MAIN EVENT SPECTACLES
November 1, 2003
Xavier . . . manages to stand out in a match amongst three better workers, by playing to his strengths.
BJ Whitmer . . . apparently decides that it’s Kenta Kobashi appreciation night.
Bryan Danielson . . . gives everyone another glimpse of exactly how great a heel he can really be, further proving that there’s virtually nothing that he isn’t excellent at.
DAN MAFF vs. COLT CABANA (Field of Honor Block B)
Aside from a few decent sequences this is pretty forgettable, and that seems like quite a large failing considering the ongoing feud between their respective factions. Cabana blocking the suplex and countering with a small package was a smart moment, and Maff’s sell job on the air raid crash was great, and a nice way to keep his recent head injury in mind. But there’s too much mindless brawling and preoccupation with Colt’s comedy stuff for this to develop into a good match. Cabana’s missed moonsault giving Maff the opening to do the burning hammer after he unsuccessfully tried it earlier is a smart enough finish, but this is still way too short with way too little in the way of meaningful work.
JOHN WALTERS/TONY MAMALUKE vs. XAVIER/NIGEL McGUINNESS
This takes a little time to get going, but it winds up turning into a nice little tag match. The matwork between Nigel and Mamaluke is fun to watch, even though it’s more or less an exhibition and they aren’t taking the match anywhere with it. Xavier isn’t nearly the worker that the other three are, but he makes up for it with his personality. His selling when Mamaluke makes his small comeback and works over the arm is perfect, and his reaction when Walters tags in is hilarious. He’s content to stand on the apron and let Nigel do the heavy lifting, and only get involved when the opponent is in a compromising position. He probably could have done a little more to heel things up, such as pulling Walters off the apron to stop him from tagging in, but he more than pulls his weight. It’d have been interesting to see Nigel try to follow Xavier’s lead, especially with how great of a heel he’d show himself to be later on, but it’s just as well to let Xavier stand out in his own way. The finish is spot on for continuing the Xavier/Walters feud and it’s suitable considering how the match had played out. Nigel plants Walters with his hammerlock DDT and Xavier gets the pin, winning the match for his team (as well as getting his third straight win over Walters) without doing much of anything. This isn’t a classic or anything, but it’s a good example of how structure and layout can prevent limited workers from holding back matches.
MATT STRYKER vs. JUSTIN CREDIBLE
If you’ve ever wondered how a match between a classic southern-style wrestler, like Buddy Roberts, and someone like Takada in a UWF setting would turn out, this is it. Neither Stryker or Credible is anywhere close to being on the level of Takada or Buddy Jack, but this is an ugly clash of styles that never seems to quite find it’s footing. They have a few good moments, mostly coming when Stryker plays to Justin’s strengths and lets him stooge, such as the exaggerated slingshot bump, Credible getting crotched on the top rope, and Credible sliding himself into the post. Beyond those few things, there isn’t much else to see. Their transitions are clunky and awkward, and none of their more complex sequences looks all that natural, like Stryker’s near fall when he rolls through the flying body press. Stryker tapping out Credible with his Stryker Lock submission is fine, but there’s nothing as far as building up to it despite having an easy opening with Credible’s use of the superkick, and even the setup for it is Stryker hitting a boot to the face rather than doing something to outwrestle him and get the hold on.
IZZY/DIXIE © vs. JAY BRISCOE/MARK BRISCOE (ROH Tag Team Titles)
Aside from the Briscoes showing more of a mean streak, this isn’t marginally different than any of the other Special K spotfests. It’s nice that they can do some of the things that they do, but when none of them seem to matter, it hardly seems worth the effort. It’s also laughable that they actually do the classic ‘tag behind the ref’s back so he doesn’t see it’ sequence, when Special K has pretty much zero sympathy with the fans. The one nice touch is that Dixie sells like he’s all but dead while the Briscoes are working him over, and he continues doing so past the tag, and he’s not present at all for the finishing stretch. The finish is a bit of overkill, although there is something of a logic to what they do. Izzy escapes the Doomsday Device with a reverse rana, so Jay and Mark just put him through the ringer with double teams until he stays down after the Jay Driller. They didn’t really need to trot out so many potential finishers, but, Izzy hadn’t taken too much actual punishment, and he damn near lands on his feet after the second Doomsday Device, so it makes sense to try to finish him off quickly before his partner could intervene.
HOMICIDE vs. BJ WHITMER
I suppose those who are fans of stiff shots and head drops will enjoy this, but there’s almost nothing else to take away from it. There are a couple of moments that could have led to them telling a story and taking the match somewhere, but they’re squandered in favor of more suplexes and forearm exchanges. Probably the coolest thing here is Whitmer’s forehead getting busted open, and Homicide just being a complete dick and throwing Tenryu-style soccer kicks right at the cut. Whitmer’s rolling surfboard hold and Dragon sleeper spot is nice too, and it could have led to Whitmer trying to win the match by focusing on wrestling instead of the brawling, but that doesn’t happen. The respect shown to Homicide’s Kudo Driver finisher is beyond absurd. Whitmer kicking out is bad enough but having him roll to the floor and tease the countout almost salvages it. It’s not unbelievable to think that Whitmer used the last of his energy to kick out and roll away from Homicide and then be unable to actually get back up. But they ruin the moment by having Whitmer beat the count to get in the ring, and then escape a second Kudo Driver and spike Homicide with his Exploder ’98 for a near fall. If the goal is to show that Whitmer is a tough guy, there’s better (and smarter) ways to accomplish that without seemingly trying to cripple him and devaluing both of their finishers.
TRENT ACID/JOHNNY KASHMERE vs. HYDRO/ANGEL DUST vs. JOEL MAXIMO/JOSE MAXIMO vs. DeVITO/LOC vs. TEDDY HART/JACK EVANS (Scramble Cage)
Honestly, this isn’t marginally different from the last match. Trade in the stiffness and head drops for dives and fancy double team spots, and you’ve more or less got the same match. Also like the previous match, there are a few cool moments, but nothing that really means anything. The SAT’s windmilling Kashmere into the cage was a cool spot, and it was funny to see Special K take advantage of the Spanish Fly off the top of the cage onto the pile and try to pin everyone involved. I suppose the Backseat Boyz winning, and doing so by beating Special K, can be seen as them avenging their tag titles loss from the month before, but even that seems like it’s stretching for things to take away from this match. The only other remarkable thing to see here are the dives and the bumps that Evans takes, and then realize that he’s still around, and still in one piece, eighteen years later.
CM PUNK vs. CHRISTOPHER DANIELS vs. STEVE CORINO vs. SAMOA JOE
The double pin finish to create two winners is unique, and they pull it off well, but this is more or less your standard four-way match. There are some cool moments, but nothing much as far as overall story goes. The only one who looks all that dominant is Joe, and he ought to with the title around his waist. He gets planted with a double superplex and then Corino’s superkick followed by Daniels hitting Angel’s Wings to keep him out of the way for the others to work the finish. The thing that makes this stand out are the feuds and storylines going between various combos of the four of them, and they lead to some interesting moments. Daniels hits Punk with his moonsault on the knees with a great sell job from Punk. Not long afterwards, Joe puts Punk in the STF. Daniels makes the save, but he hesitates for a second, as though he’s wondering if he’d rather win the match himself or if he’d just be OK with seeing Punk lose. Punk’s cheap shots to Daniels are another fun touch to this, especially the boot to knock him off the apron. There’s another cool moment when Joe does his powerbomb pin to Corino and Punk vaults off Joe’s back to go after Daniels. The ref treats it like Punk breaks up the pin, even though Joe and Corino don’t move. It leaves the viewer wondering if Punk simply wants to get another shot at Daniels, or if he was consciously trying to save Corino, either because of his newfound alliance with him or just to win the match for himself. It's also neat to see Daniels be the one to take the bulk of the punishment (almost like being the babyface in peril, if that can happen in this sort of match) since he’s the one who has personal issues with all three of the others. In that sense him eating the pin isn’t the worst idea here. He grabs Punk for a DDT and sees Corino coming and wants to DDT both of them, and it’s turned into a double Northern Lights with both of them hooking a leg and pinning him. Although it would have come off better had Daniels not just been dishing out his own offense and just escaped Corino’s NLB. This comes off more like Daniels losing because he underestimated his opponents instead of overestimating himself. The announcers try to make a big deal about Punk and Corino making saves and working together, but that’s pretty much standard fare for these sorts of matches, and even if they hadn’t become buddies it’d be the expected thing to see here.
BRYAN DANIELSON vs. AJ STYLES (#1 Contender’s Match for the ROH World Heavyweight Title)
For all the talk about ‘realism’ in wrestling at this time, this absolutely takes the cake. This isn’t the faux-MMA nonsense that Inoki was peddling around with the Fujitas and Sapps of the world. No, this is just Danielson and Styles beating the bejesus out of each other. For all of their head drops and forearm exchanges, neither Homicide nor Whitmer even sniffs the intensity shown by Styles and Danielson just in the opening lock-up, let alone the rest of the match. It’s not just stiffness for the sake of stiffness either, Danielson and Styles both show exactly what they’re willing to dish out (and also take) in order to get the chance to become the champion. And they also do a fabulous job with selling the punishment, they don’t trade shots and suck them up to show how tough they are, when Danielson connects with a European Uppercut or Styles kicks Danielson in the back, they both react and put them over appropriately.
Danielson had let out his heelish side in ROH during his match in April with Paul London, but he lets it absolutely shine here. He taunts AJ and taunts the people in the crowd that are cheering for him and is a lot more animated than he normally would be. He doesn’t do anything overly complex when he’s working over the arm, and he doesn’t need to, he gets plenty of mileage out of basic things like stomping at his elbow joint and snapping the arm over his shoulder. Styles reverses course on a vertical suplex and Danielson lands awkwardly and tweaks his knee, and AJ gets to work in some fun revenge spots and lets Danielson put them over, and what was really good becomes really great. Unfortunately, this leads to the only real weak moment of the match. AJ puts Danielson in a figure four, and it seems like Danielson isn’t sure what to do with it. He looks back at Styles, as though he’s waiting for him to do something to show how much he’s cranking it, but AJ doesn’t do anything else. It also doesn’t help that the wrestler who was going out of his way to be a jerk earlier decides to make the super babyface style comeback and struggle and fight to turn the hold over. But Danielson makes up for that issue a minute later when he throws a kick at AJ with his good leg and winds up falling down, because his other leg couldn’t support him.
After this, they move away from the limb work, but by no means are the limbs forgotten about. Danielson tries to win by using his technical skills and outwrestling AJ, but his knee still gives him trouble. There’s also a great setup to the Cattle Mutilation. AJ surprises Danielson with a standing switch and wants a German suplex, Danielson escapes and hits a couple of uppercuts to the arm before taking him down into the Cattle Mutilation, and when AJ won’t tap, Danielson rolls him over into a pinning position for a good near fall. There’s another great selling moment with the super backdrop suplex. AJ manages to turn over at the last second to fall on top of Danielson, but he doesn’t just pop up to his feet and throw out more spots. Both men stay down for a bit to sell the impact of the fall. AJ gets to his feet and wants (presumably) his springboard 450 splash, but Danielson recovers in time to stop him. AJ gets hung over the ropes and Danielson stands on the second rope, and with AJ not in position to counter him again, he gets his backdrop for a near fall. Danielson seems to have AJ finished when he wants the Styles Clash and Danielson counters him into a Triangle armbar. Styles manages to get to his feet and give Danielson an ugly Styles Clash variation. It isn’t enough to beat him, but it does wear him down enough for AJ to give him a proper Styles Clash and keep him down for good. It’s almost a textbook example of the adage that it’s better to be lucky than good. Danielson was clearly the better wrestler here, as shown by the various ways that he was able to outwrestle and counter AJ’s offense. AJ only got a single big counter on Danielson, but that one counter was the only one that he needed. ***1/2
Conclusion: It starts off as a fun little show, then takes a bit of a nosedive with the goofy Homicide/Whitmer match and the Scramble Cage. But the main event completely salvages it.