Tales from the Eastside Directory

ROH "All Star Extravaganza" (11/7/02)

Tales From the Eastside by Patrick McGovern

This is gonna be a change of pace. Now, I really like the PBP-style of reviewing, but it occurred to me that it's not something EVERYBODY likes (hell, most of you probably skim through the reviews and only read the PBP of the important matches). So, what I'm going to do here is review it in more of an analysis-style- but I want some feedback from everyone on what you like better, because that's how I'll review tapes from now on. Wildside TV will remain PBP style once I pick it back up this week (I'm also planning on doing a big review thing where I cover all the shows I've missed, basically from Christmas Chaos until now). Onto the show!

I have a love/hate relationship with ROH. I really like the matches they put out, most of the time, but I don't like the company that much. I don't like it's arrogant stance, I don't like a lot of its policies (what the hell's the point of the Code of Honor if you're not punished at all for breaking it? Special K and The Prophecy break it with interference almost every show and nothing happens!). Still, there's no debating that more often than not they have the best indy shows on the East (I'm not gonna say in the country as I'm a total IWA-MS fanboy and I believe their best shows top ROH's best shows, plus they run weekly meaning they have a higher quantity of good shows), simply because their talent pool is so deep. This, right here, is in my opinion the best ROH show ever...so let's get to it.

-Open with Low-Ki and Homicide warming up in the back. Steve Corino (in a cool ZERO-ONE windbreaker) enters and says that the Z-1 office wants him and Ki to team up against Shinjiro Ohtani and Masato Tanaka tonight (it was supposed to be Corino & Spanky vs. Emblem in Spanky's farewell match but he had WWE commitments to fufill). Homicide gets up in Corino's face, since the two have issues from the last show where Corino Superkicked him and walked out on him when they were tagging against the outsider Backseat Boys. Ki manages to calm his friend down and makes a temporary peace.

-"All Star Extravaganza" intro. I have to say, they always get good music for these things.

-Joey and Dixie (with Izzy) vs. Joel Maximo and Jose Maximo vs. Divine Storm (with Trinity) vs. Da Hit Squad in a Scramble match. I guess Joey lost his last name when he joined Special K? Everyone likes to think that a Scramble is only as good as its spots, but the best Scrambles- the one at "Glory By Honor", this one and the one on 11/16- are well organized and hold together on some level as an actual match and not just a collection of spots. Don't get me wrong, this was a spotfest, but everybody sold and there were good individual performances, which is why it was so well-done. They do the customary long matwork sequence at the start with Quiet Storm and Joel, armdrags and 'ranas galore. There are a few other matwork pairings, but none of them work as well as the opening one except for Mafia and Dixie where Dixie uses his speed to hang with the bigger man (and Mafia does the always cool armwringer/repeated elbows move). The first big spot is a CRAZY one, where the Special K guys are given top-rope Superplexes in stereo from Jose and Storm while Divine and Joel give their respective enemies side Russian legsweeps off the second rope at the same time AND DHS get under the pile and essentially Powerbomb the other six guys down! From then on, the match is a high-energy spotfest, but it never devolves into chaos and all of the spots hit clean and look good. They also do a decent job protecting finishers, as DHS don't throw around Burning Hammers and Orange Crushes for nearfalls, and the nastiest headdrop- a Michinoku Driver II off the second rope from Mack to Joel- is given a rope break on the pin, and then Joel sells it like death for several minutes on the outside. Dixie impressed me the most out of anyone, as he did a really neat DDT counter to Mack's press slam as well as using some really good looking, yet simple offense (forearm off the top, rolling elbow). The Maximos didn't piss me off in this, which was an accomplishment for them. Jose, who has reached Jeff Hardy levels of deteroriation, didn't do much, so Joel had to carry the load and put together some inventive doubleteams. They have one really great sequence where they take turns German suplexing Storm around the ring, rolling him to his feet after each one, then they followed that up with a Moonsault/flying Legdrop combo for a nearfall when Dixie saved. They also put together a neat finish, giving Storm a running double spinebuster into the corner where Dixie was perched, causing Dixie to crotch himself and leaving him open for the Spanish Fly for the pin. Sure, it was a spotfest, but they kept it logical and exciting, so it's hard to complain about this. The Scrambles would have their crowning glory on 11/16 at "Scramble Madness" with a match that rivaled Golden Age MPro, but after that it would be a slow decline. (10:11, 80)

-The Prophecy cut a promo in the back, saying little of note. Xavier REALLY can't talk and should be kept off the mic. Daniels gets on Joe's case for shaking hands and they have a confrontation, just like in every other Prophecy promo from now until Joe joined Corino's group.

-CM Punk vs. Michael Shane in a #1 Contender's Gauntlet match. This is Punk's debut match for ROH, and while I've heard a lot of bad things about this (Shane using too many restholds, it doesn't showcase Punk enough, etc) I thought it was really good. They keep it simple, but Punk is good at putting together basic matches with solid stories, and he carries Shane well here. The first part is all Punk working the arm, culminating in his really cool ropewalk-into-a-guillotine, which he follows by doing the Shawn Michaels flex and yelling "So you're the Heartbreak Kid?"- even as a face Punk manages to be awesome. Punk goes for the ropewalk again but this time Shane has it scouted and he sidesteps, then it's time for what we all dreaded: Michael Shane on offense. He does his usual exciting array of chinlocks and facelocks, but Punk makes it work through his selling. Remember, it's only a resthold if you sell it like a resthold, and Punk does a good job making a struggle out of even the laziest chinlock Shane puts on. A lot of people think Shane uses the restholds to get heat as a 'traditional heel', ala Cactus Jack in ECW, but I think he's just bland and boring on offense. They put together a great final act to the match, though, with Shane spearing Punk to halt his comeback- but re-aggrevating his arm as he lands the spear! Basic psych but it works, and Punk is typically great following up with a flurry of attacks to the arm (dropkick, falling armbreaker, slingshot senton to the bad arm). Shane does the greatest thing he's ever done when he's shot into the corner bad-arm first and he shows Punk the bad arm, so Punk comes off the ropes...and Shane switches sides so he can plaster Punk with a bicycle kick. Shane gets a nearfall from that, but he misses the Michaels elbow and Punk gets a nearfall with the Shining Wizard. Punk uses an O'Connor roll for another nearfall, but Shane leverages the other way and grabs the ropes, in a situation where the extra leverage looks like it might actually be necessary, for the three. I don't agree with the finish but the match was fine, lots of cool little touches from Punk and good selling from both. Perfectly decent for the undercard. (13:03, 81)

-Michael Shane vs. Paul London in a #1 Contender's Gauntlet match. Glorified squash for Shane as he attacks at the bell and works over London on the floor with a whip into the guardrail and a nasty suplex. London gets zero offense in but Shane at least uses some cool stuff here (modified Colt 45, jackknife powerbomb, Liontamer) to show that he's varied his offense up beyond "chinlock, facelock, sleeper, suplex, flying elbow". London sells like a champ, as usual. Finish is the best part of the match, as Shane gives London a nasty press gutbuster and London sells like he's really hurt. Shane goes to taunt London, which lets London surprise him with his legsweep DDT into a cradle for the pin. Clever finish as it plays off of their match on 8/24 where Shane similarly played possum. (4:39, 72)

Afterwards, Shane refuses the handshake and stomps London down, prompting Tommy Dreamer to make a surprise appearance. He makes a pretty good speech talking about how special ROH is, and if you want to read it rohwrestling.com has a transcript, I think. Tommy tells Shane to shake London's hand, and he does- only to nail him again. Tommy's "you damn fool, why'd you do that?" expression here is priceless. Tommyhawk DDT for Shane and Dreamer makes his exit. Dreamer's speech might have been a bit too cheerleader-y for my liking, but it was still enjoyable and the crowd was really into it. I have no problem with this especially since it gave London some time to rest.

-Paul London vs. Red in a #1 Contender's Gauntlet match. A TNA X-Division match, not much else to say. At least the spots are nice, and there is a good sequence at the beginning: Red backdrops London over the ropes, London lands on the apron so Red kicks him in the face then sprints into the 718 (Tiger Feint kick, like Rey Jr.'s), which knocks London to the floor. Red goes to Moonsault off the apron onto him, but London catches him and sets up for a powerslam on the floor, but Red counters that to a satellite DDT! Red then sprints from the ring to follow up with a sliding dropkick, but London catches his legs and KILLS him with a head-first swing into the guardrail. Nothing much else of note here, as London controls most of the offense. Red does hit a very nice looking Super 'Rana but can't follow up, leading to a London Rydeen Bomb (Sky-Hi) and Shooting Star Press for the abrupt finish. Like I said, nice spots and a decent time-filler, but looking for substance in this is like looking for healthiness in cotton candy. (5:43, 74)

-Paul London vs. American Dragon in a #1 Contender's Gauntlet match. By far the best match of this leg of the gauntlet, and a testament to how good Dragon is. He has most of the offense here, but unlike the Shane match this wasn't played as a squash. Dragon takes London to the mat and while London tries his damndest to hang, Dragon is just way too good and handles him easily. Dragon bases his matwork here around the Can Opener, applying it differently the two times he uses it: the first time he rides London around the mat with it, trying to maintain the hold as London scampers around for an escape, while the second time he adds a chickenwing so London can't move around. London sells perfectly and leans into every forearm, chop and European uppercut Dragon throws. A particularly nasty sequence has Dragon hang London in the ropes (hey, that's Punk's spot!) and paste him with chops and forearms before landing a disgusting dropkick right to the face. London's comebacks are timed well, too. He gets all of his offense in flurries (kicking off his main comeback with a spinning DDT, dropkick and standing moonsault) and counters, playing up how he's the underdog. Good nearfalls around the end, too, with London backflipping out of Dragon's Back Superplex and bringing him down with a second rope Russian legsweep, then countering a Dragon suplex attempt with a bodyscissors roll. London makes a dramatic, absolute-last-second kickout of the Dragon suplex, but he has nothing left after that and is easy prey for Cattle Mutilation.

This wasn't as long or as epic as the other AD/London matches, but it's still an important part of their series. They begin the storylines that would continue through the whole series, with London being the constant underdog, Dragon unable to hit the Back Superplex, and so on. London being dominated on the mat is important too, as by the time 4/12 rolled around he was finally able to be competitive on the ground. Everything here worked for a greater purpose and built to a dramatic finish, a smartly worked match from two of the best workers in the company. This would be probably Paul London's best match at this point, although his matches with Dragon on 12/7 and 4/12 smoke it. (10:13, 84)

-Christopher Daniels, Donovan Morgan and Samoa Joe (with Simply Luscious) vs. Low-Ki, Doug Williams and Homicide for the ROH World Tag Team titles (First Defense). The goofy stips here are as a result of Daniels & Morgan recieving a trophy instead of belts for the tag team titles, and the trophy said "The Prophecy" are tag team champions, so Daniels took that to mean that any members of the Prophecy could defend the belts in any match they liked. Call it the 'Freebird Rule'. Also, Mike Modest was supposed to be on the face side instead of Homicide (who was supposed to take on Izzy in an undercard match), but Modest and ROH had a well-publicized falling out, leading to the switch.

Daniels shows why he's the best heel in ROH by teasing the crowd with a Joe/Ki start, then blind tagging himself in to deny them that, THEN, because he's afraid of Ki, he tags Morgan in. Daniels = rudo brilliance. Morgan & Ki, Joe & Williams and Daniels & Homicide all pair off for the opening matwork, each exchange entertaining and different. After a lightning-quick sequence with Homicide which thankfully amounted to a lot more than just armdrags, legsweeps, missed moves and an INDY RESPECT!! standoff, Daniels ends up in the unfriendly corner and he gets heat drawn on him for a while. Textbook tag work by the faces, cutting off the ring, effectively using doubleteams and all that good stuff (including a nasty teacher-and-student double Yakuza Kick from Ki and Homicide). Williams comes in and works over Daniels with a Gory Special, Morgan tries to break that up but Williams kicks him down then puts him in a half-crab while still using one arm to keep Daniels in the Gory Special! Awesome move but Joe comes in and breaks the pile with a killer Yakuza Kick and now the heat is on Williams. The Prophecy use the usual heel tactics, but even while getting worked over Williams manages to sneak in an awesome reversal (turning Morgan's California Surfboard into a Rocking Horse). They obviously play up Joe as the deciding factor for the Prophecy, as he's always making the save and getting most of the offense. After countering a double backdrop with a nice offensive flurry, Williams makes the hot tag to Homicide and things really start to pick up...

The last ten minutes of this are pure insanity, right out of an FMW tag sprint but with the pace of an MPro match. First we have the trainwreck dive sequence as Williams planchas out onto Morgan, Daniels Arabian Presses onto Williams, Homicide goes for his 100 mph tope suicida (better than Black Warrior's dammit) but he's caught (!) by the Prophecy, but before they can do anything with him Ki dives onto them with a spaceman plancha! Then, on top of all that (literally), Joe comes crashing down with a downright nutty no-look tope. After that, back in the ring, it's nothing but nearfall after nearfall after nearfall. No consideration is made to who's legal, but it doesn't matter as the crowd is crazy and once you watch the match, you'll be too caught up to care as well. Everyone uses their secondary finishers (Dragon suplex by Joe on Williams, Golden Gate Spin by Morgan on Homicide, Cross STF by Homicide on Morgan) before teasing all the really big moves, which are never really hit. Ki and Daniels especially have a great sequence, with the Last Rites countered into the Dragon Clutch which is amazingly countered into a move where Daniels suplexes Ki onto Morgan, who catches the legs and then the Prophecy drill him with the Revelations (Powerbomb/Neckbreaker combo). Daniels gets taken out of it with the Chaos Theory, Williams is taken out with the Golden Gate Spin, Morgan is taken out with a brainbuster and eventually it's down to Homicide/Joe and the crowd is molten. Hot, hot finish as Homicide goes for the Cop Killa, Joe counters to a Jackknife Powerbomb but Homicide kicks out in time, only to immediately get wrapped up into an STF, and when that fails, Joe goes to a Rear Naked Choke until Homicide can't continue. Joe helps Homicide up afterwards and shakes hands, annoying Daniels greatly.

This was put together excellently, a match that played to the strengths of all six men. Williams got to do a lot of tricky reversals and funky matwork, Joe was played up as a total monster, Daniels and Morgan worked great as a team as did Ki and Homicide. In fact, this was really Homicide's breakout match, as the crowd came alive whenever he was on offense and the match set up a follow-up feud with Joe. Ki did the least of anyone here, forgivable considering he still had to work the main event, but even he had his moments (cool sequence with Daniels, the spaceman plancha). Just a super-hot, incredibly fun match that built well, with everyone firing on all cylanders. Probably my favorite ROH match aside from Dragon/London, Jay/Mark and the four-way title match. (23:27, 93)

-Allison Danger (with Mace) vs. Alexis Laree. Ya think this might be a step down from the last match? Laree does a very politically incorrect spot where she yells out "Hey, faggot!" before leaping onto Mace with a plancha, but I still love her. I do not love this match, though. Danger gets in some lesbian spots (a kiss, running her crotch across Alexis' face) and actually busts out the CM Punk hangman's backbreaker at one point, but Alexis finishes her off in short order with an inverted DDT. Mace lays out Alexis after the match to set up a pointless Laree/Mace match on 11/16. Whatever. (3:16, 55)

-Carnage Crew vs. The Ring Crew Express in a Bunkhouse match. The RCE is made up of ROH's ~#1 Tag Team~, Dunn & Marcos and some nobodies. The Carnage Crew totally destroy them, first with hubcaps, then with chairs. Highlight of the match: Carnage Crew place a hefty member of the Ring Crew (Lowlife Louie, is that you?) in a double Boston crab, so Dunn & Marcos make ROCK N' ROLL! signs to each other and try a double dive off the top for the save, but Loc and Devito catch them and lay them out with a chokeslam and full-nelson slam in stereo. More slaughter until a super spike Piledriver on Dunn puts an end to it. Not even worth rating as it was just filler to build Loc and Devito up for their impending Bunkhouse match with Homicide and Abdullah the Butcher on 12/7. Dunn and Marcos still rule. (2:51)

-Gary Michael Cappetta calls out JT Smith, who is making his first appearance in Philly wrestling since 1997. Smith gets a big reaction coming out and looks ligitimately touched by it, but before he can really talk Special K (lead by Joey, Dixie and the injured Izzy providing backup) interrupt him. Joey says that Smith is a has-been and it's not time to talk about has-beens; it's Special K partytime! Joey slaps Smith around a little bit, until Smith decides to show Joey how he handed punks like that in his old neighborhood: with a solid right hand. Punches also take out Izzy and Dixie, but Dixie comes back with a cane to even the odds and Special K put the boots to JT. The Outcast Killaz (Homicide's students from NYC) make the save and run Special K from the ring. However, Nise Lennox Lewis (who was finally given a name- Slugger- on 12/28) hops the rail and gives the heavily tatooed Killa a Chokeslam, then nails the other with a Body Bag (over-the-shoulder Ace Crusher). Slugger stares Smith down; Smith looks ready to fight, but Slugger extends the Hand of Friendship, which Smith accepts. JT leaves to another hearty reaction and Slugger heads back to his normal spot in the crowd. This didn't take too long and I'm all for honoring the past, so I got no beef with any of this.

-Jay Briscoe vs. Xavier (with Simply Luscious) for the ROH World Heavyweight title (First Defense). You don't need a ton of fancy moves if you tell a good story; this match is a good example of that. It's very slow-paced and there's little in the way of 'cutting edge' flying and suplexing, but it's still an exciting match that draws you in. Xavier catches a lot of flack for being a 'boring' champion that has uninteresting matches, and certainly his matches against Low-Ki (on 9/21) and his nontitle match with Jay (at 'Glory by Honor') were quite underwhelming. This match, though, was something you don't often see on the indies: A classically built, thoroughly satisfying heavyweight match.

The opening exchanges are all Xavier, as he uses lots of high-end submissions early on while pretty much blowing off Briscoe. Jay, however, fights out of the Cross Armbreakers and kneescissors with more traditional moves (hammerlocks, wristlocks). Instantly we've established roles for both guys: Xavier is the fancier, more arrogant man, while Jay is a meat-and-potatoes worker who isn't fancy, but gets the job done and is good at what he does. After getting the better of Xavier for the first time on the mat Briscoe goes for the J-Driller, but Xavier immediately bails to the floor and stalls, visibly frustrated but trying to mask his frustration with arrogance. Briscoe then gets the better of Xavier for a while, using his superior strikes and speed despite some high-impact offense from Xavier (most notably a vertical suplex that takes Briscoe from the ring to the floor). It takes Luscious interfering when the ref isn't looking, pulling Jay out to the floor as he comes off the ropes, to shift the advantage back Xavier's way. Xavier hits his awesome leaping Arabian Press onto Briscoe, then goes to work on him by running him into the post repeatedly and pounding on him with a chair. Briscoe blades (and blades deep) to hammer the point home. Xavier works over the cut, doing some neat stuff like a bridging Teioh Lock but never letting the crowd get too caught up in what he's doing; the focus is supposed to be on Jay's struggle, and that's where it's placed. The turning point is when Jay tries to surprise Xavier with a sunset bomb, Xavier blocks with a punch to the cut and cinches Jay up, only for Briscoe to fight back and give him a big top rope Superplex down. Jay hits a great looking German suplex hold for a close two, and gets another hot nearfall with a Death Valley Driver and flying Legdrop. The crowd is totally behind him by now, "Bris-Coe!" chants all over the place. J-Driller attempted again, but Xavier blocks it at the last second and gets a Cobra Clutch suplex followed by a pumphandle faceplant (aka "Kiss Your X Goodbye") for nearfalls of his own. Xavier tries his finisher now, the X-Breaker, but Jay ducks out of it and gets an awesome Powerbomb to put the champ down. The Powerbomb wasn't so awesome because of the impact of the move, but the setup: Jay was obviously looking for the J-Driller again, but he was too spent to really put everything into it plus Xavier had scouted it three times before so he went for a less taxing, more suprising move instead. Then, in the only part of the match I don't like, Jay calls for a Moonsault (a move he NEVER does), which allows Luscious to cheat by blatantly sliding a chair in to distract the ref, then crotch Briscoe on the top rope. Xavier snaps him off the top with a nasty hanging X-Breaker, and that does it for the match.

That ending really does piss me off, since it made absolutely no sense for Jay to just decide out of nowhere "Hmm, I'm gonna start doing a Moonsault right now" and it seemed more designed to put over Luscious than anything else. It was a lame ending, but it can't dampen what was a very good match, easily Xavier's best that I've seen in ROH (better even than his match with London at the ROH Anniversary show). Xavier really came into his own as a heel here, pissing off the crowd while keeping the match interesting. There were two major stories being told here, and both of them were told well: That the Prophecy is scared of Jay because of his 'fluke' win at the last show and was going to take any shortcut to keep the belt on Xavier, and the less obvious story of Xavier as the arrogant, undeserving, privilaged champion against the workingman challenger. Jay fit in well as the everyman up against increasingly difficult odds, whether they be the champion's arrogant indifference, the interference of the annoying valet or the cut on his forehead that seemed to get worse as the match went on. Xavier, meanwhile, managed to get ligit heel heat; not the kind of heat you get for bashing a local sports team or refusing to let your valet show her boobies, but ligit heat, the kind of heat you get for being an unlikable asshole through your actions in the ring. Both men slid into their roles nicely and the match was well-planned enough to put emphasis on the stories at all the right times. A highly underrated match that all the Xavier-haters need to see. (20:58, 85)

-American Dragon vs. AJ Styles for the #1 Contender's Trophy. If you got sick of me preaching about how great Dragon is in my review of Dragon/London, you might wanna skip this review since I'm about to gush a whole lot more. This was a hell of a match, not the Match of the Year some are hailing as, but probably match of the night (it was technically better than the six-man, but I enjoyed that just a little bit more for some reason). Like the last match, this was all about story, not moves, and it played off of London/Dragon a lot more than one might think.

Styles is the one that takes Dragon right to the mat to begin. This seems stupid as Styles isn't exactly renowned for his matwork, but he obviously picked up on something: Dragon took London right to the mat in their match and immediately established superiority, which put London on the defensive right away and allowed Dragon to control the match. Here, Styles wants to be on top of Dragon from the start, so he busts out every amaresu trick he knows to try and best (or at least to look like he can best) Dragon on the mat. Dragon, of course, is no slouch on the ground and both men essentially fight to a stalemate in some very slick exchanges for the first five minutes. Styles is the first one to really break the match open, as this is the match where he debuts his "counter a whip into the rail by leaping right over the guardrail" move, and he adds a Superkick to Dragon for good measure (Dragon's "eyes back, stunned look on face, crumple to the ground" sell being a thing of beauty to watch). Styles is in control for a while, but Dragon manages to make his own opening and go after Styles arm when he misses a strike. Dragon is awfully heelish and vicious in the way he targets Styles' arm, a detail the arena crowd didn't seem to pick up on (his heel tactics would be used to greater effect against London on 12/7).

Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that Styles shot his wad on the matwork early on, and Dragon is clearly the superior of the two. Styles only really takes the advantage with surprising moves, like a ropewalk sunset flip to counter a knucklelock. He tries the surprise tactic again soon after, going for his quebrada inverted DDT, which Dragon swiftly counters with a Northern Lights suplex for a nearfall- but when Styles was doing his flippy DDT, he accidentally knicked Dragon with his foot on the way down. What was in reality a sloppy move from David Bixenspan's favorite wrestler is smartly turned into a part of the storyline, as the cut affects Dragon's ability to keep dominating Styles. This allows Styles to go back to the mat and he does his nifty rolling Mutalock, actually turning it into a vertical Mutalock (!) to continue punishing Dragon. Out of this we get one of the best parts of the match, as Dragon and Styles keep trading neck-cranks while their legs are tied up and eventually referee Brian Hanson sees that neither man will end up with the advantage and calls for a stalemate; neither Dragon or Styles let go at all, so Hanson has to get between them and force a break himself.

Dragon still manages to fire off a German suplex and diving headbutt (going right back to the shoulder), but his offense is lessened and Styles is soon able to use his Styles Special #1 (German suplex rolled to an atomic drop powerbomb) to gain the advantage. Styles puts Dragon in position and wants the Spiral Tap, but Dragon isn't worn down enough and he fights his way back up to eventually fold Styles up with the Back Superplex (Styles actually doing a full flip on the landing- OUCH). Dragon gets a great nearfall from that, delaying enough so that the crowd could've bought it as a finish and Styles protects the move with a rope break instead of a kickout. The last few minutes of the match are totally dramatic, as the two do some brutal stand-up fighting that leads to Dragon eventually beating Styles down, but looking frustrated that he can't put Styles away.

Styles again uses a surprise move- in this case, a roundhouse to the back of the head- to take the advantage, and ends up hooking Dragon into a Styles Clash out of nowhere...for two! Dragon's kickout here was the kind of kickout you're supposed to do when not staying down for a finisher- it looks like a complete surprise. Styles is at a loss for what to do next and decides to go for the Styles Special again, but Dragon gets a standing switch and a Dragon suplex for a close two. Dragon goes RIGHT to Cattle Mutilation after the kickout, a very smart move as that's the exact same way he put away London. Styles is stronger than London though, and he hangs on. Dragon ends up abandoning the hold and converting to a pinning combo for two. A minute or two later, we get what just might be the greatest match finish in a very long time, as Styles surprises Dragon with a kick again and goes for the Styles Clash again, but Dragon desperately grabs the bottom rope. Styles gets vicious, slamming Dragon stomach and head first into the turnbuckle over and over, until he has to slam him down in a Powerbomb to get him to let go of the ropes. Styles hooks the arms again, and again Dragon thrashes around like a fish out of water. He lunges for the bottom rope again, but Styles gives him another double-leg slam and hangs on, hooking the arms and FINALLY hitting the Clash and rolling through for the three.

The match was by no means perfect, as you have Styles being sloppy and not selling the arm at all after Dragon worked on it, but once you look at the match as a whole you realize that the faults really are pretty minor. Dragon obviously was carrying things here, with Styles kind of being along for the ride; still, even if AJ was only kinda 'there' for the meat of the match, he was excellent in the beginning and the end. The only enduring flaw of this match is that there was no real heel, and so it was kinda hard to feel sympathy for either man. Sure, Dragon tried to heel it up while working the arm, but the crowd didn't really seem to buy it. Still, the crowd was hot anyway, and after you've watched this match the last thing on your mind will be "Hmm, Styles didn't sell the arm and Dragon didn't get heel heat. DUD!"- you'll be too caught up with how damn good the match really was. (22:29, 92)

-Steve Corino (with Samoa Joe) and Low-Ki vs. Shinjiro Ohtani and Masato Tanaka in a ZERO-ONE Special Attraction. After the deep storylines and drama of the last two matches, this was a really fun main event to close the show on. Ohtani is MEGA SUPER HYPER OVER with the ROH crowd, getting a long standing ovation after his entrance with constant "Oh-Ta-Nee!" chants. I didn't think any visiting star could top the reaction that Hidaka got, but there you go. Anyway, while I've heard Emblem didn't bring their A-game and that the match 'felt like a house show match', it still came off like an important match on tape. Ohtani and Tanaka appeared to be having a really good time, especially Ohtani who got loud reactions for everything he did.

Tanaka and Ki start and do a really good sequence on the mat, with Ki doing a cool part where he keeps re-applying Abdominal Stretches and Octopus holds, while Tanaka does a cool counter of his own, turning a Ki figure-four headscissors into a Camel Clutch. Ki and Ohtani don't really hook up for an extended period during the whole match, but when they do work early on, Ohtani clearly sees Ki as not much of a threat, slapping him around like he'd slap around NJPW juniors back in the day. Ki looks determined to prove himself to the senior worker, giving as good as he gets with chops and Euro uppercuts. He even uses one of Ohtani's tactics against him, biting his fingers (RABID MONKEY!) to break a hold. In fact, this was easily one of Ki's best performances ever, as everything he did was logical and solid, and the really goofy stuff was almost nonexistant- no Monkey Up, no selling a limb like death only to forget it minutes later, etc. Both guys get their big submissions (Cobra Hold, Dragon Clutch) on early, but neither does much damage as Ki is able to struggle to the ropes while in the Cobra, while Tanaka is quick to come in to break the Dragon Clutch up.

The match flows really naturally, not seeming to be confined by a strict "heat segment/hot tag" formula. The crowd is quick to get behind Ohtani, so it's Ohtani that ends up having heat drawn on him for a bit, but it's never an obvious formulaic working-over. He gets to beat the hell out of Corino (who was getting a clearly hostile reaction from the crowd) until missing a corner-charge Yakuza Kick and getting kicked low by the self-proclaimed King of Old School. Corino is portrayed as bitter, angry and too preoccupied with the fans, and since he's excellent at heeling it up it helps cover up that he's outclassed by the other three in the ring. Still, even though his role here isn't as a 'workrate' guy, Corino does put in some nice moves, like rolling vertical suplexes into a Brainbuster and a pretty sweet Exploder.

Tanaka gets all the explosive offense in the match, like nailing his signature DDT/Stunner combo on the ROH team after the hot tag. Corino still looks strong near the end, getting nearfalls on Ohtani with the Old School Expulsion and Northern Lights bomb. The finish again plays off of Corino's bossiness and superiority complex, as he insists on Ki coming back in the ring for a doubleteam, but it backfires as Ki ends up pasting Corino with a springboard enzuigiri when Ohtani ducks out of the way. Tanaka lariats Ki out of his ugly bright yellow tights, leaving Corino open for tornado DDTs from both members of Emblem, and a Spiral Bomb from Ohtani is the nail in the coffin. Everyone obeys the almighty Code of Honor with handshakes afterwards, but Corino looks awfully pissed. Just a really enjoyable match with good performances from everyone, and an incredibly hot crowd on top of everything. (15:33, 86)

-The show closes in the back, where Da Hit Squad are discussing their upcoming Scramble match on 12/7. They're interrupted by the sound of a fork scraping against a wall, and the camera pans over to see an angry Homicide doing the scratching. He voices his disgust for Corino and starts rambling, then storms off into Steve Corino's dressing room (where he's playing cards with his girlfriend Simply Luscious) and forks him right in the eye! Homicide stops in shock once he realizes what he's done, and Monsta Mack carts him off while Luscious wails and Mafia goes in search of help...legal notice, fade out.

-Even if you're not exactly high on the ROH product, this is a must-see show. The four big matches are all excellent and the undercard is mostly pretty good; there's the dead space with the women's match, the Bunkhouse match and the JT Smith segment all in a row, but all of that's short enough to be inoffensive and each match advanced an angle in some way or another. I hope I don't come off as a shill here, but this really is an excellent show, one of the best shows anywhere (not just in the indies) for 2002. It wasn't the best indy show of the year (that would be the Ted Petty Invitational), though.

Please accept this review as my apology for my 'Gauntlet Challenge' IWA review being so late; it should be up as you read this, and if it isn't than it will definitely be up the next day. Also, not to be pathetic or anything but I would REALLY appreciate feedback on whether you liked this review style more than the PBP style, or whether you just don't care either way and want me to stop altogether. That's enough whining from me, though...hope you enjoyed this.

1