December 17, 2005

ROH caps off a fantastic year with what’s typically one of their biggest shows of the year. ROH and GHC Titles are up for grabs. Now that the war with The Embassy is over, Generation Next looks for some championship gold, and Homicide tries to homicide Colt Cabana.

Azrieal . . . makes a damn good Mini-Me Colt Cabana.

Claudio Castagnoli . . . does such a good job at cheating that he costs himself the Pure Title.

Bryan Danielson . . . is the best/luckiest wrestler in the world!


While there isn’t anything overtly bad here (aside from the blown Northern Lights), this is as interesting as most of Rave’s matches are. Rave isn’t totally unbearable, he does a somewhat respectable job of wearing down Milano’s back, and digs out From Dusk Till Dawn (satellite head scissors) for the first time in a while. But Milano doesn’t do much to sell the back, and Rave working over his back wasn’t anything that played a factor into the match long term. Beyond that it’s the normal Rave affair with punching, cheating, and chin locks. Milano pulls off a few cool things of his own, such as his tying up of Rave in the ropes, and a couple of sweet dropkicks to Rave’s face. But like Rave, Milano wasn’t taking the match anywhere, and it’s telling when Milano drop kicking Prince Nana on the floor, gets a bigger reaction than anything Rave and Milano do to each other, as well as the fact that Dave and Lenny spend just as much time talking about Rave’s finisher stealing as they do about the match. The finish works nicely on the level of Milano setting himself up for the running knee, but doing a sunset flip to combat Rave’s counter of the Italian Revolution II, which Rave follows up with Greetings From Ghana for the win, but that’s the only real storytelling moment of the match, and it’s over as soon as it’s there. There wasn’t anything bad, but nothing outstanding either, which is par for the course with Rave.


It’s too bad nobody figured out that Azrieal’s true calling was that of a Mini-Me Cabana, this is easily the best singles match that Azrieal had in ROH. As expected it’s a total Cabana match, but with Azrieal playing the role of Cabana, and Cabana playing the role of a CM Punk, Low Ki, James Gibson, etc. Once they stop with the comedy the match takes a bit of a nosedive, since Colt is all business, and Azrieal isn’t very good. Azrieal gets a near fall with his Electric Chair drop, but there wasn’t anything done before that to give the idea that he could pull off the win, and the crowd’s silence during the fall speaks for itself. The only other notable thing other than the comedy is a few big bumps from Azrieal, especially the flip he did on the lariat that Colt used to finish him off. The match made it’s point of showing how messed up Cabana is from his feud with Homicide, and other than that it pretty much stays out of the way.


After all those years of insisting that two refs need to be present at ringside for title matches, Gorilla Monsoon got his wish. And it’s somewhat fitting that the first match of the show to not have a clean finish, is also the first worthwhile match of the show. The first five or so minutes are almost entirely based upon Nigel trying to get ahead with his usual dirty tactics like the punches to the face and pushing off the ropes to reverse an armlock, but the second referee always catches him in the act and he gets docked two rope breaks. And Claudio manages to sneak a couple of punches to the face behind the backs of both refs, just to make things that much more tough for Nigel.

The match starts to more resemble a pure wrestling match after the second ref gets wiped out on the floor, when Nigel starts to bust up Claudio’s arm. Nigel shows that he’s smart enough to get by without all his cheating, when he makes Claudio burn through two of his rope breaks in rather short order. The only real problem was that Claudio’s selling wasn’t always consistent. Claudio was good about selling it after strikes, and couldn’t do his Ricola bomb due to his arm, but then he blocked Nigel’s divorce court attempt and actually reversed it by picking up Nigel and carrying him on his shoulder. They also show a bit of familiarity with one another, when Claudio prevents Nigel’s headstand kick by putting on the breaks and yanking Nigel down from the corner, and Claudio one-ups Nigel by making him use his last rope break when Claudio gives him the Tower of London. But the real fun is after the other ref goes down, and Claudio once again is one step ahead of Nigel when Nigel’s attempt to cause a disqualification backfires, and it’s Nigel who gets hit with the iron and pinned, only for the ref on the floor to see what happened and disqualify Claudio, in effect Claudio played Nigel’s game better than Nigel did, and cost himself the title as a result. There are some flaws to the wrestling, but this is a total clinic on effective storytelling, and while clean finishes would have been nice, finishes like this work out just fine when properly built up to, as this one was. ***


It’s a good thing that the match was followed by the big angle with Homicide, Cabana, and the drano, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a reason at all for this. It’s fun to see Shelley bust up Corino’s arm for a while, but Shelley doesn’t do much else other than stomp on the arm, and use the post. He does use a nice Tornado armbar and a juji-gatame, but that’s about the extent of things. And Corino basically just blows it all off so he can start doing what he does best, aping the moves of others. It’s funny to see Corino surprise Shelley with an STO, and be unable to cover due to his knee being hurt, and not the arm that Shelley spent a good while working over. Satoshi Corino also starts dishing out lariats without a trace of selling. Prince Nana interferes a few times and Corino gets pinned after a roll up. Why not just have Homicide or Smokes cost Corino the match? It still gives Shelley and win and better segues into the drano angle.


If nothing else, this has something over previous 4-way matches in terms of the participants not being seemingly drawn at random, between the four of them, there sure isn’t any shortage of history of rivalry to based the match upon. There are a good number of fun moments, most of which involve Joe in one form or another, such as Lethal’s cheap shots to him, and when Joe finally gets his hands on Lethal and pretty much decimates him. Daniels and Joe also alternate between trying to kill one another, and having to work together in a sense. My favorite individual moment of the match was when Joe was fighting Lethal and Daniels was brawling with Whitmer, Joe and Daniels both dispatched their rival, bumped into one another, and started brawling once again.

The only real weak points of the match are during the first half, when Lethal and Whitmer are working over Daniels, because neither was very interesting with their attacks, and without any real body part psych, Daniels didn’t have much to work with in terms of selling. And the Alison Danger/Lacey brawl just reeked of WWE, it served the double purpose of furthering the Daniels/Whitmer feud and getting the match ready to head into the home stretch. Lethal bringing in the X-Division Title could have been done without, since Joe’s Muscle Buster by itself is enough to put someone down for the count, but the fact that Lethal steals the pin after Joe gives Daniels the Muscle Buster makes it more bearable, since the ends justified the means.


Reyes kicks a bunch. Andrews Hulks up, but gets locked in the Dragon sleeper and choked out. Nothing you couldn’t see from any other Reyes match from the same time period. Corino’s promo about ROH being an unsafe working environment (which cut away from the match to be shown) is more entertaining. And Austin Aries hitting the ring and quasi-shooting on Reyes is miles more entertaining than the Corino promo. To quote Michael Kelso: “BURN!”


It’s rather fitting that a show with NOAH participation, would follow the NOAH trend of having a title match go longer than it really needed to. Just take one look at the list of the teams that the champions had defeated during their reign and it wasn’t exactly a mystery who was walking out of the match as champions. To his credit, Mamaluke does what he can to try to make it seem like a competitive match. His assault on Aries on the floor is what led the champions to their extended control segment, and he’s able to trap both Aries and Strong in various submissions and maintain control. There are also a few occasions when a GenNext double team will go wrong, allowing the champions to get in a double team of their own, but that’s the only time it seems like GenNext may not walk out with the titles. The only double team that telegraphed something going wrong was their attempt at Ode to the Bulldogs, because as good as he is, Aries is no Jack Evans when it comes to taking things to the sky.

Mamaluke does what he can to take the match somewhere, but Rinauro doesn’t even come close, his only role is either following Mamaluke’s lead when they’re double teaming, or being Austin and Roddy’s (mostly Roddy’s) chopping dummy. When they’re not chopping Sal into pieces, Aries and Strong bring their usual array of good offense, and double teams. Again, the match was a total foregone conclusion, and after Aries hit Mamaluke with the brainbuster and Roddy planted Sal with the Half Nelson backbreaker there was zero doubt that Austin would hit the 450 and get the three count. It went a bit too long, as most of the champions’ control segment could have been scrapped, save for Mamaluke’s submissions and the double teams, but it’s understandable to not want the titles to change hands in what’s essentially a squash.


It’s easy to see that this isn’t a bad match, it’s actually a lot of fun, but fun is about it. What the match is lacking is a consistent story. The first ten or so minutes are essentially a feeling out process, but there isn’t anything that happens that causes Danielson to get ahead in the match. Anytime he hits Marufuji with a slap Marufuji will almost instantly fire back. And while it’s funny at first to see Danielson get his attitude thrown back in his face, eventually it does more harm than good. What’s also funny in a harmless manner is Marufuji’s jump from the ring to the apron, to dropkick Danielson, because he feigns almost losing his balance, which get the crowd ready for a chant, and then just waves his finger at the fans and finishes the spot, essentially telling the audience “You don’t know me, keep your chants to yourselves.” And while that says a lot for Marufuji’s talent and toughness, it doesn’t say much of anything about the ROH World Champion.

It’s not until Marufuji attempts one of his most famous moves, in the sunset flip powerbomb off the apron, and Danielson blocks it, that we finally see him have control. His control segment is all too short, but he makes the most of it by doing what he can to get under the fans’ skin, and busting up Marufuji’s knee. In short order, Danielson pulls off the surfboard, the surfboard knee buster, a standing figure four, and a traditional figure four. But Marufuji quickly forgets his knee was ever being worked over, and not two minutes after the figure four is released, he’s throwing out dropkicks, and superkicks, not to mention going Coast to Coast. The rest of the match is basically the two of them trading off moves, they both put over the other’s offense well, especially Danielson’s sell job of the Shiranui and Coast to Coast, and while he’s never been on Ohtani or even a KENTA for selling, Marufuji does a nice job with the Cattle Mutilation and super backdrop. The ending does its job of either proving Danielson is the luckiest man alive, or is actually what he says ‘The Best Wrestler in the World,’ although he probably should have emphasized ‘wrestler’ and not ‘the world’ depending on your point of view. The constant reversal of sunset flips and jackknife cradles are normally just crowd pleasers to get the fans hot, but when Danielson does his reversal and shoots himself forward and drives with the legs, you know that there’s almost no chance of Marufuji escaping. However, with precious little in the way of having control of the match, and Marufuji blowing off the leg, Danielson looks a lot more lucky than he does skilled.

KENTA © vs. LOW KI (GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title)

If you’re a big fan of stiff strikes, then this isn’t something you’ll want to avoid. The match itself is fun, but it’s rather mindless fun. It’s clear that both Low Ki and KENTA knew their audience (read: huge pops for stiff strikes) and gave them what they wanted, so it’s impossible to fault them for doing it. The strikes do a lot to characterize both men. Even with his absence from 9/03 - 7/04, Low Ki has always been the man in ROH. Even though it’s KENTA’s first night in the promotion, he’s coming in with the GHC Jr. Title around his waist, so we all know he’s more than just a young boy trying to pay his dues. And as soon as the Ki’s prerequisite hanging armbar spot is out of the way, it’s established what the match really is, which is a battle of the titans.

The cracks start to form in the match when they stop pasting each other with the strikes and Ki takes over control for a while. It’s not what Ki does that hurts the match, Ki has a good strategy and implements it well. He’s going to wear down KENTA’s midsection to soften him up for his big diving footstomp. Between the front suplex on the ropes, the use of the ring apron, and the two diving stomps when KENTA was draped over the ropes, and hanging in the corner, Ki made good use of his game plan. The problem is that KENTA just wasn’t very good at putting over his midsection long term, and it’s even worse when you’ve seen KENTA at his absolute best. It’s understandable to an extent that he’d not sell his midsection after throwing kicks, but to see him block a Ki Krusher with a double arm suplex, bridge up, and transition to a juji-gatame (a beautiful transition) all without any problem, *after* Ki had singled out the midsection is beyond frustrating. Not to mention his famous vertical leap to the top rope, and the fact that Ki hit the diving stomp and KENTA still kicked out and didn’t sell his ribs again for the rest of the match.

It’s probably a small miracle that the footstomp was the only finisher that was really disrespected. Despite Ki and KENTA’s NOAH backgrounds, there aren’t any other real trademarks of NOAH main events. One could argue the Ki Krusher, but when Ki hit it, it was more out of desperation and he didn’t get all of it. And when Ki called for it, KENTA countered him into the Go 2 Sleep, which wasn’t yet KENTA’s main finisher, and leveled Ki with the Busaiku for the win. I actually found this to be a bit like Joe/Kobashi in the sense that it’s a fun match, with an awesome atmosphere, but not the super great match it seems to be thought of as. But I give both Ki and KENTA credit for understanding their audience and working with that. Although I suspect the main reason for Ki’s title shot taking place in ROH has more to do with his place on NOAH’s pecking order, than anything to do with ROH.

Conclusion: An at-times fun undercard, and two really enjoyable main events make this yet another ROH show worth checking out. 2005 was a damn good year for ROH and this was a very nice way for them to go out.