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[2002-06-07-JAPW-Smarts Only] Low Ki vs American Dragon (Tap Out)

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This felt like an American indy homage to BattlARTS, with some whacky lucha-esque submissions from Dragon. This was Danielson at his best, fully aware and in his primal element. His ground game is so organic and fluid, in the sort of spontaneous, uber-aggressive way in which he can counter/reverse into something painful-looking. Low-Ki can't quite hang in this department but in a frustrated way, he acknowledges his shortcomings and has to rely more and more on his striking ability. But Danielson can hang with Low-Ki with the striking department. Some of his crossface strikes looked especially vicious. The match could've done away with the out-of-ring action and the finish was on the weaker end, as there's a disconnect from what was built before. Still one of the better U.S. matches in the early 2000s. A meaningful grapplefuck and a great showcase of Danielson's aggressive submission style.


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Well this blew me away. This came across like something completely from the future, and the crowd didn't quite know what to make of it at first, which was pretty amusing. Danielson and Ki worked about as close to a RINGS match as we're probably going to get stateside and looked great doing it. Ki was incredibly giving, perhaps because Danielson was more of an unknown with this crowd and they needed to establish him, not to mention that Ki was going over anyway. It seemed like Danielson had Ki's number every step of the way, both in ground game and when the striking started. Unbelievable in some ways because of its context -- it's not like these two were working a style that was suddenly en vogue or that anyone else was doing anything like this. In that sense, it felt incredibly daring. Danielson's mat game is just phenomenal and he still wasn't as good as he'd become. The "tap out" stip really aided them here -- they worked the entire match in extremely close proximity, which added even more to the intensity. I'll be shocked if I see anything in 2002 that I think is as good as this, but I just might. We'll see. ****3/4

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I really need to rewatch this. I've been watching a lot of early 00s Low Ki lately and I still need to rewatch this and the King of the Indies match. I thought the Super 8 Final & the match with Guest Ref Ricky Steamboat held up incredibly well. The Steamboat match in particular might honestly be my favorite Daniel Bryan match other than the Cena SummerSlam match.

 

Rewatching a lot of this stuff though it really makes sense that Low-Ki had the online buzz that he did. He always comes across as a huge star to me on these indy shows. If WWE was actually serious about building a cruiserweight division in 2001-02, Low Ki was really the guy that could have built to co-anchor the division with Rey Jr. He was insanely charismatic as an ass kicking babyface, but also imagine him as an ass kicking heel stomping the bejesus out of Rey Jr. He also was incredibly versatile as well as he was doing stuff like the matches with Danielson which were totally different than stuff he'd do with Red. I realize from reading the post that you're (Loss) watching 2002, but if you haven't revisited it lately, check out the match with Eddy Guerrero from 2001. It is a spectacular match.

 

Seriously I've been stunned at how well a lot of this stuff holds up. I'm not going to argue that Ki's 2001-2002 or whatever is "one of the best runs ever" or anything like that. There are definite flaws in his work, disappointing matches etc. But I honestly see once in a generation type potential in that guy watching matches from that era. Someone with the ability, versatility, and charisma to have a major impact in spite of his size and unconventional working style. Knowing how everything panned out in real life, it is stunning to go back and rewatch something like the Super 8 and think about how Danielson would one day become the biggest babyface in wrestling. If you didn't know what happened you'd guess it was going to be Ki 100 times out of 100.

 

Anyway, I should shut up and watch this match!

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I think there's something to be said for Ki being one of the biggest wastes of talent/potential of the 21st century, since it was so often that his personality stopped him from getting further or remaining employed wherever he went. Remember, he signed with WWE at the same time Bryan did. He was/is his own worst enemy.

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Can't sleep, clowns will eat me. Watched the match.

 

This starts with some shoot style inspired mat work. It isn’t the sort of mindblowing Tamura/Sakuraba super fast paced back and forth. It is slower paced. Gritty for sure and there is a struggle in everything they do. Each hold and counter makes sense and they are able to build to submissions well. Very cool to see in a US ring. There are moments that are a little awkward as they are still young workers trying something new. Their previous match ups have long sections of mat work very similar to this, but this still feels very different from their prior matches. There are a few moments that I’m not in love with. There’s a longish section in the middle of the match where Low-Ki just kinda lays there letting Bryan go from submission to submission. Dragon’s work is good and he keeps things interesting but Ki needed to show more struggle and I would have liked to have seen a desperate attempt for the ropes to break one of the submissions or something. Ki eventually got out but it took him a while and he could have done a better job selling coming out of that stretch. But these are some serious nitpicks. This is an incredibly ambitious match for 2 young workers to attempt in the US (especially in a cesspool like New Jersey). It is a damn shame these guys never had runs in BattlArts or one of the later off-shoots like Futen. They were both clearly big fans of the style and it would have served both of these guys well to work with masters like Yuki Ishikawa or Carl Greco who could help polish some of the rougher edges to this. But overall, this is an extraordinary match. There’s I think 3 suplexes in the whole match only one that would fall into the headdroppy variety. One rope running spot. There are stiff strikes sure, but it probably isn’t one of the 10,000 stiffest matches in history. This is primarily 20 minutes of hard back and forth counter mat wrestling. Minimal rope breaks. No shenanigans. Just an excellent match.

 

On one hand I wouldn’t go as high Loss’s rating, but, on the other hand I understand it and don’t think it’s outrageous. It was an incredibly ambitious match, well executed, had great pacing and build, nothing really felt out of place. They were clearly trying to work a shoot style match and in comparison to the very best shoot style matches, I’m not sure it really does. I doubt it would be one of the 20 best Kiyoshi Tamura matches for example, though that’s admittedly an unfair standard for just about anyone. But that’s really why I wouldn’t go as high as Loss’s rating when thinking about the match in terms of a brilliant shoot style match. It wouldn’t hold up compared to Tamura vs Yamamoto, Fujiwara vs Sayama, Takada vs Maeda, Ikeda vs Ishikawa etc.

 

But thinking about it in terms of two young guys taking a remarkably bold risk by working an incredibly niche style that no one was attempting in this country and crafting an absolutely terrific match that completely sucked the crowd into something they probably weren’t expecting to see, fuck yeah ****3/4. Who in the US scene could have possibly pulled this match off? I still think I like the match with Steamboat as the ref a smidgen better, but this is one of those “everyone should watch this” kind of matches.

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Truly awesome, unique match. The first time I watched it I thought it was about as close to RINGS as I'd ever seen in the US, but this time I thought it was equally derivative of Battlarts (whether it was intentional or not). It's a mash-up of the two and it sort of invites you to run wild with the comparisons. An American juniors version of Ishikawa v Ikeda with Dragon as Ishikawa and Ki as Ikeda? Danielson as Otsuka and Ki as Usuda? Sure, why not. Danielson was incredible in it and I think it's my all-time favourite performance of his. Some of the grappling might legitimately be the best I've ever seen in America; slick and fluid in parts then rugged and gritty in others. It was like Volk Han if Volk Han ever worked Battlarts, and I realise how preposterously hyperbolic that sounds but it's a pretty good indication of where I was at with Dragon here. Those crossface forearms were filthy as all get out and he was determined to take an arm or leg home with him as a trophy. There is absolutely no chance he'll get to stretch out and do anything like this now that WWE's cleared him to wrestle again, but I really wish it was the approach he took more often. Ditch the headbutts and crazy bumps, just twist people into pretzels. It's not like anybody in WWE hits like Low-Ki either, so he could probably manage to parley this sort of match into another five years' worth of work without having to worry about cauliflowering his brain. Ki wasn't simply a passenger in this, he held his own on the mat and his striking was obviously good, but it was hard not to look second best on the night. To say he was a poor man's Ikeda isn't an insult. Maybe he was actually a poor man's Takeshi Ono and that's not an insult either. But Danielson was the richest poor man's Ishikawa you could've asked for.

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It's just as good as their ROH classic, and in some ways even better. Once again, like in that ROH match, this features some of the best mat work ever seen in the States; Danielson delivers an incredible performance on the offense, showing great grit as every hold he puts looks violent as hell. It helps that Low Ki's body bends like a motherfucker. Those damn crosshair shots before Bryan locked in the choke - so good! His selling in the closing stretch is absolutely wonderful too, and caps off a tremendous performance by him. ****3/4

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Probably the greatest matwork in a US indy match ever. Both guys were incredibly vicious here: Danielson would crossface Low Ki really hard aswell as drop knees on the ground, not to mention just trying to pull Kis head off when working facelocks. Kis focus was basically to create openings using his knee strikes etc. Ki was pretty outmatched, but still came up with a few brilliant counters. While this was largely uncooperative, they came up with a few great holds such as Ki trying to split Danielsons legs. Bryans using the modified surfboard to set up the Cattle Mutilation is the greatest use of that move aswell. Then Ki is able to get out of that too. Ki picking up Danielson and ramming him into the buckles before collapsing was another great comeback. Danielson slapping Ki only to get clocked with a head kick was another all time moment. Danielson moving to the corner as seen as Ki kneed him was a smart use of ring positioning. Danielson crawling to the apron and just taking a bump to the floor when Ki hit him instead of doing some elaborate apron spot was a brief of fresh air compared to current day apron spot obsessed pro wrestling. The match lost a bit of it's greatness when they were fighting on the floor and I thought they could have done a better job with the finish. By all logic, the whole thing should have ended with the 2nd Cattle Mutilation. I don't want to nitpick though, because this was a seriously great, inspiring match.

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On 8/27/2016 at 5:00 AM, elliott said:

There is a parallel universe where Low-Ki beat HHH at WrestleMania 30 before winning the WWE title and finishing in the top 5 of GWE. :)

Amen brutha! Rewatching a lot of this, I honestly believe Low-Ki is a better wrestler than Daniel Bryan Danielson. It is just Bryan Danielson had a better career. Also, I dont think there is any way that Low-Ki fell off the map in 2005. I think his booking was so shitty that no one has gone back watched his stuff. I bet if we did we would find gems. I will say the one place Low-Ki falters is his charm. Ki is a badass and an asskicker. Bryan has the loveable, nerdy, relatable charm. I don't think Low-Ki could have an inspired the Movement that Bryan did.  

Low-Ki vs Bryan Danielson - JAPW 6/7/2002 Submission Match

Everyone focuses on Danielson (who was great), but I thought it was Low-Ki who made this match work. I have seen a lot of reviews focus on how great Dragon is in this match, but I think they are conflating how Danielson was on offense for most of the match with him being better. Low-Ki was great in this match because he made Danielson earn all his offense. Low-Ki looks just as proficient at catch-as-catch-can grappling as Danielson, but it is on defense where he is excelling. Watch where he puts his knees to keep Danielson at bay. Danielson looks like a wizard on the mat also the way he works into the Dragon Clutch. My point is not Low-Ki was better than Danielson in this match, but they were every bit equals.

Also, I don't agree with the point that this falters in the face of high-end RINGS or BattlArts. I think in comparison to BattlArts the narrative is a lot stronger than many of the Ishikawa vs Ikeda matches. There are few matches as brutal as Ishikawa vs Ikeda so forgive them for not stiffing each other in the face. There are RINGS matches better than this, but to claim this would not even make Tamura's Top Twenty smacks me as silly. Even Tamura & RINGS has it deficiencies. I think what this match does better than a lot of RINGS matches is in the struggle in the grappling in the mat not leading to a submission and using the ground & pound effectively.   Also, this match abandons the RINGS formula of standup->takedown->grapple->rope break->repeat. I like this because it gets you in a unique groove for RINGS, but it breaks the rhythm of the match. If instead on a rope break, you pounce on your opponent and are doing a full court press that can be just as interesting. I am just saying a different look at shoot-style is interesting here. It does not rely on the scoring system to tell its story. I am a proponent of the scoring system, but it can be a crutch. 

These two had a classic just a couple months prior in Ring Of Honor which was a brutal stiff-fest and a big bomb throwing match down the stretch. This match could NOT be more different. The vast majority is ground work with the strikes being used in ground & pound or to set up submissions. There were all sorts of great takedowns and wrestling. I loved how Low-Ki was focused on the cross-armbreaker early and then how Danielson slid into the STF. It was a deep STF. This was what Danielson was the best in this match organically applying submissions. Another great example later on in the match of Danielson's organic nature in this match was how he worked his way into the Rocking Horse. I didnt get the Volk Han comparison at first from other reviews but now I see it watching the match back a second time. What Volk Han does so well is organically find himself in exciting submission holds. Danielson was doing the same here.

 Ki gets the ropes and Danielson pounces on him with the knees. Danielson was suffocating Low-Ki with his full court press. I really enjoyed them each stealing the other's submission in the first ten minutes of the match. What I thought was so amazing about Low-Ki in this match was his ability to hit strikes from the most ridiculous angles. He was hitting short range chops and kicks from short gaps where he should not have had the leverage to hit fully only absolutely crack Danielson. A good example of this is that Danielson has a sort of inverted figure-4 and Ki contorts his body to hit a stiff chop to Danielson's leg. Nasty. Another one is Low-Ki is using his feet as a guard from his back and somehow manages to hit kicks to the midsection that sound like gunshots.  Another feather in the cap is how everything flowed organically in this match. That is a testament to both men's chemistry with each other. Danielson's second STF was incredible in how Low-Ki was desperately countering and then Danielson's countered his counter by clawing at the nose! WOW! I love the grit and urgency. Danielson gets a rear full mount and rains down the clubbing forearms. Some people have called this Danielson's best performance, I still think the Morishima match is a better example, but he is vicious in this. I love how Ki lifting Danielson from the mat and driving him in the turnbuckles is a HIGHSPOT. Ki does a great job selling his exhaustion and then rallying to hit a bunch of brutal strikes. 

Cattle Mutilation is my least favorite part of Danielson's matches. It does not look great. The bridge is the only cool part but it leaves you in a precarious position. Danielson is trying to balance but his opponent is wriggling and thus causing Danielson to lose his balance. People's arms are always floppy. It is hard to sell in that particular position. It is almost as the Anklelock and how easy it is to free yourself from the hold. To put it quite simply, I HATE CATTLE MUTILATION! :p

 I thought Ki released himself from the hold way too easily. I liked them changing it up and going to the outside. Low-Ki wanted a change of pace. He had been on the losing end of the mat battle but Low-Ki felt he could win the stand up game and that's exactly what see as Low-Ki is able to use his striking proficiency to gain the advantage then use a legsweep to gain control on the mat and get a variety of chokes. Down the stretch, we see more highspots as they build to the finish. Dragon gets his big hurrah with two German Suplexes, a Dragon Suplex and then Cattle Mutilation. Low-Ki fights the hold and Dragon cracks him with a chop on stand-up. We finally see an Irish Whip, for shame! Ki hits a couple of this big running Kawada big boots in the corner. Ki wanted the Ki-Krusher. Danielson struggles and shoots him off into the ropes. KI WRAPS HIMSELF AROUND DRAGON AND FLYING ARMBAR! FLASH SUBMISSION! INSANELY GOOD FINISH!

This match has everything I want struggle, urgency, and organic, High IQ wrestling. Amazing finish! ****3/4

 

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This was cool. Hard to see anything topping Low Ki vs. Danielson as the best US rivalry of 2002. My favorite part of the match was blows to the head that Danielson gave Low Ki in that modified STF hold. I don't know whether that was an MMA influence or BattlARTS, but it was cool. The only part I didn't like was the Germans and that lame fist pump from Danielson. Aside from that, this was right up my alley. I'm not sure why everyone is high on Danielson and low on Low Ki, though. They were pretty much equals at this point. I prefer Low Ki to Danielson, but only because I like his gangsta Master of Kung Fu shtick better than Danielson's babyface act. The one thing I don't get about Danielson, even now, is his charisma and the pull he has with folks. I didn't watch this stuff as it happened, and he was never one of my boys, so I can't really relate to the hero worship. What I can respect is the commitment to working a no-pinfall, submission match with an MMA/shoot style influence. That is an awesome thing to ape. 

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