This is what I came for, only eight years later.
The reason I got back into wrestling in 2015 was Bryan Danielson. The thing is, I’ve never actually seen him wrestle. Not really, anyway. And yet I kept reading things on sites like this or hearing from friends, all of whom were usually not used to talking about wrestling, talking about this hairy killer gnome who set the world on fire in 2014. Danielson’s “YES!” the run leading up to WrestleMania 2014 captured not just the imagination of the wrestling world, but seeped into the mainstream. And maybe he was the first to do it not because he was just a camera-friendly star or an over-the-top personality, but because the actual wrestling was that good. And because he didn’t look like anything WWE had pushed to the top of the company before. He was short, he had a big beard, and his calling card wasn’t platitudes or being exceptional on the mic, but that he could do so much between the ropes.
So I had to see the guy. And I saw him wrestle the ladder match that opened WrestleMania 31 in Santa Clara. And then he got injured again, and shortly after that he retired. Well that was great. I’m glad I stopped by.
And now I get what I first came for. All good things for those who wait, obviously.
Danielson starred in the last five episodes AEW Dynamite in preparation for the Revolution PPV, where he will face MJF in a 60-minute Iron Man match. In these five weeks, Danielson faced a wide range of opponents, fighting different styles, and each one of them left every wrestling fan kicking her heels off the couch in sheer delight.
It started with a match against Konosuke Takeshita, perhaps the hidden gem of the company. The two displayed athleticism and technical knowledge, bouncing back and forth between big spots, big slaps and the kind of grappling we know Danielson thrives on.
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Next up was a match against the Bandidos, who looked like they walked out of ROH a decade and a half ago. It was straight Lucha Libre match, not just a high-flying majority connected style, but also fierce submission attempts. It was the experimental album you never knew you needed.
The following week, Danielson faced Brian Cage, which left some fans feeling a little apprehensive as Cage was not viewed as an in-ring talent so much as a relentless muscle guy. He’s better than he’s given credit for, and Danielson engaged him in a classic big guy/small guy contest where he took a lot of punishment but came out on top because of his higher wrestling IQ.
Last week, MJF called out Timothy Thatcher, a former member of NXT and now working for Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan. Thatcher is a wrestling expert and showed that in some excellent matches with Tommaso Ciampa in NXT. He is something of a comebacker, where most of the work takes place on the mat and everything revolves around technical superiority. But this is also Danielson’s wheelhouse, and the two had a 15-minute wrestling exhibition that would win over anyone, not just diehards. Danielson can make anything relatable and interesting. The dude once had the audience foaming at the mouth simply through headlocks.
So last night, what’s left? About the only thing that needed checking was a match where Danielson and his opponent simply beat each other up. Enter Rush, who essentially replaced Andrade El Idol in hiand in society and possibly in life. There’s no bruiser in the world than Rush when he’s on him, and Danielson’s chest looked like an eggplant about four minutes into last night’s contest. The two exchanged chops, blows with legs, hands, head, throws into the barricade, forearms and whatever they could come up with that crossed the threshold of violent as fuck. It was the opposite of technical skill and no less satisfying. It seemed like neither one would stop until the other was done with the burger.
Unprecedented The gift of this Danielson run is how much better everyone he’s been in the ring with looks now. Fans knew Takeshita was a star on the rise, but now he’s a true main event player. Cage was the subject of the main event and immediately turned into a justified place on the list. People are asking Thatcher to sign. Rush should be a big part of at least the TNT titles or the All-Atlantic scene. He raised everyone’s Q. He is anti-Cody (sorry, can’t help it).
All of this sets up what looks like a huge matchup with MJF on March 5th. MJF’s skills in the ring don’t get nearly the respect they should, although this is partly due to his character and mic skills. But an hour with Danielson has always been seen, and especially now, as a top player in the real wrestling part of the game, where only gods can walk. Danielson will definitely make the match talk about how good of a wrestler MJF is, even if we can all giggle at the possible shenanigans MJF will use during it. Danielson will become the rare heel from MJF who is a heel because he is so good in the ring that he can’t be beatenand not just a stain of shit who will cut any corner to win (which MJF also is). Assuming Danielson doesn’t win, of course.
This is what Danielson promised upon arrival at AEW in September 2021, of course. He is here to fucking wrestling, and that’s what he did. It’s not like he didn’t work hard before, because he had great matches throughout his time in the company. But this recent ride kicked into second gear. While his look may not change in the same way, Danielson is David Bowie in the ring (or St. Vincent for more modern references and to piss off a few friends). He can take on any genre and produce something that is the absolute essence of that style of wrestling and then switch to the next match flawless. He is such a disciple and devotee that nothing is beyond his purview.
This run allowed Danielson to use all the clubs in his bag and was pure pleasure for any wrestling fan. Maybe this is his last big ride. He was rumored to be retiring for a while soon. If so, there is no one who does not feel satisfied with the courses he offers.