The match begins already in progress. The exact date isn’t noted, but after some research, it’s believed to be around 2004 in New Albany, Indiana for the IWA Mid-South promotion, in what was dubbed ‘An IWA Homecoming.’ The match is Daniel Bryan, who at the time was competing under his real name of Bryan Danielson, against AJ Styles. The commentators clearly recognize that these are two of the best wrestlers in the world. However, watching the people seated around the ring, one can see that it is a crowd of maybe 100 people, which is remarkable considering how far both these men have come and the crowds they perform in front of today.
Early on in the match they wanted to work each other down to the mat and get the better of their opponent. It was incredible to see this battle to get the better of the other on the mat, as both men jockeyed for position and tried to apply leverage against the other man. Danielson is referred to as ‘Dragon’ often in the match, which referred to his ‘American Dragon’ nickname. There was a bit of a heel like nature to Danielson, who falsely claimed that Styles was holding his tights in order to get the advantage. To see the risks these two would take without any padding on the outside area is stunning, and a far cry from what we see today.
Danielson was thrown into the ring, and Styles once again resumed control by hitting Danielson with a leaping knee. Danielson was able to kick out at two. Once the two men were back on their feet, Styles repeatedly took Danielson down with a shoulder tackle. It wasn’t until Danielson hit Styles with a belly to back German suplex that he resumed control of the match. Danielson hit an uppercut, slam, and knee to the temple of his opponent. He was punishing in this match, as he would hold Styles in an abdominal stretch and then grind his forearm into the face and temple of the Phenomenal One. Styles attempted to break the tempo of the match by, appropriately, hitting Danielson with a dragon screw leg whip only for his adversary to get back up and wipe him out. Bryan was quite vocal in this match, either trying to instigate an issue with Styles or simply telling the crowd to stop their clapping each time they tried to get behind Styles in order to encourage him to make a comeback.
American Dragon was relentless in rubbing his forearm across the eyes and nose of Styles until the referee broke it up. We then saw an homage to Tully Blanchard and the Four Horsemen as Danielson hit a slingshot suplex on Styles. After attempting to get a pin, he questioned the speed of the referee’s count stating, ‘That has got to be about as close to three as I’ve ever seen.’ When watching this match, viewers get a much more personal feel because you can hear what the athletes have to say, most notably Danielson who appears to be the heel. He made use of the European uppercut, in an apparent homage to William Regal, and his ring attire appears quite reminiscent of the current NXT General Manager. Danielson continued to work on Styles’ back using an array of knees and a backbreaker submission, reminiscent of a move Ron Simmons or the late Big John Studd may have used in the past.
Just as it appeared as though Styles was about to make a comeback, Danielson hit him with a gut wrench suplex, again putting a strain on the Phenomenal One’s back. The American Dragon was relentless, as he stretched and tried to wear down Styles. Danielson then picked him up and hit an airplane spin that would make former WWE United Kingdom champion Tyler Bate, or former WWF tag team champion Mike Rotunda, proud! The crowd in attendance, although small, still reacted quite vocally to the move, which appeared to wind both athletes by the end of it.
It is incredible to see how the two men aren’t generating much of a reaction from the crowd, as the sparse group was quite quiet. What a difference a decade can make! As the video approached the fifteen and half minute mark, Danielson set Styles up on the top rope as though he was going to hit him with a superplex. However, as Danielson attempted to execute the move, Styles twisted in mid-air and landed on the American Dragon. This took a great deal out of Danielson and gave Styles exactly what he needed in order to recover. Both men got back to their feet and Styles hit Danielson repeatedly with forearms, punches, and clotheslines. He then attempted a cover, but only got a two count.
Despite being in control, Styles was moving slowly as he attempted to get the better of Danielson. What followed was one of those cases where a planned spot didn’t work out as planned. Fans are familiar with the move where Styles will hit an Asai moonsault from the middle rope, land on his feet, wrap his arm around his opponent’s head and hit a scorpion death drop. In this case, however, as the moonsault is being executed, Danielson drops to the ground rather than holding his position. This was a simple enough mistake and didn’t hurt anyone in the process, perhaps he just lost his balance. Styles went with the spot regardless, picked up Danielson and still hit him with the scorpion death drop. Styles proceeds to go for the pin only to have Danielson kick out at two once again.
Both men are completely exhausted at this point. For the most part, the crowd isn’t all that loud and don’t appear engaged. It could be because there were so few people in attendance, or simply familiarity with both athletes. In any event, both men gave a tireless effort with no clear winner in sight. Styles then picked up Danielson and attempted a vertical suplex only to be hit with a knee in the head twice, resulting in a change of plans. On the third attempt at the suplex, Styles hit a backbreaker on Danielson on his way down to the mat. A battered Styles climbed the top rope, only to have Danielson push him resulting in his landing in a seated position on the turnbuckle. Danielson then climbed the ropes and hit Styles with a belly to back suplex off the top rope. He followed with a pin attempt, but Styles kicked out at two.
Danielson then proceeded to wear down his opponent again, only for the Phenomenal One to fire back, hitting Danielson with a Pele kick seemingly as a last resort. That received a smattering of applause from the crowd, who then began to clap to motivate both men. Both men got back up then knocked each other back down with matching clotheslines. Back on their feet, they continued to exchange punches, chops and forearm smashes in what seemed like a last-ditch effort to get the better of the other. Danielson attempted a German suplex, but Styles landed on his feet. It then appeared as though Styles was going to hit a powerbomb, only for Danielson to attempt to reverse it into a hurricanrana. However, even the counter had a counter, and Styles caught him and attempted to hit him with the Styles Clash. Once again that counter was met with a counter and Danielson dropped, brought Styles to the mat and used his then popular cattle mutilation submission move, only to twist him onto his shoulders for the three-count and the win. What a remarkable match up in a match that appeared to be slightly less than 25 minutes in length.
Winner via pinfall: ‘The American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan)
After the match ended, the video was cut short. It was a clean win for Danielson, and it was hard for fans to boo him or his actions. He played the heel in how he acted towards the referee and the crowd in attendance. However, as far as wrestling was concerned, there really wasn’t any heelish action that took place and no bending or breaking of the rules. Comparing this match to what fans can see today, it is fairly clear that both men could do everything then that they do now, and more.
In reading others’ views on the match, there was one negative review that said it wasn’t up to the standard that they had expected from Danielson at that time, and that particular commenter gave it only a 2* and something rating, but that shouldn’t be blamed on the competitors. Both men did a fantastic job selling each others offense. The problem is the reaction of the crowd can often help push the talent to do more and try more, leading to something truly remarkable happening. Despite the match result, both men were winners coming out of the contest. It reflected the types of workers they were and are, telling a story that hadn’t been seen in some time.
These men have faced each other several times, and in April they faced each other for the first time in a WWE ring. However, with time comes experience. They both possess the ability to craft a match that works to each of their strengths, and thus fans can sit back and enjoy their performance, knowing that no matter who walks away as the winner they can enjoy the ride along the way. If readers are interested in watching the match please see the link to the video below of the highlights.
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