Ring Of Honor: 1 November, 2003
Quick thoughts on the "Showcase Card"...
The Outcast Killaz (Oman Turtuga & Diablo Santiago) beat Cloudy & Lit of Special K. Really short, really spotty and a little bit sloppy. Seriously, this match went about three minutes and I think literally every offensive maneuver was some sort of "innovative" indy bullshit. You know, the kind of move where it starts out looking like they're going to do something reasonable and/or painful and it winds up turning into a faceplant or something. I don't know which one's Lit and which one's Cloudy and this match didn't give me any incentive to care.
Luis Ortiz beat Jose Perez. This was a pretty fun little Velocity match. They started out working the mat a bit with some wacky lucha submissions then picked up the pace and built to some bigger spots nicely. There wasn't anything too spectacular in this, aside from a neat inverted shooting star press by Ortiz, it didn't have the customary ROH stiffness and I question the decision to have someone kick out of a Death Valley Driver in the second match of the night, but overall they used the little time they were given well and had a fun match. I wouldn't mind seeing either of them brought back in a longer match.
Slyk Wagner Brown (with April Hunter) & Grim Reefer beat The Ring Crew Express (Dunn & Marcos). Apparently the ROH laboratories have been working hard to develop their own indy-sized Random Tag Team Generator and it spit out the team of Reefer and Brown. This was another short match, but they at least brought enough structure to be described as a formula tag. Brown got to play the role of "big man" by virtue of not being really tiny and the role of heel by virtue of having a female valet and brought some decent offense to a heat segment on Marcos until Dunn came in for some house-cleaning. Overall the match was pretty unmemorable and the sort of blew the set up to the finish, the exact nature of which I can't in fact remember at this point.
Colt Cabana vs. Dan Maff (with Allison Danger) [Field Of Honor Tournament Match]
This started off with some fun comedy from Cabana. First he tried and failed to get a pre-match handshake out of Maff but once the match started he reversed an attempted Irish whip into a handshake. And when Allison Danger tried to sneak up behind Cabana and interfere, he eschewed the standard sports entertainment force-yourself-on-the-valet-kiss in favor of dancing to his spontaneously playing music. Aside from that, they pretty much wrestled every Dan Maff match you or anyone else has ever seen, with Maff bringing his standard stiff strikes and head-dropping. Cabana of course bumped and sold well for Maff, and they teased Maff's two big spots, the half-nelson suplex and the burning hammer, before hitting them, fairly well with Cabana countering each once, putting them over as dangerous before finally falling victim to them. Still, it was a pretty pedestrian match, with Cabana being his unusual fun self and Maff being fairly boring. Maff won with the burning hammer.
After the match, Samoa Joe and Jim Cornette attacked Maff and Danger. Christopher Daniels came out to make the save and he, Maff and Danger ran off. Cornette cut a long promo concluding by saying he was going to introduce his client, presumably Samoa Joe. But, shock of shocks, before he could introduce anyone, the Briscoes' ran out and, with the aid of Cornette, attacked Joe. Cornette then explained that there was more money to be made leading guys to Championships than managing a guy who was already a Champion. None of this really explained why he came out with Joe in the first place.
Xavier & Nigel McGinness vs. The Purists (Tony Mamaluke & John Walters)
Yeah, I really think there should be a "u" in Nigel's last name, but I'll take the ROH website's word for it. This was my first time seeing him, and he was a lot of fun. He was basically playing the role of Xavier's Reasonably Big And Talented Random Partner, leading of course to he and Xavier not really being on the same page. Nigel came with the fun British counter-wrestling, including some stuff that ROH fans have seen Doug Williams do before but which is still cool. Williams seems to be having some work visa issues that are preventing him from returning to the US, so if he can't make it back for a while, I think McGinness will make an adequate substitute. This basically boiled down to a heat segment on Mamaluke where McGinness dismantled him with matwork and Xavier tried to steal the glory with cheap heel tactics. The last time I saw Xavier, in his first ROH match after returning from an extended absence following his ROH Title loss, he seemed to have toned down the fun heel antics that turned his title reign into surprising fun and it was pretty boring. In this match, he was back in full heel mode and it was a lot of fun. His stooging for Walters' post-hot-tag house-cleaning was particularly fun. Xavier pulled out the win with some sort of cheap rollup on Walters and after the match McGinness continued to play babyface, doing the handshake business and everything. Fun formula tag with McGinness' offense and Xavier's heel antics being the highlights.
Matt Stryker vs. Justin Credible
I think I enjoyed this performance by Matt Stryker more than I have any other match of his I've seen, an admittedly limited number. An early sequence where he worked Credible's arm was great, as not only did he use some nice offense, he brought great intensity to all of it and really made the arm work look credible. Which made it all the more unfortunate that Credible gave such a half-assed performance. Aside from just not selling the effect of Styker's arm work, the lack of intensity he put behind all of his offense was all the more glaring a flaw in comparison to Stryker's quality work. And then the match concluded with an unfortunate finishing sequence that saw Credible kick out of Stryker's death valley driver, Stryker kick out of Credible's tombstone and Credible finally tap out to the "Stryker Lock", a leg submission that had nothing to do with anything else that had happened in the match. So, fun performance by Stryker than made me interested to see him wrestle again, lame lack of effort from Credible and a generally mediocre match.
Izzy & Dixie of Special K vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe (with Jim Cornette) [Ring Of Honor Tag Team Championship]
As you may have guessed by the presence of Jim Cornette at ringside, these four wrestled a formulaic Southern tag. As you may not have guessed, they did a pretty uninspired job of it. After a flashy opening sequence, they got to the heat segment with the Briscoes isolating Dixie for a beating of sorts. But they seemed to just be pulling out offensive moves at random, showing no real strategy beyond "hit Dixie with stuff and keep him from tagging Izzy". They couldn't even really be bothered to build toward both of their neck-death-oriented offense in any way. So the so-called "heat segment" didn't really draw much and Izzy's eventual hot tag didn't draw much of a reaction from the crowd. Dixie did an adequate job of selling the beating, but it just wasn't very compelling. I will say that Izzy's house-cleaning offense was all kinds of fun. He brought the kind of frantic pace to his initial burst of offense that it seemed almost like the spots were doing themselves and he was just along for the ride. And there was a neat, if indy-as-fuck, sequence where the Briscoes went for a springboard doomsday device on Izzy, only for him to duck the attempted clothesline and then hit a reverse frankensteiner. Eventually the Briscoes were able to pull off the doomsday device and Jay hit somebody with the J-Driller for the win. There were some fun spots and sequences in this match, but overall, it wasn't very interesting.
Homicide vs. BJ Whitmer [Fighting Spirit Match]
I don't even know where to begin with this match. I guess I should start by explaining this business about a "Fighting Spirit Match". Basically, it was a regular match, except that it was possible to win by knockout and countout, via a 20-count, which is something not present under normal ROH rules. So of course they went all WCW on those rules and had the referee neglect to count several times early in the match when one man or the other was knocked outside the ring. It really made the announcement of the countout rule before the match seem goofy and the fact that they tried to do a countout near-fall late in the match even goofier. But wacky rule enforcement aside, the match started out pretty well. Well, first it started out going down the road of Generic Indy Match #7, with the perfunctory matwork into the pretty armdrag sequence into the headlock sequence, but then Whitmer reversed the headlock into a nice dangerous backdrop and Homicide rolled to the outside. After Homicide was through not being counted out, he got back in the ring and Whitmer went to town on him with Jun Akiyama's offense for a while. And then, at some point, Homicide decided he felt like being on offense. It didn't take some mistake on Whitmer's part, or some nice counter by Homicide; he just kicked Whitmer in the gut and went on offense. And that's pretty much how the match went from then on. Both guys brought some nasty offense, neither guy brought much selling on offense. Homicide's response to the beating he took was particularly ridiculous, as he seemed to be moving around just as quickly at the end of the match as he had at the beginning, running at full speed and popping up after every move to quickly hit another one.
And then there was the finishing sequence. Usually if a crowd's chanting "bullshit" at a match, it's because there's been some sort of screwjob or other sports entertainment shenanigans. You would think on an indy card, land of worthless finishers, one guy kicking out of another guy's finisher wouldn't cause anyone to bat an eye. So when Homicide hit Whitmer with a particularly brutal version of the Cop Killer/Vertebreaker/Kudoh Driver, I was somewhat surprised, as I shook my head in disbelief, to hear the crowd expressing my internal sentiments in the form of a chant. "Bullshit" they chanted. Yeah, that about sums it up. Then Whitmer rolled out of the ring and they did that countout nearfall I mentioned earlier, with the referee suddenly deciding that it was his job to count when a guy rolled out to the floor. But after Whitmer got back in the ring, he somehow found the strength to hit Homicide with an Exploder '98. Homicide, being the invulnerable superman that he is, kicked out and beat Whitmer following a top rope diamond cutter and a lariat. This match was perhaps the ROH style taken to its logical extreme, with stiffness, head-dropping and all the things that make the crowd chant "R O H!" in abundant quantities. It was also a bad wrestling match.
The Backseat Boyz (Trent Acid & Johnny Kashmere) vs. Hydro & Angel Dust of Special K vs. the Carnage Crew (Loc & DeVito) vs. the SAT (Jose & Joel Maximo) vs. Teddy Hart & Jack Evans [Scramble Cage Match]
This was a bunch of flashy moves in, around and off the top of a cage. Jack Evans hit what I would describe as a 630 moonsault off the top of the cage to the floor. It was the most insane and spectacular single spot I've ever seen live. Therefore, he wins. In a less important sense, the Backseats won the match by pinning Hydro with something or other.
After the match, Teddy Hart did a couple of backflips off of the cage into the ring and also did some dives onto guys on the outside of the ring. Apparently none of this was planned and Teddy Hart won't be back in ROH. He also apparently threw up in the ring more than once, although I somehow didn't notice.
Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels vs. CM Punk vs. Steve Corino
Before this match started, we had to sit through one of Corino's increasingly infamous twenty-minute ring introductions. This time around his announcer read a list of all of the people who had previously held whatever obscure belt it was that Corino was wearing around his waist. I believe it was the "NWA Southern Championship" or something along those lines. This delay surprisingly didn't offend my Corino-hating sensibilities too much, as the whole thing was kind of amusing. The crowd was pissed off at first, as the early portion of the list featured a bunch of guys no one had ever heard of, but after a while, it got to names people recognized, and they stopped being so annoyed with Corino and just popped for the mention of good wrestlers. And booed Lex Luger. The match, being a four-way, was kind of a spotty mess, but the basic story saw Daniels in the role of imperiled babyface, which was a bit strange. But while everyone in the match is or has been a heel in ROH, Daniels and Joe are basically heels that most everyone likes anyway, whereas there are sizable portions of the audience who like to shout angrily at Corino and Punk. The oddest part of the match to me was how much Corino and Punk were working together. They had just wrestled to a draw a week earlier and I generally understood them to still be feuding, but here they were working together, with Punk quite often taking direction from Corino. Of course, the more blatant screwiness came with the finish, where Corino and Punk both hit a Northern Lights Suplex on Joe at the same time and got the pin. I had always been under the impression that tag rules applied in this sort of match, so I don't really understand how there could be three legal men at the end, but I suppose ROH is just following the modern American wrestling tradition of ignoring rules when they become inconvenient.
After the match Corino and Punk challenged each other to wrestle right then and there to determine a winner, given that anyone who pinned Joe was supposed to receive a title shot in the future and this finish along with the impending main event would leave us with at least three number one contenders. The crowd said they didn't want to see these two wrestle anymore, so Corino and Punk agreed that they should wrestle. But then for some reason undisclosed to the crowd, they changed their minds and walked to the back. Punk had pretty obviously injured his knee, so that may have been the reason, but it was still confusing. On his way to the back, Punk got in a shouting match with a fan who then came up to the guardrail and shoved him before Punk apparently knocked him down and possibly out with a punch.
"American Dragon" Bryan Danielson vs. AJ Styles [Ring Of Honor Number One Contender's Trophy]
Before this match, I hadn't see Danielson wrestle in almost seven months, and had in fact only seen him wrestle twice this year, but I was still pretty certain that he was the best wrestler in the world or at the very least the best wrestler in these United States. His match with Paul London in April was the best match I'd ever seen live and the smartest match I'd seen anywhere in at least a couple of years. This match didn't surpass that one, but it was still more evidence to support the "Dragon is the best" argument. They started out with some matwork reminiscent of their previous match a year earlier, and Dragon showed why he's better than all of the other celebrated indy "mat technicians". Matt Stryker may bring good intensity and Nigel McGinness may bring incredibly fun reversals, but nobody in America brings credibility to his matwork like Dragon. Not only does the stuff he's doing look like it hurts, but it also looks like he has to work hard to earn every hold and his opponent has to work just as hard to escape. It's not smooth Dean Malenko transitions from move to move, but it's a struggle for position that's utterly believable without ever being boring.
In addition to the excellence of Dragon's work, his character in ROH seems to be evolving and becoming more and more surly every time I see him. I really began to notice Dragon turning into a guy who'd beat the fuck out of his opponent with little regard for being a crowd-pleasing babyface in his first match with Styles last year, and of course he moved on to even taunting the fans chanting for Paul London in April. Here he took it a bit further and was actually jawing with some fans early in the match, although not so much that it disrupted the flow of the action in the ring. But aside from a couple of early distractions, he was very focused on his goal of grinding AJ Styles into a fine powder. The main focus of his assault was working Styles' arm to set him up for the Cattle Mutilation. Styles sold this well while he was in the holds, but basically ignored it while on offense. He wasn't really doing a bunch of arm-oriented moves that he shouldn't have been able to do in his condition, but he wasn't doing much to indicate that his arm was in pain either.
Styles attempted to respond to Dragon's assault in kind, picking a body part on which to focus his efforts. Styles chose the knee and first went to work on it outside the ring, with some shin breakers to the apron and the guardrail reminiscent of Dragon's assault on Paul London's knee seven months earlier. Once they got back in the ring Styles tried to follow up with a kneebar, but he couldn't really expect to hang with Dragon in the area of shooty submissions and Dragon fairly quickly reversed it into a nasty half crab. It took Styles returning to his pro wrestling repertoire to further the attack on Dragon's knee, as the tried and true figure four leglock became a more effective weapon. Dragon's selling of the knee was, of course, very good and he did a better job of remembering it while on offense than Styles, limping subtly even while running.
The finish of the match seemed to me to come up a bit suddenly, and I think Styles' selling might be partially responsible for that. After working Styles' arm extensively and effectively early in the match, Dragon managed to get him in the Cattle Mutilation not once but twice late in the match, which I suppose should have signal me that the finishing sequence was upon us. But even the second Cattle Mutilation I didn't really buy as a potential finish despite the fact that I thought Styles' recent NWA Title loss coupled with Styles' victory in the previous meeting between these two meant that Dragon was probably going over. But Styles' managed to get out of the hold and then when Dragon locked on a sort of triangle choke, Styles picked him up off of the ground and turned it into a modified Styles Clash, which he followed up with a standard Styles Clash for the finish. It was a perfectly fine finish to an excellent match; it just kind of snuck up on me. Maybe I was just disappointed that I wouldn't get to see Dragon wrestle Joe for the title in December. Dragon seems to be developing a sort of "can't win the big matches" aspect to his character, having now lost all five of his attempts at getting a shot at the ROH Title. Hopefully this will change now that he'll be back in the company on an allegedly regular basis starting in December.