At many different times in many different places many different people have claimed to be “the best in the world”. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that they’re better in the ring? Does it mean they’re more over with the fans? Does it mean they cut better promos? What does it take to lay claim to being the best? I’ll be using this feature or column or whatever you want to call it to look at those that have been considered the best during a certain frame of time.
Before he would whip crowds into a frenzy with a single word, Daniel Bryan was known as the “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson. He was on Ring of Honor’s debut show in 2002, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he became their world champion. When he defeated James Gibson on 09/07/05 for the title he would go on to become the best in the world.
Going into 2006 Ring of Honor was easily one of the hottest indy promotions around. They sort of filled a void that had been present when ECW closed its doors. ROH focused more on wrestling than the hardcore elements that ECW is remembered for. No one embodied this more than their champion, Bryan Danielson. During his 15 month run at the top of ROH he turned away some other people who could lay claim to being the best in the world: Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Samoa Joe, Chris Hero, AJ Styles, and many others. In my opinion his two best rivals during this time period were Nigel McGuinness and KENTA.
Nigel and Danielson had a series of four matches in 2006, but their third match is the one that most people remember. Nigel was the Pure champion in ROH where the rules were a bit different. Wrestlers only had three rope breaks per match, no punches to the face or head, and there was a 20 count if a wrestler went outside the ring. Nigel was very good at bending the rules a bit and had held onto his championship for nearly a year. The two of them met twice before with each coming away with a slightly tainted victory and this led to a title unification match in Liverpool, England. It is one of my favorite matches in ROH’s history:
Danielson’s other rival, KENTA, came to Ring of Honor via a talent exchange with the Japanese promotion, Pro Wrestling NOAH. KENTA had been undefeated in ROH and was even able to pin Danielson in non-title matches. The two would finally lock up in a title match at Night 2 of Glory By Honor 5 on 9/16/06.
Danielson went into the match with a bum shoulder, but the two still put on an amazing show. A lot of kicks, strikes, and slaps featured in the match. KENTA would continually go after Danielson’s injured shoulder. Danielson was somehow able to keep coming back. KENTA’s Go 2 Sleep finisher wasn’t enough to put Danielson down as he was later forced to tap out to Danieson’s Cattle Mutilation submission.
A few months later at Final Battle, he would lose the title to Homicide and take a few months off to heal up. When he came back, he was still great, but that moment in time when he was the best seemed to have passed.
Bryan’s promos were never considered his strong suit, but he was able to get crowds to start chanting “You’re gonna get your fucking head kicked in” at his opponents so maybe it’s time to reassess that. His promos felt earnest and real and were a big part in why he was able to connect with independent wrestling crowds as well as the larger WWE stage. He never felt like a cartoon character and that this was a man whose genuine passion was wrestling. It didn’t matter if it was in front of 5 or 50,000 and that’s one of the reasons why I think he’s one of the best. That passion translated to so many and helped keep fans all over the world interested in seeing him work.