365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
As mentioned before, the January portion of this project is about showing love to some all-time favorites of mine. Mostly favorite wrestlers, but also promotions, eras… and feuds. My selection for January 14 is the first chapter in one of my favorite feuds of all time: the Ring of Honor vs. CZW rivalry from 2006.
This inter-promotional feud just underscores what the WCW/ECW Invasion could have been. The CZW interlopers exact some major violence in a “shock and awe” campaign on an ROH roster known more for “pure” wrestling and splintered by their own interpersonal rivalries. Strange alliances are made, like loathed heel Adam Pearce becoming one of the standard-bearers for ROH and a subsequent fan favorite. The overarching invasion splinters off into individual feuds, like BJ Whitmer and his issue with Super Dragon, then Necro Butcher. We’ve got secret traitors. We’ve got betrayals. We’ve got highs and lows, all culminating in a CZW specialty — the Cage of Death — that summer to settle the score and also immediately launch the main storyline in ROH for the latter part of 2006.
I love this feud so much and I’ve seen most of it … except the first match where it really all began, when Chris Hero challenged Bryan Danielson (you might know him better as Daniel Bryan) for the ROH World Title.
You can watch this match on Ring of Honor’s YouTube channel.
This all started when ROH and CZW both booked shows in Philadelphia on the same day. CZW opted to move its event, which had been scheduled first if I recall correctly, to an afternoon bell time so fans could have the option to attend both. That made Hero, a CZW mainstay and one half of the promotion’s tag champs with Claudio Castagnoli (now known as Cesaro in WWE), quite unhappy, and led to the following promo:
Meanwhile, since winning the ROH Title the previous September, Danielson had made a point to defend against competitors from other promotions as well as ROH mainstays. This was dubbed as an “open contract” format and led names like Steve Corino and Naomichi Marufuji to come in and test their mettle against Danielson. Hero would use this “open contract” to get his own shot at the champ.
Now, neither promotion had TV and YouTube was not the online powerhouse that it used to be. So, when it came to talking trash and building heat before walking into ROH as the hated invader, how would Hero get his message to the masses? Twitter didn’t even exist yet. Neither did Instagram. Facebook, like YouTube, was still a relative neophyte in the online world.
There was only one answer. Hero had to write out what he had to say on LiveJournal, y’all!!!
Danielson added extra sizzle the day of the big title match, when he crashed the CZW show in street clothes and cut a scathing interview on the promotion, its wrestlers, and its fans, leading to a pull-apart brawl involving wrestlers from both rosters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down video from this.
I spent a good portion of my professional career covering college football and this felt like a rivalry game: with loud boos for the road rival, who also is represented by a small but vocal contingent of its own fans. As if there already isn’t enough heat and hype surrounding this match, Hero adds to it with a promo where he vows to win the title, take it back to CZW, and throw it in the trash. Hero gets his mic cut as “The Final Countdown” plays out Danielson.
We’ve got a big-fight feel, with several other members of the CZW roster walking to the ring with Hero like cornermen for a boxing match or MMA fight. The two combatants go nose to nose and, since it’s both a title match and the main event, we get the boxing-style intros from longtime ROH announcer Bobby Cruise.
As much as I enjoy his career whether he went by Danielson or Daniel Bryan, and not to downplay any of his later feats (like main eventing a WrestleMania), this ROH Title run is my favorite iteration of Danielson’s. He’s a supremely confident, technically proficient bully of a champion, bringing that same attitude to his defenses whether facing a fan favorite like Samoa Joe or Colt Cabana or a member of The Embassy.
Hero, meanwhile, looks and wrestles quite differently than he has in later years — either as Hero on the independent circuit or Kassius Ohno during two runs under the WWE banner. He’s yet to adopt the big, brutalizing strikes that are now his bread and butter. Hero leans more on the European-influenced mat aspects of his style, which is part of Danielson’s wrestling ethos, too. That technical proficiency also allows Hero to stave off some of Danielson’s signature offense, such as the surfboard.
Danielson controls about the first half of the match until Hero focuses in on the left arm of the champion. This includes a nifty hammerlock into a backbreaker with Danielson’s arm pinned behind his back that would have made the Andersons nod in approval 20-some years prior. Check out the 18-minute mark of the match or so, for some slick arm-related torment by Hero and some equally smooth counters by Danielson.
The champ breaks out of the hold by literally slapping his way out of it, unloading with strike after strike using his good arm and hand. After an aggressive back-and-forth of pin attempts between the two, both men try to finish it. First, after Hero delivers a rolling elbow right to the bicep of the injured left arm, he hooks one of his signature submissions — a hangman’s clutch (or inverted cravate) with the arm trapped. Danielson gets to the ropes, and a few moments later, he ensnares Hero in his Cattle Mutilation submission. Hero rolls through while still in the hold and gets to the ropes. Even though he was close to victory, Danielson comes out of his trademark submission clutching at his left arm, selling the physical toll of the match.
Pay attention to the crowd dynamic throughout this match. For most of the contest, the ROH fans are incredibly vocal whether mocking Hero with chants encouraging him to fornicate himself, and overall thirsting for his bloody, violent end at the hands of their champion. As the match progresses, though, he starts earning the begrudging respect of the ROH fans — though not their support,. In what marked a ballyhooed debut match in ROH, Hero more than holds up his own end before eventually succumbing to a crossface chicken wing at center ring.
— I mentioned it before but watching Hero here and watching any of his matches from the last five years or so is almost like watching two different wrestlers. I like what Hero brings here, but I prefer the modern version, for the record.
— The collection of CZW personnel accompanying Hero includes Spyder Nate Webb, Adam Flash, Necro Butcher and a young Bryce Remsburg in the black and yellow stripes of as CZW referee shit. Necro is so hyped before the match he punches himself in the head repeatedly until he draws blood. The CZW crew stay docile observers throughout the match, which adds to the “real sport” feel of the bout.
— Lenny Leonard and Dave Prazak do a fine job on commentary: Prazak as the straight man calling it right down the middle and Leonard as the analyst leaning to favor the home team. When Hero hits his Hero’s Welcome finisher late in the match, Leonard’s repeated yelling “No!” adds to the imminent peril of the title changing hands.
— I might focus on commentators more than most where I’ve done that work, but the third man in the booth does NOT add to what we see. Gabe Sapolsky, who went by the nom de plume of Jimmy Bower whenever he was part of the perpetually unseen commentary booth, makes several verbal appearances during the match as an unabashed ROH cheerleader, burying Hero and all the CZW personnel for most of his appearances before delegating a small bit of respect to the challenger late in the match. Gabe, I mean Jimmy, sometimes adds a lot on commentary where he’s also the one building the stories and making the matches but I would have preferred they stick with the two-man commentary team for the duration on this one.
— Line of the match: Prazak tells Hero to “back up his words on his LiveJournal.” What, no Myspace status?
— As far as longevity goes, where do the runs of Cruise and referee Todd Sinclair with ROH rank at this point? Both have been with the company for more than 15 years.
— Danielson still has welts on his chest match from a brutal defense against Roderick Strong in the fall of 2005 which is amazing and vicious and might make me break my rule about not re-watching matches as part of this project.
Final Rating: 6.9
This is a very good match worth seeing on its own and a fine microcosm of the Danielson ROH reign as a whole. The ROH-CZW rivalry adds plenty of atmosphere. Seek it out and, if you haven’t seen it and have access to ROH’s 2006 shows (which, like most of the promotion’s early library are out of print and have not been released on the ROH Honor Club streaming service), I recommend going for the ride and checking out the entire seven-month run of shows.
Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.