Cult of ROH: 16 Carat Tournament 2009

The 16 Carat Tournament was the surprise of 2008, boasting an insane roster of guests: Jonny Saint, Mike Quackenbush, Bryan Danielson, Jimmy Jacobs, El Generico, Chris Hero, Naomichi Marufuji and Taiji Ishimori, just to start. With 16 men fighting down to two over three nights, every round produced something you should go out of your way to see. This week’s Cult of ROH follows Bryan Danielson back to wXw for the 2009 16 Carat.

The roster this year couldn’t be as impressive. 2008 was simply insane. But 2009 promised some interesting faces: Shingo Takagi from Dragon Gate, Tyler Black and Erick Stevens from ROH, Daisuke Sekimoto from Big Japan, Drake Younger from CZW, Bryan Danielson (who the company pretended was from Japan due to his ties to NOAH), and most interestingly, Chris Sabin from TNA. So not insane, but still impressive. Being less insane had its pluses: 2008’s tournament was hardly an advertisement for the company, as outsiders routinely showed up everyone on their roster.

The 2009 tournament was even odder as Bad Bones, their best power guy, and Emil Sitoci, their most charismatic heel, were both champions and thus not in the tournament. Same Callihan is better at stiff sprints and Erick Stevens is better at powerhousing than most of wXw’s best, which is scary when you consider these guys aren’t main-eventers in their U.S. home promotions. Homeboys Zack Sabre Jr. and Terry Frazier are simply not in the league of the guys PWG draws for its Battle of Los Angeles. Giving more guys a chance with a different guest roster, how would wXw do?

The following journal was written as I watched the matches and gives away match endings. I know that’s standard procedure for internet reviews, but I don’t like to do spoilers. For the non-spoiler folks: despite a weaker roster than last year, Sabin, Black, Danielson, Shingo and company make this a damn solid tournament with a few must-see matches. Night 2 is surprisingly the best, but if you’re a tournament freak like I am, the whole thing is probably worth seeing. You can get all three discs are Smart Mark Video, though they don’t have commentary.

Night 1

Four Way One-Fall Match: Dan Paysan Vs. Sami Callihan Vs. Sha Samuels Vs. Tommy End
Callihan immediately stood out. His opponent let him look tough, and in that role he came across as a ripper, doing more in holds or quiet moments than the other three combined. The match wasn’t too long or impressive, just a taste of hard-hitting style wXw was hoping to put on in the tournament.
Winner: Sami Callihan

16 Carat Preliminary: Daisuke Sekimoto Vs. Martin Stone
Daisuke Sekimoto, a man with cartoonish muscle mass. You may have seen him doing pretty German Suplexes in Japan. Now here he is, doing those again in Germany. Just like in Japan, Sekimoto knows mat holds, but can’t really work them. Stone offered very little help in structuring the match, so it soon becomes an exercise in knocking each other over very hard. Eventually Sekimoto hits pretty German Suplex for the win after no real build, but you don’t fly a Japanese indy darling over to lose in the first round of your indy tournament.
Winner: Daisuke Sekimoto

16 Carat Preliminary: Drake Younger Vs. Adam Polak
There is something about a Polak wind-up punch and the way he comes off a Hip Toss that looks cartoonish enough to make him stand out. He didn’t have much to offer on the offensive end, though, and once this hit its plodding pace, it was dull to sit through. Just like the positive something about Polak, there’s something annoying about Younger selling exhaustion five minutes into a preliminary.
Winner: Drake Younger

16 Carat Preliminary: Steve Douglas Vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa
I can’t think of anyone affiliated with New Japan I wouldn’t have brought over before Takaiwa. Unimpressive look, a fondness for holds he doesn’t work and seems to get bored with halfway through, and for someone who tries to come off as hardhitting his strikes are thoroughly unimpressive. Douglas destroyed himself on Night 2 last year defending his title, which he’s since lost. He got abused for much of this match, and did little things like touching his face to check for swelling that would have made it work if he had a better opponent. Being a bad guy, Douglas gets help from his corner man and eventually wins out despite the beating.
Winner: Steve Douglas

16 Carat Preliminary: Bryan Danielson Vs. Doug Williams
Danielson was your minimalist, trying to answer everything with an Abdominal Stretch or similarly boring hold to enrage the audience. Williams responded by pulling out crazy moves like his Chaos Theory German Suplex and an inverted Gory Special. It didn’t hit the stride of their early ROH matches, but was still a standout for its variety in technique and Danielson earning some comeuppance. Danielson managing to pin Williams through the Abdominal Stretch only made it better.
Winner: Bryan Danielson

16 Carat Preliminary: Zack Sabre Jr. Vs. Terry Frazier
Bland Skinny Dude Vs. Bland Skinny Dude. Frazier is apparently a bad guy, but did little to show it. They traded and missed several kicks, but lacked the mass or timing to be at all impressive. Even with run-ins, this match merely existed until Sabre Jr. caught a Jujigatame Cross Arm Breaker for the submission.
Winner: Zack Sabre Jr.

16 Carat Preliminary: Big Van Walter Vs. Erick Stevens
With a little context, Stevens is damn good. Just standing in the audience, calmly pumping his fist to his own music, he showed more rapport with the crowd than he’s had stateside all year. It certainly helped the match that Stevens is a hoss and was capable of Fireman’s Carrying and Suplexing the big man. While it only lasted seven minutes, it was a heck of a big man fight, with Stevens struggling for every move, and every big piece of offense coming off like a surprise. Despite being quite a bit smaller than Lesnar and Big Show, this was almost like one of their matches, made more compact thanks to their conditioning. Both men deserved to win for their effort – it cannot be comfortable for a guy Walter’s size to flip upside down and land on his head.
Winner: Big Van Walter

16 Carat Preliminary: Absolute Andy Vs. Shingo Takagi
Shingo has fun offense, from his Mongolian Chop to his scary power finishers. Andy is solid and able to follow some brutality, so without going too long, they made a fine prelim. What was only a passable match bumped up to great when Shingo dumped him on his head and a fan near the ring produced a sign reading, “JESUS CHRIST.”
Winner: Shingo

16 Carat Preliminary: Chris Sabin Vs. Tyler Black
The right choice for the main event. Perhaps Danielson Vs. Williams could have gone even longer and flourished in the top spot, but this pitted the best sprinters in the tournament against each other and is a legitimate indy dream match. It lived up to expectations with all the well-timed big offense we hoped for. However Sabin didn’t let it just be flashy roll-ups and Powerbombs. He showed his pride in TNA down to using The Stroke and taking so much time to pin Black that he knew he wouldn’t win it that way. It got the crowd firmly against him in what would have been an otherwise even match. But cutting off Black just enough he pulled it into a good story, from which both were easily able to explode with the big moves. It became spectacle, but had substance, and is damn worth seeing.
Winner: Tyler Black

Night 2

16 Carat Quarterfinal: Zack Sabre Jr. Vs. Bryan Danielson
Danielson stretched and kicked the crap out of the scrawny kid for ten minutes. If you watch the indies, you’ve seen Danielson do this match before, controlling the offense and pace, struggling to get that control back against feverish and brave comebacks. Sabre Jr. showed a little heart, which meant Danielson kicked him harder. A couple of comebacks later, Danielson took control and looked to slow everything down again, pacing this to go thirty minutes, only to be caught in a flash pin out of nowhere at thirteen. The crowd celebrated like they’d won a war.
Winner: Zack Sabre Jr.

16 Carat Quarterfinal: Daisuke Sekimoto Vs. Steve Douglas
In case you wonder what it’s like when Sekimoto gets no offense, wXw presents this. Douglas has no interesting holds and isn’t particularly slick at getting into them, and Sekimoto has spent his adult life not selling. If you shot him in the chest he would probably stagger back and sit on the middle rope. To be fair, there is no reason Sekimoto shouldn’t have destroyed this guy in two minutes – his bicep is about as thick as Douglas’s thigh. But Douglas is a former champion, which meant he got to dominate. Eventually they got to the traditional indy sprint ending of a bunch of big moves and kick-outs, but Sekimoto kicking out of Douglas’s finisher doesn’t excuse an unremarkable story, especially with Douglas won by heroically hitting it again after being the antagonist for the whole match. I don’t know wXw’s backstage politics, but this reeked of something a guy in Douglas’s position would book to make himself look cool. It didn’t, and even the fans were left so unsinpisired by the end that they broke out into “Yankee Doodle.”
Winner: Steve Douglas

Lightweight Championship Elimination Match: Chris Sabin Vs. Emil Sitoci ( c ) Vs. Dan Paysan Vs. Tommy End
A bold decision to let a losers match wind up being a title defense. Sitoci is a capable champion, wrestling much like wXw heavyweights but with a little more flair and variety to what he does. He and Sabin made splendid dueling pricks as End and Paysan tried to have earnest match. There were big flips, dives, and a few really noteworthy moments. One saw Sitoci put End in a Camel Clutch and Sabin ran the ropes for the typical super-momentum Dropkick to a helpless opponent. He stopped, like indy heels typically do for irony. Both the normal and the ironic version of this move are played out, but Sabin used the pause to change his mind and kicked Sitoci in the mouth instead. It was a brilliant twist on something overused. They used the elimination rules well, with End catching Sitoci out of a top rope Cross Body and into a Small Package with a smoothness I’ve never seen anyone do before. It wound up with Sabin and End vying for who would be the new Lightweight Champion, with Sabin being a little more rested and hoping to ground End into an easier victory. End was resilient, leading Sabin to do more and more, bigger throws, then second and rope rope offense that left him open until End could turn it around. The ending didn’t go off with the boom you’d like, but the match was still solidly entertaining.
Winner and New Champion: Tommy End

-Post-match, Tatsuhito Takaiwa appeared, destroyed End and posed with the belt, presumably setting up a title defense on Night 3. The crowd chanted “You Sold Out” despite Takaiwa not having made any agreements with anyone.

16 Carat Quarterfinal: Big Van Walter Vs. Drake Younger
Walter is roughly twice Younger’s size, and used that to pull an Andre the Giant. Younger tried to be brave in chop battles and fought back from his knees, but was continually pounded into the ground. Camel Clutches, standing on Younger’s chest, big Vader splashes in the corner – Walter was clearly enjoying himself. There was a particularly scary moment where Walter slammed Younger over the top rope and onto the apron. Walter continued to abuse him until a failed Powerbomb attempt on the floor, which led to Younger going off the top rope and driving the giant through a table. That turned the match around, and suddenly Younger’s flying power meant some possible nearfalls. It was smartly done and led to an entertaining exchange of the big man’s power offense and Younger doing everything he could. I didn’t know if Younger had a miracle in him or if Walter would swat this fly until the three-count actually happened.
Winner: Drake Younger

-Post-match a whole bunch of bad guys jumped Younger, allowing Walter to Powerbomb him. In response, Erick Stevens led a whole bunch of good guys to clear the ring and save Younger. Clearly setting up a tag tomorrow. Or… right now.

Erick Stevens Vs. Sami Callihan
Stevens threw Callihan threw Callihan onto a restaurant bar top and slid him down the entire length. After that, how could you dislike this match? It began as a wacky all-over-the-building brawl, and I’m a sucker for any all-over-the-building brawls where men resort to chops and pro–wrestling offense. The cameramen had no idea how to shoot it until they got back in the ring. Even on the apron, Callihan had some neat combo ideas. He loves anything that ends in a Stunner. There was another fine, fine moment where Callihan tried to tie Stevens to the ropes, only for Stevens to wail him in the face and yell, “That didn’t work so well, did it?” On behalf of everyone who’s sat through a bad IWA:MS hogtying segment, I would like to thank Erick Stevens. Callihan was a pitbull, grabbing his Koji Clutch whenever possible, wearing Stevens down until it could be an even match, at which point Stevens sold the smaller man like a serious threat. The sympathetic bigger guy and the more fluid wrestling, even in its brawling stage, made it stand out from Walter Vs. Younger. With an interference finish, I could only hope this meant Night 3 would have a big tag where these guys could go at it some more.
Winner: Sami Callihan

16 Carat Quarterfinal: Shingo Takagi Vs. Tyler Black
Shingo the technician? I watch a lot of Dragon Gate and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wrestle quite like this. I didn’t know what to think of it, either, until Black escaped a roll-up attempt and Shingo dove onto his leg again, attacking the injury and preventing Black’s headkick that he likes to hit from that position. With the variety of strikes he threw at the leg and his aggression in holds (he made the step-over from an STF look like it would tear a tendon), Shingo showed as much promise at this as he does at the power game. Naturally, Black escaped and hit some flashy offense to even things out, but when it became obvious that Black’s leg wasn’t going to stop his fancy kicking, Shingo happily out-muscled him with crazy Lariats and throws. Despite being one of Dragon Gate’s powerhouses, it’s still surprising to watch Shingo toss a taller guy around. When they got into final gear they were as good as any two sprinters on earth, building up amazing exchanges like one that led to Black getting face-planted in a Complete Shot at top speed.
Winner: Shingo Takagi

Tatsuhito Takaiwa & The Kartel Vs. Doug Williams, Martin Stone & Absolute Andy
“Takaiwa & the Kartel” sounds like a rad eighties band. This was the obvious break between Shingo Vs. Black and the main event, putting six traditional heavyweight-style guys in there to punch, suplex and cut each other off. True, most of them wouldn’t make Heavyweight weight class, but the offense is clearly that style, even slowed down to uninteresting heavyweight standards. Only Williams stood out as particularly smooth or effective, so good on him for landing the TNA deal. Takaiwa took it for his team with more of his unimpressive looking head drops, upon which his career was built. The bad guys continued to abuse the beaten team until Stevens ran in, showing more personality sitting in a chair than Takaiwa for the whole match. Stone and Stevens officially announced some kind of tag for tomorrow night, and Williams challenged the Kartel for the tag titles. His team just lost, but I assume he’ll get it tomorrow.
Winners: Takaiwa & the Kartel

World Heavyweight Title Match: Bad Bones ( c ) Vs. Bryan Danielson
Like last year, the main event of Night 2 is a World Title match to showcase wXw’s top guy. It gives them a chance to really showcase their home talent. This year Bad Bones is champion and defended against Danielson – a re-match of last year’s finals. It’s a great idea, showing how people can progress from winning the tournament, while promising different finals this year. It didn’t hurt that the finals was the second best match wXw had all year last year. If you don’t know him, Bad Bones is what would happen if Kane and Taz had a baby. He is a thick, mean S.O.B. that requires a technician of Danielson’s level to take apart convincingly. The match quickly fell into a story of Danielson using smart technical wrestling to incapacitate the stronger guy, and Bones breaking out and kicking his ass. Both guys made their approaches believable: Danielson is convincing wrenching back on Bones’s arm, and Bones is convincing picking Danielson up in a Vertical Suplex only to drop him forehead-first onto his knee. Rather than a chicken, Danielson played a petty character, vindictive and taking everything out on Bones when he got an opening. It’s similar to his act in ROH matches against AJ Styles, only with a smashmouth opponent rather than a flyer. Not quite as sharp as their match last year, but still rock solid and along with the Lightweight 4-Way and Shingo Vs. Black, it makes this show a must-see. That Danielson could actually win it was a shock, though even based on this tournament it sets up well – Sabre Jr. pinned him earlier in the night and is an immediate contender, as is whoever wins the tournament tomorrow, and Bones has a rematch coming after this performance. wXw grabbing a truly hated heel champion (even if some fans came around to Danielson by this point) makes it a great angle, even if it doesn’t last.
Winner and New Champion: Bryan Danielson

Chant of the night: “Please Tap Don’t! Please Tap Don’t!”

Night 3

16 Carat Semifinal: Shingo Takagi Vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Sabre Jr. looked even more like a scrawny indy guy next to the exercise freak from Japan. They went even too much to be believable, with Sabre trying to out-kick and out mat-wrestle Shingo, and Shingo just took it. Eventually they traded big holds, before Shingo simply locked on a Sleeperhold and put him out. Sadly uninspired, it’s hard not to reflect on all the really good wrestlers who dropped out of the tournament before the semi-finals.
Winner: Shingo Takagi

16 Carat Semifinal: Steve Douglas Vs. Drake Younger
There was a point when the two men, exhausted from having done all their moves, began the brave indy tradition of trading chops and strikes, hoping the other would fall over. I couldn’t help but reflect that Bad Bones and Bryan Danielson did the same spot the previous night, at the same point in their match, and did it with such superior conviction and character. That’s what defines this whole match – lots of people do everything that’s here, and while it’s commendable that they’d do it at all, they don’t do it particularly well. It felt long for ten minutes, they fell on their heads a few times, and Younger upset the former champion to head to the finals.
Winner: Drake Younger

The Kartel Vs. Erick Stevens & Martin Stone
Split screen that doesn’t use the entire screen is a bad idea. This tag went all over the building, but when divided we got two smaller pictures to cover the action that often made it impossible to discern wrestlers from the audience. Personally, I can’t get into brawls where wrestlers grab loose headlocks and “drag” each other fifty feet to the next place, and that was essentially what happened for twenty minutes. I bet it was fun live. Aside from a few scary weapon shots and a great moment of Martin Stone grabbing a fan’s hand and making her slap his opponent, I was counting the minutes to this ending.
Winners: The Kartel

Dan Paysan Vs. Sternau
So short and unimpressive that I had to go back and watch it again to write about it. They came across as having very little experience. With time, Sternau could become a solid heel, but for now he bullied like everyone does. At least they have nice Standing Moonsaults. Definite filler.
Winner: Sternau

Lightweight Championship Match: Tommy End ( c ) Vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa
By the kanji on End’s tights you can tell he dreams of wrestling Japanese stars. He got Takaiwa, who hit a bunch of big puro moves, but was so non-committal that none of it worked. He’s not strong enough to hoist guys for impressive Powerbombs and after years still doesn’t know when to do a Death Valley Driver to make it mean something. End tried to work comebacks and thankfully retained.
Winner and Still Champion: Tommy End

Heavyweight Championship Elimination Match: Bryan Danielson ( c ) Vs. Adam Polak Vs. Absolute Andy Vs. Tyler Black
Four-ways where two bad guys and two good guys essential act as tag teams are often panned, but this worked on a zany level. Black and Andy have no particular personality, so naturally they’d go at the heels; meanwhile Polak was the inexplicable little buddy to champion Danielson, something unnecessary and great. He posed and pointed to Danielson for approval and went for tags whenever asked, while the champ cheered him from the apron. I was sad to see him eliminated first. After that we got to watch Danielson abuse Black, and unsurprisingly he’s good at that. Andy made the hot entry and nearly eliminated Danielson, only to be distracted by a toilet paper shower from some heels and was himself eliminated. That returned us to Danielson abusing Black, Black mounted a familiar comeback and did everything he could, while Danielson relied on strikes and a Sleeperhold, keeping to his heel minimalism. Danielson made basic tactics, like getting his foot on the ropes to escape a surefire pinfall, work in a modern setting. I wish more people could. Black survived too many sleepers, though, and eventually Danielson had to use his Elbow Barrage and Triangle Choke to eliminate his final challenger. Damn good stuff.
Winner and Still Champion: Bryan Danielson

Chris Sabin Vs. Doug Williams
A “Fuck TNA” chant from March is ironic when watched now, as both guys are employed by that company. It began as a match where the smaller Sabin had several moves to counter any of Williams’s quick holds, but that made Williams speed up and suddenly Sabin couldn’t find any openings against a guy who could grind him in a headlock or throw him across the ring. That meant Sabin had to throw out bigger bombs, go for quicker roll-ups, and desperately avoid Williams’s suplexes. The wear of the match brought both of them down, but Williams slowing meant Sabin got his openings and landed all his little moves, but that same recklessness finally let Williams hit the Chaos Theory German Suplex to beat him. About fifteen minutes and more damn good stuff. Now they’re redeeming the first half.
Winner: Doug Williams

Bad Bones & Daisuke Sekimoto Vs. Big Van Walter & Sami Callihan
Takaiwa & Kartel trios tag from Night 2 was a heavyweight-style tag. So was this. The difference was in aggression and conviction; Bones and Callihan in particular showed energy and worked the style rather than doing the moves of the style. I’ve never gotten into Bones Vs. Walter matches because Bones is so aggressive but Walter doesn’t let anyone shake him for so much of the match that the drama doesn’t come. That happened this time, too, but Bones caved in and went on the defense to make the other team look better. And while Callihan isn’t a heavyweight, he worked that pitbull style well (and the ECW-esque dog collar helps). Much like Chuck Taylor showed he was capable of more than he could show in the U.S. at 2008’s 16 Carat, I feel Callihan did it this year.
Winners: Walter & Callihan

16 Carat Finals: Shingo Takagi Vs. Drake Younger
Who thought this would be the finals? I wanted Younger to win me over here, as aside from the Walter match he was completely unimpressive in the tournament. No surprise for a deathmatch wrestler, but he can take a lot of punishment. He still clearly doesn’t know how to use it particularly well. I’ve watched too many years of hardcore wrestling to be excited by guys bending chairs and bleeding. Why did Shingo bring in weapons when he was essentially a neutral character for the whole tournament? What’s made better by this guys bleeding on each other? The number of headdrops and shots to the head crossed into Necro Butcher territory for me – where it’s sickening rather than enthralling, all for show and there’s little showmanship or wrestling sense about it. I’ve seen Danielson and McGuinness make headbutting seem like the most intense thing in the world. This wasn’t even close. I remain convinced that Shingo can be great with the proper singles opponents, but he is not the workhorse my fellow wrestling writers praise him to be. Younger is incredibly giving as an opponent and is improving, but he was not nearly as qualified for this spot as several other men in the tournament.
Winner and 16 Carat Champion: Shingo Takagi

Final Thoughts

Thank God for Shingo winning. Once Sabin, Black and Danielson were out, there was nobody in his league. I wish we could have seen Sabin Vs. Shingo, and hopefully this victory means Shingo will face Danielson or Bad Bones on a later visit. But looking at wXw cards since then, it seems they largely let the tournament winner fade – understandable due to flight costs, but disheartening.

Seeing the likes of Callihan and Stevens here, I was actually dumbstruck. If they weren’t in ROH, I’d recommend hiring them. But they’re actually in the company, simply not used in this capacity – Callihan is a jobber and Stevens is as bland as possible. With some proper metal entrance music and a push, they could make a great wrecking crew sprint team.

Another thing I was struck by was the crowd. Sure, it’s the same atmosphere as last year, but sheesh. In America we have a stereotype of the more intellectual, snooty European. And while you wouldn’t expect an Oxford philosophy group to hit Oberhausen, it’s funny to see a crowd that fulfills the worst indy stereotypes. They chant everything at any provocation, and when nothing’s going on, they’ll happily chant “This is Awesome!” or “Please Don’t Die!” to be ironic. At multiple points they went from chanting “Best in the World” at Bryan Danielson to “Boring!” within seconds. They sing drinking songs and will cheer any kind of action, which is great for match heat, but incredibly annoying after a few matches. Bryan Danielson and Chris Sabin, arguably the best wrestlers in the tournament, played off the negative heat well. Most just ignored anything but the pops.

I don’t know who you could call tournament MVP. Danielson and Sabin were great, but fell out early and shined in non-tournament matches. They certainly performed the best over all three nights, and I’d happily give the show award to either of them. I lean towards Danielson for stirring things up by winning their top belt and for pulling double duty. Sabin deserves massive credit, though, for being a TV star who flew across the world to lose to three guys on three nights. Black is an arguable contender for having what might be the two best matches of the tournament, against Sabin and Shingo respectively.

Once again the outsiders made this tournament, though towards the end they also showed their shortcomings. Bad Bones, Big Van Walter, Tommy End, Emil Sitoci and Absolute Andy showed varying levels of skill, but all contributed to a fun three nights. While the tournament pales in comparison to last year, neither being as strong in brackets nor producing anything on the level of Saint Vs. Quackenbush, these three shows set the bar for indy tournaments. Here’s looking forward to Battle of Los Angeles.

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