BEST OF AMERICAN SUPER JUNIORS TOURNAMENT
April 2, 2005
Bryan Danielson . . . avenges his 2002 loss to Spanky in one of the best opening matches in ROH history.
Alex Shelley . . . watches in horror as he’s knocked out of the first round of the tournament, while his former partner, and whipping boy, becomes a champion.
“Dragon Soldier B” . . . winds up tainting this tournament to the point that the concept was never tried again.
Quarterfinal: BRYAN DANIELSON vs. SPANKY
Aside from the odd way that both of them treat their finishers, which is more forgivable for Spanky, since he wasn’t winning, this is quite the nice match. This really doesn’t seem to pick up until about halfway in, when Danielson counters Spanky into the armbar and segues into the Cattle Mutilation, but the match has its share of fun moments, like Danielson’s frustration when Spanky keeps sending him to the floor, and Danielson’s revenge spot when he sends Spanky outside as a counter to the Tornado DDT.
Once Danielson gets the Cattle Mutilation, the match picks up and never really wavers. But, it still seems odd that Danielson uses his main submission finisher to kick off his control segment. Danielson shows his versatility while working over Spanky, and with the second CM that he does a bit later also not being the finish, he’d have been better off to stick with the first armbar, rather than devalue his main submission. Danielson’s control segment, and Spanky’s subsequent comeback, both look great, with their transitions being very smooth, and the aggressiveness that both of them show as the match wears on is perfectly believable. Spanky surprises Danielson with a boot to the face, and Danielson hits a standing dropkick, neither is considered to be an especially high-end move, but the force behind them makes them both look like credible KO shots. Spanky isn’t really known for his matwork, so it’s a nice surprise to see him counter the second CM into a small package for a near fall, and, with them having trained together and worked together so much, it’s perfectly believable that Spanky can pull that out. Spanky treats the Sliced Bread #2 about as well as Danielson does the CM, using it in between a pair of near falls from his frog splash. But, Spanky does show a bit of method to the madness, when Danielson survives the second SB, he goes for broke with the top rope version that beat Danielson in their 4/02 match. But, Danielson has it scouted this time, and the counter gives him the opening for the Regalplex, which keeps Spanky down for good.
The treatment of their finishers is really a minor quibble, considering that both men showed that they each had something else up their sleeves in case the regular finishers wouldn’t be enough. And, even an off-night for Danielson (which this really isn’t) is better than the best effort of a lot other workers. ***½
Quarterfinal: MATT SYDAL vs. DRAGON SOLDIER B
If nothing else, Ka Shin deserves credit for understanding that Sydal will be coming back to ROH the next month, and letting him shine for the bulk of the match. Sydal works the leg, which makes sense, since he’s against a larger man, and also uses his agility stay ahead, complete with a big dive to the floor. Ka Shin doesn’t do much until the end, when he blocks Sydal’s rana, does his hanging choke, and then cradles Sydal (and grabs the ropes) for the win. It’d be easy to knock Ka Shin for ‘taking the night off’ but it isn’t as though he went out of his way to tank the match, or make his opponent look bad.
Quarterfinal: BLACK TIGER vs. ALEX SHELLEY
With another ten or so minutes to work, and more of a story being told, this might be able to give Danielson/Spanky a run for its money as the best match of the first round. Aside from a few exposing moments, namely Shelly’s diving knee and the finish, this is tons of fun. The work is fast-paced, and Shelley doesn’t have any trouble keeping up with BT on the mat. The work is more or less done in a vacuum, it didn’t seem like either of them is had a specific goal in mind, despite Shelley having a finishing submission that his holds would play into, and BT’s surprise juji-gatame not going anywhere. But, it’s easy to marvel at what they do and how fast and smoothly they do it. BT’s surfboard makes a perfect lead-in to the Tiger suplex finish, and it would work much better than Shelley’s suplex getting countered, and the standing switches that led up to it. It would also have been nice to see Shelley fight to kick out of it, and keep the match feeling competitive right up to the end. ***
Quarterfinal: RODERICK STRONG vs. JAMES GIBSON
One of the challenges with telling a story is having a finish that perfectly suits what came before it, and brings the match to a satisfying conclusion. It’s something that the Danielson/Spanky match was able to do, with each of them being ready for the other man’s finisher, and Danielson having something else in the bag. Roddy and Jamie don’t have quite so smooth a finish, although, with how great a job they do in building up to it, it’s hard to imagine almost anything coming off as a suitable finish.
From the moment that Roddy hits the first backbreaker, until the ref makes the final count, it seems all but hopeless for Gibson. Roddy absolutely shreds him, in a rare instance where his being “Messiah of the Backbreaker” looks like it’s more than a nickname. He shows the ruthlessness that’s expected of a member of Generation Next, and even shows why his last name is suitable with a huge buckle bomb. Roddy also shows some confidence that he hadn’t up to this point, he doesn’t work the back like it’s his only choice. He gets a near fall from a running boot, which working the back gives him the opening to hit. For his part, Gibson sells like he’s in absolute agony, and we show just how much damage has been done, when Gibson isn’t even able to follow through on a simple bodyslam.
Where things go sideways is that the bodyslam happens relatively early into Roddy’s control segment, and if he’s that hurt early on, it doesn’t stand to reason that he can pull off much more complex stuff *after* Roddy has throughly worn him down. Jamie doesn’t do anything stupid, like his Tiger driver (although he attempts it and isn’t able to pull it off), but, sequences like the DDT into his Guillotine choke, and his near fall from a crucifix bomb, still seem like too much from someone who can’t even stand up straight. In that sense, the flash cradle when Roddy wants the Stronghold again, is as good as anything else they could have done. The only realistic sounding option would have been Strong somehow pinning himself while trying to stretch out Gibson, which would have made Strong look stupid in the end, whereas Roddy comes out of this looking like a machine, who simply got caught out by a better wrestler. ***1/4
CM PUNK/COLT CABANA vs. JIMMY RAVE/FAST EDDIE VEGAS
Punk is good about showing his hatred for Rave, but, this is just a mindless brawl, complete with going all over the arena, and interference from both sides. When the partners and seconds are cleared out, it looks like it’s finally going to come down to Punk versus Rave, but, Prince Nana and the valet interfere and let Rave steal the win. It’s fine for prolonging the blow off, and furthering the feud, but as far as wrestling goes, it’s unremarkable.
Semifinal: DRAGON SOLDIER B vs. JAMES GIBSON
The fact that ROH opted to cut away from the match, to show a CM Punk promo, is probably an indication of its quality. The little bit that we do get to see looks fine. Ka Shin picks up where Roddy left off, and keeps up the attack on Gibson’s back. He also tries for the same cradle that beat Gibson, but this time the ref catches him using the ropes. Ka Shin wasn’t as big of a jerk as he could have been, especially with how much the fans had taken to Gibson. Lyger, Eddie, TAKA, or any number of better workers could have whipped the New Jersey crowd into a frenzy. The finish comes off well, by getting them out of the match and also putting over Gibson’s guts. Ka Shin stretches him out with a Hangman hold, and when Gibson doesn’t submit, Spanky throws in the towel so that the ref calls it off.
Semifinal: BRYAN DANIELSON vs. BLACK TIGER
Although there are a good number of smart touches from Danielson, this never seems to come together all that well. It starts off with BT trying to get an early advantage, but trying for too much when he attempts to use Danielson’s own surfboard hold against him. Danielson, obviously, knows the counter, and it allows him to escape and then take over the match. BT isn’t bad or anything, but he works much the same way that he did against Shelley. He shows off some nice things, but he isn’t taking the match anyplace. Danielson will do things like work over the midsection with headbutts, and when BT tries a sunset flip, he’ll sit down on him. Or, he’ll focus on the neck and then try to tap him out with a Triangle head scissors. BT looks more lucky than anything else when he wins the match. He stuns Danielson with a running knee, and pins him with the Tiger suplex (complete with Danielson kicking wildly trying to escape). It’s a fine match overall, but it’s impossible to not be disappointed at how inferior BT looked compared to Danielson.
RODERICK STRONG/JACK EVANS vs. AZRIEAL/DIXIE vs. IZZY/DERANGED vs. DUNN/MARCOS
The only remarkable thing about this is the finish. Roddy winning by submission with the Stronghold is fitting after all the damage that he’d done to Gibson’s back. The rest of the match is the usual go-go-go affair, with truckloads of spots, and none of them meaning a thing.
SAMOA JOE/JAY LETHAL vs. BJ WHITMER/JIMMY JACOBS (Decision Match for the vacant ROH Tag Team Titles)
Aside from a few of the flubbed spots (namely the rana from Jacobs that sends Joe into Lethal, and the senton from Jacobs that Lethal “catches”), there isn’t much about this match that’s very surprising. Whitmer works over Lethal, Joe works over Jacobs, and the real fun is in watching the Jacobs/Lethal sections, with both of the lower ranked men trying to prove themselves. Joe and Lethal play defacto heel by working over Jacobs to drum up heat for him to make a tag. But, they aren’t as balls-out heelish as they could have been. They show some nastiness, like Lethal holding Jacobs in place for Joe’s running kick, but fun bits like that are exceptions rather than the rule.
The match plateaus after Whitmer’s tag, between the blown spots and some of the bigger spots not quite getting the respect they deserve (Whitmer’s regular Exploder to Joe and the Doomsday rana are both examples of this). It also doesn’t help that Whitmer and Jacobs don’t get much of a chance to work over Lethal the same way that Joe and Lethal did to Jacobs. Whitmer pinning Lethal is the obvious finish, and it’s a bit of downer considering that the Lethal/Jacobs exchanges were amongst the best parts of the match as well as the fact that Lethal is currently the Pure Champion. Joe wouldn’t be hurt by the loss, and getting a pin on Joe would be a boost for Whitmer. It’s also odd that the last image of Joe is his dive to the floor to take out Jacobs. Meanwhile, his partner gets planted with an Exploder off the top and gets pinned. There’s virtually zero reason for Joe to not be able to make a save. This winds up being a fun tag match, despite its shortcomings, and nobody would have guessed that Jacobs would be a champion before Shelley.
DRAGON SOLDIER B vs. BLACK TIGER (Tournament Final)
It’s fitting that the best thing from Ka Shin was a comedy spot. He gets disoriented from doing an Oklahoma roll and tries to roll up the referee. Ka Shin works the same way that he did against Sydal. He’s content to let BT show his stuff, and doesn’t show any personality. BT also works the same way as his other two matches. He does a bunch of nice looking stuff, but he never gives the impression that he’s laying any groundwork or has any sort of strategy. And, without having someone like Danielson to help pick up those pieces, the match just dies a horrible death. It’s like Ka Shin heard that he was going to be wrestling in front of a crowd who was all about workrate, and decided that the best way to be a heel would be to not give them what they want, a la Cactus Jack in ECW. But there’s a world of difference between Cactus and Ka Shin, and Ka Shin’s performance here puts all of those differences fully on display.
AUSTIN ARIES © vs. HOMICIDE (ROH World Heavyweight Title)
The first half or so wasn’t anything great, but it had its moments that made it at least watchable. At first it seemed like the idea was to remind everyone that Homicide can actually work, since he’s better known as a brawler. The work isn’t really going anywhere, but it was still fun to watch Homicide wrestling for a change. Then, Aries takes the spill to the floor and Homicide falls back on his brawling, only to lose control when they get back into the ring and it resumes being a wrestling match. There are some nice sequences like the Homicide trying to roll through the rana, only for Aries to use his headstand and dropkick counter, as well as some of Aries’ working over Homicide’s back, ostensibly to wear him down for the 450, especially the side suplex that can only be described as a snap sidewalk slam.
But, once Aries does a Burning Hammer, and Homicide kicks out at one, this just goes straight to hell. Homicide throws Aries on a table, which “conveniently” puts Aries in position for Homicide’s dive. The table still doesn’t break after the dive, which obviously hurts Aries, and looks like it damn near kills Homicide. So, of course, they both get into the ring and just start rolling out bombs as though the previous spot didn’t even happen. Aries does the 450, and Homicide hits the lariat (complete with an almost Hennig-esque bump) for near falls. After a series of counters, Aries hits three rolling brainbusters and another 450 (after Homicide moves himself into position) to finally end it. It says a that two men, who are generally considered to be good workers, put on a match so mediocre that the best part of it was watching Danielson thwart Julius Smokes’ interference, and seeing Smokes sell like he’s having a seizure.
Conclusion: The show ends on a terrible note, with a double whammy of bad matches. But, the rest of it is rather solid, with the first round of the tournament being the highlight.