This Friday, cult wrestling icon Lance Storm will, once again, come out of retirement. The no-nonsense Canadian is booked to take on rising star Mike Bennett, on Day One of ROH’s ‘Showdown in the Sun’ weekender.
Come Sunday, the biggest weekend of the year will be completed, as ROH product Bryan Danielson defends his WWE World Heavyweight Championship against towering Irishman Sheamus.
Danielson, who has defied the critics to achieve unforeseen levels of mainstream stardom, is set to make his Wrestlemania debut, six years on, to the day, from a career-defining win over Storm, in ROH competition.
Ring of Honor ‘Better Than Our Best’
Chicago Ridge, IL
1st April 2006
ROH World Championship
‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson © vs. Lance Storm
On a card that also featured an unforgettable Chicago Street Fight, between Homicide and Colt Cabana, as well as the presence of the marquee stars of Dragon Gate, Lance Storm returned from a wrestling sabbatical, to answer the challenge of incumbent ROH World Champion ‘The American Dragon’.
The cocky Danielson was six months into a dominant run as ROH kingpin, and claiming, more vociferously than ever, to be the “Best Wrestler in the World”. Danielson had sent out open contracts around the globe, looking to take on and defeat the finest challengers available, from within ROH and beyond.
After exchanging words with Danielson, a few months prior to the ‘Better Than Our Best’ event, well-travelled veteran Lance Storm set about preparing for one last opportunity to win the championship that had eluded him his entire career. At the time, Storm had 27 titles to his name; having held multiple tag team, continental, regional and speciality titles; but had never worn World singles gold.
On entering, to his all-time-classic ECW theme ‘El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama (Wine, Women and Song Mix)’ by White Zombie, the man from Calgary…Alberta, Canada was showered with red and white streamers by the ROH faithful.
Danielson, clad in the colours of his mentor William Regal, a former Championship tag partner of Storm, entered to the strains of Europe, which discordantly mixed with the crowd’s “Fuck You Dragon!” chants.
ROH Senior Official, Todd Sinclair initiated the Code of Honor handshake, as commentators Lenny Leonard and Dave Prazak explained the special 60-minute time limit which was, at the time, strictly reserved for World Title contests.
In the early exchanges, Storm’s ten weeks of preparation showed. There was no ring rust on the Canadian as he was able to go hold for counter-hold with the man that he had dedicated the past two-and-a-half months of his life to studying.
Two of the most technically precise wrestlers ever to grace a ring, Storm and Danielson traded fundamental holds, putting on an exhibition of leverage and bodyweight distribution mastery, in keeping with ROH’s focus on in-ring competition over razzamatazz.
Five minutes in, the contest began to open up. Storm, once described by wrestling mastermind Jim Cornette as “The most graceful man this side of Nureyev”, executed a picture-perfect dropkick, setting the tone for much of his offensive work throughout the match.
Despite Storm’s spectacular offense, by the time 10 minutes had elapsed the Champion was in the driving seat. He zeroed in on Storm’s ribs and lower back, in trademark unorthodox fashion, using his knees as effective weapons. He also began to break out the first submission holds of the evening, exploiting the full extent of the referee’s five count, in the process.
Pace-setter Danielson, now seven months into his title reign, began to wrestle with excessive levels of swagger. So much so that, when he escaped an onrushing Storm with a Tiger Mask-esque corner flip, he found that his opponent had his repertoire well-scouted. The Canadian, expertly, reversed the situation into his world-renowned half-crab submission.
Following this reality check, Dragon bailed to the outside, buying time to gather his thoughts.
Storm would not allow the Champion any breathing space, however, meeting him with stiff chops, across his battle-scarred chest. The night before the ‘Better Than Our Best’ event Danielson had worked a near hour-long match with, chop specialist, Roderick Strong.
Chops weren’t the only solid strikes exchanged in the course of the evenings events, the combatant traded European-style Uppercut Forearms one more than one occasion.
Returning his focus to the back of Storm, Danielson began to attempt some of his famed surfboard variations, known across the independent circuit as stepping stones to his lethal Cattle Mutilation finisher.
Storm absorbed huge amount of punishment in the middle part of the match, including another Roderick Strong speciality, the backbreaker. The Calgarian’s best answer being a beautiful mulekick, which extricated him from Danielson’s clutches momentarily.
Danielson’s arrogant streak once again came to the fore. After teasing another surfboard hold, The American Dragon disrespectfully stomped on the hamstring of his challenger. This move almost allowed Storm to escape, before Dragon was finally able to cinch in a surfboard-chinlock hybrid, which came close to ending the contest.
Back on his feet, in an act of desperation, Storm threw himself through the air with an Owen Hart heel kick. It was enough to create the separation of a double count. After which, although the challenger made it to a vertical base first, he was unable to weather the Danielson onslaught. The anachronistic style of Dragon left the veteran in a world of hurt.
Storm’s educated feet, once again, proved to be Storm’s go-to move, a enzuigiri and another heel kick came in quick succession. This flurry, 20 minutes in, allowed Storm to fire off some heavy artillery, in an attempt to end the contest. A tired-looking Tiger Driver and a huge powerslam, created pinning predicament’s for the Canadian.
Eventually, tiredness would bring mistakes from the master. Storm attempted a huracanrana, only to be caught in a powerbomb, in a highlight reel moment. Dragon again applied an excruciating hold to the back of Storm. The crowd were now sensing that the veteran needed their support.
Both men exchanged signature maneuvers, in the middle of the ring, before Storm’s second major error came. With his kickpads crumpled, Storm looked like a worn-down beat-’em-up character, as he attempted to hoist Dragon to the top rope. Dragon took advantage, devastating Storm with a side superplex, which drove the challenger down on the classic Whiskey Bravo Victor 3D company logo.
Again the Champ locked in the Crossface Chickenwing, this time with a body scissors wrapped around his opponent’s injured ribs. Storm broke through the pain barrier to drag the combined bodyweight of himself and Danielson from the O of the logo, to the bottom rope.
The match now began to reach it’s crescendo. Dragon, buoyed by the atmosphere in the building took an uncharacteristic risk. He crashed an burned on a diving headbutt attempt. Todd Sinclair was sweating profusely as he administered another double count.
A resurgent Storm, playbook spent, improvising, almost took the belt with Jerry Lynn’s Cradle Piledriver before locking in the Canadian Maple Leaf half-crab once more. Dragon, eyes bulging, was almost forced to tap before executing a roll-up, out of nowhere, coming a nanosecond away from carbon-copying his method victory over Strong.
Dragon now looked to beat Storm with suplexes, his mentor’s Regal Plex and the fittingly-named Dragon Suplex to be exact. After each attempt he locked on the Cattle Mutilation, putting extreme pressure on the back of Storm. Storm was able to roll through on the penultimate attempt, at around the 25 minute mark, but couldn’t do enough to slay to the Dragon.
Bryan Danielson submitted Lance Storm, via Cattle Mutilation, in 26:23.
This classic match hugely increased the prestige of the ROH belt. It framed the Championship as a title that the finest wrestlers from around the globe were striving to hold. The storyline also played upon the Hotel California effect of pro wrestling, to create a plausible angle with great entertainment value.
The motivation of both characters was clear, and the performers parlayed Gabe Sapolsky’s booking into a match that would stand up against any of the best work of either man’s career.
Following the contest, cheered and jeered in equal measure, Dragon left with his gold. As the scene came to a close, color analyst Dave Prazak reeled off the list of scalps on Dragon’s resume of title defenses – a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of modern wrestling – before making the immortal prophecy…
“The American Dragon is approaching legendary status”.