Bryan Danielson vs. Hechicero (AEW Collision 2/3/24)

Match Reviews

On paper alone, one of the coolest things to happen this decade. An absolute dream match for anyone familiar with Hechicero, and it’s a gift to have it positioned as such and treated with enough importance to deliver on its promise. For one, Hechicero’s given a lot of favors here that he may not have been given elsewhere in the world. Even in Arena Mexico, Hechicero doesn’t always get the chance to cleanse the entrance ramp with flame. A truly wonderful and simple visual to make Hechicero feel immediately like a big deal for those who haven’t been lucky enough to see him until now.

And then the wrestling.

It’s not always perfect. When both men are asked to perform more in their opponents’ wheelhouse, it doesn’t always go off without a hitch. Hechicero hits hard as far as his contemporaries in Arena Mexico are concerned, but it’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to say he’s outdoing American Dragon on this particular front, especially when his worked punches aren’t exactly El Satanico levels out here. Meanwhile, as studied as he might be, Danielson isn’t always quite in position for the best of the llave stuff that Hechicero unleashes. There’s a bunch of minor hitches throughout this in terms of the nitty gritty execution, but so little of that really matters compared to the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that Hechicero ties the greatest wrestler of all time into knots and looks comfortable doing it. Narratively, Danielson never really gets out of the starting blocks throughout the entire runtime of the match. Every single strategy that Danielson attempts, every hold that he locks on, none of it works. There’s a richer dimension to that story too in that not only does all of Danielson’s standard offense not work, Hechicero often outdoes him in the process. There’s a few key moments to point to here, most notably when Hechicero very calmly escapes a Danielson Romero Special, only to lock in his own rolling variation of the hold.

It sinks in quite early on that Danielson’s dream scenario here is very rapidly turning into a bit of a nightmare. Perhaps one of his best contributions to the match is his emotion here. There’s a subtlety to it, he’s not slapping the mat or throwing a fit, but watch Danielson’s face in the early moments and one sees the dawning realization that what might have been a celebratory sparring session for him is quickly turning into a do or die scenario. At worse too, Danielson’s finding himself being very publicly and openly humiliated in a style he’s been loudly asking to participate in. This isn’t Danielson forcing Bandido to riff on llave stylings he enjoyed on tapes anymore, it’s him getting in there with a contemporary master of the game and finding himself grossly out of his depth.

In previous matches like those against Zack Sabre Jr at WrestleDream or against Eddie Kingston in the Continental Classic, Danielson’s been able to get a psychological advantage over his opponent to open them up to attack. But here, he loses the mental game pretty much instantly. Not only is he rattled by how outmatched he is by Hechicero, he also gets beaten to the punch in his normal avenues of rattling an opponent. Note early on when Danielson and Hechicero are in dueling leg locks. It’s in this position that Danielson spat at Sabre Jr to throw the latter off his game, this time though Hechicero gets ahead of him and smacks Danielson himself.

Meanwhile, other standard Danielson tricks that he uses to surprise opponents fall flat here as well. At one point, he seems to be going for that beautiful La Yestica that he so often catches Claudio off guard with. It doesn’t work with Hechicero (perhaps cause Hechicero’s been working around Mistico for years now), and instead Danielson himself gets caught in Hechicero’s swinging hammer lock into the backbreaker.

It’s such a wonderful deconstruction of Danielson’s plans of attack. In a perfect world, the booking just fully commits to this idea and has Hechicero tie Danielson up for a clean pinfall or even a submission victory.

We get a bit of a half-measure here instead with Danielson sneaking a pinfall right at the very end. And the word sneak is very important here, that cover comes basically out of nowhere, with nothing Danielson did earlier in the match leading up to it whatsoever. Even a fully cinched in LeBell Lock got countered without much fuss by Hechicero, this pinfall for Danielson is an escape and nothing else. I’m sure there’s some political goings on here, but this match might just be even better if they’d just committed to the story so obviously being told here.

That being said, as far as victories go, Danielson makes this one look like a total defeat, and that’s entirely for the best. Getting the best of the GOAT is no small feat for Hechicero here.

Rating: ****1/4

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