On February 12, 2012, Bryan Danielson was on a run that most people believed was impossible. The long-time independent wrestling standout, who already had a claim to being one of the best professional wrestlers alive, had signed to WWE three years prior in 2009. People were concerned about how the run would go for Danielson. Listed at 5’10”, Danielson was far from the ideal look for a promotion known for being the land of the giants. After a short stint in FCW to acclimate to the system, Danielson debuted on the original version of NXT in 2010. He got himself fired from the company after going a little too hard during the infamous Nexus debut but came back in time for SummerSlam before winning the United States Title the next month.

His work as US Champion impressed, and after losing the title in March, he would stun the world by winning the Money in the Bank ladder match. This was back when Money in the Bank had a 100% success rate, but the idea of Bryan being a World Champion in WWE was still too much for most fans to comprehend. But Daniel Bryan shocked the world at the TLC pay-per-view in 2011 and became World Heavyweight Champion.

Three months later, Bryan hit paydirt. With the help of his on-screen girlfriend AJ Lee, Bryan went from a plucky underdog babyface to a cocky bastard that celebrated every win like it was Game Seven of the Finals, with him screaming YES repeatedly. On February 12, 2012, Daniel Bryan beat the Big Show by disqualification at a house show in Bakersfield, CA, no doubt leaving the ring raising his arms and screaming YES.

That same day in Osaka, Japan, the Rainmaker was born.


Kazuchika Okada’s road to the Rainmaker Shock was a long one, debuting in 2004 as a part of Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon Mexico. After three years in Mexico, Okada began wrestling in the New Japan Dojo in 2007. In 2010, he embarked on an excursion to America and New Japan’s promotional partner TNA Wrestling. After a run so embarrassing that New Japan killed the relationship with TNA, Okada returned to New Japan with a less-than-stellar showing against YOSHI-HASHI at Wrestle Kingdom 6. At the end of that show, he challenged the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi to a title match. People openly laughed at the idea of Okada challenging Tanahashi, but 40 days later, Okada would be the one laughing last. He stunned the world by ending Tanahashi’s record-breaking title reign in a great match.

Okada would spend the rest of 2012 making his claim as one of the best professional wrestlers in the world. He would have acclaimed title defenses against Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto before losing the title back to Tanahashi at Dominion on June 16. That match earned Match of the Year Honors in the 2012 Tokyo Sports Awards, while their feud was voted Feud of the Year by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Okada would win the G1 Climax on his first attempt, leading to him main-eventing Wrestle Kingdom 7 one year after his re-debut. The feud would continue into 2013, winning Feud of the Year again from the Observer. The Okada/Tanahashi Invasion Attack match on April 7 won Match of the Year honors in both the Observer and Voices of Wrestling’s Match of the Year polls.

In the span of 14 months, Kazuchika Okada went from a virtual unknown to the top of the business.

Meanwhile, Danielson’s status as an all-time great was already certified by the time he put pen to paper with WWE. He had been voted the winner of the Wrestling Observer’s Most Outstanding Wrestler award for four years running from 2006-2009, before winning it again in 2010. He was amid an eight-year run of winning the WON’s Best Technical Wrestler award, a run that would inspire Dave Meltzer to name the award after him. And in 2007, he won Match of the Year for his match against Takeshi Morishima at Manhattan Mayhem II.

But Danielson’s greatness would not end there.

Despite all the barriers to success he faced in WWE, most of them being Vince McMahon related, his talent would shine through. He would have great matches with names like Sheamus and CM Punk. He took a down-card demotion team with Kane and turned it into one of the most popular tag teams in that company’s history with Team Hell No. Before long, Danielson found himself in the biggest match of his life, beating John Cena in the main event of SummerSlam 2013 to win the WWE Title in one of the best matches in company history. Danielson would be in the World Title mix throughout the fall and the new year, culminating in winning the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 30 on April 6, 2014.

But before long, Danielson’s health began to betray him. He would have to vacate the title due to a neck injury on June 9, 2014. He would come back in time for the infamous 2015 Royal Rumble and win the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31 but would vacate that title due to injury a month later. After nine months on the shelf, Daniel Bryan retired from the WWE on February 8, 2016.

While Danielson’s star was burning out, Okada’s star shone brighter than ever. He’d main event the Tokyo Dome two more times against Tanahashi, earning his place as the true ace of the promotion. He was one of the figureheads of New Japan’s international explosion in popularity, as he would trek to RevPro in England and Ring of Honor in the US. He’d have high-profile, highly acclaimed matches against Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Will Ospreay, and Roderick Strong.

Okada continued to build his resume as an all-time great, winning Match of the Year in the Observer for three years from 2016 to 2018. His 2017 stood out in particular, with his epic trilogy against Kenny Omega winning Feud of the Year in the Observer Awards. He had three matches – Omega Jan. 4, Omega Jun. 11, Shibata Apr. 9 – that took all three spots on the medal stand for Observer Match of the Year in 2017. The Shibata match won the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year poll. Okada won both Most Outstanding Wrestler and the Flair/Thesz Wrestler of the Year in the 2017 Observer Awards. He was #1 in the 2017 PWI 500. In the blink of an eye, Kazuchika Okada was not only becoming the biggest star in Japan but one of the biggest stars in the world.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest stars in the world had gotten a second chance. After 26 months out of the ring, Daniel Bryan was announced to be medically cleared to compete in the WWE. Bryan returned to action at WrestleMania 34 on April 8, 2018. On October 30, Daniel Bryan beat AJ Styles to win the WWE Title. He went on to have great matches at Survivor Series against Brock Lesnar and at WrestleMania 35 against Kofi Kingston.

Bryan would main event one more WrestleMania on April 11, 2021, before losing his final WWE match to Roman Reigns two weeks later on the April 30 episode of SmackDown.

Daniel Bryan was done, but Bryan Danielson had a lot more left in the tank.

The next time Bryan Danielson would wrestle on television would be in another dream match on September 22, 2021, in Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. Bryan Danielson faced off against Kenny Omega in one of the best matches in AEW Dynamite history. In my yearly Dynamite Dozen column, where I rank the twelve best AEW television matches of the year, this match not only ranked #1 for the year but also is the highest-scoring match in the history of AEW television.

Danielson would go on to have several of the best AEW matches of all time. Whether it be his duology with Hangman Page over the World Title, his part in the bloody spectacle that was Anarchy in the Arena, or his Ironman match against MJF, Danielson has weaved his way into the AEW history books in the span of two years. And on Sunday, he has another chance to etch his name in the history books with another one of the best matches in wrestling history.

That’s what makes this a true dream match.

These two men have been integral parts of pro wrestling history.  Okada has been instrumental in the growth of New Japan, both domestically and internationally. Danielson kept the flame of pro wrestling alive on the independent scene before destroying expectations in the worldwide leader. Both men have been inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. Both men have been part of some of the best wrestling matches ever.

If you go to Cagematch.net – an internet wrestling database with over 70,000 matches on record – these two account for 21 of the 100 highest-rated matches. One-fifth of the 100 best pro wrestling matches on record involve one of these two men. But it never felt like a true possibility until now. It always felt like these two would exist in different orbits until one of them hung up the boots.

That changed at New Japan’s Dominion show on June 4, 2023. Bryan Danielson opened the Forbidden Door and made the challenge as YES chants rang out from the Osaka-jo Hall crowd. After two decades of greatness, these two supernovas will collide. Through promotional barriers, injuries, and retirements, what was once a dream will become a reality.

On Sunday, June 25, 2023, at the Forbidden Door pay-per-view in Toronto, Canada, Bryan Danielson will wrestle Kazuchika Okada.