Looking to fill a hole left by the cancellation of the annual March Madness extravaganza, as well as a way to keep fans engaged when wrestling options have dwindled, Ring of Honor ran an online tournament allowing fans to vote on the best wrestler in their history. 32 men (all 27 of the company’s former champions as well as five wildcards) entered the field, representing some of the best wrestlers to ever step foot in a wrestling ring in recent memory. Their legacies, in many ways, speak for themselves. These 32 men didn’t just help build and establish ROH over the years, they helped chart the course for what pro wrestling would ultimately morph into. Especially one man in particular: Bryan Danielson, the Bracket of Honor Champion.
32 men entered but it was Bryan Danielson who, largely unsurprisingly, emerged victorious by way of the fan vote. Danielson opened his tournament against Colt Cabana before moving on to defeat Austin Aries in the Sweet 16, AJ Styles in the Elite Eight and Samoa Joe in the Final Four. This led to a showdown many likely would have preferred played out in a ring in 2020 as opposed to an online fan vote as Danielson’s final foe to vanquish was CM Punk. Much like in real life in their only one-on-one match in Ring of Honor history, which occurred at ROH Reborn: Stage One in 2004, Danielson emerged victorious here as well. In the process, Bryan Danielson may have seemingly put to rest the debate as to who is the most dominant wrestler in ROH history.
In 2002, ROH was just a fledgling promotion. A small company with big dreams and a clear vision for the future, those booking also had a knack for spotting talent. In the main event for the first-ever show, The Era of Honor Begins on February 23rd, 2002 in front of maybe 400 people in a Philadelphia rec center, three of those talents debuted. Christopher Daniels, Low Ki and Bryan Danielson shared a ring and in a 20+ minute match helped showcase a product that fans would soon gravitate towards as an alternative to WWE, the only major U.S. wrestling company at the time. WWE had just swallowed up WCW and ECW in short order so Ring of Honor in some ways, was there to fill that void. But they did more than that. They reimagined what pro wrestling could be. One of the men instrumental in ROH becoming immensely popular with fans was Bryan Danielson, who became the promotion’s top star in short order.
Bryan Danielson became a staple for the fledgling promotion, primarily wrestling there when he was in the states during its early years. At the same time, however, Danielson was also wrestling in Japan, beginning to develop the reputation and stiff/shoot style of hard-hitting kicks and punches that the American Dragon would become known for. Danielson brought all of this to his time in ROH and instantly hooked the live crowd as a result.
Not only did Bryan Danielson take part in ROH’s first-ever main event, but he also became the first man to win the Survival of the Fittest tournament in 2004, main evented ROH’s first PPV in 2007, became the first man to hold two titles within the promotion simultaneously doing so with the world and Pure belts, and within a single world title reign, defended the title more than anyone else. 39 times to be exact, over a reign of 462 days, which still stands as the third-longest of all-time. Broken down, that comes to a title defense once every 12 days, which is absolutely astounding and unheard of. But the beauty of Danielson’s reign wasn’t just in the number of matches but in their quality as he commanded incredible performances from each of his opponents, a list that included Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Steve Corino, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Naomichi Marufuji, KENTA, Lance Storm, Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness and Chris Hero during the ROH/CZW invasion angle of which Danielson was front and center.
Bryan Danielson brought out the best in every person he shared a ring with and brought them to his level in matches that often times went over the 25-minute mark. In fact, 19 of his 39 defenses bested that mark and only once during his reign did Danielson wrestle a match under 10 minutes. When taken into consideration how many days Danielson wrestled as well as how long he wrestled during his matches and the quality of his opponents, it just makes everything about his run all the more impressive.
In 2005, Bryan Danielson began wrestling for ROH as his main promotion. It wasn’t long after that when ROH fully put the weight of their support behind him and by September of that year, Danielson became the seventh world champion in company history and still to this day, one of its best.
From September 2005 to December 2006, Bryan Danielson wasn’t just the best wrestler in ROH, but one of the best in the world. In 2005, Danielson won his first Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Technical Wrestling Award. He won it again in 2006, as well as was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Year. He repeated with both awards the following year and picked up a Match of the Year award as well. The accolades continued from there, so much so that the Best Technical Wrestler award now goes by the name, Best Technical Wrestler – Bryan Danielson Award. In his career, he won the award nine consecutive years from 2005-13, and the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award for five straight years from 2006-10. This was during the heart of Danielson’s ROH career.
As Danielson’s star grew so too did that of Ring of Honor. Every match was a technical clinic, a master class in the art of great wrestling and great heel tactics. Danielson dominated Ring of Honor and the world took notice. In fact, in a lot of ways the rise of the American Dragon paralleled that of the company he was shepherding at the time. As it is written in ROH’s bio of Danielson on their website, “‘The American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson not only is one of the most talented and beloved competitors in the modern era of pro wrestling, but he also played a major role in establishing Ring of Honor as the Best Wrestling on the Planet.”
From 2002-09, Bryan Danielson was at the helm of Ring of Honor and retained his position as one of the company’s top stars and a main event extraodinaire. He was a wrestling genius and his style seemed to fit ROH perfectly. Danielson embodied much of what ROH would come to be known for over the years and was the man who in many ways, helped establish that signature style as well.
He earned the distinction of being one of the company’s Founding Fathers, alongside Low Ki, Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe. But one can argue among those four, the main Founding Father and most influential for ROH was Bryan Danielson. And it would seem the fans have agreed.
A quick look at Danielson’s Cagematch, which ranks him with a 9.45 rating across 1,332 votes (981 of which are 10s) shows a wealth of positive reviews, much of which acknowledge the time in ROH and his role in helping build the company to prominence and early success. Considered “one of the biggest franchise players in Ring of Honor History,” by Ameridragon, Danielson was also cited as a “superstar during his Ring of Honor days” by AMHTP.
“The man left behind him a great legacy. Who do you think when you mention the Ring of Honor? About him,” killowenskill wrote. Phenomenal91 noted that his “brilliant work on the independent circuit and Ring of Honor speaks for itself.”
AJStylopz mentioned his “phenomenal run in ROH,” citing, “so many amazing matches he had there.” The statement was echoed by Criss Axton who wrote “he was one of the most over wrestlers in that promotion and Harlequin who noted, “Daniel Bryan’s ring work speaks volumes on its own. You don’t need to muster that much effort to look up a RoH match of Bryan Danielson wrestling circles around his opponents.”
“I’d go as far as to say that Dragon is, if not -the- best, then as good as any in-ring worker of any era in wrestling. His body of work in ROH is astounding, constantly churning out flawless performances,” wrote Lecter. A sentiment shared by MeisterSodo, who after seeing Danielson’s catalog of work from ROH referred to him as “perfect, a giant performer that makes you dreaming.”
But perhaps it was Alex Shelley, a fan account not the wrestler, who best summed up what Bryan Danielson meant to ROH, his tenure there, his impact there and the lasting legacy he will always have on the company:
“Danielson ist Mr. ROH!”
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. For more classic ROH content, check out the company on YouTube and at HonorClub.