5-Star Match Reviews: MJF vs. Bryan Danielson – AEW Revolution 2023

aew revolution 2023 mjf bryan danielson

This was another recommendation that came to me from one of our many readers here at TJR Wrestling.

When this match was first announced, I had high expectations of one of the men involved. As great as Bryan was in WWE, I, along with many other fans, felt that while there he was performing with a ball and chain. He was restricted in what he could do, both before his two-year retirement and after.

So when Bryan debuted in AEW in 2021, there was this big moment of joy and a sigh of relief from many fans. Finally, Bryan would be able to wrestle in a way that allows him to be at his best.

But standing across from him was someone who was largely unproven. MJF was known as an outstanding talker, storyteller, and heat magnet. But when it came time for him to back up his words, he had as many doubters as he had fans.

But if there was anyone that could pull out a career best out of anyone, it was MJF. And since this match took place, the overwhelming majority of fans have lauded it as one of the best matches of the year.

That’s certainly a lot of praise, so let’s see how well this match holds up now that the initial emotional hoopla has passed.

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

Earlier this year, Bryan demanded a title shot for MJF’s World title. MJF reasoned, correctly, that having the title meant he was the best. But Bryan still had a reputation as the best wrestler in the world, regardless of whether or not he had a title. So this became a matter of subjective opinion (Bryan) vs. objective proof (MJF’s belt). Something needed to give, which is why Bryan made a bold challenge.

Instead of starting the feud off with a one-on-one match, Bryan wanted to face MJF in a 60-minute Ironman match. This was Bryan’s specialty: his entire career was filled with long matches that went more than thirty, forty, fifty, or even sixty minutes. He was a master at conditioning, timing, pacing, and coming back from the brink of loss.

But MJF wasn’t going to just accept such a big challenge on the spot. In his mind, Bryan had to earn a title shot. And so, MJF put Bryan through the gauntlet to earn his shot. Bryan had to win every match MJF put him through if he wanted his shot and he’d lose said shot if he lost any match, no matter how that lost came about.

And so, Bryan wrestled in five of the most high-stakes matches of his career. over the course of five weeks, Bryan beat Konosuke Takeshita, Bandido, Brian Cage, Timothy Thatcher, and finally Rush. And even after MJF tried to interfere or cause some shenanigans, he couldn’t stop Bryan’s push forward.

Thus, the stage was set for a monumental encounter. MJF had to beat Bryan Danielson at his own game and had to do so from a position of inexperience. MJF had never been in a match that long so he had no idea how to pace himself and how to manage his energy properly. So even though Bryan was smaller, older, and in worse overall physical condition, he had a massive experience advantage. But would that be enough to beat MJF? Or would the champion surprise everyone with what he could do?

The match

This match originally took place on March 5, 2023. It was rated *****3/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, which makes this the highest-rated Ironman match of all time. Let’s see if that praise holds up.

Bryan spends the first minute slapping MJF’s hands away and otherwise toying with him to get under his skin. When they finally lock up, MJF overpowers Bryan with an arm drag and gets a big pop and then mocks Bryan’s taunt. A technical exchange ensues and Bryan goes after MJF’s leg with an Indian deathlock, a bow-and-and-arrow hold, and a double-shoulder/leglock pin combo that gets a one-count. MJF frees himself and tries rushing Bryan but Bryan keeps rolling into submission hold attempts. Bryan does some jumping jacks nonchalantly as MJF gets increasingly frustrated. MJF hits back with a big gut kick, mocks Bryan’s jumping backs, and then knocks him down with a big shoulderblock. A crisscross ensues and Bryan lands a hiptoss and a shoulderblock of his own. This happens again but then MJF lands a big scoop slam. The long chain sequence continues until both men kip up simultaneously, leading to a standing ovation from the crowd.

MJF offers a handshake but Bryan kicks it away. Angered, MJF bails to ringside and throw’s a woman’s drink in her son’s face. There was no counting on the ref’s part through any of this, but then again AEW’s referees are generally impotent so it’s not like MJF has any reason to worry. MJF bails out to the floor again, looks at the camera and asks Dave (Meltzer), “Oh no, is this going to cost me a star, Dave? Maybe I won’t win the Bryan Danielson Award”. LOL! Tired of waiting, Bryan rushes MJF but MJF gets into the ring first and gets more heat by wasting time and doing Jeff Jarrett’s signature taunt.

The two trade holds again until Bryan gets a two-count off a roll-up. Bryan jumps onto MJF’s back for a full nelson, and then when MJF tries the same roll-up as Bryan did earlier, Bryan counters with a Romero-style face stretch and a double leg stomp. MJF tries using the ref as a shield in the corner but Bryan doesn’t fall for it and chops MJF, Bryan hits a few more corner strikes until the ref makes him back off, at which point MJF pulls Bryan forward and sends him into a turnbuckle face-first. MJF follows with a pair of big back body drops but Bryan counters a third one with an inside cradle for a two-count. Then Bryan retaliates with two back body drops of his own and a pair of uppercuts. MJF escapes Bryan’s control and hotshots his arm on the top rope.

MJF smashes Bryan’s now-weakened shoulder into a ringpost and then goes for a drink of water. he lands an arm wringer flip into another corner and gets a two-count of his own. He starts working over that arm until Bryan fights out, but then MJF pulls Bryan down by his hair. That’s how to be a proper heel right there: use an unfair advantage in a way that makes sense. MJF dumps Bryan ringside and then smashes him shoulder-first into the barricade. He teases another big spot and makes some fans clear the way, but then he changes course at the last second and throws Bryan back into the ring instead, angering those same fans. Bryan capitalizes on MJF’s gloating with a sliding dropkick and a suicide dive. Except the former is successful but MJF dodges the latter, which causes more damage to Bryan’s shoulder.

Back in the ring, MJF lands a spiking hammerlock DDT for a two-count and then goes back to the bad shoulder. Bryan tries fighting out but MJF maintains control with a slight variation to his armlock. Bryan tries to escape again but MJF counters with an overhead arm throw for yet another two-count. MJF follows with an arm-trapping back suplex for yet another two-count and chokes Bryan out of frustration. MJF lands some corner punches and goes for some other arm-targeting move but Bryan fights back with head-butts. Then Bryan counters with a diving sunset flip powerbomb but can’t capitalize right away because of the damage. MJF charges into a corner but Bryan counters with a drop toehold into that same corner. Bryan begins his comeback with some standing and running corner strikes. E lands three corner dropkicks and then lands corner punches of his own. Bryan follows with a supert hurricanrana but only gets a two-count. he charges into another corner but this time MJF blocks it. then MJF lands a diving double stomp onto Bryan’s bad arm. the two end up in another crisscross until MJF lands a powerbomb onto his knee for another two-count.

Bryan goes for a crossface but MJF counters with a catapult into the ropes. Bryan tries to do the Rick Steamboat skin the cat but because one arm is weak it takes him longer to setup. He gets it eventually…but MJF superkicks his face in as he’s upside down. MJF does an HBK pose as the referee begins his count. impatient, MJF goes for a quebrada, Bryan dodges it, MJF lands on his feet sand hurts his knee. That allows Bryan to land a suicide dive of his own at the twenty-minute mark.

Back in the ring, Bryan goes for a diving ax handle but MNJF counters into his Salt of the Earth Fujiwara armbar. Bryan wrestles out but MJF counters the counter with a pumphandle driver for a two-count. Bryan escapes a follow-up back suplex and hits a big running clothesline. Bryan gets two more two-counts with an inside cradle and a headlock takeover. More classical rolling into covers for some one-and-two-counts. A backslide and several inside cradles by both men lead to more quick counts. The two men start rolling around while locked in inside cradles until Bryan gets another two-count. then they do the same with sunset flips and jackknife. If this were a consecutive-count match the ref would be up to over thirty by now. MJF gets his own backslide for a two-count, Bryan counters a Tombstone attempt with another victory roll. More pin counters and close two-counts. Bryan goes for a running knee but MJF counters with a lariat. Bryan bounces right back up and lands one of his own. Both wrestlers collapse as many fans jump to their feet. After a long count, Bryan kips up at nine and hits a Busaiku Knee strike. One, two…and THREE this time! Bryan gets the first fall after 25:24!

MJF = 0; Bryan = 1

Bryan teases another knee strike and charges as MJF turns around. Suddenly MJF collapses. Bryan goes to pick him up…and MJF lands a low blow. The ref signals that Bryan gets a fall for that illegal move.

MJF = 0; Bryan = 2

MJF gets an inside cradle and manages an easy three-count.

MJF = 1; Bryan = 2

MJF covers again and gets a second three-count off the same move.

MJF = 2; Bryan = 2

MJF covers again. Bryan kicks out this time. MJF goes for another water break and then attempts a Heatseeker. Bryan blocks it and MJF lands on his bad knee. A diving shotgun dropkick sends MJF back to the floor. Bryan hits some strikes around the ringside area and then goes back to the ring to break up the referee’s count. But upon charging for a big move, MJF hits first with a lariat. MJF tries a charge attack but now he runs into a lariat. Bryan peppers him with kicks, charges, and hits a big running kick as the thirty-minute mark passes.

Bryan smashes MJF’s weakened knee into a ringpost and then starts working it over in the ring. Bryan brushes off an attempt at an eye poke and then locks in a Figure-4 leglock. MJF has to sit up to avoid being pinned but that only puts more pressure on his legs. MJF screams “I hate you” as he slaps Bryan’s face. But Bryan just smirks, tightens the hold, and then slaps back. MJF is forced to try and roll over to reverse the hold but Bryan keeps countering that. eventually MJF gets a ropebreak but Bryan still holds on for a bit longer because, as we all know by now, he has ‘till five, referee.

Bryan teases a Minoru Suzuki-style Gotch Piledriver on the apron. MJF escapes and teases a Tombstone. Bryan escapes by attacking MJF’s bad knee. MJF retaliates with a palm strikes to the bad shoulder. Back-and-forth they go until Bryan drops MJF with kicks to the bad leg. Bryan puts MJF on the top rope, hits some collar elbows, and teases a super back suplex to the floor. MJF blocks it and Bryan falls to the floor and gets some brief recovery time. He tosses Bryan shoulder-first into a ringpost and then places him on a ringside table. MJF climbs a turnbuckle…and hits a Randy Savage elbow drop through that table below.

MJF gets up first and demands the ref starts counting. Bryan has not moved as the referee does as he’s told. Bryan starts stirring as the ref reaches eight. He makes it into the ring at nine but MJF uses that time to setup another table. Then he hits a running Tombstone through that table. Bryan gets spiked but MJF does some serious damage to his own knee. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

MJF limps over and digs his fingers into the freshly-opened cut on Bryan’s forehead as the forty-minute mark passes. He pulls Bryan into the ring and hits his Heatseeker rope-assisted piledriver and gets a three-count at 40:28.

MJF = 3; Bryan = 2

MJF’s too tired to try more quick covers like earlier so he goes for another water break. He lands some mounted punches and then stomps on Bryan’s bad shoulder. MJF starts working both Bryan and the fans as he tells Bryan “YOU F***ING SUCK” and then calls out Bryan’s kids as he goes after Bryan’s open wound some more. He kicks at Bryan’s face but then Bryan starts firing up. MJF dares him to punch his jaw and Bryan can only muster a weak forearm before collapsing. MJF blows snot on Bryan and taunts him asking for his best shot. Bryan obliges and hits a STIFF slap but MJF hits back with a nasty head-butt. Bryan rolls to ringside and MJF goes for another shoulder-first smash into a hard surface, but this time Bryan counters. Bryan sends MJF into the ringsteps and follows with a Busaiku knee from the apron. Then Bryan ascends the top turnbuckle…and dives with a top-rope splash onto MJF on the floor below.

Bryan tosses MJF into the ring but MJF hits a forearm to stop another dive. Bryan slides through MJF’s legs which causes MJF to get crotched on the top rope. Bryan hits a spider superplex and a diving head-butt and now MJF’s bleeding as well. Bryan covers but only gets a two-count. Oh damn MJF’s bleeding way worse than Bryan. Bryan hits another Busaiku Knee and then locks in a Regal Stretch. MJF taps out after 49:19.

MJF = 3; Bryan = 3

Bryan goes for another Regal Stretch but this time MJF counters with his Salt of the Earth submission old. Bryan rolls through and tries his crossface finisher. But he can’t lock it in because MJF’s face is too slick with blood. Bryan rolls over and finally manages to lock in the hold. MJF rolls over into a cover for a two-count. Then he locks in the armbar again. Bryan starts crawling away and reaches for the ropes. MJF pulls him back and locks in a cross armbreaker with bodyscissors. He wrenches the hold as much as possible. Bryan reaches out to the ropes with his free arm. MJF hooks that arm with his foot and also traps his far leg to make it even harder for Bryan to reach the ropes. but Bryan still manages to reach the ropes with the only other limb still free, his close leg. outstanding submission sequence right there.

Both men fight to their knees and start trading punches and head-butts. They fight to their feet and then two simultaneous elbow strikes drop them both back to their knees.

Five minutes left.

The moment Justin Roberts announces the time remaining, both men fire up and unload with punches. The two trade chops until MJF thumbs Bryan’s eye. Bryan hits a big kick. MJF hits back with a Misawa rolling elbow. Bryan hits a Misawa running elbow. MJF frees himself from Bryan and wrenches his arm on the top rope. Another Heatseeker connects. one, two, and th – Bryan kicks out. MJF drinks more water and then puts Bryan on the top turnbuckle.

Three minutes left.

MJF goes for a second-rope Tombstone Piledrriver. Bryan escapes and hits collar hammering elbows. MJF retaliates and lands the diving Tombstone! But once again MJF hurts his own knee.

Two minutes left.

After a long time of inaction, MJF crawls over for a cover. One, two, and Bryan kicks out again. Not only that, Bryan fires up and locks in a single leg crab on the bad knee. it was all a ruse. Bryan suckered MJF in and now has a brutal submission hold locked in. the crowd’s going nuts.

One minute left.

The two wrestlers are in the middle of the ring, far from any ropes. MJF reaches out but Bryan pulls him back and tightens his hold.

Thirty seconds left.

MJF bites down on his own fist to stop himself from tapping.

Twenty seconds left.

Bryan tightens the hold even more.

Ten seconds left.

Bryan hooks one of MJF’s arms so he can’t crawl any further. MJF’s hand is shaking nonstop.

But then the bell rings. Time has run out. MJF taps out but it’s already past the sixty minutes so it doesn’t count!

Match result after 60:00 = 3-3 DRAW

The crowd boos vociferously as doctors check in on both wrestlers. The fans chant “bulls**t” as Tony Schiavone starts reacting to messages in his headset. The doctors administer MJF oxygen as Bryan fires up and Schiavone walks to the ring. Then Justin Roberts announces that since Tony Khan refuses to allow a draw, the match is being restarted under sudden death rules!

Sudden death overtime

The bell rings and Bryan is much more fired up than MJF. MJF shoves the ref in anger, but instead of disqualifying him, the ref shoves him back and Bryan rolls MJF up. One, two, MJF kicks out. Bryan tries again but MJF shields the ref and lands a back low blow. The referee never saw it. One, two, Bryan kicks out. MJF grabs the belt and teases using it as a weapon. But the ref admonishes him: “you use it, you lose it. You wanna use it? Be my guest!” Finally, a spark of competence from the AEW officials. MJF hands the title belt to the ref and then puts on his Dynamite Diamond Ring. He goes for a loaded punch…and misses. Bryan hits a poisoned Frankensteiner and a Busaiku Knee. One, two, and – MJF survives!

Bryan kicks at MJF’s bad knee and applies another single leg crab. Meanwhile, the ref pulls off MJF’s ring as MJF hammer fists on the mat (note: hammer fist =/= tapping out). MJF gets close to tapping once again. He gets a ropebreak with his finger, and the moment the ref switches his focus to Bryan to make him let go, MJF taps out again. This guy’s sense of timing is out of this world! Bryan thinks he has won. Bryan argues with the referee. He heard the tap but the ref didn’t hear or see it. Meanwhile, MJF grabs the oxygen tank and hits Bryan in the head with it. The referee never saw or heard that either. MJF locks in the crossface/LeBell Lock on Bryan. Bryan’s hand drops once…twice…thr – no, Bryan fires up. Bryan tries fighting out one more time. The crowd goes nuts…but MJF tightens the hold. Bryan taps out! Bryan taps out! MJF beats Bryan at his own game!

Winner and STILL AEW World Champion after 65:15 with 4 falls to 3: MJF


You can watch the entire match here.


This is the best match in AEW’s short but storied history by a country mile. Good God, this was great. This was the best match of 2023 so far as well, and think about what that encompasses so far. This is better than any match from WrestleMania 39, and better than the Omega/Ospreay match from Wrestle Kingdom 17. This was epic. This lived up to and surpassed the hype. I’ve seen many ironman matches and this one easily shoots up to being somewhere in the top three. I had high expectations of Bryan Danielson because, well, it’s Bryan Danielson wrestling without restrictions. But MJF…look, I didn’t know what to expect from him since all I knew going into this was that he was a great talker. But sweet mother of God did he make a fan out of me with this match. To me, this match was to MJF was Omega’s match with Naito in 2016 was to him: his career best performance. I’ve become quite jaded as a fan in recent months from what was being churned out by the biggest companies and allegedly hailed as some of the best wrestling of all time. Then I saw this match and it gave me hope. It MJF has more matches like this, then he will reach Okada levels of superstardom in pretty short order.

This match was basically a checklist of all the right things to have in a classic, epic match. A clear face vs. heel dynamic? Absolutely. MJF was a classic heel that did everything he could to get the fans to hate him and rally behind Bryan even more. Whether that meant opening up the wound on Bryan’s forehead, cheating behind the referee’s back, mocking fans, or generally trolling them by being intentionally slow when they were demanding more action, MJF did it all. Even when some fans cheered both guys or AEW, there was still this sense that the fans hated MJF for what he was doing, which is exactly what he was meant to do here. Psychology and storytelling? There was plenty of that, too. MJF went after Bryan’s arm over and over and Bryan did the same with MJF’s leg. Those limb targeting strategies were ever-present parts of the match’s story as both wrestlers went back to those damaged limbs over and over throughout the match. Both guys sold all that damage incredibly well, from subtly (as seen with Bryan struggling to skin the cat with one weakened arm), to overtly (MJF screaming and writhing in pain as he clasped his knee and took a long time capitalizing after his two crazy Tombstones). A sense of unpredictability? There was plenty of that too. There was no way of knowing when something would be countered, avoided, or successful. Finishers were kicked out of. Falls came in ways that were both out of nowhere and built up logically. The match had so many twists and turns yet never deviated from its core story of competitive spirit. Logic and common sense? That was present here as well. neither Bryan nor MJF ignored clear targets in each other’s limbs. The match’s pacing became somewhat slower and more intense because both men exhausted themselves after fighting so hard. MJF was able to goad Bryan into making rash decisions by being his general d**kish self and Bryan did the same later on after MJF thought he was in the driver’s seat.

I could go on about what both men did well, but I also want to focus more on where the two surpassed each other. While Bryan was his usual technical genius with all of his holds, counters, reversals, and ring awareness, MJF was the one with better timing. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a wrestler use the referee’s placement in the ring as well as MJF in this match. He tapped the moment the referee had his back turned. He made sure to take advantage of different vantage points to make full use of his cheating. He was so much better at using the ring and various elements around it than Bryan was. He came across as a more complete wrestler by excelling in more areas of being a well-rounded in-ring performer.

The only things that might turn someone off this match are the somewhat inconsistent officiating and the somewhat slower pacing up to the first fall. The referee’s counting when one or both wrestlers were outside the ring wasn’t done consistently, which lessened the importance of the stipulation. Additionally, the two table spots didn’t lead to disqualifications, even though Ironman matches aren’t no-DQ. As for the pacing, the match was a bit slow during the first fall especially since the first point didn’t come until the 25-minute mark. With all the stalling, taunting, and general slowness, one could easily argue that these two were wasting time and motion. However, at least part of this was by design on MJF’s part. One of the reasons he was and is so good is because he knows how to work the fans beyond doing the same cheap stuff that every other heel does. Fans wanted all action and no-nonsense? MJF slowed things to a crawl just to anger them. Fans wanted the action to spill into the stands? Screw you, MJF’s taking Bryan back into the ring. Fans got upset that MJF was getting away with so much cheating and tomfoolery and thus wanted Bryan to make a heroic comeback? No way, MJF was going to steal those hopes and dreams away. So while Bryan was definitely the better wrestler of the two, MJF was the better storyteller. These two worked in concert so well that that exceeded expectations in pretty much every way imaginable.

Final Rating: *****

I cannot think of anything more these two could’ve done to make this into a perfect match. This was an epic that lived up to the hype in so many ways. It was such a much-needed deviation from AEW’s usual product. It was an interesting mix of MJF’s old school in-ring storytelling with Bryan’s modern technical mat grappling. These two things came together so well that even though there were some minor flaws in the match, those flaws didn’t come from either of the wrestlers. Aside from some minor hiccups, this match was so airtight that it really deserves the highest praise imaginable.

On one hand, this match gives me hope about AEW’s future. MJF proved that he can wrestle outstandingly well when he needs to. He isn’t like everyone else in that he works himself to death on every show and risks his health in inconsequential matches. But when the time comes for him to back up his words, he can and does. This match proved that he has the right mix of physical talent and natural storytelling ability to match someone as experienced and vaunted as Bryan Danielson and beat him at his own game.

On the other hand, I don’t know if MJF can live up to this same standard. He matched one of the modern pro-wrestling GOATS for an hour and had a classic. But a champion is only good as the quality of challengers. Bryan knew how to adapt his style to mesh with MJF’s and MJF adapted his style to mesh with Bryan’s. There’s no guarantee that the other people lined up to challenge MJF will have that same ability or understanding, which makes me think that MJF might have a harder time having classics on this level going forward.

Then again, if he could pull off such a classic with an older and somewhat past-his-prime Bryan Danielson, then maybe he just might be the American version of Kazuchika Okada.

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.