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“Ring of Honor began 2003 by entering into new territory and ended it with some of the best wrestlers from Japan gracing the ring, and in-between firmly established ROH as the premier wrestling company on the planet. Whether it be in Strong Style competition or high-flying exhibitions, tag team battles or in championship bouts, Ring of Honor proved itself the home of true no limits wrestling.
This was the year Samoa Joe made the ROH World Title, the year CM Punk broke through, the year AJ Styles excelled, and the year Paul London bid farewell to Ring of Honor. It was the year that Jay & Mark Briscoe began their dominance of tag team wrestling and the year that the Scramble Cage debuted. These 18 matches, many of which have been unavailable for many years, are just a glimpse at the amazing year that 2003 was for Ring of Honor Wrestling. Welcome to ‘Year Two’…”
MATCH #1: Samoa Joe vs. Bryan Danielson, Revenge on the Prophecy, 1.11.03
This was the first time these two ever squared off (as far as I know), and they would go on to do great things together. Joe hadn’t been with ROH for very long but he clearly had something special, and working with someone like Danielson so early in his run clearly show that ROH had plans for him. Getting to beat Danielson, as he did here, proved that point even further.
MATCH #2: Paul London vs. AJ Styles vs. Low Ki, One Year Anniversary Show, 2.8.03
These are three of the most important figures in early ROH, and this was the first time London and Styles had been in the ring together. All three are supremely athletic and they pulled off some amazing maneuvers and kept up an impressive pace throughout the match-up. With a title shot on the line, they all put it all out there and had a really tremendous match. London got the victory to earn his second shot at Xavier.
MATCH #3: ROH Championship Match – Xavier vs. Paul London, One Year Anniversary Show, 2.8.03
This is the immediate follow up to the previous match, because Xavier was a sneaky, chickenshit heel. London fought valiantly and had the crowd behind him the whole way but he was unable to take the title away from the Prophecy’s Xavier. The match was pretty good but the crowd was pretty deflated by the finish.
MATCH #4: ROH Tag Team Title Match – Christopher Daniels & Xavier vs. AJ Styles & Amazing Red, Expect the Unexpected, 3.15.03
Daniels and Donovan Morgan were technically the Champions, but fellow Prophecy member and current ROH Champion Xavier was allowed to substitute. Styles won this opportunity for his team by beating the Backseat Boyz, the SAT, and the Carnage Crew in a Scramble match earlier in the show. Red and Styles made a really fun team, and they were able to wrest the titles away from the Prophecy and become the second champions.
MATCH #5: Low Ki vs. Jody Fleisch, Night of Champions, 3.22.03
Fleisch was a highly touted talent from England, and Ki is of course Ki. This was a good match between the two, but in hindsight it appears as though Fleisch may have been a bit too highly touted. The match is still good but is far short of being a classic.
MATCH #6: ROH Championship Match – Xavier vs. Samoa Joe
This is when the ROH title took a major step up. I get what the idea was behind Xavier’s run, but it was hard for people to buy Xavier as the top guy, and since his matches rarely went on last the idea was even harder to get behind. Samoa Joe legitimized the ROH title in a lot of fans’ eyes and took them to the next level. The match is adequate, but the implications behind it mean so much more and make it a must-include on this set.
MATCH #7: Two out of Three Falls Match – Bryan Danielson vs. Paul London
I have reviewed this match recently on the Bryan Danielson: The American Dragon set, and it is indeed a classic. These guys are two of the best in ROH from the time (and in Danielson’s case, ever), and they went all-out for 40+ minutes. London earned the victory two falls to one, and would soon get another shot at the ROH World Title partially because of this match.
MATCH #8: Paul London vs. Christopher Daniels, Retribution: Round Robin Challenge II, 4.26.03
The Round Robin Challenge was a huge success in 2002, so it was brought back in 2003 and featured Christopher Daniels, Paul London, and Amazing Red. Both Daniels and London defeated Red earlier in the card, setting the stage for this showdown. This was a unique contest and a bit of a dream match for the time, and the match was definitely good. Daniels was able to secure the victory and thus win the Round Robin Challenge.
MATCH #9: AJ Styles vs. Paul London, Night of the Grudges, 6.14.03
This match was to determine the #1 Contender, and was the first singles match between these two incredible athletes. I truly believe this is a forgotten gem in the ROH canon and one of the best matches in ROH history. The two fought back and forth for over 20 minutes, and the match was declared a draw when both men pinned each other’s shoulders to the mat at the same time. London earned the title shot because he was ranked higher in the Top 5, but both men earned it after this display.
MATCH #10: ROH World Title Match – Samoa Joe vs. Dan Maff, Wrestlerave ’03, 6.28.03
Maff’s father had passed away the day before, and the commentators talked this up a lot on commentary. That being the case, Maff put in an impressive, gutsy performance under the circumstances. But I was never a big Maff fan in the first place, and he had no shot at beating Joe either way so this was a little perfunctory. It was a solid stiff big man versus big man contest, and Joe got the win to continue on his epic title reign.
MATCH #11: Fight Without Honor – Homicide vs. Trent Acid, Wrestlerave ’03, 6.28.03
This match got a lot of hype at the time, but it really doesn’t hold up. It’s a fun garbage brawl and they did some neat, dangerous spots, but there’s no semblance of selling or storytelling, and ending a hardcore match with a rollup is extremely lame. It was a big deal at the time so I can see why it’s on this DVD set, and I would have included it too.
MATCH #12: ROH World Title Match – Samoa Joe vs. Paul London, Death Before Dishonor, 7.19.03
This was the main event of the biggest ROH show to date, and also London’s last match in the company. The show had been running long and the fans had seen a lot so Joe and London had a lot to live up to. They had a good match but not a great one like they were likely capable of. London got the first big send off that ROH would become known for.
MATCH #13: CM Punk vs. AJ Styles, Tradition Continues, 10.16.03
Punk and Styles both had great years in 2003, but I believe this is the only time their paths crossed. They had a really good match at a forgotten show, but would soon cross paths again early in 2004 in the infancy of the ROH Pure Wrestling Title. Styles set the tone by winning this first match in just shy of 20 minutes.
MATCH #14: CM Punk vs. Steve Corino, Empire State Showdown, 10.25.03
These two have had a complicated love/hate relationship over the years, and that came through whenever Punk was on commentary, as he often was in 2003. This match is more remembered for both men’s extensive ring introductions than the time limit draw they battled to.
MATCH #15: Scramble Cage Match – The Backseat Boyz vs. The Carnage Crew vs. Special K vs. Jack Evans & Teddy Hart vs. The SAT, Main Event Spectacles, 11.1.03
This is a high point in the Scramble match era of ROH, featuring lots of guys doing dangerous flipping moves and jumping off the platforms placed in each corner of the cage. There is no psychology or anything like that to speak of, but the match delivers exactly what it promises in terms of high-flying action. This match is also remembered for Teddy Hart doing flips off the cage after it was over, earning the ire of the Carnage Crew and catching a beating for it. Hart later tried to claim he was unconscious and thus didn’t know what his body was doing and couldn’t feel the pain. He also said something about God and the cage being 30 feet, prompting one of Punk’s famous lines – “There is no God, and that cage wasn’t 30 feet.” Oh, and the Backseat Boyz won.
MATCH #16: ROH Tag Team Title Match – Jay & Mark Briscoe vs. Christopher Daniels & Dan Maff, War of the Wire, 11.29.03
The Briscoes had just won the tag team titles about four weeks before from Special K, and were set to establish the tag team division that had somewhat struggled up to that point. Daniels and Maff were established as the Prophecy, and wanted to tear down ROH and rebuild it in its own image, whatever that means. The match was decent but nothing supremely memorable, and the Briscoes retained.
MATCH #17: Fight Without Honor – John Walters vs. Xavier, Final Battle 2003, 12.27.03
This match came out of nowhere and stole the show amongst a very stacked lineup at Final Battle 2003. The two had engaged in a series of solid technical bouts but the feud never really caught fire until this blowoff. They used the weapons creatively and got the crowd into it the whole way. Probably the best match either guy had in Ring of Honor.
MATCH #18: AJ Styles vs. Kaz Hayashi, Final Battle 2003, 12.27.03
This match had some high expectations, but didn’t quite live up to them. Hayashi was known to American audiences from his time in WCW in the Jung Dragons. Something just never clicked with these two like it should have, and Styles got the win in about 15 minutes.
I LOVE these “Year” sets that ROH is doing and am getting excited to see what makes the upcoming sets. This is another winner in the series, and almost everything shown here is either a great match or an excellent representation of the time in ROH, and that makes it easy for me to recommend for new and old fans. You can purchase it at the ROH Shop.
Tags: cm punk, Daniel Bryan, Homicide, Low Ki, Paul London, Ring of Honor, ROH, Samoa Joe