“I will kill every single one of you!”- Bryan Danielson to the Liverpool fans

On August 12, 2006 Ring of Honor made their first trip out of the United States, running a show in Liverpool, England. This show would be historic for more than just this fact. In the main event, ROH World Champion, Bryan Danielson, and ROH Pure Champion, Nigel McGuinness, would meet in one of their greatest matches and only one of them would walk out of the match as champion. As the title of the show said, the World Championship and the Pure Championship would be Unified.

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The Road to England

McGuinness and Danielson had both picked up their respective titles in the second half of 2005 and were dominant champions. Their title unification clash was going to guarantee the first title change of 2006 in Ring of Honor. The war to determine the true champion in ROH began on April 29th at Weekend of Champions Night 2. Both titles were on the line in this one, but when it ended, no titles had changed hands. McGuinness used the Pure Championship rules to his advantage and won the match via count out after Danielson dove into the crowd and McGuinness used a chair to protect himself. Because McGuinness won by count out, the ROH World Championship did not change hands.

Three months later, Danielson defended his World Championship against McGuinness at Generation Now. With one win on his side, McGuinness didn’t have to defend his title this time around. Danielson would catch Nigel in his unbreakable small package and even up their series 1-1. With their trip to England looming, ROH knew they had to make a huge match for their first show across the pond. What match would be bigger than a title unification?

A match where McGuiness and Danielson could determine who was the better man and who was the true champion of ROH.

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The Rules for the Match

This contest would be held under the special rules that accompanied ROH Pure Championship matches. Those rules are as follows:

  1. Each wrestler is only allowed three rope breaks. After a participant uses all three of their rope breaks, their opponent is free to use the ropes to their advantage.
  2. There are to be no closed first strikes to the face. The first punch would be met with a warning. The second would result in the loss of a rope break. If the offender was out of rope breaks, it would result in a disqualification.
  3. There is a strict 20 count on the floor.

This match also had special rules to guarantee that there was a winner. The titles could change hands on a count out or a disqualification. There was no time limit and in the case of a double pin or double count out, the match would be restarted. No matter how long the match went on, there would be a winner.

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The World’s Best Pure Wrestler vs. the Best Wrestler in the World

When the match begins, it’s clear that this crowd is behind their countryman. The fans sing along with The Final Countdown, but they go nuts for McGuinness when F**kin’ in the Bushes (one of the most underrated entrance themes of the modern era) hits. This match isn’t only on Nigel’s home turf, they’re playing by the rules that Nigel has become accustomed to. Because the Pure Championship rules limit the amount of rope breaks a wrestler gets, it forces them to be more creative when trying to get out of a hold. They could reach for the rope when it might help them right now, but that could doom them later.

Early on in the match, Danielson attacks the left arm of McGuinness, trying to take away one of Nigel’s greatest weapons; his lariats. Bryan gets McGuinness in an armbar, forcing him to use his first rope break. Nigel takes control of the match for a short time, rocking Danielson with uppercuts. McGuinness attempts a short arm lariat, but Bryan ducks it and uses Nigel’s momentum to take him down and lock in Cattle Mutilation. It’s fairly early on in the match, but McGuinness has to use his second rope break. Danielson knows that his early submission based strategy has paid off and put him in the lead. Even though Nigel looks absolutely crushed when he lifts himself off the mat following the rope break, he doesn’t let it get to him. The cocky Danielson goes to the top rope and a quick as lightning McGuinness catches Bryan and spikes him with a Tower of London. Nigel goes for the pin, but Danielson gets his foot on the ropes to use his first of three breaks.

McGuinness knows that he’s taken control and he doesn’t let up. This time he gets into Danielson’s head by using his own move against him. The still dazed Danielson finds himself face down on the mat as McGuinness hooks his arms with Cattle Mutilation. Rather than try to break out of his own hold, Bryan uses his second rope break. Just like that, things are even once again.

After a brief battle on the outside where Danielson attempted to get a count out victory, the two men make their way back into the ring and exchange a series of forearms and pin attempts. Bryan manages to get the advantage and put the Crossface Chickenwing on McGuinness. This hold forces Nigel to expend his third and final rope break. From this point on, the ropes are in play for Danielson, who takes this opportunity to gloat. No one is better at being the Best in the World than Bryan Danielson is. The fans don’t take kindly to this and Bryan responds with the quote that opened this piece. McGuinness and Danielson proceed to have a brutal slap exchange, which McGuinness comes out on top of. He crotches Bryan on the top rope and then takes his head off with a lariat. Nigel goes for the pin and Danielson uses his third and final rope break to stay alive in the match.

The ropes are now in play for both men and the first wrestler to use them to his advantage is Danielson, who gets McGuinness in the Crossface Chickenwing while they’re both sitting on the top turnbuckle. Nigel struggles to get out of the hold as the fans plead with him, screaming “Please don’t tap!” McGuinness slips out of Danielson’s clutches and once again plants his head into the mat with a Tower of London. Nigel goes for the pin and Danielson kicks out at the count of two. By using his rope breaks on pins earlier in the match, Bryan didn’t have to expend the energy to kick out then, giving him a slight edge at this point in the match.

Both men roll to the outside and what follows is perhaps the most memorable spot in the match for many reasons. McGuinness grabs Danielson by the wrists and slams his shoulder into the ring post. He attempts to do it again, but Bryan blocks it and pulls McGuinness face first into the post. Nigel’s head is slammed into the post four times until he hits hard enough to finally draw blood. While this spot may have been awesome in 2006, it’s gross and upsetting to watch ten years later. This was before the Benoit tragedy took place and wrestling started to take head injuries seriously. Both men in this match had their careers cut short, most notably Danielson’s career ending because of concussion related complications, which makes it even worse when the commentary team casually talks about Nigel having a concussion from those collisions with the post.

Blood is gushing from McGuinness’ head as he stumbles around the outside. Danielson knocks Nigel into the crowd and then uses his body as a projectile when he hits a springboard summersault tope into the first three rows. Danielson recovers from the dive first and makes his way back into the ring. When Nigel gets to his feet, his eyes are glazed over and he’s wearing the crimson mask. The crowd wills McGuinness back into the ring and with their help, he’s shaken off the cobwebs and is fired up. What comes next is something else that these two men probably regret as they exchange a series of headbuts that all have little to no protection.

Following the headbuts, McGuinness’ cut is bleeding even more. Danielson is staggered from the blows and leaves himself open to a rebound lariat. Nigel has expended a massive amount of energy and he struggles to reach Danielson for the pin. Bryan kicks out and transitions into Cattle Mutilation. McGuinness reaches the ropes with his feet out of instinct, but it does absolutely nothing. Nigel manages to work his way out of the hold and pin Danielson. Danielson forcefully kicks out and transitions into a position where he is able to rain down elbows on Nigel. After dozens of elbows, McGuinness loses consciousness and the referee calls for the bell. Covered in the blood of his opponent, Bryan Danielson is named the true champion of Ring of Honor.

10 Years Later

Danielson/McGuinness at ROH Unified is an amazing, yet very dated match. The performances that both men put in were incredible. These weren’t just wrestlers going out there to have a match, they made you believe that this was something that they absolutely had to win at any cost. There would be no giving up for either man. McGuinness never quit, he kept fighting until he lost consciousness. Nigel showed so much heart that Danielson said in his post-match promo that it was his toughest title defense and then offered him a rematch down the road. While this wasn’t the end of their classic series of matches, the match at ROH Unified may have been the best.

While this match is a classic that has a ****3/4 rating from Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer and a 9.67 rating on CAGEMATCH, it’s also hard to watch at times.

Any match with this many unprotected headshots would be blasted today. It was reckless and completely unsafe. The most that can be said is that they didn’t know any better. In the past ten years there has been a lot of developments in research on head trauma. When this match took place the wrestling industry had yet to be rocked by the deaths caused by Chris Benoit. Little did we all know that ten year later neither of the men in this match would be wrestling anymore, both because of different aspects of the match. Danielson’s many concussions led him to hang up his boots far earlier than he wanted. McGuinness had a history of concussions as well, but that wasn’t what ended his run. Now Nigel is one of the biggest advocates for the removal of intentional bloodshed from wrestling because it led to him contracting Hepatitis B, the true cause of his retirement.

The match may not be timeless, but the main event of ROH Unified is a classic. Arguably this is two of the best wrestlers to ever step into Ring of Honor having a match at the peaks of both of their careers. McGuinness and Danielson both poured everything they had into this one. There may be regrets to be had about the things they did, but the story they told was a masterpiece. Every great work of art has a flaw. The only thing we can do about it now is appreciate these men for putting their bodies on the line for us and enjoy the show.

Thank you, Daniel and Nigel, for all the great matches, especially this one.

Postscript:

After this was posted I was made aware that I was wrong with my initial explanation of Nigel McGuinness’ retirement. Rather than just relay facts, I’ll let Nigel explain things himself:

“While I did contract Hep B it wasn’t why I retired. I had cleared the virus six months before retiring. I retired because at the time there was no reason to think WWE would ever hire me because of an old arm injury their doctor wouldn’t clear me from, and I felt the risk of more injuries if I continued to wrestle elsewhere was too much of a risk for the money I’d make. I also do not know how I contracted Hep B. It is quite likely from when I was around other people’s blood, but the only thing I know is the time period. Beyond that it’s conjecture.”

I want to apologize for my initial error and I would also like to thank Nigel for reaching out.