Welcome to the debut of Tale Of the Feud. I’ve enjoyed my dive back into old five-star matches (and will be continuing to do them), but I often feel like I’m getting a tiny nibble of a bigger tale. The truth is that while you can tell one-off stories in the world of wrestling, it’s even better when you tell extended ones. For each Tale Of The Feud, I will pick a classic rivalry and follow it from start to finish. A process that I’ve decided to start with KENTA vs Bryan Danielson
At this point, Danielson is in the midst of the ROH World Title run that would cement his reputation as the best wrestler in the world. Before the end of this feud, he will have beaten Nigel McGuinness, merging the Pure Title with the ROH World Title, while he’s previously defended against the likes of Austin Aries, Naomichi Marufuji, AJ Styles, Colt Cabana, Chris Hero, Homicide and Roderick Strong. If you name them, he’d probably beaten them.
Over in Japan, though, KENTA was making a name for himself too. The man now known as Hideo Itami was in the midst of his first stint with the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title (although he would lose it as the feud was ongoing). He had also recently had the honour of being put over in defeat to Kenta Kobashi as the legendary figure burst out his Burning Hammer, one of only seven times that Kobashi used it in his career.
To put things simply, we were in dream match territory, friends.
Match One: KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji vs Bryan Danielson and Samoa Joe at ROH Best In The World (25/3/06)
There’s a lot to cover with this one, so let’s start with the obvious. It’s fucking good. You’ve got four world-class wrestlers arguably at the height of their powers. If you’re only aware of KENTA as Hideo Itami, then it will blow your mind while this is also a much younger Samoa Joe. They’re four men who are ideally suited to kicking the shit out of each other with every foot that comes lashing out having a bit of a sting behind it. At the start you’ll be flinching, by the end, you’ll be outright wincing.
If there’s a criticism, it’s perhaps a bit long. It starts slowly before exploding into the closing stretch. Honestly, though, it didn’t bother me at all. It is four incredible athletes feeling each other out and waiting for their opening. They’re reacting to each other as much as anything, and the action evolves as they begin to adjust to their opponents. The perfect example of this is Marufuji and KENTA’s slow realisation that Danielson is going to be a dick and deciding that they might as well be too. It’s a subtle change, but one that works perfectly within the tale they’re weaving.
A point that takes us nicely to the storyline stuff, of which there is quite a lot. Firstly, it’s interesting to note that KENTA appears more interested in booting Samoa Joe’s head off than going after the ROH World Champion. Joe had been feuding with the entirety of NOAH, which this seems to be built around, more than it is setting up KENTA vs Danielson. It’s even Joe and KENTA that pick up the mics afterwards and mouth off at each other.
You could also argue that Joe is the one best positioned to be taking that title shot. While he and Bryan aren’t openly hostile, there are clearly unresolved issues. They’d previously wrestled to a 60-minute draw, and there are definite moments of tension between the two. Their feud was far from over as they’d go on to face off later in the year.
The most important part is that KENTA pins Danielson clean after hitting the Go To Sleep which is quite a big deal. At this time, Bryan isn’t taking many falls in ROH, and with one move KENTA puts himself in prime position for a shot at the title, whether he’s more interested in Joe or not.
So yea, in conclusion, Danielson and KENTA’s first encounter is a strange one. Not because it’s a bad match, far from it, it’s brilliant. No, it’s weird because it feels like it’s not about them. Samoa Joe still has a role to play and play it he shall.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Match Two: Samoa Joe vs KENTA vs Bryan Danielson at ROH In Your Face (17/6/06)
Didn’t take long for Joe to turn up again, did it? I know we’re talking about KENTA and Danielson here, but Joe was fantastic at this time. I think I’ll probably do one of his feuds from this period next because he is a pleasure to watch. Don’t get me wrong, Joe is still an outstanding wrestler. He’s just lost the speed he had back then, and that’s what made him extraordinary.
It’s also a reminder that Danielson is a sublime heel. When he’s leaning towards the dark side, he doesn’t stop being the world’s best wrestler. Instead, Dragon merely enhances his talent by bringing an opportunistic edge to his character. While he can go out there and trade stiff blows with KENTA and Joe (if you’re a fan of a hard strike, these matches were made for you), it’s much quicker for him to rake an eye or slip out of the way while they kill each other.
The combination of those two and a peak KENTA means there was no chance this was going to be anything below fabulous. They beat the hell out of each other while avoiding the pitfall of one person selling on the outside while the other two go at it. There’s a cool story running through the match of KENTA not being used to wrestling three-ways (this was his first as they’re a lot rarer in Japan) and getting too focused on one wrestler. Bryan and Joe, meanwhile, would continuously look to control both of their opponents at the same time.
It also worked to further Danielson’s story with his two foes. Joe is coming in with an injured leg, which the American Dragon is partly responsible for. He takes more than one opportunity to go after that limb again and exasperate the damage he’s already caused. Meanwhile, KENTA has now got his eyes on Danielson getting in his face before the bell rings and booting him in the head more than once. That comes to a head as he once again delivers the Go To Sleep and gets the three.
Another wonderful match. This one is shorter than the tag which added a frantic element to it. All three men are working their arses off while there’s a chance KENTA was even knocked out at one point. He takes a slap from Joe, and when Joe tries to pick him up afterwards, it looks like he’s a deadweight. That was in the first five minutes, so even if he was just dazed and then went on to do what he did, then that’s genuinely extraordinary.
Afterwards, KENTA tells Danielson he wants that title shot. Joe isn’t happy with that and tells KENTA that he’ll be taking that belt first before slapping Danielson’s head off and heading to the back. Danielson then appears to accept KENTA’s challenge and, well, we know that’s happening otherwise this article would be a bit pointless, wouldn’t it?
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Match Three: Bryan Danielson vs KENTA for the ROH World Title at Glory By Honor V (16/9/06)
Our final chapter finally saw KENTA and Danielson go one on one and it’s a match that has rightfully carved its legacy into the wrestling history books. It takes what they’d done in their previous meetings and shits all over it from a good height.
Because what you get from Danielson and KENTA is two men who make the simple stuff look like it hurts. These two don’t have to do the incredible (although they can) because in their hands kicks and slaps look more effective than a million suplexes. The snap as they connect is vicious while even simple holds are never just sat in. They wrench on each other, making sure that everything looks sore.
A large portion of the match is built around Bryan Danielson’s shoulder which he’d injured facing off against Colt Cabana. He comes in with it strapped up and KENTA zeros in on it. Lashing out with kicks in the early stages and later on going even further with a series of Fujiwara Armbars that work as a fantastic false finish. Dragon’s selling of it is sublime, as he at one point reverts to going southpaw when he’s throwing strikes.
Danielson, meanwhile, continues his theme of being a fantastic prick. It’s the little touches that elevate him like when he goes for a pin and very deliberately place his arm over the throat of KENTA. The American Dragon is a man desperate to hold onto his belt, so every chance he gets to add a little smidgen of extra damage to what he’s doing he will take, and it means the New York crowd are, for the most part, in KENTA’s corner.
As I’ve already mentioned, what makes this Danielson character so great is that the cheating doesn’t define him. He’s still a total badass, and in KENTA, he might have the perfect opponent. These two men just hurt each other, working stiff as hell and hitting some vicious looking suplexes. It’s like they were built to fight and as the match goes on it only gets better and better.
The best moment comes when KENTA hits the Go To Sleep. Every soul in that arena thinks it’s over when his knee comes crashing into Dragon’s face, so when Danielson’s foot sneaks out onto the ropes, the reaction is explosive. The only comparison I can come up with is the similar moment from Omega vs Okada II when Okada survives the One-Winged Angel.
That kicks off an extraordinary closing sequence where Bryan is doing everything in his power to survive. It’s roll-ups followed by more roll-ups. Suplex after suplex. Desperate attempts to win being outdone by the next desperate attempt to win. Finally, he resorts to those vicious MMA style elbows, driving them repeatedly into the side of KENTA’s head until he can no longer defend himself. Danielson transitions from that into Cattle Mutilation and KENTA has no choice but to tap.
This is outstanding wrestling. It’s two world-class talents at the top of their game putting on something genuinely extraordinary. This is Bryan Danielson proving that he’s the greatest wrestler on the planet and KENTA proving that he isn’t that far behind him. If you’ve never watched it, then you better go because you’re about to have a lovely old time.
Verdict: Five Stars
This feud is genius in its simplicity. KENTA gets two victories over Danielson in multi-man situations which lead to him getting a title shot where Bryan gives it everything he has and manages to come out with the win. There are smaller stories weaved throughout, but they didn’t really need more than that because they’re that damn good. If you only know KENTA as Hideo Itami and have even only seen Danielson as Daniel Bryan, then you owe it to yourself to check this out. It’s special.