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    Monday, February 15, 2016

    Cafe Puro (2/15/16): The American Dragon and Japan

    Today was supposed to be part two of last week’s look at the Japanese wrestlers you need to see. But in light of the unfortunate and early retirement of Daniel Bryan, it is only right to give way and look back at the career that inspired wrestlers and fans alike. And since this segment focuses on all things Japanese wrestling, now is as good a time as any to look back at the highlights of the life and times of the American Dragon in Japan, and against Japanese talent as a whole. It may have been relatively brief, but it was just as important to becoming the future Hall of Famer he is today.

    The Dragon and New Japan

    2010 was not the first time that Bryan was released from his WWE, as the first time happened in 2001 after being utilized more in the position of jobber. But if could have been the best thing that ever happened to him, as it eventually led to his participation with New Japan Pro Wrestling.

    Daniel Bryan’s New Japan career may have taken place at a younger phase of his career, but it was just as important to the development of his character as years passed. In the early 2000s, Danielson worked in its Jr. Heavyweight Division under the guise of, you guessed it, the American Dragon. While wrestling in the division that Jushin “Thunder” Liger dominated, he managed to not only show promise in terms of singles competition, but also win the illustrious IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles alongside Curry Man, who somehow eerily resembles a young competitor named Christopher Daniels. 

    And believe it or not, he also had an opportunity at the now-defunct IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship (for competitors under the age of 30) against another young upstart named Hiroshi Tanahashi. Though he lost that encounter, for Danielson, it would only be the beginning of greater things for him.

    Interesting fact to note out: he is the only former IWGP Junior Tag Champion to have ever won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. So if you think a man like Kyle O’Reilly can’t win the big one, well, take a hint from D-Bry.

    The Dragon and NOAH

    Later in his career, he would establish himself as one of the greatest technical wrestlers the world has ever seen, making Ring of Honor his home promotion. At the time, ROH had an active relationship with Pro Wrestling NOAH, which resulted to Danielson being able to participate in the Emerald ring in Japan. Because of this, he was able to add the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship to his resume, beating Yoshinobu Kanemaru. He only had one defense of the championship, and it was against a man who would later be a great friend of his: KENTA, known today as Hideo Itami in NXT.

    These two would be considered rivals against one another within the confines of the cross-talent relationship between ROH and NOAH. Funny enough, both men would eventually acknowledge each other through the use of each other’s trademark maneuvers, with Bryan using the Busaiku knee (or the knee that beat John Cena), and KENTA using Bryan’s Yes! Lock, which he named the GAME OVER, during the final years of his NOAH career.

    And it wouldn’t be right if we did not acknowledge his wars with Takeshi Morishima, who was at the time one of the top young names in NOAH. Their wars have been brutal, moreso considering their being able to go the distance and destroy each other despite the size difference. In an ROH title match, Morishima even caused Bryan to lose his retina in the heat of the moment, showing to everyone how willing they were to give fans more than their money’s worth. It was such a successful rivalry, Bryan even acknowledged that he "felt validated” after the two helped reach 2,500 attendees at the 2008 edition of Final Battle at NYC. (On a related note, hey, check out today's installment of #MustWatchMondays to see more of Bryan and Morishima!)

    Funny how things would turn out for them. Morishima would eventually announce his retirement years later due to complications with diabetes. A year or two later, Bryan made his own retirement announcement due to the concussions he suffered throughout his career. It is a grim reminder for all wrestlers that while giving their all is honorable as it is commendable, the law of equivalent exchange will always be in play, and how they treat their general well-being early in their careers will greatly affect their future.

    The Dragon During Awkward Times

    We all know about that brief moment in 2010 when Bryan was released due to a simple necktie and a potential sponsor issue. But while he was released, he managed to make a brief impact in the independents. There was that time when he made his arrival in Dragon Gate USA and joined the gaijin-centric group, World-1 International, a group that included PAC, who would later be known as Adrian Neville. And he would eventually dip his toes in the world of EVOLVE, who would face another excellent wrestler that would make his eventual retirement: Munenori Sawa. As you all know, EVOLVE would eventually have dealings with NXT, which could see great things coming out of it.

    There will never be another Bryan Danielson in history, that much we once again had to realize during his retirement ceremony last Monday on RAW. And it is true, the best way to remember Bryan is to remember the good times and the great moments he gave us. And believe me when I say, he left quite an indelible mark in the land of the rising sun, an achievement in and of itself for the one and only American Dragon.

    Images from their respective owners

    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (2/15/16): The American Dragon and Japan Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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