ROH – Final Battle 2003
December 27th, 2003
The reason why I haven’t been reviewing over the past month is due to being caught up with school work. With all the school work I haven’t been able to sit down and review a show, but I’m going to try and turn out more reviews.
This show is mainly famous amongst ROH fans due to the All Japan boys invading ROH. That isn’t to say that’s all there is on the card. On top of AJPW invading, there’s the Xavier/Walters feud being blown off in a Fight Without Honor, the finals of the Field of Honor in Whitmer/Stryker, American Dragon facing off against Jay Briscoe and Samoa Joe defending his World Title against the man who pinned him the previous month in a Tag Title match, Mark Briscoe. This show can be picked up from ROHWrestling.com along with other ROH merchandise.
“American Dragon” Bryan Danielson vs. Jay Briscoe
This comes down to the usual good work from both guys. It’s nothing truly special, but still pretty damn good. The story here is that the Briscoes are scheduled to defend their titles at the next show vs. Danielson and Joe, but tonight Mark must face Joe and we then have these two going at it. So before the Briscoes are allowed to play their game vs. two of the biggest names in ROH, they must play Joe and Danielson’s game.
Jay is able to hand with Danielson throughout the match, but is never able to go the extra mile and truly put away Danielson. At times he is able to hold Danielson in holds for a while before Danielson counters and block some of his trademarks, but it only works to an extent. Jay can be as aggressive as he wants but Danielson just picks his spots. One true fault Jay has at times is trying to go toe to toe with Danielson and strike with him. Is Jay tough? Yes, but Danielson is one of the hardest hitters in wrestling and you’re going to need more than toughness to take him down.
Even though Jay is the heel in this match, Danielson shows that he’s not afraid to go to the cheap tactics when the time calls for it. When he spat on Jay and raked his eyes it was not to help control Jay but to make a point to Jay that if he wants to cheat his way to a victory, Danielson will do it right back to him. Jay does his best to try and beat Danielson, but it comes down to being outwrestled. Jay is great, but it’s no secret that he excels when tagging with his brother. He can be as aggressive as he wants but that can work against you and that happens a lot of the times in this match. Jay gets overaggressive and Danielson just picks him off. Perhaps if Jay wasn’t so aggressive he could’ve taken the match, but when you’re dealing with such a smart wrestler like Danielson you just can’t go in being aggressive or he’ll pick you apart. ***1/4
Fight Without Honor: Xavier vs. John Walters
When these two had matches they weren’t really that good and this is probably the best, although that is not saying much. The reasoning behind the Fight Without Honor is that you want to kill your opponent because you have nothing but hatred for them. In Low-Ki/Joe they used no weapons but they used many strikes to convey their hatred and kicked out of pinfalls at one and in the end they respected each other and with Homicide vs. Trent Acid, when they weren’t killing each other with weapons they were beating the holy high hell out of each other with strikes and that match helped them respect each other. Besides from Walters attacking Xavier to start from behind, they don’t really get over the hatred. Xavier has cheated Walters out of victory after victory and he should be looking for Xavier’s blood more than anything, but is just looking to do big spots and hope they finish Xavier. Are the spots good looking? Sure, but big spots with weapons will get you so far but in the end you have to try and get over that you hate the man that you are fighting. Remember, lots of matches that involve weapons have taken place when the combatants don’t hate each other. Very seldom when the striking comes, you can tell they’re just setting for the next spot, rather than getting over hatred.
The Lung Blower off the ladder is a really good looking spot and perhaps should’ve finished the match, but that’s probably because they ended up blowing the finish. The problem with the really big spots though is that these two don’t have any long term selling in them. Watch matches like Cide/Acid or London/Shane (although not a FWO, it worked the same style as others besides Ki/Joe) and watch how they sell previous moves before doing their next move to make sure those moves meant something. It is more a spectacle than the climax to a feud of hatred if anything. It is fitting though that in the end both men respect each other, the only fitting way for a FWO to finish.
Field of Honor Finals: BJ Whitmer vs. Matt Stryker
It is only fitting that the finals end up a big disappointment when the whole tournament was. I guess both men had a hard time coming in since Whitmer had an elbow injury and the flu and Stryker had a separated shoulder from the previous night. The body work from both men with Whitmer working the shoulder region (which makes sense due to Stryker’s elbow) and Stryker working the legs (even though Whitmer has an injured elbow, Stryker’s finisher is focused on the legs and he doesn’t have a signature submission for the arm region) makes sense to an extent, but ends up having a few flaws. Whitmer does not have a signature that focuses on the shoulder area; all he has is the Exploder ’98. Although he doesn’t hit it, he does go for it, which pretty much makes the shoulder work mean zero. The other problem is that when one is working the other’s body part, they forget about their own injury.
If it was only the one body part getting worked like Whitmer’s legs, this probably would’ve worked much better. It means Stryker isn’t no selling the shoulder while on offence and the finish still makes sense. Another notable flaw is when Whitmer pulls off a Golden Gate Swing without a hitch and even though he sold the leg after, why does he have to stall to hit the Exploder ’98? It could be argued that he sucked it up to gain the advantage, but why can’t he suck it up to hit the Exploder? Little to no leg work had also been done in between the Golden Gate Swing and attempted Exploder ’98, so how are we supposed to believe that Whitmer’s knee got worse when he was using holds that didn’t put much strain on the leg and Stryker wasn’t working it between the GGS and Exploder attempt? The finish does pay off the psychology with the Strykerlock which is the only major positive about the match really and any other finish that didn’t make sense with the psychology would’ve been flat out annoying since all the match consisted of was them attacking the body part’s really.
ROH World Title: Samoa Joe vs. Mark Briscoe
I’ve always found that Joe’s matches with Jay were superior to his match with Mark. The match is really fun, but doesn’t get beyond that really. The approach doesn’t really mean Mark can be bought as a real contender, unlike Joe’s match with Jay at Tradition Continues or the cage match a few months ahead of this show. After Joe taking Jay lightly a couple months ago and nearly coming back to bite him and almost cost him the title he’d take Mark more seriously. Add on that Mark recently pinned Joe in a tag title match you’d think he’d be a lot more serious but he isn’t. I’ve got no problem with his embarrassing Mark, but you’d think he could do that than not taking him serious, like striking him down a lot more than he does.
Mark pinned Joe with the SSP and sadly doesn’t go for it in this match. When he had Joe down after the German and Backdrop it was the perfect opportunity to go for it but instead he goes for the Cutthroat Driver, a move that takes a bit of setup for when he’s facing an opponent his size but when facing an opponent the size of Joe, it’s going to take a bit more than a quick flurry of offence. Joe does bring a lot of fire to the finish to his credit though. He realised the urgency after Mark tried for the Cutthroat and destroys him with a Dragon Suplex, strikes and finishes him with the Choke, but the finish proved one thing. Joe could finish Mark whenever he wanted and was just playing with him. Once again, I’m all for Mark acting like an underdog but he didn’t come off looking very good. I get that they were trying to go for the idea that the Briscoes are good, but have trouble hanging with guys like Danielson and Joe in singles competition, but just look at Joe/Jay and then this and you see the worlds of difference they have.
AJPW vs. ROH: Turmeric Storm (Honma and Miyamoto) vs. 2nd City Saints (Punk and Cabana)
I like all the guys in this match, but it’s weird that even though Punk and Cabana are miles ahead of Turmeric Storm when it comes to skills and whatnot that the All Japan boys outperform the ROH duo. It is the night for All Japan to shine though, so it is only fitting I guess. This isn’t to say Punk and Cabana don’t do some really good things though. They do some great work and get over that they may be partners and friends, but the difference in styles is major. Punk wants to be serious but on the other hand Cabana wants to goof around.
Honma got noticed by many Puro fans from his Big Japan days because he wasn’t just the average death match style worker. Just like other great death match workers like Atsushi Onita, Necro Butcher, Ryuji Ito and they guy who he had some of the best death matches of all time with, Ryuji Yamakawa he took big bumps but made sure they made sense within the context of the match. There are no light tubes or barbed wire in this match, but Honma does take a few big bumps and makes sure they make sense with his long term selling. The two main ones are the bump into the guard rail and the Pepsi Plunge. When he took the bump into the rail he kept selling it and made sure you remembered he was still hurting, but it slowly faded away while he was on the apron.
Miyamoto’s stuff, while not as good as Honma’s, comes off looking really good and he sells the beating from the 2CS really well. His comebacks are well timed as well and are really believable, which helps the match even more. The finish though is your usual both teams handing out their best shots until the finish, but luckily they refrain from big head drops and it really helps the match. As I said above, Honma’s bump off the Pepsi Plunge was really sick yet he made sure to pay off the big bump onto the head by clutching at it post match. While not the best match technically, it’s really fun to see the All Japan boys shine. ***
ROH: 1, AJPW: 0
AJPW vs. ROH: Kaz Hayashi vs. AJ Styles
This would’ve been much better if they had have been bothered to build the match instead of throwing moves at each other for 15 minutes. Kaz does bring some nice stuff to the match, in particular is scouting of AJ’s moves. He does the most logical thing when avoid AJ’s attack from behind the railing by not chasing AJ after whipping him in. The scouting of the Dropkick was nicely done, but it was ruined by Kaz charging at AJ after he had just avoided the Dropkick. The fact they throw out potential finishers as throwaway moves and transitions is beyond ridiculous as well. See Kaz’ Brainbuster and Piledriver and AJ’s around the body Backbreaker and Pumphandle Gutbuster.
They both bring some nice intensity to the match with the way they slam each other down with their moves and when Kaz yells “f*ck you” at AJ before nailing him with a kick to the head. What they never real got though was that you don’t need big moves to bring intensity. You can just have some intense chain wrestling to bring the intensity and then bring the big moves at the end, but big moves that are more suited as finishers throughout the match aren’t going to help. They did, at one point, look like they were headed in the right direction when AJ started to attack Kaz’s back, but they just piss it away and continue with the big moves when they’re done.
The closing stretch is the nicest thing of the match, with both men fighting for their respective finishers. The fight and tease of the Styles Clash is some nice stuff, with Kaz finding different ways to escape the Styles Clash and AJ finding different ways to get into position for it. The sad thing about the match was that they showed spurts of logical work, but they decided to not go with it. Anyone who follows Puroresu knows that Kaz is capable of good matches, but it really comes no surprise that this was AJ Styles 101.
ROH: 2, AJPW: 0
AJPW vs. ROH: Satoshi Kojima vs. Homicide
This would’ve been worlds better and perhaps stolen the show if Homicide had not been knocked out with a Kojima Belly to Belly Overhead on the floor. The one moment this match is remembered for is Kojima’s interaction with the ref. When he’s got Cide down in the corner and he doesn’t break when the ref is counting, he responds by saying “I do not understand”. And then a few seconds later when the ref calls for another break he responds with “I’m a Japanese goddamn it”. Kojima was really having fun out there, but even though he was having fun, the match was looking really good.
When Homicide was knocked out everyone knew something was wrong. Just watch Smokes’ reaction to it. To his credit, Homicide does continue but his stuff is done really slowly and you can tell that he’s really lost in the match. Kojima does a great job holding things together though but he isn’t able to do much more since he was trying his best to keep it together. Homicide’s effort is really notable though, since he’s still willing to take sick bumps and take Kojima’s stiff offence. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing but he had to try. Although the match is passable at best (everything before Homicide’s knockout was really good though), you really need to check it out for Kojima’s interactions with the ref.
ROH: 2, AJPW: 1
AJPW vs. ROH, AJPW Tag Team Titles: Great Muta and Arashi vs. The Prophecy (Daniels and Maff)
Even though Muto is a shell of his old self and would rather do 10 Shining Wizards than make a match make sense these days, it’s great to see him get the reaction he gets. He doesn’t really set the world on fire with his performance, but when he’s Muta, he usually doesn’t. Arashi doesn’t really bring much to the match either besides some power stuff and the match is mainly Daniels. Maff’s reaction to the mist though is really good.
The problem when the Prophecy is working over Arashi is that he doesn’t try to sell anything or make Daniels and Maff look good. Does he have a good 100 pounds plus on each guy? Yes but it doesn’t mean he can’t sell for them. Much like Turmeric Storm/2CS, this is really fun and besides from Arashi’s non-existent selling, I’ve honestly got no problems with the match. Muto only pulls out one Shining Wizard and the crowd is rabid for him and hates the Prophecy. Whenever they hit Muta with some form of offence on, Muta they boo them viciously and when they take shortcuts on him, they boo them even more viciously. The match was never going to be good, but the match is really fun to watch.
ROH: 2, AJPW: 2