In my time as a wrestling fan, I have run the full gamut of opinions when it comes to Kenny Omega. To me, Kenny Omega is the very definition of a “coin flip” wrestler. On any given night, he’s either someone I consider to be one of the very best in-ring performers in the world today or someone I can’t really stand to watch for too long.
I’ve seen and enjoyed the highs like his fabled run in New Japan or even the early 2020 AEW run but I’ve also been highly critical of his lows. If it wasn’t already clear, I’ve considered the past year or so of his work a low point for him. I’m not on board with the gimmick and the matches don’t quite capture the imagination the way they used to.
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So when they announced Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson for AEW Dynamite Grand Slam, my initial reaction was a muted, “It’s probably going to be good.” I’ve made no secret of my love for Bryan Danielson but Kenny Omega’s just such a question mark for me that he actually tempered my excitement for what many consider to be one of the great dream matches of the last twenty years.
Of course, I was wrong to doubt the greatest wrestler of all time.
The American Dragon Revived
Bryan Danielson, given the opportunity to work the matches he wants, always delivers. The last eleven years have shown the kind of miracles he can produce under the smothering WWE system, so how could I have expected anything less than greatness from the American Dragon unleashed?
I could tell this would be something truly special from the opening moments. I underestimated how palpable the atmosphere in Arthur Ashe was going to be once these two stood across from each other in the ring. The roar of a truly hot crowd witnessing something special really is something else. The fans at Arthur Ashe were on fire before either man even touched.
Close ups of the competitors before the bell also promised so much. For Danielson, a growing thrill to be back in the thick of things—a complete contrast to the resigned legend casually walking his way out of the WWE earlier this year. For Omega, a focus that’s eluded him for much of the past year. Omega perfectly gets across the gravity of the match up without sacrificing his more heelish persona down the line.
The opening action is simple but the crowd reacts to everything. On top of reviving the classic indie chant of “You’re gonna get your fucking head kicked in!”, the crowd also reamins responsive for smaller details. The crowd explodes at the opening lock up, they even audibly pop for Danielson working Omega into a wrist lock.
Omega’s arm is the narrative thread holding together the opening act of the match. Danielson works it well with some standard offense and Omega sells it well enough to put it over as a nagging problem. It’s not all arm work though as both men mix in some really hard strikes through the opening to keep things dynamic and explosive throughout. The arm work does eventually pay off though as Danielson counters a tights-assisted roll up with the first Cattle Mutilation that we’ve seen in years.
Seeing Bryan Danielson apply a Cattle Mutilation, and have it be greeted with deafening cheers from the New York audience, just takes me back. I can sit here and talk about how it speaks to how Danielson’s finally working to his maximum abilities, utilizing all the tools of the trade that he’s amassed for over two decades, but the truth is that it just takes me back. It makes me think of 2000s ROH main events in crowded ballrooms with fans slapping the metal barricades. Sue me, nostalgia is a tool much like anything else in wrestling and it can be applied well. It was applied well here.
The emotional high of the Cattle Mutilation marks the end of the first act as it’s swiftly followed by a brutal transition from Kenny Omega. The dragon suplex on the ramp combined with the running V Trigger make for an excellent start to Omega’s heat segment. Obscured as it was by a commercial break, this might just be one of Omega’s best control segments of his AEW run. It’s smug and petty in tone while still being incredibly violent. The timing of coming back to commercial only for Omega to dump Danielson with a gross looking buckle bomb is exactly what you want from a segment like this.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) September 23, 2021
Of course, Danielson sells the damage to perfection. His neck and head problems are well known, and he milks that for all its worth here. Danielson is one of the most naturally sympathetic babyfaces in the history of the industry. What makes it work so well is that the sympathy always goes hand in hand with action. Danielson doesn’t just lay down to let the heels do their work. He pushes back, even if it’s just to get in a single punch. His physicality matches the very energy of the crowd around him. Commentary often speaks of wrestlers feeding off the energy of the fans; very few have ever translated that into actual physical expression better than Bryan Danielson.
The sympathy we feel for Danielson and the brutality of Omega’s offense lend weight to the much grander spots that these two work towards. Of note is the avalanche dragon suplex which looks devastating even without Danielson landing straight on his neck and shoulders. He’s able to get more of a rotation on it to distribute the impact across his body but the way he sold the attack on the neck lends it so much gravity. That commentary spotted the specific way Danielson bumped and used it to justify his kickout only sweetens the moment for me.
A 30-minute Draw
The match ends in a time limit draw, cutting off the action at an unnatural point but this doesn’t hurt the quality of the match at all for me. For one, it’s heartening to see that they don’t lean on the cliché of the bell ringing just as someone has hit their finisher. Instead the bell rings as the two continue to slug things out, both clearly showing the toll that the match has taken on them.
It is an astonishing effort, a confident statement of intent from AEW. If the promotion wanted to get across that they’re the place to be for great wrestlers to have the creative freedom to maximize their skills, then this match screams that from the rooftops.
On top of that? Another feather in the cap for one of Danielson’s most triumphant years as a professional wrestler. After tonight, he can lay claim to having wrestled the best 2021 match for the two biggest North American pro wrestling companies out there. Those are things that don’t happen for just any wrestler, but the greatest wrestler of all time makes it look easy.
AEW, yet again, delivers big by just doing the obvious thing: advertising the dream match and letting it play out. Danielson’s talent for pacing and structure combined with a focused and on point Omega translates into a match that many are calling the greatest television wrestling match of all time. I don’t think I’d go that far but there’s certainly an argument to be made for this being the best match in AEW’s short history.
The fact that this leaves viewers with the impression that these two haven’t even tapped into their maximum potential yet might just be its greatest accomplishment of all.
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