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ROH Title Match
Bryan Danielson vs. Roderick Strong
Danielson interrupts Bobby Cruise's introduction, getting him to announce the champ as "the best wrestler in the world." And after this match, Danielson certainly had a very, very solid case to make such a grand declaration.
They slowly shake hands beforehand to follow the Code of Honor, but Danielson slaps Strong immediately and gets a chop for his troubles, immediately taking a powder. To state the obvious, this was emotionally picking up right where they left off a week earlier. Danielson spent a lot of time just walking around and talking shit to the crowd early, with another powder minutes later after taking more chops from Strong, being an absolutely outstanding cocky heel in the process. What's amazing is that this stalling never once live or on broadcast had me assuming that this would be a 60 minute Broadway.
Danielson was the master in this one, using his irritation to get the advantage on Strong and make him more focused on his barbarianism and technical wrestling. To date, this is simply the greatest heel performance Danielson has had, being far more of a red-ass here than he was in the past against Paul London and AJ Styles, and more than he would be in the future against Sheamus, Nigel McGuinness, Samoa Joe, and Homicide, or even in Germany for WXW.
Body parts Danielson targeted on Strong during this timeless classic include: the knees, the left arm, and most arrogantly of all, the back. This was absolutely ingenious to take away Strong's ability to deliver chops, backbreakers, and gutbusters, while also softening up the challenger for a number of potential finishers, such as the Cattle Mutilation, Crossface Chickenwing, or millions of other submissions that Danielson could unleash at a moment's notice. Most of all, I love Danielson focusing on the back, which he also did the night before against Chris Sabin, because it says "Cool Roderick, I can add that gameplan to my loaded arsenal too."
Strong was absolutely brutal to Danielson on this night, even more than he was to the chickenshit CM Punk at Escape From New York. This not only got under the skin of Danielson, but left that same Pacific Northwest pasty white signature skin color of Danielson's bleeding on the chest in the early stages, some of that due to residual damage from the week before. That was an absolutely amazing visual to put over how devastating Strong's chops are and what Danielson was willing to go through to hold on to the top prize in the company. I also recall later in the match Danielson's forehead bleeding when he was thrown into a guardrail.
After the earlier two powders Danielson took, Strong got fed up and chased him to the outside, landing more vicious strikes, including his trademark chops. Danielson used the third powder he took to absorb those strikes and have Strong chase him around the ring, getting a cheapshot in when Strong followed him into the ring. In a later powder segment, the action got all the way to the steel entrance ramp, which Strong scoop-slammed Danielson on. That particular spot and two head-drops later on in the match (belly to back drop on Danielson, release Dragon Suplex on Strong) were the only moments in this epic that had me cringing out of concern for their well-beings. And that's not too bad considering what how many matches of this caliber have to stoop to in order to be memorable.
Over 30 minutes passed until Strong finally got a backbreaker on Danielson, and they had the crowd in the palms of their hands by that point. Strong had gotten some submissions on Danielson's back, but this was the first blow he got to deliver. This nearfall got an absolutely red-hot reaction, the crowd expecting a title change less than two months after Danielson had reached the pinnacle of his then-young career.
Here are a number of out-of-order impressive moments in this masterpiece before I get to the finish:
Danielson getting pissed that his chops weren't getting the same vocal support as Strong, telling the crowd to fuck off before delivering one on the challenger.
Strong chopping the hell out of Danielson in the corner, the champ spitting in his face, delivering another devastating chop, getting spat in the face again, and delivering yet another devastating chop. Danielson fell to that one and breathed heavily to absorb the pain, but used his arrogant pride and anger to force himself not to succumb to it. This is my pick for the greatest facial expression Danielson has ever done in a wrestling match.
Strong reversing a left arm twist into his own. Danielson attempts to show off his state-of-the-art wrestling to escape it, likely to deliver a dropkick to break the hold as he usually does. But Strong managed to turn that into a La Magistral Cradle nearfall. Just splendid wrestling.
Danielson also drilled his forearms into Strong when he had the challenger mounted, selling that psychotic irritation he had towards this particular opponent.
Now for the finishing stretch, more than 45 minutes have passed. Strong is almost running on empty, not accustomed to matches of this length unlike Danielson. Sure, he won Survival of the Fittest several weeks earlier, but that was a six-man elimination match that involved tags. Strong gave it a go, digging down deep in his third shot at the title (at least in an ROH ring). They had an absolutely breathtaking sequence that I won't spoil, other than to say that it led to Danielson topping the Omoplata shoulder lock he won with in their first classic, this time finishing Strong off with elbows to the head, putting the champion over as a truly dangerous motherfucker, worthy of being ROH Champion.
I remember on the original ROH message board, there was a vote by its members to determine the company's top ten matches after 100 shows, and then again after 200 shows. This match got on the list both times, and deservedly so. Nine years later, this is the best match I've seen in person, better than the KENTA vs. Davey Richards rematch, "End of an Era" Hell in a Cell match, John Cena and Umaga's Last Man Standing match, Danielson vs. Triple H, or either of the Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels WrestleMania classics.
This is not only a top ten match in ROH's history, but is also the best match of Roderick Strong's career. I could see the argument for this being the best match of Bryan Danielson's career as well. I won't say it's the best ROH match ever, as there was one tiny moment in which both men may not have been on the same page, but that could be covered up with a good kayfabed explanation. Dave Prazak & Lenny Leonard also did a phenomenal job calling this match, putting over Danielson's gimmick and getting the story across to the viewer.
This match does get a lot of love, but I'll be honest, it deserves more. I'm shocked Gabe Sapolsky didn't convince Dave Meltzer to review this along with This Means War. I'm sure with the proper coverage, this match and event would be remembered on par with Joe vs. Punk II and Joe vs. Kobashi. This was a mixture of numerous classic matchups such as Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit, and Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi.
If there is one last level of praise that gives this match the love it deserves, and convinces those on the fence to rewatch this, here you go: This match feels like 30 minutes instead of 47 minutes.