FINAL BATTLE 2008
December 27, 2008
Austin Aries tries to move forward, toward the ROH Title, but the Age of the Fall stands in his way. Kensuke Sasaki shows up just to irritate me. Danielson and Morishima try to end each other’s careers, and Marufuji continues to be the craftiest wrestler on the face of the earth.
Rhett Titus . . . is one of the few saving graces of ROH’s usually meaningless four corner survival matches.
Naomichi Marufuji . . . puts the ROH Champion through the ringer in attempting to take the title back with him to NOAH.
Bryan Danielson . . . tries to put the idea that he’s the best *wrestler* in the world out of his head, and tries to rip Morishima’s head off.
CLAUDIO CASTAGNOLI vs. KENNY OMEGA
Although it’s rather simplistic, this is a fun opener. Claudio handles Omega with relative ease, doing a respectable job of brutalizing him, but he keeps getting distracted by the fans and Omega uses that to his advantage to reel off a few spots on Claudio. They get a bit too cute with the stop sign spot, it’s more suited for Chikara than it is ROH, but it’s the exception not the rule. Omega’s spots are more flashy than they are effective, especially the corkscrew pescado and the high vertical leap to do the simple facebuster, but it works as far as making his win over Claudio look like a fluke. The finish certainly gives that impression with Omega escaping the Ricola Bomb (which also saw Claudio stop to play to the crowd to give Omega a second to get his marbles together) and cradling Claudio for the upset. It’d have been nice to see them go a little longer and let Claudio turn up the heat a bit more on Omega, but this gets across the message just fine.
CHRIS HERO vs. JERRY LYNN vs. NECRO BUTCHER vs. RHETT TITUS
Hero and Titus made this bearable, but this was little more than time filler and an excuse to get these four on the show. Titus had the issue with Necro and was there to bump and stooge his ass when Necro was knocking him around, he also played the role of spoiler when Necro and Jerry were doing a sunset flip to jackknife and back again sequence (which the crowd was totally into) and Titus ran in to break it up, and Titus makes sure to keep Necro occupied so that Lynn and Hero can work the finish.
Lynn and Hero have a couple of nice exchanges that are reminiscent of Lynn’s matches with Justin Credible from ECW. Hero is too preoccupied with doing the elbow strike to be too effective in the match, but they make it count when he clocks Lynn with the rolling elbow and Necro saves. Hero gets desperate to use the (allegedly) loaded elbow pad, and Lynn ducks it and hits the cradle piledriver to win the match. It was fun for what it was, but praise like that only goes so far with these sorts of matches.
KEVIN STEEN/El GENERICO © vs. JIMMY JACOBS/DELIRIOUS (ROH World Tag Team Titles)
If Jacobs and Delirious did a better job of working over Steen then this would have been good, if a bit formulaic. It starts with the standard hot run by the champions, it goes a bit too long, but it works in showing why they’re the champs. It looks like this is going to pick up when Delirious clips Steen’s leg to give the heels a chance to control the match, but they just aren’t good at all when it comes to working the leg over, even though Steen puts it over as much as possible. The only slip up by Steen is after the hot tag, when he charges the corner and does the cannonball, but he makes up for that later on, by not being able to do the package piledriver or balance himself on the top rope. There is a nice sequence with the heels stopping Steen from making the hot tag, but it’s not nearly enough.
The finish they work is nice to continue the Delirious/Daizee Haze angle, although Daizee’s distraction just makes Delirious look stupid, not to mention that the babyfaces shouldn’t be winning thanks to a distraction like that. It’d make more sense if it was Jacobs dropping the fall that way, then it gives the same result with Haze getting to stick it to Jimmy to continue the feud.
DAVEY RICHARDS/EDDIE EDWARDS/GO SHIOZAKI vs. BRENT ALBRIGHT/RODERICK STRONG/ERICK STEVENS (New York Street Fight)
The intensity is appreciated, but this needed a hell of a lot more than just intensity to work. It doesn’t help that Shiozaki comes off like a total pretender compared to the Wolves, and it also didn’t help that the extended brawl on the floor between everyone that started this off didn’t mean much more than just time filler. The work itself alternates between throwing bombs and generic brawling. It seemed to be getting interesting when Albright was left on his own, with Strong and Stevens out on the floor, but instead of fighting from underneath or playing the cat and mouse game, Albright easily handles himself and nearly beats Davey before Eddie brings in the chair. The tables get turned with Go on his own, and he eats all three of their big moves and taps to the crowbar, but there’s zero build toward the hold or the finish itself, beyond Stevens dumping him with the German and Strong’s flying kick. It wouldn’t have been hard to do. They could have easily jettisoned a few minutes of brawling to work a spot where Go hurts his arm, such as the attempt at the Go Flasher that Stevens escapes, and allow all three to gets some shots in on the arm. It would fit the blood feud mentality of the feud perfectly, and it would put Albright and co. in a better position to win. The big clue that something isn’t right is that the usually rabid ROH crowd doesn’t seem to really care about the match as a whole, beyond the strike exchanges and the crazy spots.
KENSUKE SASAKI/KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA vs. JAY BRISCOE/MARK BRISCOE
Why Sasaki? There is no shortage of names in NOAH to bring in alongside Nakajima. Being the GHC Champion at the time certainly didn’t matter, since he wasn’t defending it. Sasaki takes most of the match off and lets Nakajima do the heavy lifting. This would normally be a good thing, but this really isn’t all that good to begin with. The bulk of this is just Nakajima and the Briscoes pelting each other with kicks and other strikes. It’s fine for getting the fans into the action, but they don’t take the match anywhere with it. Nakajima and the Briscoes are somewhat even, and then Sasaki tags in to m ow then down, and then tags Nakajima right back in. But Sasaki still manages to be annoying when Jay boots him while he’s on the apron and he not only stays on the apron, but he barely sells the kick.
He’s usually better than Sasaki, but even Nakajima has issues here. The worst is when he takes an avalanche from Jay and shrugs it off to hit his own running kick, and Jay just sucks that up and kicks him right back. Even more frustrating than their lack of selling is their lack of story, especially with Mark’s bad knee right there for them to heel things up with. But it only creeps up when Mark isn’t able to do a springboard and for the shenanigans after the match with the Wolves. Jay spiking Nakajima with the Jay driller doesn’t seem like a real climax, it’s just the planned finish once they filled their time. The Briscoes’ match with Aries and Ibushi from April kills this six ways from Sunday.
AUSTIN ARIES vs. TYLER BLACK (#1 Contender’s match for the ROH World Heavyweight Title)
This was the sort of match that I was expecting Black to have on the HDNet series that I never got to see. It’s clear that Aries is above Black, both in terms of his ranking in the company and in overall talent, but the way this is structured serves to move Black closer to the level of Aries, even in defeat. The first sign that this is going to be something special is when Aries catches Black in a head scissors and Black uses a very familiar means of escape. It’s a good revenge spot for Aries’ early outwrestling of Black, as well as a way for Black to get into Aries’ head. It’s a recurring trend throughout the match, with Black being able to avoid or counter a good number of Aries’ big spots. It’s something that’s not really seen that often. Rather than being the tough guy who sucks up everything and keeps fighting, Black is smart enough to avoid the big shots to keep plugging along.
It also helps that over the course of the match Aries looks to be slowly losing his mind, as well as him selling as good as he ever has. The big spot of the match is Black’s F5 on the apron (as a counter to Aries’ attempted Finlay Roll off the apron), which had Aries looking all but dead afterwards. Aries also manages to get some revenge on Black when he escapes the buckle bomb and does a seamless transition to hit the grounded knees and go into the Last Chancery for a submission tease. There was another very smart exchange just before that when Aries was too busy crowd playing to hit the brainbuster and Black escaped and hit the Paroxysm for a near fall. Black learns his lesson and steals a page from Aries’ book and hits a good punt to the head before a second buckle bomb and looks for the Phoenix when Jimmy Jacobs causes the distraction that Aries takes advantage of to finish off Black with the brainbuster and 450. The subsequent forced babyface turn on Black and the official heel turn for Aries is perfectly set up, and the announcers smartly explain that Aries and Jacobs just have mutual hatred for Black and that’s why they double team him, not because they’re suddenly buddies after trying to kill each other the month before. ***1/2
NIGEL McGUINESS © vs. NAOMICHI MARUFUJI (ROH World Heavyweight Title)
Is being the first person to complete a calender year as champion really a big benchmark? Joe and Danielson both had longer reigns than Nigel at this point (although he’d eventually surpass Danielson) and both were only one show shy of completing a year as champion, losing at Final Battle ‘04 and ‘06. If you don’t mind the ROH Champion taking a backseat to the outsider then this is pretty good. Marufuji gets first blood on Nigel when he attempts the lariat too early and gives Marufuji the opening to start working over Nigel’s neck. Just like in the Kondo match from the month before, Marufuji is a crafty bastard about working over Nigel’s neck. Nigel even finds his own way to make it work by forgoing the headstand spot in favor of simply propping himself up in the corner and catching Marufuji with a lucky kick. Nigel takes a couple of openings to try to return the favor by working over Marufuji’s arm, but he doesn’t get too far with it. At one point, he throws Marufuji into the guardrail, but takes a minute to rest and winds up charging into a superkick and Marufuji follows up with a Shiranui on the floor to get them right back to where they were. Nigel tries to completely turn the tide with a Tower of London on the apron, but that gets reversed into a Shiranui with Nigel literally bouncing off the apron.
From a strictly offensive standpoint, this is mostly a one man show, with Marufuji doing the heavy lifting, but this is far from a carry job. Nigel adds his fair share of smart moments as well. One of their smarter sequences was Nigel getting an opening to rest by avoiding the coast to coast and trying to put the hurt on Marufuji. Nigel makes the mistake of trying the headstand again, and winds up inadvertently putting himself into position for the coast to coast again, and Marufuji adds a superkick while Nigel’s hanging, just to make sure he stays put and then pulls off the spot. There are only a few altogether odd moments, but nothing that detracts from the match any great deal. One of the Nigel’s first spots was his signature takedown to single out the shoulder, but instead of waiting for an opening, he just popped up and did it. The cradle near fall toward the end is also weird, just because of how randomly Nigel chose to take him down and try to beat him that way.
The finish is a bit out of nowhere, but it works as far as keeping Nigel’s lariat protected. It was his eagerness to hit the move that first got Nigel in trouble, and later on after he’d actually gotten some offense on Marufuji, Nigel managed a nice near fall with the lariat off the second rope. But, despite being mostly dominated by the challenger, he got the chance for the rebound lariat when Marufuji kicks out of the cradle and this time Marufuji doesn’t have the time to dodge it, Nigel hits the lariat and retains the title. If they get another chance to clear up their few issues, then they could probably have a great match, rather than a very good one. ***1/2
BRYAN DANIELSON vs. TAKESHI MORISHIMA (Fight Without Honor)
Danielson shows how ready he is to fight by hitting the ring and attacking Morishima straight away, he hits a flying knee and then does a big dive to the floor, and *then* he joins the fans in singing along with The Final Countdown. This is anything but a “wrestling” match. This is a fight, plain and simple. Everything takes a backseat to Danielson and Morishima beating the piss out of each other. The few wrestling related spots only really serve to open the door to continuing to beat on each other, such as Danielson’s flying dropkick to Morishima’s knee allowing Danielson to start pelting Morishima in the chest and face with kicks.
What Danielson winds up figuring out first, and using to his advantage, is that he can’t go for too much too soon. He first learns this when attempting to powerbomb Morishima off the apron, when he was still rather fresh, and got squashed on the apron, and then it was Morishima’s turn to start bringing the beating. But Morishima doesn’t learn the same lesson, maybe because the size difference made him think he wasn’t going for too much, since a kick or lariat from him isn’t equal to a kick or lariat from Danielson. Morishima’s first mistake that gives Danielson a chance to take over was trying the flying dropkick, which Danielson easily avoids, later on Morishima tries the super backdrop and Danielson slips out and gives Morshima a super backdrop of his own.
Just because this isn’t predicated on wrestling, doesn’t mean it’s not smartly worked. This is Danielson after all, so there are plenty of smart touches throughout the match. They’re both especially good about using the chain that Morishima brings into the match, their best idea being when Danielson ties up Morishima’s arms but can’t take advantage right away because Morshima’s legs are free and he resorts to kicking Danielson in the face until he can get free. Danielson, taking advantage of the lack of rules for this match, finally halts that with a good old-fashioned nut kick. They both also ‘build up’ to the chain in the sense that Morishima isn’t able to finish off Danielson with the lariat (although Danielson puts them over as good as anyone else ever has), and Danielson’s first trapped elbow flurry doesn’t put him away, so they up the ante by adding the chain to the mix. Danielson is smart enough to avoid the chain lariat and takes down Morishima into an armbar, and then traps him with chain elbows (which effectively KO him) before the Cattle Mutilation officially ends the match. Danielson puts on a wrestling clinic with McGuiness in November and then has a brutal, heated, fight with Morishima in December. Is there any doubt why he’s considered the best in the world? ****
Conclusion: It takes a little while to pick up, but once it does this is a damn fine show for ROH to end the year on. Aries, McGuiness, and Danielson all show why they’re three of the best.