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STUDIO: Koch Vision
MSRP: $12.99 (Both)
RATED: Unrated (Both)
RUNNING TIME: 206 minutes & 189 minutes
Sure, it’s all scripted, but still…damn.
Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Bryan Danielson, A.J. Styles, Matt Sydal, Mick Foley, Kenta Kobashi, Dragon Kid, Kenta, etc.
The Ring of Honor wrestling promotion has come out with two collections of some of their greatest matches, both delivering high intensity mat action.
If you caught my Summerslam review (here), then you know I’ve been a huge wrestling fan for over 20 years. It’s one of the few things that I’ve just never outgrown…which is kinda sad because I’d hop on a Big Wheel in a second if I could still fit in one. Regardless, my experience has been pretty mainstream in the wrestling world: WWF/E, WCW, AWA, World Class, all the usual suspects during that time. However I also grew up around Louisville, KY and there, back in the day, you could also get local and Memphis wrestling on the NBC station on the weekends, and I had a regular appointment with CWA (later USWA, later nothing) on Saturday afternoons, which had in-studio wrestling with a capacity of around fifty spectators. The damn thing looked like it was shot in a garage almost. It wasn’t the best wrestling to be had, but with Jerry “The King” Lawler, “Superstar” Bill Dundee, “Nightmare” Danny Davis, “Hotstuff” Eddie Gilbert, Dutch Mantell, Austin Idol and that whole crew, it was very rarely boring.
“That’s right sports fans, we’re digging deep into the vault to bring you the biggest, baddest, bloodiest rivalries ever!. First we’ll be starting off with the 1988 Calgary Olympics, where Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas had the deuling Carmens! Calgary’s also where the “Battle of the Brians” – that’s right, I’m talking about Boitano and Orser – got hot and heavy! Then we’ll finish up with 1994 in Lillehammer, where that scandalous bitch, Tanya Harding, tried to steal the gold from Nancy Kerrigan!! Afterwards, we’ll have a special career retrospective of Rudy Galindo…
“Dude…what the fuck are you talking about…?”
Now I’ve heard of Ring of Honor of course, which is a fairly new promotion, less than 10 years old, but up until now I’ve never managed to catch it. So when the chance came to grab a couple of their greatest hits, I was all over it. My thoughts? There’s some pretty damn good wrestling going on here, the best of which mirrors TNA’s X-Division, where, generally, it’s the smaller guys (that’s relatively speaking of course…any of them could wad up yours truly into meatballs) doing moves that you wouldn’t see anywhere outside of a wrestling game. There’s still a lot of the wrestling shenanigans going on of course, but when you get right down to it, there is just some top shelf mat action occurring here. And these two collections are supposed to be some of the best ROH has to offer.
The first is Best in the World, which essentially features challenge matches between ROH regulars and inported Japanese stars such as Kenta Kobashi, Dragon Kid, Genki, Hariguchi, etc. Here’s a quick breakdown of the matches:
Announcer: “…and in a surprise, special stipulation of tonight’s match, the loser will immediately have to have sex with Joanie Laurer.”
Samoa Joe: “Wait, wait, wait…WHAT??!!“
Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi
Joe is great as always, hitting many of his well known moves and holds, including the muscle buster, ole kick, power bomb, and locking in many submissions including an STF, crippler crossface, etc. On the flipside, Kobashi is supposedly a legendary Japanese grappler, but here he’s a snooze. His most exciting moves are a couple of half-nelson suplexes and a sleeper suplex. But he relies damn near exclusively on around a thousand karate chops to the chest. If Joe weren’t practically carrying the whole match on his considerable shoulders, I wouldn’t have even bothered. Kobashi gets the win with a lariat.
AJ Styles & Matt Sydal vs. Dragon Kid and Genki Horiguchi
This is more like it. Quick, high-flying moves and great mat wrestling techniques highlight this clash between the Phenomenal One, Sydal, and two Japanese wrestlers. Lots of back and forth, great counters and high impact moves at their best. This would be an X-Division match in TNA, and is what WWE is currently sorely lacking. Styles reverses a Horiguchi roll-up into the Styles Clash for the win.
“It was BULLSHIT!! Gojira would have kicked the shit out of Kong…”
Kenta vs. Austin Aries
This is another good back-and-forth affair between former ROH Champ Aries and another Japanese star, Kenta. Aries dominates the early going, with a bunch of impressive submissions. Later, the tide shifts and Kenta eventually pulls off a bunch of moves of his own, including a sweet top rope superplex to sit-out powerbomb. He eventually gets the win with a Go To Sleep.
Samoa Joe vs. Kikutaro
This is more of a farcical match-up in a feud between Mick Foley and Joe. Foley has some guy in a Foley mask and get up wrestling Joe under hardcore rules, with Foley frequently interfereing. Joe eventually gets the win with the muscle buster.
This was the first – and consequently last – time that Punk would tell The Great Khali what he really thought of Get Smart…
Lance Storm vs. Bryan Danielson
This was an open invitation match from ROH World Champion Danielson, which was answered by the semi-retired Storm. Good technical matchup, with a lot of on-the-mat wrestling going on. Danielson gets a lot of heat from the crowd in the pre-match. Storm looks to be in the best shape I’ve ever seen him. The layoff hasn’t hurt him in the least. Late in the match, some impressive moves including a super back suplex by Danielson on Storm, then a piledriver – something we don’t get to see much of anymore – by Storm on Danielson. Danielson eventually hooks in the Cattle Mutilation (a double underhook bridge submission) for the win. Good match.
Terry Funk vs. C.M. Punk
Punk looks a lot different here than I’m used to seeing him, sporting more of a skateboarder motif with a bandana and long shorts. If you saw Beyond the Mat, you, like me, would be wondering why Terry Funk is still doing this job. Not because he can’t still wrestle – because he can – it’s just that most guys don’t even last half as long as Funk in the wrestling biz…especially not doing the kinds of hardcore matches that Funk has built his career on. He has almost no cartilage in his knees and he looks like a guy who’s lived a hundred years in bars, dives or – dare I say it – Roadhouses. Anyway, this match starts out as a straight up affair, before devolving into a hardcore match. Funk “blows out” his knee doing a moonsault and then punks works it over for the next five minutes or so with spinning toe-holds and figure-fours. Eventually, Punk refuses to release a figure-four after a five count and is disqualified. This match was wholly forgettable.
“Dude, you didn’t…did you just – “
“Yeah, sorry about that. Must have been that three bean chili I had for lunch.”
“Jesus! That’s just…that’s just so damn unprofessional…not to mention inconsiderate…”
Naruki Doi & Shingo vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe
From Liverpool, this is for the ROH Tag Team Championship. There are a few moves which highlight this match, one being a springboard corkscrew off the top rope by one of the Briscoes, another being a double DDT / STO by Shingo on both brothers at once, and a shooting star moonsault onto the floor again by one of the Briscoes. In the last five minutes of the match, I think I saw more moves and more finishers than on three episodes of RAW. Shingo gets the win with some kind of cradle driver. Awesome match.
Claudio Castagnoli vs. El Generico
This was the finals in the ROH 2007 Race To The Top tournament. Castagnoli is a well-built but lean Swiss, El Generico is a beanpole white wrestler (don’t know who) who is passing himself off as a Luchador. This starts out as what could just be a comical match, as El Generico is playing up his comedic gimic, but this is a surprisingly good encounter, with a lot of back and forth, countermoving and high impact moves. Castagnoli eventually wins it with a super Ricola Bomb (a modified sit out powerbomb). Great and fun match.
“Uhm…I’m sorry…I just…I’m feeling a little emotional right now…”
Nigel McGuiness vs. Takeshi Morishima
This is a World Title match with McGuiness challenging the champion Morishima. Morishima looks just like a Japanese Terry Gordy and McGuiness is a well-built and lean Brit. This is another back-and-forth contest, with almost half of the match taking place outside the ring. McGuiness is known for a rebound lariat, in which he springs off the second rope to deliver a jawbreaker clothesline. He hits it a couple of times, but Morishima gets three codebreaker back suplexes in a row to retain. Pretty solid match.
The other disc is Greatest Rivalries, which highlights some of ROH’s best feuds. Here’s how those matches stack up:
“Wait, wait wait…so you’re telling me I should have sunk my tax write-offs into annuities?”
“Well I thought I made that pretty obvious with my PowerPoint presentation…”
Raven vs. CM Punk
This is a dog collar match from 2003, meaning that both combatants are tethered together by a chain and collars. This is essentially a hardcore match, with the inevitable crimson masks quickly making appearances. At this point, I’m really not impressed by bloody matches. I’ve seen some of the best and there’s nothing really new to be mined in that area. I’m more impressed by bloody lips or noses than I am a grappler blading his head. Hardcore matches also aren’t going to float my boat very much. This is basically a chair fest and it’s old real quick. CM Punk gets an assist from Colt Cabana and gets the win.
Samoa Joe vs. Homicide
This is a World Title match with a lot of very good back and forth action. Homicide, who’s giving up at leat 75 pounds to Joe, gives as good as he gets, taking some of Joe’s best maneuvers, including a devastating musclebuster that left me wondering how the hell Homicide wasn’t paralyzed afterward. Joe was off balance when he gave it to him and it looked like it could have legitimately injured Homicide badly. Joe wins it soon after with his naked rear choke.
AJ Styles vs. Jimmy Rave
There’s a special stipulation to this match in that Jimmy Rave had stolen Styles’ signature finisher, the Styles Clash. The only way to win this match is to use the finisher on the opponent, with the loser being banned from ever using it again. Mick Foley is rounding out his yearlong stint with ROH here as the special enforcer. Not a bad match, though not a great one. Styles hits the Clash from the turnbuckle through a table for the victory.
Jay & Mark Briscoe vs. Austin Aries & Roderick Strong
The Briscoes are challenging Aries and Strong for the titles in Liverpool. Friends, this is the match of both discs. It’s better than the Briscoes vs. Doi & Shingo, and that was an awesome match. Again with so many fantastic combinations: springboard Doomsday Devices, power bombs, drivers of every position and style, etc. Very much a back and forth contest, with all four guys pulling off just some incredible moves. Seriously, WWE needs to be studying this film and bringing some more of this stuff to its Disneyland wrestling. This match just kicks all kinds of ass. Aries and Strong retain with a backbreaker to a powerbomb by Strong to a 450 Splash combo from Aries. Awesome.
Okay, I’m signing up for wrestling school today…
BJ Witmer vs. Jimmy Jacobs
Shades of Megapowers implosion here as two former members of a tag team championship team go at it over a girl in a steel cage. Remember what I said about hardcore matches and blading? Uh…forget that. This is another jaw dropping match, with some unbelievable moves including a senton bomb by Jacobs onto Witmer through a table from the top of the cage. Jacobs also loses a tooth or two in this match, shades of Mick Foley and Undertaker in Hell in a Cell in ’98. This is another crimson maskathon, with railroad spikes, a barb wire bat, chair, table and a kitchen sink being used. Lacey Hayes also gets involved and gets a tombstone piledriver by Witmer for her efforts. Jacobs wins a hell of a match with the centon thru table move on Witmer. Wow.
Bryan Danielson vs. Austin Aries
This may be considered the best technical wrestling rivalry in ROH between two former ROH World Champs. This is the rubber match in a best two out of three series to determine a #1 contendor to the World Title. This is a superb technical match up, with the rivalry reminiscent of Flair / Steamboat. Both wrestlers getting many of their signature moves in here. There’s plenty of countering and high impact moves. Aries finally wins it with a brain buster, followed up by a 450 Splash. Another great match.
“Everybody into the…oh shit! There’s no water…!”
Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) vs. ROH
This is an invasion angle, with Samoa Joe heading up a team of ROH wrestlers, including BJ Witmer (with a “broken neck”) and Colt Cabana against a team of CZW wrestlers, none of whom I immediately recognize, except for Claudio Castagnoli, although one of them is a guy named Super Dragon. This is pretty much a brawl the whole way, with many wrestlers getting off several of their moves. CZW goes after Witmer’s neck, and Castagnoli gets the win after a muscle buster on Witmer.
Roderick Strong vs. Erick Stevens
This is a rivalry that goes back to Florida Impact Pro (FIP) Wrestling, and it’s for the FIP World Title, which Strong had held for 13 months. Some unusual stipulations with FIP rules: there’s a 20-count (rather than a 10) on the outside, and the title can change hands on a countout or DQ. This is yet another solid match. Stevens gets the win with a couple of lariats followed by a powerbomb.
“Uh, AJ, before you Clash me into oblivion…I’m seeing something down here you might want to have your doctor take a look at…”
All in all, this is some of the best wrestling I’ve seen in a while. I’m a loyal watcher of WWE, but truly good matches are so few and far between with them these days it’s easy to forget what it’s like. So many of their guys are so bulky that the really fast paced, move / countermove wrestling that I love is nearly impossible. Furthermore, the wrestlers they do have who are capable of that type of match: Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy among others, have had their repertoire so watered down and repetitive that I can predict what they’re going to do before they do. ROH has some really good grappling. I mean really good: Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Austin Aries at their best. I look forward to future discs from them.
The discs feature pretty good camera work, as the cameramen put you virtually right in the middle of the match. No extras though.
ROH: Greatest Rivalries: 6.4 out of 10