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Monday, October 25, 2021

Ongoing 2021 MOTY List: Dustin vs. Dragon

2. Dustin Rhodes vs. American Dragon Bryan Danielson AEW Dynamite 10/23

PAS: This is dream match I had never really dreamed of, two great wrestlers from vastly different eras. When I saw Danielson break out at the 2001 ECWA Super 8, Dustin was in end of the road WCW and was basically an afterthought. The fact that we got this match up 20 years later and it was of the quality it was is pretty remarkable.  We didn't get workrate Code Red Dustin here which is kind of what I was expecting, and Dustin working as the world's tallest junior against Dragon would have been fun. Instead we got something much better.

I loved the story here. Dustin was an older all-star, Jordan on the Wizards. He could still put up 40, but he needed to pick his spots. He was great at picking his spot, mustering his energy and pulling out a big spot or counter, but he could keep up with Danielson's pace throughout. Dustin matched Danielson in the opening arm drag section, but needed to take a deep breath before getting back to his feet. 

I loved how all of Dustin's big moments of offense came on counters: bieling Danielson into the ring barrier during the tope, countering the back suplex with a German, superplex off of a top rope cut off, the incredible powerslam off of a rope run, McGuiness top rope clothesline off a rana attempt, and the big clothesline to counter the busaiku knee. Dustin couldn't stand toe to toe with the younger wrestler in his prime so he needed to pick his spots and hope he could stun him.

When he hits the superplex, the impact on him ended up being more than the impact on Dragon, with Dragon getting to his feet first, not because he no sold, but because a 50 year old going back first off the top rope is going to take longer to get up than an athlete in his prime landing from higher. Dustin firing back up and yelling at Danielson to "come on motherfucker" is the way you do a meaningful strike exchange, and I thought the finish was very smart with Dragon putting on the leaping guillotine as a way to adjust for Dustin using his length to get to the ropes. A man can't really squirm if he is getting his neck cranked. 

I thought this was tremendous. Dustin is a brilliant wrestler and Danielson is willing to play into the strengths of his opponents. This run has been really giving of Danielson: working an Omega match with Omega, a Suzuki match with Suzuki, and now a killer Dustin match with Dustin. 

ER: This match was one of the best on-paper possibilities the whole time they were on the roster together, but while they were a part of several memorable tags and trios as partners, their only match as opponents was a pointless three minute 8 on 4 handicap match that the live crowd had to sit through six minutes of ring entrances to get to. Tony Khan books matches that a lot of different cross sections of wrestling fans want to see, and that's a pretty exciting thing right now. There is no real important storyline reason that Danielson has wrestled Minoru Suzuki or Dustin Rhodes other than Bryan Danielson against both of those guys sounds like a match I and plenty other want to see. Dream match booking hit a crescendo on the Indies a long time ago, so actual dream matches are few enough and far between now that they feel special when they happen. I don't know if there's a single person in 2001 who would have bet on Dustin Rhodes being a man booked for the sake of workrate in 2021, and it's a beautiful thing to see happen. 

This match reminded me a lot of the 1999 Bret Hart/Chris Benoit Nitro match: A veteran known for his execution and ability to craft compelling singles matches with varieties of skillsets vs. a Dynamite Kid acolyte with a brain injury, the stiffest chops in wrestling, frequent high intensity in-ring collisions, and a sizable cult of fandom proclaiming him the best wrestler in the world.  It's amazing that Dustin is able to keep pace with Danielson, but also kind of amazing that the Danielson we've been watching for 20 years still sets that pace. There's great attention paid to who gets to their feet first after a move, with a nice match long build to Dustin getting hurt off a superplex and always threatening to be slowed down. Danielson really packs a wallop on strikes and Dustin's punches look as good as they've looked in the past 5 years, and all the big moments - like his huge rotating powerslam or a lariat out of the corner that rotates Danielson - come off like statements of still belonging. The finish is snug and decisive and looked like Danielson finally just had to drag the old guy to the mat and choke him out, a sudden but deserved victory. 


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