The latest match in my Classic Matches series is one of my personal favourites in WWE in recent years. It features my favourite wrestler of all time facing off against that guy who made PowerPoints on 205 Live.
It was a match with so little build it was barely a feud. But these two geniuses turned out, for me, the WWE match of 2020. This match is Daniel Bryan vs Drew Gulak at WWE Elimination Chamber 2020.
This match was one which I was barely aware was happening. On Smackdown, Daniel Bryan had been competing, and winning, in matches on the regular. Of course he was, he’s Daniel Bryan and he’s the best wrestler in the world and my favourite of all time (Sorry Orange Cassidy).
Drew Gulak had been on commentary during these times, telling everyone who would listen that he had studied Bryan. All throughout his career, he emulated the American Dragon, as he was known early in his career, trying to be as good as a technical wrestler as the man who the “Technical Wrestler of the year” Wrestling Observer Award was named after.
Drew Gulak was sure that he had identified Bryan’s weaknesses (I’ve not seen any yet except when he had that poorly neck and bumpy brain), and he wanted to help Bryan, to coach him. Bryan, being a 5 time former world champion and one of the best in the world, obviously said no.
So there we are. Very little build. Gulak thinks he knows how to beat Daniel Bryan. Daniel Bryan disagrees. Bryan then takes on Curtis Axel, in what is undoubtedly Axel’s best match to date. (Ignoring his incredible run as Axelmania) Bryan is tired of Gulak saying he could beat him, so challenges him to a match. A very simple premise for two top workers to turn into an absolute classic.
Daniel Bryan vs Drew Gulak
The crowd were incredibly hot for Daniel Bryan in this match, whilst not caring much for Gulak. But as a testament to Gulak’s skill in the ring, he had the crowd booing him like he was Roman Reigns after Wrestlemania 33.
Drew Gulak played the bad guy perfectly. He had a game plan to find Bryan’s weakness, and showed an aggression that we had never seen from him before.
The match started with some serious mat wrestling. As a big fan of Daniel Bryan, I had only been exposed to his run in WWE. Daniel Bryan in WWE has shown his technical prowess, but has seldom had the partner in which to produce a classic match in the style. But for the opening 5 minutes of this match, you would have thought you’d been transported to England in the 1980s. Both men are technical magicians and finally had the platform to showcase their skills in front of millions of fans.
The pair traded holds, so numerous and impressive I cannot mention them all. Gulak got the upper hand over Bryan, countering his holds as he said he would. He had a game plan, to neutralise Bryan. Drew Gulak worked the leg mainly, which Michael Cole astutely mentioned that it would take out Bryan’s most deadly attacks. His kicks and his running knee (Which I maintain should have been called the Solid Knee Plus) have won him so many matches, it was logical to make them the target of his attacks. Good job Michael Cole, you did a good commentate.
At one point, Bryan had to retreat out the ring. Daniel Bryan and Drew Gulak’s facial expression told the whole story. Bryan was concerend, worried that Gulak had him scouted, and that he had a counter for all his moves. Gulak, in the other hand, stood in the ring and laughed, thinking the exact same thing as Daniel Bryan.
The match heats up
Daniel Bryan got back into the ring, and tried to lock in the fan favourite move, the Surfboard Stretch. But, once again, Gulak reversed it and locked in one of his own. He was two steps ahead of “The Dazzler” at every turn.
Then Daniel Bryan remembered that he was good at kicking people’s fucking heads in.
But alas, Gulak is very good at not getting his fucking head kicked in. He caught Bryan’s kicks and exectured a mean Dragon Screw to get back on top.
One of the most inventive parts of the match was built upon early, and executed later. Drew Gulak had Bryan in a submission hold, holding his head in between his knees and applying pressure. Bryan tried to escape by doing a headstand, but Gulak managed to drag him back down. Later on Bryan attempted the same thing, but Gulak managed to perform a sort of mine-piledriver on the former World Champion. There is literally no way Bryan didn’t land directly on his head. It was brutal.
The most brutal parts of the match came later, and were mere minutes apart from each other. After a series of grapples, Daniel Bryan hits Drew Gulak with a deep dragon suplex. It seems like there’s no way this didn’t kill Gulak, but the pair pulled it off so perfectly that it looked disgustingly dangerous. The next part was Daniel Bryan being German suplexed, and jumping about twelve feet into the air and directly onto his neck. It was a bump that would make Kota Ibushi proud.
Gulak also put Bryan into a neckbreaker position and twirled him around by his head.
Gulak looked like the match was his to be won. He had Bryan in a guillotine choke for minutes, smashing him with forearms as you’d see a younger Daniel Bryan doing. Bryan looked to be out of the match and Gulak heading for a famous win. It seemed inevitable.
But not even Triple H not really rating him can stop The Dazzler. Bryan managed to escape and lock in his famous Yes/No/Labelle lock on Gulak. Gulak was in such intense pain he passed out, and the ref had to call for the bell to stop him from losing oxygen and suffering permanent brain damage (okay I made that part up but he did pass out).
Both men came out of this looking like a star. Gulak looked like a brutal technician who can scout his opponent and chop them down to size using his intellect. Bryan looked like a master of the ring who can get through anything to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat
Daniel Bryan vs Drew Gulak is one of those matches where you don’t see it in a list of “top matches”. It was quite a small feud that never really went anywhere, and WWE never went anywhere with Drew Gulak after this. Daniel Bryan is Daniel Bryan so he’s just main evented Wrestlemania and is fucking off to AEW, so he’s living his best life.
I give this match 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s Drew Gulak’s best WWE by far and definitely makes my list of Daniel Bryan’s best. It’s one that I could watch over and over again, because it’s not about the shock factor. The brutality of the kicks and punches in mixed with the great technical wrestling and selling shown by both men. Definitely worth a watch for anyone who hasn’t.
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Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.