I have been a wrestling fan for twenty-nine years. Over the years through my interest in wrestling, I have peeled away the layers of fandom that exist and have always continued to enjoy it more and more. However, I don’t think there has ever been any period in which I have enjoyed discovering new wrestling more than when I started watching Samoa Joe in Ring Of Honor ten years ago.
Joe set new standards for creativity and intensity in matches. He was as responsible as anyone during the first years of this century for building the style of wrestling that made myself and many others bigger fans than ever, while many people stopped watching after the collapse of mainstream wrestling promotions. It is hard to overstate just how much of a trendsetter Joe was at the time and it is difficult to compare his 2003-2007 run with anything else.
Until now. Joe returned to the independent wrestling scene earlier this year and is wrestling at a higher level than he, or a lot of other people for that matter, have in years. Like Eddie Guerrero in 2001-2002 and Bryan Danielson in 2010, Joe has capitalized on his newfound freedom to show what he’s always been able to do. With the new challenges that await him in the near future, I thought it would be fun to do a rundown of his 2015 work in the promotion that made him famous, and vice versa, Ring Of Honor.
This aired on ROH Television on 3/28/2015. Joe chases O’Reilly with kicks and catches him with some mat-wrestling before O’Reilly escapes outside. They jockey for position in the ring with O’Reilly escaping Joe’s attempt at a choke. Joe throws a hard kick to O’Reilly’s head but O’Reilly ducks it. Steve Corino compares this match to UWFI on commentary. Joe gives O’Reilly a hard slap to the face and throws a number of punches in the corner. Joe whips him to the other corner, charges into him and then hits his enzuiguri. Joe gives O’Reilly face-washing kicks in the corner.
The match goes to commercial and on return Joe is seated on a chair by the guardrail. O’Reilly charges with a kick but Joe gets to his feet and kicks O’Reilly’s feet out from under him. Joe then sits O’Reilly on the chair and does his Ole Kick. Joe starts arguing with O’Reilly’s partner Bobby Fish allowing O’Reilly to attack from behind and drive Joe’s shoulder into the floor. O’Reilly starts working Joe’s arm on the floor. O’Reilly attempts a suplex in the ring but Joe fights back with punches and slaps. O’Reilly stops the comeback and drives Joe’s shoulder into the mat and applies an elbow-lock. O’Reilly whips Joe into the ropes but Joe sweeps his legs and hits a clothesline. Joe does a reverse atomic drop, a clothesline and a senton. Joe gets a powerslam for a pin attempt.
O’Reilly attempts a hurracanrana but Joe counters into a powerbomb and transitions into an STF. O’Reilly slowly gets to the ropes to break the hold. Joe sits O’Reilly on the top rope and goes for a muscle-buster but O’Reilly counters into a guillotine choke. O’Reilly punches away at Joe and transitions into a Fujiwara Armbar. Joe rolls outside and O’Reilly goes to the apron and hits a missile dropkick to Joe on the floor. O’Reilly takes him back inside and kicks the arm and gives him a brainbuster. O’Reilly goes for a cross armbreaker but Joe blocks it. O’Reilly works away and gets the armbreaker but Joe’s foot is on the ropes for the break. O’Reilly starts giving Joe head-kicks and they trade strikes. Joe hits a knee to O’Reilly’s head. O’Reilly does a Nigel-style clothesline and Joe responds with an enzuiguiri. O’Reilly charges Joe in the corner and gets caught in an STO. Joe hits O’Reilly with knees to the head then takes him to the top rope and delivers a muscle-buster to get the pinfall win.
This match was a fun crossroads, with O’Reilly on the cusp of his career highlight to this point in the Best Of The Super Junior Tournament and Joe close to signing the biggest contract of his career. Joe came off as being more dominant here but gave O’Reilly a decent amount of the match, especially for Joe’s return to ROH. O’Reilly got to do some fun submission work and this was a great return for my man Joe.
Matt Sydal joins the commentary table as he is currently teaming with ACH. Joe throws several punches at ACH in the corner and then hits a back elbow and an enzuiguri in the opposite corner. ACH continually hits Joe with strikes that don’t move him and then Joe knocks him to the mat. ACH manoeuvers around Joe and then takes him down with a dropkick. Joe fights back with knees and strikes but ACH keeps control and works the knee. Joe is on his feet and ACH goes for a cross-body off the top but crashes to the mat as Joe cockily walks away. Joe charges ACH with a big elbow-strike.
They go outside and ACH dropkicks Joe in the knee. ACH chops away at Joe who is seated by the guardrail and ACH goes for the Ole kick. Joe gets up and chops him into the chair and then hits the Ole Kick twice. ACH is in the crowd and jumps off the guardrail onto Joe who catches him and throws him into the guardrail. Joe takes ACH inside but ACH gets him in the corner and hits repeated elbows and grounds him with a clothesline. ACH throws Joe into the turnbuckle with a flying headscissors and then gives him a version of a flatliner. ACH gets to the apron and floors Joe with a big running kick while Joe is on the floor.
Back inside, ACH hits a double stomp off the top rope. Joe comes back with a reverse atomic drop, a boot to the face and a senton. Joe hits a snap powerslam and then does his powerbomb into an STF. Joe switches to a crossface but ACH gets the rope break. Joe gets ACH up for a muscle-buster but ACH gets out and hits two superkicks. ACH gets Joe up and hits a Death Valley Driver. Joe avoids a 450 splash from ACH and then hits a knee and applies a sleeper. ACH flips over into a pin attempt but Joe gives ACH an STO and then hits the muscle-buster. Joe pins ACH and wins the match. They shake hands and hug after the match.
This was an amazing match that is worth going out of your way to see. It was just magic to see these two together. ACH really stepped up for this match and came out better for it. He has been getting some great opportunities this year. This is probably my favorite Joe match of his 2015 comeback and is a Top Five match of the year so far for me. I would compare it most to Joe’s September 2006 match with Roderick Strong, who was at a similar point in ROH then as ACH is now. That match had been anticipated for a long time but didn’t get much attention as it was the night before Glory By Honor 5, one of the biggest ROH shows of all-time. Joe won the match but made it clear from the look on his face at the end that he’d been through a war.
Samoa Joe vs Michael Elgin 3/14/2015 Chicago Ridge, Illinois
I actually saw these two wrestle each other in Oshawa, Ontario in early 2007 when Elgin was about twenty years old and facing his dream opponent. In what seems like a lifetime later, they face each other in Joe’s return to Chicago Ridge.
They start with a test of strength that is won by Joe who starts headbutting Elgin’s hand. Joe applies a kimura but Elgin gets the ropes. They trade punches and elbows and Joe hits the ropes only to get knocked down with a back elbow. Elgin hits a vertical suplex and Joe rolls to the floor. Elgin hits Joe with elbows around ringside and Joe fights back with slaps and kicks. Joe gets Elgin seated and hits the Ole Kick for a strong ovation from the crowd.
They return inside and Joe throws tons of punches in the corner and a Hashimoto-style chop. Joe hits the charge in the opposite corner and an enzuiguri. Joe gives Elgin the running face-wash kick three twice. Elgin cuts off a third with a boot to the face and then gives Joe a back suplex into the corner, hitting Joe’s head on the top turnbuckle. Elgin beats Joe down into the corner and hits him with running knees. Elgin gets Joe in an O’Connor Roll and double-stomps his back. Elgin goes for a powerbomb but Joe counters with a backdrop. Elgin charges but Joe sweeps his leg and hits an inverted atomic, then a big boot and a senton. Elgin hits a clothesline and charges with a big boot but Joe catches his foot and hits a powerslam. Joe applies an armbreaker but Elgin gets to the ropes.
Elgin rolls to the floor and Joe hits him with a tope suicida elbow. Joe does another Ole Kick. Joe takes him inside and hits knee-strikes but Elgin gets him in a German suplex. Elgin gets Joe stretched over the second rope and hits a somersault legdrop off the second turnbuckle. Elgin does a top rope splash on Joe and then starts hitting him with clotheslines. Joe rolls up Elgin and then hits a big clothesline. Joe hits elbows but Elgin nails a spinning backfist and a powerbomb. Elgin signals for a buckle bomb and Joe fights back but Elgin hits an enzuiguri followed by a deadlift Germam suplex. Elgin charges Joe in the corner but Joe catches him in an STO. Joe puts Elgin on the top rope and goes for a muscle-buster but Elgin kicks him away and jumps off for a lung-blower. Joe hits a charging Elgin with a clothesline. Elgin hits a spinning backfist and goes for a fireman’s carry but Joe slips into a rear naked choke but Elgin fights him off. Joe then gives Elgin a sleeper suplex and applies another rear naked choke and Elgin is out to give Joe the win.
This was a pretty fun match with a strong finishing stretch. Joe was a good opponent to show off Elgin’s power and it was so cool to see Joe back in Chicago Ridge, one of his best ROH towns after the legendary 2004 match with Punk. Joe did a nice speech afterward and puts over ROH, saying he is here because he was chained for too long and that he is here to take the ROH Title from Jay Briscoe.
ROH World Title: Samoa Joe vs Jay Briscoe (champion) 3/27/2015 Redwood City, California
They feel each other out and Briscoe starts throwing forearms with Joe responding with punches. Briscoe hits a dropkick and Joe hits an enzuiguri. Briscoe knocks Joe down with a dropkick and works toward a vertical suplex. Briscoe tees off with punches. Joe fights back with forearms and charges Briscoe but hits the ropes. Joe is outside and stops a dive by Briscoe with an enzuiguri. Joe gives Briscoe some jabs and hits another enzuiguri. Joe hits a leg-drop and appears to have hurt his knee.
Joe kicks Briscoe to the floor and hits a diving elbow to Briscoe. Briscoe throws a chair in Joe’s face to stop an Ole Kick. Briscoe throws Joe into the barricade. Joe fights back and swings him into the barricade. Joe hits Briscoe with two Ole Kicks and takes him into the ring. Joe goes for a muscle-buster but Briscoe escapes and hits a reverse neckbreaker. Briscoe hits a superkick and gives Joe a back suplex. Briscoe gets Joe up and hits a Death Valley Driver. Joe backdrops out of a Jay Driller attempt. Joe hits a clothesline, an inverted atomic drop, a head-kick and a senton. Joe hits Briscoe with a powerslam and a powerbomb. J oe transitions into a Boston Crab, an STF and a crossface. Briscoe gets the rope-break and they trade strikes including Joe hitting an enzuiguri and a knee-strike. Joe gives Briscoe an STO in the corner and goes for a muscle-buster. Briscoe gets out and hits a Jay Driller for the pin and keeps his title.
I think Joe’s injury kept this from being as good as his match with ACH but it was still very good. Briscoe has far surpassed being a guy who the title was quickly changed to last September and this match feels like it took his title reign to another level. Joe continued to show what a difference a creative and competitive platform and the right atmosphere can make. His current run feels like a renaissance and his ROH matches are a great showcase for what a great wrester can be.