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BANK ON HISTORY #2 - Bryan Danielson, GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in 2008

Purchased for Commercial License Use from George Tahinos - Taken on 9/20/08 from ROH Glory By Honor VII

After reading this piece, I had a vision. 

I felt like I could go deeper with the history of the short reign of Danielson as the best junior heavyweight in Pro Wrestling NOAH.

With this edition of the column, I’m going to talk about the three matches, what led to them, and the different atmospheres that all three matches were held in.

With that said, here’s BANK ON HISTORY: Bryan Danielson, GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion in 2008.


Danielson was no stranger to Japan by the time 2008 rolled around. After getting released from his WWF developmental deal in the Summer of 2001, “the American Dragon” started going on tours of New Japan Pro Wrestling. He was involved in a plethora of tag team and six-man tag team matches, alongside the Havana Pitbulls, Scott “Flash” Norton, Minoru Tanaka, and “Stampede Kid'' TJ Wilson against the likes of El Samurai, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Gedo, and Jado.

At New Japan’s Hyper Battle 2004 on March 12, 2004, in Tokyo, Danielson and his partner Curry Man shocked the Japanese wrestling scene when they defeated Gedo and Jado to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. After one successful title defense against Hirooki Goto & Ryusuke Taguchi, the duo lost the belts back to Gedo and Jado on June 5 in Osaka.

Danielson also had the honor and privilege of competing in the Best of the Super Juniors XI round-robin tournament in 2004, advancing to the semi-finals, losing to Koji Kanemoto.

In November 2006, after a two-year sabbatical from Japan, “the American Dragon” started touring with Pro Wrestling NOAH. Japanese fans were even more receptive to him, especially after his rivalry and matches with influential junior heavyweights KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji in Ring of Honor. He performed in two Nippon TV Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League series in 2007 and 2008, and mixed it up with both heavyweights and juniors, including the founder of NOAH, the late, great Mitsuharu Misawa, Jun Akiyama, and his long-time nemesis Takeshi Morishima.

By September 14, 2008, Danielson was already in Japan, completing another tour of NOAH, waiting on Ring of Honor to arrive with their second of two dates, The Tokyo Summit.


Ring of Honor’s relationship with Japanese wrestling is a very positive one.

Their earliest association came at Final Battle 2003 in Philadelphia, PA, with several All Japan Pro Wrestling talents performing, including the Great Muta and Kaz Hayashi. ROH worked together with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2004, bringing over the junior heavyweight legend Jushin “Thunder” Liger for the Weekend of Thunder weekend in November 2004. Also, the annual Dragon Gate WrestleMania Weekend Six-Man Tag match with Dragon Gate, beginning in 2006, led to some revolutionary events, as well as excursions from SHINGO and CIMA, and Matt Sydal even defending the Open the Brave Gate Championship at Fifth Year Festival - Dayton in February 2007.

However, arguably ROH’s best relationship in the Japanese wrestling scene during the “golden era” of the promotion came with Pro Wrestling NOAH.

NOAH formed in the Summer of 2000, after the aforementioned Misawa led an exodus of former All Japan talent, following the passing of All Japan founder Giant Baba in 1999 and the unhappiness of the direction of the company. Named after the biblical story Noah’s Ark (which I only learned about while researching the history of the promotion), NOAH quickly rose as one of the top Japanese wrestling promotions, and built its credibility off incredible matches with Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Akiyama, and Toshiaki Kawada.

In 2005, ROH and NOAH began their working relationship, bringing over Kobashi for a pair of matches on October 1 and 3, 2005, including a five-star match at the New Yorker Hotel for Joe vs Kobashi against ROH legend Samoa Joe. At Final Battle 2005, ROH brought over KENTA and Marufuji on December 17, 2005. Marufuji faced Danielson, then-ROH World Champion, in a classic fight, and KENTA defeated Low Ki to successfully defend his GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship in the first title match defended outside of Japan.

Over the next few years, ROH and NOAH’s relationship strengthened. KENTA did a longer tour of the United States, as well as subsequent appearances by Marufuji. Takeshi Morishima established his legacy in ROH by winning the ROH World Championship from Homicide at Fifth Year Festival - Philly on February 17, 2007. Misawa made a rare American appearance during the Glory By Honor XI weekend in November 2007, including beating KENTA in a GHC Heavyweight Championship match on November 3. Go Shiozaki even did his excursion in America in 2008 with Ring of Honor, winning the FIP World Heavyweight Championship during his stay.

ROH’s Japanese connections, especially with NOAH, helped bring the promotion to Japan in 2007 with their Live in Osaka and Live in Tokyo events on June 16 and 17. Their critically acclaimed shows helped the promotion establish a follow-up tour in 2008 on September 13 and September 14 with Battle of the Best and The Tokyo Summit, both being held at the Differ Ariake in Tokyo.

The Tokyo Summit, in particular, would be home to a battle for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship between “the American Dragon” and title holder Yoshinobu Kanemaru.


Kanemaru is, statistically, the most accomplished junior heavyweight in NOAH history.

Winning the inaugural GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship in a tournament final against Juventeud Guerrera on June 24, 2001, Kanemaru established himself as a workhorse throughout his run in NOAH. By September 14, 2008, Kanemaru won the championship three more times, defeating Mushiking Terry on October 27, 2007, to kickstart his fourth reign.

Like the flashy KENTA and Marufuji, Kanemaru was gritty and tough. However, I felt Kanemaru was more steak to the other “junior ace’s” sizzle. No-nonsense in his style, Kanemaru wasn’t afraid to unleash strong style offense to any opponent. He loved to fly, as well as mastering the DDT as one of his signature holds. He could deliver it from ANYWHERE, even from the top rope. Kanemaru had everyone’s respect as a hard-nosed opponent that could bring it.

When ROH announced the match on August 4 via, many NOAH fans were very excited. Both Danielson and Kanemaru had very similar styles and weren’t afraid to unleash fury on each other. The fans were ready for some great wrestling, all in the name of the Global Honored Crown Junior Heavyweight Championship.



Bryan Danielson vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru ©, 9/14/08, ROH The Tokyo Summit, Differ Ariake, Tokyo, Japan

This match, to me, was an “American Dragon” clinic. Danielson controlled the majority of the match, picking apart Kanemaru with his submission-based offense, working over the arm early, softening him up for the Cattle Mutilation down the line. Kanemaru showed a lot of focus, trying to cut Danielson off at the pass, even delivering a DDT on the arena floor, causing a gasp from the normally quiet Japanese fans.

Kanemaru continued to deliver DDTs and strikes throughout, including a jumping DDT in the later stages of the match. But Danielson was relentless, mixing strikes, suplexes, and submissions, especially the triangle choke. Kanemaru tried his hardest, delivering a couple brainbusters to neutralize the challenger, but the “American Dragon” would not be denied.

After a belly-to-back superplex, Danielson dominated, nailing two Tiger Suplexes, striking heavy with his MMA elbow strikes, and locking in the Cattle Mutilation submission hold for the submission victory and the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship! 

The Japanese fans loudly cheered the final moments of this match and really supported Danielson as the new flag bearer of NOAH’s junior heavyweight division.

Watching this at home via DVD for the first time in years, I got immensely psyched throughout this match. Seeing the emotion during the post-match press conference with Japanese media that Danielson displayed really drew me in. It showed, to me, the importance of what winning a singles championship in Japan meant to a dedicated professional wrestler.


There was one note that I did take away from the press conference on 9/14. Danielson stated to reporters that he would request NOAH management to let him defend his newly won GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship against Katsuhiko Nakajima at ROH Glory By Honor VII in Philadelphia, PA a week later.

ROH and NOAH immediately began negotiations. 

On September 18, as per the ROH Newswire on, the following announcement was made:

We now have the official word that new GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion Bryan Danielson will put the title on the line this Saturday in Philadelphia against Katsuhiko Nakajima. It was an emotional moment when Danielson won the championship last Sunday in Tokyo. Now he is ready to take on one of Japan's hardest kickers. In fact, many consider Nakajima the hardest kicker in all of wrestling. Can Nakajima realize his potential and gain the biggest win of his career in Philadelphia?

For hardcore wrestling fans, this was going to be a battle for the ages. “The American Dragon” was set to take on the future of junior heavyweight wrestling in Japan.

Nakajima was a near seven-year pro at the age of TWENTY. Making his pro debut at the age of fourteen, Nakajima signed with Kensuke Office at fifteen and became the protege of Japanese legend and former WCW United States, AJPW Triple Crown, and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki. 

Under his guidance, Nakajima began breaking out of the pack and quickly became a solid performer. His kicks were gaining a reputation as the hardest thrown in wrestling. He could fly with the best of them, and his speed was second-to-none. A lot of Japanese wrestling fans saw Nakajima as a prodigy.

A week earlier at The Tokyo Summit, Nakajima and Marufuji went to a thirty-five-minute draw with KENTA and Kota Ibushi. All four men laid it all on the line, and Nakajima not only didn’t look out of place, but he also really held his own with three of the best junior heavyweights in the world. To this day, I see this match as an underrated gem that has to be viewed.

However, Nakajima had a chance to make history at Glory By Honor VII. In his debut appearance in the United States, Nakajima wanted to leave the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia as champion. Could he do it?



Bryan Danielson © vs Katsuhiko Nakajima, 9/20/08, ROH Glory By Honor VII, ECW Arena, Philadelphia, PA

I was in the crowd live for this match-up. The atmosphere was electric and the loud, vivacious Philly wrestling audience was in the mood for a fight. Not to mention, with the legacy of ECW Arena having hosted some tremendous international talent in its heyday, the fans were striving to see what Nakajima would bring to the table.

This contest was definitely a stark contrast to Danielson’s battle with Kanemaru. 

For one, Nakajima was younger and had a lot more sizzle to his offense than the NOAH “junior ace”. His kicks to Danielson were quick and vicious. The sound of impact to Danielson’s body was among the loudest I’ve ever heard.

Secondly, Danielson was coming into this match hurt. As you could see, his knee was braced up, injured during the match with Kanemaru the week before. In addition to the long flight back to the United States, there wasn’t enough rest time for Danielson to try and heal. The brace would be a target for Nakajima, and he would be relentless, unleashing a dragon screw leg whip to Danielson, with the ropes as an unwilling sidekick, taking out the champion early.

This match was fast paced, and Danielson adapted to Nakajima’s game plan as it continued. However, near the end of the match, Nakajima locked on an ankle lock, hyperextending the champion’s bad wheel, almost forcing a tap out. “The American Dragon” survived the onslaught, ultimately using the same combination of the belly-to-back superplex, Tiger Suplex, MMA elbows, and Cattle Mutilation for the submission victory.

I still maintain that this was one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. To me, inside the ECW Arena, that was one of the first times I ever felt the big fight feel and getting immensely engrossed with every near fall and rope break.

I also realized that Nakajima would most likely be primed for the next stage of his career in Japan because of this war.

For Bryan Danielson, this was one more notch on the post of his legendary ROH run. More importantly, to NOAH audiences, this would be his first successful defense of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.

It would also be his only successful one.


Danielson would return for his final tour of the year on October 6, 2008, primarily teaming with Doug Williams, Nigel McGuinness, Superstar Steve, and monster Bison Smith.

However, it was announced that on October 13, at the Hiroshima Green Arena in Hiroshima, Japan during the Autumn Navigation ‘08 Tour, that Danielson would defend the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship against KENTA.

KENTA was on fire as a competitor in NOAH throughout the year, winning the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles with Taiji Ishimori on March 20, 2008, and the Nippon TV Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League on September 6.

Fans on both sides of the world were ecstatic for this battle. Prior to this date, the pair had three phenomenal fights against one another in the United States and Japan which transcended junior heavyweight wrestling.

At Glory By Honor V Night 2 on September 16, 2006, “the American Dragon” successfully defended his ROH World Championship against KENTA in the main event of ROH’s debut in the Manhattan Center in Midtown Manhattan, NY. Danielson, with torn tendons in his right shoulder, persevered KENTA’s onslaught and submitted him with Cattle Mutilation.

On December 2, two and a half months after the initial battle, Danielson traveled to the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium in Yokohama, Japan to have the much-anticipated rematch against KENTA. Danielson, still suffering through the painful shoulder injury, went 25 grueling minutes with the GHC Junior Heavyweight legend, but could not survive the Busaiku Knee Strike and Go To Sleep for the three-count loss.

During the Driven pay-per-view taping in Chicago, IL on June 23, 2007, Danielson and KENTA had another ROH classic. Although Danielson was in peak physical condition, healed from his injury, KENTA came fully prepared to fight. At the end of the contest, Danielson was leveling his rival with his MMA elbow strikes, but KENTA showcased fighting spirit and ate the pain before pinning “the American Dragon” with a Go To Sleep. A standing ovation was received from the Chicago faithful, knowing the immense chemistry both men had with one another.

A year plus later, with both men at 100% and at the peak of their skills, Danielson and KENTA did battle in their last ever singles contest against one another, all in the name of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.



Bryan Danielson © vs KENTA, 10/13/08, NOAH Autumn Navigation '08 - Tag 5, Hiroshima Green Arena, Hiroshima, Japan

This was a true testament of will and strength. Danielson and KENTA’s familiarity with one another was on display, as they countered each other in the early goings. But after KENTA delivered a kick that damaged the champion’s midsection, the fight was on.

At one point, after a KENTA strike, Danielson got heated and called him an expletive, completely out of character from the normally mild-mannered “American Dragon”. The men brought their absolute best to the fans in Hiroshima.

Danielson even unleashed a new hold to try and neutralize KENTA’s kicks late in the match, switching over from a half Boston Crab to a heel hook submission. As per his grit and determination, KENTA persevered.

In the end, Danielson once again fell victim to the Busaiku Knee Strike. Once he kicked out of the pin attempt, KENTA took no chances and knocked him into next week with the Go To Sleep, scoring the victory and his second GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.


As a die-hard fan of Bryan Danielson’s work in Ring of Honor, I felt these three matches were the definition of what “the American Dragon” represented; easily able to adapt to any style and helping maximize his opponents’ strengths in between the ropes. His short GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship run in the Fall of 2008 was enthusing to watch, even all these years later. The importance of winning a singles championship in Japan was a great character arc and really endeared himself to the fans internationally.

Kanemaru, Nakajima, and KENTA were three perfect opponents for Danielson. Even more than that, they really personified the emphasis of the NOAH Junior Heavyweight division.

Kanemaru wound up winning the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship three more times, becoming a seven-time champion, with his last reign ending on September 23, 2016. Truly, he was an important anchor in NOAH’s history and deserves to be recognized as such.

KENTA and Nakajima actually had a great series of matches after KENTA’s title win in 2008, sharing title wins over one another in 2009. KENTA eventually bumped up to the Heavyweight division in 2013, winning the GHC Heavyweight Championship in January and holding onto it for 343 days. Nakajima became an absolute superstar in Japan, winning the GHC Heavyweight Championship twice and making his mark as an all-time great in this modern era of Japanese wrestling.

As for Bryan Danielson, I think we all know what he went on to do.

Regardless, as a fan of “the American Dragon”, this was an understated and underrated time in independent wrestling history. These matches were a work of art and, to this day, live in my mind as some of the best times I ever spent as a pro wrestling fan.

It also highlighted how strong the ROH and NOAH working relationship really was. Even though AEW currently has a great partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling, ROH’s ability to help give an American platform to the best Japanese talents sometimes gets overlooked in the story of modern-day wrestling.

Finally, it showed me how important NOAH’s junior heavyweight division really was. To this day, people still pattern their offense based on KENTA’s innovative offense. Kanemaru, Marufuji, Nakajima, and KENTA’s legacy are remembered as fondly in American wrestling as it was in Japan.

I hope you fans really take a moment and appreciate what these men brought to the table back in 2008. Bryan Danielson’s short run as GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion was fantastic. It really allowed me to realize, as a writer and a fan, how wrestling is the best artform on the planet. Please check out these matches and see what I mean.


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