I very much wanted to call this post "The Champ is Here" but that is the title of Joe's second volume ROH DVD. Today we'll be looking at volume one which looks at Joe's first defenses of the ROH World Championship after defeating Xavier. These are the matches that really put that title on the map and really establish the prestige of that position. You may forget that Low-Ki was the first champ and his climb to the top was greater than his time there. That's OK since Xavier was a project for Gabe S. but the fans really didn't want him even after a few shows. Here comes Samoa Joe who was both a badass like Ki and a project for Gabe.
vs Doug Williams (Retribution: Round Robin Challenge 2 – April 2003): Having just watched a bunch of Steven Regal, I'm thrilled to watch a version of Regal (so to speak) take on Samoa Joe. The first couple minutes could have been on Nitro. Things pick up into more familiar territory especially for the champ as his MMA styling shows through and we gets sort of a worked shoot-style thing (BattlARTS) with Williams going after the arm and Samoa Joe trying to hook in what he can given the position he's in (STF, Crab, Heel hook etc.) but it leads to the the Choke in the end. Quick match at a little over 10 minutes but certainly puts the finisher over as a match ender AND Joe as a fighting champ. This was hard hitting and very physical. A good way to set the tone for Joe as champ.
vs Homicide (Do Or Die – May 2003): Intense violent title fight. The backstory is tied to Homicide vs Corino's Group. But really this is Joe vs Homicide. I haven't seen their other matches but I think this is the best of the bunch per some trusted sources. That's good because this is a classic... maybe a forgotten classic ROH World title match.
vs Dan Maff (WrestleRave - June 2003): Hard hitting no nonsense title fight with the two heavyweights of the company. It felt very much like a local independent promotion's TV main event on the cable sports channel at 10:00 on a Sunday. There's a story to tell as Maff pinned Joe at the previous show thus disbanding the ill-fated Group and well pinning the champ with a jack knife pin. However there's no real story telling here or even a call back to Maff using the jack knife pin. Its just two guys beating each other up. Good stuff nonetheless but could have been improved with just a couple small touches.
vs Paul London (Death Before Dishonor - July 2003): London's final ROH (of his original run) and while common sense says he's not going to win, your heart hopes he does. Paul London is sorta like the best kept secret of early ROH watching in the 2010's & '20s- even more so than his former pal Brian Kendrick. Sure both went on to the WWE and got some fame but that's probably faded by now. But I think what's stranger in hindsight is that Paul jumped ship as his star and confidence in ring was rising. I suppose it makes sense at the time to take the big time deal then...no it makes perfect sense. In hindsight, went in 10 years too early. He was Smackdown tag champs but what is that really in the grand scheme of things? He was one of the first in a long line of fantastic talent wasted in WWE. I digress. So here we have Joe on the rise and London at the end of the road. What could be a very simple to the point match or even a squash is given time and room to breathe and be creative. London wants to go out on top and will use everything in his arsenal to win. Joe is slowly becoming the legendary definitive ROH champ so you're not going to win without a helluva fight. Its not a perfect or even pretty match at times but everyone looks good in the end. Great match and I enjoyed it more after seeing for a second time 5-6 years later.
vs BJ Whitmer (Wrath of the Racket - August 2003): This was a low end good match. Whitmer has as much charisma as a saltine cracker. He's also still doing an tribute act to Jun Akiyama. His exploder suplex looked good his jumping knees were mediocre. Those are tough for anyone to make look good. The corner ones you can jump up and jam the knee in the chest, guy sells it and its like caught between a rock & a hard place. The running version comes down to the guy selling it. Act like its hit you and stopped your momentum and knocks you flat on your back. Trying to make it look good as a actual strike is tough. Joe does his thing and keeps this interesting.
I'll pick back up with Part #2 soon.Thanks for reading!