wrestling / Columns

Hawke’s Top 10 ROH Matches of the Decade

December 6, 2019 | Posted by TJ Hawke
Kevin Steen El Generico ROH

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10. Kevin Steen vs. Tyler Black – 7/24/2010

Media preview

2010 saw a real shift in how Ring of Honor approached booking their world champions. Instead of multiple defenses in a weekend, the company generally only did one (if that). I understood the reasons for changing philosophies (the idea was to make each defense more special), but the consequence of doing that (when they were starting to build their years around the four main iPPVs) was that it made it painfully obvious that the house show title matches were not going to result in title changes. This is all a long way of saying that these were starting behind the eight ball. They made it work though. They took their time and slowly got more fans invested they had every single one in the palm of their pocket by the end. While that does make for the most exciting match wire to wire, it is a more impressive accomplishment in some ways. Tyler actually ended up making Steen tap out to the sharpshooter to win (which made sense given that they were stealing each other’s moves in the match). (****)

After the match, we saw Steen talking to Corino on the phone. He talked about they “got him.” The idea being that feuding with Kevin Steen finally caused Tyler to turn heel.



9. The Decade vs. Jonathan Gresham & Corey Hollis – 2/25/2015

Image result for jonathan gresham corey hollis bj whitmer adam page"

Corey Hollis and Jonathan Gresham were scheduled to have a singles match, but they ended up teaming against BJ Whitmer and Adam Page when The Decade interfered.  Hollis declined to use the chair that Page offered him, and BJ decided it was time to attack. Hollis and Gresham were having a solid little match that I would like to see continued one day.

I liked how Hollis and Gresham decided *they* wanted the tag match instead of the regular roster members making the call or some authority figure. That gave them agency which always makes them more interesting than your typical outside-the-company undercarders or just going the Teddy Long route. Hollis of course called The Decade bitches though, which kind of nullifies the interesting part. You take what you can get though. ANYWAY, this was a great tag match. The pre-match angle was brilliant and really gave everyone in the match a reason to be there and a reason for the crowd to care about who won. Every step of the match was executed well, with Gresham’s hot tag and fire late in the match being the two best moments. (Gresham might have genuinely applied the best ankle lock that I have ever seen late in the match. The production crew also deserves credit for capturing it perfectly. You will understand what I mean when you see it.) ROH will likely not have many matches better than this all year. The only way this could have been better was if Hollis/Gresham managed to win the match, but who could have anticipated them getting as over as they did. I am at a loss for words at how great this ended up being. Gresham and Hollis deserved to get many more opportunities in the company after this performance. (****)


8. Kazuchika Okada vs. Roderick Strong – 8/22/2015

This was the end of an eight-month stretch when Roderick Strong was the best wrestler in the world. It was the weirdest thing in the world. But sometimes that’s what happens when you are unsigned and a bunch of people are lining up to snatch you away.

ANYWAY, this match ruled. Roddy just started bumrushing Okada from the jump AND. Would. Not. Let. Up. Okada was basically getting completely run over and just hanging on for dear life.

Roddy was looking to finish and very nearly did when he delivered a brutal combination that ended with a Sick Kick. Okada survived though and then connected on a few desperation tombstones.

Roddy then just decided to throw a million leaping knee strikes. While those are effective, it eventually made him predictable enough for Okada to finish him off easily with a Rainmaker. Great fucking match. (****)


7. AJ Styles & The Young Bucks vs. ACH, Cedric Alexander, & Matt Sydal – 1/24/2015

Image result for AJ Styles & The Young Bucks vs. ACH, Cedric Alexander, & Matt Sydal"

Will I strongly consider this match for my #1 spot at the end of the year? Unlikely. (Although there are three matches at the moment that are too much of a cut above the rest. So, it’s not really an insult to this match or any other to be outside the top three.) Will this match have a strong chance to make my top ten? I’d say so.

The match is exactly the kind of match you’re picturing in your head. The action was cutting edge and as hot as anything that I’ve seen in independent wrestling in the last few years. If you don’t have fun watching this match, I understand. Not every style can be for everyone. If you like a “Young Bucks match” though, this is one of most fun versions of the match that you can see (the Final Battle 2014 version of this match was equally great though, to be fair).

Ring of Honor may really be onto something with this Young Bucks/AJ team. It accomplishes several things: it keeps AJ away from singles matches (that he cannot lose as long as he is the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and they’re running out of AJ matches to do anyway), it keeps the Bucks away from the tag titles which keeps them and the title scene fresh, and it provides a unique attraction that you cannot quite see anywhere else on free television or PPV. It’s a way of capitalizing on The Bullet Club phenomenon in a manner that actually leads to exciting matches (something NJPW could learn from…) The amount of combinations and dynamics that ROH can create with a wide variety of opponents are practically endless. (****1/4)


6. Kevin Steen vs. El Generico – 12/16/2012

Image result for kevin steen el generico ladder war"

They told a similar story to La Revancha, but this time they got to finish it. Steen got control early after a brief flurry from Generico. Steen used the available plunder to do a ton of damage. Generico needed to rely on some big spots to get back into the match. Eventually, Generico made it competitive enough that both men realized they needed to make some serious efforts into climbing or they would lose. This led to quite the spectacle in the ring of four ladders being connected. They managed to to *mostly* bring all the ladders together in an organic manner so it did not just feel like they were arranging furniture. Almost everything they did with plunder in the whole match in fact was about doing as much damage as possible to each other. Eventually, and Steen and Generico were standing on a ladder propped up by two other ladders, and Steen gave him a package piledriver to end it. Great match. It’s been unfairly unheralded quite frankly. (****1/4)


5. Chris Hero vs. TJ Perkins – 3/18/2011


I remembered liking this one, but it was even far better than I had been giving it credit over the years. The pace is blistering in the best way possible. You feel like any strike can end the match. The in-ring chemistry is off the charts with everything coming across as beautiful without feeling choreographed. The timing of the comebacks, and execution of every sequence is perfect. This is a great match without question that has not gotten the credit it deserves for being such. Hero survived a Detonation Kick/Busaiku Knee combo late in the match and then hit a rolling kick to the fact for the victory. (****1/4)



4. Bobby Fish vs. Jay Lethal – 3/10/2017

Absurd. That is the only word that comes to mind when thinking about how good this match ended up being.

Bobby Fish is one of those talented dudes who just clearly works a lot of the time like he doesn’t care at all. That becomes even more clear when you see performances like this one.

His work on top here was focused, smart, subtle, and relentless. He came across here as basically the perfect midcard wrestler. He seemed like the “automatic” wrestler that should always be good for a quality match on each show.

He started out early on with a BRUTAL sole kick to the abdomen of Lethal. My gawd, was it ever fucking brutal. You knew within a minute or two, just from that moment, that this was not going to be your typical match.

The next great moment came when Lethal went for his tope suicida. It was a standard comeback spot that was timed generally when a lot of people do it. What was special about? Fish basically avoided the dive and forced Lethal to crash in the guardrail…abdomen first. All of a sudden, Lethal has taken two huge shots to one portion of his body.

From there, Bobby had firm control. He also had a clear weakness to attack. They did a great job of keeping it competitive though so it was never too one-sided or repetitive. This led to Lethal finally connecting on the tope suicida he missed the first time.

Fish didn’t back down though in the slightest. Instead, he invited the challenge and just fired back with a blistering series of strikes and whatnot. He knew he was better rested so inviting Lethal to attempt a few shots actually was the SMART thing to do. He won that battle easily.

He made a mistake though. He lost sight of what he had accomplished in the match and overplayed his hand. He over committed to the ankle lock for no reason, and Lethal exploited that by hitting an Ace Crusher out of nowhere.

Bobby didn’t recognize his mistake and later went for the ankle lock again. Perhaps in a match where he was able to focus on the leg, that decision would have gotten him the win. Lethal was able to get to the ropes here.

Now, the race was on. Fish decided to double down on the leg work. Lethal was now just throwing bombs with the tiny opening that he had. Lethal crossed the finish line first when he was able to connect on the Lethal Injection.

What in the fucking world happened here. This match was like living and breathing proof that wrestlers are so lazy most of the time, as it didn’t take any extra PHYSICAL effort to make this match great. It was just mental effort. A little bit of thought mixed in with a typical  midcard physical effort gave us a great fucking match. FUCK. (****1/2)


3. AJ Styles vs. Jay Lethal – 12/18/2015


This was for Lethal’s ROH World Championship.

Going into this match, I expected a solid effort from a hobbled AJ and a motivated Lethal to go to complete waste thanks to the inevitable shit finish guaranteed due to outside circumstances involving NJPW. Instead, we got the Ring of Honor match of the year for 2015. What?

The match was pretty simple in structure, and (as usual in wrestling) that was a good thing. AJ has a terrible back injury that will likely cost him years of his career. Lethal relentlessly went after the back over and over again. It was fucking delightful and terrifying at the same time. AJ’s comebacks were few and far between, but the real life back injury made the match so intense that the whole match was compelling anyway. AJ tried to use a bunch of a big movez to make the match competitive, but Lethal continuously was a step ahead of him.

It seemed like Lethal had the match won via countout late in the contest. He dumped AJ to the floor and put him through a table. AJ just barely beat the count and then even kicked out of the Lethal Injection. Lethal ended up using the Cradle Piledriver (due to his feud with Jerry Lynn) before finishing AJ off with the second Lethal Injection.

The drama here was incredible. AJ delivered one of his best performances in recent memory (be a babyface forever, AJ). Lethal had the performance of his career. The heat was off the charts. We got a clean finish. GREAT GREAT GREAT. (****1/2)


2. Jonathan Gresham vs. Lio Rush – 9/24/2016


This match. Holy fuck. THIS fucking match. This was some goddamn fucking fantastic professional wrestling. It had just about everything you would want from professional wrestling in 2016.

The first couple of minutes featured the best feeling-out-process in what seems like a century. Instead of jerking off in the ring, they used it to start their story.

Gresham is normally quicker than his opponents. He moves so crisply that he can get a step ahead of just about anyone he faces in the squared circle. Gresham couldn’t do that here on the mat so he tested the waters on seeing if he had a strength advantage and also began to target Rush’s left arm.

Rush, knowing that his injured arm could not withstand too much damage, then went right back to speed advantage, and he got a step or two ahead of Gresham.  Gresham decisively and with precision went right back after the taped-up arm because he knew he would lose a speed battle with Rush.

From there, Gresham continuously went after the arm. He did it all in this brilliant manner where he did a bunch of basic stuff like an ARM DRAG, but you knew it meant more here. Gresham got a little cocky after each shot at the arm, and Rush sold every move targeting his arm well.

Gresham did all of this with a calm confidence that was incredibly compelling. His calmness did not turn into laziness (like a certain lad named Zack) or without taking away the sense of urgency. Instead, he just moved about the ring like it was HIS ring. It’s a near-undefinable quality that only a few wrestlers can convey convincingly.

Rush knew he could not get too far behind so he used an opening to exploit his quickness advantage. That allowed him to hit an insane tope suicida to come close to evening things up.

Gresham went right back after the arm in the ring and tried to put Rush away. It led to amazing sequence (pictured above) where Gresham put the injured arm in an arm-trap crossface. Rush tried to use the other arm to grab the ropes. Gresham tried to pull back on that arm simultaneously. They went back and forth. It was incredibly dramatic, and Rush’s ability to finally get to the ropes felt so earned as a result.

From there, Gresham tried to put Rush away in a more traditional manner. It seemed like they were going to suddenly rely on a series of cliches like fighting spirit, fluke roll-up finishes, finisher kickouts, etc. However, Gresham stayed a step ahead of Rush the whole time though to make none of the moments seem trite. (It’s hard to explain properly, but you’ll understand when you see it.)

Gresham’s calmness throughout finally got the better of him though. He took his eye off the ball for a second, and he ran right into Rush Hour from Lio. Lio then stood them up and performed one more Rush Hour for the deathblow. (While the match would have been slightly more satisfying if Gresham won, ROH putting the roster member over is sound in theory.)

This was one of the most satisfying, substantive, exciting, and just genuinely fun matches in ROH in quite some time. It felt state-of-the-art in a way that ROH absolutely never conveys these days.

Jonathan Gresham IS what Ring of Honor should be. Lio Rush IS what Ring of Honor should be. Alex Shelley doing everything in his power on commentary to get them over IS what Ring of Honor should be. EVERYTHING about this match IS what Ring of Honor should be.

When in the fuck is Ring of Honor going to get it the fuck together and actually push guys like these two (and Dijak) to the fucking moon? Stop pushing stale acts like Adam Cole. Stop serving as a social security fund for TNA has-beens. Become the future today, or you’ll become just a memory. (****1/2)


1. Kevin Steen vs. El Generico – 12/23/2010

Image result for steen generico final battle 2010"

While this was not the hottest blowoff to a feud in Ring of Honor history, it was a beautiful and fitting end to the last great story in the company. Steen and Generico busted out everything possible in order to so. They made a ton of callbacks to their year-long feud (like Generico using a chain to bust Steen open early on). Steve Corino and Colt Cabana made cameos. They ended up going through three referees (Generico accidentally put Sinclair through a table, and Steen purposely gave Remsburg a package piledriver). Both men took some absolutely ghastly bumps. Generico managed to connect on two of the moves he had been desperately trying to hit on Steen all year but had failed to do so (the leaping tornado DDT and the turnbuckle brainbuster). Steen survived everything Generico threw at him. Generico had no choice but to finish this feud in the same way it started: an unprotected chairshot (even using the same chair Steen hit Generico with a year ago) to the head. This was everything it needed to be. (****3/4)


My list of 5-Star Matches

article topics :

Ring of Honor, TJ Hawke