THE EPIC ENCOUNTER
April 12, 2003
Two years and still going strong, just like the Energizer Bunny! And after celebrating the first year with Misawa and Kobashi putting on a stinker in the Green Ring, I’m playing it safe. Despite all the things I’ve said about ROH matches, I do actually like their product and this show is the reason why.
Christopher Daniels . . . continues his slump with a disappointing match with Homicide.
Tom Carter . . . steals the show in an impromptu 4-way match.
Paul London . . . becomes one of my all time favorite wrestlers due to a classic match with Bryan Danielson.
TRENT ACID/JOHNNY KASHMERE vs. MAFIA/MONSTA MACK
Aside from some of the Backseat’s stooging, and some nice foreshadowing of Mafia’s heel turn later in the show, this is fun, but rather simple. Both Acid and Kashmere are good with the bumping and selling that they do, and the early bits with Kashmere hurting his hand was funny stuff. Between the stalling and selling, along with the offense that DHS brings, the match itself is quite fun, but it’s also far too lopsided. The ending they work isn’t bad in theory, with Mafia accidentally hitting Mack with a lariat, and then walking into the T-Gimmick, but Acid was coming off getting powerbombed into the corner and breaking the turnbuckle, while Kashmere was coming off a Half Nelson suplex, so they basically had to blow off the bumps to work the finish. In addition to the fact that DHS controlled about 98% of the match, so it seems weird that one lariat was all it took to get Mack out of the picture.
DUNN/MARCOS vs. LOC/DEVITO vs. HYDRO/DIXIE
If you’ve seen a few of these matches already, then, aside from the Mikey run in, you’ve seen this one. There’s dives and spots galore, and everything is all go-go-go so nothing is put over to any great degree. It looked at first like this might be different, with Loc giving Dunn a huge backdrop and then a neckbreaker/suplex combo to Dixie, but then their partners ran in and it was back to the usual. There’s the prerequisite big diving sequence on the floor, including one from Deranged, who wasn’t even in the match, and a pile on sequence in the ring, until Devito tries to moonsault his way to the top and everyone moves. The only moves that get put over are Carnage Crew’s spike piledriver to Dunn, and Mikey’s Whippersnapper, the piledriver effectively ends the match, and Special K steals the pin, because Mikey Whippersnapped Carnage Crew and left them both laying.
AJ STYLES/AMAZING RED © vs. JAY BRISCOE/MARK BRISCOE (ROH Tag Team Titles)
According to the announcers, this match was voted by the ROH fans, so blame them. Honestly, it’s not bad, but it’s nothing more than just a big spotfest, with precious little in the way of storytelling, or any big selling aside from the Styles Clash, and The Maximo Explosion. AJ and Red bring a bunch of cute spots and double teams, such as AJ’s assistance with the Code Red, their little cris cross dive sequence, and the Shining Wizard off AJ’s back, but like the last match, they needed to slow down and make some of it mean something. The only thing that got any real time was the Briscoes’ control segment on Red, and even that was too short to really develop any sort of theme, aside from the half crab (Red’s knee injury would eventually cause them to vacate the belts). The once nice continuity bit was Jay avoiding rana to Styles Clash spot (which AJ and Red had beaten them with previously), and then Mark diving directly into a Styles Clash on the floor, leaving him unable to save Jay from Red’s Maximo Explosion and Red Star Press. Again, the match isn’t bad in the least, and there’s certainly nothing overtly offensive to be found, it’s fun to watch AJ and Red snap off spots, but at the core that’s all there really is.
CM PUNK vs. BJ WHITMER
If nothing else, there was at least some build to the big table bump and ref throwing out the match, beyond that, any other storytelling or real flow is hard to come by. Whitmer flubs up on an attempted somersault plancha and lands on his head, and Punk takes a few opportunities to really rock him with head shots, a big German suplex, a Shining Wizard, and they have several forearm exchanges. Whitmer refuses to stay down though, and Punk brings out a table and tries a few times to put Whitmer through it, unsuccessfully. Honestly, that’s about the extent of Punk’s heel activities, he keeps the match clean, and he’s not overtly nasty or punkish when on offense. The German suplex through the table was more or less Punk catching Whitmer in the right place at the right time, rather than Punk getting desperate or Punk being a dick. It’s fun for what it is, and it’s rather simple.
HOMICIDE vs. CHRISTOPHER DANIELS
This is decent for continuing the angle of Daniels’ slump, but that is a double-edged sword at times for the match. Some of the things they do, while useful in furthering the story, hurt the match. The big one being how little offense Daniels gets in, aside from a somewhat ugly Russian leg sweep off the turnbuckle, Daniels gets next to nothing aside from his trademark stuff (STO, BME, Angels Wings), and while it’s plausible to think that Daniels is throwing out the big guns to finish off ‘Cide ASAP, it’s equally unplausible to think that someone with the experience Daniels has is foolish enough to go that route to win. The other notable story of the match was ‘Cide working Daniel’s neck, the match starts JIP with ‘Cide working a chinlock, and he makes a point to work back to it several times, along with a rather sweet looking STF, and several other moves that work over Daniels’ neck. In theory this leads up to the Cop Killa (at this point the lariat hadn’t yet become ‘Cide’s finisher of choice). And to their credit, when ‘Cide attempts it, they don’t the same escape everyone else works where Daniels instantly shifts his weight to escape, but rather he lingers for a few seconds before rolling back, and then ‘Cide clobbers him with the lariat for a near fall. But right after that, they work an awkward looking sequence on the mat, where ‘Cide pins Daniels clean with a roll up, which, again, works the angle of Daniels’ losing streak, but kills any notion of actually building to the finish. And the run-ins by Joe and CW Anderson afterwards leading to Mafia joining The Prophecy only make the match serve to be filler.
We’re treated to about 45 seconds of Alexis Laree vs. Ariel, only a couple of spots and Laree’s DDT to finish her off are shown of the whole 98 seconds. Which speaks volumes about either:
(A. How much Laree has improved since joining WWE,
(B. How bad Ariel must have been, or
(C. How much emphasis ROH had on women’s matches at this time.
SAMOA JOE vs. HOTSTUFF HERNANDEZ
Well this was rather short and to the point. Joe was good at this stage on his career, but would bet much better later on. Joe works in a few nice armbar type holds, but they’re really just rest holds. Hotstuff makes a nice impression with a big dive, and actually beating Joe in a strike exchange, and then escaping Joe’s choke, but he gets himself caught in a Triangle choke a minute later and choked out, which is good to establish Joe as a force to reckon with, although the title belt around his waist should do that on it’s own.
Joe is evidently not satisfied with his match, and he stages a sit in and inserts himself into the next match, making it a title match.
SAMOA JOE © vs. MATT STRYKER vs. COLT CABANA vs. TOM CARTER (ROH Heavyweight Title)
As far as 4-way matches go, this is probably the most smartly worked one of ROH’s existence up to this point, it certainly helps that there was something at stake in the match, rather than just being thrown together. While the match doesn’t have much of a story being told, it compensates by having a good number of smart moments, and a particularly nice finish. Carter is far and away the best performer of the match, his mat game and submissions that he works is a very nice touch. In addition, he also does some very smart and logical things that just aren’t seen enough, like his interception of Joe’s attempted tope suicida, and preventing Cabana from giving Stryker a suplex by doing a dropkick to the knee. Joe, understandably, takes most of the match off, but he’s still able to make his presence felt, and Cabana and Stryker are good, although not spectacular, all three of the challengers show a good amount of intensity and show how much they want to take home the title.
On the surface, the finish appears to be the same as most finishes, where two of the participants are ‘taken out’ leaving the other two alone, but when one looks closer, it’s worked much smarter than that. Joe locks Cabana in the choke, and Stryker attempts to come off and break it up, but his subdued by Carter, who channels his Reckless Youth persona with a big frog splash. The impact knocks Carter out, but Joe is able to roll a bit so Cabana takes the brunt of it, and with Stryker and Carter both unable to do anything, Cabana taps out. What’s even more remarkable about this is that Joe and Cabana would improve by leaps and bounds over the next couple of years.
BRYAN DANIELSON vs. PAUL LONDON (2/3 Falls)
The biggest compliment to the last match was that it was the smartest worked match of its kind up to that point in time, but this match blows it away for smart work. In addition to the ‘basics’ of a 2/3 falls match, they work in a number of smart touches throughout the first fall. Danielson sells his ear after the aggressive collar/elbow tie up that kicked off the match, as well as selling it after London’s extended headlocks. Danielson’s eventual escape of the headlocks was a nice roundabout way to foreshadow the end of the first fall, with Danielson lifting London into a backdrop suplex position and then dropping him with a backbreaker. After Danielson takes control the shifts to a simple premise that’s been done time and time again: Aggression vs. Savvy, in the form of Danielson trying to win by brutalizing London vs. London trying to outsmart Danielson with flash pin type moves. One of the most famous analogies to wrestling is that’s ‘a game of human chess’ and this is as good example of that as any. Along with his aggressive tactics, Danielson also tries to play some mind games with London, and London returns the favor by faking out Danielson after a slingshot that comes up short, and throwing himself over the top, so he can skin the cat and send Danielson to the floor. And just to show how equal they really are, London shows he can hang on the mat with Danielson, while Danielson takes to the air a bit. London wins the fall, but Danielson did the work. Danielson went for one of his big moves, the super backdrop, and having already used something similar, London had a counter ready, and reversed it in midair, landing on top and getting the win. The first fall alone was very good, but that’s just the beginning.
The second fall is much shorter, but it’s oh so sweet. While he’s not as overtly heelish as he was in his ROH Title match with Roderick Strong, Danielson’s aggressiveness carries the match. He starts off with a bang attacking London while he was offering a handshake (which wasn’t technically required) and assaults him with chops, until London hits a desperation superkick and goes up for the SSP. Having lost to London in their last meeting (12/7/02) to the move, he knows he has to avoid it at all costs, and he crotches London and heads up to try his super backdrop again. The following exchange on the top rope is simply a thing of beauty. London does everything he can to stop Danielson, he elbows and back headbutts him in the head, and while they don’t have the overly stiff look or an audible smack, they still get the message across. London is able to knock him down, but he keeps getting back up. It’s almost akin to a slasher movie where the killer just won’t stay down. When Danielson has enough of getting his brains scrambled, he goes after London’s knee, which gets him hung up, and Danielson is all over the knee after that. One of the best moments of the match is at this time, when Danielson deliberately grabs one of London’s legs and dares him to do something. As Danielson expected, London went for an enzuigiri and Danielson was ready and dodged it. Danielson followed that with a half crab, and after a few rope break attempts Danielson pulls back as far as he can and gets the tap out. Whereas London more or less got lucky and outsmarted Danielson, there is no question, that Danielson won the fall on his own merit.
And it’s only fitting that the third fall plays off the themes that the first two falls established, London’s knee, Danielson’s aggression, and human chess story. The difference maker this time is London finding the heart to continue, despite his knee being in such pain. London still manages to pull off the enzuigiri he couldn’t hit in the last fall, and his sweeping DDT, and London surprises Dragon with a powerbomb counter to Danielson’s ten punches in the corner. Despite his knee being hurt, London still goes up top for his SSP, and Danielson once again cuts him off and goes for the super backdrop, but this time Danielson pounds London in the back to prevent him from going after his head, and it’s successful, but still not enough. Danielson goes back to the knee with the half crab, but again, London won’t stay down and this time he makes the ropes. Danielson goes for the ultimate in aggressive moves, with his attempted super backdrop to the floor, which is more than a bit obvious that it won’t be seen to fruition. London’s reaction to what Danielson is attempting is excellent and he goes back to the headbutts and elbows to the head, and at one pont Danielson slumps over forward and rests on London. And while it was obvious that the suplex wasn’t going to hit, they work the same theory when London finally gets positioned up top for the SSP. Danielson is laying on his stomach and starting to get up, which is usually a dead ringer for a miss, but London scores with the SSP, and rolls him over for the win. This is really just a beautiful match, and taking place the same year as stinkers such as HHH/Steiner, Nagata/Nakanishi, and Misawa/Kobashi just makes it stand out that much more. A lot of ROH’s early stuff doesn’t hold up, but this is one of their few matches that truly does stand the test of time. ****1/4
Conclusion: The main event is phenomenal, but the rest of the card is pretty flawed, despite being fun at times, such as the tag titles match and the 4-way. If you can download the main event you’re better off going that road, but if not, the show is well worth picking up just for that match.