For me, the best matches are the ones that are built around real-life events. Yoshiko’s 2016 match with Nanae Takahashi was built around Yoshiko’s return to wrestling following an extended absence in the wake of the ‘Ghastly Match’ (TRIGGER WARNING, EXTREME VIOLENCE). CM Punk’s meteoric rise and eventual victory over John Cena at 2011’s Money in the Bank PPV was aided greatly by Punk’s failure to reach an agreement with WWE, and the possibility of him walking out with the championship.
But those are, to an extent, outside factors. Real life events, yes, but not so much something that actually took place in the ring.
But what if I were to tell you that one of the best matches of the last 2 decades was made so incredible by a mishap? A botch – a serious one at that – in the middle of a world championship match?
That’s what happened at a Ring of Honor show in 2007, as Takeshi Morishima went head-to-head with a man synonymous with the company at the time (and, to a certain degree, even now), The American Dragon, Bryan Danielson. Gee, I wonder what happened to him.
The Manhattan Centre in New York City was a morass of bodies – easily above 400 – a thunderous noise of voices, all fighting to be herd. The crowd was largely united in its support of The Dragon & its disdain toward the juggernaut champion from The Land of the Rising Sun.
Morishima is seemingly unfazed as he makes his way through the parted sea of fans. There’s no sign of the monster that would awaken just a few minutes later.
Then The Dragon enters Manhattan. Danielson is not just the challenger. He is not just a hero to these people. He is a GOD. He is met by a chorus of cheers and applause, which come to a head with the collective bellow of “IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN”
The tone is set. There’s a big fight feel. The bell rings, and Bryan immediately gets to work; laying in stiff shoot kicks to the upper thigh. He has a clear plan. Chop the big man down, as quickly as possible.
Now, it’s important to understand that Danielson made the decision to shoot on Morishima, but not out of malice or hatred. In his book, Yes, My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania, it is revealed that Bryan had pre-meditated an assault on his opponent, in order to bring out the ruthless brute that Morishima was when wrestling bigger heavyweights:
“We both agreed I needed to do something to turn the big man into the monster he was when he wrestled larger opponents. If he handled me gingerly, it wasn’t going to work. I decided – because I’m somewhat of an idiot – that the best way to do that was to piss him off.”Bryan Danielson on his match with Takeshi Morishma (Yes, My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania)
There’s a brief lockup, which sees the smaller challenger quickly overwhelmed. Technical prowess is nothing against pure strength. Back to the kicks he goes.
As expected, Morishima’s expression begins to change. The first signs of the sleeping giant being woken up begin to show. He grabs a hold of Danielson, rag dolling him into the corner and connecting with a flurry of blows to the head in return for the stiffer-than-usual strikes that had connected with his leg.
But, of course, that doesn’t deter Danielson in the slightest. As he said himself, he somewhat of an idiot. He kicks and moves away, again and again, before Morishima manages to once again force Bryan back into the corner – and the beast is fully unleashed. Another violent flurry of blows to the head. Morishima’s anger has made his movements erratic, however, and one of the blows catches Danielson’s eye – detaching his retina.
The American Dragon slumps to the floor, and Morishima’s demeanour immediately changes – like a switch has been flipped. No longer is he the violent juggernaut. He is now just a man, concerned about his colleague. Bryan Danielson is unable to stand – this could be catastrophic.
But, as you’d probably expect, things quickly gain pace again; Bryan immediately lays in another kick. Not even a detached retina will stop him.
With the injury, Bryan’s role in the match is changed, creating another extremely compelling dynamic. The match is no longer a technically sound challenger looking to reclaim his world title from a dominant champion. It’s now a plucky, fiery underdog, with a significant physical disadvantage and incredible will, passion and determination; looking to kill a monster.
THE SECOND HALF
We live and die with Danielson in this section of the match. Despite an injury that could’ve led to a stoppage, The American Dragon remains intense, focused and driven. As fans, we feel something deep within us. A desire – no, a need – to see Bryan prevail. He launches himself into the audience, clutching at his eye and letting out an emphatic, triumphant roar; surrounded by his people. He immediately gets back to work – becoming complacent would surely lead to a swift demise.
The plan of ‘stick and move’ continues. Danielson connects with a dropkick, which doesn’t faze Morishima in the slightest. He nips up, ducks a lariat and lands another strike on the leg. The plan was working. He moves to the ropes, inadvertently giving the champion a split second to recover – leading to a near-decapitating.
But Morishima is unable to capitalise. He somewhat underestimates the resilience of his challenger, and rushes into an attempt at the Backdrop Driver, which Bryan manages to escape.
And, as has been the case for the majority of the match, Danielson once again exploits the leg.
Submissions. Kicks. The work that Bryan had put in from the offset was beginning to pay dividends. The crowd explodes as Danielson traps Morishima in a submission hold, right in the centre of the ring. However, the size advantage allows Morishima to roll over and connect with a kick to the injured eye of the Dragon.
It’s clear that neither man has the advantage at this moment in time. They lie, broken, in the middle of the ring, showered with applause by the New York crowd, who clearly appreciate the classic match taking place before them.
Surprisingly, it’s Morishima who returns to his feet first. He connects with a kick to the face before making yet another attempt at the Backdrop Driver. And, once again, the move is thwarted, with Bryan this time floating over and into a small package pinfall attempt. This man will. Not. Quit.
Danielson is now convinced that he can secure the victory, and moves away from the onslaught on the leg for the first time. The focus moves to the upper body, as Bryan lands a German Suplex. The new game plan is clear – weaken the neck and shoulders, lock in the Cattle Mutilation and win back the ROH World Title. He follows up with a series of elbows to the side of the neck, before brutalising the champion with stamps to the head & transitioning to the Cattle Mutilation, the move which has brought him success countless times. The giant has been chopped down more than enough now – it’s time for David to deliver the killing blow and take the head of Goliath.
It seems almost impossible for Morishima to mount a comeback. Once again, he finds himself trapped. No amount of strength will help him out of this. He has no choice but to make a last-ditch effort and get to the ropes.
But at this moment, Bryan is a predator, and immediately pounces. He sets Morishima up for an avalanche Belly-To-Back suplex. But the weight of the giant comes crashing down onto his face, with no protection whatsoever.
This was the beginning of the end.
Bryan (stupidly) gets up and immediately instigates a striking exchange. He refuses to roll over and accept his fate. But it’s too late. Morishima has smelled blood in the water. Like a shark, he closes in on his prey and goes in for the kill. He lands clubbing blow after clubbing blow. A kick to his challenger’s lifeless body, before dragging him back to his feet for a final, emphatic lariat.
Danielson kicks out in one final act of defiance, but Morishima’s victory is inevitable. It will become official in a matter of seconds. Bryan is now easy pickings.
A 3rd attempt at the Backdrop Driver is made, with Morishima finally able to connect. The win is official, marking V16 of his ROH World Title run.
The truly exceptional thing about this contest was the fact that Bryan Danielson never seemed like he didn’t have a chance. It’s reflective of his career as a whole in a lot of ways.
Everything was done with a purpose and logic, and the match progressed organically instead of drifting into pointless spots to keep the crowd hot. The two men knew what they were capable of.
This was a perfect example of less being more. It could’ve easily fallen into tired melodrama on a number of occasions, especially after the injury. Many lesser performers would’ve likely gone down that road – if they even continued the match at all.
Wrestling doesn’t have to be over the top, or excessively long, to be good. This match demonstrates this perfectly. I’m sure a lot of people performing today could learn a great deal from how this was laid out – wrestling does not get any better than this.
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