Originally published on Fanbyte on March 9, 2022 as “Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley Are Done Compromising Their Vision of Pro Wrestling”

Bryan Danielson has an uncompromising vision of professional wrestling.

And why wouldn’t he? This is a man who has gone on record to say that a bloody pro wrestling match has brought him closer to sensing God’s presence than years of organized religion.

“I’m not doing it to have the best match,” he said on the Throwing Down with Renee Paquette and Ryan McKinnell podcast. “I’m chasing that feeling.”

AEW has provided Danielson the most in-ring creative freedom he’s had since leaving the independent scene in 2009. With this run in a new promotion, the American Dragon has been on a steadfast journey to define what pro wrestling is and should be every time he steps into the ring. When a bell sounds, Bryan Danielson isn’t thinking of star ratings or TV numbers.

He’s chasing God himself.

Those are the stakes that run through the build to his match against Jon Moxley at Revolution 2022. The impetus behind this feud was Danielson’s offer to Moxley to join forces. Together, Danielson argued, they could mold AEW’s future under their own principles of pro wrestling. It’s a vision built on fundamental excellence, gritty resolve, and hardnosed violence. At the mere hint of this idea, everyone rejoiced.

I don’t just mean the internet faithful that are chomping at the bit to see Danielson and Moxley create some crazed super stable with the likes of Daniel Garcia either. Far more noticeable is the approval from literally every onscreen character in AEW with any ties to this program. Commentary gave a resounding approval to Danielson’s offer, even Mox himself couldn’t help but assent that it appealed to him. Despite leaning a little towards the heel side of morality, Danielson’s motivations in this feud were met with universal acclaim.

And why shouldn’t it appeal to Jon Moxley? Here again was someone who was held down and spiritually broken by his time in the WWE. Leaving to join AEW was his own way of forging a path of violence, working towards his own vision of what wrestling could be. It’s a vision that aligns neatly with Danielson’s own.

The match at Revolution comes across as a manifesto of what pro wrestling means to these two. It is uncompromising, for better and worse.

In some ways, this played against the match’s favor. Mox vs. Bryan came seventh on a very stacked card of nine matches (not even including the two pre-show matches). Just two matches before this was the very emotional payoff to the CM Punk vs. MJF storyline, featuring a massive plot beat of Wardlow seemingly turning babyface. A 17-minute Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa match sandwiched between the two encounters did very little to keep the crowd energy up.

The fans were noticeably a little lethargic and slow going to get into this match. This wasn’t helped by Danielson and Mox taking their time to work their way through a proper escalation of offense. When the crowd chants “We want violence!” at the top of the match, they were greeted with an impressive struggle for positional control, but I doubt that’s what the Orlando live crowd had in mind.

That’s the thing about having such a staunch approach to pro wrestling. There’s never any telling how it plays out to the crowd until it’s all too late. There’s a few ways to tackle this problem. Wrestlers might readjust the structure and flow of the match to liven up the crowd or they can double down and wrestle how they want to.

I’m no mind reader so I couldn’t tell what happened between Danielson and Moxley as performers in that ring. What I can tell you is that as a viewer, it never felt like they adjusted to appease the crowd as much as it felt like they beat the crowd into submission. These are two of the most skilled and talented wrestlers anywhere in the world, and left to their own devices, even with the odds stacked against them, they will produce something special. No shock then that this match holds up far better on its own. When I watched it for a second time, separate from the full context of the show, all of its best qualities were amplified.

It’s a real special slice of violence here.

What I love about these two is how solid and realistic their movements come across in every aspect of the match. It’s obvious in those big pieces of offense like Danielson’s signature kicks or Moxley’s lariats and headbutts. I don’t think there’s a single strike in this that whiffs. Everything lands with such force, all accompanied with that satisfying, meaty thud of flesh on flesh. Moxley gives us one of his better bleeders (something he’s oddly inconsistent about despite his CZW roots), Dragon lays all his strikes in. Those are all delightful and great, of course. That’s the stuff that’s easy to see.

But it’s the minor actions in between that really bring this to another level for me.

For example, early in the match Danielson is firing off kicks to Moxley’s chest. When he goes for the climactic kick to the head, Mox gets a hand up to block the shot which only exposes his ribs for a kick instead. It’s a great thing, a small moment of pure precision and control from Danielson that highlights how his brutality goes hand-in-hand with a keen strategic awareness in the ring.

The spot creates a weakness on Mox’s body that Danielson was happy to exploit throughout the rest of the match. Later on while trading strikes, Danielson grabs Mox’s wrist to forcefully expose the man’s ribs to more kicks. In between the kicks, Danielson also wrenched Mox’s arm in one of the most compelling displays of Danielson’s uncanny ability to target multiple body parts simultaneously. Even the act of just grabbing Mox’s wrists to expose the bad ribs would have had me nodding in approval, but the addition of arm work between the strikes really brings it to the next level.

There’s also Danielson’s attack on the nose. It comes out in the first half of the match, with Bryan grasping at Mox’s nose to cut off a comeback. In the finish, Danielson slaps on a triangle choke on a bloodied Moxley. Mox lasts much longer in the choke than any of Danielson’s previous AEW opponents, so the American Dragon compounds the punishment with some truly gruesome punches right to the bridge of the nose. The camera gets a real tight shot of it too, I thought the man’s nose would shatter before my eyes.

Even this burnt-out Orlando crowd couldn’t stay immune to the joys of this match for too long. They’re fully with this thing by the time Mox sneaks his victory over Dragon, and the roof fully blows off by the time William Regal makes his way down to the ring to confront both men. Now there’s a story that I can’t wait to see unfold. One only hopes that it’s filled with glorious violence the way this match is.

This is a match that stands its ground, and gets its way in the end. It doesn’t wait for you to come along for the ride. Dragon and Mox aren’t here to hold your hand to guide you on this journey.

They’d rather grab your wrist to give you a kick in the ribs.

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