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[2002-11-09-ROH-All Star Extravaganza] American Dragon vs A.J. Styles

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ROH Title Shot Gauntlet Final

AJ Styles vs. Bryan Danielson
Another excellent match for the promotion, and standard affair for Danielson. The mat work in this was just phenomenal, and Styles might be the most underappreciated guy in that aspect. Matches like this show he's not just some high flyer, and it was a great followup for him after his performance at Honor Invades Boston. I can only imagine what these two could be doing in a rivarly for the WWE nowadays. And what a finish! THAT is how you maintain the momentum for the winner and loser.
Rating: ****1/2

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This was fine. A physical match that was fairly grounded aside from some outside spots and some AJ stuff down the stretch. The “we are equal” work around the middle with the stalemate holds and the like is something I’ve seen too many times that even in a vacuum with two guys I like it just kinda has me cold. The work is brutal and violent and has that sort of attention to detail that you'd like sure, but you've seen guys like Regal or Finlay do it better. Bryan rising up and realizing blood was streaming down his face was a pretty neat moment though.

Also unrelated but related to the match but god early ROH commentary is rough in between the calling of every other match on a show a Match of the Year candidate and the proto-TNA “we’re not sports entertainment!” talking points.

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Yeah, I agree about the commentary. I hated Gabe S. (I think) going on and on about stuff other than the match. That's not just with this bout but others...even when he'd jump on during the heyday in '04-06. He's too busy getting the company or his booking over.

 

So I put the volume down to like "3" to get the essence of the commentary :)

 

Nonetheless, this was a great match and perhaps a classic. This was a "armory classic" if nothing else. Aggressive mat work to start, good surprises, a real sense of importance and competition throughout...hardway blood helped cement that. Two of best wrestlers of this generation going at it with no cheesy story and, early on in their career, no gigantic expectations.

 

Not sure if the "this is wrestling" existed yet or if they were chanting that or anything (remember volume at 3) but, this match deserved it.

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AJ Styles vs Bryan Danielson - ROH 11/9/02

You know it is amazing how much verbal marketing matters in pro wrestlers. Once AJ Styles got branded as a high-flyer he has never really been able to shake the tag. AJ is a very impressive high flyer, but that's not really his bread & butter. He is a meat & potatoes wrestler that focuses on executing moves crisply and with his own signature flair (think of his forearm or kneedrop). AJ has a strong core of fundamentals which is his strong striking (best working punch of his generation) and wrestling (he is a former amateur wrestler). He busts out a Spiral Tap or a dive to the outside as a highspot, but that's not who he is. It is funny I feel like in almost every match it is a surprise on commentary that AJ can go on the mat or wow AJ is standing toe to toe and trading bombs. How did we go a whole decade of watching the best wrestler of his generation and we were constantly shocked AJ Styles is good at other things besides diving/flying? 

The opening grappling of this match is fantastic. It is not paying lip service to chain wrestling. This looks like a shoot.  This is some damn great grappling. How Danielson just grabs an arm and then flips him over and AJ bridges to avoid the pinning combination but it is still in the double wristlock was insane. I was marking out for the whole thing. It was really strong work. It set the tone for the whole match. The whole match was intense and it was a struggle. Everything was done with urgency.

I thought this was a better version of the AJ Styles vs Low-Ki Title match from August. It is a very similar layout. Lots of quick transitions, a sense of competition but done with struggle as opposed to "my turn, your turn". I thought the finish was stronger and some of the spots were better, but I think it suffers from that same problem of all action, but no hooks. I really like those big mid-match moments that feel like turning points. They are little climaxes on the road to the major climax. This lacked that. A great example of this issue is after the first Styles Clash. AJ is incredulous he kicked out and goes for another cover out of disbelief. Great move, puts over that he believes in his finish. Little things like that protect the finish. The next move is a Dragon Suplex by Danielson. How did we get there? A standing switch. I am all for the standing switch early, but late you want that big transition that is going to be memorable. Oh shit that was the game-changer, instead of just a standing switch. The hold on the bridge after the kickout by AJ deserves a big shoutout! I liked the follow up Cattle Mutilation (I hate the move but it was the right time for it) and love how they didnt stay in it long and Danielson converted into a tight Oklahoma Side Roll I actually bit on that as the finish. Danielson goes up top and AJ scores some big rights. These are great working punches a staple of AJ Styles. Again, I would have liked to seen a better transition than AJ having to shake the ropes to get Danielson in position for the Clash. Then they do AWESOME stuff like AJ ramming Danielson's head into the turnbuckles repeatedly as Danielson desperately clings to the ropes. Once AJ forces Danielson to release, Danielson is too low to do the move safely & properly so instead of looking like a tool AJ muscles him up into a powerbomb, smokes him, resets and hits it properly & safely. That's great pro wrestling and dedication to the craft! 

I am nitpicking shit, but there's a reason why this match doesnt build completely to that ultra-hot crescendo and I think it comes from too many momentum shifts even if they are well-earned. That second Styles Clash how AJ EARNED it from ramming Danielson to release, the powerbomb and then hitting the move was tremendous pro wrestling and there are many examples of tremendous pro wrestling in this match. I think it ultimately falls short because in the middle it is a blur of action. You have AJ scoring dropkicks and evading the guardrail/hitting a superkick while Danielson is snapping off drop toeholds and popping AJ's shoulder out like Malenko/Rey GAB '96 (I love that spot so much). Danielson's arm work was fucking great, but short-lived. You had AJ taking a great bump off of a European Uppercut. You had Bryan transitioning out of the Quebrada/Slop Drop into a Northern Lights. There was a lot of strong stuff, no downtime, but like that Ki/AJ match and Ki/Danielson from King of the Indies '01 it is very noisy. I hope that makes sense, but thats how I feel. I feel this was the best of the three because the finish was so strong and there was a little more hate behind the shots (at one point Dragon gets a nasty cut from above the eye and I dont know why and Danielson goes for the eyes at one point). I think there is a little more emotion in this match than the other two I am comparing it to. I guess what I am saying is the work was outstanding but it just didnt fully coalesce into a classic that really moved me emotionally. I am rambling at this point (and I think that kind of does this style match justice), but I feel this match and the other two I have discussed capture the sporting element of pro wrestling really well. As a sport, pro wrestling should not always have not nice & neat narratives. Sometimes there is going to be a lot of action, but not a lot of impactful turning points. That's what I am trying to get across is that this style is still true to the sporting nature of pro wrestling that something like a men's floor exercise match or a overly cooperative stand around you hit me, I hit you match is not being true to sporting nature of pro wrestling. I hope that makes sense because I really enjoy this because I think it is innovative, unique and with some tweaks could be really awesome. ****1/4

 

 

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Bryan vs. Styles is one my favorite wrestling pairings ever. This is their first ever singles match, and the first time they've been in a same match, period. Pretty notable in that regard, and it's also notable how in their first ever meeting, they already produced magic. It has that signature amazing, intense matwork you'd expect from them -- Dragon & Ki are the most hailed mat-wrestlers of this era, but AJ brought his own, fantastic flavor into that game as well, and it's in full showcase here w/ his brilliant aggression & intensity. They of course bust some great, brutal looking n' sounding strikes throughout as well, and it must be said that AJ's selling of Dragon's uppercuts was 5-outta-5. LOVED Bryan's attack on AJ's arm too -- he got the control back by kicking that arm, so he naturally saw a target in it afterwards, and his work over it was just tremendous. Nasty stomps, vicious holds, those headbutts. Hell yeah. Bryan eventually gets busted open NASTILY from his left eye -- it creates for some awesome visuals, and I loved how AJ's urgency rose after he sees the cut; it's in full showcase in that Muta Lock sequence (grrreat one btw) that followed. They start busting bigger & bigger bombs from then on -- the back bodydrop by Bryan definitely deserved that "holy shit!" chant it got, because AJ's bump off it was pretty crazy. I absolutely ADORE the finish w/ the Styles Clash struggle too; AJ REALLY had to work to get that move in. It's the perfect way to close this tremendous, classic match. Just behind Danielson/Ki for the ROH MOTY honors. ****1/2

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An epic from early on in the careers of two of the best ever. The opening grappling felt aggressive, where both guys were getting a feel for each other. The match starts escalating during the knuckle lock/monkey flip spot where Danielson does damage to Styles' arm and starts working it over. During one of the strike exchanges, Danielson gets cut open pretty badly. Even at this point in his career, Danielson is smart enough to take a moment and let all of the crowd see his wound instead of carrying on with the match as if nothing happened. The go-home stretch had some cool moments, such as the dueling Muta Locks and one of the nastiest back superplexes that I've seen. The finish was cool too, with Styles struggling to get Danielson up for the Styles Crash and has to violently ram his head into the turnbuckles and powerbomb him before he can finally get him up. The finishing stretch went on for a touch too long and I wish they didn't forget about Styles' bad arm, but this was still a hell of a match that you should go out of your way to see. ★★★★

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I really liked the matwork in this. I thought it was fantastic. After the hot start, it became more of a generic back and forth "epic." You can see the pattern emerging of what fans expect to see in terms of nearfalls and finishing stretches. I appreciate the thought that goes into countering your opponent's finishing moves, but if it's too clever then it looks choreographed. I don't like being told I'm watching a Match of the Year candidate, either, but that's not really the workers' fault. 

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