All Continental Classic 2023 reviews linked here.

Ever since he challenged MJF for the World Title, Daniel Garcia has been trying to “restore the feeling.” This has multiple meanings, of course. As it pertains strictly to Daniel Garcia, the pro wrestling character, it’s about reclaiming the success that’s slipped through his fingers in the last year or so. A former ROH Pure Champion, one of the most exciting prospects signed from the American indies, a lot of that buzz that surrounded Garcia sort of just evaporated in 2023. Feel like that always happens when someone spends too much time around Chris Jericho, but I digress.

It’s a simple enough thing for Garcia the character too: he just can’t catch a break. He lost rather handily to MJF in that World Title match, he’s racking up losses in the Continental Classic, and it all seems to stem from the internal conflict that characterized his 2022: the wrestler against the sports entertainer. 

That seems to be a conflict that AEW itself seems to be battling every single day. In that sense, “restore the feeling” takes on a much larger meaning, one that many fans have taken on for themselves. In this case, it means returning AEW to its peak form, often cited by many fans as that late 2021 run of TV and PPVs, but really take your pick for whichever version of AEW you like best. For many fans, the current product doesn’t represent that, and restoring the feeling generally speaks to uplifting younger talents and shows built around exciting in-ring matches. 

Against Bryan Danielson, Daniel Garcia attempts to restore the feeling.

He does this in a key visual way. Gone are the longer tights associated with his “sports entertainer” gimmick, and instead we see him return to the short trunks of his independent days. His moniker from those indie days, as well as his peak AEW work, “Red Death” is written on those trunks as well. The gear indicates to us that Garcia understands the gravity of getting back into the ring with Bryan Danielson, that this is an opponent that can not be taken lightly, injury or not.

The problem though, is that Garcia spends the match chasing two different legacies at the same time. For one, he’s attempting to recapture his own best self–the technically minded, strategic grappler of 2021 and 2022. To be fair, this is to his benefit, both as a character and a performer. As a fan, it’s just so much easier to buy into this version of Garcia. There’s always been a scrappiness to him, regardless, but combining that with an aggressive approach to chain wrestling and mat work makes it even better. Sure, the gear change may be doing a lot of the work for me mentally, but I think there’s a noted difference to the Garcia here than the one that’s been struggling on AEW TV. He’s well-studied, often dodging Dragon’s signature kicks to go for covers. He’s focused, sticking with the arm in the early goings, and later trying to make headway by attacking the injured side of Dragon’s face.

He’s also clearly learning as he goes along. He attempts the Dragon Tamer once again in this match, and once again he leans too far back and gets caught. But this time, he’s able to mitigate the effects by rolling through immediately and getting a piledriver instead. Steady improvement on his part there.

More broadly though, and this may be his greater failing in the match, is that he’s also chasing the legacy of the American Dragon himself. As with many, many Danielson opponents in the past, Garcia attempts to earn Dragon’s respect via emulation. It’s not revenge driven as it might be when someone like Kofi Kingston stomps Dragon’s head in at WrestleMania, but more of a desperate attempt to earn Dragon’s respect. “You’re not the only one that can do the 12-to-6 elbows! You’re not the only one who can kick!” 

And therein lies the problem: you’ll never beat Bryan Danielson by being a lesser version of him.

Bryan Danielson has approached both matches in his tournament so far with an immense sense of self-assuredness. It’s what allows him to goad Eddie Kingston into a desperate slugfest that opens the latter up. Here against Garcia, it’s being able to see through the superficial change of Garcia donning his old gear, and understanding that at the core is still a very conflicted opponent. Garcia’s trying his best, but Danielson wrestles like he can smell the blood in the water instantly. He needles at Garcia much like he did to Kingston, often going to the ropes to break the momentum of a newly energized Garcia.

What follows from Danielson’s confidence though is an immense sense of disappointment. One doesn’t even need the post-match promo to see just how much contempt Danielson seems to have for what Garcia’s dedicated his last year too. “You wanna dance?” he taunts, constantly, all while kicking the life out of Garcia. 

It’s oddly cathartic as a viewer to see. For all Garcia’s talk about restoring the feeling, he bears a certain level of complicity to that feeling vanishing in the first place. He did a dance and it got over, of course he’d stick to it. But what was lost in the attempt to play to larger crowds, to go for the guaranteed pop? 

Danielson shows him what’s lost, at every single turn here. He has an answer for everything. When Garcia tries to kick at the legs, Danielson responds in kind with scary precision. He kicks at Garcia’s legs from the outside, forcing Garcia to dodge and adjust, only for Danielson take him out by kicking from the inside of the legs. It’s brutal, and it’s devastating and cutting.

Garcia has enough natural talent and heart to stand up to Dragon though, notably trading hands with him in the deeper stretches. Combined with the orbital bone injury, it’s enough to get Dragon against the ropes. But then again, Garcia falters–he dances. All the seams in his identity split open, leaving only uncertainty behind. It’s the tiniest quarter he gives Dragon, and he gets blasted in the face with a Busaiku Knee for his troubles.

When Dragon locks in the LeBell Lock, he’s much meaner about it too. Disgusting crossface blows and slaps to the head, extra punishment for all the wasted potential. Garcia doesn’t tap, he just passes out, but it is a decisive and crushing defeat. It’s one he needed to suffer though, and one hopes it’ll be a loss that liberates him towards a greater path. 

Does Daniel Garcia restore the feeling in this match?

Not exactly. But he does die brutally for letting it slip from his fingers. And that’s a start.

Rating: ****1/4

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