JOE VS. KOBASHI
October 1, 2005
Kenta Kobashi comes to Ring Of Honor to wrestle Samoa Joe! And there’s more! Jack Evans makes his return, James Gibson finishes up before going back to the ‘E. Cabana takes on Castagnoli in the battle of the Double C’s, and Jay Lethal challenges for the Pure Title in the same building he initially lost it in. Plus - wait a sec - does anyone care about anything other than the main event?
Nigel McGuiness . . . continues to raise the Pure Title to new levels of credibility by having fun matches.
Ricky Reyes . . . squashes an ROH Wrestling School student for the first time.
Samoa Joe . . . has evidently been watching his Toshiaki Kawada tapes.
COLT CABANA vs. CLAUDIO CASTAGNOLI
Even though the wrestling takes a backseat to the storyline, this is still a pretty watchable affair. Both Claudio and Colt bring some decent offense to the table, once they quit messing around with the wrist lock in the beginning. The problem is that in the grand scheme of things, none of it means anything. Colt has a nice missile dropkick, a quebrada, and his usual array of roll-ups and roll-up counters (including a reversal of Claudio’s vertical suplex). While Claudio supplies some nice European Uppercuts, a reverse suplex, a unique shoulder submission, and the Ricola Bomb that finishes off Cabana. But aside from the Ricola Bomb getting the win, none of what happened beforehand really matters. The only things that really do seem to matter are when Colt gets distracted by the thugs at ringside, such as his delay in the Asai Moonsault, and Claudio being able to escape the Colt .45, but moments like that are rather infrequent, and the actual wrestling should be more than just the filler between the angle advancements.
CHRISTOPHER DANIELS vs. MATT SYDAL vs. AZRIEAL
Thank God this was an elimination style three-way, the Daniels vs. Sydal bit after Azrieal gets eliminated isn’t great or anything, but it’s much more watchable than the over-contrived spotfest that goes on when all three of them are going at it. And it does a decent job setting up the Daniels/Sydal rivalry. The action before the elimination is mostly designed to get crowd pops, which it achieves, but it’s quite difficult to watch at times, especially when the spots they bust out are so ridiculous. Things like Daniels pushing them into each other aren’t so bad, Daniels is a top guy, Sydal is an undercard guy, and Azrieal is a total jobber, so he ought to be able to make them look silly. Bits like Daniels bulldog/lariat combo, and Sydal kicking Daniels as he plants Azrieal with a Tornado DDT make sense. But the match is literally littered with silly things, such as the triple headlock that starts the match, and Sydal springing off Azrieal’s back to hit Daniels with another DDT. They also pretty much rush everything, so nothing that happens really matters either. Azrieal’s elimination holds no more meaning than Sydal hitting his top rope belly to belly, when Daniels was on the floor, not that Daniels would have had a reason to save anyway, since it’s elimination style.
Once Azrieal is gone, the action is better, but still flawed. Sydal strings together several nice roll-ups and cradles for near falls, in addition to a leg lariat and standing moonsault for more near falls, which Daniels nicely puts over. But it takes almost nothing to put away Sydal. Several of Daniels’ big moves, the BME, Last Rites, and STO all don’t make an appearance here. And the Angels Wings is hit out of nowhere. Granted, Daniels did hit a lariat (with huge bump), and a death valley driver, but they both came a bit before the Angels Wings, and Sydal was in the process of stringing together more moves when it happened. This isn’t bad as an example of their various positions in the company pecking order, but it’s a good thing that Daniels and Sydal had several other matches with one another.
TONY MAMALUKE/SAL RINAURO vs. BJ WHITMER/JIMMY JACOBS © (ROH Tag Team Titles)
Unlike the last match, this isn’t rushed at all. However, it’s got the problem of being quite dull at points. The match contains several good moments, but it’s interlaced with a good amount of dull punch-kick type of work. The best moments are thanks to Jacobs, when he throws a bit of comedy into the mix, such as his bit Tomahawk Chop off the top, and when Whitmer and Jacobs beat down Mamaluke with the clubbing forearms to the back. Rinauro is quite flashy at times, and while they’re not always clean, his exchanges with Jacobs are the best ones in the match. The biggest disappointment here is that Mamaluke doesn’t play to either of his big strengths, which are his bumping and his technical wrestling. He’ll occasionally bust out something cool, like the Dragon screw into the corner, but his submissions are little more than rest holds, and he spends much more time throwing out punches. Whitmer uses a few nice power moves, such as his Northern Lights into the corner, as a counter to Tony’s choke, but he was more likely to be found throwing punches and kicks. The finish is more or less tacked on and almost came off flukey in a sense. The double Rubix Cube driver is a sick enough move to put anyone down, but when a jobber and someone who hasn’t been in ROH for over a year, team for the first time and win the titles, from the team that’s beaten everyone, it says something about the credibility of the tag titles, and it doesn’t say anything positive.
NIGEL McGUINESS © vs. JAY LETHAL (ROH Pure Wrestling Title)
As for as Pure Title matches go, this is worked relatively uniquely. It’s not as good as Joe/Lethal was at telling a story where every step is a logical progression to the next. And it’s not as good as Joe/Nigel was at using the Pure Title rules and Nigel’s cheating to tell a story. What makes this so unique is that it intentionally shies away from the things that one usually sees is Pure Title matches. Aside from the inverted cloverleaf that Lethal uses toward the end, there isn’t any freaky matwork from either of them. There’s only one rope break used between the both of them, and until he bashes Lethal with the iron for the win, Nigel keeps the playing field totally level.
Both Nigel and Lethal are good at always making sure something interesting is going on, and they keep the work simple without going overboard with contrived spots, and yet they still manage to keep the crowd interested in the match. Nigel is the smarmy heel, and Lethal is the fired up babyface, and just about everything they do manages to keep that at the forefront of things. A shining example of that comes in the early stages of the match. One thing that can be said about ROH crowds is that they love loud chops. Lethal backs Nigel into the corner and shushes the crowd so he can unload with one. The crowd hushes and just when Lethal starts to follow through, Nigel darts away, and crowd unloads a chorus of boos. It wasn’t like a chop would have made a difference, but Nigel went out of his way to not give what they wanted. Lethal sends Nigel into the corner and really tries to light him up, and Nigel is prepared and manages to block every single one of them. Lethal finally does manage to unload some chops on Nigel, but again, it’s not much of a difference maker in the first place. And just to be an ass, Nigel turns the table and puts Lethal in the Tree of Woe and punts him in the back.
Lethal doesn’t get a whole lot of offense in, because Nigel is so good about cutting him off. After Nigel blocks the chops he tries to get a bit cute and do the Artful Dodger, and walks right into a bicycle kick from Lethal. Lethal tries to take advantage and sends Nigel into the corner but Nigel does the headstand and Lethal runs right into the big boot. Lethal finally manages to string together some offense after Nigel’s second headstand attempt, which Lethal counters, and Lethal follows up with a spine buster, his running suplex, diving headbutt, and forces Nigel to use a rope break with the inverted cloverleaf. It’s right after that when Nigel finally has enough, and grabs the iron to steal the win. While this is far from the best Pure Title match from a technical standpoint, it’s a total clinic on working a simple match with strong babyface/heel storytelling, and as a result it’s probably among the top five Pure Title matches up to this point. ***
RODERICK STRONG vs. JIMMY RAVE
It’s a good thing that this had the hot angle with Jade Chung to follow it. Aside from a good finish, and Strong’s brutal chops, this is as dull and uninteresting as most of Rave’s matches are. He’s got his usual few good moves, like the running knee, a Northern Lights Bomb, and the Russian leg sweep segued into an ugly juji-gatame variant. The rest is filled in with perfunctory holds, at-times hard chops (although they pale in comparison to Strong’s), and stalling. That Rave has so much heat is probably more due to Nana than it is a tribute to Rave himself. Strong looks good for the most part, although he’s limited thanks to Rave carrying the match. His chops are brutal, he brings the innovation with a couple of backbreakers, and he more or less spears himself while Jimmy just stands there and poses. Strong does some decent selling for Rave, nothing Kawada-like, but fairly passable considering how threatening Rave and his offense really looks. The finish could have used a bit more build. As far as Strong using the opening from the tug of war with the chair to apply the Stronghold for the tap out, it was fine. But the business with the chair would have been a bit more effective if it had come after Strong kicked out of something that looked like it could actually finish him off. Thankfully, the angle afterwards with Jade Chung finally leaving the Embassy is executed so well that it leaves the match with a good impression.
RICKY REYES vs. PELLE PRIMEAU
The historic first ever thirty-second squash by Reyes of one of the ROH students. At least ROH was smart enough to start the angle in NYC where Reyes would actually get a babyface pop due to his Rottweilers membership.
JAMES GIBSON vs. JIMMY YANG
Considering this is simultaneously Yang’s debut and Gibson’s first farewell, it’s understandable that they went with more of a spotfest than telling a story. What’s odd though is how the match seems to put over Gibson much more than Yang. They’re former tag team partners, so familiarity is a given, but it’s never played up on. Gibson doesn’t dodge or counter any of Yang’s stuff nor does Yang to Gibson. The only time there’s any real familiarity shown is the tired sunset flip reversal sequence, which isn’t anything new, as it’s something that happens quite frequently in matches. Yang’s finisher is also pretty much killed dead in the water. He uses the Yang Time no less than three occasions, and still fails to win. His first attempt misses, his third attempt sees him get crotched and allows Gibson to finish him off, and his only successful one is met by a kick out. It’s not just his finisher though, there’s hardly anything that gives credence to the idea that Yang could hold his own in ROH. His main offense consists of kicks, but Yang is hardly in the same class as Tajiri or even Ryuji Hijikata for making a simple kick seem like a lethal strike.
Aside from the various kicks, all Yang has as his disposal are a few rest holds, and flying moves. The flying should be where Yang has it all over Gibson, but he doesn’t. Yang only does his three Yang Times, a Tiger Mask-style corner flip, and a moonsault. Gibson unleashes a suicide dive, and several armdrags while he’s in midair. Contrast Yang’s offense with what Gibson does, aside from taking to the air himself, Gibson also softens up Yang’s neck quite a bit for the Guillotine choke (which shouldn’t need softening technically, but makes sense from a wrestling perspective). Gibson hits his trademark neckbreaker, and spikes Yang with a sick DDT. When Yang gets caught on top, Gibson powerbombs him into the corner. The ref screws up the Tiger driver spot by calling a shoulder up when it wasn’t, and they go right to the Guillotine choke from there and Yang taps. Gibson winning is understandable given that he’s got his last ROH match the next night, but there had to have been some way to give Gibson the win, without making Yang look so bad. It’s amazing that Yang even got booked in ROH after the weekend.
HOMICIDE vs. JACK EVANS
Just like the opener, this is enjoyable, but it’s difficult to care one way or another, when the match itself is just filler before the angle. The crowd mostly gets a good show, since Evans can take a beating better than just about anyone else, and Homicide can give a beating better than just about anyone else. Evans’ aping of Homicide’s diving and his attempted ape of Homicide’s Ace Crusher were both funny moments, as well as the usual crowd playing that both of them like to do. But the only important thing is that Cabana distracts Homicide so that Evans can do a reverse rana and roll-up for the win, giving Homicide a receipt for the way Cabana lost his match earlier in the show. Evans’ return and his huge upset are just footnotes to the angle.
SAMOA JOE vs. KENTA KOBASHI
It’d be easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of this match, especially with such a red-hot crowd. But the sad truth is that this isn’t anything more than a typical Kenta Kobashi big match. A phrase which at one time implied exceptional work, but is now at the point that it simply means tons of chopping with some occasional wrestling in there, and the almighty lariat finishing things off. That’s fine for Kobashi, but it’s quite a step down for Joe. That’s not to say there aren’t things about the match to enjoy, but it’s far from being the all time classic that Joe vs. Kobashi should really be. But that’s just par for the course as far as dream matches are concerned.
Being Joe vs. Kobashi, you know that they don’t hold back on the strikes. Every single chop, punch, slap etc. is more than audible. So the match has a metric ton of stiff strikes, but so did Hashimoto/Chosyu in the ‘96 G1 Climax, and that also told a story, which is something that this fails to do. It’s great that they can paste each other like that, and it’s a testament to their toughness, but that’s about as far as it goes. Aside from Kobashi’s counter to the choke, there’s not a single transition that isn’t strike based. And a good number of their non-strike spots come off badly as well. The biggest offender is Kobashi’s first Half Nelson suplex, which just looks awful. Joe also powerbombs Kobashi, but almost loses him and the result is Kobashi landing in a seated position, and Joe follows that up with an STF that also doesn’t look very good. One of the lowlights of the match would have to be Kobashi’s chop transition that Joe charges into, thanks to the more than noticeable slowdown that Joe does before Kobashi hits the chop.
What Kobashi winds up doing is essentially squashing Joe. While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Kobashi was going over, it wasn’t necessary to more or less destroy Joe in the process. Joe gets in just about every one of his big moves, and it’s not enough. The only major move not used was the Island driver, which is something Kobashi is familiar with since it’s one of Misawa’s big moves. Kobashi takes the full brunt of an Ole-Ole kick and manages to block a second one. Joe’s big finisher is the Muscle Buster, which Kobashi kicks out of. One of the better spots of the match was Kobashi’s escape of the rear naked choke. That’s Joe’s three main moves, all used and all failed to do the trick. If those don’t help, then certainly Joe’s filler offense like his senton, and punch-chop combo don’t do any good. Kobashi is a walking definition of having a big match arsenal, and all he uses on Joe are tons of chops, two Half Nelson suplexes, one sleeper suplex and the lariat to finish him off. Which anyone at all familiar with Kobashi knows is barely scratching the surface. One thing the match could have hugely benefitted from would be some sort of incident where it becomes apparent to Kobashi that he’s going to have to dig down a bit deeper in order to put Joe away.
While it doesn’t do a whole lot as building the match or telling a story, it’s hard to deny that it’s fun to watch them paste the holy hell out of one another with the chops. And while they didn’t mean anything in the long run, Joe’s use of the Soccer kicks and Stretch Plum were nice little bits for those in the know. But they were just that. Fun little bits that didn’t mean anything. Hearing the crowd reaction to this, might seem like justification for working the match like this. But it’s Kenta Kobashi in ROH, they’d have been red-hot no matter what. They were red-hot for Lyger, and him and Danielson still went out of their way to put on a good match. It’s got a great atmosphere and is a hell of a spectacle, but as far as actual wrestling goes, it’s more fun than great.
Conclusion: It’s got a good Pure Title match and a memorable, but disappointing main event. The rest of the show is either storyline advancement (the Cabana and Homicide matches, the Rave/Strong match) or just filler.