On tonight’s WWE Smackdown Live, Daniel Bryan defeated Jeff hardy in their first singles match in a WWE ring, earning a match on next week’s show against Samoa Joe in a Money in the Bank qualifying match. This is set to be their first meeting in over a decade. The two wrestlers had a great feud in the early to mid-2000s, especially in Ring of Honor. But their first ever singles match took place almost sixteen years ago at EPIC’s Bigger, Badder, Better in Glendale, CA.
The setup to the match actually started at EPIC’s debut event in Los Angeles on June 16, 2002. In what was a highly anticipated dream match at the time, American Dragon, which is what Daniel Bryan went by at that time, defeated Super Dragon in their first ever meeting to win the APW Internet title (Jason Caley did an article talking about this match a couple of years ago). After the match Super Dragon’s associates, Excalibur and Disco Machine, attacked American Dragon after the match, leading to Spanky (Brian Kendrick) and Samoa Joe making the save. However it was all a ruse, Samoa Joe alligned with Super Dragon and turned on American Dragon and Spanky.
The attack after the Dragon versus Dragon match lead to a tag match with Super Dragon and Samoa Joe teaming against American Dragon and Spanky on July 14, 2002. That match would go on to finish second in the 2002 Southern California Match of the Year voting. American Dragon and Samoa Joe’s interactions in that match left everyone wanting a singles match. That match would come on September 29, 2002.
In what would be EPIC’s last event, American Dragon and Samoa Joe would go on third to last, though for a lot of people it was the show’s main event. They ended up having a really good match, though not equal to some of the classics they would later have.
Here is Justin Crast’s review of the match from the time:
Samoa Joe and American Dragon drew
This match started off as good as any match in the world. The mat work was very, very good. They worked through holds on each other, but it wasn’t flashy give-and-go like some do, but an actual struggle. Joe’s face turned bright red shortly into the match due to how hard Dragon was clenching his face in the holds.
They worked from the mat to a lot of extremely stiff strikes. Joe’s chops on Dragon were brutal. As white as Dragon is, his chest was even more red. As good as their striking sequences were, there was a glaring psychological flaw with the match as this started. IN their tag match, Joe was a complete monster and dominated for the most part. In this, Dragon went toe to toe, and went even further than that. In one shoulderblock sequence, he sent Joe reeling to the ground. He generally lost the striking battles but he really bitched Joe around on the mat and Joe was selling his arm almost the entire match due to the gratuitous arm work Dragon did. It was good Joe sold it for so long, but it kept him on the defense way too long for the match to be believable. This wasn’t as hilariously crazy as the APW KOTI match where Low KI and Joe fought a battle to the death by unloading strikes on each other the entire match, and the much smaller Low Ki winning out, but it was similar.
The other problem with the match was that Joe became noticeably winded about ten minutes in. Since this match went about twenty-two minutes, that meant a blown Joe was wrestling for half the match. The pace slowed down considerably about half way through and the match began to resemble a new age Ric Flair Vs Dusty Rhodes match. American Flair running around the ring bumping off Dusty Joe to keep the action turning. I don’t want to make it sound like Joe is a bad wrestler because he is very good and one of the best in America, but his conditioning really limits him in singles matches. Maybe he shouldn’t have been selling so much and that winded him quicker than if he had been in control for the most part. Dragon is such a good seller that I can’t help but think that would have been better.
But at least they tried to convince the audience that Dragon could keep control, by the way he continually hammered Joe’s arm. Joe got in some good power moves like suplexes and powerbombs for near falls while Dragon continued going for submissions (smartly realizing his offense would not look too good against a man Joe’s size). Joe got Dragon in an STF that segued into a Crippler Crossface that had the crowd on the edge of their seats waiting for Dragon to either tap or reach the ropes. When he finally got the ropes, most of the audience applauded. The section I sat in was quiet most of the match, it consisting of mostly ex-XPW fans, I guess, who were waiting for someone to go through a table. A local wrestler named Furious George actually had the gall to heckle the arm work, insinuating it was too boring for America. Hey idiot, who’s going to Japan and who’s going to keep working midcard in PCW?
Dragon shortly after breaking the hold locked on the Cattle Mutilation and I thought Joe was going to submit but the time ran out. The match was paced well from mat work, to striking, to near finishes. The crowd gave it a standing ovation (except for my section) and both guys got loud chants. This would be a MOTYC if not for the two glaring weaknesses I pointed out above. It was still very good and I was happy to see it. ***1/2
They would have two more singles matches in Southern California after this, both in PWG. They would once again go to a time limit draw on April 17, 2004 and Samoa Joe would get the win in a number one contender’s match for the PWG title on December 18, 2004.