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(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Bryan Danielson vs. Tyler Black – ROH New Horizons (2008)

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Bryan Danielson vs. Tyler Black. On paper that looks like a genuine dream match. The best technical wrestler on the indies (Bryan) versus one of the fastest-rising stars in that same world (Black).

Both of them had legions of loyal and vocal fans back then and they still do now. Both of them had immense success in the past and continue to do so to this day.

But what would happen if they faced off one-on-one without limitations put on them? Well, you’d get this match.

It was hailed as one of the best matches during ROH’s first major run but has largely fallen into obscurity. But it’s unfair to relegate this match into the dustbin of wrestling history because, to be frank, it’s an awesome match. But how awesome is it? Read on to find out.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Bryan wanted to become the first-ever two-time ROH World Champion. But to do that, he had to go through Tyler Black first. This was no easy challenge since Black pinned Bryan at ROH’s last event. But that was a tag match and this is a singles match.

The match

This match originally took place on July 26th, 2008 at ROH’s New Horizons show. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. After more than a decade, let’s see how well the match holds up.

The match starts with the fans chanting “you’re gonna get your f**king head kicked in” as Black’s second Jimmy Jacobs jumps onto the apron. Bryan knocks him down but Black capitalizes and attacks Bryan, who hasn’t even taken his coat off yet. Black goes full heel as he chokes Bryan with his own coat and foot chokes him in a corner. Black lands some strikes and sends Bryan into the ropes but Bryan ducks underneath, catches Black’s leg, and lands a dragon screw leg whip. Then Black ducks a massive roundhouse kick that would’ve taken his head off and bails to ringside.

Black recollects himself and rushes Bryan upon re-entering the ring. He tries to out-mat wrestle Bryan but fails miserably as Bryan quickly grapples into an armlock. Black fights to his feet, hits some kneelifts to escape Bryan’s hold, and lands a snapmare/short-range clothesline combo for a one-count. Black applies his own armlock but Bryan wrestles out and lands a dropkick. Then Bryan kicks both Black’s left leg and his spine which get him a two-count. Still in control, Bryan switches to a unique stretch muffler/heel hook/leglock and then into a deathlock. Bryan plays to the crowd as he contorts Black’s legs and Black can’t go anywhere. Black reaches for the ropes but Bryan traps both of his arms into an even wackier multi-limb submission hold/pinning combination. Mat expert Bryan = best Bryan.

After kicking out at two, Black forces Bryan into a corner and lands some shoulders to his gut. Black tries slowing the match down with chops and punches but Bryan hits back with uppercuts. Then Bryan lands two dragon screw arm whips and locks in another painful armlock and then bends Black’s wrist backwards so that he can stomp on it and Black’s elbow. Then Bryan does his Danielson Special butterfly suplex into a cross armbreaker. But Black escapes by kicking Bryan’s head. Black lands some forearms (with his undamaged right arm) but Bryan retaliates with kicks that hit both of Black’s arms. Bryan forces Black back to the mat via a (left) armlock and then does yet another wacky submission hold that looks like it would be impossible for a normal person to do. This must be where Zack Sabre Jr. got most of his ideas. Bryan forces Black into a pinning predicament but only gets a two-count.

Black fights out of another armlock and sends Bryan into the ropes but Bryan tackles him down. Black goes for a hiptoss but Bryan blocks and teases a suplex. But Black resists that and ends up on the apron, still locked in the suplex trade spot with Bryan. Black tries suplexing Bryan into the floor. Bryan lands on the apron next to Black and bends Black over. He goes for a neckbreaker…but Black holds onto the ropes. Black stays standing while Bryan hits the ring apron hard.

Black takes advantage with a stomp to Bryan’s head and then smashes him head-first into the barricade. He drags Bryan to a corner and pushes his knee into Bryan’s head, which pushes Bryan’s head against the ringpost. Then he drapes Bryan over the apron and kicks him in the head several more times and pins in the ring for another two-count. Black wails on Bryan’s head with punches and forearms for another two-count and then chokes him against the ropes. Black gloats having now fully recovered from Bryan’s earlier limbwork and punches Bryan’s head. But Bryan starts firing up. Bryan hits some uppercuts and runs to the ropes. Black cuts him off with a sleeper hold. Bryan sinks down but then starts firing up again. He charges again but this time Black drops him with a calf kick and covers. One, two, Bryan kicks out.

Black stomps on Bryan’s face and smashes the back of his head into the mat as the crowd boos. A falling neckbreaker gets Black a two-count so he strikes Bryan’s neck some more. But once again Bryan tries fighting back with uppercuts and kicks. Double Irish whip reversal. Black blocks a back body drop with a huge kick. Bryan cuts Black off with a standing dropkick. He avoids a corner charge and lands a corner forearm and then a kneelift to Black’s midsection. That’s followed by another soccer kick to Black’s spine for yet another two-count.

Bryan’s in control but Black shuts him down with an eye rake. Bryan regains control with a big running clothesline and then hits Black with a huge diving shotgun dropkick. Black bails to ringside again as Bryan kips up in the ring. Bryan goes for a suicide dive…and fails. He barely connects with Black and does more damage to himself in the process. Black capitalizes with a top-rope quebrada to the floor and then he tosses Bryan into the ring. Springboard clothesline by Black. One, two, Bryan kicks out. Another falling neckbreaker to Bryan’s weakened neck. But Bryan kicks out again. Black gets in Bryan’s face and bitchslaps him hard. Black fires up and charges for a big corner attack. But Bryan blocks with his boots and hits a big running knee strike. One, two, Black survives. Bryan locks Black in the Cattle Mutilation submission hold. The crowd jumps to their feet and go wild for Bryan’s famous finisher. Black manages to push himself backwards and gets a ropebreak.

Bryan bitchslaps Black and goes for a Tiger suplex. Black lands on his feet and foes for a jumping Frankenstiner. But Bryan counters the pin into one of his own. That leads to multiple quick two-counts for both wrestlers. The two trade waistlocks until Bryan lands an O’Connor roll with a bridge for another two-count. Black counters into a sleeper with bodyscissors. Bryan’s arm sinks once…twice…thr – no, Bryan’s still in this. Bryan fights up and sends Black into the ropes. Then Bryan locks in a sleeper of his own. Black resists so Bryan jumps onto Black’s black and flips him over into a cross armbreaker out of nowhere. Black tries countering it but Bryan’s one step ahead and switches into a triangle choke. But Black doesn’t just resist; he deadlifts Bryan up and escapes with a Bucklebomb so powerful the top rope snaps off. Black just broke the ring as he broke free of Bryan’s submission hold.

Both wrestlers make it to their feet and trade forearm smashes. Bryan fires up but Black ducks a forearm and hits an enzuigiri. Black sends Bryan into a corner. Bryan jumps up and goes for a quebrada but Black catches him on his shoulders. F-5 by Black followed by a superkick. One, two, and – Bryan kicks out. Black realizes he can’t dive off the top rope so lands his God’s Last Gift small package driver instead. But Bryan kicks out yet again. Both guys trade forearms again but this time it turns into a yay/boo exchange with Bryan being cheered. They just pummel each other with unprotected shots to the face. Bryan gets the upper hand and switches to stiff slaps. Black stops fighting back and looks to be completely out of it. Bryan sits Black down and starts hitting his famous elbows to the collar and the side of the neck. Black goes limp! The referee calls for the bell!

Winner via referee’s decision after 24:30: Bryan Danielson

Review

As expected, Bryan and Black had an amazing match together. It was an ‘indy-style match’ but not the same kind as seen today. This was serious, competitive, technical, and intense. It had a mixture of matwork, high spots, high-impact bombs, tension, psychology, and a great crowd. It’s one of the best matches I’ve ever seen out of Tyler Black/Seth Rollins while being just another day at the office for Bryan Danielson. This match really holds up well, even after both wrestlers have changed and gone through so much in their careers since this match occurred.

I really appreciate when wrestlers apply creativity to a match while also making it logical. Obviously pro wrestling is wacky and hard to take seriously at times. But whenever wrestlers try to make stuff look real and make fans think, ‘that looks painful and he can’t use that limb properly anymore’, that wrestlers deserves praise. That’s what happened here. This match had some unique and inventive moves rarely seen elsewhere that made both wrestlers stand out. But these things weren’t just for show; each move had a purpose. Bryan spent most of the first half of the match dismantling Black’s arm and leg to try and stop him from doing, well, anything. It worked for a time and Black was running out of options as he couldn’t move around, kick, or hit with his right arm. But Black found a very clever opening by simply holding onto the rope. In doing so, Bryan hurt his neck and Black went after it like a proper wrestler because he knows what wrestling and psychology are. Black was able to eventually brush off Bryan’s limbwork and put him on the defensive by going after his head and neck with simple strikes. He got the crowd fully behind Bryan and made Bryan’s multiple false comebacks compelling and exciting.

Bryan shined as an underdog that the fans wanted to see win despite dominating early. And since Black had the obvious height and power advantage, Bryan knew that his only hope of winning was to out-strike Black, especially after Black survived Bryan’s signature Cattle Mutilation. Black did a great job of going move-for-move with Bryan and got a Brock-Lesnar like reaction when he smashed Bryan into the corner and broke the ring. Obviously that wasn’t intentional but it helped the match tremendously. It made Black’s Bucklebomb look even more impactful and made Bryan look like he was moments away from defeat. It gave the match an even greater sense of desperation. Bryan had to forego anything technical or complicated and had to swing for the fences. He turned the match into a brutal strike exchange and swung like Terry Funk, desperate to get out of a hopeless situation.

That led to a great finish. Bryan won by simply hitting Black until Black stopped moving. Though Bryan wasn’t able to use all of his submission work to make Black tap out, he managed to make Black unable to defend himself. Bryan won by beating Black into unconsciousness, which was something he hadn’t done that much before. It was refreshing and unexpected as a finish, and it underscored the win-by-any-means-necessary situation that Black but Bryan in. It was a bit sudden, but it made perfect sense given how competitive and evenly matched both wrestlers were from bell to bell.

Final Rating: ****3/4

Though the match narrowly misses the mark of top-tier greatness, it’s still fantastic. I think it could’ve been improved with a bit better selling and tension, especially since Black endured so many painful submission holds but, only for that limbwork to barely play a part in the match’s closing moments. But in this particular case, such issues are minor complaints and don’t really harm the match in a major way.

I’m not sure if Bryan and Black/Rollins could’ve had a match like this in WWE. Bryan left this match looking like a killer that would do whatever it takes to win, no matter how stiff or brutal his moves have to be. With WWE putting many restraints on its wrestlers (at least up until Vince departed), I doubt that these two wrestlers would be able to have this sort of match when both of them were main-eventers in WWE.

But weirder things have happened in wrestling, especially in 2022. The entire landscape seems to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty right now. I genuinely think that anything is possible at this point, so who’s to say that Black and Bryan won’t face off one more time before either one retires. And if they do, I hope they can live up to the lofty expectations they set in this match.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.