Ring Of Honor, 2004
Well it's been a while, but I'm back with a review for what is often considered the best trilogy of ROH history. I managed to get my hands on the 3 matches of Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk, and I figured this would be a good post to come back to writing. Going into watching these, the only thing I really knew about the feud was that there was 3 matches, they were fighting for the title, and Dave Meltzer gave one of the matches the coveted 5 stars. Knowing this it was hard to keep my hopes down, but I think I did a pretty good job. I'll be going through the matches one by one, but not play-by-play like I usually do for my ECW reviews. Hope you enjoy.
1st Match:ROH World Heavyweight Championship Match: Samoa Joe (c) vs. CM Punk - ROH World Title Classic
So the first match of the series. I'd say the best part about this match was the way they stuck to their game plan. You knew CM Punk wanted to avoid getting into a striking match due to Samoa Joe's history of being able to fight. And you could see Samoa Joe trying to stay away from the mat cause that's where Punk seemed to shine. Joe went into this match cocky due to his past easy title defenses and he wasn't afraid to show his confidence, continually smiling when Punk would strike him, and even making a fool of one of Punk's fans. I think it's safe to assume Punk was playing the heel in this match because he didn't seem to respect the few of his fans there. Back to the game plans, I liked how Punk focused on the head of Joe throughout the match. Joe is a bigger guy so messing with the blood flow and oxygen is a smart strategy to take him down. Joe however tried to stay off the mat and keep Punk hurting. Whenever he started to lose the upper hand, which didn't happen much in the match, he would slide out of the ring, and because there are no count outs, he could wait for Punk to give in and go out there after him, only to be met with a combinations of strikes. Even when Punk would start to gain some momentum, he'd often make the mistake of trying to do fancy moves outside of the ring where Joe is at his best. My main complaint with this match is not necessarily the length of it, because I think the fact that they finished to a draw is one of the most important parts of the feud, but it is more how they filled the time in-between the hour. Closer to the end of the match, probably around the 30-45 minute mark, the pace slowed to a snail's pace. This is what hurt the rating I gave the match. They should've had a plan to fill in this time instead of getting a move every 10 minutes, and after the move you saw Punk go back to head holds which are actually hard to tell if they are rest holds or not. The closing part of the match, around the last 5 minutes things picked back up and we saw them desperately fight each other trying to put the other away, Punk more than Joe. Despite hitting a big move in the final minute, Punk was not able to pin Joe for the 3 count and the match finished with a draw. So overall the match was really good, I just don't appreciate in the middle to end the major slowing of pace. ****¼
ROH World Heavyweight Championship Match: Samoa Joe (c) vs. CM Punk - ROH Joe vs. Punk ll
The big 5 star rated match by Meltzer. I was hoping for an improvement from the first match, and spoiler alert! I got it. This match was an absolute work of art. You could see they had the same, but yet different game plans going into this match, They had worked on where they were weak in the previous match, and it showed. Samoa Joe wasn't completely defenseless vs. mat wrestling, and Punk responded to Joe's strikes with seemingly harder strikes. Joe started to realize he was a bit outmatched for the first time in his career, so he went out to ringside where he dominated the last match. But when Punk came out there, Joe was met with clever uses of surroundings and was taken down. The main thing I noticed in this match, was the brilliant use of momentum shifts. Joe started out being dominant as ever, but Punk took him to the mat. Then Joe would get the upper-hand when Punk slipped up with a hold, and Punk wouldn't be able to get momentum back until Joe focused on the ref instead of his opponent. And Punk would dominate even when Joe went outside the ring, hitting him with his own moves such as the Ole Kick. But Punk made the same mistake as the first match, going for a bit too flashy move, and Joe would take advantage of it. They both worked on the same body parts on each other through the entire match, and wouldn't switch their focus until one of them showed a sign of weakness. The time was filled exceptionally with the two focusing on luring the other into a big move they thought would finish their opponent, only for the opponent to kick out. The ringside brawling was outstanding, and so was their finishing sequence on the top rope. The match would end with another draw, but this was a draw that left the crowd and myself begging for more. Punk and Joe were barely able to stand, so you got the sense that these guys really put all they could into this match, but were still unable to put the other away, at least in the hour time limit. Incredible match. *****
ROH World Heavyweight Championship No Time Limit Match: Samoa Joe (c) vs. CM Punk - ROH All Star Extravaganza ll
Here it is, the finale. Punk's last chance for the belt. The hype in the crowd carried through my screen, it was unreal. The two competitors come out, looking as focused as ever. The match starts, and well, it started off a bit too strong for my taste. They immediately fired the ending moves of the previous two matches at each other, and it seemed to take away some of the special aura surrounding the moves if that makes sense. Punk was opened up early, and if that was planned like it seems, it was completely unnecessary. If not, then what are you going to do, but Punk took a lot more kicks from Joe the last two matches and they didn't have that effect. The two were grappling in the middle of the ring, but kept losing their grips for simple holds like wrist locks and chin locks, and I can't really tell why. It seemed like both were so desperate that they threw away their game plans from the other two matches that had worked out so well. This could've been a good twist in story, but they didn't really seem to play with it at all, they just kept doing random moves that didn't link with the other moves so it was hard to get a good story going. The match finished surprisingly early after a suplex combo from Joe led into a choke, and that was it. There had already been one choke in the match that had confusion because Punk's hand fell for the 3rd arm check but they tried to play it off, and even the commentators were confused. This choke came out of no where, and the ref called the match right away without Punk even tapping. A big let down if you were expecting a conclusive story like you should've been. Still overall I can't deny that the fast paced action, while it hurt the story, was impressive. That is what keeps this match's rank positive. ***½
So overall, this was a great series of matches. I don't watch too much ROH, but from what I've seen this is the best thing in the company. After a great first match and an amazing second match, it's sad to see the finale wrap up poorly.