Night of the Grudges - June 14, 2003
No DQ Match
CM Punk & Colt Cabana vs. Raven & BJ Whitmer
A really good brawl here that served its purpose - get some blood flowing for this feud, but not in a show-stealing manner (due to its position on the card and the feud had not yet reached that point.) Some pretty dangerous shit, and this is a longer, deeper version of the Natural Born Sinners vs. Carnage Crew from Crowning a Champion. Not only is this a precursor of what is to come in the Punk vs. Raven feud, but it's also a nice preview of what was to come down the years in the indies for other feuds as well.
ROH Title Shot Match
AJ Styles vs. Paul London
"You guys are worth the price of admission alone!" - a fan as both men embraced after the match
This is yet another work of art for ROH. It's also another frustrating example of the fall of Paul London as an in-ring performer. In this one, he abandoned his sympathy babyface role in favor of playing a subtle, diabolical douche-bag. On the surface, this appears to be a match over a simple misunderstanding. But when one looks deeper and reflects on how the two got to this point, everything done in this match turns out to have even more meaning.
First, let's stay on London. His performance in this match for me goes back to his breakout feud with Michael Shane. That was his first time seeing the real cutthroat nature of the business as an on-screen character. Then he moved onto getting a title shot against Xavier at Final Battle 2002. Due to the champ's shenanigans, London failed to win the big one despite his remarkable efforts. Then he got another shot against Xavier at the One Year Anniversary Show - in order to get that one, he had to defeat Low Ki AND Styles... on the same night. While London dd earn the title shot, Styles had to take TWO finishers in order for London to get the victory in that title shot match. Then London failed again against Xavier, despite an even more gut-wrenching effort than in their previous encounter.
London then moved on to the 2/3 falls classic against Bryan Danielson at The Epic Encounter, in which he came very close to losing but was able to overcome with tenacity. He also learned how Danielson came so close to defeating him - ruthless aggression bordering on being a heel. Next up, London lost another big collision involving the Prophecy, this time against Christopher Daniels at Retribution: Robin Challenge II, who won not just by cheating, but with mind games and working an injury on London.
For Styles, the road to this match is a story as well. He had failed twice before in his previous two title matches against Low Ki at Honor Invades Boston and Xavier at Night of the Butcher for very different reasons; in the end though, the result was the same for him. He then was presented with another opportunity, but failed to capitalize on it in the threeway against Ki and London. Remember, even though Styles took the pinfall in that match, it took TWO finishers in order to do so. And again, who pinned him? London.
Then there's also the simple backstory of London feeling (wrongly) that Styles abandoned him as a tag partner in favor of Amazing Red. So these two, with all of these backstories in mind, finally got to collide - and it's for another opportunity at the ROH Title!
London proved immediately that he had learned from his encounters with the Prophecy, playing mind games with Styles via the ridiculous amount of handshake offers and also spending time outside the ring, just like Daniels had done to him. He also was extremely aggressive against Styles at times, which goes back to the 2/3 falls match he had with Danielson. This mind game he played with Styles ultimately paid off, when he handed Styles the opportunity to do one of his signature guardrail-area kicks (a nod to the amazing spot Styles had against Danielson at All Star Extravaganza), only to use the NWA Champion's trigger-happy aggression against him. This is where London's true plan came to fruition - focus on the left knee of Styles.
Styles was put in a position in this match to play the sympathetic babyface. And you know what? He did a fucking fantastic job. He didn't play Ricky Morton or Shawn Michaels; this was a different flavor of sympathetic performance from him. His hope spots, relying on adrenaline and irritation/anger, were absolutely magical, and in the end gave him a chance against the cerebral London. As the commentators explained, it became a battle of London's calculating gameplan against the ferocious short comebacks of Styles, which gave him opportunities to get the heat on London and wear him down.
What also needs to be pointed out in this masterpiece is that EVERYTHING was smooth, crisp, and firing on all cylinders. This was Triple H vs. Chris Benoit, but done to perfection. Not a single move, spot, or submission was wasted. In the end, these two men were absolutely even, and that's why the draw finish was the correct conclusion based on how this match was laid out; this match's booking was Styles, London, and Gabe Sapolsky being backed into a corner (due to Styles winning the NWA Title that week in TNA) and responding by making a beautifully flawless work of art out of it.
How does this compare to the London vs. Danielson 2/3 falls ***** match? It's right below it. But this also leaves Daniels vs. Doug Williams in the dust. This was another engaging chef d'oeuvre. One can argue that this is Paul London's greatest match; it is likely the best of in the career of Styles as well - maybe even better than his jaw-dropping roller-coaster encounter against Samoa Joe at Turning Point 2005. I am certain this match was used to help base the performance of Styles in that one two and a half years later.
Up next - Wrestlerave
Matches will include:
CM Punk & Colt Cabana vs. Raven & Christopher Daniels
Homicide vs. Trent Acid