was unprecedented, and totally believable.

6. Danielson vs. Nigel McGuinness – Unified – From the Summer of 2006, their third match for the titles’ unification, by Mark Buckeldee.

This match was being held at ROH’s first show outside of the US, being held in McGuinness’ home country of England at the Liverpool Olympia. The winner of the match would be both the ROH World and Pure Champion, unifying the two belts. Bryan Danielson had held the ROH World Title for nearly 11 months by the time this match came around, defending the Belt 28 times. Nigel McGuinness was 15 days short of a year long reign as the ROH Pure Champion and he had beaten Danielson in a World Title match by Count out. This was an important development as the this match was to be held under Pure rules, meaning that the title could change hands on a count out or a disqualification. This was looking like one of Danielson’s biggest challenges yet and the match looked like it could be something special.

The match felt like a big match from the very start, with the support for McGuinness during his entrance to Bobby Cruise announcing the rules with both competitors staring each other down. The announcement that a double count out or double disqualification would lead to a restart gave the match even more of an aura of this being a crucial part of ROH history. The story of the match was Danielson using his technical skills to focus on McGuinness’ arm and Shoulder in order to relieve McGuinness of all his Rope breaks. This strategy, combined with his dominance during the mat wrestling portions of the match, lead to Danielson being very cocky. This lead to the crowd supporting McGuinness 100%, as they consistently hated Danielson, a rarity in Danielson matches during his Heel run. McGuinness capitalises on Danielson’s cockiness and uses a quick flurry of offence to remove Danielson of his Rope breaks. McGuinness brought out some of his best big moves but Danielson used his Rope breaks to survive. The match shifted to the outside where Danielson used the Ring post to bust open McGuinness’ forehead before trying to take him out with a Springboard dive into the crowd. Eventually McGuinness beat the 20 count and staged a fantastic fightback, helped by the British crowd. McGuinness keeps fighting but his blood loss gives Danielson an opportunity to win the match with the MMA elbows, knocking McGuinness out.

This was one of the best matches in 2006, for many reasons. The story was well built and the background made the match feel even more important and special. The British crowd made this a match where Danielson was treated as a heel for most of the match, something that he had problems achieving in most of his matches as Champion. Their love for the challenger made his comebacks even more spectacular and added tension to every submission hold. The introductory video package and the rules announcements by Bobby Cruise added to the aura of ROH history happening before your eyes. This was a match that would prevent one of the two competitors from holding their belt for over a year. The match featured good displays of mat wrestling and the little touches in terms of crowd interaction and vocal selling added to my appreciation of this match. Both guys sold really well, although I could nitpick about McGuinness not selling the arm enough for my liking. The match had both wrestlers trying their best to defend their belt and prove themselves to be the better man. There is no simpler story in wrestling, yet it is still one of the most effective. The Rope Breaks added another aspect of psychology to the match as both wrestlers used different tactics to get rid of their opponents Rope Breaks. The match turned more dramatic with the Head butts into the Ring post and the tension kept building until the climax. Nigel’s return to the ring was done very well and his fightback, relying on the crowds energy to keep him going, really made the ending as good as it was without relying on finisher overkill. This was a logical finish which really came off well on DVD, even if many of the live crowd couldn’t tell that Nigel was out as there was a loud cry of “bullshit.” This match ended up as one of the most intense displays of Technical wrestling and simple story telling in 2006.

5. 1. Bryan Danielson vs. Nigel McGuinness – Driven – This is to determine the number one contender in mid-2007 on PPV, their fifth overall encounter.

What a match this is. When the two top guys in the company go at it for a shot at the World Title on the company’s second Pay Per View, you take notice. These two went out and put a clinic on. At first, they went through different styles, seeing who had the advantage where. While Danielson was a better mat wrestler, as usual, Nigel had the striking, and really could finish any time with the Jawbreaker Lariat. Naturally, Danielson managed to avoid this early, and this match had all the intensity possible in a wrestling ring.

Both men began to take risks as the match went on, but it was Nigel’s that cost him, as outside the ring as Danielson managed a suplex onto the guardrail. Nigel’s back was badly hurt, so Dragon went to work on it. The remainder of the match featured Nigel desperately trying to manage a knockout blow before Danielson had him too weakened by the back work. As the intensity built, it became increasingly obvious that they called Danielson “The best in the world” for a reason. Hope against hope as Nigel might, eventually, with the Cattle Mutilation attacking the back, he was done.

4. Bryan Danielson vs. Ring of Honor World Champion Takeshi Morishima – Manhattan Mayhem 2 – From the Summer of 2007, this is their first encounter.

Some stories are simple and perfect, this is one. Morishima, the man mountain monster, is an unbeatable champion. He has yet to face the former champion though and Bryan Danielson is never a pushover. Danielson and Morishima tell an awesome David vs. Goliath story here, except more realistically, Goliath wins.

Danielson comes into the match going with a hit and run attack, kicking out Morishima’s legs. This works only so well, as Morishima does far more damage each time he catches Dragon, clubbing him until his eye socket is broken and retina is detached. This won’t stop Danielson though, as he doggedly continues his attack at Morishima’s leg.

This continues, with Danielson still getting the worse of it until, to one of the greatest pops ever, Danielson kicks out Morishima’s leg and he falls. With the beast down, Danielson is able to attack with an array of strikes and submissions… to no avail. Danielson is caught with a filthy lariat and so drained is he from his broken eye that one backdrop driver later and he is done.

This valiant effort and brilliant strategy by Danielson came just barely short as Morishima barely escaped with his title and Danielson barely with his sight. This is the time when choosing when to sell matters most. Morishima barely sells Danielson’s leg barrage early, but when he falls, it’s epic. This is perfection in storytelling.

3. Bryan Danielson vs. Low Ki – Round Robin Challenge – This is the third match in the Round Robin series on Ring of Honor’s second show ever, in 2002. Both men have wrestled once prior on this night.

I love this match! You want a story? How about “who’s better?” They go through an extended mat sequence where they basically invent their own style, then a striking sequence, followed by a submission sequence. Who has the counter for the other’s strength? Will big chances pay off? Ki tries to knock Dragon out with strikes, while Danielson focusses on counters and combos to build effectiveness.

2. Bryan Danielson vs. Paul London – Epic Encounter – This is their second match, is for the number one contendership, and is 2 out of three falls.

This two out of three falls encounter is the absolute hidden gem of ROH history. Two rivals who went to wrestling school together battled for supremacy and a shot at the ROH title in a classic match.

Danielson was the prized student of Shawn Michaels’ Texas Wrestling Academy and as such seemed like he felt he would cruise through London in their 2/3 falls match and earn himself a title shot against Samoa Joe. Early in the match it was established that Danielson was slightly better than London at almost everything, be it mat wrestling, striking, or even speed. The only ways London could possibly survive were through heart and unyielding resilience. Danielson spend most of that first fall beating about London, but as he got cocky and gave London time to recover, London managed to hit bigger and bigger moves, eventually stealing the first fall. Well, that, unsurprisingly, pissed Danielson off.

Danielson spent the second fall ripping apart London’s leg, intently using every attack he could think of… and he could think of many. Eventually, when London tapped, his leg was mush and he was left without much hope for the final fall.

The final fall, Danielson again intently worked London over, but as he got closer to victory, he again got cocky. London showed that any let up could be fatal, nearly stealing the third fall as he had the first. Danielson, however, was more ready this time and again reclaimed control. Eventually, he made the mistake of cockiness while London was perched on the top rope and was fought off and hit with a deadly London Star Press. This proved to be enough and London managed to emerge victorious from a match he had no right winning through heart and determination, but also through Danielson’s continual underestimating of his skill.

This, in 2003, is among the earliest showings of Danielson’s later cockiness and he and London worked the face-heel performance to perfection. London’s work was reminiscent of a young Ricky Steamboat as he sold the leg exceptionally, while Danielson channeled the great heels of the past, attacking a body part and letting his own hubris cause his demise. This is two young men who are already masters at their craft in a truly epic encounter.

1. Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. KENTA – Glory by Honor V Night 2 – Their first singles match in fall of 2006.

This is my absolute favorite match in ROH history. The back story is perfection, while everything that happens during the match plays off of it in unparalleled manner. KENTA is the undefeated, unbeatable challenger. He’s defeated Danielson twice, once in a three way and once in a tag, using his devastating kicks to set up the awesome knockout blow, his finisher, the Go to Sleep. To make matters worse, Danielson had seriously injured his shoulder under a month before and was facing the unbeatable challenger in a weakened state.

They start out with mat wrestling, with Danielson proving the superior there. Danielson, having been defeated by KENTA prior to this, knows his normal offense isn’t enough; KENTA is simply too strong. To solve this Danielson spends his early offensive portion of the match using maneuvers of his past defeated opponents, notably Lance Storm’s rolling half crab. KENTA, meanwhile, sees weakness in Danielson’s arm, attacking that with his kicks viciously. Danielson, taking all he can, goes onto the offensive, throwing everything at KENTA, with his normal offense finally working due to wearing down the challenger, but cannot put KENTA away. KENTA, in familiar territory now, is able to take control with his standard offense and seemingly put Danielson away with the Go to Sleep. The problem here is, Danielson had his arm worked over the entire match, not his head, which KENTA’s kicks usually target. Because of this Danielson is able to get a foot on the rope. With a second chance at victory and a weakened KENTA, Danielson does not falter, putting the challenger away and giving him his only ROH loss to that date.

This was the height of wrestling as storytelling and a human game of chess. Danielson manipulated KENTA to the point where he was weakened and focusing on the wrong part of Danielson for a victory. KENTA attacked a weakness, but in doing so left Danielson the strength to overcome his greatest challenge in his absolute greatest match.

That covers this week. I’ll see you this weekend with coverage of ROH’s Sixth Anniversary!