Austin Aries pinned Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Champion Samoa Joe Sunday night at the National Guard Armory in Philadelphia after a strong main event seen by a hot crowd of about 800.
The dethroning of Joe at the company’s final show of the year, was a surprise, especially after Joe’s unprecedented 21-month title reign, during which the ROH promotion has been elevated to heights of praise unimagined by hardcore wrestling fans, and also struggled with a scandal that almost ended the company, the loss of much of its talent due to TNA not allowing its contracted talent to work for ROH, and a marketing approach that will both retain its artistic merit and credibility yet draw larger crowds and make a sizable profit.
Joe and Aries worked a classic style match that built heat in logical fashion, Aries playing underdog for the early part of the match, unsuccessfully attempting a brainbuster. The finishing sequence saw Joe hit an island driver, and Aries kicked out of a pin attempt. Aries countered with a 450 splash, followed by a failed attempt at a pinfall. Joe tried the muscle buster, but it was reversed by Aries, who hit the brainbuster and the 450 and the pinfall. The crowd tore the roof off for the finish.
The intricately and traditionally planned finish to the match, with tremendous execution and reception by the audience, was an allegory for what the company has been trying to do with Joe and the ROH title since he won it in March of last year.
To success, ROH’s writing has been inspired greatly by wrestling booking tactics of two and three decades ago with long story arcs and experimental techniques that have long been defunct in the world of wrestling, such as the Pure Wrestling gimmick. The wrestling style that accompanied this booking style was an amalgamation of the best wrestlers who practiced American brawling (such as Samoa Joe), American technical (Christopher Daniels), American hardcore (Homicide), post-modern British (Doug Williams) and sometimes the Japanese style (Low Ki and others).
Gabe Sapolsky hand-chose Samoa Joe to be the face of his booking style, and in order to increase the prestige of his title, decided to have him hold it for a significant amount of time. Since that point, Joe has defended the title consistently and lost to none of his opponents. His most notable feuds were against Homicide and CM Punk, both of which included tremendous matches between the competitors, especially with Punk, whom Joe had a series of three matches this year that drew critical acclaim. The third of the series isn’t yet available on tape, but the second match was given an elusive ***** rating by Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer, and is a strong contender for match of the year (it was the promotion’s strongest match by far). The first match, a 60 minute draw, came out on tape as WWE was doing an ironman gimmick with Chris Benoit and Triple H, and the former overshadowed the latter, which was a disappointing match that built to the return and run-in of Eugene.
Early results from the show:
1. Jimmy Jacobs def. Trent Acid.
2. Becky Bayless and Angel Dust def. Deranged and Lacy
3. Rockin’ Rebel def. Din T. Moore
4. Homicide def. Josh Daniels
5. Pure Wrestling Title: John Walters def. Jimmy Rave
6. Dan Maff and BJ Whitmer def. Carnage Crew
Mick Foley and Steamboat cut promos in their confrontation, basically setting boundaries as to what each of them represent and thing about wrestling for future angles. Regarding current news, according to one report, Foley said he was out of line when he disrespected Flair backstage at RAW, and called the skit he participated on in a recent RAW with Mohammad Hassan “the most distasteful… skit I’ve ever taken part in.”
7. Jay Lethal def. Weapon of Masked Destruction #2
8. CM Punk and Steve Corino def. Alex Shelley and Roderick Strong
9. Low Ki and the American Dragon Bryan Danielson wrestled to a double count out in their second match together in ROH history.
10. Austin Aries def. Samoa Joe for the title
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