Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bryan Danielson Is The Best Junior Heavyweight Of All-Time

Calling him the best junior heavyweight ever is not damning with faint praise
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
When I was a young wrestling fan, around 1991 or 1992, I was getting bored by wrestling on television. The Rockers had separated, and it was ugly. Bret Hart never thrilled me as a fan, largely because he never had the sort of kinetic and explosive style that can draw a young fan in. So I was looking for something new, something different, to keep me intrigued. That person was Jushin "Thunder" Liger, and I am quite sure I was not alone in that assessment. It was watching Superbrawl II and seeing this guy in a bad-ass silver sequined cape and an equally bad-ass red and white costume tear the house down that made me go "I want to wrestle just like that". I loved Liger, and still do. For a whole decade, from 1990-2000, Jushin Liger was as good as it absolutely got when it came to being a junior heavyweight. His matches against El Samurai, Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Ohtani, and Koji Kanemoto were fantastic.

For a very long time, he was the perfect jr. heavyweight.

That time is no more. And the man who replaced him retired this Monday.

The idea of the perfect wrestler is somewhat odd, considering we're not talking about an actual sport but instead something more akin to performance art. But if you were to, in a lab, try and put together the ideal guy who you could say would wrestle in any time period and do well in the process, Bryan Danielson is that guy. The 1970's would mean he'd be having long proto-grapplefuck matches with Jack Brisco, Dory Funk Jr. and Nick Bockwinkel. The 1980's New Japan gives you Danielson vs Inoki and Fujinami, which you didn't even realize you really wanted until I just mentioned it.

Bryan Danielson could brawl (see his matches against Necro Butcher for proof), wrestle the stiff BattlArts style (Munenori Sawa and Bobby Fish), fly, wrestle as an earnest vastly popular babyface or the prickiest of prick heels. My greatest regret is that we don't get to see him wrestle anymore. But I'm happy that he's retiring before he becomes a cautionary tale like Dynamite Kid.

Thank you Bryan. Thank you for everything you did.