All Continental Classic 2023 reviews linked here.

With this, Danielson goes five for five in having great matches in the tournament. This was sort of a guaranteed great one, to be fair. Even working sub-ten minute matches in front of nothing but LED screens, Danielson and Claudio have produced great work together. Given a little more space on TV in a match with tangible (if not entirely emotionally-driven) stakes makes it all the richer.

What they end up producing here is a compilation of some of their greatest hits, filtered through their current places as characters in pro wrestling. For fans of these two, there’s a lot of familiar stuff that happens here. The early chain work, especially those Greco Roman knuckle lock exchanges harken back to the series of matches these two had back in 2008. Later on, you have some of those wild athletic fireworks from these two like the return of the La Yestica. Just insanely cool shit like that or like Claudio snatching Dragon out of the air into a vicious giant swing can’t help but get me hooting and hollering.

It would have been enough for this to be a collection of well-placed spots, but as can be expected from these two, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. 

From a character standpoint, this match stays really true to the dynamic these two have always had with each other for years. Despite having the obvious size and power advantage, against Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli finds himself unable to overwhelm his opposition. For the first time all year, Claudio finds himself unable to position himself in a place to bully his opponent and grind them down to the mat. 

What this leads to is an inevitable concession on Claudio’s part when he pokes Dragon in the bad eye. It’s a shortcut for Claudio, but there’s also a stubbornness to him that after doing so, he doesn’t necessarily stick to the eye as Andrade did, but goes back to trying to outdo Danielson through sheer skill. Arguably, it’s this competitive pride that keeps Claudio from overcoming Dragon, because if given enough room to get back to a straight wrestling contest, Danielson just has too much heart and skill to be taken down.

Even then, Claudio gets so goddamn close just through his familiarity with the opposition. Notably, he’s able to endure and reverse the Danielson headstomps which leads into getting a Sharphooter on Dragon. From the announcement of the blocks, I had marked this as the most likely time limit draw, but it’s especially exciting when they don’t settle for an easy trope like Claudio sitting in the Sharpshooter til the clock runs out. Again, it’s that same pride fueling him, firing off one final blow that just can’t land in time.

Some of the best 20 minutes of action all year.

Rating: ****1/4

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