The History of ROH and Japan: 2002-2006

Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi
Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi


ROH’s Third Anniversary Celebration took place over three nights. The first show on February 19, 2005 saw Osaka Pro wrestler Billy Ken Kid defeat comedy wrestler Ebessan, also of Osaka Pro. Ebessan wrestled again later in the night as Ebessan Jack, a tribute to “Cactus Jack” Mick Foley and lost to Samoa Joe.

On April 2, 2005 ROH hosted the Best of the American Super Juniors tournament with the winner scheduled to participate in NJPW’s Best Of The Super Juniors tournament. The tournament saw Japanese Junior Heavyweight wrestler Kendo Ka Shin appear as Dragon Soldier B and win the tournament with wins over Matt Sydal, James Gibson, and Black Tiger # 4 (Rocky Romero). The show was not well-received and the booking was reported to have been effected by the ownership of NJPW at the time. Strangely, Dragon Soldier B did not appear in NJPW’s BOSJ tournament that year but runner-up Black Tiger/Romero did.

Ebessan made another appearance in ROH on May 13, 2005 at The Final Showdown, this time as Ebetaro. He wrestled in a four-corner survival with Jack Evans, Delirious and Samoa Joe, with Evans winning the match. Ebessan was known for doing slow-motion comedy wrestling, which he did with Delirious in this match in a hilarious segment.

At the ROH Do Or Die III show on August 20, 2005 Sumie Sakai appeared again, this time in a losing effort to Lacey,

The ROH Dragon Gate Invasion show occurred on August 27, 2005. On that show, Christopher Daniels wrestled as Curry Man and defeated Shingo Takagi, who had been wrestling for less than a year but was a future Dragon Gate champion. Daniels had wrestled as Curry Man primarily in Japan, notably doing so in the 2000 J-Cup Tournament. CIMA defeated AJ Styles later on the Dragon Gate Invasion show. CIMA was a Dragon Gate main eventer who had formerly appeared in both WCW and Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon promotion, the precursor to Dragon Gate.

Milano Collection A.T. competed in the 2005 Survival Of The Fittest tournament, losing in the first round to Samoa Joe. Milano had also formerly appeared in both Toryumon and Dragon Gate and was currently touring the U.S. He would go on to wrestle in NJPW, NOAH and AJPW until his retirement in 2009.

On October 1, 2005 ROH hosted its highest profile match to date. Former AJPW Triple Crown Champion and Pro Wrestling NOAH GHC Champion Kenta Kobashi was at the time considered by many to be the best wrestler in the world. He came to New York City and defeated Samoa Joe in a critically acclaimed and very physical match that was rated five stars in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. In order to provide a viewing experience as close to the live experience as possible, the DVD had no commentary for this match. There were also more cameras used than usual. The next night, Kobashi teamed with Homicide to defeat Low-Ki and Samoa Joe at ROH Unforgettable.

Milano Collection A.T. made his second appearance in ROH on November 19, 2005 at the Night of Tribute Show, which was dedicated to the recently deceased Eddie Guerrero. Milano defeated Claudio Castagnolli on that show. Miilano also teamed with Colt Cabana on the December 3 Steel Cage Warfare show, losing to ROH Tag Team Champions Tony Mamaluke and Sal Rinauro in a title match.

Final Battle 2005 featured Japanese stars in three separate matches. Milano Collection A.T. lost to Jimmy Rave in the opening match. It had recently been announced to great fanfare that Pro Wrestling NOAH stars KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji would appear on the show. Marufuji lost in the semi-final match to then-ROH Champion Bryan Danielson in a title match. KENTA then successfully defended the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title against Low-Ki in the main event. This was the first time the GHC Jr. Heavyweight title had been defended in the U.S. and the two had a match-of-the-year candidate battle.

Bryan Danielson and KENTA
Bryan Danielson and KENTA


KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji returned to ROH on March 25, 2006. They teamed up in the main event and defeated Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson. This was a dream match at the time and has been largely forgotten.

Even though 2006 was not the first time that ROH had WrestleMania Weekend shows in the same town as Mania, this was the year that it became an annual tradition. It was a successful year for the concept, highlighted by ROH bringing in top stars from Dragon Gate. While the two shows in Chicago are higher profile, I attended the Thursday night show on March 30, 2006 in Detroit and can say that it was a great show to start the weekend.

At the Detroit show, Ryo Saito of Dragon Gate defeated Jimmy Yang in a singles match. AJ Styles and Matt Sydal teamed up to defeat Dragon Kid and Genki Horiguchi, with fans taking up the opportunity to chant “H-A-G-E” at Horiguchi, the chant DG fans used in reference to his baldness. In the main event, the Blood Generation faction of CIMA, Naruki Doi and Masato Yoshino defeated Austin Aries, Jack Evans and Roderick Strong of Generation Next. Yoshino stood out with his speed in his first North American appearance.

ROH had a strong show on March 31 in Chicago, with the six-man Dragon Gate match being a highlight. CIMA, Doi and Yoshino lost to the Do-Fixer faction of Saito, Horiguchi and Dragon Kid. I was also in attendance for this show and this match had some of best live reactions I have ever experienced, including the crowd chanting “Please Don’t Stop”. Dave Meltzer rated the match five stars in the Wrestling Observer and noted that Blood Generation laid out the match to get Dragon Kid over with the crowd, a goal in which they were very successful. The match went on to win the Wrestling Observer Match of the Year Award for 2006.

On the April 1 show in Chicago, Saito, Horiguchi and Dragon Kid teamed up again to defeat Yoshino and his partners Jimmy Rave and Alex Shelley. ROH World Tag Team Champions defeated CIMA and Doi later on the show. After the match, CIMA took the microphone and yelled “I love ROH!!!”

The former Ebessan, now known as Kikutaro, returned on May 12, 2006 in Long Island for a three-way match with Delirious and Nigel McGuinness that Delirious won. Kikutaro appeared on the May 13, 2006 show in Edison, New Jersey and lost to fellow comedy wrestler Colt Cabana.

Future Dragon Gate main eventer Shingo Takagi had a learning excursion tour in the U.S. between 2006-2007. He appeared at the ROH Destiny show on June 3, 2006 in Connecticut and defeated Ricky Reyes.

KENTA also had an extended run in ROH starting at the “In Your Face” show on June 17, 2006 in New York City. On that show he was the winner in a three-way match with Samoa Joe and ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson. The match got a lot of attention for being very physical, perhaps overly so, and it was the start of a main event run for KENTA. He continued his appearances with a June 23, 2006 victory against Roderick Strong in Detroit, a stiff match that I was able to see live. The next night KENTA defeated Austin Aries in Chicago.

On August 4, 2006 in Long Island, KENTA teamed up with ROH newcomer Davey Richards and lost to Jay and Mark Briscoe. KENTA had declared Richards to be his American protégé. This was a high profile match as the Briscoes had recently returned to ROH after two years and were garnering attention for their physical matches. The next night in Edison, New Jersey KENTA defeated Richards in a singles match that created a lot of buzz. I had travelled to the New York City area for both of these shows and the crowd was really into both matches.

On August 12, 2006 ROH had their first overseas show with “Unified” in Liverpool, England. On that show, Austin Aries and Roderick Strong defended the ROH World Tag Team Titles against SUWA and Go Shiozaki who were visiting from Pro Wrestling NOAH. SUWA was formerly part of Dragon Gate and Shiozaki would go on to be a main eventer in both NOAH and All-Japan Pro Wrestling. On the August 13 show in Broxbourne, Shiozaki defated BJ Whitmer in the opening match. SUWA had a heated match against ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson in the middle of the show before Danielson went on to have another title match with Roderick Strong later in the night.

All of the appearances by NOAH stars in 2006 led up to the big Glory By Honor weekend in September 2006. GBH Night 1 took place on September 15 in East Windsor, Connecticut. The Briscoes lost to KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji in a strong main event that largely flew under the radar at the time. The show was unique as due to a building issue it had to be held outside under a tent, lending an old-time atmosphere. Glory By Honor Night 2 on September 16, 2006 was regarded as one of the best shows ROH had run and there was a heavy NOAH presence. Marufuji had recently won the GHC Title from Jun Akiyama in a surprise result as he was a junior heavyweight. Marufuji had his first title defense on this show against Nigel McGuinness who was appearing regularly in NOAH at the time. Marufuji won the match as expected and it was a boost for ROH that NOAH, the most successful company in Japan at the time, was willing to have the title match take place on an ROH show. KENTA faced ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson in the main event. Danielson had recently injured his shoulder in a title defense, leading to expectations that KENTA might win the title. While that did not happen as Danielson won, this match was a strong cap-off to KENTA’s big ROH run.

Glory By Honor Night 2 also featured an appearance by NOAH’s rising star Takeshi Morishima who appeared in the ring and got into a physical altercation with Samoa Joe.

Shingo returned to ROH on October 27, 2006 and defeated Jimmy Rave in Dayton, Ohio. The next night he appeared again and defeated Roderick Strong in Chicago. On November 3, 2006 KENTA teamed with Davey Richards and lost to Austin Aries and Roderick Strong in the main event of ROH’s Boston return. KENTA defeated Matt Sydal on November 4 in Philadelphia. Shingo defeated Mark Briscoe on November 24 in Long Island. The next night in Edison, New Jersey Shingo lost to FIP Heavyweight Champion Roderick Strong.

Kikutaro returned to ROH on December 8, 2006 in Chicago and lost to Tank Toland. Shingo teamed up with Matt Sydal on the same show and lost to Austin Aries and Roderick Strong. Sydal was now appearing in Dragon Gate.

On Night 2 of The Chicago Spectacular on December 9, 2006, Kikutaro was in a six-way match against CJ Otis, Trik Davis, Pelle Primeau, Dave Crist and winner Jake Crist. In the main event, Shingo teamed with Bryan Danielson, Jimmy Jacobs and Jimmy Rave and lost an elimination match to BJ Whitmer, Colt Cabana, Delirious and Nigel McGuinness.

Shingo teamed with CIMA at International Challenge on December 22, 2006 and lost to ROH World Tag Team Champions Christopher Daniels and Matt Sydal. Final Battle 2006 was the climax show for ROH’s biggest year. The semi-main event on the show was a Dragon Gate Rules match with CIMA, Shingo and Sydal defeating Austin Aries, Roderick Strong and Delirious.

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