This review came as a request from one of our many loyal readers here at TJRWrestling. It was recommended to me because this particular reader considers it to be one of the best matches ever.
But while it might’ve had a great reaction at the time, it remains to be seen if it still holds up well over a decade later.
So with that, let’s revisit this big indy classic that reminded the whole world why Daniel Bryan was and is such a big name in pro wrestling.
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 during that two-month window between Bryan’s second and third stints in WWE. After he was fired from WWE for choking Justin Roberts with his own tie, Bryan took indepndent booking right away. Given his reputation, he was getting offers left and right, including from Dragon Gate USA. DGUSA was the American offshoot of the original Japanese Dragon Gate promotion, which was itself the successor to Ultimo Dragón’s Toryumon promotion. It stood to the reason that the company called Dragon Gate would do whatever it took to have The American Dragon appear for them. And appear he did, at a show aptly titled ‘Enter the Dragon’.
But it wasn’t going to be an easy night for Bryan. His opponent was Shingo Takagi, Dragon Gate’s first graduate and successful homegrown star. Takagi wasn’t a high-flyer or a cruiserweight but he did move with that sort of speed. He specialized in hitting hard in short bursts and threw a nasty lariat like he was a heavyweight. But he more than had it hands full given that Bryan was more experienced and was a master in ripping his opponents apart with submission holds.
With all of that, it was anyone’s guess who’d win this match. Would it be Shingo with his speed and power, or Bryan with his technique and experience?
This match originally took place on July 24th, 2010. It was never given a formal rating by Dave Meltzer, but many fans – including the one that sent it to me – have praised it as one of the best matches in both wrestlers’ careers. And considering the breadth of matches that encompasses, that’s incredibly high praise. Let’s see if it’s well-earned.
The crowd chants “you’re gonna get your f**king head kicked in” as the bell rings. Bryan offers a handshake but Shingo smacks it aside. They get into a shoving match and then lock-up and Bryan overpowers Shingo. Shingo tries countering with a chop but Bryan dodges and lands a European uppercut. A ‘yay/boo’ elbow exchange occurs and guess who the fans are cheering. Shingo hits a few more elbows and charges for an especially powerful one. Bryan ducks and goes for a Misawa rolling elbow. Shingo blocks and tries an Exploder suplex. Bryan escapes and teases a Tiger suplex but Shingo reaches the ropes. Shingo bails to the floor as the fans chant for Bryan.
Shingo returns to the ring sheepishly and then they to the Greco-Roman knuckle lock. Bryan does the Akiyama roll-through counter to reverse the pressure onto Shingo and Shingo tries and fails to reach the ropes with his foot. Bryan switches to an arm wringer and then to a wristlock. Shingo counters into a headlock and when Bryan shoots him off the ropes Shingo shoulder tackles him down. Then Shingo takes Bryan down by his wrist but Bryan does a nice counter into a dropkick. Shingo goes for a single-leg takedown but Bryan counters and wrestles Shingo into one of his trademark torturous submission holds.
That hold turns into a pin for a one-count and Bryan applies another punishing arm hold. Bryan tries to lock-up again but Shingo hits chops (with his bad hand) and Bryan hits back with uppercuts and then kicks to the bad arm. Bryan follows with an over-the-shoulder armbreaker and covers for a one-count. Then Bryan switches things up and starts targeting Shingo’s legs with a Romero stretch into a chinlock and then into a dragon sleeper. Shingo escapes so Bryan goes back to the arm with more shoulder armbreakers, but this time to Shingo’s left arm/ then Bryan lands his Danielson special butterfly suplex into a cross armbreaker. Shingo quickly rolls to the ropes for a break. Shingo blocks a vertical suplex and keels over by the ropes, his arms still causing him immense pain. Bryan kicks Shingo’s left arm and goes for an Irish whip. Shingo reverses it and goes for a back body drop. Bryan counters with a sunset flip. Shingo breaks Bryan’s grasp and goes for his own counter but Shingo counters the counter with a small package and – wait, no, Shingo powers Bryan up with a deadlift vertical suplex. Bryan bails to ringside but Shingo chases him and whips him into the steel barricade. A second meeting with the barricade causes lots of damage to Bryan’s right arm, so now both guys are working with weakened arms. Despite that, an uppercut/chop exchange ensues with both guys striking with weakened limbs. Then Shingo trapes Bryan in a head vice next to the ringpost and then stands on his chest once back in the ring. The fans chant for Bryan as Shingo stomps on Bryan’s chest and then foot chokes him. He follows with a snapmare/fist drop/chinlock combo and then lands a kneedrop with a mocking cover for a one-count. Both guys’ arms appear to have recovered as they hit each other hard until Shingo drops Bryan into a corner with Mongolian chops. Shingo chokes Bryan in a corner and then plays to the crowd knowing Bryan’s helpless. He follows with a kneelift against the ropes, a fireman’s carry gutbuster, a DDT, and a standing senton all of which gets a two-count. Then Shingo applies a bodyscissor and tries rolling over into a pin but Bryan counters with a modified Romero stretch out of nowhere.
Shingo hits an ax handle to maintain control and then dares Bryan to hit him. Bryan obliges and hits two nasty uppercuts but Shingo fights through the pain. Shingo hits back with another ax handle and then goes for a Backdrop suplex. Bryan resists so Shingo tries a German suplex instead. He gets Bryan up…but Bryan lands on his feet and hits a running knee strike to the head.
Bryan hits some corner strikes followed by a running corner forearm. Shingo reverses a corner whip but Bryan flips over him to avoid a charge. Then Bryan ducks a clothesline and hits one of his own. Bryan follows with a basement dropkick that sends Shingo over the barricade and into some fans’ laps. Then Bryan springboards and dives over the barricade onto Shingo and into the fans.
Bryan tosses Shingo back into the ring and hits a diving shotgun dropkick and then kips up. He follows with a running roundhouse kick and covers but only gets a one-count. Bryan goes for Cattle Mutilation but Shingo resists with all his might. Bryan sees this isn’t getting him anywhere, so he switches to a German attempt. But Shingo blocks that too, and wen Bryan resists a German from Shingo, Shingo lariats the back of Bryan’s head and hits a Backdrop suplex.
Shingo tries another Backdrop but Bryan gets to the ropes first so Shingo chops his neck. Shingo goes for an Irish whip, Bryan reverses, and then Shingo reverses again and hits a second Backdrop. Awesome sequence. The referee counts one…two…thr – no, Bryan kicks out. Shingo charges towards a corner but Bryan boots him first and hits so hard Shingo’s spit goes flying. Bryan charges…and runs into a swinging powerslam for a two-count. Shingo switches to a head vice and then a full Anaconda Vice. Bryan struggles but gets a ropebreak with his foot.
Shingo tries various neck-targeting holds but he’s too close to the ropes each time so the referee makes him let go. He chops Bryan’s neck and then winds up for a big running corner strike. But Bryan sidesteps first. Then Bryan charges…but Shingo catches him and lands an Exploder suplex. Shingo goes for a lariat. Bryan ducks and goes for an O’Connor roll. Shingo escapes and counters an elbow with a reverse STO facebuster. Then Shingo puts Bryan in the Torture Rack. He tosses Bryan off…but Bryan lands on his feet and spinkicks Shingo’s head. Both wrestlers collapse.
Bryan gets up first and hits a mix of chest kicks and elbows to Shingo’s head. He charges to the ropes and runs into a pop-up Death Valley Driver. Shingo follows with a corner lariat and goes for a superplex. But Bryan escapes and hits a basement dropkick while Shingo’s tied in the tree of woe. Bryan follows with a top-rope Backdrop suplex and crawls over for the pin. One, two, Shingo kicks out. Bryan traps Shingo’s arms and stomps on his face and collar and then rolls into a triangle choke. Shingo starts fading. His arm sinks down once…twice…thr – no, Shingo’s still in this. Shingo deadlifts Bryan up and goes for another DVD. Bryan counters with a crucifix pin for a two-count. Then Bryan hits stiff elbows to Shingo’s collar and tries another crucifix pin. He only gets a one-count as Shingo rolls over but Bryan continues hammering him with elbows. Shingo tanks them like a boss and lifts Bryan onto his shoulders. Then Shingo traps Bryan’s arm and hits a diving Death Valley Driver. Shingo covers…and gets a 2.8-count.
Both guys get up slowly and start head-butting each other from their hands and knees. Then they switch to stiff open-handed slaps and then Shingo teases his Made in Japan finisher. Bryan resists so Shingo lands a kneelift instead. Shingo charges for his Pumping bomber lariat. Bryan blocks it. Shingo twists around and hits a discus lariat. Bryan absorbs it like a champ. Shingo hits a quick elbow and charges. Bryan goes for another elbow smash. Shingo counters with his MiJ finisher. one, two, and – no, Bryan kicks out. Pumping Bomber connects! One…two…and thr – NO, Bryan survives again. The fans are giving these guys a standing ovation.
Shingo teases the end as he hits a lightning-fast one-two elbow combo. He goes for another MiJ but Bryan escapes and lands a small package cover for a two-count. Then Bryan pulls Shingo down and locks in his Cattle Mutilation submission hold. Shingo rolls over onto his stomach so Bryan lands a bridging Tiger suplex. One, two, Shingo survives. Bryan hits more collar elbows and tries rolling back into Cattle Mutilation. Shingo resists and floats over into a pinning position for a two-count. Bryan kicks Shingo’s arm and lands a bridging Regal-plex for a two-count. That’s followed by another triangle choke. Shingo deadlifts Bryan again but this time Bryan elbows the top of Shingo’s head. Shingo sinks down and Bryan switches to a crossface. Shingo taps out! Bryan beats Shingo!
Winner after 29:15: Bryan Danielson
I’m so glad that I have readers giving me match recommendations. This was tremendous. It’s very much a hidden gem that’s up there as one of both Bryan’s and Shingo’s best matches. It had all the hallmarks of a top-tier Bryan Danielson match: technical wrestling, psychology, great counters, hard-hitting strikes and solid tension that lasted from bell to bell. The fact that Bryan could just come into DGUSA for a one-off match like this and pull off such a great match against someone he had never wrestled before spoke volumes of his talent. This match would’ve been up there as one of the best matches of the decade…had Shingo bothered to sell properly.
One thing I don’t like about these matches is the lapse in logic so many wrestlers have when it comes to hitting with their right arms. In most of these indy matches – and in most Bryan Danielson matches, for that matter – the right arm is the one that gets targeted the most. It makes sense, after all; most wrestlers hit with their right hand and arm. But why oh why do those same wrestlers respond to getting their right arms worked over by hitting back with that same limb? You have a perfectly healthy left arm, what’s wrong with using that to strike? You can call it fighting spirit or other token ‘toughness’ arguments, but I’m not buying it. The best matches have airtight psychology; if you’re going to strike with that same arm, at least delay doing so until the audience believes that your opponent has actually damaged it. If you’re locked in such a brutal hold, don’t undersell it right away. Shingo did sell sort of well; he had to hold back between his chops with the bad hand. But common sense should reign supreme here; Shingo would’ve done a better job of selling Bryan’s submission holds and would’ve told a better story by switching to his healthier arm. Shingo also would’ve avoided doing more damage to himself; by attacking with a weakened limb he basically did the pro wrestling equivalent of pouring salt on an open wound.
Things got a bit “cleaner” once Bryan attacked both of Shingo’s arms, but during that early window when he had one weak arm and one healthy arm it would’ve made for more airtight (and therefore better) storytelling for him to switch to his good arm immediately instead of weakening himself.
I’ve seen this before in somanybigBryanmatches: he works over the arm and his opponent sells that arm for a few minutes and then it’s ignored altogether towards the end. It ends up playing little to no role in the finish, which turns that armwork into wasted time. Bryan has such a winning formula yet for whatever reason so many of his opponents stop selling early and ‘make their comeback’ at the expense of his submission work. When that sort of pattern emerges, it makes one wonder if Bryan is really that good of a submission expert in the first place. How can Bryan call himself such a dangerous submission expert if so many people come back from Bryan’s targeted and visceral limbwork so soon after it’s done? Sure he taps them out at the end, but if everyone fights back from his earlier holds without looking worse for wear then those submissions don’t matter; only the finishing ones do. It isn’t smart to waste fans’ times by fooling them into investing time and attention into stuff that doesn’t lead to anything; all that does is bloat a match length and make it look like the wrestlers lost their own plot with something so ambitious.
But aside from that one big issue, this match was still excellent. Shingo brought his A-game here and tried hitting hard in what few windows of control he got. Whereas Bryan targeted different limbs, Shingo attacked Bryan’s neck and torso. Both guys stayed true to their strategies and built on them rather well as the match progressed. By the end it really became anyone’s guess who’d win. And after Bryan’s big dive the match reached a higher level. Despite all the damage and wear-and-tear, Bryan and Shingo just went to war on each other. They threw bombs, hit hard, and kept coming up with clever counters for each other. Stuff that worked once earlier in the match was blocked or countered when tried a second time. They both wrestled smartly when they could, which must’ve been hard given how much damage they both endured. The final five minutes were especially fun with so much tense action and believable near-falls and submission holds.
In a way, this match was like a modern (2012-onwards) New Japan main-event involving someone like Tanahashi, Okada, or Naito. This match had that slower and careful start mixed with a nail-biting crescendo of a finish. And this was before New Japan rebounded completely from their 2000s doldrums. But a key difference here is that this match more or less keeps the same pace from start to finish while a modern New Japan main event gets quicker towards the end. This match does come across as a bit slower by comparison, but the action and story is laid out in a more balanced way without to many needless high peaks and low valleys.
Final Rating: ****3/4
With a little more focused psychology and better selling, this match would be among the top three matches of Bryan’s and Shingo’s careers. It was really fun thanks to great action and a hot crowd. Bryan wrestled like a mix between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit only smaller and Shingo was basically a smaller and quicker version of Kenta Kobashi, albeit a bit worse at selling long-term.
This is one of those matches that makes you feel like you got your money’s worth. This was the only time Bryan and Shingo ever fought one-on-one but they wrestled as if they’d fought countless times before. If that doesn’t tell you how talented and worth watching both of them were here (and still are now), I don’t know what does.