March 12, 2005

After a series of shows that carry a special theme to them, ROH goes back to the basics.

Homicide . . . works a match that you wouldn’t expect.

Spanky . . . pulls double duty with two good performances in a single night.

Stevie Richards . . . what’s he doing, he doesn’t work here!


ROH needs to give Delirious a full time gig, and push him to the main event ASAP. Ok maybe not, but it’d be cool if it happened. You know you’re watching something interesting when Colt Cabana is yelling at someone to get serious. The wrestling itself isn’t much to write home about, Cabana shows off a few of his roll ups, and Delirious uses a roll up of his own, with the Banana Phone cradle. Delirious’ antics are priceless though, whether he’s complaining about Cabana pulling his tights and hair, showing off his ten-inch pythons, and going into ‘the turtle’ guard to hold off Cabana. The booking is never in doubt though, when it’s a full timer vs. a part timer, and the full timer also has got a tag title shot lined up for later on in the show. The Helicopter Slam is a nice visual to end things with, but Cabana using one of his roll ups would have been a bit better, sending a message to the tag champions in terms of how quickly he can get a three-count.


Much like the last match, the winner isn’t in very much doubt here, but once again, they do a nice job with what they’re given. Law and Landell may just be students, but they definitely don’t get utterly squashed like the ROH wrestling students do, or even how Dunn and Marcos did for their first couple of years. They pull out several nice double teams, including the old Kai En Tai favorite, the camel clutch and dropkick in the face. They also hit Marcos with a nasty double swinging neck breaker. The RCE doesn’t come empty handed either, they both display more confidence and a bit more of an edge than they usually show in their matches. It’s hard to imagine Marcos being able to tee off with those forearm uppercuts on just about anyone, even someone as low on the ROH food chain as Matt Sydal, but here it is happening. Marco also has his own unique swinging neckbreaker that he uses, as well as impressively getting up Alex Law, who’s a lot taller than he, and hitting a Falcon Arrow. Dunn shows off a nasty backdrop suplex that takes Landell out of the equation, and the necktie powerbomb to set up Law for Marcos’ senton, are more moves that one can’t imagine the RCE using on anyone else. The overall impression the match winds up leaving isn’t so much a squash, as it is a fun little match where Dunn and Marcos got to show their stuff, and Law and Landell got to show off their potential.


When it comes to well-executed spotfests, they don’t get much better than this. Jack Evans shows how much of a tough guy he really is, taking two nasty bumps on the guardrail back-to-back, and the first one opens a decent sized cut on his back. Evans also bumps and sells like crazy for just about anything Spanky hits him with, he went sailing to the floor and into the guardrail from a simple monkey flip. Spanky shows off his own heelish edge, by mocking Evans break dancing, when Evans is on the floor. Spanky also uses a really deep Boston crab, really putting the pressure on, and Evans still manages to crawl to the ropes. But the match isn’t just Evans getting the tar beat out of him, and that’s how Evans shows just how tough he really is. He finally gets himself an opening and starts taking the fight to Spanky. Even with his back likely screaming in pain, he still pulls off several of his famous flips, and does them without a hitch, evens a Space Flying Tiger Drop (which Bower makes a royal blunder on by calling it a Space Flying Tiger Driver). Evans also manages to hit a great looking Busaiku knee to the back of Spanky, and send him tumbling into the corner. One of the best moments of the match was the Sliced Bread #2 attempt that led Evans to get control in the first place. The normal counter to the move is the intended victim pushing Spanky into the corner. Evans uses his agility and does a back flip out of the move, so he winds up landing on his feet, and letting Spanky take the bump on the mat. They even play off that for the ending, as Spanky hits the Slice Bread #2 off the top and Evans tried the same counter, but only winds up taking another big bump flat on his face and getting pinned. If these two had a few single or tags to get a bit more familiar with one another, and another five or ten minutes to work with, they could probably put on a really good match, instead of simply a really fun one.


It’s obvious that the four of them weren’t paying attention to the last match, because despite being very familiar with each other, they put on a Scramble-like spotfest, without any of the fun stuff from the last match. Some of the double teams that Izzy and Deranged use are nice, especially the Code Red/Blockbuster, but they aren’t nearly as well executed as the stuff Evans was doing, and every bump was designed to get a big “OH!” from the crowd, rather than to tell a story or prove a point, like Evans overselling everything he got hit with. The work between the big spots isn’t anything great either, the only really standout stuff was Dixie using the O’Connor roll, as a means to get himself to the corner for the hot tag. It’s sort of telling when Dixie can surprise Izzy with a big German suplex, but then still not be able to get the tag, because Izzy is holding him back. Azrieal shows some nice intensity when he’s in, but after having his pin broken up, he’s suddenly nearly KO’d. Azrieal’s Electric Chair drop off the top to Deranged, certainly let them end the match on a strong visual, but in the grand scheme of things, it had little to no more meaning than ‘Deranged took too long standing on the top rope’.


It’s quite fitting they work a smart, and simple match like this on a show titled ‘Back to Basics’. The opening bit on the mat looks more than a little odd, with the crazy brawler in Homicide, and the hard-hitting powerhouse in Strong, but they each show a nice and solid focus, and use the matwork not just as time filler before they bring out the bombs, but as actual holds that mean something in the future. Strong keeps his attacks on Homicide’s back, with the surfboard hold, and even a bow and arrow at one point, to soften up Homicide’s back for a backbreaker. Homicide keeps on Strong’s neck with sleepers, chinlocks, and his rolling neck stretch, but makes sure to really crank on the holds, rather than just resting. Homicide also doesn’t resort to working the neck over by dropping Strong on his head a whole bunch of times either. He keeps it to simple moves like the swinging neckbreaker. When things spill out to the floor, Homicide still manages to keep things in control, the shot with the chair is right in Strong’s neck region, and when he sends Strong into the guardrail, Homicide sends him into them headfirst in order to keep attacking the neck. When Strong finally gets an opening, it’s by going after the back, once he sends Homicide’s back into the post and rail, he can safely roll into the ring.

Strong’s control segment is just as smart as Homicide’s was, simple and focused work, without worrying about being too flashy and making the crowd pop. One really impressive spot was Strong holding Homicide up for the delayed vertical suplex, and making the extra effort to make sure Homicide landed squarely on his back. Strong also favors a traditional Boston crab, rather than his “Stronghold” version, with Strong’s knee planted, keeping the move protected on some level. When Strong finally does lose his advantage, it was because he made a mistake and tried to come off the top rope, rather than Homicide just popping up and no-selling something. Strong doesn’t use his big half nelson back breaker until Homicide had telegraphed his lariat and he used it as a counter. There is one odd point in the match though, when Homicide does a double under hook suplex from the top rope, since he’s supposed to be working on the neck. But Homicide is quick to sell the contact he made with the mat, as damage to the back to somewhat cover it up. The finish is pretty much flawless the way they work it, Homicide learns from his mistake and hits Strong with the Ace crusher from the top. But in his hurry to get the win, he just charges and hits the lariat, forgetting about the elbow pad, and Strong barely kicks out. Realizing what he did, Homicide takes the pad of and levels Strong (which he sells huge) for the hard fought win. It’s amazing that these two could work a match like this, given Homicide’s reputation as a brawler, and it’s not much surprise that Strong (whose role here was little more than Aries’ policeman) has gone on to become one of the top workers in the company. ***1/4


This is pretty much all throwaway stuff here. It’d have been helpful if 3/4 of the workers were not being used primarily as valets, and the 1/4 that isn’t, isn’t a regular in ROH. There is a couple of nice moves out of Lacy, as well as a rivalry between Lacy and Haze being battled, but the only real factor that has on anything is why neither of them is around for the finish. Danger using Christopher Daniels’ STO as a finish is a nice touch, but Daniels hadn’t been in ROH in over a year at this point in time, and he’d never won a meaningful match with that particular move.


The story going into this match is that Cabana’s neck is bothering him, from the match he had earlier with Delirious. It’s a fine story in theory, and a logical one to explain why Cabana and McGuiness don’t win the titles, but there are a few flaws in it. First and foremost is that Cabana beat Delirious pretty easily, and while Delirious did hit a few moves that could possibly cause neck soreness, it didn’t seem to be bothering Cabana at all during the match. Another issue is that Maff and Whitmer just aren’t very good about working over the neck in interesting ways, despite that they both employ finishers that cause neck pain. Whitmer is a bit better about it than Maff, but they’d both rather just brawl with their kick and punch stuff, than worry about building the match. The champions have some fun heel stuff they do, to keep Cabana from tagging out particularly when Maff causes McGuiness to get off the apron, and Colt finally gets over the corner, and finds nobody there to tag.

Cabana’s selling of the neck is a bit odd, there are times when he’s always favoring it and making an effort to put as little strain on his neck as possible, and then Whitmer will grab a cravate, and give him a snap mare, and Cabana will roll to hit feet and hit an offensive move, without any selling at all. Nigel is more a supporting player in the match, which makes sense given that the idea is that they lost because Cabana had a singles match earlier and was busy doing his talk show, instead of preparing for the match. But Nigel makes the most of what he’s given to do, such as saving Cabana from going into the corner, and outsmarting Whitmer when he tries to do the same thing. Nigel also sneaks in and gives Cabana a boost for his attempted roll up counter to Whitmer’s Exploder, and get the best of Maff in a strike exchange. When Nigel gets his quick offensive burst after Cabana’s hot tag, he gets in his trademark stuff, but does the same odd looking KO sell job when his pin gets broken up. There are so many better ways to necessitate another tag being made so soon. With Nigel being incredibly hurt after that simple shot to his back, Cabana has nobody to save him and falls victim to the Exploder. It seemed like they knew what they wanted to do, and where they wanted the match to go, but nobody was actually able to step up and get the match in that direction.


This is structured much like a New Japan junior match is, with a bunch of fun stuff early on, that doesn’t really factor into anything. The work they do looks excellent, and that does compensate for the fact that not everything had a distinct purpose. Romero’s cocky attitude is a really fun part of the match. Romero has good reason to be arrogant though, having come off setting the record for both longest title reign, and most defenses of the ROH Tag Titles, winning the Trios Tournament, as well as an MMA victory in Brazil. As much fun as it is to watch Romero with that smug grin on his face, totally blowing off Gibson, it’s just as much fun to watch Gibson slap the grin off his face, and hands him back some attitude of his own. Romero brings some nice offense with him, in the form of the unique variations of the abdominal stretch, and the Octopus hold. Romero shows some nice short term focus, but he doesn’t seem to be thinking very far ahead. An example of this is when he levels Gibson with three big kicks to the chest area, and follows up with a surfboard hold. But after that, he doesn’t worry about keeping on the chest area.

Given his win in Brazil, it makes sense that Romero would work a bit of a shootstyle match, using his skills to his advantage. This is the strength in Gibson though, as he works a traditional pro style match, working with basic holds, and wrestling moves, even though his primary submission hold is a popular move to end MMA fights with. At one point Romero makes an attempt to play along with Gibson with a Hurricanrana and winds up giving himself a powerbomb. Gibson also makes his own flub though, doing an infamous delayed sell. Romero hits a jumping knee strike to the chin (which would probably be a KO in a legit fight) but Gibson just blows it off, charges with a lariat and then drops back down to explain why he doesn’t cover. Gibson tries for the Paydirt Guillotine choke, but Romero counters and escapes it easily, so Gibson surprises him with several roll up attempts for a few near falls. Romero comes back with a few surprises of his own with several variations of the armbar, including his famous Hurricanrana into the armbar. But in the end, it came down to a very simple shoot fighting mentality, thinking ahead. Romero had already established that he wasn’t, and Gibson figured out what he needed to do, and secured the Paydirt, and forced Romero to tap out. This is another fitting match to take place on this show, a simple straightforward match, with fine-looking work, a fun dynamic, and a solid story. ***½


What better way to end what has been a very fun show, with a very fun match? All four of them manage to bring something worthwhile to the table, and not so coincidentally, all four wrestlers have something to prove. CM Punk is coming off two straight singles losses, as well as coming up short in the Trios Tournament, and James Gibson’s win in the last match effectively ended Spanky’s chances for a title shot in the near future. Jay Lethal is the new ROH Pure Wrestling Champion, but hasn’t done a whole lot to show that he’s worthy of being in the division, aside from feuding with the Embassy (which the former champion, John Walters was a member of), and Samoa Joe is coming off losing the ROH World Title to Austin Aries, and then coming up short in his rematch. There is also some history among the four of them, such as Punk and Joe’s famous three matches, and Punk and Lethal had one of the breakout matches that led to Lethal leaving Special K.

The early portion of the match is a bit of an exhibition of what all four can do. It features some nice looking chain wrestling by Lethal and Punk, in Lethal’s attempts to prove his worth in the Pure Title division. Spanky also interjects his personality into the match, using his speed to stay away from Joe, and showing his bravery (or lack of brains) by trying to take down Joe with shoulder blocks, and then falling like a safe, when he hits it. Joe plays the perfect straight man for Spanky, not even cracking a grin when Spanky is threatening to break him in half. When it’s Punk and Joe facing off (to a very hot crowd) Punk falls back on the famous headlock strategy that helped him out so much in the ‘Joe vs. Punk II’ sixty-minute draw. When the major control segment of the first half comes up, when Joe and Lethal are working over Spanky, they keep focused on Spanky’s back, using some nice double teams, as well as Joe’s size advantage, with his big senton onto Spanky’s back. Lethal also keeps to the mat and chain wrestling. It’s nothing really spectacular, but it’s simple and it accomplishes Lethal’s goal of showing he’s not the champion for nothing.

The major control segment of the second half is brought on because of Spanky and Punk’s frustrations. So when Spanky finally gets close enough to tag, Punk does him one better, and pulls Lethal to the floor and sends him into the guardrails and the post, before he hops up for the tag. Punk and Spanky’s attack is focused on Lethal’s rib cage (some nice continuity from Lethal’s feud with the Embassy). The work on Lethal’s ribs doesn’t have as much actual wrestling moves and holds that the attack on Spanky’s back did, but it’s actually one of the strengths in it. Lethal had already shown how good he can be working on the mat, so Spanky and Punk stick with the simple stomps, and shoulder blocks to the rib area, and even the occasional cheap shots behind the ref’s back. When they do try to work in the holds, like Punk’s abdominal stretch, they bend the rules a bit by having Spanky give Punk an assist from the apron. Punk and Spanky are also good about keeping Lethal from tagging out. A really nice moment is when Lethal is nearly there and Punk trips him up, grapevines his leg, and drags him back for more abuse. The only really weak moments are Lethal’s selling of the ribs, after he finally gets a tag. Fortunately, Joe doesn’t tag out after being incapacitated after a pin is broken up, Lethal actually calls for the tag. After only about five minutes or so to rest, Lethal’s ribs are suddenly fine, he misses the diving headbutt, but that causes more problems to his head, than his ribs.

The Stevie Richards run in bit was silly, but doesn’t detract from the match, because it continues Punk’s rivalry with the Embassy (which had been all but forgotten at this show). The work before and after that point certainly helps make up for the lame run-in being booked. Punk was making Lethal regret his choice to tag back into the match, while Spanky found his own hilarious way to keep Joe from bailing him out. Even after getting hit with the Stevie kick, Punk wasn’t completely knocked out, he was still trying to fight off Lethal’s Dragon suplex (although it’d have been nice if Lethal had put over his ribs, as giving him trouble hitting the move, in addition to Punk fighting it). But Lethal isn’t denied and pounds away on Punk and finally hits his ugly finisher to score his biggest win to date. Richards may have played a part in the win, but Lethal can still say he earned the win because he had to fight Punk before he could put him away. ***½

Conclusion: This is the second-best ROH show yet, just behind the 5/7/05 Manhattan show. This show may not have had the great match that the Manhattan show did, but it’s a bit more consistent. It’s got a really fun undercard, and three good matches on the upper card. Thumbs way up for Back to Basics.