Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – The BEST of Three

Ring of Honor has done it once again. Perennial Wrestler of the Year candidate Bryan Danielson squared off against another former ROH Champion and phenomenal performer Austin Aries in a series of matches with a world title opportunity and the coveted spot as “Ace” of the promotion on the line. These two amazing athletes gave us three memorable matches to add to their resume of intense contests against one another.

TODAY’S ISSUE: The best-of-three series between Austin Aries and Bryan Danielson

Danielson and Aries have faced each other in no less than five previous matches, each remarkable in its own way, including the finals of the first ever Survival of the Fittest tournament and in the 75-minute, two-out-of-three falls marathon at Testing the Limit. So one thing Danielson and Aries know how to do is wrestle each other, and do it well. With this long history and the chemistry they share, it’s almost impossible for them to have anything but great matches together and the best-of-three series lived up to that legacy.

The first match in this series took place on October 5th at Honor Nation, and was quite simply one of the very best professional wrestling matches I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. At first it seemed the story of the match was the speed and high-impact striking of Aries against the methodical grinding attack of Danielson. But as the contest progressed, Aries included a healthy dose of mat wrestling, ground-and-pound, and submission holds, while Danielson took more than a few risks and expanded his repertoire to keep pace with Aries.

Because each knows the other so well, they were able to adapt their preferred styles to better deal with their opponent, and it made for a one-of-a-kind, exciting match. With strategic attacks and logical counters, they put on a clinic in this opener and really lit up the ring. If you’ve never seen a Ring of Honor match, I couldn’t recommend a better one to introduce you to the world of ROH.

Just when it seemed Dragon had Aries ready to tap or pass out in the Triangle Choke submission hold, Aries muscled himself free. When Dragon tried to apply it again, Aries countered into his own bridging submission hold, known as the Horns of Aries. Aries then added a few vicious knee-strikes before returning to the submission hold, and Danielson tapped out. Aries jumped out to a one-fall lead in the series, and this 25-minute classic left me eagerly anticipating the second match between the two former world champs.

Whenever there’s something on the line in a wrestling match and the performers respond accordingly, the contest takes on an air of importance and is automatically more enjoyable. In the opening match, both Danielson and Aries wanted to score that all-important first victory, setting the tone for the rest of the series. But Danielson had his back against the wall in match #2 at Chaos at the Cow Palace on October 21st, as Aries stood to win the number one contendership in two straight matches. So the American Dragon was forced to change his approach this time around.

Danielson needed to be more cautious, since he couldn’t afford to make a single mistake that would cost him the match and the series. Dragon wisely took fewer chances, focusing more on wearing Aries down with low-risk mat wrestling, which was working very well for the “Best in the World” in the early part of the contest.

About halfway through, Danielson punished the founder of The Resilience with a leglock until Aries was able to reach the ropes. But when the referee tried to enforce breaking the hold, Dragon displayed some of his brilliant tweener/heel personality and claimed his leg was stuck, and that he couldn’t free himself without the ref’s help. He even got the official to unwittingly help him torture Aries, claiming that if the ref pushed him a certain way, he might then be able to untangle his leg and release the hold. Instead, it actually added pressure on Austin’s already aching extremity. This was brilliant maneuvering by Danielson, and was pretty funny too.

Aries endured everything in Danielson’s offensive onslaught and took command late in the match via his oft-utilized Brainbuster suplex, looking to make a clean sweep against the American Dragon. He once again locked in the Horns of Aries with the accompanying knee-strikes, but this time Dragon’s wrestling skills saved the day. Countering the hold, he wrapped Aries up in an inside cradle for the sudden pinfall and the win. Now the series was tied at one match apiece, as any worthwhile 2-out-of-3 series always will be, producing the dramatic all-or-nothing stakes in one final, deciding contest.

Philadelphia played host to the rubber match on November 2nd at Glory By Honor VI: Night 1. Obviously this showdown was critical for both Aries and Danielson, as each man now found himself in a must-win situation after absorbing the physical abuse and displaying the mental toughness it took to make it this far against a world-class opponent who is so familiar with his arsenal.

Early in the match they worked a very nice headscissors/counter-headscissors spot. Aries was quick and explosive here, dancing with what brought him. This time, Dragon proved he’d done his homework by countering and anticipating much of Aries’ favorite offense. He caught Aries attempting a springboard back-elbow by locking on the Crossface Chickenwing; excellent logic! Dragon also blocked Aries’ famed suicide dive with a violent knee-strike, and later countered a knee-strike from Aries by catching the attacking leg and rolling through, applying a single-leg crab in the process. Dragon had an answer for everything Aries threw at him so far, and it seemed his experience and wrestling savvy would earn Danielson the victory in this third and final match.

At the mid point, Danielson was in firm control of the contest and Aries looked to be fading fast. He needed to make a move quickly to get back into the match, and when he reached into his bag of tricks, Aries found a very inventive maneuver. While tied to the tree of woe, Aries cinched in a facelock and pushed off the top turnbuckle, twisting into an impressive modified cutter/stunner. It was nice to see them continue to pull out new moves in this third match rather than just reshuffling spots from the first two battles in this war. These guys are good!

Dragon continued to display intelligence and familiarity with his opponent’s style, raising his knees to block a quebrada attempt and countering Aries’ big corner dropkick with a strike to the face. But Aries had learned something as well. When Danielson went for his acclaimed Cattle Mutliation submission hold, Aries rolled forward and wound up on top of Dragon, nearly pinning him in the process. This was excellent counter-wrestling!

Aries then anticipated Dragon’s counter to the Brainbuster and lured him in, hitting a wicked DDT before applying the Horns of Aries. In a poetic echo of the second match, Danielson again rolled Aries up with an inside cradle, but this time Aries was ready. He kicked out of the pin cover opposite of the usual direction, winding up in position for the Brainbuster, which he nailed.

For the first time in the series, Aries followed up with a successful 450 splash, the standard companion to the Brainbuster. With three beats of referee Todd Sinclair’s palm on the mat, Aries was victorious in the match and the series. ROH now had a new Ace and a new number one contender. While each contest stands solidly on its own, together they comprise a beautiful symphony of wrestling storytelling.

It’s worth noting that while these two warriors could put on a classic match in front of 17 blind Martians who’ve never see pro wrestling before, the atmosphere created by a raucous ROH crowd and the outstanding commentary by Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard really added a great deal of seasoning to the main course action in the ring.

And so a new go-to guy was born in Ring of Honor, as Danielson continued to take a step back from the main event picture and make his locker room brothers look good in the process. From here, Aries went into a title shot against world champion Nigel McGuinness, and that match was reportedly a classic. Defeating the ROH all-star Bryan Danielson was the catalyst Aries needed to springboard back to that level, and Danielson will not be affected long-term by this loss. That’s the best result a promoter could hope for when booking a feud; one man is elevated while not damaging the other.

As long as Ring of Honor keeps featuring intense, physical wrestling battles between athletic, innovative, determined grapplers, they’ll always have a fan in me, and I’ll keep supporting the “underground” sensation.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “The tongue is the only tool that gets sharper with use.” – Washington Irving