Daniel Bryan (Danielson) has had a very successful career working with WWE. He’s held multiple championships, he’s faced top names several times over and he’s proven to be very entertaining in the ring. Whether it was against Roman Reigns, John Cena, The Miz, AJ Styles or the myriad of other men that Bryan has faced during his tenure, you have to admit that Danielson was able to pull quality matches out of nearly everyone he was ever in the ring with.
At WrestleMania this year, Bryan was involved in a triple threat match with Edge and Roman Reigns. Which saw not only Bryan but Edge as well, eat the pinfall to extend the reign of the Tribal Chief. I know that many fans, myself included, were expecting someone to actually beat Reigns that night. However, that did not happen and in the weeks since, Bryan has seemingly vanished from TV. His profile moved to the alumni page of the WWE website and there are rumours that his contract is either up now or is going to be soon. Daniel has openly expressed interest in wrestling for other promotions before he hangs up his boots to spend more time with his wife and children, so with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some possible dream matches he could have if he decided to venture to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Of course, while the likelihood of Daniel Bryan (Danielson) actually going to work for New Japan is slim at best, there are still several very enticing match-ups that could await the former WWE Champion.
He’s still at an age where he could put out potentially five-star match-ups with the best in the world, so here are five possible opponents within the NJPW ranks that have to be considered dream match-ups for fans and, perhaps, even Daniel himself.
5. The “Ace of the Universe” – Hiroshi Tanahashi
Coming in at number five is the living legend, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi is widely considered to be one of, if not the, greatest professional wrestlers of all time. His accolades in NJPW include a record-setting eight reigns as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, two reigns as IWGP Intercontinental Champion, three reigns as IWGP Tag Team Champion, and three reigns as NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion. He has also won NJPW’s premier tournament, the G1 Climax, on three occasions (2007, 2015 and 2018) and won the New Japan Cup twice, in 2005 and 2008, making him one of the greatest and most decorated wrestlers in New Japan’s history.
When he debuted, he was seen as an innovator because he said “I love you” to his fans after the match and played an air guitar, something very unusual in NJPW. He’s had an amazing career working with NJPW and who wouldn’t want to have a chance to be in the ring with the man who reinvented New Japan? Given how good both men are in the ring, there is a good chance that this potential match-up could go down as one of the greatest wrestling matches to ever happen. Not just in Japan, but in the entire world. That’s not a knock on any of the other wrestlers on this list either. At 44 years old Tanahashi doesn’t exactly have the longest time left in his career. However, if he can keep performing to the level that fans are accustomed to seeing, a potential match-up with Daniel Bryan (Danielson) is one the entire world would be excited to see.
4. The “Stardust Genius” – Tetsuya Naito
The next dream match-up for Daniel Bryan (Danielson) is Tetsuya Naito. Another legend in New Japan, Naito has had one incredible career to date. From match-ups against Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho to Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada. He’s wrestled the who’s who to come through the doors at NJPW. He is a former NEVER Openweight Champion, and a former IWGP Tag Team and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with former No Limit partner Yujiro Takahashi. In addition, Naito is the winner of the 2013 and 2017 editions of the G1 Climax, NJPW’s premier singles tournament, and of the 2016 New Japan Cup. Naito is regarded as one of the most popular and successful wrestlers in NJPW history.
In 2016 and 2017 Tokyo Sports awarded Naito with the MVP Award, the publication’s highest honour. In 2020, Naito became the first person to hold both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships at the same time, accomplishing that feat twice, becoming a three-time IWGP Heavyweight and record six-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion. There are not many things that Naito has not done in his illustrious 14-year career, and a match against Daniel Bryan (Danielson) could just be another phenomenal match-up to come out of the Stardust Genius. If DB ends up in Japan, this is one match that absolutely has to happen.
3. The “Hard Hit Prince” – Kota Ibushi
Come on, did you honestly think Kota Ibushi wouldn’t be on this list? Look at this list of accolades and accomplishments just in New Japan.
- IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1 time, inaugural)
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- IWGP Intercontinental Championship (2 times)
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Kenny Omega
- IWGP Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Hiroshi Tanahashi
- NEVER Openweight Championship (1 time)
- Best of the Super Juniors (2011)
- G1 Climax (2019, 2020)
- New Japan Cup (2015)
- Concurso (2020)
There aren’t many with a resume like Ibushi’s and just this alone makes him an intriguing match-up for Bryan. From his tag team, Golden☆Lovers, with Kenny Omega to his title unification win against Tetsuya Naito back at Wrestle Kingdom 15, Ibushi has had a career that most men would dream of. There’s not much that he hasn’t done, yet there is still a lot of treads left on his tires. While he hasn’t held as many championships for NJPW as some of the men on this list, he is still a very accomplished performer and should be one of the top matches to make for Daniel Bryan (Danielson) should he end up in NJPW.
Kota Ibushi is one of those guys who, like Bryan, can make gold out of nearly any man he steps into the ring with. So pairing two men of such high calibre against each other should keep fans on their feet and chanting “This is Awesome” for the entire match.
2. “The Assassin” – Will Ospreay
Ospreay is known for his high-flying, high-risk style of wrestling, which earned him the nickname “The Aerial Assassin”. He has since amended it to just be “The Assassin” but that hasn’t changed his style or approach in the ring. He’s one of those performers that you just have to watch and he knows how to keep fans on the edge of their seats. His style and athleticism make a potential match against Daniel Bryan (Danielson) one that many would drool over. He’s held several championships over his relatively short career and he’s one of the most exciting young talents in the world. Many criticize his style due to the risk he puts his body through, but he does keep your eyes glued to the ring when he’s in it. Think of the high-flyers that Bryan has faced up to this point in his career and remember how good those matches were. Now, imagine him going up against one the calibre of Ospreay and tell me the thought doesn’t make your mouth water with anticipation.
Some honestly many talented men work for NJPW so coming up with a top 5 dream matches for Daniel Bryan is not easy. Obviously, there are going to be several names that are unfortunately left off the list for one reason or another. If you look at the entirety of the roster for New Japan, I’m sure that several other names will pop off the screen at you and you’ll think that DB could have an amazing match with this name. With that said, it’s time to announce my number one dream match for Daniel Bryan should he sign to perform with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
1. The “Rainmaker” – Kazuchika Okada
Okada is one of the few names that most wrestling fans should know out of New Japan by heart. Just hearing his name should make you remember his absolutely epic and brutal feud with Kenny Omega. The holder of a vast number of titles and matches against the who’s who of NJPW, there isn’t any other man on the roster today that Daniel Bryan should have a match with before Okada. Widely regarded as one of the best talents in the world, Okada has a history of phenomenal matches under his wing and there is no reason why this 16-year veteran couldn’t perform to this level well into his 50’s. If you thought his matches against Omega were amazing, just imagine how great a single match against Bryan could be. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny that the Rainmaker has the talent to take over the world should he leave Japan for any other promotion. Knowing this, and looking at the rest of the New Japan roster, there is little doubt that he is the standout, number one, must-see opponent should Daniel Bryan (Danielson) make the journey to Japan.
When you think about it, there are so many dream matches outside of WWE for Daniel Bryan (Danielson) that it is simply mind-boggling. He could go to any promotion, anywhere in the world, and there are several opponents that fans would love to see him go against. He had an outstanding career while working for WWE, and now it is time for DB to enjoy the rest of his career on his terms, doing what he loves against the opponents he dreams of going up against. Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, KENTA, the list goes on and on. Where would you like to see Daniel end up? Who would you like to see his face in the ring? It just may happen before his career comes to a close. One thing is for certain. If Daniel is allowed to go out on his terms and in the way he wants, there are many exciting matches still ahead in his final years.