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[2002-03-30-ROH-Round Robin Challenge] Low Ki vs American Dragon

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Round Robin Challenge Match #3

Guest Ref - Ken Shamrock
Low Ki vs. Bryan Danielson
Now THIS is a work of art - Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards should study and analyze this match to the point of absolute mental exhaustion. This is how you mix mat wrestling with strikes and dramatically close near-falls, with nice spots blended in here and there. At least 75% of this match is purely on the mat, and everything is done smoothly and crisply. The transitions are just gorgeous. Finishers are executed and the crowd actually buys into them. The psychology of Danielson's prior match with Daniels is played up to flawlessly. Danielson vs. Daniels set the bar for openers in this company; this match set the bar for ALL ROH matches. I thought of taking a 1/4* away, but the post-match selling of complete exhaustion and fatigue from both men boost it to perfection. Shamrock is two for two in refereeing a five star match.
Rating: *****

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The early shoot-style matwork is fantastic & showcases Dragon as the (much) superior mat/technical worker. Ki uses his kicks & targets the injured eye of Dragon to create some separation whenever he's being overwhelmed, but he's an egomaniac so he continues to try and roll with Dragon even though he's getting schooled. They're both incredibly stiff & physical with each other. Dragon is so good at incorporating the psychology of his opening match with Christopher Daniels into this match, too. The injured eye & neck are both still at play from start to finish. They eschew the matwork for a more traditional pro-wrestling approach in the second half. The built-up drama & tension from the opening & middle is now escalating into satisfying payoffs. The nearfalls feel earned & both guys are selling their asses off. Dragon is able to counter the Phoenix Splash that beat him in the three-way with Daniels & Ki, so that's a cool callback. There's one spot in the match where Low Ki hits a Ki Krusher off the top rope, but he's so exhausted (and he's hurt himself in the process of performing the move, as well) that he's unable to capitalize, and Dragon is able to roll out of the ring before the pin. Great moment. Their technique and execution get sloppier in the end, and whether that's an intended nuance or not, I thought it added to the story of both guys being exhausted to the bone by the finishing stretch. Dragon is able to make Ki pass out in the Cattle Mutilation for the victory.

 

This is an all-time classic match. I can't go full five-stars, though, as the match lacked the emotional depth of a five-star match. There's certain points during the match where the matwork -- while never boring -- meandered & maybe overstayed it's welcome, too. Rating: ****¾

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Danielson is 20 YEARS OLD & Low Ki is 22 YEARS OLD in this one. That's absolutely unbelievable considering how good this match & they were already. There were a couple of moments where I thought some sections of the match dragged a bit, but that's just a minor complaint, and really just something that makes it a 4.75* match rather than the full 5-dog. Some of the best mat work seen in the US in this one with a great touch of grittiness and fantastic intensity to it. Superb psychology throughout, too; Danielson gets the better of Ki on the mat throughout, so Ki gets frustrated & starts doing Low Ki things aka kicking the crap out of his opponent & throwing big bombs. Love how Danielson's match vs. Daniels from earlier in the night comes into play as well w/ his eye & neck injuries - LOVED the moment when Low Ki just said "fuck this shit" & blasted Dragon's eye with those stiff kicks. Absolutely brutal stuff. He also works the neck throughout w/ nasty bombs. It's a classic. ****3/4

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Yep. I am also of the mind that this is a 5 star match. I can pinpoint this as the match that I could clearly identify as my favorite/the best match of the era that brought me back into wrestling. I probably saw it a few weeks into my dive into ROH (which was what really sucked me back in) and I thought it was so clearly a classic match. I can see why some people might have issues with it, but I think when you are considering the time and place and how well it holds up, this is incredible stuff. It is hard hitting, paced well, high drama, high emotion developing through the match.

 

Fantastic.

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To think both of these guys were at this level so early in their careers. Dragon especially comes off so polished, so impressive, so self-assured. Every move, every moment feels right from both of them. It's a quality you don't see in the majority of matches even at the WWE level. This feels like a fight, with logic and consequences.

Matwork was great for the first 10 minutes and actually reminded me of a UFC fight. That's nonsense I know, but the way the counters and attempts bled into each other did feel like it was following some semblance of reality. After a point it did meander, but they switched things up and it started to get more exciting.

Finishers and trademark moves were used well, leading to counters and reversals that felt logical due to both men being exposed to each other so much. I can't stand that sort of thing in modern WWE main events because the counters seem so rehearsed. These ones had fight to them and the struggle is all the difference. By the time the moves are attempted again, it feels right that the opponent will be expecting it and will attempt to block.

Took me until the end to realize Shamrock reffing was a deliberate callback.

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Not as great as the JAPW match, but still insanely tightly worked, stiff pro wrestling that blows away all the current wannabe shooters (and everyone else too). They mostly struggle over holds while pounding the daylights out of eachother. Kis stiffness was just crazy as he would rough up Danielsons already bruised face with out of nowhere kicks. At one point he just grabbed Bryans head and went loose with Kawada kicks sending him to the outside. Most of this match was both guys fighting over holds or working eachother over with stiff kicks and chops. Ki blocking a Dragon Suplex only to be thrown with a back suplex was like something out of 80s NJPW. I also loved how Ki, after choking the air out of Danielsons lung would immediately follow up with double stomps to the stomach. Unfortunately Danielson made an easy comeback soon after that and the finishing stretch was not as great as the body of the match as they mostly stick to throwing big old bombs back and forth for like 10 minutes. Still, match felt like a classic in large parts.

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American Dragon vs Low-Ki - ROH 3/30/02

The more I watch really early independents (focused on Danielson, AJ, Joe and Ki) the more you do NOT see the All Japan or New Japan Juniors influence instead the influence truly is strong style (the style of Inoki & Karl Gotch) that being New Japan Heavyweights and BattlArts. That is not something I was expecting. So often you hear "Strong Style" confused with "King's Road" or any wrestling that is stiff. Strong style to me is way more mat-based and strike-oriented. It is one shade away from shoot-style. This has been an excellent strong style match. Note the physical contact time in this match. There is flesh on flesh and body on body for the vast majority of he first fifteen minutes as opposed to rope running and Irish Whips, none of that bullshit. Ken Shamrock is the Special Guest Ref to add cred to this match, his mutton chops are out of control. The chain wrestling is good in this match. I cant do it justice so I will just give snippets here and there. I really liked Danielson doing the ankle cross to avoid a Low-Ki choke. Low-Ki was an excellent ground-pound dude. He was using headbutts, elbows, knees and kicks while on the ground to constantly add a different look. Danielson turned that ankle cross into a rocking horse, which was insane. Like I said it was so hard-hitting and the submissions were so tight. Everything looked like a struggle. The complexion of the match changes around the ten minute mark. Each man had wrestled the Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels earlier in the night as a part of a Round Robin Challenge. Ki won and Dragon lost. In Dragon's match, he got a cut on his eye. Ki blasted him with a kick to the bad eye that sent Dragon to the outside. What I loved about this was each time Ki got a shot to Dragon's bad eye he would powder and come back even more furious. Dragon applied two wicked submissions on Ki in response to this first salvo to his eye. Ki wriggled free and blasted Danielson in the eye with Kawada Kicks (so there is some All Japan influence :P)  Again, Danielson comes back more furious. Great lock up and Ki tries to knee him in the eye, but Danielson wrestles him down into the mat. I love how Dragon is going for Cattle Mutilation and then a Dragon Suplex but settles for a back suplex. Why did I like this because there was no break in physical contact. It was all struggle. Ki was blocking and Danielson was responding by switching holds.  Danielson is working a hold and Ki is throwing these nasty knees from a seated position to Danielson's bad eye. Ki gets up high enough to hit that insane Kawada flip kick (the one Kawada usually uses to block a German Suplex) from a crazy spot and Danielson is down again due to his eye. First half of the match has been so insanely good just dripping with urgency and struggle. 

From here the match turns more into an All Japan style bomb throwing match, but there is still plenty of submission nearfalls and work that is rooted in the front half. Ki pulverizes Danielson with chops and kicks. There is one kick to the back that I thought was so hard that Danielson were going to pop out of his head. Ki is able to use his Dragon Clutch and a rear naked choke to drain the life out of Danielson out on the floor. There is an insane spot here Ki hits a double stomp, stands on Danielson, Danielson bridges and then Ki hits a double stomp. MARK OUT CITY! Ki looks to finish him with the Ki Krusher, but Danielson hits a roaring elbow. Danielson hits a top rope diving headbutt stupidly I may add and I love that it is Ki that actually gets the cover on that move. Serves Dragon right. Ki hits his back handspring jumping kick that looks phenomenal. Ki applies Cattle Mutiliation, but Danielson wriggles free into a Dragon Clutch. I think that was the best finisher stealing spot I have ever seen. I was pumping my fist. Danielson starts throwing Ki around with some big suplexes and for the first time it looks like Danielson is in charge. Low-Ki wants his Tidal Wave which is his big transition move. Danielson hits a picture-perfect dropkick to the midsection to block. Oooooo I didnt love Low Ki hitting a brainbuster there. I didnt feel like he earned it. Up until that point, the transitions were perfect. Ki has a handful of hair and just destroys Danielson's face with a barrage of Kawada kicks. Brutal to the max, brutha! KI KRUSHER! 1-2-NO! Low-Ki & I cant believe it. Ki decides he knows to go one louder and is going for the Phoenix Splash. Low Ki may be the most complete wrestler ever from an offensive standpoint. The Phoenix Splash is off target and eats knees. DRAGON SUPLEX! But American Dragon cant hold the bridge and only gets two. The match does go a little NOAH in the sense they go overboard with the highspots...Dragon hits a Super Back Suplex and then Ki hits a Super Ki Krusher...which is not the finish. This has been an amazing cardio exhibition they are going hard and there has been almost zero downtime in this match. Dragon catches Ki in the back handspring...Dragon Suplex...No...Reverse Cradle Suplex wicked snap to that. Dragon needs two Cattle Mutilation but Low-Ki taps out!

Wow! What a match! I am exhausted just watching this. Incredible work from these two. You had it all: amazing chain wrestling, stiff strikes, big time bombs and a hot finish stretch. Do they go a little overboard yes, but goddamn this is intense wrestling. Everything felt urgent like both men wanted to win this match so badly and they were struggling for every move. I have really enjoyed going back and watching early 2000s Indy Wrestling. ****3/4

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Both guys are incredibly young at this point in their careers, and you can see that, in Danielson's case more so. Danielson still had some of his excellent grappling that he would gain fame for later and Low Ki only matched that with his STIFF kicks. It's a great dynamic, as it always is, strikes vs grappling. I think the length is a glaring problem. A ton of it could've been condensed and wouldn't miss anything, however I get what they were going for and they achieved that. The selling of both was awesome. The sell of every hold, strike and even exhaustion. An early classic for ROH and both guys. ****1/4

 

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