Once upon a time, Ring of Honor (ROH) was seen as the best alternative to WWE in North America. That company rose from the ashes following the end of the Monday Night Wars and sought to fill the void left by the closures of WCW and ECW. They succeeded, more or less, for several years, and for the first eight years of their existence they trudged along and enjoyed solid fan support.
Sadly, the 2010s decade wasn’t kind to them. Despite boasting a strong roster with talented wrestlers, interest in ROH waned significantly over the 2010s. It has reached the point that, as of this writing in late November 2021, ROH is technically inactive, with its wrestling future still up in the air.
But let’s not focus on the depressing present and the uncertain future. Instead, let’s look back at a time when ROH was in its prime, showcasing one amazing match after another. And today, we revisit another tremendous match featuring one of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of ROH, Bryan Danielson.
It’s his seventh singles match against Nigel McGuinness from ROH Driven 2007.
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.
This match took place six months after Bryan lost the ROH World Championship. He had held that title for fifteen months and managed 38 successful title defenses during that period. After losing the title, he took some time off to heal his many injuries, including a notable shoulder injury that was causing him problems.
Fast forward to this match and Bryan is in somewhat familiar territory. Staring him down from across the ring is Nigel McGuinness, a familiar foe of his. Back in August of 2006, the two of them had an outstanding title vs. title match that Bryan won. After that match, Bryan retired the ROH Pure title that McGuinness previously carried and had made into something important.
Here both men were looking to reclaim title glory. Bryan was the former champion that lost his title because he was no longer able to wrestle with serious nagging injuries. And now that his body had healed, he looked to reclaim what he had lost. Meanwhile, McGuinness was the best ROH Pure Champion and wanted to parlay that success into a reign as World champion. But to do that, he had to overcome the man that knocked him out in front of his hometown fans.
So who was going to win? The former world champion whose short stature belied his dangerous strikes and his amazing grappling game? Or would it be the taller, stronger Brit with his explosive offense and many tricks up his sleeve? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on June 23rd, 2007 but aired on September 21st, 2007 as part of an ROH show called Driven. It was originally rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Looking back, let’s see how well this match holds up.
This is a #1 Contender’s match for the ROH World Championship. They shake hands and the match begins. The fans chant loudly for both wrestlers as McGuinness gets an early clean break on the ropes. That’s followed by some basic grappling that leads to a clean break for Bryan. McGuinness applies a front facelock as those same fans start chanting “YOU’RE GONNA GET YOUR F**KING HEAD KICKED IN!” Bryan grapples out of the headlock and into an armlock of his own to take control. He tries to bend McGuinness’s arm in an unnatural way but McGuinness counters with a headscissor. But Bryan out-grapples him (is anyone really surprised?) and traps both of McGuinness’s legs. Bryan contorts one leg and then switches into a bow-and-arrow hold. McGuinness rolls over for a pin that gets a one-count. Stalemate. The crowd applauds loudly.
They lock-up again and McGuinness lands a shoulder tackle. This happens a second time but Bryan follows with a double-leg and starts hitting elbows only for McGuinness to block them. McGuinness tries to take control but Bryan grinds his knuckles into the side of McGuinness’s head. McGuinness avoids another critical elbow strike and both guys continue defensive mat wrestling. McGuinness eventually powers out and goes for a kimura lock but Bryan gets a ropebreak. He offers McGuinness a handshake and McGuinness accepts, only for Bryan to bitchslap him hard. Bryan channels his inner Kawada with a snapmare/spine punt combination and drops a knee on McGuinness’s head. He follows with trademark chest kicks. McGuinness powers up and lands his own hard slap to Bryan. They go nose-to-nose, neither man backing down. Bryan gets McGuinness in a corner and unloads with more slaps. Irish whip into a corner. McGuinness headstands and mule kicks Bryan back. McGuinness follows with a falling armbreaker and wraps Bryan’s left arm in his foot. And despite Bryan’s best efforts, McGuinness then traps the other arm and contorts Bryan’s arms and shoulders with a vicious double-arm submission hold. Great work by McGuinness targeting Bryan’s previously-injured shoulder.
Bryan escapes and rolls into a type of STF/chinlock. He maintains control with a stranglehold and a back heel trip and brings McGuinness down to the mat. The fans cheer for McGuinness as he gets to his feet. Eventually, McGuinness counters the stranglehold onto Bryan and then drills him with a short-range lariat.
Bryan escapes to ringside but McGuinness chases him and lands some European uppercuts. Bryan ends up in a chair in a corner, which allows McGuinness to land a big running uppercut. Suddenly, Bryan escapes McGuinness’s control and lands an uppercut of his own. Bryan goes nuts throwing McGuinness into anything around him and tossing one weapon after another – including the whole timekeeper’s table – onto his opponent. The fans seem to be behind Bryan as he tries to throw McGuinness back into the ring. But McGuinness uses that momentum to spin back and hits a huge lariat. Bryan goes flying over the barricade and into the fans. McGuinness isn’t done. He goes to the top rope…and lands a diving splash to the floor! Wow! McGuinness clears the ringside area and the barricade and lands on top of Bryan!
McGuinness places Bryan in the ringside corner and goes for another running attack but Bryan hits first with an elbow smash. Bryan tells some fans to move, and for good reason. He suplexes McGuinness and McGuinness’s spine lands on top of the thin steel guardrail. Damn that’s gotta hurt. But Bryan isn’t done. He suplexes McGuinness over the barricade onto the floor. Bryan tosses McGuinness into the ring and pins but only gets two. Bryan wisely starts driving knees and elbows into McGuinness’s back and locks in a crossface. He stops mid-hold and goes back to attacking McGuinness’s back, and then starts grinding his elbow into McGuinness’s back, neck, and head. Bryan’s in full heel mode as he tries to stand on McGuinness’s head but McGuinness starts firing up. He forearms McGuinness across his face three times and lands some corner uppercuts. McGuinness tries a desperation elbow but Bryan shuts him down with another uppercut and cranks his neck. Bryan stiffs the hell out of McGuinness with stomps, slaps and elbows, when suddenly McGuinness starts asking for more. McGuinness opens himself up and tanks each stiff strike from Bryan. He goes for an uppercut of his own. Bryan blocks and spins him around. McGuinness uses that momentum to land a massive discus lariat. Both men collapse.
McGuinness gets up and hits first with uppercuts and cross chops. He lands a running corner uppercut and whips Bryan into the opposite corner. But Bryan tiger flips out and goes for a clothesline. McGuinness ducks and lands a superkick/lariat combo. One, two, kickout. Bryan counters a corner whip and charges but McGuinness dodges and lands a back kick/chest elbow drop combo. McGuinness tries to put Bryan in the superplex position but can’t because of the damage to his lower back from earlier. Bryan takes advantage by driving McGuinness back-first into the opposite corner. Bryan charges but eats a boot. Then he follows up with a back kick and a kick to the side of McGuinness’s head. He pins but only gets two. Bryan drags McGuinness to the middle of the ring and goes to the top rope. McGuinness cuts him off and goes for the Tower of London corner RKO. Bryan blocks it by elbowing McGuinness’s neck. Bryan lands a top-rope diving sunset flip. McGuinness rolls through and tries to lock in a heel hook. Bryan counters and goes for a leapfrog. McGuinness catches him and lands a powerbomb. One, two, no, Bryan kicks out. Single leg crab by McGuinness. Bryan crawls towards the ropes. McGuinness pulls him back and cinches the hold in deeper while pushing his knee into Bryan’s back. Bryan crawls with all his strength and reaches the ropes.
McGuinness goes for a corner charge but Bryan sidesteps and McGuinness does the headstand like before. But this time Bryan dropkicks him right in his face and punts him in the neck. Super back suplex. Bryan pins. McGuinness kicks out at two. Bryan locks in the crossface chickenwing with bodyscissors. The fans chant ‘please don’t tap’ as McGuinness makes it to his feet. He backs Bryan into the corner and tries to lift him backwards onto the top rope, but his back’s still giving him problems. Wait, no, he powers through the pain. McGuinness gets Bryan on the top rope. Tower of London connects! But McGuinness can’t cover right away. He’s completely spent. Both men collapse.
McGuinness gets up first and lands stiff elbows. He crotches Bryan on the top rope and lands a jumping lariat. McGuinness goes for a pin. One, two, thr – no, Bryan gets his foot on the ropes. McGuinness tries to pull Bryan from the ropes but Bryan hits back with an enzuigiri. Both men go down again as the crowd cheers them both on. They go nose-to-nose and trade slaps. Bryan gets the upper hand and lands a running head-butt. Back-and-forth they go trading running head-butts. McGuinness ducks a clothesline and drills Bryan with a massive lariat. Bryan goes down having been busted open the hard way. but he fights through it and gets back up. McGuinness goes for another running lariat. Bryan hits first with a Misawa rolling elbow. McGuinness tries to counter with his trademark rebound lariat. Bryan hits an elbow first once more. Bridging Tiger suplex. McGuinness kicks out. Bryan rolls into Cattle Muti – no, McGuinness rolls over into a cover. One, two, Bryan rolls to the side. McGuinness does whatever he can to avoid Bryan’s submission hold. But Bryan traps McGuinness in a sitting position and unleashes an elbow flurry to his neck and collar. Cattle Mutilation locked in. McGuinness taps almost instantly! Bryan wins!
Winner at 24:31: Bryan Danielson
This was another fantastic match from ROH’s glory years. It was another interesting contest thanks to Bryan being so great at taking a classic wrestling trope and turning it on its head. Instead of the tired old cliché of the heroic small guy overcoming the evil giant, Bryan and McGuinness switched roles here and told an interesting story of the smaller but more adept Bryan harassing and brutalizing the bigger McGuinness. And because both wrestlers were so talented, they actually pulled that narrative off without a hitch. For all the people that think that Bryan can’t be believable as a villain because he’s so small and ‘can’t bully anyone’, this match will convince you otherwise.
This match was more straightforward than their famous Unified 2006 encounter but that doesn’t mean it was any less impressive. It was a largely technical affair at first with both wrestlers jockeying for control and trying to find openings early. McGuinness tried his best to hang with Bryan but he was simply outmatched. Bryan managed to score the early advantage with some critical strikes and began working over McGuinness’s back. Bryan was the perfect example of a smart wrestler here as he targeted McGuinness’s back for a very long time and kept going back to it.
That became a recurring theme throughout the match as it gave Bryan something to target and McGuinness something to overcome. Bryan’s consistent attacks to McGuinness’s back helped make McGuinness into more of an underdog, which would’ve otherwise been a hard sell since Bryan was smaller and usually the smaller guys are the heroic underdogs fighting from beneath. It also made the closing submissions and pin attempts more believable and McGuinness actually struggled to land some critical moves due to that damage. It was refreshing to see something big that happened ten minutes into a match come back later on and still play an integral part in the match’s overall story, instead of it being largely forgotten by the end, which is something that has become far too common in more recent big matches.
Ultimately, that led to an absolutely wild and exciting closing stretch. McGuinness was absolutely desperate to find something, anything, that could lead him to victory. He spammed lariats as often as possible and locked in desperation submission holds, knowing full well that Bryan was way better at countering and escaping those. By the end, both guys started throwing hands wildly to the point that Bryan got busted open the hard way. But that didn’t stop him and McGuinness from mauling each other until the very end. Both wrestlers showed so much heart and grit that the crowd stopped chanting random things and simply cheered and screamed loudly for the action taking place before them. the match got more and more exciting until Bryan took control and made McGuinness tap out. It was a bit sudden and lacked the raw tension that was typical of Bryan’s submission victories, but it was fun nonetheless.
The only thing really wrong here was that there was a bit of inconsistent selling that was far more noticeable here than in their previous matches. Both Bryan and McGuinness targeted each other’s arms with painful submission holds early on, yet none of that mattered by the end. It was more disappointing for McGuinness to showcase such spotty selling since it had more of an impact for him than it did for Bryan. McGuinness’s finisher was a lariat and he loved to spam European uppercuts. Yet despite all of Bryan’s work at the beginning and later on, McGuinness didn’t really show that he was worse for wear when it came to his arms. He focused on his damaged back almost exclusively, but neglected to sell the arms. Had he been a bit more airtight in doing that, his babyface comeback would’ve been more believable as his struggle to overcome earlier damage would’ve been more convincing.
Final Rating: ****3/4
This was an amazing match from start to finish, and it would’ve been truly perfect had it featured a bit more airtight and consistent selling from both wrestlers. But beyond that, everything else about this match was tremendous: the atmosphere, the grappling, the back-and-forth exchanges and shifts in control, I could go on. With Ring of Honor losing its share of the wrestling market in recent years, I think it’s important to remember the good stuff they put on over the past two decades. This is definitely one of those matches that the wrestlers involved and the company that showcased it ought to be proud of.
As time goes on, the similarities between Bryan Danielson and Shawn Michaels seem to become more and more apparent. Both were amazing in-ring performers that were forced into retirement due to debilitating injuries. Yet both came back to pro-wrestling and ended up having amazing second halves to their respective careers. So far, Bryan has amazed everyone with his great post-retirement run. And yet, looking back at these early classics, I’m starting to doubt that this current run of his will match his first one, much less surpass it.