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The Riren 100 Part 3

Posted in In My Head by Jack at 16:14, Dec 29 2008

By John Wiswell

18. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Suwama (April 9) ? AJPW: Champions Carnival 2008 ? It was fascinating to watch Tanahashi simultaneously put on the best athletic performances of the tournament and simultaneously be the most hated man in the building. He was the backbone of the Carnival this year, but his best performance was in the finals. Suwama was AJPW?s last chance to show up the outsider, and the crowd simply lived through him. He embodied what they wanted through his normal tough guy attitude, but what elevated the match was how they turned the scenario into something that felt so personal. It was personal in the slap instead of a clean break in the opening, personal again in the way Tanahashi tried to throw with the stronger man early on, and Suwama?s indignant palm strikes in an attempt to escape the Reverse Indian Deathlock. That spirit was present much later ? Suwama reversing a trademark flying move into a Saito Suplex, and in him vindictively attacking Tanahashi?s leg in reprisal for his Dragon Screws. But they graduated from that simple level to Suwama simply trying to destroy this guy who no one could eliminate, and Tanahashi not merely playing the comeback kid, but the guy who was just too good. That was the crucial difference, making Tanahashi a rare but incredibly effective underdog heel. And that seamlessly transitioned to the exhaustion of two guys who had reached the end of the tournament, unloading their high-end offense without success. Tanahashi simply being too good made even one big move, like the double-arm-capture Suplex, a match-threatening move even after Suwama had just dropped several bombs. I?d wish Tanahashi was allowed to be like this more often in NJPW, but it was really the kind of story you can only tell as an outsider.
17. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (July 26) ? ROH: New Horizons ? An improvement on all the themes of their previous matches. Danielson?s technical assaults were more disgusting and creative, from the way he bent Black?s leg in the opening minutes to the late-match transition from a Sleeper into a Jujigatame. Black was the upstart, disrespectful, underhanded and just opportunistic enough to be a threat, especially in taking advantage of Danielson?s few mistakes, like the flubbed Neckbreaker on the apron. In nearly all things Black showed an amazing athleticism that merely needs to be tempered with the experience and toughness that comes with time, but in being able to take the match to his opponent more than at Breakout or Southern Navigation, he pressed the notion that he was improving faster than most ROH stars. There?s a temptation to list all of the great false finishes and moments, but I?ll let them speak for themselves for those who have seen them, and once again point out that they didn?t only work because they were cool. Every ROH show has something cool-looking on it. This was head and shoulders above the average ROH match because of how well Danielson meshed with Black, how they accented each other?s offense, and finding that medium between smart wrestling and sprinting.
16. Nigel McGuinness Vs. El Generico (August 15) - ROH: Age of Insanity ? Say what you will about "kick out mania" in McGuinness?s title defenses, but some of them work. This is probably the best example of it. Generico has this connection with indy audiences and a sympathetic trait in the way he bumps and sells that makes the most outrageous kickouts and comebacks more exciting rather than hurting a match, and making him the best available candidate for this kind of a match. Not that he relied on it as heavily as he did against Castagnoli at Without Remorse; he wrestled smartly, with a lot of scouting for counters, and a righteousness when he stood up for himself that only got richer as the match went on. McGuinness responded by starting out unbeatable and gradually becoming completely shocked with this bean poll who would not submit or stay down. McGuinness owned his offense better than perhaps in any match of his up until this point, placing it all well, but delivering it with more attitude, like methodically bending Generico?s arms in holds. All of Generico?s logical and brilliant little counters seemed to get less expectable as things went on, and set up perfectly for McGuinness to start countering him. It was just another floor in the building of Generico as a star (sorry for the pun). Steen?s appearance was a classic tag team moment, working so much better as an inspiration than an interloper in their Glory By Honor 7 rematch. It was a match about unfathomable guts, and it would be difficult for ROH to do it better without having the underdog win.
15. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (September 19) ? ROH: Driven 2008 ? While they started out like a force, Steen & Generico soon had to rely on their best tricks just to win back the flow of the match. Black was simply too quick and resourceful, and Jacobs too efficient an opportunist for them to keep control, frustrating them with a mix of tactics and sheer ability. They warranted a highlight reel of Steen & Generico?s best from their biggest matches throughout the year, like the combo from the Yoshino & Doi Dragon Gate Challenge 2 bout, the isolated Sharpshooter setup from Death Before Dishonor 6 against the Murder City Machine guns, and the finishers from earlier matches with the Age of the Fall. That "greatest hits" approach put the match on an amazing roll, especially as Black would hold out or Jacobs would break something up, only to fire the challengers up even more. Generico was at his best, living through the crowd?s enthusiasm, and hanging in multiple times, waiting for that one miscommunication that would cost Jacobs & Black. Ending it on the Package Piledriver & Brainbuster was perfect? their original finisher, a validation that they?ve always had it and the audience always knew it. Maybe ROH put off their title victory too long, but this was as great an ending as you could have had on that night.
14. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Austin Aries (March 29) ? ROH: Supercard of Honor 3 ? One of the drawbacks to a list like this is putting this match below the first. It really is a case of one being different than the other, and both are absolutely worth going out of your way to see. Here they changed things up so well, infusing more mat wrestling, and making exchanges based on the London Dungeon, knees and Horns of Aries just as exciting as the high impact offense of Rising Above. Aries went at McGuinness like a man possessed, embodying the phenomenal energy he had from the end of 2007 through the early part of 2008. The biggest thing for me was the suicide dive, which once again determined the course of a match. This time it destroyed Aries, and those moments where he was completely out of it were truly something special. It would have been an amazing title change had he pulled it out in his momentary comeback, but McGuinness?s victory was assured. The ending wasn?t executed quite like they wanted due to McGuinness?s lack of smoothness, but still worked to drive Aries out of the title picture. It?s been long enough, though, that I?m certainly ready for them to wrestle again.
13. Muscle Sakai Vs. "brother" YASSHI Vs. Takaku Fuke Vs. Fuuka Vs. Tetsuya Naito Vs. Ippei Ota Vs. Seiya Sanada Vs. Hikaru Sato Vs. Kiku-Jumbo Vs. Akira-Araya Vs. KUSHIDA Vs. TAKEMURA Vs. Danshoku Dino Vs. Sanshiro Chono (June 17) ? 14-person inter-gender inter-weight-class Battle Royale from Minoru Suzuki?s 20x2th Birthday Party - Have you ever seen a man thrown out of a battle royale when his opponents trick him with a surprise birthday celebration? Or a woman getting bodily ejected for not having a penis? Or a flock of wrestlers racing to pin a giant midget Jumbo Tsuruta (played by Kikutaro)? If one or more of the above has been missing from your life, track down Minoru Suzuki?s 40th Birthday Party (a Samurai TV special named for and presented by Minoru himself). You may see things higher on this list, but don?t be fooled: nothing has a better finishing stretch than this match, which includes slow motion, mood lighting, flashbacks and death by sword. I?m pretty sure that if you?ve never been to Sunday school you can still pass through Pearly Gates after you die by presenting present proof of purchase of this show. Treating arrivals more like run-ins than entrances led to so much comedy gold, and if any website has a "Cameo of the Year," Sanshiro Chono deserves it for coming out of nowhere to kick the roster to death, apparently for nothing more than having allowed one man to kiss another.
12. Austin Aries Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (June 2 ? ROH: Vendetta 2 ? Featuring some of the best images of any match ever to happen in ROH. They?re a promotion of noticeably smaller production budget than WWE and TNA, but Jacobs reversing the Brainbuster into his Guillotine Choke on top of the bleachers in front of a nasty fall, illuminated by the edge of the spotlight, was simply amazing. It was unsurprising for two guys with such a sense of drama to produce these moments, but their impact remained. That reversal also called to a preparedness for each other?s offense; where Jacobs had skewered Aries with the Spear through the ropes at A New Level, here Aries waited to the last second and kneed him in the temple. They seemed to walk in expecting it, too, leading to Aries waiting for the proper setup to his Heat Seeking Missile, and Jacobs doing the same with his running setup to the Guillotine Choke/End Times long after they?d returned to the ring. It went another level up with Aries?s brutal counter to that hold into his own Horns of Aries/Last Chancery, suggesting not just the steps they?d thought ahead, but how bitter they were. They looked out for chances to deliberately bait and break each other?s signature moves in disrespect. The physicality was apt for expressing animosity in almost every moment, and everything linked to something else in the match so that it could be technically less complex than something like what Aries had with Danielson at Take No Prisoners, but surpass it emotionally. Jacobs was the opportunist in things like grabbing the referee to make Aries pause in the middle of an offensive series, or something much more severe, like going for Aries?s cut. That latter attack was disturbing and I?d be happy to never see anything like it again, but it fit perfectly with Jacobs?s underhanded and vicious plan of attack as he rakes, bit and dug his fingers into the wound. Jacobs?s talent for the little things shown through, whether it was the perfect facial expression as he was slammed into a wall to suggest greater impact, or using a different kind of back rake than anyone else normally does and thus avoiding the stigma of that normally hackneyed move. Throughout 2008 Aries wrestled with a special intensity that channeled perfectly into crowd brawling and comebacks against Jacobs?s gory tactics. And while ROH has had a lot of exhilarating finishing sequences, Jacobs deliberately taking Aries to a point where he could only hit parts of his infamous combo rather than the whole thing set this apart, especially in the resulting finish. Not many people could turn Dropkicks into believable knockout blows in ROH.
11. Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho (October 5) ? Ladder Match from WWE: No Mercy ? Some people asked why Michaels would take Jericho?s alley-oop and climb right up the ladder for a possible victory moments in if he?d set up the match to extract revenge. It?s a fair question, and grudge matches are sometimes ruined by that kind of thing. But in context, minutes into the match, going for the easy win right there would have embarrassed Jericho. It was too ripe an opportunity not to pluck. That same desire to embarrass bled into his desire to injure when he saw the opportunity to hurt Jericho?s leg, leading to that series of punishment. Mostly, though, Jericho was the man possessed for the early period, frequently putting Michaels in painful holds he knew couldn?t win him the match, hitting flashy offense like a Springboard Shoulderblock to the outside, and smashing his head inside the ladder, often seeming more interested in making a point than in setting up or climbing a ladder. It never took away from the basic pettiness of Jericho?s approach to Michaels, which he returned to in moments of disability like after the escape from the Figure Four and kicking the ladder into his face for good measure. It was good on the simple level as well as the thoughtful, for after Michaels acted like such a superman in their Judgment Day match. Jericho was driven and bitter in great ways, like pretending to be woozy just long enough for Michaels to set up a ladder attack, and then kicking it into his face. The match went beyond that into more complex exchanges, as displayed in that one where Jericho then ascended the ropes intending to send Michaels falling to his doom, only to get thrown off, and things rolled on from there. Jericho?s desire to be Michaels (and be more than him) played through with obvious studying of HBK?s offense, baiting him for his offensive tropes and innovating in his own ways, trying to hurt him and steal his most famous match. That and Michaels?s heroic commanding act provided all the drama you needed for such a high stakes match. You have wonder how long they?ve wanted to use that finish, of both men holding onto the unfastened ends of the belt. It?s certainly one of the wrestling visuals of the year.
10. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Austin Aries & Bryan Danielson (June 7) ? ROH: Respect is Earned 2 ? They came out of the gate establishing dynamics, with the DQ-hiccup and Danielson and Black having to remind their partners that if they wanted to get at each other that they?d have to play it smarter. Better than any video package ROH could put together you got the concept of a potentially bitter rivalry between Black and Danielson, with a vicious feud between Jacobs and Aries. And in just three minutes they managed to make their guys look smarter and more mature than WWE and TNA?s rosters of supposedly unstoppable jocks that can do whatever they want without recourse. Aries went on to play an ass-kicking machine, not tagging in too often and thus becoming special whenever he broke up a pin (with some of the most personal pin-breaks in recent memory) or tagged in to punk out the other guys and go hog wild. Danielson was the competent standard for his team with lots of striking and mat wrestling that made sense and looked great, but also highlighted how gifted Black is in counters and mishaps. Black looked very capable throughout the match, more like a legitimate main-eventer than he did in the (still great) beating he took at Take No Prisoners. He can hang. Meanwhile Jacobs was less rational in his attacks, simple, brutal, and confused between winning the match (which mostly meant taking an advantage on Danielson) or attacking Aries. The interweaving stories on an athletic competition between Danielson and Black and a sometimes petty, sometimes incredibly intense feud between Aries and Jacobs made this one of the best tag matches I?ve seen all year. Usually two singles wrestlers teaming lend themselves to a certain kind of match, but Aries and Danielson?s gravitas and experience definitely elevated things. When Aries and Jacobs finally piled to the back Danielson and Black so effortlessly switched into final gear, almost like the end to a great singles match that emerged from a tag.
9. Kenta Kobashi & KENTA Vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima (June 14) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2008 in Yokohama- Eight minutes into the match Nakajima ran across the ring and booted Kobashi in the face. Kobashi has received a running boot while peacefully standing on the apron so many damned times that it?s become ironic, and for once he acknowledged that, not bending over in pain or falling to the floor, but threatening to climb in the ring and rip the little bastard?s head off. Before that there were fun moments, like the opening semi-mirror wrestling of Nakajima and KENTA, and the first showdown between Kobashi and Sasaki, but it was at that boot to little reaction when I knew I was watching something special. The Kobashi/Sasaki rivalry is more about making points than actual victories, and it was good to see Nakajima play into that. You could tell that theme of one-upmanship was present when Sasaki grabbed Kobashi mid-pose to reverse his chops with his own patented series of corner attacks. You could tell why they fought so hard to resist a simple Vertical Suplex. This is a different kind of exhibition wrestling than pure athleticism (though the Junior partners certainly showcased that), something many of Kobashi?s post-return matches have run on. This was one of the nights where it really clicked between Kobashi and his opposing veteran, and the match received a serious boost from the younger partners playing into it. How great was it when KENTA dropped the pretense of respect towards Sasaki, faked out Nakajima and charged the enemy corner with a flying boot? More performances like this could help build KENTA/Nakajima into something like the old generation?s Kobashi/Sasaki. By mid-match every wrestler established a dynamic with every other, even his partner, and was playing off them, with Sasaki roughing up KENTA and KENTA beginning to really stand up to him, while Nakajima got what he deserved at Kobashi?s hands. I?ve never been so happy to watch Nakajima take a beating. It got hotter with every new permutation of pairings; instead of the normal procedure of a guy tagging in and it registering that these two would now go at it, it was a treat to see whoever came in go at it again. The wrestlers responded to that vibe by getting even more serious and straightforward, like when KENTA went straight for the STO out of a counter to a simple kick. The fever they got at the end of the second third of the match would have sufficed, but the final minutes were beautiful chaos, with the veterans too preoccupied with their glorious brutality to recognize the amazing and match-threatening stuff happening feet away from them. American and European wrestling fans still mystified by how Japanese pro wrestlers connect to crowds would be well-served to study the structure and execution of this match.
8. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe (March 29) - Relaxed Rules Match from ROH: Supercard of Honor 3 - By far the best match between the Briscoes and any version of the Age of the Fall, making references to a slue of other quality encounters. The first half was the best crowd brawling I?ve seen anywhere since Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1, with Jacobs and Black doing almost as well at relentless and inventive crowd brawling as Steen and Generico had back then. They paced things so quickly that hardcore offense that would have been hackneyed in IWA:MS or tiresome in WWE was vibrant, and the producers had to keep switching cameras every few seconds to keep up. Mark Briscoe?s dive off the balcony was ballsy in itself, but this put Jay Briscoe in a 1-on-2 scenario, harkening back to the Briscoes? advantage at Final Battle 2007 - and just when the heroes thought they had rallied, Jacobs came back with an amazing counter to the Springboard Doomsday Device that was as beautifully executed as Marufuji?s counter in NOAH, but that fit even better into the story because Mark Briscoe was already so banged up from his own aerial antics. The Briscoes carried the table through crowd to an ovation like the Public Enemy, and drew the audience to a fever pitch like old ECW vets. All the spills onto chairs and nearfalls in the second half were cringe-worthy, but also exciting almost without compare. Such a strong story was executed so well with such intensity and variety that you can instantly remember why the Briscoes were so popular in 2007. This match had all the greatness of the Briscoes Vs. Steen & Generico feud of that year, all the more enjoyable because it came about in the finale (or what was supposed to be the finale - silly ROH).
7. Kenta Kobashi, Tamon Honda & Shuhei Taniguchi Vs. Takeshi Morishima, Takashi Sugiura & Naomichi Marufuji (February 21) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Second Navigation at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium #2 - Kobashi?s was the most exciting return to wrestling since Shawn Michaels to the WWF in 2002 (at least between the U.S. and Japan ? I need more Lucha in my life). His matches automatically had high passion from the crowd, and Kobashi showed himself to be in much better shape than we could have expected. Here, from his opening strike battle with Sugiura and on, Kobashi was on task the whole match (and every strike exchange he had with Sugiura was meaningful to some degree, not to mention just fun). They built up Kobashi?s confrontations with Marufuji and Morishima exceptionally well, using Marufuji first to build a whole chapter of attrition and offense on him. Marufuji has more sense of character, especially in the role of the disrespectful, competent upstart, and he served perfectly in the role of the first offender and first guy Kobashi?s team could really work over, setting up Morishima as a juggernaut for his team, and as an even more impressive force when he finally squared off with Kobashi. Kobashi and Morishima?s brawling at the end was savage, and worthy of taking place in a scale model of Tokyo. Taniguchi was a good punching bag with a very spirited exchange against Marufuji near the end, Honda was used sparingly but as a very effective (though limited) force, and Kobashi was the maestro, giving something to all three of his opponents while still looking strong. It?s heartbreaking that we may never get Kobashi at this level against Morishima at this level in singles.
6. Bryan Danielson Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (July 25) ? ROH: Northern Navigation ?Ring of Honor?s big, technically sound love letter to the Canadian wrestling fans. It showed when they worked the bridging Knuckle Lock into the Monkey Flip in a way that made sense for what might be the first time in any country this decade. Castagnoli was trying to break Danielson?s bridge on weight alone to conserve energy, but Danielson wouldn?t give. Using the same tactic with more force, Castagnoli tried to jump for more leverage, but when he went high enough, Danielson got his feet up to initiate a counter. But Castagnoli was still too sound and agile to lose it there, and flowed into the same counter when Danielson tried to float over and cover him. Neither man wanted to break the knuckle lock out of pride and fear of what the other was planning, leaving them open to possible pinfalls as they waited, only to end in a double bridge that led to another stalemate of offense. It seems that Castagnoli?s great singles matches in ROH feature these things done in hundreds of other matches a year, but make sense when he does them (like the Mexican Standoff opening his match with Morishima last year). This whole series was a testament to the detail-work throughout the match, and it brought up the same theme as their Vendetta 2 match: Castagnoli might be Danielson?s equal at everything, only stronger and taller. This time they expressed the theme more cohesively, through a lot more mat wrestling, less comedy, and integration of those humorous moments right into the dramatic arc of the match, like the imitations of Danielson?s catchphrase and signature moves that at once amused and subtly followed the crowd?s desire to root for the ROH founding father. It was supposed to be a respectful match of dueling good guys, but Castagnoli?s frequent frustrations, that crowd?s leaning and Danielson?s newly jocular approach to wrestling shifted it into a nearly unique situation where you could appreciate how well Castagnoli did something or how hard he hit, then immediately go back to sympathizing with Danielson. And it didn?t matter if Claudio Castagnoli the man (as opposed to the wrestler, two different things ROH fans sometimes confuse) was really the technical mind that Danielson is in the ring, because he?s damned good and showed that throughout here, putting on some mat and chain wrestling that very few people in the company have the talent to even attempt. Usually it?s Danielson who grinds an elbow into a joint to help a hold, or keeps changing his footing to balance leverage. Like most great modern technicians, they broke it up, able to throw in strikes, get to their feet with something new, or even add agility, like the height and grace in those Monkey Flips. One would go to striking and power moves only for the other to have the proper technical counter, particularly in how Danielson had scouted all of Castagnoli?s match-enders this time, responding to how he?d failed at Vendetta 2. That emphasis on technical wrestlers, smart counters to big offense and the ending to Vendetta 2 all came together for the perfect ending. If Castagnoli had these kinds of matches at the beginning of the year, he would have gotten a much better reaction come A New Level.
5. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Bryan Danielson Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Tyler Black (August 2) ? Four Corner Elimination from Death Before Dishonor 6 ? I love that a combo into a Neckbreaker by Black was a believable near-fall. It was a testament to how well this story was told, because Black has never won a match with that move, barely ever even does uses it, and it may have never ended a match in ROH history. It was all about what went into the match as a whole. The build to Castagnoli snapping was excellent. The match began with increasingly aggressive (though subtle) chain wrestling between him and Danielson, and as the night went on Castagnoli was unable to get one up on him, even when he thought Danielson was focusing on someone else. One such moment was Castagnoli catching Danielson at unawares and trying a Dead Lift German Suplex, but hesitating in the hold for just a moment let Danielson adjust and flip out of the throw. Thus it made so much more sense that when Castagnoli interrupted him possibly eliminating McGuinness, it was with another German Suplex in another unawares situation. Castagnoli got too carried away, and just like at Northern Navigation, Danielson only needed the one mistiming to keep his shoulders down in a technical pin. The ass-kicking Castagnoli handed down on the ring crew was great, and as far as screwy eliminations go it would be hard to surpass what he did with Danielson. McGuinness enriched it, laughing on the outside and keeping the referee safe ? not out of kindness, but because he knew he?d be able to pin Danielson in a minute. The four fulfilled so much up until then, giving competent flying, chain wrestling and big time striking that fleshed out most of what an ROH audience would crave, and created a general platform upon which anything could be done and be emotional later. All those cut-offs and chains of offense, and even McGuinness being so underhanded and cowardly, made that Neckbreaker nearfall possible. Nor did they rest upon it or go to as simple a story as McGuinness and Black?s Take No Prisoners bout. Black had inspired counters and reversals (like the showstopping aerial reversal into a Powerbomb ? how was that possible?), McGuinness cut his last challenger off with great simple tactics and references to Take No Prisoners, and in general they highlighted the best of Black?s underdog persona and the best of McGuinness?s beatable persona that managed to dodge the kick-out-mania that hindered some of their other performances. Here, those kick-outs meant as much as Castagnoli being unable to kick-out earlier.
4. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley (April 1 ? ROH: Tag Wars 2008 ? The emphasis leading up to the match was Shelley?s old issue with Jacobs, but they aimed for more than mere hate. Sabin and Black kicked things off with the fluid technical and athletic displays reminded people who had been hyped on a grudge between their partners that these guys had a better strength than expressing pure hatred, and wisely made the audience want more of this. By establishing that athletic rivalry they were able to drop in Shelley and Jacobs going at it at will while sustaining a flow all four guys were adept at keeping. It didn?t take away from what Shelley and Jacobs put in, as both were on the top of their game, and Jacobs was especially effective in his frequent attempts to choke out his old nemesis in his End Times Guillotine Choke. Their old rivalry thrived in pettiness, throwing chops like slaps and trying to set up more complex moves too soon. That rolled over into multi-man stuff with Black playing the best second you could ask for, interrupting Shelley?s advantages and daring to stop one of the great waves of combo attacks and begin one of his own, something Jacobs jumped right into. There have been many times this year I?ve wondered about Jacobs?s health and specifically how strong his leg is, but in this you couldn?t tell anything had ever been wrong, not just for the way he took it to Shelley, but how wildly he bumped. He made a Dropkick to his shin something special with an unexpected somersault; not overkill like people might complain about in other matches, but something that added to the moment. He did things like that all match long, knowing the angle to take the Shell Shock or fall from his End Times when caught with a Superkick. That level of attention to detail, not merely to how spectacular your offense looks or how deep into the artificial pace you are, but that level emphasis and consequence to the actions was a subtle part of why this match worked so much better than a lot of ROH tags. Yes, it was incredibly high octane, but if you watch again you?ll find each guy cycles out for a longer period of time on average than in most ROH tag main events, recuperating from the offense he?s eaten. When it led to inevitable instances of all four men being down it circumvented the ROH cliché because they actually earned it, rather than by simply doing a bunch of cool stunts like the Briscoes Vs. Aries & Ibushi tag right before them. And none of this is even to say that their action wasn?t on par with the normal ROH tag; it was well above it, but they presented it wisely as well as more crisply. You knew a match with Black, Sabin and Shelley would feature abundant well-timed combos. Oh, and a special shout-out to Jimmy Jacobs for taking most disgusting Skull Fuck I?ve ever seen.
3. Edge Vs. The Undertaker (August 17) ? Hell in a Cell Match from WWE: Summerslam - Their TLC match had the huge spots (including one that was more dangerous than anything in this match), but it didn?t string them together with a story as engrossing as this. This didn?t need any interference: it was Edge?s coming-out party after a long reign as Smackdown?s coward champion, and did more to make him formidable in half an hour than that entire reign did. He walked into the match psychotically resilient, playing off the Undertaker?s stoic character by moving in every direction and taking the action to him. He put himself out to hurt Undertaker, whether it was climbing in the corner a minute in for mounted punches that couldn?t last, Spearing him into the steel steps early on to hurt him down to his own level and get the kind of physical advantage that had made the Wrestlemania match competitive, or diving off the ladder to conclude a satisfying in-match story of his more familiar TLC offense within the Undertaker?s Cell. But it didn?t end there, and the two literally burst through that smaller story when they spilled to the outside one more time as Edge Speared him through the wall. That moment, and when Edge charged across the commentary tables for yet another huge Spear, had almost all the emotional impact of the Mick Foley Hell in a Cell falls, with neither being nearly as dangerous (though still brave for both men). They took all their supposedly "garbage" offense and framed it, teased it and created the enormous emotional components that have not existed on this level of intensity since Foley retired. They didn?t settle for amazing emotion, either, getting creative and sewing threads through the match, like setting up the tables and then not returning to them for fifteen minutes, or Edge?s hidden camera attack as a reference to the Hell in a Cell match he ruined. That camera shot could have ended the match, but it simultaneously couldn?t ? Undertaker would not let himself die there. Better, Edge was barely fazed, moving right on, because he?d brought a dozen dastardly (and many self-hazardous) plans with him. He had so much in his arsenal, from the variations on the Spear to the use of weapons to attacking Undertaker throughout the environment, that when the Undertaker got the advantage he couldn?t be ready for some of those elements to be turned on him. Undertaker using the tables, the camera and one deadly Tombstone was a great close to a match that elevated Edge long before it ended. This kind of performance could make a guy long beyond one month of television. This is something that should be remembered in promos and highlight videos for a long time. Edge deserves enormous credit because this was his match even moreso than TLC was ? his offense, his pacing, often overcoming the things he was doing to himself to break his opponent. The Undertaker, a master of character and well-rested from months off, was then easily able to hit a homerun from a supporting role, with well-timed comebacks and giving Edge plenty of high-end openings.
2. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Austin Aries (taped December 26, 2007, aired March 7) - ROH: Rising Above - No one takes a lariat like Austin Aries. Of the three major Lariats in this match, Aries flew like a madman for two of them, and sold the other like a total threat despite not being a knockout blow. That also played into the greatest strength of this match: Aries and McGuinness respected every piece of established offense, whether it meant fearing it, having an escape or counter prepared, fighting out of it, or looking seriously hurt by it. The only glaring flaw was McGuinness disregarding Aries's Brainbusters near the end, but that was absorbed by the atmosphere they built. There was so much studied, smart wrestling to this, despite the big offense (and that offense was truly built), not in the rapidfire way of Richards/Aries from Man Up, but in a slightly more methodical main event fashion that gave you time to relish what they were doing. Quite possibly the best singles match ROH has put on PPV.
1. Kenta Kobashi, KENTA, Atsushi Aoki & Akihito Ito Vs. Kensuke Sasaki, Katshuhiko Nakajima, Takashi Okita & Kento Miyahara (August 17) ? Pro Wrestling SEM and Kensuke Office: SEMex: Take The Dream Vol. 6 - This is how you structure an hour match (or at least, an hour elimination match). There was basic reflection in the rosters, with one veteran, the one top protégé, and two distinct rookies to give their strategies recognizable shape. Those strategies were mostly in how to play off their arrival orders, and most of the guys performed amazingly in those roles. Aoki excelled in his niche within that first fall, using the guidance and protection of the stronger Junior KENTA to earn an elimination. Okita was a beast amongst the Junior Heavyweights, and carried that attitude right to Kobashi?s entrance with a great show of disrespect and force. As usual, Kobashi gave the physically strong Junior a little shine (before disposing of him in a fashion mirroring how Sasaki had treated one of his pupils). Ito was grease for Sasaki, but that just added drama, and even as grease, Ito worked at a good clip to hit impressive offense crisply before getting crushed. KENTA being in for the first fall was brilliant strategically because it gave the Burning team a chance to dominate early on while saving their biggest gun for last. Sasaki coming in third made just as much sense, bringing in Kensuke Office?s biggest gun to pick off guys tired out from the first fall, which of course would be very competitive. That left Nakajima with all his kicks, sprints and athletics to dazzle in the final fall, mostly in support of Sasaki. Meanwhile Kobashi would come in last for his team, as rested as possible and capable of throwing down with any survivors. The structure was great, but the execution made it a modern classic of Elimination Wrestling. Aoki shining in that first fall only to be unable to breathe in Sasaki?s Boston Crab, and then Kobashi coming in, being disrespected by Okita, losing his temper and trying to get rid of the upstart with the same Boston Crab hold his rival used on one of his boys. That it failed showed a little more of Okita, as well as suggesting Kobashi was a little weaker and would have to work a little harder. KENTA gave one of the best performances of his life with every piece of offense he knew, and drawing that offense together splendidly to shadow whoever his partner was, whether it meant giving Aoki an opening on Miyahara or spring-boarding to help Kobashi hit the Half-Nelson on Sasaki. Nakajima was similarly a total star in his much shorter entrance, still running around for almost a half an hour and taking a vile beating. Possibly better than any of Nakajima?s offense was that long beating Kobashi put him through, forcing Sasaki to watch for once, and see exactly what he?d been doing to smaller NOAH guys. It?s almost impossible for me to separate the execution from the planning in several of these moments because of how well they worked like how KENTA, Nakajima and Sasaki teased the Triple German Suplex only to set up for it later. They knew how to make several things special in a match full of killer blows and holds. The structure was phenomenal as a whole, as much like the quality Cena Vs. Michaels had on Raw last year, it was hard to believe this was almost an hour by the pace at which they moved and things turned.

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