ROH Testing The Limit 8/7/04 Philadelphia, PA
"Go check on your fuckin' brother!" -Tony DeVito
We begin with everyone's favorite chuckle hut open mic night opening act: Colt Cabana's Good Times, Great Memories. His guest, Prince Nana, declares that Jimmy Rave (who isn't on the show) is the inventor of the Styles Clash. A.J. Styles hasn't been seen in ROH since Feinstein's attempted internet boybanging incident, so this is either Sapolsky firing immature broadsides at TNA or we're witnessing the beginnings of a feud over a finisher.
Aural descriptions of the moving pictures we'll be witnessing are provided by C.M. Punk and as per usual, "I'm Not Actually" Gabe Sapolsky. The first words out of the latter's mouth are a plug for a show that isn't the one about to start. Uh-oh.
1. John Walters [o] vs Nigel McGuinness [x] (5:41) cradle
Our opening contest provides unexpected answers to questions which going in seemed quite simple. Firstly, we learn that a number one contender match for a title with special rules need not use those title's rules. More specifically, we're posed the query: what happens when two technicians hook up with a shot at the technical wrestling Pure Title on the line? The answer: they forget their technical wrestling almost entirely in favor of oddly stiff striking within what is essentially a WWE Smackdown-style andante. McGuinness controls first, enticing the allegedly ring-savvy Walters to not once but twice fall for the British corner headstand trick, both for nearfalls. A lone hard elbow shot, over-sold, briefly swings the momentum to Walters, but not much can be done before Nigel resumes command with a snap-mare-and thus our third question: what happens when a wrestler's legs hit the ropes during a routine snap-mare? They are immediately damaged. Woe to any and every professional wrestler who risks severe spinal injuries by running the ropes every match! Despite falling through some sort of wormhole into goofyland, Nigel displays enviable cool and professionalism. He neither screams in terror nor falls into mute catalepsy but instead immediately goes after Walters' legs with some sort of Indian Deathlock modification. Walters, too, keeps his wits, cracks a stiff headbutt from the bottom and rolls Nigel up for the victory and a future shot at Doug Williams' title. Absurdities and pretentions aside, there were some good ideas from two talented workers that need to be explored in a longer match with less pharmacologically influenced booking. *½
2. Roderick Strong [o] vs Izzy [x] (6:30) pinfall (straightjacket Blue Destiny)
Roderick Strong is a lieutenant in the occasionally morally ambiguous Generation Next unit, a stable of younger wrestlers who (theoretically) have decided the best way to earn their spots as main-eventers is to take them by force, everyone else be damned. Meanwhile, Izzy is part of the nearly-to-entirely defunct drug addict raver group Special K, who our impressario Gabe half-heartedly explains to us are all depressed and no longer interested in partying. Nevertheless, Izzy has plenty of energy at the outset, striking fast with his depth-deficient mid '00s programming of flash and flair, only to be utterly annihilated by the power fighting of the aptly named Strong. In what would have been an extremely effective knockout finish one minute in, Izzy attempts a huracanrana to the floor, only to be caught and swung brutally into both the barricade and the ring post. Unfortunately (and particularly) as this is a B-level show, Sapolsky required time for an oddly-placed State of Ring of Honor Address; therefore poor Izzy is subjected to a savage, one-sided beating for seven minutes. Uncharacteristically for someone depressed and drugless, he refuses to accept defeat until Strong connects with his finisher. Structurally and idiomatically, this match was nearly a carbon copy of Danielson-Evans from Survival of the Fittest, made approximately unique only by the effective opening minute. Given that Generation Next's takeover of Special K's lower-midcard spots is essentially complete, a brutal knockout one minute in would have made this far more memorable and synergetic to current storylines. As such, this proved nothing for Strong and Izzy and their associated units but did allow Gabe Sapolsky to talk for close to ten minutes. *
3. Dan Maff [x] & B.J. Whitmer vs H.C. Loc & Tony DeVito [o] (5:42) pinfall (spike piledriver)
The national suicide rate may very well spike because once again Allison Danger has a microphone. The public address system is poor and the fans have no desire to hear a word transmitted by her annoying voice, but the gist of her shrieking filibuster is that as she still controls Maff & Whitmer's contracts, she will book them against teams that are superior. Today, it is the mighty Carnage Crew (which actually elicits laughter from a few fans). However, the Crew are not on Danger's wavelength: DeVito declares that they fight only for themselves and sends the gorgon on her merry way with some delightful sexist vulgarianisms, earning a cheap pop in the process.
The match itself is a rather cordial television-level brawl. As usual, Maff almost kills himself with a tope suicida. For some reason DeVito does a high-angle dropkick on the floor. Whitmer and Loc just kind of punch each other and wander around. In between begging the fans to buy the previous show, Sapolsky expresses bafflement as to why this isn't the normal tag match it was booked to be. His confusion is certainly warranted, as up until now ROH tag matches have been monolithic, stout models of consistency and certainly no one watching this would know that the guy talking is the one who booked the match! As is usual for brawls on (fictional) ROH TV at this time, they break out some passable oudou worship for the finishing stretch, but Danger sneaks back to ringside and crotches Maff on the top rope to preface the finish. That aside, this was a mostly inoffensive but highly irrelevant six minutes. No one cares about this feud, nor should they. Even if everyone involved is talented, well spoken and attractive-definitely NOT the case, here-a sole female valet should not feud with a male tag team! *¼
4. Four Corner Survival: Scorpio vs Alex Shelley [o] vs Ace Steel vs Jay Lethal [x] (14:59) pinfall (Shell Shock)
It's pledge week here at ROH Public Television, so as a special treat for donors we have minor legend and Pro-Wrestling NOAH superstar 2 Cold Scorpio in the house! But this isn't a free ride and buying the dvd you're currently watching is not good enough, so you must buy Scorpio's newly recorded shoot interview! It's part of a whole new series, too, so don't you even dare thinking of buying just that one release! And oh, don't think too hard about what a shoot interview even is, since as you know ROH proves pro-wrestling is a sport and everything you see is real. Just buy it.
As the infomercial rolls on for its fifteen minutes, somewhere buried underneath is an inconsequential professional wrestling match. Because the main point is to sell the Straight Shootin' series, the bulk of the performance is Scorpio being Scorpio to enough of a level that will be a showcase but avoid injury in between NOAH tours. The actual structure was essentially a rotating series of undercard singles matches until a comparatively hotter multiplicative finish where Lethal hits his finisher on Scorpio but Shelley steals his victory. Before the match had started, Lethal refused Shelley's overtures to join Generation Next. Now, he demands a singles engagement which Shelley accepts (it'll take place on the next show). Scorpio ends the segment by cutting the obligatory "ROH is great and different and better" promo before convincing Lethal to dance with him to "Jungle Boogie." Yeesh. At least Gabe didn't make them eat watermelon and bug their eyes out...
In any event, there was nothing particularly offensive about the wrestling itself-Scorpio and Ace even provided some pure NOAH-undercard-style action-but from the beginning it was clear that this existed for other reasons. **
5. Jay Briscoe [o] & Mark Briscoe vs Homicide & Low Ki [x] (12:43) small package
Professional wrestling as a whole often believes that no matter the length of match, a hot, fast opening couple minutes and a similarly efforted finishing sequence can safely allow for a dull, uneventful middle-even if that middle amounts to 75% of the match. Everyone has done this, but ROH in particular seems eager to do it with impunity, especially in tag matches. Here, the opening is a strongly worked brawl: the Briscoes have had issues with the Rottweilers for awhile now, so it certainly makes sense to show the hate straight away. Hate, however, is strenuous and an injury risk, so as quickly as the storm began and culminated with a thunderous koppo-abise-geri by Low Ki on Jay, the clouds part and the rays of routine shine down upon the ring. For eight straight minutes, Jay suffers a pounding more severe than anything seen in a state prison communal shower. Because all they're getting is Homicide and Ki's undeniable talent, the fans chant for them. Enraged that they're cheering his carefully constructed, broadly painted, handlebar-moustache-twirling villains, Gabe fumes and spits into his commentary that Low Ki hates and "looks down on" the fans. C.M.Punk thankfully fires back that fans can chant for whoever they want. In a sequence done ad nauseam in this promotion, Jay breaks momentum with a magical and illogical burst of energy and gets the hot tag. Mark dashes forth, his standing on the apron for eight minutes having imbued him with the power of a thousand crackers, but thirty seconds is all Jay needs to be fully recharged for the finishing stretch. At the outset, the referee had no issues with all four brawling; once the middle phase began he physically restrained Mark from helping his double-teamed brother; in the final phase, though, his mind has been fully changed and all four have the run of the ring. With Jay and Homicide as technically the legal men, Mark drops Ki on his head and looks to finish with his patented Shoo'um's Tar Press. Homicide saves his currently unable to lose partner by "shoving" Mark (he clearly jumps) into a large overhang of the already upsettingly low ceiling, effectively eliminating him from the match. Homicide follows by lariating Jay and seeking a pin, only for the referee to suddenly decide to enforce rules again. Fair enough for Jay, he hits his Jay Driller finisher on Homicide and goes for the actual legal man Low Ki, still woosy from Mark's attacks. Ki manages to bring Jay up for the Ki Krusher '99 but Jay rolls it into a small package for the comeback "dubya" and Low Ki's first direct defeat in ROH since he lost the singles title on 9/21/02. Sloppy enforcement of rules aside, the finish was good. The opening was good. But when 75% of the match is a lazy, extinct system of dreary, one-sided routine made even more irritating by contrived and utterly unwanted heel affectations, a memorable match is certainly not what has been accomplished-even when the finish is a rather significant event. It is undeniable that these four have talent. The encumberance of autocratic booking must be relieved so that they may fully show this talent to the fans who clearly desire nothing else. **¼
Post-match, the hatred between the Briscoes and Rottweilers flares into a full-blown conflagration that ungulfs the entire locker room. The "bench-clearing brawl" makes its way all the way out to the parking lot before some measure of sanity is restored. In an interesting attention to detail, generally neutral Jersey All-Pro regulars Maff, Loc & DeVito try to play peacemakers between the other East Coast-based guys Homicide, Low Ki & Briscoe brothers, thus effectively selling the segmenet as a "real" explosion of hate independent of ROH itself. Though it probably went on too long, this was easily the most interesting theater thus far imparted by the show and much more organic and honest feeling than a similar segment that ended Reborn: Stage One (4/23/04 in St Paul, MN).
6. ROH Tag Title (9th/2,4): © C.M. Punk & Colt Cabana [x] vs Rocky Romero [o] & Ricky Reyes (19:08) small package
Sanity tentatively restored after the brawl, Sapolsky attempts to effect a newscaster "Washington DC has just been destroyed by nuclear weapons" faux-sombre tone of voice to reflect upon it. In jarring juxtaposition and to C.M. Punk's severe annoyance, Colt Cabana arrives at ringside to the strains of "Superfreak" by Rick James.
Punk and Romero open the festivities with some energetic but not particularly exemplary New Japan-style ground jockeying. This choice of style suggests they'll segue into a Japanese junior heavyweight idiom, but instead they collapse the match into a brawl on the floor between all four men, ultimately leading to the Rottweilers isolating Punk. An intelligent choice from the fans' perspective, since the smoothness of the work wrinkles noticably when Cabana is in the ring. When momentum tilts to the champions, Romero gets isolated and Punk wants to work his back. He brutally botches a Romero Special, Cabana clowns around and steals Horiguchi Genki's old surfing gimmick and Punk ultimately takes a hard kick to the head to bring control back to the challengers. In a synectically acceptable but logically incongruent move, the Rottweilers focus entirely on Punk's arm. He's the better worker and-as a major part of the singles title scene-the most senior, talented wrestler in the match, so reason would dictate Cabana be the main target. However, because of Punk's very status as the best worker, the booking has backed itself into a corner. 95% Cabana would result in a disaster, 95% Punk allows for everyone to be carried, though the ultimate result is an unfortunate denegration of realism. Further damage to the match's credibility is actually inflicted by Punk himself when he counters a juuji-gatame on his worked arm by fully lifting Romero off the mat into a powerbomb. A subsequent hot tag to Cabana (including a nice quebrada by the big man) swings momentum back to the champs. Punk lifts Romero up for a Double Impact, but Romero smoothly rolls forward into another juuji on the damaged arm. Punk holds on and drags him in line for a Cabana frog splash, bringing the match to the brink of complete collapse when the inattentive referee accidentally gets in the way. This was clearly not a planned spot, because for the ensuing nearfall on Cabana the referee insisted on selling by counting very slowly, thus providing zero drama to a potential title change. For the finish, with ROH tag rule inconsistency in full effect, Romero cradles Cabana right in front of Punk. Instead of doing what everyone else has done in the entire history of tag team wrestling and simply stomping to break up the pin, Punk tries to use his damaged arm to pull Cabana out of the cradle. Reyes flies in to lariat Punk: his grip is broken, the cradle is completed, the almost completely undamaged Cabana is defeated and ROH has new tag team champions. Though the Rottweilers had a sound if uninteresting strategy, their victory comes from their opponents' poor decisions, not from their own superiority.
An odd match from beginning to end. It seemed in a couple places that ROH was trying to tease Punk and Cabana splitting up, but the bizarre, illogical finish had nothing to do with such a rift. The finish actually hurt Punk more than Cabana; because his character is supposed to be a crafty technician such behavior has zero believability. Realistically he (like the rest of us) would have known that even with a wholly undamaged arm, that isn't how you prevent your partner from being pinned. Unless the principals involved wanted us to believe that such damage also affects the brain, there's simply no excuses that can be made, especially when the finish resulted in a relatively major title change! Wrestling promoters and performers like to rely on "suspension of disbelief" to explain away faults and foibles, but this was not an accident: it was clearly the planned climax. Worst of all, the match in its entirety was worked at a midcard, non-title pace with only marginally engaged efforts (the champions didn't even attempt a single finisher!). Did Punk really just not care? Was he only half-heartedly trying to help because he wants to split up the team? Did they both simply become that stupid? Future storylines may offer some explanations, but here and now, the sole reality is that the Second City Saints lost their championship to a very stupid finish. Perhaps they assumed that a surprise title change would cover for any specific head-scratching moments, but ultimately this was just too weird and too lazy to even justify a title change, much less be saved by one. A fruity finish like this didn't exactly make the Rottweilers look like the stronger team, either. **½
Backstage, Dan Maff glares into the camera and issues a stern warning to Allison Danger. To prove how deadly serious he is, he uses her real name! Oh my g... wait, her name isn't really Allison Danger? Why would she be using a pseudonym? Isn't ROH real? Hmm...
Sapolsky prides himself on making sure everyone on the roster has a "reason" for wrestling, but the truth is you don't need to operate that way if the result is nonsense like this. Just having an idea doesn't mean it's a good idea. Besides, do fans really want to sort through scores of plot threads dangling from the undercard? Isn't one or two main storylines amongst the best workers more than enough for an independent that runs shows only slightly more than once a month?
7. ROH Title (3rd,22): © Samoa Joe [o] vs Trent Acid [x] n/a
Ring of Honor is in the middle of a long term storyline wherein Generation Next is "taking the main event by force," up to and including hijacking an entire event (5/22 in Philadelphia), and yet Trent Acid-Trent fucking Acid-gets a title shot after losing to Jimmy Rave and winning two afterthought, "let's get you guys work on the show" multi-person matches?! Well, no need for incredulity, for the Wrestling Gods are on the side of sanity tonight: the indy scene's favorite crack addict suffers a legitimate injury mere moments into the match and whatever was able to take place was clipped to virtually nothing to allow the show to fit on one disc with the coming marathon main event. Ironically, a real match between Samoa Joe and Trent Acid would likely look about the same as the one-dimensional pointlessness that was shown.
8. 2/3 falls: Bryan Danielson [x] vs Austin Aries [o] (74:14) 2-1
Our main event is announced as best two of three falls match with each fall individually getting a one hour time limit, something I'd only ever seen in the Playstation 2 game Fire Pro-Wrestling Returns-and that was a programming oversight!
As though the Generation Next storyline does not exist, Aries comes to the ring by himself, now a determined underdog babyface.
"I don't give a fuck if I die or not!" -Bryan Danielson
Just as in their previous meeting at Survival of the Fittest, Danielson controls and carries the match with technical wrestling while Aries attempts to break through and take over with his faster strike-oriented UDG-influenced junior style. Throughout the contest, they frequently call back to that previous match (such as Danielson working on the chin he busted open so violently Aries required a hospital visit) but do a good job of keeping things fresh. In fact, the level of technical wrestling during the first fall is advanced to a level far beyond anything seen in ROH to this point-possibly even beyond anything seen in professional wrestling ever. Though it can't be ignored that the over-arching theme beyond all others is in fact length, Bryan Danielson's absolute genius technical display should be considered the stuff of legend. In an incredible, seamless synthesis of traditional amateur wrestling, mixed martial arts, British wrestling and even moments of lucha, Danielson completely deconstructs Aries' anatomy. Everything he does is for a specific reason, to the point of actually nesting his psychology so that each body part he works on sets up damage to other body parts. Not only that, he's able to transition from virtually any position or attack to anything else. Aries, frankly, is just along for the ride. If Danielson was a puppeteer in their first match, here he's been promoted to Psycho Mantis. That isn't to say Aries is inept-far from it. His abilities are simply nowhere near the performance of Danielson, which quite honestly must be seen to be believed. No words can do justice to his implementation and execution of what could be called a pro-wrestling Black Page.
Throughout the fall, Danielson's main target is Aries' abdominal muscles. Everything he does to other limbs is ultimately to set up the stomach and related targets, presumably to both increase the effectiveness of the Cattle Mutilation and stymie Aries' 450° Splash. Commentary also reminds us that Danielson defeated C.M. Punk with an abdominal stretch, which somehow makes what he's doing to Aries all the more important and dangerous.
As the fall wears on, the utterly brutalised Aries just cannot get momentum. When it looks like things might swing his way with striking, Danielson fires back brutally, showing he can dominate in more than just the ground game. Aries is at such a loss that at one point he even sloths himself around the bottom rope just to prevent a pinfall attempt. Finally though, at the 26th minute Aries manages to wriggle out of a Canadian backbreaker and hiptosses Danielson to the floor, following with a baseball slide dropkick and a tornillo. Danielson sells that the plancha affected his head, so back in the ring Aries stays on it with knees and a ground manji-gatame. Danielson escapes the hold by biting Aries' thigh but soon takes a lariat to the back of his now very damaged head. They trade strikes and Danielson resumes control by going back to the abdominals with a huge gutbuster and a Tully Blanchard-style slingshot suplex.
The finishing stretch begins around the 35th minute of the fall, but due to fatigue they begin to implement 60' draw style rest spots (double down counts, slow to get up, etc) between faster, more intense sequences. Aries manages a couple flash pin nearfalls and withstands a top rope backdrop and diving headbutt. After trading nearfalls in one small package, Aries grabs a backslide then a crucifix from which he floats over into the Rings of Saturn. He segues into a full nelson variation of the Cattle Mutilation to directly work the head and Danielson taps out at 42:08.
This fall looked the best when Danielson was carrying-which he did to such an unbelievable, dominating degree that Aries' victory made almost no sense. The "time of possesion" was around 80-20 in favor of Danielson, with his use of that control far more realistic and effective than the exceedingly brief, rather contrived attack on his head that Aries exploited to get the win. As brilliant as much of Danielson's performance was, a big problem here was the obvious fact that they were doing what they were doing exclusively to have a long match. At no point did it really look like Danielson was trying to finish, rather it seemed like he was implementing an ingenius strategy with no ultimate goal in mind. Worse still, Aries achieved victory through psychology that was tacked on to the very end of the fall. It's possible Danielson simply tapped because he was confident of his strategy going forward and didn't want to risk further damage, but the way the finish was presented left it rather ambiguous. It's possible this was due to Aries getting sloppy from fatigue, but since there's way more match left, we shall see. It should be pointed out that the reason this fall went 42 minutes was because that was the length of the Survival of the Fittest match these two were a part of. However, Danielson and Aries did not wrestle the entire duration, they wrestled the final 24 minutes.
"Are you just gonna let him lay there the rest of the goddamn night or what?" -Austin Aries
After a short break and a referee swap, Aries opens the second fall by targeting the back of Danielson's head with extreme Thesz-Gagne '52 prejudice. Though the first fall was hardly a track meet, the pace in the second proceeds with the same rate of exhaustion-fueled deceleration that begin around the half hour mark of the first. As is often the case in wrestling, they try to compensate for their fatigue by being extra stiff. Danielson tries to come back with striking but cannot reclaim momentum until he's able to shove Aries off the top rope, crashing him hard into the barricade. Outside (and fully taking advantage of ROH's lack of ring out count), Danielson seeks to utterly demolish Aries' knee. Back in the ring, he locks in an Indian deathlock and bridges backwards-both Aries and Sapolsky sell this as though it were a top rope ganso bomb through exploding razorwire. As egregious as this is, unfortunately the statistically dense psychology of the first fall appears to have been wholly abandoned or forgotten. Danielson does not once go for the abdominals and Aries obliges by not selling the 40 minutes of sustained damage he incurred.
At around the 10-minute mark, Aries is flipped to the floor once again. Danielson dashes for a plancha, but his feet get caught on the top rope and he crashes horribly, missing Aries completely. The match screeches to a halt as Danielson lies motionless at the barricade. The concept here was to throw up some psychological chaff with the audience to cover a planned rest spot with what might look like a legitimate injury. Good enough in theory, but in implementation (despite Danielson being crazy enough to sell it the way he did) it was just flat-out boring. The fall wasn't going particularly well in the first place, so teasing a hot, faster sequence then immediately switching gear to nap time almost completely sucked the air out of the room. On commentary, C.M. Punk demands ROH have a floor count; a fan in the audience even takes it upon himself to start such a count. Danielson does not get up and moving for close to five full minutes. Punk uses this opportunity to cover for the first fall's psychology being forgotten by declaring Danielson may have a concussion and not even remember what had happened. Fair enough effort to cover for his buddy, but how does one guy's concussion heal another guy's damage?
Once they finally return to the ring, Aries continues to assault Danielson's head. Though he adds in both a slingshot corkscrew splash and a lionsault, the pace has gotten even slower, especially with Aries selling his damaged knee. Back on the floor, Aries charges with a running elbow but Danielson dodges, the elbow cracks the ring post and momentum is broken. Now, it's the left arm's turn to get battered. Aries doesn't quit and hits a brainbuster, but the pace has degenerated fully to 60-minute draw selling where both guys collapse to the mat after each spot, so he cannot capitalise. Back up, he dodges a rolling elbow and unleashes a gutbuster - STO - corkscrew elbow combination for 2.5; the nearfalls from Aries at this point lack the necessary acceleration of drama because every attempt is a potential finish to the match, not just the fall, yet nothing is really sold with that requisite level of emergency. When he attempts a second brainbuster, Danielson floats over into the double chicken wings and stomps the damaged knee to bring him down into the Cattle Mutilation right in the middle of the ring. Aries refuses to tap, but Danielson floats over and brings the submission into a sort of crucifix pin to level the match at 20:12 (overall, 62:20).
"I want a water break and a fruit cup!" -C.M. Punk
Even with a rest period, after 62 minutes both guys are absolutely running on fumes, so the tempo plummets to that of a game of Monopoly in the La Brea Tar Pits with WWE-television-match-in-commercial flopping after virtually every single move. Things open with it now being Danielson's turn to focus on the back of the head, as apparently (or just for today, perhaps) the Cattle Mutilation affects it. He puts Aries up for a nadare-shiki backdrop (Punk: "He's hit almost two of 'em!") but is countered by a big DDT, leaving both strewn on the mat like crash test dummies. The referee does not start the standing ten count, opting instead to check with the timekeeper then stare at both guys while cringing. Once they finally resume vertical bases, they slog through a larghissimo of scoop bodyslams-Aries sells each slam he connects like Mick Jagger and Gabe sells the whole sequence like it's Misawa beating Jumbo. Aries manages to hit five in a row, Danielson returns with two, only for Aries to counter a third with a cradle. Back up, Danielson's master plan finally comes together for a bearhug! The damage from the first half magically comes back: the arms, the legs, the back, the stomach-it was all (apparently!) designed to make a routine 50s bearhug impossible to escape from! This has gotta be it... but Aries finds a way to fire in some headbutts and breaks out. Danielson rakes the eyes and goes for the submission he won with at Survival of the Fittest, but neither that nor another top rope backdrop nor the Cattle Mutilation can put Aries away. They trade rolling elbows but are so exhausted no nearfalls result. With Sapolsky clearly off his medication, Aries connects with another elbow, nails a suichoku-rakka-shiki brainbuster for 2.9, then pulls the dead weight Danielson into two more brutal brainbusters, adds the 450° and gets the win at 11:54 and a total match time of 74:14. The finishing 450 did not look very good because of the low ceiling, but it was better than most of Juventud Guerrera's. Do not misunderstand the economy of written description: this was a dreadfully vacuous final twelve minutes exhibited before a crowd that seemed more exhausted than the wrestlers.
I have an image of Sapolsky, Danielson, Punk & Aries all huddled around a table at Perkin's at 3 am, intricately plotting the story of this match with compass and square, protractor and measuring tape, miniatures and stopwatches as gallon after gallon of coffee is consumed. On paper to these guys, it may well have looked like the six-star epic commentary was demanding the audience see it as, but in actual application it was far from it. The obvious plan from the beginning was for something truly special-not just a match of the year, but a match of the decade, an all-time, legendary masterpiece that re-defines what professional wrestling even is. None of that intricate planning accounted for human stamina and ability and a venue with a stupidly low ceiling.
Beyond the obvious flaw of its absurd length-once again, Gabe Sapolsky shows his unyielding belief that "long" and "epic" are synonyms-the actual construction of the match did not make sense. Are we to truly believe that Bryan Danielson's genius master plan was to deconstruct every aspect of Aries' anatomy to set up a bearhug he'll bring out an hour and a half later? Since that was the only direct application of his undeniably brilliant first fall performance, that is what the match leaves us with. Danielson dominated a 42-minute first fall but made almost no effort to finish. The domination itself should have been enough to show him fully capable of putting the demonstrably inferior Aries away in any number of impressive, intelligent ways, but that never happened. Aries in turn won not through out-wrestling Danielson, he won through simply being booked to not give up. The story of the match simply did not make sense. Danielson is obviously the better wrestler. Aries has potential, but a lot of work to do. Therefore, the inversion of talent and effort caused a jarringly unrealistic performance and result. Worst of all, perhaps, is that all this was done for absolutely no reason. Nothing was "on the line" in a kayfabe sense; this was just Aries getting pushed really hard and awkwardly into the singles main event picture in just his 9th booking with the company, very probably due to extant real-life friendships.
Had the main points of this match-many of them excellently thought out and implemented-been compressed and refined into a single fall of perhaps 45 minutes, this really would have been a match of the year candidate, but with the bloat, exhaustion and head-scratching illogical moments (to say nothing of the mid-match nap), we're left with a deeply flawed over-reaching of abilities and plotting. But despair not: these two really will have a brilliant match of the year candidate in three years' time. ***½
Overall, this was a B-level show through and through. Nothing seemed to have much of a point, not even the title change or the 74-minute main event. It's an interesting chapter in the development of Bryan Danielson's artform, but not much else.