All Continental Classic 2023 reviews linked here.

At his worst, Bryan Danielson can be the worst kind of bully. 

At this point, both men’s times in AEW are the longest that they’ve ever shared a locker room together. Before that, it was about a year’s worth of time during Bryan Danielson’s final year with ROH. Nowhere in their history do they have an extended rivalry onscreen, and while Eddie Kingston’s been clear that the two don’t like each other most days, there’s very little talk of the kind of longstanding grudge that characterizes Kingston’s issues with others such as Claudio Castagnoli or Chris Hero. 

That’s what makes Bryan’s needling of Eddie Kingston stand out so much. Danielson doesn’t really seem to hate Kingston, at least not in an active way. His contempt for Kingston always comes across as a little more petty in this regard–he bullies Eddie Kingston because he can. Even worse, he enjoys bullying Eddie Kingston because he’s good at it.

This has been consistent throughout both their runs in AEW. Whenever these two cross paths, Danielson goes out of his way to talk almost cruel amounts of shit towards Eddie. Take the lead ins to this Continental Classic match, Kingston sets up the match with a humble desire to improve after a crushing loss, and Dragon responds with a fiery, antagonistic promo from the commentary desk. The response is so disproportionate, as if merely sharing space with Kingston triggers some kind of irritated response in Danielson’s being. 

The problem now for Kingston is that his pride doesn’t suffer those kinds of blows lightly.

He tries to though. One can see it in the opening moments of this match. Eddie doesn’t rush in with all bravado and anger. He has good reason to be cautious. He’s the only man in the whole tournament with something tangible to lose, and he’s already behind on points. Add on to that, he’s found the most success this year by working with a cooler head, staying focused and wrestling through his opponents instead of exploding on them with his anger. He needed that focus against Claudio in New York, and he needs it here against Dragon.

Danielson’s one of the most patient wrestlers on earth though. He doesn’t rush in either, he nags at Kingston like a gadfly. Those kicks to the leg–a classic tactic Danielson’s used against Kingston in the past, one that calls to mind an old, lingering injury on Kingston’s body. Kingston checks the kicks though, and he mostly keeps cool where in the past against Danielson, he’s the one who escalated the action in attempt to fluster the technician. This time though, it’s Danielson who raises the temperature. When he can’t ground Eddie to pick away at the leg, he dips into Eddie’s realm instead and starts chopping. 

At first, it feels like a bad move on Danielson’s part. He can hit hard, obviously, but Eddie Kingston’s built to hit hard. Eddie has more mass and when he hits his first gruesome chop, it floors Danielson instantly. It also leads to Eddie reaching into his more desperate bag of tricks like a big Saito on the floor, and just ragdolling Danielson with blows on the outside of the ring. I love the little bumps that Danielson takes onto the announce table when Eddie chops him against it, it’s a small physical detail that adds so much more life to a rather standard spot in Kingston’s playbook.

Danielson’s strategy becomes far more effective in the long term though, because when Eddie’s mad he’s much more liable to transform into a blunt hammer–pounding away at his opponent until they drop. Danielson, meanwhile, has an almost surgical approach to the match. He’s laying in his kicks even harder than usual it seems, but he’s kicking Kingston all over. He goes to the arm, to the ribs, to the legs, to the chest. Just these thudding, concussive blows crashing into Kingston from all sides. Eddie is always happy to return in kind, but he’s chipping away at Danielson’s chest, fully ignoring Danielson’s bad eye, the neck that was damaged on the floor. Danielson lured him into a pissing contest. But where Eddie’s fighting with pride on the line, it’s Dragon actively working to break down his opponent piece by piece.

It’s a brutally effective form of rope-a-dope on Dragon’s part. By the time Danielson’s able to start hitting the bigger bombs in his arsenal, notably a pair of head-crunching suplexes, the effect’s so much stronger on the already weathered Kingston. The reality of the situation drops down on Kingston exponentially, he’s struggling to get a foothold in at all. His best moments are catching Dragon offguard with a Backfist, and nailing some suplexes of his own. But when Danielson finds himself on the backfoot, he utilizes the same tactic that proved so effective against Zack Sabre Jr. at WrestleDream: he goes back to pissing off Eddie to throw him off his game.

It’s only when they’re tangled up on the mat that Eddie finally thinks to go to the bad eye, but Dragon’s put in the focus and work all match long that he can survive Eddie’s anger long enough to come out back on top.

And that’s the cruelest aspect of it all. Danielson won a mental game here against an opponent who’d already taken a beating a week before. His post-match promo about combining mental and physical toughness cuts even deeper against an opponent like Eddie who’s internal struggles inform so much of his character. Danielson’s the worst kind of bully: one who gets validated in the end.

Rating: ****1/4

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