Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles is a dream match on any day, but on this day, one year ago, Styles and Bryan would faceoff for the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
An Intercontinental Pandemic
On January 31, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Braun Strowman would pin Shinsuke Nakamura on SmackDown to become the new WWE Intercontinental Champion. Soon enough, Strowman would enact a feud with Sami Zayn and his gang of wrestling rejects. After a feud that lasted over a month, Strowman would fall to the team of Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Cesaro at Elimination Chamber in a match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Although it was a handicap match, Zayn would be recognized as the sole champion. However, disaster would soon strike… and I’m not just talking about wrestling.
Two months earlier, the earliest notice of COVID-19’s arrival in the United States would come to light. By March 11 (3 days after Zayn’s victory of the WWE Intercontinental Championship), the World Health Organization would officially declare a global pandemic. This would eventually lead to WWE canceling shows and tours, and for the company to transition to a crowdless television product in the WWE Performance Center.
Due to the WWE’s lack of care, originally, within the pandemic, many professional wrestlers opted out of competing until more was discovered about the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Among these people would “The Great Liberator” Sami Zayn. Zayn would wrestle his final match as WWE Intercontinental Champion at WrestleMania 36, where he would defeat Daniel Bryan to defend his title. He would go on to hold the title for two more months before vacating it on WWE Backstage on May 12, 2020.
WWE Intercontinental Championship Tournament: First Round
After the announcement of the title’s vacancy, WWE would begin a tournament that Friday to crown a new champion. Let’s break down each match-up in this championship tournament.
The opening contest of May 15, 2020’s SmackDown event pitted Elias against King Corbin. Elias and Corbin had wrestled at WrestleMania 36, and this was a continuation of that feud. In this match, Corbin would fall to Elias in a match lasting 16:07. The reaction to this match could be described as “split”. Many believed this was the correct time to pull the trigger on King Corbin, but alas, he was eliminated in the first round of the tournament.
Next, Daniel Bryan would defeat Drew Gulak in a massively entertaining contest. Bryan and Gulak were workout partners, and would often discuss their training together. Bryan managed to outmaneuver the former WWE Cruiserweight Champion to progress to the semi-finals of the tournament.
The next week on SmackDown, AJ Styles would defeat former rival Shinsuke Nakamura to move progress in the tournament. There was not much to this contest, but it was very entertaining.
On this same show, Jeff Hardy would defeat Sheamus to progress to the semi-finals of the tournament. Hardy would land a Swanton Bomb on Sheamus for a pinfall victory in 14:05. However, Hardy’s time in the tournament would soon come to an end.
WWE Intercontinental Championship Tournament: Semi-Finals
After his main event match on the previous week’s edition of SmackDown, Jeff Hardy would be absent from this week’s episode. WWE would air a segment insinuating that Jeff Hardy (a real-life recovering addict) had driven intoxicated and hit Elias with his car. Yikes.
Elias and Jeff Hardy would both be withdrawn from the tournament. On one half of the bracket, Daniel Bryan was left without a competitor. On the other half of the bracket, Styles was also missing an opponent. Styles would end up lucky, as WWE officials would grant The Phenomenal One a “bye” in the tournament. Bryan would have to work a little bit harder to earn his shot at the vacant belt.
Sheamus would go on to compete in a battle royal to replace Jeff Hardy in the tournament, and he would eventually win after outlasting 9 other men. In the main event of the show, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus would wrestle an 11:59 contest. Sadly for the former WWE Champion, Sheamus would not be able to overcome the power of the Yes! Movement. After a running knee strike, Daniel Bryan would pin Sheamus for an impressive victory.
WWE Intercontinental Championship Tournament: Finals
After building momentum for the past three weeks, Daniel Bryan had finally earned his right to face off against The Phenomenal One. On June 12, 2020, the bell would sound in the middle of the show, and we were off to the races.
This match would start off with your typical lock-up, but would soon progress far beyond what anyone else could have expected. While Styles and Bryan are known as two of the top technical wrestlers in the world, we’ve often seen the two performers weaken their respective styles within the WWE walls. This match would end up being a glimpse as to what professional wrestling could be in WWE.
Throughout the match, Styles and Bryan would trade blows. In the final minutes of the match, Daniel Bryan would drop Styles with a multitude of high-impact maneuvers before “going to that place.” “That place”, of course, is the corner where he would commence a “Yes!” chant. Bryan would attempt his patented running knee strike, but Styles would catch Bryan in a Styles Clash. Styles would go on to land the Phenomenal Forearm on Bryan, pinning him for the three-count and becoming the new WWE Intercontinental Champion.
Styles would go on to hold some great championship defenses against the likes of Daniel Bryan, Drew Gulak, Matt Riddle, and Jeff Hardy (the latter of which defeating The Phenomenal One to win the title). Daniel Bryan is currently in contract limbo with World Wrestling Entertainment, wrestling his last match on SmackDown in a loss to WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns. Styles currently reigns as one-half of the WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, alongside his partner, Omos.
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