Bryan Danielson vs. Paul London (ROH Epic Encounter 4/12/03)

Match Reviews

This review was commissioned by Dan Vacura over on my Ko-fi account.

It’s always an interesting prospect revisiting the early work of someone you hold in such high regard. I’ve made no secret at this point of considering Bryan Danielson the best pro wrestler that’s ever lived, but that’s not a reputation that one earns over night. Prodigious as he was as a young performer, matches like this demonstrate just how far he’s come as a well-rounded performer. Even more interesting than that though is to observe what feel like in-the-moment improvements that light the path towards the wrestler Danielson would eventually become.

One interesting highlight here is Danielson’s character work. Much has been said over the years now about how Danielson was never the most natural promo or that he lacked charisma. While I find that those criticisms were likely wildly exaggerated, one can see the seed of truth in it watching a match like this. In the first fall, the crowd is going wild with a dueling chant for both Danielson and London and in one key moment, Danielson looks rather drowned out by the energy instead of so masterfully channeling it as he would in the decades to come. This on its own would have made a fascinating historical document if it weren’t for the third fall. In that final stretch, Danielson has settled into a more antagonistic heel-leaning role, and it’s here that he finds the energy to actually respond to the crowd and become present enough to interact with them. It’s such a noticeable spark, a hint of the Danielson to come.

Another key Danielson trademark that makes itself known here is having a match constructed around multiple points of attack. The first fall sees Danielson make a lot of progress working over London’s back after getting a real great early backbreaker. In the second fall though, Danielson catches London which tangles the latter up in the top rope, which leads to a much more successful attack on the leg instead. It’s a neat touch too that he wins the second fall with a real nasty half crab that fucks up London’s back just as bad as the leg.

Paul London himself turns in a great performance in this match too. I enjoy him far more on the defensive side though, which works out fine as it allows Dragon to control the majority of this match and its pacing. It works out well for London too who gets to show some real great babyface instincts with a truly consistent application of the Steamboat rule. Watch how he takes any tiny opening to fight back against Danielson, always punching and kicking even when Danielson cuts him off. Down the stretch too, we get some of that oh so delicious limb selling. London does a great job making that attack on the leg feel genuine, even having one of the more organic leg crumble sells in the final fall. Bonus points to him too for selling the knee on landing the finishing Shooting Star Press as well.

Both men can still be a little rough around the edges though. While we get some fantastic striking in the moments that most call for it (the big exchanges or London kicking his way free to wrest control), they can be hit and miss in the smaller moments. London especially has some truly big whiffs on both his superkicks and worked punches early on that he compensates for well enough with some real heavy clubbing blows down the stretch. Even Danielson who has a much tighter game in this regard isn’t quite the killer he would yet become, so it’s a lot of very standard worked strikes to fill in the gaps here.

All in all, as with so much ROH of this era, they get way more right than wrong. The first fall has a lot of old school problem-solution style wrestling, the big bombs are worked towards, and they get a surprising amount out of the smaller moments that fill a match as well. While it never peaks quite as high, this feels like a much more natural synthesis of what the American super indie style was aiming for than Danielson/Ki from the year before. It’s prone to overreach from these two, but for the most part, it’s just some good, hearty ass pro wrestling.

Rating: ****1/4

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