(Image courtesy of AEW)
Hailing from Aberdeen, Washington, “The American Dragon”, Bryan Danielson (now 40), has been credited as being one of the most technically gifted and accomplished wrestlers of the modern era.
Born on May 22nd, 1981, Danielson took up pro wrestling in his youth, and journeyed to NJPW, under the masked persona “The American Dragon”. During his tenure in Japan, he performed as a Junior Heavyweight, winning the IWGP Tag Team Championships with Christopher Daniels, aka “Curry Man”.
When the Dragon returned to his domain, his career soared to new heights, not only joining the new independent promotion, Ring of Honor, but also being credited as one of its “founding fathers”.
One of Danielson’s most engaging battles was his feud with Nigel McGuinness, where he unified the ROH World title with the Pure Title at ROH Unified in 2006.
Danielson would bookend the decade, facing his rival for the last time in his farewell tour before signing up with the WWE.
Some may be surprised to know that The American Dragon’s first experience of the WWE was serving as a cadet under their developmental programme, where he honed his craft via William Regal.
Upon his return to WWE as Daniel Bryan, the former ROH World Champion debuted on season 1 of NXT in 2010. On the June 7th episode of Raw, Danielson took part in the biggest invasion angle in recent memory as a member of The Nexus, attacking wrestlers, destroying the ring and assaulting the announcers; a move that threatened his career as he was fired for his actions.
It didn’t take long, however, for Danielson to return to WWE as part of John Cena’s team in a 7-on-7 elimination tag team match against his former team members.
The first shot at the world title was by cashing in his Money in the Bank, winning the World Heavyweight Championship. It was at that moment that he spawned his signature catchphrase, “Yes!”, after repeatedly chanting it following his championship win. It wasn’t long before his fans soon began to adopt the cry.
Despite his promising status, the WWE failed to have the presence of mind to award Danielson the credibility he deserved, and never was that more evident than when he was omitted from 2014’s Royal Rumble.
That booking fiasco resulted in a huge backlash from the fans, but also the rise of the “Yes!” movement, forcing the company’s hand, granting him the chance at the main event, Wrestlemania XXX.
Danielson’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship victory came as one of the most unforgettable and satisfying celebrations of a lifetime. Initially retiring from what seemed like a career-changing injury, Danielson made a miraculous recovery, embarking on another successful run in the WWE before his departure in April, 2021.
Five months later, Danielson made a big leap to AEW in front of an enthusiastic crowd to continue the one thing he came to do, to “Goddamn wrestle!” Bryan Danielson’s career has been a true example of some of the most spectacular highs. Even though higher ups were never willing to give the outsider a chance, the fans stuck with him until he reached the peak of his career.
This is what makes Danielson such an enduring figure, with quality wrestling, a never-say-die attitude and his ability to connect with fans. His legacy will forever be a triumph cemented in the wrestling world, and it’s not over yet!
So, with all of that covered, let’s immerse in his “Ride of the Valkyries” life theme as we count down Bryan Danielson’s Top 5 AEW Wrestling Matches! (in descending order)
5. Vs. Eddie Kingston – AEW Rampage 12 (Oct. 29, 2021)
In the lead up to the finals of the Elimination Tournament for Full Gear, Danielson was set to face Eddie Kingston in the semi-finals to determine who would face Miro to decide the challenger for the AEW World Championship.
A world title from a major promotion has always eluded the artist formerly known as ‘King’ (Impact), and this was his big chance to reach the success of a lifetime, but he had to go through The American Dragon to get there.
The whole match demonstrated each other’s determination, with Kingston holding his own to Danielson’s vicious assaults and with The American Dragon’s world championship goals in mind, these two pushed each other to their limits.
Kingston showed incredible endurance, until he wound up caught in a triangle choke whilst facing unforgiving elbows to the head. This assault resulted in him passing out, allowing Danielson to move on to the finals.
4. Vs. Minoru Suzuki – AEW Rampage 10 (Oct. 15. 2021)
As part of his US tour, former King of Pancrase Champion, Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion and GHC Heavyweight Champion, Minoru Suzuki sought out the best that AEW had to offer, and Bryan Danielson was top of the agenda.
During an episode of Rampage, both warriors brought their years’ of experience to the table, delivering a rough and gritty exchange in a crowd-pleasing frenzy.
Not willing to back down, these two legends went back and forth, exchanging some of the fiercest displays of elbows, knees, kicks and stomps right in the center of the ring.
It wasn’t just their fists that were flying, their grappling prowess also came into play, with both athletes pulling off some enthralling transitions and comebacks.
In the end though, something had to give, and it was Danielson’s Running Knee to Suzuki’s temple that finally settled things. But the sheer determination and mettle displayed by both men makes us hope, as echoed by the crowd, that they’ll “fight forever”.
3. Vs. Adam Page – AEW Dynamite 119 (Jan. 5, 2022)
With the end result of their previous war, “Hangman” and The American Dragon would duke it out again around the start of the new year. The world title was on the line yet again, but this time it was going to be more brutal than the last.
With both men throwing caution to the wind, their latest battle was as thrilling as their first encounter, only this time, these two warriors radiated a killer instinct that left them both bloodied…and broken.
These warriors utilized every ounce of their technique in a battle that sought to break the other’s spirit, yet when nothing else succeeded, they would resort to ramming into one another…with their heads no less.
Danielson may have used every trick in the book, but Page’s willpower shone through, as he finished the fight with the Buckshot Lariat, successfully defending his title via another gruelling challenge.
2. Vs. Adam Page – AEW Dynamite 116 (Dec. 15, 2021)
Towards the end of his first year in AEW, Danielson seized the first chance at challenging for the promotion’s World title, taking on the current champion, Adam Page. The American Dragon and “Hangman” would clash for the first time ever in the main event at Winter is Coming.
With the World Championship at stake, neither of these warriors would pull any punches, as, with raw energy, high-risk manoeuvres and sheer brutality, they flew back and forth with every counter-attack, keeping the fans totally riveted, and on the edge of their seats.
When it looked like Page had the match in the bag, the timer ran out, ending the bout in one of the most gruelling hours of their lives.
No winner was declared, but nonetheless, both men pulled off a stunning battle to bookend 2021, a battle that was awarded a rating of 5 by Dave Meltzer.
The two would go on to have a rematch around the start of this new year, but their first encounter is considered their best.
1. Vs. Kenny Omega – AEW Dynamite 104 (Sept. 22, 2021)
It was twelve years since these two independent stars had last met each other in the ring.
After making a name for themselves in the WWE and NJPW, they would get to settle the score in the most anticipated match of 2021 at the Grand Slam edition of Dynamite. This was also Danielson’s first match at the promotion.
These two technical geniuses pulled out all the stops; from versatile holds and high-risk aerial manoeuvres to merciless kicks and ruthless knees, no weapon in their arsenal was wasted in this epic battle for the ages…With the eyes of the wrestling world watching, both athletes brought each other to the absolute brink, delivering an undeniable masterpiece in wrestling history.
In spite of the result being a draw, their vigorous performance cannot be understated. You’ll find Dave Meltzer’s 5 rating as further proof of that, but then again, what do you expect when you pit the Dragon against the ‘Best Bout Machine’?