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BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #41 - FROM THE VAULT: Danielson vs Nakajima, 9/20/08, ROH Glory by Honor VII

(WRITER’S NOTE: I had actually written this piece back in February 2016, a few weeks after Daniel Bryan AKA “the American Dragon” Bryan Danielson first retired from wrestling due to injuries on my old website. However, I’ve decided to edit this piece a little and revise it to modern times. Enjoy it regardless.)

On February 8, 2016, the pro wrestling realm was stunned when Daniel Bryan retired from the industry. On an edition of Monday Night Raw in Seattle, WA, Bryan gave an all-time great speech about being grateful to perform and live his dream. Due to his hard-hitting style, Bryan suffered a plethora of concussions over his 16 year career and had to ultimately hang up the boots.

The greatness of Bryan was that he could adapt to any style with ease. Getting his foundation at the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, he was mentored by William Regal, and utilized his skills to become one of the best wrestlers in the world. He was able to travel to Japan, the United Kingdom, and a multitude of European countries, on top of major independent promotions in America. Bryan truly was the first to take that and become a mainstream superstar for World Wrestling Entertainment. He truly lived the dream and made the YES Movement a reality, for fans and himself alike..

My favorite era of BRYAN DANIELSON, however, was his run for Ring of Honor from 2002 to 2009.

The first time I ever saw Danielson wrestle in person was at the famed RexPlex in Elizabeth, NJ at Glory by Honor III on September 11, 2004 against Alex Shelley. I was amazed at how fluid he was with his technical wrestling, all the while mixing it with his fantastic strikes. Once “the American Dragon” unleashed his Cattle Mutilation submission, which is basically a grounded bridging reverse double underhook, I was hooked.

PHOTO CREDIT: Screencap from ROH Glory by Honor VII DVD

Over the next several years, I was blessed to see several of Danielson’s matches live. His battle with Naomichi Marufuji at Final Battle 2005, two epics with Delirious in Philadelphia and Edison, Sonjay Dutt at Death Before Dishonor IV, and the epic “Fight of the Century” 60 minute draw with Samoa Joe at the Inman Sports Club were absolute spectacles. The matches on DVD I have, including the Final Battle 2006 title loss against Homicide and the World Title/Pure Title Unification at Unified against Nigel McGuinness in Liverpool, England were wars in every sense of the word. I can easily say that Danielson was a true artist inside the realm of a squared circle.

But there was one match to me that truly stood the test of time. The day after my 23rd birthday, Ring of Honor was running in the old ECW Arena at 2300 S Swanson St in South Philadelphia, PA. Glory by Honor VII was set to have some great matches in store. It ranks among one of the last great ROH shows Gabe Sapolsky put together as booker of the company.

Undoubtedly, I was thoroughly excited to see Bryan Danielson preparing to make his first defense of the GHC Junior Heavyweight championship against Katsuhiko Nakajima.

It has been 15 years since that event took place and, in my opinion, it still was the greatest match I’ve ever seen Bryan Danielson have. There is just something about that match that always sticks out. ​

Both men were on different ends of the spectrum of their careers. Bryan Danielson was the “Ace” of the Ring of Honor locker room. Danielson was a part of the first main event in ROH history, losing in a triple threat match to Low Ki (Christopher Daniels was the third participant). Throughout his first 3 years in the company, Danielson consistently showcased his talents and was considered to be a true artist inside the squared circle. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that Danielson started to showcase a little more personality when he defeated James Gibson for the ROH World Title at Glory by Honor IV on September 17, 2005.

Danielson started utilizing the moniker “the Best Wrestler in the World'' and truly started to portray that in the ring. “The American Dragon” started using the referee stoppage as a way to end matches with his MMA style elbow strikes. He also used the crossface chicken wing as an alternate submission finisher. Danielson even found a way to master the small package as a credible and legitimate way to win by pinfall. The arrogance of Danielson began to come out as he was smug to the ROHbots that came out to each and every live event. During his 463 day reign as ROH World Champion, there was no one more loved and loathed within a ROH ring than Bryan Danielson.

PHOTO CREDIT: Screencap from ROH Glory by Honor VII DVD

Meanwhile, Katsuhiko Nakajima was a child prodigy in Japan. Making his professional debut at 14 years old, Nakajima was signed to Kensuke Sasaki’s Kensuke Office in Japan at 15. Gaining experience alongside Sasaki through New Japan, Zero-One and All Japan, Nakajima obtained a reputation as a future superstar. He held the All-Asia Tag Team belts with Sasaki in All Japan and wrestled legends such as Kenta Kobashi, future WWE Hall of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami, and Sayama, who was the original Tiger Mask. At 23, he even received a shot at the ROH World Title against then-champion Takeshi Morishima in Japan on September 1, 2007. As an in-ring competitor, Nakajima was a man to be revered, thanks to his incredible strikes. His kicks, in particular, were vicious. The speed and power behind each kick thrown by Nakajima was a thing of beauty. Consistently learning from a worldwide star such as Sasaki was a blessing in disguise once 2008 rolled around.

THE BUILD-UP: In September of 2008, ROH took its second tour to Japan, after its extremely successful one in July of 2007. Thanks to their connections with multiple Japanese companies, ROH was able to run with DDT Pro, New Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and Nakajima’s Kensuke Office. After a successful Night One, The Tokyo Summit took place on September 14, 2008. For the first time since Final Battle 2005 (KENTA vs Low Ki), NOAH’s GHC Junior Heavyweight championship would be defended. Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru would face “the American Dragon”. The four time GHC Junior Heavyweight champ definitely had his hands full.

After 20 minutes of hard hitting exchanges and submissions, Danielson caught Kanemaru with the Cattle Mutilation and forced him to tap, causing a title change! Bryan Danielson, for the first time, won a singles championship in NOAH.​

After the match, during a post-match press conference, Danielson mentioned he was facing Nakajima in Philadelphia, PA at Glory by Honor VII. He actually hoped and requested to defend the championship against Nakajima and hoped that both ROH and NOAH management would come together to make this happen.

Four days later, ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky in the ROH Newswire officially made the announcement:

September 18th: 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?

With Nakajima coming off an awesome 35 minute tag team war that ended in a draw alongside Naomichi Marufuji against KENTA and Kota Ibushi at the aforementioned Tokyo Summit, could the youthful hard-striker from Japan bring the belt back home against “the American Dragon”?

THE MATCH: This battle was one for the ages. In the early going, Danielson was weaving out of the way of Nakajima’s kicks and almost taking complete control, working in both submissions and strikes to the body of the challenger. Danielson also tried to really emphasize an injury point to the arm of Nakajima, but Nakajima would not give the satisfaction of showing pain to the eyes of the champion.

However, once Nakajima was able to land an enzuigiri to the Dragon’s noggin, the challenger was in the zone. Roundhouse kicks were laid HARD to both Danielson’s midsection and right knee, which was noticeably braced as a weak spot. Nakajima consistently attacked and attacked and attacked, until Danielson, with adrenaline running through his body, unleashed a jumping roundhouse to the chest, taking both men down. From that point on, the champion and challenger went hard to secure victory. I honestly thought that when Nakajima locked on an ankle lock, the GHC Junior Heavyweight championship was going back home to Japan. However, “the American Dragon” persevered, utilizing MMA elbows, a tiger suplex, and then the rollover into the Cattle Mutilation for the tap out victory.

At least once or twice a year, I watch this match and thoroughly enjoy the prospects of this battle. Two artists use the squared circle as their canvas, and proceeded to make an incredible painting, using their bodies as the paintbrush, while the film and the eyes that watched it was the paint. Bryan Danielson was an incredible painter, and there is no one better, especially in this generation, that can do this gig any better.

There is no other match that would be more suitable to watch than Bryan Danielson vs Katsuhiko Nakajima for the GHC Junior Heavyweight champion on September 20, 2008 in the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia, PA at Ring of Honor's Glory by Honor VII. More importantly, there is no other match more perfect enough to make a part of the inaugural STAND OUT SERIES than this one.


PS: Thanks for coming back to wrestling, Mr. Danielson. You truly are the best in the world.


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