Bryan Danielson, The American Dragon, is perhaps one of the best wrestlers to ever live.
Danielson’s run during the glory period of Ring of Honor is second to none. His championship reign from 2005 into the end of 2006 was a success with multiple well-received title defenses. It was an excellent reign, one that he was due for, and one that he delivered on… and then he rested.
Danielson took well deserved and long break from Ring of Honor. When he returned in August 2007, he wanted his prize back, perhaps rightfully so. Unfortunately for him, a monster called Takeshi Morishima now held the title, and Danielson would have to slay him to reclaim it.
The result was perhaps my favorite match in Ring of Honor’s history and arguably one of the greatest matches in Ring of Honor history.
Morishima was presented as a bruiser in Ring of Honor. A badass, and immovable force that you had to put in extra energy, effort, and ability to take down. His title reign had been good up to this point, but it felt like it was missing certain elements of the previous reigns of Joe, Aries, and Danielson. He has had some good matches, some great ones even, but he was missing that stand-out match that would put his title reign to another level. Morishima was considered a badass, at the time well regarded and touted as a potential future for Pro Wrestling NOAH. Despite this, there were mixed reactions to when he became champion in Ring of Honor, but he did his best to turn those reactions more and more positive, and that led us to Manhattan Mayhem II, in front of a hot crowd rooting for Danielson to take back his crown.
This match was fantastic, it’s almost easy to end the article right there in a very lazy fashion, but this match deserves to be written about in detail. Morishima enters this match knowing he’s the aggressor, the current badass of the moment. Danielson is ready, prepared, and anxious to slay the beast and put him down. Loud chants of “You’re going to get your fucking head kicked in” amplify from the crowd setting the mood for the FIGHT that was coming.
The most fascinating thing about this match is studying Danielson’s decision to wrestle through injury. That’s not to dismiss Morishima, who holds his end of the bargain and works the injury into the match. Morishima is bruising, battering, relentless, and ruthless. All these elements add to the drama and build of the match and can’t be ignored, but Danielson’s toughness, and maybe stubbornness, shines through. In what is now an infamous moment, Danielson detached his retina during this match due to the strikes he received. In this day and age—and rightfully so—this match would’ve ended so Danielson could get appropriate medical treatment.
For worse, and I have guilt saying this, the eye injury added a dramatic element to the betterment of this match. This was a different era when battling through an injury with “the show must go on mentality” permeated. Instead of shying away from the injury, Danielson allowed it to become a part of the match. Morishima targets the eye, laying blow after blow into it building sympathy and drama. If you look back at it now and think, “well, that was stupid,” you are probably correct. In the heat of the moment, the passion of the match worked, though. Not that I want to see it again, but there’s no denying that it worked.
Danielson’s strategy was to chop the tree, to take Morishima’s legs out from under him, destroying his base, taking out his center of gravity. Morishima’s strategy was also straightforward, beat the ever-living hell of Danielson. At times it feels like Danielson is simply surviving in hopes of finding an opening to strike, to attack, to do anything. There are moments in the match when you can feel a brief panic of “what did I get into” from Danielson!
But this is Danielson—The American Dragon, The Best Wrestler In The World. He endures, and through it, he endears the crowd. He makes the crowd believe. As Danielson begins to attempt comebacks, you begin to believe that Danielson could indeed mount an offensive. Morishima, though is a dream killer, and whenever you feel that well up inside of you, he’d forearm strike it, big boot it back down your throats. He is fucking Morishima, HE IS THE CHAMPION, and he ain’t going to let some ex-champion come in and take that from him.
Morishima uses his body weight to bully Danielson, and maybe it is right, Danielson was known to be a bully throughout his time as champion, maybe he deserves a dose of his own medicine? That doesn’t matter to the crowd, they have chosen their sides, they want Danielson to defeat this outsider from NOAH and reclaim his throne. Hope diminishes, though, as Morishima’s onslaught just continues and continues. You can feel Danielson’s eye injury continue to affect him when he finally dives over the guardrail and takes Morishima out to get him an advantage to the crowd’s tunes of “Holy shit.” At this point, Danielson takes control.
As I relive this match for the first time in years, I realize there is no “good person” in this match. There is no evil either. Just two stubborn bastards willing to do what it takes to either hold on to their glory or reclaim it. Danielson, known for his technical ability, even resorts to a chair to hurt Morishima enough to weaken him for defeat. This puts over how much Danielson wants to win, and how hard it is to put down Morishima. Danielson has to put EVERY INCH of himself to take down Morishima; a good portion of the time, it’s not enough. Throughout the match, without desiring to, Danielson becomes David, and Morishima his Goliath. A Goliath, you will need more than a slingshot to take down.
Danielson kicks, you can feel the sweat and building exhaustion in each strike, and when he FINALLY gets Morishima to stay down, he does his best to keep him down with submission, working on the leg he’s been kicking at the entire match, paying off the psychology of the leg strikes. Everything in this match makes sense, from Danielson applying a chop the tree strategy to Morishima sticking with what got him there, brute strength, and punishing offense. Danielson can never keep control for long, so when he is in control, he has to make it count, cause he never knows when it’ll come back.
This match builds and builds, it takes Danielson luring Morishima into mistakes to gain openings for himself. It takes him out braining the brawn that is Morishima to give him an opening to victory, and even then, it doesn’t come close to being enough. But Morishima begins to tire out, and as he tires out Danielson has easier times getting in holds, getting in strikes, and moves. Danielson knows Morishima’s weakness, it is time, and the longer it goes the more advantage Danielson has. Danielson has a major weakness also, and once again it’s the eye as Morishima goes at it whenever he needs an equalizer. Danielson is often down, but not ever out. He continues to fight, showing that spirit he’s known for. He keeps finding ways, finding openings no matter how small, and staying in the fight. At one point, convincing the crowd he was going to win with a small package, a move he had won matches with before, but it was not enough.
Morishima starts to move slower, starts to suck in air, Danielson begins to hit some of his most punishment moves in the match, including a german suplex, and MMA-style elbows to the side of the head. Danielson’s moves begin to affect Morishima more and more, and when he gets his legs kicked out from under him the crowd erupts behind Danielson, they begin to build, they began to believe, they begin to KNOW they are going to see Danielson reclaim the crown. When Danielson locks in cattle mutilation chants of “TAP” pour out of the audience. They know this is the moment, too bad no one told Morishima. . . and he makes it to the ropes in a moment of desperation, perhaps the first and only moment of desperation Morishima felt the entire match.
Duel chants showered appreciation over both. Morishima is lifted to the top rope for a superplex, but Morishima proves he is more than just brawn, he realizes what is about to happen and turns to fall on top of Danielson, and then begins to strike at Danielson, over and over again with strikes and then a MASSIVE CLOTHESLINE that isn’t enough to put Danielson away, but one backdrop driver later and Goliath wins this round. You can feel the exhaustion in the ring. The exhaustion of what Danielson went through and Morishima having to dig down deep to put this nuisance, this fighter, this all-time great down to remain champion.
Reliving this, rewatching this one was a hell of a way to spend a morning. This was an incredible affair. A top-level performance in the career of Danielson, and perhaps THE best performance of Morishima in his career. Morishima was a monster this match, with Danielson having to use everything in the tank to just take him down for a few moments. Danielson was resilient in injury, resilient against an onslaught, and had a never say die attitude that kept him alive beyond when he should’ve still been moving. This is one of the top matches of Ring of Honor history, one can argue it is the top match of Ring of Honor history, and against heavy competition for that category as well. Reliving and playing by playing this match was an exhausting but rewarding affair, one that if you’ve never seen this match, I hope you put yourself through. David is supposed to slay Goliath, but on this night, Goliath flipped the script and stood tall, and David went out on what was left of his shield. In defeat, we are left with the memories of the challenger’s efforts, we stand in awe of the champion for the beating he gave, and wrestling is better in general for the existence of this match. If you’ve never watched it, I beg with you, plead with you that you do, you won’t regret it.