Monday, 18 June 2012

Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon - DVD Review

It’s another astute piece of marketing. Delve into your archives for the best matches from one of your founding fathers, a man who just happens to be one of the biggest stars in the biggest wrestling company in the world.

It’s something Ring of Honor have done before, and now they’ve done it again with the man currently known as Daniel Bryan for their two disc compilation Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon.

And what better place is there to start than with:

Disc 1
12th April, 2003
The first match of the collection sees Danielson taking on Paul London in a best of three falls match at The Epic Encounter.

This brought back some memories. The bouncy castle-like ring, the commentators and their constant plugs for RF Video products and constant reminders about how great the atmosphere at the live events is.

As for the wrestling it was top notch. Given the stipulations and the hour long time limit it was obvious that this was going to be a slow-paced encounter, the sort of hold for hold match I relish, especially when these two are in the ring together.

This was actually the rubber match of their series, with both men holding a victory over the other.

The first fall went to London after 20 minutes. When Danielson tried to take him off the top rope with a back suplex London countered with a body block for the three count.

Danielson equalled the score about five minutes later. Having stopped one of London’s top rope attacks by dropkicking his knee Danielson worked over the limb for the next few minutes. London made a brief comeback but soon fell to Danielson’s half Boston crab.

The deciding fall came after another 15 brutal minutes. Both guys pulled out all the stops in their hard hitting exchanges, and at one point Danielson tried to take London down with a suplex off the top rope to the outside of the ring.

Just after the 45 minute mark an exhausted London, limping badly, managed to climb to the top rope so he could connect with his London star press. A three count later it was all over as London took the winning pin.

1st November, 2003
Danielson takes on A.J. Styles for the Number One Contenders Trophy at Main Event Spectacles, with a shot against ROH Champion Samoa Joe awaiting them at the end of the month.

This one had a unique selling point early on when the announcers decided that they wanted the match to speak for itself. So after a few minutes they left their commentary position for a seat in the bleachers. It’s a shame we don’t see this kind of behaviour on a WWE or TNA show sometimes.

I haven’t seen a Styles match like this in ages. This wasn’t one of those fast-paced affairs we’ve seen from him in TNA for the past decade. This was a great technical battle.

Danielson began his night’s work by attacking Styles’ arm until the phenomenal one came back to work over the Dragon’s leg, at one point smashing it on the ringside barrier and ring post, cutting it open.

When they returned to the ring the hard hitting and technical exchanges continued. It was great to watch and a little different at the same time because of the lack of high spots.

Styles eventually came out on top. Having survived Danielson’s armbar attempt he took his man down with the Styles clash to earn the pin and the title shot.

27th December, 2003
Danielson takes on Jay Briscoe, co-holder of the Tag Team Championship, at Final Battle.

It’s one of those short and sweet show opener kind of matches, and unlike other ROH show openers I’ve seen in recent years it started off quite slowly as the older Briscoe out-wrestled and outwitted Danielson.

As the match progressed the tension level was taken up a notch, especially when they exchanged chops and slaps before Danielson spat in Briscoe’s face, Briscoe replying with a rake of the eyes.

Then the pace quickened. Briscoe went for the Jay driller which Danielson countered with a back drop before taking the submission win with the cattle mutilation.

23rd April, 2004
With Ricky Steamboat as the special referee Danielson goes up against C.M. Punk at Reborn Stage 1.

This one had a bit of a back story. Steamboat had been brought in to try and bring some order to the feud between Punk’s Second City Saints and the Prophecy, and because of this he’d been on the receiving end of a beating from the straight edged one earlier in the evening. Despite this attack Steamboat decided to go through with his commitments.

Punk was in full whiny heel mode in this one, complaining about everything early on before deciding to actually wrestle Danielson.

From there Steamboat does what all good referees do and becomes almost invisible as these two put on a great back and forth encounter. It may not have been as good as their recent WWE outings but it’s a good way of seeing how these two have progressed over the past eight years.

Both men came close to getting the fall while going for their big moves, with Punk going for the Pepsi plunge and Danielson going for the cattle mutilation before Danielson applied an abdominal stretch which Punk soon tapped out to.

24th June, 2004
It’s the final fall of the Survival of the Fittest final as Danielson takes on Austin Aries.

Despite having already outlasted four other competitors these two went all out in this hard hitting back and forth encounter.

Danielson outwrestled his man early on, but it wasn’t long before Aries came back into the match with some good moves, putting on a good display in one of his earliest ROH outings.

As time went by it became a war of attrition. Both guys pulled out all of their big moves, and with neither man willing to give up the frustration levels rose a great deal.

Eventually something had to give, and it was Aries. With blood flowing down his chin from a nasty cut Danielson applied a Boston crab variation. Aries tried to fight it until he inevitably succumbed and tapped out.

7th August, 2004
Danielson faces Aries once again, this time in a best of three falls encounter at Testing the Limit.

This match had a rather unique stipulation. Instead of having a time limit for the entire match each fall had a time limit of 60 minutes, which meant that the match could have gone on for a massive three hours.

This is not a match for those with short attention spans. Lasting almost 80 minutes this was not only a wrestling classic but a test of endurance, not just for the wrestlers but for the fans as well. Both guys put in tremendous performances as they showcased every ounce of talent they have.

The first fall came well after the 30 minute mark. Having failed to put his man away with his rings of Saturn variation Aries beat Danielson at his own game when the Dragon tapped out to the cattle mutilation.

The second fall came after a ton of hard fought action. Danielson was almost pulled out of the match when Aries dodged a suicide dive and hit his head on the ringside table. He managed to recover though, and after working over Aries’ arm and applying the cattle mutilation he evened the score with a crucifix pin.

The third fall was the most intense, a veritable battle of attrition if you will. As fatigue began to play a major role both men went all out, with Danielson almost getting the decider with the cattle mutilation until Aries made it to the ropes.

Eventually Aries took control. A brain buster from the top rope failed to put Danielson away though, so Aries took him down with two more regular brain busters and a 450 splash from to the top rope to finally secure the win.

Disc 2
October 2nd, 2004
Danielson challenges Samoa Joe for the ROH World title at the Midnight Express Reunion.

It was some 19 months into Joe’s title reign when Danielson secured his first ever shot, and the founding father put all of his technical wares on display.

Once again they chose the slow and methodical method as they put on a great display of technical wrestling. There wasn’t many overly flashy moves, just plenty of great action.

Despite being at a power disadvantage Danielson was able to out-strike Joe throughout while also targeting his legs in an attempt to take away his power. Joe, for his part, although frustrated by his inability to out-wrestle his challenger came back time and time again. It’s the sort of performance that has been sadly lacking from his career in recent years.

Towards the end it really looked as if Danielson was going to take the gold as he applied the cattle mutilation for a second time, but after Joe managed to get to the ropes he connected with several knees to the head before synching in the rear naked choke, turning Danielson over into a camel clutch-like position before securing the submission win.

November 5th, 2004
The match I wanted to see the most as Danielson takes on my all-time favourite Japanese star Jushin Liger at Weekend of Thunder Night 1.

To say that Liger was over with the fans would probably be an understatement. Danielson became a heel by default, and in a situation like this if Liger had been booked against Jesus Christ the carpenter’s son would have been booed out of the building.

As for the match it’s exactly what I thought it would be, a well executed back and forth encounter between two of the best in the world. Despite being firmly entrenched in the veteran stage of his career Liger put in a tremendous performance.

Danielson seemed to revel in facing such a legendary opponent as he put on one of his finest performances, pulling out all the stops and adding heel mannerisms as the crowd kept cheering Liger just for being Liger.

In the end though it was kind of obvious who was going to win, and having failed to take the Dragon down with the Liger bomb the one-time Fuji Yamada lifted Danielson onto the top rope and took him out with a brain buster. A three count later and it was all over as Liger took the victory.

November 6th, 2004
Danielson teams with Low Ki, accompanied here by Julius Smokes, as they take on Liger and World Champion Samoa Joe at Weekend of Thunder Night 2.

This one had so many unique selling points for me it would take too long to list them here. All of them made for a tremendous match for all involved.

Joe and Liger put in some good work as a unit until the villainous heels began to use the Japanese star as their personal punching bag, putting together some great double team moves as well as pulling off some outstanding moves on their own.

It eventually went on to the inevitable mass brawl, and as the action hit top gear there were numerous near falls for both teams until a miscommunication led to Ki and Danielson’s downfall. As Ki held Liger Danielson came off the ropes intending to hit Liger with a running forearm smash.

Liger managed to get out of the way though, and after Danielson inadvertently hit his own partner Liger took him down with the Liger bomb for the three count and the win.

13th May, 2005
Danielson takes on Homicide in a steel cage match at The Final Showdown, with the winner getting a shot at World Champion Austin Aries. It was also the final match in their best of five series.

The only appearance in this collection of Danielson’s busy and unkempt beard is also unlike any other match here. It’s a violent affair that begins outside the cage where Homicide stopped Danielson during his entrance, invoking the spirit of Abdullah the Butcher by stabbing him in the head with a fork. Needless to say that we soon saw a bit of colour.

From there they brawled around ringside before they eventually made it into the cage and tore shreds off each other, with Danielson soon getting hold of the fork himself and gaining a measure of revenge as the red stuff began to pour down Homicide’s face.

A few chair shots from Homicide followed before a few wrestling holds were added to the mix as both men came close to getting the win before Danielson lifted Homicide onto his shoulders for an aeroplane spin that went on and on. The crowd eventually lost count of how many times Danielson went around.

The move came to an end after what seemed like an age. Homicide collapsed to the mat as Danielson tried to regain his bearings before staggering over to his fallen for and pinning him for the three count.

Yep, you read that correctly. In an era of flashy finishers Danielson used an aeroplane spin as a finishing move. It made sense in every way.

17th September, 2005
Danielson challenges James Gibson for the World title at Glory by Honor IV.

Those of you who are only familiar with the redneck stylings of Gibson’s WWE tenure may be surprised with what’s on display here.

Gibson was actually on his way back to McMahon-land when this match took place, taking on a challenger that had been on a four month break from the company.

From the moment the bell sounded these two put on a hell of an encounter. It was one of those hard hitting affairs with a ton of reversals and counters as each man went all out.

Gibson’s performance was excellent throughout as the commentators put over the fact that he didn’t have to defend the title because of his WWE commitments, and that he was there because he wanted to be, because he wanted to face the best in the world.

So for about 30 minutes these two matched each other in every department with tons of near finishes before Danielson finally secured the title and the win when Gibson tapped out to a cross-face chicken wing.

Danielson then grabbed the microphone to praise his opponent before saying that he wouldn’t be going to WWE or TNA because, as ROH World Champion, he wanted his freedom. A somewhat ironic statement when you see it nearly seven years later.

19th September, 2005
Danielson defends the World title against his old buddy Christopher Daniels at A Night of Tribute.

With Allison Danger dressed as a PVC-clad nun at ringside this is another example of how a wrestler is a lot different away from the bright lights of the Impact Zone.

The two former New Japan tag partners began their work when Daniels once again refused to adhere to the Code of Honor. It wasn’t long before Danielson really went to work, tying the Fallen Angel up in knots at one point as he went for an arm, leg and neck submission at the same time. Yep, you read that correctly, three submissions at once there.

The match itself proved to be a pretty even affair, and even though Danielson re-opened an old wound that Samoa Joe had inflicted on Daniels he continued to fight back more and more as the pace was taken up a notch.

It looked like Daniels was going to get the win at one point after he took his man down with the BME, but this only proved to be the catalyst for Danielson’s next moves.

First came the top rope superplex, followed by cattle mutilation, before he finally took the win with his new hold of chose, the cross-face chicken wing.

17th December, 2005
Danielson defends the World title against Pro Wrestling NOAH star Naomichi Marufuji at Final Battle.

The final match of the collection is also one of it’s shortest. It’s also one of the best.

For nearly 20 minutes these two put on a hard hitting affair that really hit the spot. I’ve always enjoyed Marufuji’s matches, and when he’s put in the same ting with someone like Danielson you know you’re going to get a classic.

It’s a match very much in the Japanese style. There’s plenty of striking exchanges allied with a ton of submission attempts and reversals as both men had the fans eating out of the palm of their hands.

Danielson was really starting to blossom as World Champion at this point, exhibiting many of the mannerisms that made him even more popular than he was, including reminding the referee that he had a five count whenever he held on to an illegal hold.

After numerous close calls from both men it looked as Marufuji was going to take the title after taking the Dragon down with his sliced bread variation, but fatigue played a major part in him not going for the immediate cover.

Both guys got another win towards the end as they exchanged numerous pin attempts, with Danielson finally taking the pin with one of the many roll-up variations used.

The collection rounds out with a backstage promo and a video package chronicling Danielson’s ROH career.

In conclusion - this collection is great for so many reasons.

It’s a great chronicles of Danielson’s Ring if Honor career. From his rivalry with Paul  London through to the early days of his World title reign he put on some fantastic performances against a wide variety of performances, the majority of them having found major fame on the biggest stages in the wrestling business.

Just think of some of the names here: A.J. Styles, C.M. Punk, Austin Aries, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels. Where else can you find a collection with such a glittering array of stars?

It’s also an interesting look into the early history of Ring of Honor, a promotion that came about because RF Video lost one of their major sellers when ECW went out of business, a promotion that became even stronger after the Rob Feinstein scandal before going on to become the number three wrestling promotion in North America.

It’s for all of these reasons that I’m going to give Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon the big thumbs up. If you’re unfamiliar with his work outside of WWE and you want to see how he got to the big stage then you really should get a copy of this.

With thanks to the powers that be for supplying a copy of this release. Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon is available to buy online at

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