ROH Joe vs Punk II 10/16/04 Chicago Ridge, IL
1. x-Delirious vs o-Jay Lethal (8:19) high-angle Dragon suplex hold
It is fitting that ROH is booking Jay Lethal as Samoa Joe's protegée, because like Joe he's someone without talent that the company is shoving down your throat and having him beat clearly superior wrestlers. Delirious looked fantastic here. Because of the length, they could only do a dojo match that even included Raw flopping after spots three minutes in - yet even that was enough to show who was the real talent. Force-feeding us Jay is just Gabe Sapolsky and his irrational ego "proving" to everyone that he can create a star out of nothing. *½
2. o-Tracy Brooks vs x-Daizee Haze (3:44) pinfall (lariat)
Tight little exhibition to show that "theyum wummunfolk mebbe kin akshly ristle!" carried by the clearly superior Haze, who, of course, loses. I'm beginning to detect a theme.
3. Four Corner Survival: x-Angel Dust vs Trent Acid vs Matt Sydal vs o-Josh Daniels (6:34) German suplex hold
Typical undercard form filler. The main thread was Angel Dust vs Daniels, which looked pretty decent for what it was. Acid and Sydal had very little ring time. The silly finish involved Acid and Daniels simultaneously hitting finishers; the ref counts for Daniels and not Acid and, well, no one watching cares. It may be time to work out a different way to incorporate wrestlers on an undercard, ROH. This was a complete waste of seven minutes. *
4. Dan Maff & x-B.J. Whitmer vs Chad Collyer & o-Nigel McGuinness (16:26) jackknife hold
This was embarrassingly stupid. Collyer & McGuinness are accompanied by Ricky Steamboat, Maff & Whitmer by Mick Foley. ROH is doing a terrible Steamboat-Foley technical wrestling vs hardcore wrestling feud (I guess Steamboat isn't worried about Generation Next anymore). Collyer & McGuinness begin the match with exclusive armsmanship on both opponents. Less than five minutes in, the Carnage Crew run in and brawl with Maff & Whitmer so the referee throws the match out. Steamboat flies into a rage and shows the superiority of his technical style by chasing the Crew off with a chair. Mick Foley then restarts the match under hardcore rules (because he can apparently do that, now). They brawl around until Steamboat comes back and yells at Nigel to do technical wrestling. He obliges and wins with a jackknife out of the Artful Dodger sequence. I was hoping ROH would abandon wannabe-Raw segments like this, but alas no. *½
5. H.C. Loc & o-Tony DeVito vs T.J. Dalton & x-Davey Andrews (4:22) pinfall (2nd rope spike piledriver)
Dalton & Andrews are students from ROH's wrestling school. They were "supposed to" have a singles match against each other to start the show but the Carnage Crew jettisoned them Nitro style. So, instead, the rookies get to be jobbed out in the middle of the card. This is really turning into the worst undercard ROH has produced in 2004.
6. Homicide & x-Rocky Romero vs Roderick Strong & o-Jack Evans (17:31) pinfall (630° Senton)
This card's first attempt at a genuine wrestling match is a confusing heel vs heel clash where dastardly Generation Next members - including the evil, chair-wielding Roderick Strong - decide to just act like the faces because what the hell, no one is at the show to watch any of them anyway. Though at the bell they set sail on the Good Ship Brawlypop, the voyage lasts but a couple minutes before they sink into the relaxing bath of ROH Tag Team Madlibs. Of course Evans is the one to get mugged most of the time and true to the yellowing, decaying single script these tag matches use, he gets the win. The only thing really wrong with this was a poor performance by the referee. The guy seemed lost and uncertain a lot of the time, and his poor positioning killed some of the drama the wrestlers were going for. The fans seemed to enjoy this, but there's nothing here that will stick in anyone's mind after it's over. **½
7. I Quit Match: o-Alex Shelley vs x-Jimmy Jacobs (16:47) Border City Stretch
ROH is cheating a bit by claiming Shelley & Jacobs have a "heated rivalry." They're travelmates and do indeed feud extensively elsewhere on the indies (particularly in IWA Mid-South), but here in ROH they've only had two singles matches and a handful of meetings in tags - so springing an "I Quit" match randomly like this is rather weird for a detail-obsessed promoter like Sapolsky. But they certainly go at it like hated rivals and do it to a level most people probably didn't expect in an ROH ring. Shelley makes Jimmy quit, but not before tearing up his head with a spike, multiple shots with a kendo stick, chair attacks to the head and all sorts of creative brawling on the floor. Jacobs naturally fits into the savagely bullied babyface role, and did it well here. He fought his heart out and refused to give up until he had no other choice. I'd love to see what sort of psychotic madness they could produce if given a main event and ten more minutes. ***
8. ROH World Title (3rd,26): v-© Samoa Joe vs v-C.M. Punk (60:00) full time draw
Last time (see below), Punk had a two-pronged strategy to wear Joe out. The rope-a-dope had almost disasterous consequences while the grinding headlocks seemed to be effective. Punk has learned, levelled up, and modified his tactics. Integrating Bryan Danielson's success with aggressive striking, Punk abandoned the rope-a-dope and challenged Joe evenly on that plane while trying to tilt things in his favor by increasing his use of the headlock and maintaining his crafty technical approach. Though Joe had wised up to many of Punk's tricks and developed counters (and even counters to Punk's counters), the increased head attacks made him desperate. During the first 25 minutes or so, the action was predicated on Joe trying to escape the headlock. He finally does by shoving himself and Punk through the ropes and landing a crazy backdrop on the floor - one of the match's most memorable moments. Down the final 15-20 minutes, both men blast away, incredulous that the other cannot be put down, culminating in Punk landing four straight near-falls with time running out (including a moonsault press). As the time limit expired, it was Joe that hit a top rope Muscle Buster, synergising with Punk having hit a Pepsi Plunge in the previous match; in other words, each man has been able to connect with their strongest, guaranteed match-ending finisher but once, leaving them dead even across these two encounters.
Structurally speaking, this was less a "new" match and more a revision and expansion of the first 60-minute draw. They deleted most of the cynical elements but in doing so sacrificed energy that was needed down the stretch. Perhaps because of this, the final 20 minutes - instead of accelerating to a boiling finish that puts you on the edge of your seat, not having a clue how it's going to end - collapsed to a dreary pattern of spot, near-fall, slump, repeat. Suspension of disbelief was even more shredded than in the first match because most of those permutations involved Punk making Joe look immortal. Finally, I can say without exaggeration that the finish was the worst I've ever seen in a 60-minute draw. While yes, both guys' homerun finishers come off the top rope, two guys pawing at each other while sitting on the top rope for three full minutes while time expires just looks ridiculous - especially in exaggeratedly rules-conscious ROH, where you're allegedly given a five count to get off the top rope!
This match was probably even in quality with the first one. The latter had some flagging, silly moments in the first two thirds but an exciting oudou finishing stretch; this one had a more interesting first two thirds but a contrived finishing stretch. In all, that's the operative word, here: this encounter simply felt more contrived. At no point during his flurry of near-falls did anyone think Punk was going to win, while as usual Joe was just a hand puppet. Yet it's the guy who couldn't call pitches at a tee-ball game that looks superhuman. Punk pulled out everything he had, controlled every aspect of this match, yet in 120 minutes it's ultimately served to do nothing but fictionally validate Samoa Joe. C.M. Punk does not look any closer to winning the title. This was genuinely good, but in the same frustrating way as the Joe-Danielson match. Indeed, Joe's kicking out of absolutely everything Punk threw at him was even more exasperating than his illogical eruption of offense to dispatch Danielson. You're left with a fabulous individual performance, but upon watching these two matches, who wouldn't fantasise about how it would look if Punk was with an equal talent? ***1/2
Dayton, OH 6/12/04 "World Title Classic" [ed. note: This review supercedes my previously posted analysis.]
ROH World Title (3rd,18): v-© Samoa Joe vs v-C.M. Punk (60:00) full time draw
Samoa Joe is like PRIDE-era Wanderlei Silva: a savage, unbeatable badass who doesn't just defend his title, he utterly destroys those foolhardy enough to think they could take it from him, and loves every second of doing it. The average match time of Joe's seventeen previous title matches is 15 minutes. Punk, who had previously been dispatched by Joe in a mere 13 minutes in a non-title match on 8/16/03, thus formulated an advanced strategy: wear the big man down. Utilise your superior technical and psychological skills to drag the match out, grind away, make him frustrated and exhausted and intelligently pick your moments. This is the kayfabe scenario. In performance reality, this crafty technician vs badass striker dichotomy isn't remotely a battle of equals between specialists of conflicting styles. C.M. Punk is composer, orchestrator, principal lead and conductor all in one man. Samoa Joe is simply an instrument - and he was definitely not crafted by Stradivarius.
As the genuine talent he is, Punk's direction from the podium was excellent. He knew exactly what he wanted this encounter to look like. To Joe's credit, he did what he was told, but because Punk had to carry 100% of the action, as his tactics unfolded much of the match felt like the champion-challenger dynamic was flipped. On the other hand, that could be stated as part of the story since Punk is the first challenger going out of his way to make Joe work and not fall into the one-dimensional trap Joe's other victims fell into. Depending on how deeply you want to read into this performance, it could even be regarded as somewhat meta on Punk's part, but however you want to look at it this match demonstrated a level of craftsmanship not really seen in ROH since the Danielson-Aries match of 8/4. Here, however, Punk fixed many of the flaws (and indeed, failures) of that bloated overreaching. Throughout the contest, Punk had two clear tactics: wear Joe down with grinding headlocks and play rope-a-dope, even going so far as to entice Joe into firing strikes. The headlock worked - not only did Joe get frustrated and dragged later into a match than he's ever been before, Punk came close to winning late with a sleeper. The rope-a-dope, conversely, failed. Joe's strikes were just too much, blasting straight through Punk's defense to rock him on a couple occasions. Eventually, Joe was able to bore into something more akin to his usual match style and the final 15-20 minutes saw a more accelerated, pyrotechnic clash as both men realised time was running out. In the final 10 minutes, they traded near-falls, Punk even landing his Pepsi Plunge finisher but being unable to cover due to damage inflicted on his knees. Though Joe couldn't connect with any of his big finishers, when the time limit expired they were roughly even on near-falls. At sixty minutes, we're left thinking that Punk had the match but ran out of time, while at the same time Joe is more than we and Punk ever thought he was.
This match wasn't perfect - there were some cynical moments of stalling, including both men screwing around with a fan and a sleeper hold late that lasted a full two minutes - but for the most part Punk was able to craft around Joe a genuine, competitive epic as opposed to an exhibition of showing off to get noticed. While it is undeniable that Punk's work was deliberately aiming for a 60-minute match, the strong, at times even incredible effort from both can forgive the demanded suspension of disbelief. It's frustrating that the inferior talent is the champion and that Punk's skills can hypnotise people into thinking that Joe is one of the best, but that's the irony that comes from being a ring general of Punk's ability. In the final analysis, ironically or not, he was able to single-handedly create the best singles match in ROH history to date. ***1/2
They called this "Joe vs Punk II" and boy were they not kidding. Though Shelley & Jacobs produced a crazy little bonus, by and large this was a one match show. The I Quit match aside, it almost seemed like everyone was under deliberate orders to suck just so the main even would look better (and yes, that really is a recognised carny promoting technique). In any event, the match the show was named after delivered. As with anything, there were elements in it that could be nitpicked away if you really want to dislike it, it is not the legendary five-star epic some claim it is, but it is without question a fascinating second chapter in a notable trilogy the likes of which wrestling has not seen in some time.