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089 ROH Final Battle 2005 12/17/2005

ROH 89 – Final Battle 2005 – 17th December 2005

The traditional big year-ending blow-off for Ring Of Honor is usually something to behold. Be it the epic 45-minute draw in 2002, All Japan’s invasion in 2003 or Austin Aries beating Samoa Joe in 2004, there’s generally something to make it worth getting hold of the DVD. This year promises to be no exception, as the card is looking pretty good. Obviously the headline acts are KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji, who are in from Pro-Wrestling NOAH to bring their junior heavyweight excellence to Ring Of Honor rings – taking on Low Ki and Bryan Danielson respectively. Nigel McGuiness defends the Pure Title in an anxiously awaited rematch with Claudio Castagnoli, Sal Rinauro and my boy Serious Tony put the Tag belts up against Aries and Strong, and there’s a huge fourway with grudges to be settled between all the participants. This is the promotion’s first show from the Inman Sports Club in Edison, NJ. Lenny Leonard has recovered from his bad sushi experience to return alongside DP.

Low Ki talks over a video package highlighting pretty much everything he’s done since joining the Rottweilers. He says he’s winning the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title tonight…

Jimmy Rave vs Milano Collection AT

The Embassy obviously needs to recover from the devastation of defeat to Generation Next in Steel Cage Warfare last time out, so a win for the Crown Jewel here would be pretty important. But (in theory) Milano needs to get the duke too, given that he’s fresh off his first win in ROH – over Claudio Castagnoli at Night Of Tribute (in reality this is his last match before he quit). The TP shower for Jimmy is bigger than ever – good start for the Edison crowd.

Rave pisses everyone off straight away by shoving AT into the corner and grinding a forearm into his face. Milano recovers and focuses his early work on the arm. Jimmy drops to the mat but Milano has him scouted and applies a bow and arrow stretch. More rope-running ensues, then MCAT breaks out a mounted abdominal stretch – pretty cool. Paradise Lock/basement dropkick combo finds the mark next. He dropkicks the neck then puts Rave in a chinlock, keeping him on the mat. Jimmy clubs him in the back of the head with a rear lariat for 2. He goes for a northern lights suplex but after a communication error between the two he ends up dropping Milano on his face. To the apron where AT guillotines Rave over the middle rope for the RUNNING DROPKICK from the floor! Amazingly that doesn’t keep the supermodel in control for too long as Rave drop toeholds him into the second turnbuckle. Rave attacks the neck with a head crank and follows it up with a swinging neckbreaker for 2. SATELLITE CROSSFACE! We haven’t seen this for a while and it isn’t enough to win as AT fights to the bottom rope. Prince Nana takes a few cheap shots whilst the referee is distracted but he pays for that as Milano dropkicks him through the ropes. MATRIX DUCK under a Rave clothesline into an enziguri that leaves both men down. MCAT to the top for a flying crossbody that gets a nearfall. Rave with an STO backbreaker into GHANAREA…but AT kicks out. Handspring cartwheel by Milano then ARMANI SHOE EXCHANGE! STANDING SHINING WIZARD…FOR 2! Rave blocks a powerbomb and hits the CRAPPY WIZARD! GREETINGS FROM GHANA! Victory for Rave at 12:46.

Rating – *** –
Not a whole lot of selling going on from Milano there, and some of the early wrestling was a little unfocused, but it still made for a good opening contest. But for Roderick Strong’s emergence, Jimmy Rave would be the most improved wrestler of 2005 by a country mile. He has come from nowhere to be one of the top heels around, and he deserves that spot. It’s little things – like using the Satellite Crossface for the first time in ages because he’s working the neck – that show you just how good he is now. Don’t be surprised if he wins the World Title in 2006. That ends Milano’s brief tenure in ROH. It’s a shame because I was tipping him to be a breakout success next year. He was good whilst he was around though.

Bryan Danielson (the beard is coming back) is honoured that Marufuji has accepted one of his open contracts. But he points out he’s not intimidated thanks to his experience some of the best juniors in the world during his time in New Japan. Lots of point in this promo then…

Azrieal vs Colt Cabana

Injuries played a big part in the reorganisation of this show. Initially Colt Cabana was going to blow-off his feud with Homicide tonight, but that shoulder injury Cide sustained against Steve Corino at Steel Cage Warfare keeps him from wrestling tonight. Now he’s stuck with Azrieal, who has plummeted back down the card to jobber status. Last time we saw him was his destruction by Bryan Danielson at Night Of Tribute. Does Cabana have his mind in the game, and is Homicide here tonight? He has to be pissed after a masked man (presumably Colt) cost him a match against Corino earlier this month.

Azrieal is in jovial mood and tries to have a good time with Cabana who is steadfastly focused on out-wrestling him. Colt gets the better of an arm wrench exchange but Azrieal still struts around the ring quite merrily. He goes for a shoulder tackle but obviously he’s miles smaller. He tries to convince Cabana to do the running, and Colt agrees but only on the condition that he doesn’t stick his foot out to trip him. Azrieal does anyway and gets B*TCH SLAPPED! He stomps the foot and dropkicks Cabana for 2. He goes for a springboard crossbody and Colt meets him in mid-air with a dropkick to the stomach. They clash heads in the corner and both go down in a daze. Az pops up with a satellite headscissors and follows with an enziguri for another 2. South Of Heaven blocked once…but not twice as South Of Heaven is nailed, but still isn’t enough. Cabana rallies back with shoulder blocks and a missile dropkick. The Cabana lariat gets him the win at 07:19. To quote the fan at Joe vs Kobashi – ‘you f*cking suck, Azrieal.’

Rating – * –
I award a star for another progression in Cabana’s character – as now he plays the serious man against the goofy opponent when so often it was the other way round. Azrieal didn’t do anything too horrible here, but didn’t look all that great either. I don’t agree with using the South Of Heaven as a nearfall though. It made Cabana look weaker simply by Az being able to hit it on him, and of course, given that less than a minute after it Colt was hitting the flurry that won him the match, it doesn’t do wonders for the credibility of the move.

Homicide is in the building it seems, and he makes his presence felt after the bell – coming out with his arm in a sling. He isn’t here to fight Colt tonight – and says his shoulder injury is going to keep him out for six months. He’s here tonight for revenge on Steve Corino and warns Cabana to stay out of it.

Nigel McGuiness vs Claudio Castagnoli – ROH Pure Title Match

There’s the added stipulation here of two referees – one inside the ring to officiate the match and one on the floor to ensure there’s none of the rule-breaking shenanigans that have dogged Nigel’s Pure Title defences. That happened the first time Double C challenged him, as McGuiness brought his iron into the ring then managed to convince the referee that Castagnoli had hit him with it. Is it now time for Claudio’s revenge?

The champion comes in cocky and palms Castagnoli in the forehead. Nigel clearly thinks he’s now a luchador as well as he hits a tilta-whirl armdrag then a hurricanrana. McGuiness punches Claudio in the faces then acts like he was the one that got hit…but the second referee spotted it and Nigel is given the official warning for a closed fist. Castagnoli headlocks McGuiness then turns him away from both refs for a sneaky punch. Nigel tries to do the same thing but doesn’t conceal Double C from the second ref and is deducted a break. He works Claudio’s arm again until the Swiss competitor uses the referee to come up with a counter. McGuiness uses the ropes fleetingly to counter Castagnoli’s hold and the second official catches that as well – two rope breaks gone for Nigel. He goes to the floor in frustration as Castagnoli hits the ropes. NIGEL DRAGS THE 2ND REF INTO THE UPPERCUT SUICIDA! And worse than that, Claudio injured his arm and Nigel goes right after it with the hammerlock DDT. He hangs the challenger in the corner and kicks him in the spine, then draws CC’s first break with a top wristlock. It’s levelled at 2-2 on ropebreaks seconds later as McGuiness utilises a modified crossface. McGuiness attempts the headstand into the mule kick but Claudio shoves him face-first into the mat. Claudio gets the better of an UPPERCUT DUEL then double boots McGuiness in the head setting up him for the diving European uppercut to the neck. There’s no strength in the arm for the Riccola Bomb but Double C still counters the hammerlock DDT with a suplex. Castagnoli wants a superplex but in the end he BACKFLIPS off the top and drags Nigel off with the TOWER OF LONDON! McGuiness uses his last ropebreak to escape the pin from his own move. Claudio ducks the rebound lariat…and it hits the in-ring official. Another hammerlock DDT on the injured arm and he goes for the iron. He tries to play possum with it again but both referees are out. Castagnoli smacks him in the head with the foreign object…AND THAT’S THREE! New Champion at 14:38! But no…the second ref saw Claudio use the iron. McGuiness is given the win by DQ!

Rating – *** –
I preferred the Showdown In Motown match because that had less goofy stuff with the referee. The problem with the way they’ve booked Nigel’s title reign is that his big matches like this HAVE to be full of cheating and ref bumps etc – it’s the staple of his time with the belt. Luckily he and Claudio are good enough to structure a good match around all the goofy stuff. Hopefully they get one more match and go at it clean. I’m dying to see how good they can be in a longer, non-gimmicked match.

Alex Shelley vs Steve Corino

Shelley is another man who has suffered at the hands of last minute booking changes. He was originally going to be wrestling AJ Styles, but AJ messed up his lip at a TNA show and decided to pull out (although he controversially ended up working a Vince Russo event the night before this event). They were able to get Corino as a late replacement though, and this should be an interesting clash of real pricks (in character at least). Like Jimmy Rave earlier, Shelley needs to rebound after losing to GeNext in the cage on December 3rd to start 2006 close to, if not in the Top 5 Rankings. Steve Corino has to be wary of Homicide, who he beat in Manhattan – remember he says he wants revenge tonight.

The match gets underway with Nana laying out Corino’s ring announcer then Corino smacking the Prince in the face too. He quickly takes over on Shelley scoring with strikes then raking the eyes. He starts clawing at Shelley’s ear before taking him to the floor. Alex takes advantage of the environment and starts throwing him into the railings and then the apron. Nana takes a shot at Steve who grabs a chair and starts to chase him. Somewhere in all that Shelley opened up an injury on Corino’s arm which he goes straight to work on. Corino doesn’t lie back and take it though and they engage in a ferocious strike exchange that ends with both men on their asses. Nana throws Steve into the guardrail again with Shelley in conversation with the referee. Now it’s Nana that occupies the official as Shelley sets up a chair in the corner. But Corino reverses and slams the Embassy man face-first into the weapon. Corino puts some forearm shots together but then gets rocked with an ENZI TO THE SHOULDER! Corino goes for a DDT but almost gets put away with a Magistral cradle. He kicks but Shelley floats straight into a cross armbreaker. ARM STUNNER nailed before Alex climbs the ropes. Corino goes for a superplex but gets shoved off and blows his knee out landing. TOP ROPE TORNADO ARMBREAKER BY SHELLEY! He goes to the cross armbreaker again but Corino is in the ropes. The former ECW Champion is limping now but still manages to hit an enzi kick then the running STO. Nana tries to grab Corino and accidentally gets hit in the face by Shelley. DDT/FLATLINER COMBO on Shelley and Nana. NORTHERN LIGHTS BOMB…but Nana kills the ref. How is that not a DQ? Shelley uses that distraction to roll Corino up at 11:06.

Rating – ** –
I knocked a whole star off the match for the finish, which sucked. Before that this was surprisingly good. It was a stiff, physical, competitive back and forth match with some nice arm-work by Shelley, and a gutsy effort from Corino to finish the match even though he injured his knee pretty badly.

Homicide storms the ring literally as soon as the bell rings. DISGUSTING STIFF KICKS TO THE HEAD! He pulls out a bottle of Draino (I have no idea – some kind of chemical cleaner sh*t) and tries to pour it into his face…but Colt Cabana makes the save. Julius Smokes ambushes Cabana from behind…HOMICIDE POURS THE DRAINO INTO CABANA’S MOUTH! COLT STARTS VOMITING IN THE RING! THIS IS INSANE!

GMC is on scoop duty as he brings Jay Lethal out to the ring. Obviously he wants to know why Lethal attacked Joe with the chair during their match at Steel Cage Warfare. Jay said one day he caught a glimpse of Joe’s paycheck – and it turns out the mentor gets a lot more than the protégé. That didn’t sit well with him after winning the Pure Title and beating Low Ki this year and figured the only way to get the money, fame and recognition he truly deserves by breaking away from his mentor. Now he’s the hottest free agent in wrestling apparently – his services are open to the highest bidder.

SIDENOTE – I’ll admit the gimmick behind Lethal’s turn on Samoa Joe is a little hokey, but you can’t fault the intentions of the booker. The student turning on the master storyline has been done over and over. At least ROH are putting a fresh spin on it with Lethal’s “hottest free agent” thing.

Jay Lethal vs BJ Whitmer vs Christopher Daniels vs Samoa Joe

There’s some serious issues going on in this one. Samoa Joe will want revenge on Jay Lethal after what he did at Steel Cage Warfare. Joe also has heat with Daniels going all the way back to 2002 – and has beaten him twice this year (at Night Of The Grudges 2 and Vendetta). BJ Whitmer fits into the equation because we know he’s still pissed off at Daniels for walking out on ROH and The Prophecy in 2004 when TNA pulled their talent. Obviously BJ and Chris both have their valets at ringside. Joe is the new X-Division Champion now and comes out to ‘The Champ Is Here’ again.

Lethal ducks Joe from the outset so it’s Whitmer who starts with the Samoan. JUMPING ENZI from Joe, then the chop/kick/knee drop sequence. BJ goes for a tag but Lethal jumps off the apron to avoid his former mentor. Daniels comes in instead but Joe is able to use his power advantage on him as well. Lethal attacks Joe from behind with a kick to the back then throws him into the guardrails. Whitmer low-bridges Daniels and takes out some of his aggression against his former leader by launching him into the metal. BJ and Lethal both target Daniels’ back and neck with their offence after the damage he sustained on the floor. Jay gets 2 with a jumping dropkick to the neck and follows up with a Goku Raku. Whitmer chokes him in the ropes, then distracts the ref so Lacey can do the choking. Out of desperation Daniels goes for the Arabian press but there’s no water in the pool. Lacey again starts choking him but this time Allison Danger goes for her. Lacey goes for the Implant DDT but gets destroyed by forearm shots. Whitmer grabs Allison but Daniels saves her with a stepping enzi and Joe tags in.

Daniels tags out to Lethal so now IT’S ON! He gets 2 with a big boot into a senton splash. STJOE ON WHITMER! EXPLODER ’98…FOR 2! Whitmer goes for a brainbuster but settles for a KNEE STRIKE to the head. Joe catches Whitmer with the RUNNING DVD! Lethal and Daniels brawl into the ring and it’s the Fallen Angel with a flatliner. Fall From Grace blocked and Jay hits a jumping heel kick from the second rope then a spinebuster for 2. Dragon Suplex blocked and Daniels sets up for the BME with a urinage slam. BEST MOONSAULT EVER but BJ breaks the pin. Lethal and Whitmer get thrown out and JOE AND DANIELS GO AT IT AGAIN! Lethal runs in and gets a powerslam as Daniels urinage slams Whitmer. Jay tries to hit Joe with the X-Division title but Daniels gives him an STO. JOE GIVES DANIELS A MUSCLEBUSTER ON THE BELT! WHITMER HITS JOE WITH A CHAIR! Lethal springboard dropkicks Whitmer through the ropes. DIVING HEADBUTT ON THE KO’D DANIELS! Lethal wins at 15:02.

Rating – **** –
That took me back to 2003 when ROH would put out a blistering four corner match like this on pretty much every show. Technically it wasn’t perfect – the legal man issues at the end would make a smark nerd cry – but there was so much entertainment. Despite the relatively short time allocation all three of the major feuds got some kind of interaction, we got the added bonus of the Lacey/Allison b*tchfight, and the last five minutes were crazy. 2006 should produce some good matches between these four. That’s two big wins back to back for Lethal who is ending the year strong.

INTERMISSION – GMC is with The Embassy who have had a better night this evening. Nana promises 2006 will be their year. Alex Shelley suggests that they go for all the titles…

CLIP to Corino freaking out about how Homicide tried to kill Colt Cabana earlier. He walks out on ROH due to the unsafe working environment. Like he hasn’t done that before.

Ricky Reyes is in town for his latest student massacre. This one has a bit of a story to it though. At Steel Cage Warfare he laid out Davey Andrews with his own Top Of The Class trophy, so now Davey is going for revenge. He gets a few offensive moves in but ends up falling victim to the dragon sleeper just like everyone else. Reyes isn’t done and destroys the trophy for good measure. In the end Austin Aries hits the ring and runs the Rottweilers up the ramp. He’s fed up of Reyes bullying his students…then comes up with two of the best lines of the whole year. ‘It’s not their fault that Rocky Romero carried your ass for a year and now he’s off in Japan and he’s a big star…It’s not their fault that the only time you’re over is when you’re drunk’ – Aries. OH HE DID NOT! Reyes is pissed but Smokes manages to hold him back. Reyes is so over now man…he could be a big attraction for ROH next year. Aries and Strong are already in the ring and call out the Tag Champions for their match…

Tony Mamaluke/Sal Rinauro vs Austin Aries/Roderick Strong – ROH Tag Title Match

By and large the decision to fast-track the belts to Sal and Tony has flopped. I’ll admit that they’ve grown on me recently (although it’s mostly due to my love/hate fascination with Mamaluke), but they haven’t really produced anything like the kind of matches you’d expect from a company committed to rebuilding their tag division, and Mamaluke’s injury really killed their momentum. Their last defence against Cabana and Milano Collection AT was good though. Aries and Strong were the surviving members of the winning Generation Next team at Steel Cage Warfare, and beat Samoa Joe and Jay Lethal to earn this shot so they’re coming into this with a world of momentum. It’s a year ago with this very show that Aries toppled Samoa Joe to win the ROH World Title – is Final Battle “his” show?

Strong starts with Mamaluke in a renewal of a pretty intense match in FIP (apparently). Remember folks, Tony is a shooter so he tries to keep Roddy on the mat. Strong uses his big striking to fight his way back but Mamaluke slaps on a triangle choke. That leads to an AWESOME hold exchange ending with Tony blocking the Stronghold. Rinauro tags but Strong dominates him with his size advantage. The intensity of his chops send Rinauro to the outside. He starts working over Sal’s back with a camel clutch then repeated stomps to the spine. Double back suplex by GeNext gets a 2. Roderick chops Sal so hard it actually echoes through the building. RUNNING DROPKICK from Aries. He tries to chop Rinauro but his chops suck compared to Strong’s, so his partner tags to show him how it’s done. RUNNING QUEBRADA out of nowhere by Sal, but Strong shakes it off and butterfly suplexes him into Austin’s power drive elbow. Aries goes for his slingshot corkscrew splash but Mamaluke pulls him off the apron and RAMS HIS HEAD INTO THE RAIL! FEEL THE SERIOUSNESS! He tags in and slingshots Aries into the bottom rope. HEAD DROP back suplex for 2. Cross armbreaker applied only for Aries to roll to the ropes. He uses a stranglehold camel clutch right in Roderick’s face to work the neck and piss off his partner. Rinauro tags with a Savage elbow drop to the neck. Drop toehold gutbuster double team from the champions as the beatdown on Aries continues. Mamaluke winds Strong up some more by chopping his partner. They go for a double back suplex but Aries lays them both out and gets the hot tag. Rinauro sticks his head through the ropes and gets a SLINGSHOT BUTTERFLY BACKBREAKER! Strong goes for the firemans carry gutbuster but Sal COUNTERS WITH A RANA! Aries blind tags INTO THE HART ATTACK! He calls for the frog splash but Mamaluke cuts him off. SUPERPLEX…SPRINGBOARD SPLASH by Rinauro for 2. Strong kills Tony with a tilta-whirl backbreaker and GeNext call for Skipping A Generation. Mamaluke blocks it…BUT STRONG BREAKS THE ELEVATED IMPLANT DDT WITH A BIG BOOT. BRAINBUSTER ON MAMALUKE! HALF NELSON BACKBREAKER FOR RINAURO! 450 SPLASH BY ARIES! New champions at 18:19!

Rating – **** –
One of the most underrated tag team matches of the year, and one of the best ROH Tag Title matches ever. I honestly can’t believe more hasn’t been said about this. There were two great isolation segments on (on Rinauro and Aries), some tremendous highspots and the finish rocked. I’ll admit there were some selling issues – strangely moreso from Aries than Sal today – but aside from that. Tony Mamaluke has been in ROH since 2002 and this was his first truly good performance. His serious persona, mixed with a little heel arrogance played perfectly off the fire of Roderick Strong. They had a great opening exchange, and some wonderful little spats during the champions’ isolation of Austin Aries. I’d like to see Strong/Mamaluke one-on-one…or at least maybe track down their FIP match. I really didn’t care for the Mamaluke/Rinauro reign as champions, but at least they ended on a high note. Strong and Aries are the right guys to rebuild the tag division around. Established main eventers who are over with the crowd, and with the end of the Embassy feud, both are in need of something new. Let’s see where they go with the belts in 2006.

SIDENOTE – That last match rounded out a wonderful year for Strong and Aries – my two picks for MVP of 2005. I know most people seem to think it’s a choice between Strong and James Gibson, and others like to throw people like Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson in there as well, but for me, it’s a hard call between those two. Roderick just got better and better as the year progresses, and with his Unforgettable match against James Gibson and two Bryan Danielson epics, put himself right in the running for MOTY. Meanwhile Aries started the year with an incredible ROH Title run (for my money he’s the most underrated champion ever).. Then he was Generation Next’s figurehead in the war with The Embassy, had an incredible title shot against Bryan Danielson before ending the year as a Tag Champion. For me, these two guys for outweigh the likes of James Gibson (who was great when he was here, but after all, it was only eight months), Samoa Joe who was awesome for most of 2005 but had a low key start and end, or Bryan Danielson who has been great as ROH Champion but spent the early part of the year in the hit or miss feud with Homicide then missed the entire summer.

Bryan Danielson vs Naomichi Marufuji – ROH World Title Match

You know the deal by now. AmDrag has sent out open contracts for title shots all over the wrestling world. Marufuji has got his hands on one via NOAH and he arrives from Japan tonight hoping to take the belt back with him. He’s a former GHC Jr. Heavyweight, Jr. Heavyweight Tag (with KENTA) and World Tag Team Champion (with Minoru Suzuki) so knows what it’s like to compete in big title matches. Danielson, as he said earlier, is experienced fighting Japanese juniors from his time in New Japan. Hell, we’ve even seen him compete with the likes of Jushin Liger and Black Tiger IV in ROH. He’s a former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champion – winning the belts from Jado and Gedo with his partner Curry Man. The new lasers and sound-system make both entrances to the ring amazing btw.

Marufuji embarrasses Danielson by standing on his hands and spanking his ass. Dragon responds by slapping him in the face, but Marufuji doesn’t back down and strikes right back. Duelling dropkicks lead to a stalemate amidst big applause. AmDrag fakes a handshake and slaps Fuji in the face again, but for a second time the challenger responds straight away. Danielson takes Naomichi down into a dragon sleeper but he’s unable to maintain the hold. Nice speed on the tumbling counter to a wristlock by Marufuji. Dragon slaps him again so Fuji palm strikes him on his ass. He botches a slingshot dropkick through the ropes but catches himself and shows amazing agility to shoot through the ropes on the low dropkick anyway. Cobra clutch applied, then a crossface chickenwing, which has to raise the ire of Bryan Danielson. Switched again to a dragon sleeper but Danielson knee strikes free. Dragon gets thrown to the floor but he drags Marufuji off the apron as he goes for an Asai moonsault. Marufuji goes for a sunset flip bomb off the apron but that’s countered and Dragon introduces the foreign visitor to the ROH guardrails. El surfboard Mexicano for Marufuji next. The fans want to see it a second time and the champion responds by telling them to ‘f*ck off’. BRIDGING FIGURE 4 instead! More slaps by Danielson…STILL Marufuji refuses to take it. SICK DDT by Danielson…for 2. Regulation Figure 4 applied now, and even there Naomichi won’t just lie back and take a slapping.

Disrespectful bootscrapes by Danielson so Marufuji starts slapping him some more. More slap exchanges so AmDrag rakes the eyes. Tiger Mask flip from the champion but he rebounds from the ropes into a dropkick. Drop toehold into the basement dropkick to the side of the head by the Japanese competitor. Danielson blocks a frankensteiner then leaps straight into a double boot to the stomach. They fight over a suplex until Marufuji heaves Dragon TO THE FLOOR! He blocks a baseball slide then hits the ring for a TOPE SUICIDA! Both collided with the railings pretty heavily there. Misawa-style missile dropkick from the champ. He sets up for a back superplex but Marufuji slips through the legs and pulls him into a tree of woe. SLAP DUEL FROM THE TREE OF WOE POSITION! Fuji basement dropkicks Danielson then heads to the opposite turnbuckles. You know what’s coming…VAN MARUFUJINATOR BABY!! TWO COUNT! SUPERKICK…Danielson blocks the Shiranui and nails a roaring elbow. CATTLE MUTILATION! Marufuji finds the ropes but he doesn’t find a way to counter the back superplex. CATTLE MUTILATION AGAIN! Into the CM Pin for 2. Regalplex blocked…SHIRANUUUIIIIIIIII! He’s too beaten up to cover! Both men get back to their feet. Danielson blocks a superkick but Marufuji rolls through a German suplex. Near fall exchange…DANIELSON WINS! 23:45 is your time…

Rating – **** –
Another tremendous match on what’s turning into a terrific show. When they booked this I was worried it might be somewhat of a styles clash, but instead it turned into a bit of a classic. Danielson grounded Marufuji fantastically, and instead they worked a really good, grounded match. It was a struggle from the first bell, with Dragon looking to disrespect, dissect and dominate the NOAH invader in defence of his belt and in defiance of the reputation of the big name foreigner, whilst Marufuji refused to let him and returned fire with all the confidence of an international superstar. It also avoided the traditional climax to Marufuji matches with repeated superkicks and Shiranui’s, instead we only saw his trademark finisher once – and it was all the more exciting for it. Another different finish to a Dragon title defence as well. We’ve seen him make people tap out, we’ve seen him knock people out, now we’ve seen him out-manoeuvre someone and pin them as well. It was never quite exciting enough to be a MOTYC but it was excellent from the first bell to the last. And it was something a little different from both champion and challenger – refreshing.

Marufuji gets ‘Please Come Back’ and ‘Arigato’ chants then leaves. Meanwhile on the ramp The Embassy (Nana, Rave and Shelley) watch Bryan Danielson intently. Is that part of Shelley’s plan?

KENTA vs Low Ki – GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title Match

Main event time, and once again ROH has delivered what can only be described as a dream match. Hell, some even went so far as to call it the junior heavyweight version of Joe/Kobashi. Both KENTA and Ki have similar, martial-arts based, striking styles with spectacular offensive flurries, both hit damn hard too. They should know each other fairly well considering Low Ki regularly tours NOAH as part of their junior division. He has actually had a Jr. Heavyweight title shot before – losing to Yoshinobu Kanemaru back in September 2004. KENTA won the belt from Kanemaru at NOAH’s big Tokyo Dome show in July. Can he leave the US and Low Ki’s home promotion with his reign intact? Bobby Cruise reads out the full GHC title declaration – it’s nice to finally understand what the hell they say. KENTA doesn’t come out to his ‘The Champ Is Here’ remix that he uses in Japan sadly…

MMA stances to start into a stiff lock-up which Ki uses to scale the ropes and drop into the hanging armbreaker. He springs to the floor from that in beautifully smooth fashion – Ki has his working boots on tonight you can tell. To the mat where the native looks to control the foreigner with a headscissors. He wrenches Kenta’s arm so hard you can HEAR the snap. Low Ki fires the first shot in anger with a brutal chop. STIFF kicks to Kenta’s chest ensue but the champion gets up with even more violent kicks of his own. He think’s he’s made his point and playfully kicks at the face. PALM STRIKE DUEL…F*CKING HELL THAT’S STIFF! Ki pivots on his heel and boots Kenta right in the back of the head. He backs the champ to the corner and starts elbowing him in the chest ridiculously stiffly. Tornado guillotine from Kenta into a hanging sleeper in the ropes. LEAPING lariat from the top rope for just 1. That’s just disrespectful man, and Ki ends up eating some more kicks. Kenta sets his opponent in the ropes and takes some free shots as he just hangs there. Kenta hits the ropes but Ki follows him in with a CAPO KICK! He suplexes Kenta onto the top rope then simply boots him to the floor from that position. RUNNING SPRINGBOARD PLANCHAAAAAAA! Since when has Low Ki been able to do that? It’s his turn to disrespectfully kick at the champion until Kenta starts elbowing him in the face – a standing enziguri puts pay to that. Ki slows the pace down with a bodyscissors in the middle of the ring. Kenta goes for a sunset flip…COUNTERED WITH A DOUBLE STOMP! Grounded bearhug now as Ki really looks to attack the midsection. Kenta retreats to the ropes but even they are no sanctity from the barrage of kicks his opponent subjects him to. We go to the floor again where Ki lifts Kenta onto his shoulders and CHARGES him into the guardrails.

Back in the ring Kenta tries to fight back but Ki drops him over the ropes then flies to the top for a GHETTO STOMP TO THE BACK! That was awesome! Kenta recovers by hitting a powerslam but it’s the challenger who is first back to his feet. Kick flurry from the champ then a springboard missile dropkick for 2. He puts more strikes together then busts out a butterfly suplex into an armbreaker. Falcon arrow gets 2 as the Japanese star finally starts to put some offence together. Kenta has a superplex blocked…TREE OF WOE GHETTO STOMP BIATCH! MACHINE GUN CHOP FLURRY! Amazingly Kenta still comes back and runs to the ropes for the Busaiku…BUT KI GOES RIGHT AFTER HIM WITH THE SPRINGBOARD ENZI! Kawada kicks for the champ and Ki goes to the top. KENTA JUMPS AFTER HIM IN A SINGLE LEAP TO NAIL A SUPER FALCON ARROW…FOR 2! That is friggin’ incredible. Both men struggle up and start to slap the ever-loving sh*t out of each other. Ki puts a string together then gets knocked down with one punch. Kenta goes for the Busaiku again…KI CRUSHAAAAAAA! TWO COUNT ONLY! TIDAL KRUSH SCORES! Still he blocks the Ki Crusha and drops Ki with a tiger suplex. ULTRA QUICK STRIKE FLURRY…KI WITH A SHOTGUN DROPKICK! GHETTO STOOOOOOOOOOOOMP! KENTA KICKS OUT!! Low Ki is at his wits end and proves it by MISSING the Phoenix splash. GO 2 SLEEEEEEEEEEP! BUSAIKU KNEE STRIKE! THREE COUNT! KENTA WINS…KENTA WINS! 25:01 is your time. ‘Match of the Year’ chants start as soon as it ends…hell f*cking yeah that was amazing.

Rating – ***** –
The fans chant ‘five star match’ and I agree. That was a thing of beauty – state of the art wrestling that “sports-entertainment” fans can only dream of. It was well-paced, violent, exciting, perfectly executed, innovative etc. Credit goes to both men for putting their bodies through that (it truly was the “junior heavyweight Joe vs Kobashi”) but honestly, this was Low Ki’s best match…ever. Remember in 2002 when he didn’t hate American smark crowds and went out there to deliver jaw-dropping performances every time out as opposed to his piss everyone off, surly gangsta mode of 2005? Well, that was back here…except with all the good bits of gangsta Ki…and with three years extra experience meaning he was MILES better. This was his perfect match, the type of performance that I feel really justifies me when I say he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world – not just best indy wrestlers, not just best American wrestlers – he’s up there with the Benoit’s, Angle’s, Danielson’s, Kawada’s, Kobashi’s, Tenzan’s, Kojima’s etc.

After gushing over Low Ki, lets put over Kenta as well. Just like Kobashi in October, he really didn’t have to work that hard tonight. He’s over as a special attraction in front of 1,000 people at an American indy show. To a guy that’s worked the Tokyo Dome, this really wasn’t all that consequential. But this was a dream match and he backed it up with a dream performance. Ki was ON as we’ve established, and Kenta worked around him quite magnificently. The way he initially worked over his opponent with an air of complacency and arrogance…until Ki proved himself equal and earned his respect with the way he brought it. From there the champ gave it everything he had, and truly earned his victory – kicking out of both Ki’s trademark finishers before hitting the Busaiku knee. To me, this was better than a lot of Kenta’s NOAH work. Gone was the manic finish with a hundred knee strikes, gone was the working over of body parts only to be forgotten about later in the match because high spots are more important (see Kenta/Marufuji 22/01/2006)…instead the action built and built to a marvellous crescendo at the end. Get all of this – but for Joe/Kobashi (which for me still just edges this out) it’s ROH’s best of the year.

Christopher Daniels bemoans his problems with Samoa Joe. He says one of the biggest regrets of his career is bringing Joe into ROH. He even talks about Joe trying to end his career in TNA. He wants to end the issue with the Samoan once and for all – and in Ring Of Honor.

Tape Rating – **** –
Wow…ROH have put out two absolutely stellar shows in December 2005. Steel Cage Warfare was good for varied, consistently good action. Maybe Final Battle doesn’t have as wide an appeal but to me at least, it was every bit as good if not better. FOUR matches clocking it at 4*+ (including a flat-out MOTYC), an entertaining opener, more violence in the Cabana/Homicide feud (which I’m loving now), an incredibly gutsy and surprisingly good performance from Steve Corino in his match with Alex Shelley. Ring Of Honor signs off the biggest year in the history of the promotion with one last cracking effort. Ki/KENTA is obviously the star attraction, but there isn’t enough said about the card on the whole. The rest of the show is underrated – the main event is stunning. Add this to your collection today.

Top 3 Matches

3) Austin Aries/Roderick Strong vs Tony Mamaluke/Sal Rinauro (****)

2) Bryan Danielson vs Naomichi Marufuji (****)

1) KENTA vs Low Ki (*****)

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