SAN JOSE — For all the very significant differences between them, "The New" Daniel Bryan has a few traits in common with the old: He is methodical in his scouting; he is surgical in the ring; and he can beat you in the most unexpected of ways. Case in point, his WWE Title retention over AJ Styles didn’t come from a Running Knee or a LeBell Lock (no more “Yes!”) or even a heel hook, but from such an old-school, time-honored maneuver that can it even catch a ring general like The Phenomenal One unaware.

AJ Styles shows no mercy against "The New" Daniel Bryan: WWE TLC 2018 (WWE Network Exclusive)

The Phenomenal One brings a relentless offense in an attempt to dethrone WWE Champion "The New" Daniel Bryan: Courtesy of WWE Network.

That maneuver was only possible because Bryan’s entire game plan was built around something of a misdirection in which he methodically and savagely targeted Styles’ ribcage. The strategy was seemingly in place to set AJ up for a submission, with the added bonus of taking away Styles’ high-risk, high-reward offense. (AJ’s one attempt at a 450 hurt him as much as The Beard).

Of course, Bryan’s insistence on rope-a-doping The Phenomenal One brought out the pitbull side of the former champion. We weren’t exactly seeing the advent of “The New” AJ Styles, but it was certainly a more aggressive effort from the Georgia native: A savage single-leg crab and Calf Crusher seemed to put Bryan in too deep a hole, especially when Styles unleashed a barrage of fists and forearms as the match went long.

Styles’ attempt to turn the match into a brawl was somewhat misguided. After all, brawls are dirty, and for all his environmental consciousness, dirty fighting is where “The New” Daniel Bryan lives. As the match threatened to spiral out of control, Styles was forced to pull back in key moments, lest someone lay out the ref and leave The Phenomenal One open to another cheap shot or low blow like the one that cost him the title. So, he went safe, applying a roll-up to The Beard in the thick of a frantic scramble. But that’s where Bryan lives too, and The Beard countered the rollup into a small package of his own — an unremarkable but near-bulletproof maneuver that earned him victories all over the world, and one he broke out once again when it mattered most. Old Daniel Bryan, New Daniel Bryan; some things never change.

SAN JOSE — For all the very significant differences between them, "The New" Daniel Bryan has a few traits in common with the old: He is methodical in his scouting; he is surgical in the ring; and he can beat you in the most unexpected of ways. Case in point, his WWE Title retention over AJ Styles didn’t come from a Running Knee or a LeBell Lock (no more “Yes!”) or even a heel hook, but from such an old-school, time-honored maneuver that can it even catch a ring general like The Phenomenal One unaware.

AJ Styles shows no mercy against "The New" Daniel Bryan: WWE TLC 2018 (WWE Network Exclusive)

The Phenomenal One brings a relentless offense in an attempt to dethrone WWE Champion "The New" Daniel Bryan: Courtesy of WWE Network.

That maneuver was only possible because Bryan’s entire game plan was built around something of a misdirection in which he methodically and savagely targeted Styles’ ribcage. The strategy was seemingly in place to set AJ up for a submission, with the added bonus of taking away Styles’ high-risk, high-reward offense. (AJ’s one attempt at a 450 hurt him as much as The Beard).

Of course, Bryan’s insistence on rope-a-doping The Phenomenal One brought out the pitbull side of the former champion. We weren’t exactly seeing the advent of “The New” AJ Styles, but it was certainly a more aggressive effort from the Georgia native: A savage single-leg crab and Calf Crusher seemed to put Bryan in too deep a hole, especially when Styles unleashed a barrage of fists and forearms as the match went long.

Styles’ attempt to turn the match into a brawl was somewhat misguided. After all, brawls are dirty, and for all his environmental consciousness, dirty fighting is where “The New” Daniel Bryan lives. As the match threatened to spiral out of control, Styles was forced to pull back in key moments, lest someone lay out the ref and leave The Phenomenal One open to another cheap shot or low blow like the one that cost him the title. So, he went safe, applying a roll-up to The Beard in the thick of a frantic scramble. But that’s where Bryan lives too, and The Beard countered the rollup into a small package of his own — an unremarkable but near-bulletproof maneuver that earned him victories all over the world, and one he broke out once again when it mattered most. Old Daniel Bryan, New Daniel Bryan; some things never change.