Bryan Danielson on Claudio Castagnoli: ‘I Would Love to See Claudio as World Champion’

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever been in the ring with.”

Bryan Danielson knows exactly who he would like to see win the AEW title–and it is the forever underrated Claudio Castagnoli.

“I would love to see Claudio as world champion,” said Danielson, who partners with Castagnoli in the Blackpool Combat Club. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever been in the ring with.”

Danielson was a five-time world champion in WWE. He has yet to win the world title in AEW, and time is running out–Danielson intends to retire as full-time competitor by this fall.

Bryan Danielson
Bryan Danielson / AEW

But Danielson is not focused on himself. Already a perennial title contender, he would like to see Castagnoli break into that elusive rank.

“I thought his Ring of Honor world title run was really special,” said Danielson, referring to Castagnoli’s two reigns–separated by only 60 days–where he made 15 successful ROH title defenses and held the belt for 344 days. “I watched all of his matches, and I was in awe of it–as many people often are when they watch Claudio wrestle.”

Claudio Castagnoli
Claudio Castagnoli / AEW

Castagnoli and Danielson will team up with fellow BCC members Jon Moxley and Wheeler Yuta tomorrow on the one-year anniversary of Collision in an eight-man tag against Rocky Romero, Lio Rush, and the new IWGP tag team champions in TMDK’s Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste. Throughout his career, Castagnoli has perfected the art of tag team specialist.

Beside the likes of Sheamus, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Tyson Kidd, he was one-half of the WWE tag champs on seven different occasions. Yet he has always yearned for more.

Castagnoli as Cesaro, alongside Tyson Kidd in 2015
Castagnoli as Cesaro, alongside Tyson Kidd in 2015 / WWE

Growing up in Lucerne, Switzerland, Castagnoli fell in love with the art of professional wrestling. At the age of 12, he watched the King of the Ring pay-per-view in June of 1993–even though it started after midnight due to Switzerland being six hours ahead of east coast standard time, he relished every moment of it. On that particular evening, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who was also once considered to be a tag team wrestler, shined in three different matches en route to winning the heralded tournament.

More than 30 years later, Castagnoli is still relentlessly working to achieve his breakthrough, career-altering moment.

“All of this is kind of magic,” said Danielson. “You don’t know why certain good things happen, or certain bad things occur.”

Castagnoli shares few peers in the ring
Castagnoli shares few peers in the ring / AEW

Like Hart in an era before him, Castagnoli would make an outstanding champ. Though he does have one distinct difference from Hart–unlike Bret, who set up the sharpshooter with his left leg, Castagnoli initiates the move with his right, the same way as Owen Hart–there is no denying he would deliver outstanding title matches.

Could Castagnoli be the next member of the BCC to win gold?
Could Castagnoli be the next member of the BCC to win gold? / AEW

When given the opportunity, Castagnoli can also cut solid promos. He speaks five different languages, a number that increases to six if you include his fluency in professional wrestling (“It is the most essential language I speak,” he told me in a 2019 interview). That is a language he would communicate with the world–even more than he already does–if he were wearing AEW’s top belt.

“I sincerely hope that Claudio gets a run as AEW world champion before he hangs it up,” said Danielson. “He would make the most of that opportunity.”


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Justin Barrasso

JUSTIN BARRASSO

Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.