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[2006-08-05-ROH-Fight of the Century] Bryan Danielson vs Samoa Joe

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ROH TItle Match

Bryan Danielson vs. Samoa Joe
Phenomenal atmosphere during the pre-match of course. After all, this match isn't just four months in the making, but last time they went at it in singles, it was a ***** masterpiece at Midnight Express Reunion. Now does this one measure up?
It doesn't, so let's start with the negatives and detail why this was is simply an excellent one hour Broadway, rather than a genuine masterpiece that's so hard to put together. Joe did some work on Danielson's back in the middle of the match, and I was disappointed that the champ didn't really sell it for more than a few seconds. Sure, Joe has never had the backbreaking gimmick of Strong, but he's still a very big, very aggressive man applying pressure on the back - that has to be sold in order for suspension of disbelief to not stall.
There were also some moments of dead time as these men stretched this to go an hour, which was the biggest complaint of the match for those live. But that happened in Joe's first one hour Broadway against CM Punk at World Title Classic, and like that classic, this had more than enough greatness to not be taken down too much by this.
The most disappointing factor was in the beginning, not that Danielson kept taking powders to stall and stretch this out for the time limit, but that unlike his ***** masterpiece against Strong at Vendetta, he didn't troll Joe or the crowd whatsoever while on the outside early. The trolling is what made the Vendetta work of art seem significantly shorter than its 47 minute length, while also engaging the crowd more instead of having them sit there bitching about how the time limit draw is so easily predictable.
Of course, there are a couple things to consider regarding Danielson's lack of trolling during his early powders. For one, Joe had been to the top of the mountain and therefore in kayfabe would NOT succumb to Danielson's baiting tactics like Strong had done. In addition, perhaps for the sake of avoiding redundancy, Danielson opted not to be a troll right away, as that dynamic was already used up by Steve Corino & Adam Pearce earlier in the night in their plodding excuse of a tag match. Danielson still should've trolled the audience though and attempted to do so to Joe too, as it would've made the early segments far more entertaining while killing time.
With that out of the way, let's go over why this is a tremendous match that while not quite up to par with its Fight of the Century event title, is still worth going out of your way to see.
Danielson as mentioned takes early powders when Joe gets the advantage on the mat and various strikes, including knees and kicks. The crowd at one point chants "PUSSY" at Danielson, thus making me question the lack of trolling from him even more. After a few powders, Danielson finally gets an advantage going to work on Joe's left knee, which Danielson targeted in the Cage of Death at Death Before Dishonor IV. Joe's cutoff attempts would be short-lived due to Danielson's resiliency in going after the left knee, and I especially loved Danielson going to the eyes when Joe tried chopping his way out of a leg submission.
When Joe is about to make a comeback, Danielson immediately powders to escape a boot, controlling the pace of the match but once again not trolling the audience. When he gets back in the ring, Joe gets the advantage, causing Danielson to take yet another powder, but at least this time Danielson is showing frustration and throwing down a chair, but he still doesn't engage the crowd with his mouth to make this match more heated. When he gets in the ring, a headlock on Joe is eventually countered with an Electric Chair style backdrop, but the champ begs off and then headbutts Joe's gut to cut off any comeback.
Danielson works on Joe's face and right arm/shoulder, setting up the challenger for a potential Cattle Mutilation or Crossface Chickenwing. He also chokes Joe's throat on the middle rope, taking advantage of the five count and being arrogant about it. But running the ropes costs him, as Joe moves out of the way and goes to work on the crotched champ with kicks and forearms to regain the heat. Danielson prevents the running boot scrapes with a forearm of his own, regaining the heat and then arrogantly going for the running boot scrapes himself. But Joe of course gets up and clotheslines him down, causing another powder for the champ while Joe stays inside the ring, not playing into the mind games.
Danielson gets back in the ring and this time targets Joe's left arm with a Hammerlock that he then keeps locked in while he adds more pressure, smacking his own body on the mat for that effect. While keeping the Hammerlock on Joe, Danielson turns that into what is visually very similar to a cross armbreaker, but targeting Joe's left arm and shoulder rather than his right from earlier in the match. This is very intelligent of the champ because it can sabotage Joe from planting him with an Island Driver or musclebuster, or even just a trademark move like the powerbomb. Danielson then turns it over, keeping the Hammerlock on but working the arm.
Danielson goes to work with punches in the corner after a rope-break, but that pisses Joe off, who channels his work against Kenta Kobashi with furious vengeance and regains control. After a snapmare, Joe places a knee on Danielson's back while holding the left arm, and kicks the champ's spine. Danielson cuts off a sleeper, but Joe then immediately cuts him off with a powerslam. After the nearfall, Danielson spins and kicks Joe's face, following up on it with stomps and grinding. A flying headbutt gets a two-count, but the champ goes to work on Joe's back via an Anchor Hold; Joe tries to turn that around but Danielson uses the momentum to get right back into it, then puts Joe in a Straight Jacket Submission around the throat to cut off his oxygen and test his endurance.
Joe regains control with a leg sweep and working on Danielson's right leg, via kicks to the hamstring, a Dragon Screw Leg Whip, and Figure Four Leglock. Danielson turns that around, putting pressure back on Joe's left knee, but that's not enough to keep Joe down after the rope-break. The challenger keeps firing back with strikes and the champion stays in the game with his own strikes; a series of strikes stuns Joe and Danielson regains control. He goes back to work on Joe's left arm/shoulder, but Joe turns him over and kicks him in the back, then drops him with a backbreaker as I had mentioned earlier. He follows that up with his trademark variation of the Boston Crab, and Danielson doesn't sell the back much after the rope-break.
Joe does have control still though until that's cut off with a Roaring Forearm, but an attempt at the Mexican Surfboard is blocked by Joe, who's simply too heavy and determined. Danielson still keeps control, this time talking trash while slapping Joe in the corner, but Joe manages to land a Death Valley Driver for a nearfall. Joe keeps control now, but his strikes and a Senton is only enough for another nearfall. Joe goes back to work on Danielson's left shoulder, but Danielson briefly gets control back, only to sniff out an attempted musclebuster.
Danielson gets the crowd going with a charging European Uppercut and then chop-blocking Joe's left knee, then channels Lethal's attack from Steel Cage Warfare. He smacks Joe's left leg on a ring post, then smacks the leg onto the ring post with a steel chair; like Lethal, Danielson didn't get disqualified as he should've since he still had the champion's advantage. FINALLY, Danielson taunts the crowd since he clearly has control, and some fans are chanting "BEST IN THE WORLD!" at him. Danielson gives Joe a knee crush on the left knee, following up on the left knee with more work. Joe is doing a great job of selling that knee.
Danielson applies another submission, getting nearfalls out of it while Joe is laid on the mat in agony at times. Joe does the hope spot of trying to punch his way out, but Danielson turns it over and does a Lex Luger pose to rub it in. Joe continues to sell the left knee after a rope-break, clutching it and that indicates to Danielson to keep going after it as he taunts the crowd. Joe is struggling to stand up due to the work on his left knee, and one has to consider his weight as well, especially when that knee is hit with a running dropkick while tied up in the ropes.
Danielson applies his own Figure Four Leglock of course, once again being a troll since he has clear control now about 40 minutes into this classic. Joe continues to sell the pain, not just with his body language selling the struggle of standing and getting up, but the pain in his face as well, especially when he briefly reverses the established finisher of the Nature Boy. Joe is able to free his leg in the corner and punch the champ, getting enough momentum to now hit the running boot scrapes. However, the challenger falls down immediately, the adrenaline having worn off and feeling the pain in his left knee.
Seeing the opportunity, Danielson goes right back to work on Joe's left knee since he didn't receive the full impact of the boot scrapes. Danielson returns the Dragon Screw Leg Whip favor and goes for another submission I don't know the name of, then adds more pressure with a beautiful arch. He then does an STF variation, almost like a Regal Stretch, but that gets a rope-break. The commentators do a fabulous job of pointing out how much pain Joe is feeling in his left knee, and Joe's hope spots are for naught in the corner.
With Joe down on the canvas, he counters Danielson with either a neckbreaker or Ace Crusher - it wasn't pretty, but it got the job done and that's fine with me. Joe is struggling to walk and run the ropes, but he sucks it up to hit the champ with an Elbow Suicida on the outside, getting a decent crowd pop. They brawl on the outside, and Joe once again sucks it up to deliver the Ole Ole Kicks, but of course uses his right foot to attack Danielson's face. His attempt at another Ole Ole Kick gets cut off by a forearm from Danielson, who isn't gonna be taken out for very long as he knows how to absorb pain. Danielson brings out more trolling, hitting Joe with an Ole Ole Dropkick to the crowd's approval.
They keep brawling on the outside, with Joe landing a running boot to Danielson's face on the guardrail, but that gets cut off when he follows the champ. Danielson climbs the top rope and does a front flip plancha to Joe in the audience, getting a good crowd pop, although not the epic I would've wanted putting my body on the line if I'm Danielson. Danielson throws Joe back in the ring and lands a Missile Shotgun Dropkick, then teases a running forearm that gets countered with a Uranage Slam. Joe follows that up with a nice Rolling Clutch pinfall atempt, and the crowd is starting to pick up.
A Rolling Cradle from Joe gets another nice nearfall, but he's really worn down and can't immediately followup. The crowd is at least behind him though, giving him energy to have a strike change with Danielson, but the champ plants him with a Dragon Suplex for a nearfall. Danielson goes back to the Regal Stretch variation, but Joe turns that into a rear-naked choke for a hot near-submission. Joe goes for that again, but Danielson channels Bret Hart's pinning finish at WrestleMania VIII and Survivor Series 1996 for a nearfall.
When Joe goes for another Uranage Slam counter, Danielson is smart enough to use Joe's right arm and position him for the Cattle Mutilation, paying off some of the work on Joe's arms and shoulders earlier, but that's too close to the ropes for a finish. Danielson rolls Joe in the middle of the ring to lock it again, and the crowd is happy for another rope-break. Danielson goes for it a third time, but knowing how difficult it is to make Joe tap, the champ uses that positioning to roll him up for a hot nearfall. Crowd is now firmly behind Joe but Danielson has his supporters too.
Joe had countered some of Danielson's charging offense earlier in the match with Manhattan Drops. But this late in the match, in order to avoid causing further pain to his knees, he changed his mind while having the champ in position for that move, instead dropping him knees-first on the mat. With Danielson's knees now hurting, Joe turned him over for a Half Crab for another hot pop from the crowd, desperate to see the first title change for ROH in 2006. But Danielson turns that into a pinfall attempt as well, and the crowd is feeling this.
They exchange strikes and Joe is continuing to excellently sell his agony, but takes down the champ with a lariat. Unfortunately, he's so worn down that instead of going for the pin, he falls down and rolls over, allowing the match to be even as both men get up simultaneously. Danielson goes to work on Joe in the corner, although he is showing some (not as many, but some) signs of fatigue too, unable to lift Joe by the legs and going for a running dropkick on the seated challenger. He gets cocky again as Joe is down in agony, but Joe cuts off an Irish Whip with his trademark powerbomb and STF combo, then turns that into a Crippler Crossface and the crowd is getting antsy. This is phenomenal shit.
Danielson manages to roll Joe back for another nearfall, then counters a powerbomb with a head-scissors, but Danielson's left knee is in pain from the Half Crab. Danielson is fatigued and rests in the corner, then eats a knee and is positioned for the musclebuster. He fights his way out, falling on the canvas, then turns another attempt into a crucifix pin nearfall, drawing another "THIS IS AWESOME~!" chant from those in attendance. Danielson kicks at Joe's left knee to stall him and seats him on the top rope, but Joe throws him off and hits a flying knee for a nearfall as the match has 5 minutes remaining, causing the crowd to get antsier.
A brainbuster from Joe is another nice nearfall, but not enough of course. Joe kicks at Danielson, but the champ grabs his left knee and tries to cradle him for a pin, only for Joe to use the momentum against him for another great nearfall. Joe uses his left knee for another knee strike attempt, and Danielson counters that with his own Half Crab for a near-submission. Danielson looks to have found another wind, but Joe takes him down with another lariat and goes for another musclebuster, which he delivers this time. But here's the brilliance of this match: due to the pain in Joe's left knee, he couldn't position very far from the corner, so Danielson was able to break the pin easily by touching the bottom rope. Crowd is really appreciating this now.
Joe wants to hit another musclebuster, but Danielson gets underneath and gives him a Super Backdrop Suplex for another nearfall. It looks like the entire crowd is standing. Danielson hits the elbows, but Joe absorbs them and tries to hulk up. Danielson locks in the Crossface Chickenwing, but Joe elbows out of it, then Danielson goes for an O'Connor Roll. Joe turns that into a rear-naked choke and Danielson struggles to reach the ropes as the match is less than 30 seconds from being a draw.
The crowd is going insane here, clapping, stomping, cheering, wanting the first title change of the year so badly. But as referee Todd Sinclair goes to drop Danielson's arm three times for the submission, the 60 minute time limit expires, making this a draw as so many in the audience could see coming. The crowd and Joe want five more minutes, but of course Danielson refuses, as he senses that Joe may have him figured out.
As Danielson is leaving, KENTA comes through the entrance and motions he's coming for the belt. I'm all for building anticipation for matches, but tell the audience to expect Danielson not to lose the title until September 16? The Briscoes ambush KENTA from behind to continue their issue, then Homicide comes after the Briscoes and those three hit the ring. Joe comes to help Homicide out despite the match he just had, and the unthinkable happens: Joe & Homicide agree to team up to face the Briscoes the same night that KENTA gets his ROH Title shot, as Joe says he is now Homicide's ally after what the Notorious 187 did to help out against CZW. I'm definitely looking forward to that September 16 card in NYC.
Rating: ****1/2

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