A Decade of Honor – Ring of Honor 2003 (Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Raven)

New Markets – West Mifflin, PA; Queens, NY; Cambridge, MA; London, England; Elizabeth, NJ; Dayton, OH; Fairfield, CT; Glen Burnie, MD; Spencerport, NY; Framingham, MA

ROH kicked off 2003 in the new market of West Mifflin, PA, to build up to their “One Year Anniversary Show.” Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson met for the first time, with Joe getting the win, and the team of Low Ki & AJ Styles beat Christopher Daniels & Xavier in a No Holds Barred match in the main event.

But the big news would be the next month in Queens, as ROH celebrated one year of existence. Steve Corino beat Homicide on the undercard, kicking off a famous riot that many at the time believed was real (it wasn’t). Also on the card Jay Briscoe defeated his brother Mark in their “last” match against each other, Danielson gained revenge with a victory over Joe, and the main event scramble match featuring a bunch of high flyers ridiculously went over 30 minutes. In one of the best matches in company history, Paul London beat AJ Styles and Low Ki in a triple threat match to earn an immediate title shot against Xavier, which he lost.

The following month was one of the most important in the company’s history. At the company’s debut in Cambridge, MA, “Expect the Unexpected,” Raven made his debut and CM Punk immediately called him out. Punk, an avowed straight edge warrior, and Raven, a well-known substance abuser in his ECW days, were natural opponents. Their feud, which stretched all the way until November, made a star out of Punk and reinvigorated Raven’s stagnant career. Also on this show, Samoa Joe beat BJ Whitmer, Homicide, and EZ Money in a four corner survival match to earn a shot at the ROH Title.

At the very next show back home in Philadelphia, Samoa Joe capitalized on his momentum and defeated Xavier for the Title. This kicked off an epic title reign that would truly establish the ROH Title as one of the most prestigious belts in America. Joe defended the gold against Doug Williams, Homicide, Dan Maff, Paul London, BJ Whitmer, Christopher Daniels, Jay Briscoe, AJ Styles, and Mark Briscoe. He also went overseas, defending the title at a joint ROH/FWA show in London against Zebra Kid, and in Germany against Ares in October. This established the ROH Championship as the ROH World Championship, and Joe carried the title like a true world champion all year long.

Over the summer the company ran its biggest and best show to date, kicking off another one of their longest running traditions. “Death Before Dishonor” was the debut in Elizabeth, NJ, which would be the site of many memorable ROH shows in the coming years. Former WWE star Jeff Hardy made his debut to a chorus of boos and proceeded to have a horrible triple threat match against Joey Matthews and Krazy K. CM Punk beat Raven in a great dog collar match, but then suffered the ultimate indignity when Tommy Dreamer showed up to help Raven tie Punk to the ring ropes and pour beer down his throat. In the main event Samoa Joe defended his title against Paul London in London’s last match in the company. It was the first time a big name left ROH to go to WWE, something that would become more common over the years.

ROH struggled a bit to establish their tag team division, but by the end of the year they had their centrepiece – Jay and Mark Briscoe. The year began with the Prophecy still in control of the titles, but they dropped them to AJ Styles & Amazing Red at “Expect the Unexpected.” AJ and Red held them until September, when an injury to Red caused them to vacate the titles. The Backseat Boyz won a gauntlet match for the titles at “Glory By Honor II,” but then quickly dropped them to the Special K duo of Izzy and Dixie at “Tradition Continues.” Two weeks later at “Main Event Spectacles,” the Briscoes captured the belts and successfully defended them against Samoa Joe & AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels & Dan Maff, and the SAT before year’s end.

Over the year, more special guests appeared, including Konnan (in an embarrassing performance), Dusty Rhodes, Jim Cornette, and Terry Funk. A couple of shows featured international flavor, notably the joint ROH/FWA show “Frontiers of Honor” in May and “Final Battle 2003″ in December, which featured stars from All Japan competing against ROH stalwarts. CM Punk & Colt Cabana beat Tomoaki Honma & Kazushi Miyamoto, AJ Styles beat Kaz Hayashi, Satoshi Kojima beat Homicide, and The Great Muta & Arashi beat Christopher Daniels & Dan Maff to finish the series at a 2-2 tie.

Other notable events include Matt Stryker winning the Field of Honor Tournament with a victory over BJ Whitmer at “Final Battle 2003,” Homicide and Steve Corino engaging in a series of violent battles culminating in a Barbed Wire match at “War of the Wire,” and Alexis Laree departing to the WWE.

Match of the Year – AJ Styles vs. Paul London, “Night of the Grudges”
Wrestler of the Year – Samoa Joe
Tag Team of the Year – The Briscoes
Feud of the Year – CM Punk vs. Raven
Show of the Year – “Death Before Dishonor”

Coming up – ROH faces the single biggest challenge to their existence…

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