This is a continuation of my "get through some DVDs I bought a couple years ago" project. Ha! Who am I kidding? That's 90% of my reviews I just can't seem to keep up. I'm starting to put a dent in it this year. This week I'll be looking at some early battles of Bryan Danielson. These ones are lesser known for one reason or another. For folks that are only aware of his WWE or AEW stuff, this might be something you'd be interested in checking out. My guess is you may have seen some of his better known ROH stuff (05-09) but there's some real quality here.
vs Doug Williams (11/16/02 ROH - Scramble Madness): 30 minute Iron Man match and wow was this a technical clinic. The first 20 minutes or so was submission style wrestling with pinning predicaments sprinkled in. As the duel continued, it was more traditional pro wrestling style. It was a great match and a real treat to watch. Frankly I would have been happy if this was all mat wrestling. My only complaint is the booking of the outcome. I don't know really what it was trying to accomplish... Gabe wasn't hitting home runs early on like people may think. Instead of a homer, I say he hit a double. What makes this great is the Dragon & the Anarchist wrestling for 30 minutes. I think with sharper booking this could have been a classic.
vs Paul London (12/07/02 ROH - Night of the Butcher): Well that was a battle! Paul London is one of Dragon's greatest opponents. He gets overlooked because Danielson would go on to have other rivalries or opponents that match the same level of technicality and intensity (Roderick, Aries, Nigel for instance) but London deserves to be in that list. Of course there's the Epic Encounter match but this one should be a part of the conversation too. A forgotten classic from perhaps one of the worst shows in ROH history (worst main event I've heard). And that's probably why it's been overlooked. Buzz drives DVD sales and if the loyal fans of ROH were saying this is a one match show then 'wait-and-see' fans skipped this purchase. Thankfully this is or was available on the RF Best of American Dragon vol. 2 (as are the first few matches). I haven't said too much of the match but that's because it felt like a near perfect singles encounter. London maybe the one guy who is more all around technically proficient than Danielson. Dragon has that mean streak but Paul is like the Ricky Steamboat of early ROH. There's nothing he can't do and everything he does, he does well. This is one where the action AND the booking were excellent.
vs John Walters (11/08/03 ECWA): Very good technical match. Walters didn't have a bunch of high impact offense but he definitely could hang with Bryan on the mat. I'd actually probably only rate this as Good because it ended before it kicked into high gear. Definitely going to start watching Walters matches as I go through more ROH DVDs.
vs Jay Briscoe (12/27/03 ROH - Final Battle): Another good but not great match. The Briscoes were in development while they were wearing their unitards IMO (even though they were tag champs at the time). It was the opening match so a pretty good first match. Jay was starting to come into his own here but this was nowhere what they could do together in the years to come. I wish we would've gotten 2010's Jay vs Danielson.
vs CM Punk (09/18/04 IWA-MS): Of the dozen or so IWA Mid-South matches I've seen, I like it. Admittedly, it's been stuff I cherry picked. Anyhow we have a second round match from the Ted Petty Invitational 2004. It is Punk vs Danielson in their prime and is exactly what I wanted - technical, hard hitting and well paced. They do a little injured neck story but do let go of it. Also a leg injury (perhaps real?) is brushed off. Both by Danielson! That's probably the weakness of this match. Still it's a two night tournament and maybe Dragon realized he'd have to keep selling the next match later that night. Very good match though... you can overlook this decision because neither injury was sold like it crippled him. I've taken some rough slams while skating but the adrenaline kicks in and am able to keep going for a good while afterwards so let's chalk it up to that. That's how I think about these situations in wrestling. Like, "this hurts but its going to hurt more if I slow down. I gotta keep going before things start to lock up." So yeah, really good match that could've been great but, no biggie...I had a blast!
vs Samoa Joe vs AJ Styles (09/18/04 IWA-MS): The finals of the Ted Petty 2004 and a pretty well regarded Indie match not in a ROH ring. And yes it lives up the hype in my book. It exceeds it as I thought it was a classic. I'm not sure if it was Danielson being in there that raised the stiffness bar but but man this was some hard hitting wrestling. On top of that you have a real sense of purpose. It's not only the finals but its after midnight at the end of a long weekend of wrestling. All 3 guys are pillars of post WCW/ECW wrestling in the US. They do not disappoint. Yes, this would be more polished if it was one match instead of a tournament final but that grit is what makes it a classic.
vs Chris Hero (09/24/2005 IWA-MS): Ted Petty Invitational 2005 match. This is an awesome technical duel between Dragon and Hero. IWA-MS Hero is my favorite version. He and Danielson do an old school match trading holds, counters and escapes. There's some back history that the announcers clue us in on which only helps the in-ring story. I loved this match. It was so competitive and smart. The fans were super appreciative of it as well. I'd call it a near classic match.
This turned into a pretty great little project. It was all really easy to watch and felt low stakes as nothing aside for the Three Way match had any hype around it. This period of American Dragon is fantastic despite it not being his "peak" in ROH and others Indies. I'm going to be watching more ROH. So I'll have to see how this work compares with his ROH peak (the Hero match is right at the beginning).
Stay cool! Thanks for reading