Thank You, Dragon
May 26, 2005 by Langdon Beck
On May 16th, 2005, Ring Of Honor posted an item in their weekly online Newswire. An item that would change the face of indy wrestling for the worse. It was announced that the American Dragon, Bryan Danielson, was leaving Ring Of Honor and professional wrestling after losing to Austin Aries the previous night. Fans on the ROH message board and across the world hoped this was just a storyline, that it wasn't real. But the story was followed up with articles on various internet sites that Danielson was frustrated with professional wrestling and needed (indefinite) time off.
Danielson is, pound for pound, one of the greatest wrestlers around today, and at just 23 years old (he turned 24 on May 22nd) he had the potential to be the best, bar none. He may return, but while he's gone, I thought I would commemorate his accomplishments thus far.
Bryan Danielson was born in a small town in Washington called Aberdeen. He has described it in interviews as "a nice quiet community", but the night he finished high school, he began the journey to San Antonio, Texas to learn to wrestle with Shawn Michaels. Michaels' academy, however, was not Bryan's first choice; he had paid a deposit to Dean Malenko's school in Florida, but it closed down before Danielson's graduation.
While being trained by Michaels and Rudy Boy Gonzalez, Danielson developed a bond with Brian "Spanky" Kendrick, and during the three month course, they worked six days a week, every week, even having Gonzalez unlock the gym on off days. Danielson also thought up a name - American Dragon.
It is often thought that Dragon's debut match took place against Spanky on October 4th, 1999. But American Dragon, masked and announced as "the international superstar, trained in the dojos of Tokyo, Japan", had wrestled a professional match before this, against Rudy Boy Gonzalez himself. Rudy cheated to win, but Dragon showed a lot of talent. Interestingly his repertoire of moves was more acrobatic than the technical, hard-hitting expertise he'd become famous for - moonsaults and hurricanranas were signature moves.
His second opponent, however, was Spanky, their first of many matches - Danielson claims they've wrestled over 100 times over the years. Soon after their initial matches of count-outs and time limit draws Dragon unmasked and turned on Spanky. And a few months after that, along with Kendrick, Shooter Schultz, and Lance 'Garrison' Cade, American Dragon received a WWE developmental contract.
In the meantime, Shawn Michaels was making an appearance as a guest referee for Japan's FMW in December of 1999. Some of HBK's students (including Danielson) came along. At Tokyo's Korakuen Hall, American Dragon & Lance Cade lost to Hisakatsu Oya & Yoshinari Sasaki. Bryan does not think his FMW matches were of high quality, but while in Japan he picked up a few tips from Masato Tanaka, including a roaring elbow that is now a Danielson trademark.
Danielson has admitted that he wasn't ready for a WWE deal at the time, and that the hiring of Texas Wrestling Academy students was probably a "favour to Shawn". However, it offered him the chance to learn from William Regal (who was a major influence in Dragon changing his style to more technical wrestling), Tracy Smothers and Bobby Eaton.
He had a chance to experiment with his new style in developmental territory MCW (Memphis Championship Wrestling), where he won their Southern Tag Team Titles with Spanky. The two had previously won the tag belts in TWA. MCW was also the location of Dragon's first pro singles title, a Light Heavyweight Championship. Bryan also made his mark in Canada early, winning the NWA Canadian Junior Heavyweight Title in January of 2001.
In early 2001, American Dragon received one of the highest honours an indy wrestler can receive by being offered a spot in the ECWA Super 8 Tournament. Even better, he made it through to the finals before losing to Low Ki. He was praised for his efforts, and received a lot of exposure through the tournament. In interviews following the Super 8, Danielson called it his "greatest night in wrestling".
Unfortunately, after WWE's purchase of WCW, and the influx of new wrestlers coming in, approximately half their developmental talent was released. American Dragon was one of the wrestlers who was let go.
Later in 2001, Dragon won the ECWA Tag Team Titles with Low Ki, defeating future WWE superstar Charlie Haas and his late brother Russ. Bryan and Ki also met in the finals of the APW 'King of the Indies' tournament after Danielson beat Spanky, Doug Williams and Donovan Morgan. Danielson got the upper hand this time with the Cattle Mutilation submission hold. But it would not be the last time the two wrestled...
February 23, 2002. The Era of Honor began. In the main event, the American Dragon faced Christopher Daniels and Low Ki in a Triple Threat Match hailed as one of the best three way dances of the last five years, perhaps ever. Booker Gabe Sapolsky called it "perhaps the greatest match I've ever seen live and that is saying something considering I shot 90% of the ECW shows at ringside..."
A month later, Dragon faced both men again in the first Round Robin Tournament. His match with Low Ki, with Ken Shamrock as special referee, was another match of the year candidate. If the American Dragon was not a bona fide star before, he certainly was after this match.
After ROH matches against the likes of Spanky, AJ Styles and Paul London, and a scientific classic against Doug Williams, Bryan was hailed as the best independent wrestler in America. He stayed humble and modest, however: "It's ridiculous when people say things like that because when you compare us, me, Spanky and Low Ki, to guys like [Chris] Daniels he is just a notch above us. I can have a good match with Spanky, I can have a good match with Low Ki... but I can't go in there and carry some guy who doesn't know how to throw an arm drag like Daniels has been doing for the last five years. He knows so much about selling and wrestling. He is one of the guys who does wrestle 300 matches a year. So guys like that, guys who have been in the business for many more years than these younger and flashier guys, should be the ones who should be elevated. Not guys like us."
ROH aside, Bryan was still picking up accolades and praise across the US. Among other things he beat Super Dragon for the All Pro Wrestling Internet Title.
In late 2002, Dragon got a call from New Japan Pro Wrestling. He had improved hugely since his last trip to the Far East, and this was a chance to really make an impact. He debuted on October 6th with a win over Wataru Inoue, and followed it up with a victory over El Samurai. He seemed to be a perfect fit for the Japanese style, and enjoyed the fact that wrestling had more importance there. In an interview with NJPW, Bryan said "in America, if they don't know you, they rarely cheer during your match even if you're wrestling your guts out. In Japan... they'll respond more to people they know, but if they see that you're doing your best and fighting hard, they appreciate it...[giving] you energy when you are down. But even if the crowd is quiet, I still give everything I have. You have to, or else you'll get hurt." Within a month, American Dragon was facing the likes of Jyushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask in six man tag team matches.
As 2003 began, Bryan Danielson was back in WWE...as enhancement talent on Velocity, losing first to Jamie Noble, and then to John Cena. WWE did not offer him a deal. Sure, not everyone can say they've wrestled the WWE Champion, but it was a far cry from his hard-hitting masterpieces with Samoa Joe that took place in ROH around that time. It is possible that, at under 6 feet and weighing in at around 190 pounds, Danielson is too small for WWE, which would be a real shame.
On April 12th of 2003, Paul London and American Dragon met in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. The show was called 'The Epic Encounter', and this 45 minute classic was surely that and much more - many believe it to be the greatest ROH Match in the company's history up to that point.
Also during that year, the American Dragon made his way to Great Britain. Not only did he win the All Star Promotions Heavy Middleweight Title, but challenged for the FWA Title in a match against Doug Williams. They had a 2-out-of-3 falls classic that was easily the equivalent of their 30-minute Iron Man match in ROH. Dragon was scheduled to return to FWA in April 2005 but sadly had to cancel due to family illness.
Bryan once more returned to WWE in late 2003, defeating Arch Kincaid (now Aaron 'the Idol' Stevens) in a dark match, and featuring in an ROH reunion of sorts on Velocity. Bryan teamed with John Walters to wrestle Spanky and Paul London. The match only lasted three minutes, somewhat ironically, as if it had taken place in ROH, it would probably have exceeded twenty!
One year after their initial ROH clash, American Dragon and AJ Styles faced off at Main Event Spectacles on November 1st. The match, of course, lived up to all the hype and was even more incredible than their first contest. The quality of the wrestling spoke for itself so clearly that announcers Chris Lovey and Ray Murrow ended their commentary at the beginning of the contest. Jay Briscoe was Bryan's opponent at the ROH-AJPW crossover show on December 27, 2003. Their match was one of the greatest opening encounters in ROH's history, and stole the show at an event that featured the finest All Japan had to offer, including the Great MUTA!
Danielson made his mark in two other promotions in early 2004 when he faced Teddy Hart in a surprisingly technical match for MLW, and teamed with Super Dragon in a Pro Wrestling Guerrilla tag team tournament won by B-Boy and Homicide. A few months later, American Dragon won the most prestigious title of his career so far: the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles. He and partner Curry Man defeated Gedo and Jado in a thrilling match to win the belts. Sadly Gedo and Jado won the straps back, but both matches were some of the best junior heavyweight contests of 2004. During the same period of time, Dragon was involved in matches with Ultimo Dragon and Naomichi Marufuji (to name but two), and participated in the NJPW Best of the Super Juniors tournament, falling to Koji Kanemoto in the semi-finals.
In June, Bryan Danielson was booked in an ROH Survival Of The Fittest match against Mark Briscoe, Colt Cabana, Austin Aries, Homicide and Samoa Joe. Danielson won the match and a future title shot, but the real story of the match occurred when the two remaining competitors faced off. Aries and Danielson put on 20 amazing minutes of wrestling which capped off a great show. But this wouldn't be the last time the two would meet in the squared circle...
...Ring of Honor. Philadelphia. August 8th, 2004. Testing the Limit. Bryan Danielson. Austin Aries. Two Out Of Three Falls. Everyone knew it'd be good. Nobody knew just how good. Seventy five minutes later, Aries was announced the winner of a truly classic match. The word 'epic' doesn't fit any other modern wrestling match better as this match really does show endurance wrestling, and wrestling in general, at its best. But Bryan didn't stop there. It was must-see match after must-see match for ROH in 2004, whether it was against Alex Shelley, Samoa Joe, Low Ki, or Jyushin Thunder Liger in a weekend of matches that picked up their old NJPW rivalry.
2004 marked the expansion of Danielson's skills all across America. He still wrestled for PWG in California, and competed extensively for IWA Mid-South. As well as a series of classic matches against Chris Hero, Bryan made it to the finals of the Ted Petty Invitational Tournament. After defeating Alex Shelley, CM Punk and Mike Quackenbush, Dragon lost to AJ Styles in a triple threat match also involving Samoa Joe.
2005, however, opened the doors to even more indies for the Dragon to slay. Not including AWS and a return to Canada for ECCW, Bryan Danielson debuted in Full Impact Pro in Florida. In FIP, Danielson faced, among others, CM Punk in a fantastic 40-minute match, Roderick Strong, and teamed with Rocky Romero against Homicide and Austin Aries. American Dragon also wrestled in Europe in early 2005, facing all comers in Germany, Holland and France.
Meanwhile, ROH was about to embark on a Best of Five Series featuring Danielson and Homicide. The two had fought several times in the past, but in the series they picked it up a notch. The first match was a tap out match. Many expected Bryan to win with the Cattle Mutilation, but it was in fact Homicide who emerged victorious. Next came a wild Taped Fist match, with the Notorious 187 once again picking up the win. Bryan made it 2-1 in a building-wide brawl of a Falls Count Anywhere contest, and equaled the score in a Lumberjack Match. The final match of the series took place in a Steel Cage. Danielson won after using one of the most devastating finishers recently seen - an Airplane Spin. Yes, you read right, an Airplane Spin. With approximately ONE HUNDRED ROTATIONS. If you still don't believe that move could end one of the most violent series of the 21st century, try getting up and spinning round a hundred times. Then imagine you're on someone's shoulders. Brutal.
The following night featured Aries vs. Danielson III, this time for the ROH title. Aries came up on the winning end after another thrilling match from the two. I don't think anyone in attendance thought that this could be the last time they'd see Bryan Danielson wrestling for Ring of Honor. But sadly, this could be reality.
American Dragon was part of great match after great match after great match. He featured in the top 20% of the PWI 500 every year since 2002. He wrestled for around twenty different companies across the globe. He was able to change his style depending on his opponent so as to always produce a memorable match. He was ROH's first breakout star, and one of their most consistent performers from the very first show. All before reaching the age of 24.
Pro wrestling veterans have spoken about Dragon in a wholeheartedly praiseworthy way. William Regal has said in interviews that training Bryan and Spanky was one of his proudest achievements. Dragon has often been touted as the next Chris Benoit, but what does the original Benoit think of him" In a recent interview the Crippler said "I love Bryan Danielson's style and he's very talented. I think he's doing the right thing by wrestling in a whole lot of the independents, which is very similar to what me, Eddie, Dean and William Regal did. I think the day's going to come when Bryan is a major star in the US."
We can only hope that Bryan's disillusionment with the wrestling business disappears and he considers a return at some point. Indy wrestling won't be the same without him. Thankyou, Dragon, for the great matches, the great wrestling, and the great memories.
(Sources: BryanDanielson.com, The Sun Online, Online World of Wrestling, ROH Wrestling, FIP Wrestling, Accelerator Bios, Wrestleview, ECCW, Leon Thomas' Beauty In Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, ECWA, SoCal Uncensored, Kaientapes, ROHUK.tk)
by Langdon Beck --- [View Langdon Beck's Column Index]..
Excellent article man. Danielson is easily one of my Top 5 wrestlers in the world right now and has talent far beyond his years. His 2/3 falls match against Paul London is still my favorite match not only in ROH but in all of wrestling, He was so fundamentally sound in that ring and knew how to make a match extraordinary, Whenever Danielson was on the card I knew that I was gonna get my money's worth and more because I knew that he was gonna bust his ass to put on the best match he possibly could and 10/10 I was right and 10/10 he ended up have the Match Of The Night on whatever show he performed on. If this indeed is the end for Bryan Danielson's career then I would like to say thank you for all the wonderful memories and that i'll never forget the American Dragon.
When I heard he might be quitting, i cried. I openly weeped, as Heyman would say. A 185 lb 6'4" man, weeping for his last hope in this industry. I hope Sapolsky puts the strap, or a strap on him to try and draw him back. The guy is a major, major draw. The best techincal wrestler in ROH and the Indy scene today, bar none. BAR NONE. He isn't the next Chris Benoit DAMNIT, he's the FIRST BRYAN DANIELSON - THE AMERICAN DRAGON, AND MY FAVOURITE WRESTLER.
I'm the most objective unbias smark there is in my many columns, but im his biggest fanboy damnit. Please come back Daniel, please."
With this notion, I request to start a petition to try and inspire Bryan Danielson to return to this wonderful sport, SPORT, of professional wrestling. Brad, could this be done on your site" Please" Personal Favour"
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