A few weeks ago WWE produced one its best matches of the year when C.M. Punk defended his WWE heavyweight championship against Daniel Bryan at the Over the Limit PPV in Raleigh. The match was a clinic and one of the best worked matches I’ve seen all year (and there have been many good matches this year). It’s no coincidence that one of my other favorite matches of the year was the Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus 2 out of 3 falls match from April’s Extreme Rules PPV. The thing that stood out to me in each of those matches was just how good Bryan really is and the fact that I’m actually becoming a fan of technical wrestling.
Technical wrestling, also known as scientific wrestling, is pretty self explanatory. Most technical wrestlers incorporate a variety of holds, counter holds, transitions and submission maneuvers into their matches. Their matches tend to be slower paced and tell more of an in-ring story than a typical 10 minute match on Monday Night Raw. Most hardcore fans tend to appreciate technical wrestling more than the casual fans that may flip through the channels on a random night and happen to catch some wrestling action. Though not necessarily accurate, because two great wrestlers can get a fan into any kind of match they have, it takes a greater level of attention to detail for a fan to really get into a technically sound match.
Ring of Honor, a small Northeast-based independent promotion, specializes in presenting technical wrestling. Almost from its inception in 2002, ROH has consistently provided a technically-based wrestling product, which has also caused a bit of criticism. While the promotion is universally lauded for consistently having great matches, they also tend to go a bit overboard.
One frequent complaint from major ROH shows is that their main event matches last entirely too long. Davey Richards, a tremendous performer and a former ROH world champion, often had several matches that lasted in upwards of 40 minutes. Instead of providing the fans with good solid action, it often appeared that his matches were displays for him to prove to the world that he could do as many impressive moves as possible. There is nothing wrong with having long matches, but it only becomes a problem when you burn out your audience. In my years of being a fan, and there are numerous exceptions, I believe that a typically great wrestling match tends to peak around the 20-25 minute mark. Many of the best matches I’ve ever seen, from multiple promotions, have gone no longer than 30 minutes. Again, there are exceptions. A match should end at the precise right moment and going too long can certainly take away from a match’s desired reaction.
Some of my all-time favorite wrestlers are Chris Jericho, Rock, Steve Austin, Edge, Shawn Michaels and A.J. Styles. I heavily respect talent such as the late Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Lance Storm, Bret Hart and Ricky Steamboat. Their style of wrestling, which was more technically sound, was not my cup of tea growing up, but I can certainly appreciate them more in hindsight. Perhaps the two wrestlers I really wish I would’ve appreciated while watching them as a child, for their in-ring abilities, were Ted DiBiase and Owen Hart. They were phenomenal performers.
And then there is Bryan. Anyone who follows the worldwide wrestling scene knew he had a reputation that preceded him before entering WWE. He made a name for himself in ROH and wrestled extensively overseas. Bryan has been voted as Best Technical Wrestler in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards for the last seven years.
Being that I’ve never been a huge ROH fan, I didn’t really know what to expect from him when he made his WWE debut in 2010. I knew he could go once the bell rang, but I wasn’t sure if his style would be something I would enjoy. In ROH, he was known for doing lengthy matches where he was allowed to fully showcase his talents. I knew that wouldn’t happen in WWE. I was impressed during the first match of his I ever saw (against Chris Jericho on NXT). He moved with a quickness and flair in the ring that made him seem like a notch above the average WWE wrestler. It was apparent early on that he could deliver the goods on the microphone as well. There has never been a time in WWE where being a good talker has been as important to having a successful career
I didn’t fully get behind Bryan until his world title run this year. He established himself as such an entertaining character and even though he played the “bad guy,” I often found myself cheering for him. I also liked the fact he was scheduled to defend his title against Sheamus at this year’s Wrestlemania. I was personally looking forward to the match because he and Sheamus were supposed to wrestle each other on last year’s show, only to have the match scrapped from the card in a last minute decision.
I’m sure every wrestling fan remembers what happened at Wrestlemania. He lost to Sheamus in an 18-second squash which infuriated fans worldwide. If Vince McMahon and the other power brokers in the company were unsure of the backlash that decision would receive then they were reminded in full force the following night on Raw from Miami. That classic show will forever be remembered for the return of Brock Lesnar, but make no mistake about it, the biggest star of the evening was Bryan as his name and trademark “Yes” slogan were vociferously chanted during every segment of that evening’s show. It was quite the irony that the man long considered as the best wrestler in the world had gained the respect of the entire WWE Universe after losing in record time.
The following month was his rematch with Sheamus. I figured the WWE would do a make-good since so many fans were outraged with their Wrestlemania outcome. In all fairness, Sheamus is a good wrestler and I wanted a chance to see him perform at the level I knew he was capable of with Bryan.
Their rematch exceeded my wildest expectations. It was a simple and well orchestrated 2 out of 3 falls encounter that was the first glimpse of what Bryan could offer the WWE in a main-event level capacity. As I watched that match with my best friend, I remarked that it was the first mostly technical match I had been into in a very long time. It was tremendous storytelling and quality ringwork at its finest and was never boring.
His match with C.M. Punk was even better and was made the more remarkable when you take into consideration that both Punk and Bryan were two wrestlers who many thought would never make it to the top level in WWE, nonetheless be in a headlining match for the most prestigious title in all of professional wrestling.
Bryan has won me over and proven that a technical wrestling match does not have to be an overdrawn snoozefest. I like the guy so much that I’m tempted to go back and watch some of his ROH work. More importantly, he’s renewed my interest in watching many of the technical greats of yesteryear and today a bit more closely. In a sense, he has made me smarter about the business and I thank him immensely for that.