Unless you haven’t been paying attention at all recently, Daniel Bryan is on the cusp of becoming the biggest thing in the WWE. The crowd loves him, and he can certainly back it up in the ring and on the mic. For fans of independent wrestling (and ROH in particular), this has been a long time coming. I would go as far as to say Daniel Bryan has been the best in the world for basically the past decade. In celebration of Bryan’s huge boom in popularity (as well as a recent name change to a certain website), I’ve decided to look back on the early part of Bryan’s ROH career as spotlighted on Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon. This DVD treats us to Danielson’s biggest matches from 2003-2005 in ROH. Not surprisingly, there are a ton of classics here, and you can see the greatness that Danielson will reach very soon. The total runtime of the 2-DVD set is approximately 6 hours, 45 minutes.
“Best in the World”: The Matches
2 out of 3 Falls Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Paul London (The Epic Encounter, 4/12/03 – **** 1/4
This match has got to go on the list of all time “wrestling clinics”. The moves are put together perfectly, and even though there aren’t any “high spots”, everything makes sense, and you can’t stop watching.
Bryan Danielson vs. AJ Styles (Main Event Spectacles, 11/1/03) – **** 1/2
What impressed me most about this match was the brilliant pacing. Danielson & Styles do a great job keeping the match interesting at all times, and there are some really interesting spots. I also enjoyed getting to watch Danielson play the heel here, something he didn’t do too often in ROH. He was great at it. Even though Danielson & Styles didn’t have much history, you still got the feeling that they wanted to hurt each other.
Bryan Danielson vs. Jay Briscoe (Final Battle 2003, 12/27/03) – ***
This match fits the definition of what I like to refer to as the “typical ROH opener”. These matches don’t necessarily go above-and-beyond, but they keep the crowd entertained and get them excited for the rest of the show. I don’t think there’s a better way to describe this match.
Bryan Danielson vs. CM Punk (Guest Referee: Ricky Steamboat) (Reborn Stage 1, 4/23/04) – *** 1/2
There was something about this match that didn’t totally click for me. All of the pieces are there, and Danielson & Punk are both great wrestlers, but I felt something missing. The main storyline of the match involves Punk’s feud with Steamboat, so this may have distracted a bit from the actual contest.
Final Fall of Survival of the Fittest: Bryan Danielson vs. Austin Aries (Survival of the Fittest, 6/24/04) – N/A
The full 2004 Survival of the Fittest match is one of my favorite ROH matches of all time, and a large reason is the final fall between Danielson & Aries. While I would have preferred seeing the whole match, you still get a great contest between these two at the conclusion of the match, and it serves as a nice set up for the next match on the DVD.
2 out of 3 Falls Match: Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries (Testing the Limit, 8/7/04) – ****
This is the now infamous 75-minute match between the two men. They do a nice job of making the match feel fresh the entire time. While certain spots may end up a little bit longer than necessary, it still is an impressive feat to keep the match varied over 75 minutes. I actually felt that the biggest weakness of the match is the final fall, which probably has to do with feeling fatigue as a viewer. The callbacks in the final fall to the original match from Survival of the Fittest were nice, though.
ROH World Title Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Samoa Joe (Midnight Express Reunion, 10/2/04) – **** 1/2
I was on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire 40 minute run time of this match, and I already knew who was going to win. This is brilliantly put together. The ending, in particular, is awesome.
Bryan Danielson vs. Jushin Liger (Weekend of Thunder Night 1, 11/5/04) – *** 1/2
This is the closest to “WWE style” you ever really saw Danielson wrestle in ROH. Since Liger was so popular, Danielson takes on the heel role again here, which is fun. Even if this isn’t the technical classic Danielson wrestled against Aries or Joe, it still is very entertaining in its own right.
Bryan Danielson & Low Ki vs. Jushin Liger & Samoa Joe (Weekend of Thunder Night 2, 11/6/04) – *** 3/4
I actually found this match worked better than the singles match between Danielson & Liger because the tag team setting allowed for high-octane action and the addition of more storylines into the match. The crowd also was really into this match, which helps. I wish the post-match celebration would have been included here; it was a nice moment.
Steel Cage Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Homicide (Final Showdown, 5/13/05) – *** 1/2
This match is very different from anything else on this DVD set; it ends one of Danielson’s first long-term feuds in ROH, and Danielson uses more of a brawling style. I thought it was a good choice to go high energy from the start of the match, which gives the feeling that these two guys clearly don’t like each other. The finish of this match, while not a “high spot”, is still a pretty unbelievable way to end a blood feud. It’s memorable, to say the least.
ROH World Title Match: Bryan Danielson Vs. James Gibson (Glory by Honor IV, 9/17/05) – **** 1/4
This is a great, great wrestling match. There isn’t really much more to say about it. If you only know of James Gibson as Jamie Noble in WWE or WCW, you are in for a treat after checking out this match. Besides being a technically proficient match, the emotions are also there, and the post-match celebration (while a bit funny to look at in hindsight) was a nice inclusion.
ROH World Title Match: Bryan Danielson Vs. Christopher Daniels (A Night of Tribute, 11/19/05) – *** 3/4
Given the two men involved in this men, it’s not a surprise that they are going to deliver a strong World Title match. It’s exciting, and also tells a good story. However, it feels pretty similar to most other ROH style main events of the time, and is missing the “something different” that may have pushed it into the 4 star range.
ROH World Title Match: Bryan Danielson Vs. Naomichi Marufuji (Final Battle 2005, 12/17/05) – *** 3/4
A very fun, fast-paced match. Most of Danielson’s matches weren’t wrestled at such a fast pace, so it’s fun to see the contrast here. Danielson playing up his heel side also helped bring out the best in Marufuji.
“Wrestling Freedom”: Closing Thoughts
I know this is going to surprise pretty much no one, but the match quality on this DVD is pretty astounding. You get a ton of classic matches throughout the set, many of which are still regarded as the apex of what ROH is capable of. Danielson went into a good number of these matches without much build-up, and he always does a great job giving the match a storyline of its own even if the wrestlers don’t have a ton of history. The big exception to this is the match with Homicide, and we get a short video package before this match to fill us in on the storyline, which I’m glad was included. If there’s any potential downfall to this set, it can be exhausting to watch a lot of these matches in one sitting. Since most of the matches here were main events of their respective shows, the matches always have a high level of intensity, and watching a number of these in a row can be tiring. There’s a reason not every match on a wrestling show is on a main event level. This issue is exacerbated a bit by the fact that the matches don’t have entrances or post-match moments included, so you go quickly from the action of one match to the action of the next without a moment to breathe. It’s hard to complain much about this when the match quality is so high, though. I think there is enough variance on here to prevent the issue from being too much of a detractor. The opener against Jay Briscoe, the tag team match, and the steel cage match bring about some nice variety.
If you have become a fan of Daniel Bryan through his recent run in WWE, I would highly recommend checking out this set to get a good sense of where he came from. Not all of these matches will be for everyone (the 75-minute match can be polarizing, for example), but overall, the matches are so good that I can’t see anyone being disappointed. Since I’ve been following independent wrestling for so long, the issues with production values have never bothered me much, but you shouldn’t go in expecting a WWE-style production. This DVD gets pretty much the highest recommendation from me overall. It’s a collection of great, great matches that are important in both the history of “Daniel” Bryan Danielson, and in the history of ROH in general.