Cult of ROH: How to Beat Nigel McGuinness

Nigel McGuinness is on the verge of another milestone. If he retains his World Title at Final Battle, he will be the first to hold the belt for an entire calendar year. Previously both Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson held on from January until December (Joe choking against Aries at Final Battle 2004; Danielson to Homicide at Final Battle 2006). With this unprecedented accolade comes the question: how do you beat Nigel McGuinness?

Despite the record, he is not unbeatable. Kevin Steen made him submit in a tag match, and Claudio Castagnoli pinned him in a fourway – both this year. And it actually took the champion three tries to dethrone Takeshi Morishima. Beyond that, he’s recognized his shortcomings and cheated to escape with his title on multiple occasions – holding the ropes against Steen at Injustice and abusing Erick Stevens’s arm after Strong attacked him at Bedlam in Beantown. All three of his “victories” over Bryan Danielson were tainted.

Perhaps his biggest weakness is his ego. Bryan Danielson was able to goad him into defending the title by questioning his fortitude at the Sixth Anniversary Show. Tyler Black (at Take No Prisoners), El Generico (at Age of Insanity) and Roderick Strong (at Driven 2008) came perhaps the closest to pinning him after he underestimated them. For Black he expected the rookie to be too tired and unseasoned; in Generico he expected a whipping boy; and in Strong he dominated early on, and was lulled into false confidence. More than nine months into his reign, McGuinness is still so cocky that he can be surprised.

Playing into his personality to creates chinks in his defense is necessary because he has very safe offense. He knows how to hit the Lariat from many positions, hitting very hard without putting himself at risk. His other trademarks are submissions holds and the Tower of London, so he doesn’t risk injury or exert himself as much as nearly anyone in the company. He flies the least of just about anybody on the roster. Because the simple offense prevents him from hurting himself, it is essential to create an opening.

A sportsman would go for his arm, to catch, counter and reduce the effectiveness of his Lariats, but the less scrupulous challenger will go right for McGuinness’s head, to aggravate any lingering effects of his concussions. Certainly McGuinness has abused head strikes to daze and knock out many challengers. Someone like Brent Albright (who has yet to challenge for the belt) could easily knock him out again with knees and his Half Nelson Suplex.

Despite the temptation of knocking his brains in, focusing on a single knockout move is foolhardy. McGuinness has kicked out of the Ricola Bomb, Package Piledriver and God’s Last Gift. As much of a disrespectful punk as he is, he has the same fortitude of his heroic period back in early 2007. One big move will not stop him. If a challenger wants to rely on one move, he should make it something simple and easily executed, especially in reversals, not unlike McGuinness’s own Lariat, so that it may be hit multiple times. Remember that Morishima used this same tactic with Backdrop Drivers to beat McGuinness twice before finally relinquishing the title to him.

Tyler Black and Roderick Strong were both written off as impossible to dethrone McGuinness in their major challenges. Yet these two came the closest of almost anyone. Strong seemed to have a three-count at one point that had the crowd disagreeing with the referee. Neither of these men are substantially sounder challengers than Danielson or Aries, but their closest pinfall attempts were different from those of almost any other challenger: they came as the result of combos and surprise roll-up attempts. The former, like Strong’s Gutbuster and running boot or multiple Backbreakers, or Black’s Superplex and F-5, brought McGuinness very close to losing. He’s amazingly tough but not sound enough to escape a series of moves, as Danielson has also displayed in many Cattle Mutilation and Elbow Barrage chains. A combination of heavy offense may likewise put him down. If nothing else, preparing several chains he is not ready for will weaken him severely.

Hitting combinations on McGuinness is easier than against someone like Danielson or Aries. These two are more adept at chain wrestling, frequently think many moves ahead, and have a wide variety things they can pull out. Because McGuinness’s offense is so limited, he should not be nearly as hard to scout as some challengers have made him seem. Standing in apparent exhaustion in the corner will cause him to run in for a charging European Uppercut. Prompting him to attempt the Rebound Lariat is even easier. Both of these strikes are easily ducked or intercepted.

Most of his Lariat variations are easily scoutable. His Cobra Clutch short-arm one can be countered by dropping to a seated position, opening him up for a roll-up. McGuinness has gotten so cocky that he will position a weary opponent on the top rope for one variation; slipping off the ropes, ducking, or grabbing and DDTing him off of the turnbuckles are all easy enough for someone with resilience.

He has become so cocky that he will actually set people up for his Tower of London, doing the heavy lifting himself instead of using it as a counter, opening it as something a challenger should be able to reverse.

One danger requires greater awareness: a challenger must protect his arm. McGuinness loves to catch and wrist and torque the elbow and shoulder. The London Dungeon is a difficult hold to fight with so little leverage, and will be even worse if your arm has been ripped into the way he can. It’s better to keep the arms close to the body, or to be prepared to yank him into your grasp if he goes for a limb. It is a tactic he used to soften up Castagnoli and Aries in some of his most high-profile defenses. He likes to control in long, slow beatings that usually begin with an attack on the arm, and he will return to the arm when he thinks he’s losing control.

Control is vital to McGuinness. He lives to look confident in the ring, and can’t stand being embarrassed or fooled. To that effort he’s strengthened his ring presence over his reign. He now freely runs the ropes to build up momentum for Lariats where he used to feel the need to stay close. Even when knocked so senseless he can’t raise a shoulder he will find the ropes with a foot, something Jerry Lynn realized last weekend. He’s more comfortable in there than he’s ever been. Controlling the ring like Danielson did against him in Japan is the last piece necessary to beat him. It’s no surprise that McGuinness’s last singles loss was in that very match to Danielson.

That’s it for this week’s Cult of ROH. Hope you enjoyed the second helping of Kayfabe Apologist. If you like it or can’t stand it, let me know in the Comments section below. Also on the Pulse this week:

-I review Age of Insanity.

-Vinny Truncellito can’t stand Grizzly Redwood.

-And Jonathan Kirschner runs down Chikara.

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