July 23, 2005
I asked the ROH fans what show they’d like me to review, and this was their choice. It’s the return of AJ and “The Fallen Angel” to Philly, the Alex Shelley heel turn, and the only Daniels/Punk singles match, which happens to be for the ROH Title.
CM Punk . . . makes a boring four corner survival entertaining by making fun of everyone he can.
Alex Shelley . . . turns heel again so that the fans are actually encouraged to boo him.
Jimmy Rave . . . doesn’t stink up his match with his boring offense for a change.
AZRIEAL vs. SPANKY vs. DERANGED vs. NIGEL McGUINESS (Four Corner Survival)
All I can say is Thank God that CM Punk was doing color commentary for this match. Punk injects some much needed humor and without his inappropriate/irrelevant comments, this would have been a real bore. At first Deranged stalls as much as he can, and when things do finally pick up, the match is little more than a spotfest. The only real story to come into play is Spanky’s knee, which Azrieal and Nigel both work over with some nice stuff, but it never really factors into anything that happens. Spanky still supplies a nice dive, and connects both the superkick and the Sliced Bread #2 twice, the second of which gives him the win. Deranged was good for taking a couple of wicked bumps from Nigel, and Azrieal provided a nice dive. But there aren’t any meaningful exchanges between any combo of the four of them to give the finish any more meaning than Spanky hitting the Sliced Bread #2 on the right opponent.
LOC/DEVITO © vs. BJ WHITMER/JIMMY JACOBS (ROH Tag Team Titles)
CM Punk continues to deliver the goods when he makes fun of the notion that winning the tag titles is the pinnacle of a fourteen-year career for Devito, and an eleven-year career for Loc. It’s even funnier when their reign lasted for a whole two weeks, that’s fourteen entire days Loc and Devito held the titles. The way this is worked wouldn’t be so bad, if Loc and Devito were keeping them here, or if Dunn and Marcos (still feuding with Carnage Crew here) had run in to one-up their rivals, and cost them the titles. But neither of those things happened so this just looks odd. Carnage Crew controls early on and beats down Jacobs, doing a decent job of cutting the ring in half. Whitmer gets a hot tag and a short run before the champions take control of him as well. Things break down leading to a powerbomb/Contra Code by Hillbilly JesHuss to regain the titles.
So basically the champions controlled the action for 4/5 of the match, and there wasn’t a single catalyst for the sudden shift in momentum. Whitmer and Jacobs didn’t hit a big surprise move to take one of them out. Loc or Devito didn’t take any sort of risk that didn’t pay off and rendered them a non factor. The challengers never got an extended run of control to give the idea that they could beat the Carnage Crew. The action was all Carnage Crew with the exception of a few hope spots until the big double team at the end. Maybe I’ve just been listening to Jim Cornette for too long, but I always thought the idea of having tag team champions was to prove they’re the best team in the promotion. I’ll never say that the Carnage Crew fit that mold, but this match doesn’t make Whitmer and Jacobs look any more suited for it.
SAMOA JOE/JAY LETHAL/JAMES GIBSON vs. HOMICIDE/LOW KI/RICKY REYES
The opening match was plagued with the fact that it was contested between four random workers without any real history or backstory between them. This obviously doesn’t have that hindrance and also has some better spots than the other match. The bulk of the action is carried by the Rottweilers working over Lethal’s neck, and when the heels stay focused on it, the action is quite good. Low Ki and Homicide using the famous Kai En Tai double teams are both highlights of the action, especially when Low Ki punts Lethal right in the face. Joe and Gibson are both essentially supporting roles in here, as Lethal’s hot tag and double team partner (Joe) and the jobber of the match (Gibson). When the babyface team is allowed offense, it does make for some nice moments, specifically Joe’s Ole-Ole kick on the floor to Homicide, the triple tope, and Lethal’s run of offense against Low Ki. But aside from some good crowd reaction, it doesn’t lead anywhere.
The tease of the Cop Killa/Double stomp, which had originally hurt Lethal’s neck is a nice moment, but aside from that, Lethal’s neck getting worked over is mostly nice looking filler. All three of the heels have finishers that hurt the neck, but aside from the double team attempt, none of them are used. The lariat with the chain around the arm of Homicide actually seems more suited for finishing off Lethal, than Gibson. It’s explainable for Gibson not really taking much damage, but even then, you’d expect that someone like Homicide would save that for the guy with the bad neck. Gibson doing the job keeps the sympathy on him, and Lethal’s last run of offense keeps his feud with Ki going, but aside from them, there isn’t really anything that this match accomplishes in the grand scheme of things.
ALEX SHELLY/EDDIE VEGAS vs. AUSTIN ARIES/RODERICK STRONG
Despite the fact that it’s rather half-assed, Shelley’s joining of the Embassy was the right thing to do (there wasn’t an angle or anything, Shelley just announced he’d joined). Shelly playing the babyface against the Generation Next heels was only getting him booed, and the heels were getting cheered thanks to their actual talent. This match is reasonably fun, but underwhelming compared to what the Generation Next/Embassy feud would produce in the coming months. Aries and Strong don’t look as polished a team as they would later on, but when they’re in control things are more exciting thanks to their explosive offense. Vegas is more or less a drain on the match, providing almost nothing in the way of good work, except when he works over Aries’ neck. Shelley is better, but he’s more concerned with working over Aries with punching and kicking, instead of keeping on his neck.
Shelley displays more cockiness than he does intensity. It’s actually very similar to Jimmy Jacobs in the 5/7 Tag Title match. Shelley hasn’t really improved at all. He’s just found better backup. Shelley showing more attitude instead of action also hinders the match because he’s seemingly more interested in being the heel than with putting on a better match. Anyone associated with Prince Nana is a heel, so Shelley isn’t accomplishing anything by the extra “effort” he’s putting into making the roles that much more obvious. Rave’s interference with the chair is a nice way to explain why Shelley gets the win, after Aries nearly had him beat with the 450, and as way to segue into the next match. But considering how long the Generation Next/Shelley feud had been going on, and with the new twist it just took, there should have been more concentration on action, and less on establishing characterizations.
JIMMY RAVE vs. AJ STYLES (Street Fight)
I’ve never been much of a fan of Jimmy Rave’s work. He’s had a few passable singles matches, but aside from good-looking punches, and tons of heat, he never seems to bring any really good or interesting work, which leaves his partner and/or opponent to do the heavy lifting. That said, this is easily the best singles match performance that I’ve seen from Jimmy Rave. Simply because the things that Rave doesn’t do well aren’t really given a chance to factor into things. While the last match (and the rest of the card for that matter) suffered from a lack of sustained action, this match didn’t have that issue. This gives us a brawl into the crowd, a few big bumps, as well as some blood to keep things exciting. For all his limitations as a worker, it can’t be said that Jimmy Rave can’t take a beating. AJ literally beats him all over the arena, including into the crowd, as well as bouncing him off the guardrails. Rave’s actual offense isn’t much more than brawling and using the guardrails and a chair. But brawling is something that Rave can do well, and this isn’t a wrestling match, it’s a street fight.
AJ starting his comeback by headbutting the bejesus out of Rave was one of the best moments of the whole match, and the bumps Rave takes through the table and the brainbuster on the chair were both brutal. Rave shows some nice timing when he hits AJ with the running knee, after he’d back dropped AJ onto the chair. The Alex Shelley run in with the Shell Shock could have been done without, although it does partially make up for Shelley being so underwhelming in his own match, and also cement Shelley’s position in the Embassy. The Rave Clash finish is academic and only puts more heat on Rave for beating AJ with his own move. No, the finish isn’t clean, and yes that does leave a bad taste in the mouth. But at the same time, considering what AJ had done to Rave compared to what Rave did to AJ, it was the most logical way to end the match. It’s not a classic by any means, but AJ and Rave both deserve credit for finding an interesting way to keep Rave’s limitations from dragging their match down. ***
CM PUNK © vs. CHRISTOPHER DANIELS (ROH World Heavyweight Title)
Sixty minutes is a long time for a match to last for. CM Punk has shown in his matches with Chris Hero and Samoa Joe that he’s able to go for sixty. Christopher Daniels is one of the few guys on the roster who can pace himself to keep up with Punk, and he’s not had several matches with Punk already so there isn’t any risk of seeing them rely on the same stuff they’ve used before. So if there are two guys who can go for sixty and keep things from going overboard it’s these two. However, Punk and Daniels don’t exactly have history on their side. Some of the greatest workers of all time have had to go to the broadway and had less than thrilling results. Dork Funk Jr. and Jack Brisco had several insomnia curing draws in the 1970's, and even the All Japan Four Lords of Heaven had a horrendous sixty minute draw in their respective primes in January of 1995. In addition present wrestling fans today have a much shorter attention span than they used to. That’s evident in this match with the fans and their dueling chants and amusing themselves by alternating between cheering and booing depending on which of the workers landed a strike.
The stalling Punk that does early on is more or less mandatory. Punk and Daniels have a long-standing rivalry and it’s only natural that Punk is going to run away from him early on. When Punk works the headlock, it seems like another mandatory requirement, Punk using the same strategy that nearly got him the ROH Title from Joe in October. But it’s just after this that the first major theme of the match is developed. When Daniels turns the tables on Punk, and starts working the headlock on him. Daniels doesn’t just use the headlock to assert his advantage, he uses it to wear down Punk’s neck and get the first major advantage of the match. Daniels’ subsequent work on Punk’s neck is some of the best work of the early parts of the match. He utilizes an original strike with chopping Punk in the neck, and Daniels submission holds have him really cranking back to show he’s putting everything he’s got into it. Punk also does his part with some great selling while he’s in both the Koji Clutch and the Crossface. What also stands out though isn’t just what Daniels does, but what he doesn’t do. And that’s work over Punk’s neck by dropping Punk on his head a whole bunch of times.
As fun as Daniels’ work on the neck is, when Punk gets his major advantage by working over Daniels’ rib cage the action doesn’t cease at all, and Punk is just as smart as Daniels was. Although Punk doesn’t have the offensive depth that Daniels had at his disposal, Punk still makes do with what he’s got. Also, just like Daniels, Punk doesn’t go overboard with over-the-top bumps. Daniels also does some fine selling of his own when Punk works the ribs, even in Punk’s extremely ugly Anaconda Vice. The work is simple and effective, and it establishes the very concept that two workers going the time limit is designed to establish. They’re equal. Being that they’re heated rivals, the match obviously breaks down into a brawl, but not to the point of either man losing sight of what really matters. This is especially apparent when they trade fists and Punk surprises Daniels with an abdominal stretch. Before long they start trading the fists again and Punk once again goes for the hold, only for Daniels to reverse it on him, and the crank on Punk’s neck just for good measure. It’s very reminiscent of the Ric Flair/Barry Windham draws from the mid-late 1980's, which very often alternated between brawls and games of proverbial human chess.
No question about it, the ref bump off Punk’s missile dropkick sucks. But thankfully it didn’t lead to anything other than Daniels and Punk each connecting one of their mid range moves, and covering to find no referee. One of the smartest things done here is Punk’s superplex, and the subsequent double knockout. It’s far from an original spot. It’s been commonplace for years now. But Punk and Daniels’ double KO actually looks plausible, due to the impact on the neck and the rib area. Time starts running low and desperation kicks in, but nether Punk nor Daniels make the mistake of digging out and wasting their big move. Punk tries his usual cheap tactics like the ropes and tights, but until there’s less than ten seconds to go, Daniels doesn’t do the Angels Wings, and time running out before Fat Pants can finish the count, leaves the aura of mystery as to whether or not it’d have been enough to do the job. Many sixty minute draws wind up being over-hyped for no reason other than the fact that it was sixty minutes long (Benoit vs. HHH in the Iron Man Match, and Joe/Punk I both spring to mind quickly). This match is deserving of a lot of praise, although it’s not a MOTYC level match. ***1/2
Conclusion: It’s like a storybook ROH card in a sense. Both of the main events and feature matches are also the best matches. Other than that it’s mostly storyline advancement type stuff. I’ll give this one a mild recommendation.