May 7, 2005
Gabe Sapolsky said it was quite possibly the best ROH show ever, but it’s his job to hype up his shows like that. But upon watching it, I have to say that I agree with him on it, and I don’t have any ulterior motives for saying so.
Jimmy Jacobs . . . stops Hussing and starts wrestling.
Jay Lethal . . . has a few surprises for Samoa Joe.
Austin Aries . . . shows Alex Shelley why he’s the leader of Generation Next
AZRIEAL/DIXIE vs. IZZY/DERANGED (Losing team must split up)
This is pretty much a spotfest, not that it's much of a surprise considering the participants. These four were a big reason that the concept of the Scramble match became as popular as it was. When they aren't working the big eye popping spots though, there really isn't a whole lot that they do well. Deranged does some nice stuff to aggravate Dixie on the apron while Azrieal gets attacked, but the actual offense used against Azrieal doesn't really amount to much more than filler. Unless it's some over-contrived double-team move, Azrieal is most on the receiving end of chops, and kicks. Dixie's hot tag into the match, lasts all of two-minutes because Azrieal tags himself back in moments later, and has the 'house of fire' kind of energy and intensity, which isn't the smartest way to sell the beating he'd been taking.
The finish is sort of obvious anyway because (A. Dixie and Azrieal won the last match they had and (B. Izzy and Deranged already have a new name for their team. The mis communication to take Dixie out of the picture is fine enough, but when Azrieal accidentally hits Dixie, and then moments later directly hits Izzy with the same thing, why is Izzy on his feet afterwards, while Dixie is still unconscious? The head scissors to the piledriver looks brutal enough to convincingly put away anybody let alone the guy who took the most punishment in the match, but it's still just as, if not more business exposing than the Canadian Destroyer. The idea behind this feud and this match is to put the concept of Special K to rest once and for all. Because none of them were given a chance to go out and make names for themselves, like Jay Lethal was given an opportunity to do, so they're still going to be stuck with the Special K label.
COLT CABANA vs. NIGEL McGUINNESS
It's scary to think that the best parts of this match aren't thanks to the actual worker, but courtesy of Colt's comedy, but here it is happening. Nigel's serious demeanor helps to get the comedy portions over though, and it also helps that the comedic parts aren't very drawn out or contrived. Colt keeps the comedy very subtle, just doing little things like "accidentally" standing on Nigel's hand. Colt's ability to keep escaping and countering Nigel isn’t so much funny because Colt's doing it, but because he's doing such an obvious thing to escape or counter. It's the equivalent of stepping two-feet to the side when someone tries a plancha. You come out unhurt, while they splatter on the floor.
Nigel is able to take over and get a meaningful advantage on Colt once he gets too cocky for his own good though, Nigel sees Colt's head swelling from his accomplishments and make sure that Colt puts himself in a situation he can't escape. The shoe is then on the other foot, as now it's Cabana who's getting frustrated when Nigel makes him look like a fool. The shoulder work by Nigel is quite good throughout, although it would have been nice if Cabana put more effort into selling it, for example Colt being unable to hold the backslide he puts on almost directly after being stuck in one of Nigel's freaky submissions, would have been better than Nigel simply kicking out. They do a really nice job on the finishing sequence and it does look very questionable about whether or not Nigel really did intentionally kick him low before he rolled Cabana up for the pin.
JAMES GIBSON vs. BLACK TIGER
If this match is any indication, then Rocky Romero is a worthy addition to the Black Tiger legacy. He certainly brought some offense with him, everything from Lucha style offense, submission counters like the juji-gatame, and some classic BT offense in the Tombstone attempt. Gibson brings the nice contrast with some classic 'good ol' boy' style offense. Forget the fancy flying and submission holds. He uses his fists and the guardrail. Romero's neck work is also nice, especially the way Romero grabs Gibson's head in a Grovit before he sends him into the guardrail or the turnbuckle. Romero even used the neck work to play into the Tiger suplex by really getting some serious height when he lifted Gibson up for the move. The Ankle lock probably could have been done without, the hold seemed very out of place after a big near fall that was continuing the focus on completely different body part. It's nice that Romero is showing off how much he can actually do, but he could have given the same point across with a Dragon sleeper, a crossface, or Camel clutch.
As much fun as BT is with his offense, Gibson is just as much fun with his selling, what makes the selling so great is that less is more. Gibson isn't going all out and screaming, yelling, rolling around etc., to put over how much his neck is hurting him. He keeps it very basic and a bit subtle. After the Ankle lock bit, he still sells his knee when BT jumps into the Gutbuster. The finisher is nice, but it'd have worked better if Gibson had countered the Northern Lights suplex into the hold, rather than take the bump for a near fall and then roll back with the hold. Minor quibbles like that aside, both messages are crystal clear, Black Tiger is someone to keep an eye on, and James Gibson is definitely someone to be reckoned with. ***
BJ WHITMER/JIMMY JACOBS © vs. JACK EVANS/RODERICK STRONG (ROH Tag Team Titles)
If you like innovative and deadly looking double team moves, then this is a match you'll definitely enjoy. Other than the big double team moves and the big "OH!" from the fans, there really isn't a whole lot more that any of them do to try to help the match be anything more than just a well worked, but poorly thought out spotfest. The main detriment is that they need to slow down, and not try to roll out so much stuff. The perfect example of this is the little comedy spot that Evans and Whitmer try to work, where Evans does the dance challenge and Whitmer answers with the big slap. Before the crowd really has a chance to take it in, Strong runs in and starts brawling with Whitmer, and the fans forget what they just saw because now they're watching Whitmer and Strong duke it out. The assisted double stomps to the back of Jacobs, was a move that definitely deserved an extended sell job, to the point that Jacobs probably should have had problems doing the Contra Code, or having to delay any reaction after taking a bump onto the canvas.
The double team spots are good as eye candy, and they get some quick heat but they're also unable to sustain that heat, and once you look beyond the spots and at the match as a whole, the cracks in the surface start to appear. Despite Jimmy Jacobs' history as the Gen Next whipping boy, there doesn't seem to be any in-match story, despite that one being right at their fingertips. Jacobs doesn't really get to show any sort of growth or improvement, since Gen Next led by Shelley were making him their personal whipping boy. It looks more like Jacobs simply found himself some better backup, rather than actually improving. Jacobs does show he's taking the match seriously by leaving most of the "Huss" comedy shtick behind for a change, but one could easily argue that it's due to him concentrating more on defending the titles, rather than defeating Generation Next. Because Jacobs didn't really earn his half of the titles, Whitmer just chose him as his new partner. Gen Next also don't really seem to be taking their old victim lightly either, or showing much of any cockiness.
Despite some of the problems surrounding the mentality of the match, the work itself is exceptional. With the exception of the botched rana spot by Evans and Whitmer, the execution is mostly topnotch. The Gen Next double teams look both graceful, and brutal at the same time. The 'Ode to Bulldogs' with the Phoenix Splash, shows exactly how talented Jack Evans really is. Evans and his colorful personality make a great compliment to Strong's power. The Doomsday Hurricanrana by the champions was also quite spectacular, and would have made a much better finisher than the Powerbomb - Contra Code, and the crowd reaction for the Gen Next near fall after the Ode to Bulldogs, and the champions Doomsday rana compared to the finish and the aftermath seems to agree. They've clearly laid the groundwork to suggest that a future match could yield better results, if they can just retain the actual level of work, while improving the shortcomings in the psych. department then there isn't any reason why they couldn't put on an honest to goodness MOTYC. ***
JAY LETHAL © vs. SAMOA JOE (ROH Pure Wrestling Title)
This match is equally important for both wrestlers here, and the skit at the beginning of the tape shows exactly how important it is to them. Lethal obviously wants to get a victory over his mentor and show exactly how high he's risen on the ROH totem pole. Joe has been in a bit of a slump since he lost the ROH World Heavyweight Title to Aries, and then dropped the rematch. It's a bit ironic that Joe is so focused on winning the Pure title, since he spent all of 2004 denouncing the title and claiming he was above it.
In any other match, Lethal would be the obvious underdog, Joe has the advantage in size, experience, and his toughness is quite well known. But Joe's obvious unfamiliarity with the rules to the match is what put Lethal ahead. Joe's aggressiveness gets the better of him and he gets the closed fist warning very early in the match, and when Joe is questioning the referee on why, Lethal ambushes him with a neckbreaker and the Cobra Clutch variation to force Joe into the rope break. Joe does his best to compensate by using forearms shots, but his lack of progression causes him to once again use his favorite punch - chop combos and he gets himself penalized a rope break. Aside from a few submissions (STF, Boston crab, juji-gatame, and the choke) Joe doesn't take it to the ground too often, and that's another avenue Lethal is able to exploit en route to forcing Joe to use rope breaks. Lethal isn't the first person to try to use that particular strategy. CM Punk's use of the headlock was part of what made him come oh so close to dethroning Joe back in October. Lethal isn't a mat wiz himself, but he had recently been using some nice matwork as a way to help legitimize himself, and prove that he isn't the champion for nothing. It's hard to really say that Lethal is the underdog here, when he has retained all three of his rope breaks, while Joe is out of them.
Lethal *is* is the underdog though, and even though Joe makes some serious errors by not being familiar with the rules of the match, Lethal makes errors based on not being as experienced a wrestler, as Joe. One thing Lethal does is showboat, such as when he back flips out of the corner, and charges right into Joe's big sidewalk slam, and then gets hit with Joe's knee drop in the throat. It wasn't very smart of Lethal to try to trade strikes with Joe, but to Joe's credit, he does a really nice job at selling for Lethal. One part of the match that some people may take issue with is the table spot, because going through a table is hardly an example of "competition at it's purest,” but it was one of the best moments of the match. It was literally Joe's only hope of escape. He was out of rope breaks, stuck in a sleeper (a move Joe certainly knows the effectiveness of) on the apron. Joe remembered how he lost the rematch with Aries and chose the only real option available to him.
The finish run of the match is also an outstanding stretch. It starts with one of Joe's favorite combinations, the bodyslam to the juji-gatame. It's a logical spot, but aside from Joe's second one-hour draw with Punk, it doesn't really garner a reaction. But the rules for the Pure Title matches make each and every submission hold count. Even with the mat skills he'd been showing, and especially after going through that table, there was no way it'd be feasible for Lethal to counter the hold, so he was forced to use the ropes for a break. Lethal's movements are outstanding though, the way he bridges up looks more suited for U-STYLE than Ring of Honor. Joe opts to not use the choke though, especially after what happened to him with Aries in Chicago, and after what Lethal had shown with his mat ability, it's not out of the question to think that he could pull off something similar and score the upset.
Joe tries to go with the powerbomb to set up the STF, but Lethal escapes and puts a small offensive run together and climaxes with the Dragon suplex for a close two, but his inexperience costs him again, and instead of keeping after Joe's neck and clamping a submission on for what almost surely have gotten the win, what with Joe being out of breaks, he tries to do the move again, and gives Joe time to recover and Joe, goes for the kill with his Chimera Combo for the win and the title. Joe really put over Lethal about as well as he really could have, the only other thing he could have really done was give Lethal the Island driver for kick out before finishing him off, but the Chimera worked better with the suplex trade offs they were doing. The Chimera also was the best way to finish the match, as it doesn't carry a huge injury risk, but still looks brutal and there was no way anyone could have expected Lethal to kick out. It's almost fitting that even though the title was created based on strong mat workers like Chad Collyer, Matt Stryker, and Doug Williams, Joe and Lethal managed to outwork all of them, and put on not only the best Pure Title match ever, but one of the best ROH matches of 2005. ****
The great moments continue with Joe’s old “The Champ is Here” music playing, and then the huge angle with the Rottweilers attack, and beating down of Joe and Lethal.
CM PUNK vs. JIMMY RAVE (Dog Collar match)
A dog collar match is flawed by default because the workers are so limited in what they’re able to do in there. Punk and Rave are able to work decently well with what they have available to them though. They try to put the intensity and hatred at the forefront and as a result, they don’t do much of anything to build any sort of flow. There aren’t very many transitions at all, when Punk or Rave wants to go back on offense, they usually just take the advantage. The usual chain spots get worked in, such as the punching with the chain (and it helps that Rave’s punches look really good), and the old chain across the groin spot. Rave is really creative with his use of the chain when he modifies his crossface accordingly, Punk had the same chance to do so, when he caught Rave in the rolling half crab, and it would have been a much better excuse for Prince Nana to distract him.
Bower and Prazak giving away the fact that a cage match would be happening the next week cheapens the match somewhat, because now we already know that Rave is going to be doing something to enrage Punk and heat up the cage match. Focusing on Punk’s head to bring up his cracked skull (as Punk says in his promo afterwards) isn’t a bad idea in theory, but could have been more creatively undertaken. Instead of several chair shots to the head, why not something more deadly looking like a piledriver, or even the Rave Clash? It’s 2005 wrestlers get hit in the head with chairs every day. Stealing the win from Punk would also have been a good way to build to the cage match. Such as one of the Embassy distracting the referee after Punk hits the Pepsi Plunge. It was a fun little match, but when you’re only trying to build up to a bigger match, that’s as far as praise can stretch.
ALEX SHELLEY vs. AUSTIN ARIES © (ROH World Heavyweight Title)
A match that is almost six-months in the making, ROH definitely deserves credit for being able to hold off on this match for as long as they did, WWE would probably have waited all of two weeks before booking the match. There are a few things that prevent this match from being the very good encounter to compliment the slow-burn build up to this match. They obviously try to work in the familiarity issues with Shelley being able to keep countering and escaping Aries big moves, but until Shelley’s neck becomes the focus, they mostly just do filler in the beginning. Even a brawl on the floor or something would have been a bit more preferable. The work they do, looks nice though, especially Aries’ dropkick to the face. But the sad truth is that, nothing is of any real consequence until Aries decides to work over Shelley’s neck.
Once Shelley’s neck becomes the target, the match starts to take off. Aries shows some creative flair for the ways in which he attacks the neck, such as the Randy Savage throat drop over the top. The only thing that was missing was Aries heeling it up, and using Shelley’s own Shell shock and/or Border City Stretch. Shelley’s selling is adequate, although he could have started embellishing how hurt his neck was a tad. Shelley’s control segment and his near falls were a bit too rushed though, there was virtually zero done to set up the Border City Stretch, and the Shell Shock near fall, while nice wasn’t even close to being bought as a possible finish, because Shelley had done next to nothing to soften Aries up for anything. It’s a tribute to Aries that he’s willing to sell so much in order to heat the fans up and try to create the drama, but it came with the price of dragging down their match. Aries’ offensive burst to set up the end, thankfully saw him do something that doesn’t usually happen too much anymore. A proper wear down, for the eventual finish. After the near fall from the Shell shock, Aries takes the time to throughly attack Shelley’s head and neck so that it’s believable that he’s weakened and nearly out cold, before he puts the icing on the cake with the brainbuster and the 450. Like the Tag Team Title match, the work itself was good, but instead of the psych, it was the build and the flow that prevented it from being as good as it probably could have been. ***
HOMICIDE/LOW KI vs. SAMOA JOE/JAY LETHAL
This is a bit on the short side, and is very formulaic but in this case that’s a good thing, considering that Joe and Lethal had already worked a long, and very hard hitting match, as well as their participation in the angle afterwards. The only real negative is that ‘Cide and Ki are trying to be heels, despite getting huge face reactions from their native Manhattan crowd. Because it’s so short, there really isn’t anything that drags on too long. The finish is excellent, except for the illegal man getting pinned. The Cop Killa/Double Stomps finisher itself though is vicious and an outstanding way to end the match and the show with a big exclamation point.
Conclusion: Believe the hype, this is the most solid ROH show I’ve ever seen. Nothing is bad by any means, several good matches, as well as a hard hitting, brutal MOTYC. This gets the highest recommendation possible.