wrestling / Columns

The Independent Mid-Card 02.20.07: Aries vs. Strong

February 20, 2007 | Posted by Samuel Berman

Hello and welcome to another week of The Independent Mid-Card. As a result of Roderick Strong’s shocking turn on longtime tag team partner and stablemate Austin Aries, I though it would be interesting to look back at a previous confrontation between the two. Though the two have only faced in Ring of Honor in the finals of the 2005 Survival of the Fittest Tournament (which was the main event of that show and thus does not qualify for The Independent Mid-Card), they did have a match for the ROH World Title during Aries’ reign that took place in ROH’s sister promotion, FIP. Strong has been a mainstay of Full Impact Pro since that company’s re-launch, and it was there that he earned what was arguably his first big time shot in the wrestling business. And so down to Florida we go this week, as we head south for a very special Current Events Edition of The Independent Mid-Card.

Austin Aries © vs. Roderick Strong
ROH World Title
Full Impact Pro – Bring the Pain – Sebring, FL – March 26, 2005

The Wrestlers:
Austin Aries – After unseating longtime Ring of Honor World Champion Samoa Joe in December of 2004, “The Wrestling Machine” Austin Aries started on a mission to prove that he could be just as great a champion as his predecessor had been. To that end, he began an aggressive schedule of title defenses that included taking the belt to numerous promotions worldwide. Having recently defeated Joe in his title rematch, Aries was well on his way to proving that his hybrid style of strikes, technical expertise and high flying offense was versatile enough to help him hold onto the ROH World Title against a variety of challengers. This is Austin Aries’ ninth ROH World Title defense, and the sixth being made outside of Ring of Honor.

Roderick Strong – While Austin Aries’ stablemate and de facto body guard in Ring of Honor, Roderick Strong was one of the cornerstones of the restarted Full Impact Pro company, having traded wins with Samoa Joe in January of 2005. Though he had lost to “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson the night before, Strong was able to defeat Insane Dragon (the former “Izzy” of Special K fame in Ring of Honor) earlier in the night to earn this shot at Aries’ ROH World Title, Strong’s first ever shot at that belt.

The Match:
Strong is introduced as “The Master of the Backbreaker”, so I guess they don’t like calling him the Messiah in Florida or something. Or else the ring announcer screwed up. Very little fanfare for Roddy, especially with him being a homegrown Florida product and all. He’s also using some music that I don’t recognize, but this was before he broke out as a single in ROH, so I’m not particularly surprised or anything. Aries comes out to no music whatsoever, which is strange and actually pretty jarring given how imposing his entrance was in ROH at this point. Aries does jaw with the fans a little on his way in. He shows one side of the crowd the belt and they boo, so he refuses to show it to the other side. I should note that the FIP crowd is small and gets picked up on the microphones really clearly, so without a lot of ancillary crowd noise, the comments from individual crowd members come through clear as crystal. Also, the wide camera has a noticeably blurry picture tonight for whatever reason. The referee checks both guys (with Aries telling him to be careful with one of his wrists: “It may be infected!”) and displays the belt. With that, we’re off.

I was going to say that it was strange to have no referee-prompted handshake before an ROH World Title defense, but then Aries and Strong do one of their own accord after the bell (although left-handed because Aries doesn’t want to risk his infected wrist or cut hand or whatever). We get some circling and the two men lockup in the middle of the ring. Aries forces Strong to the corner, but we get a clean break. Aries wants (and receives) some applause for his good sportsmanship. We get a bit of stalling and then another lockup. Again Aries forces the challenger to the corner, but this time after teasing a clean break, the champ hits a cheap shot elbow to the face. The ref suitably admonishes him. Strong then forces Aries to the corner and hits a chop so hard that the champ goes scurrying to the outside. Aries takes his time getting back in, and then avoids a lockup and takes Strong down with a single leg trip. Aries segues to a front facelock, but Strong counters into a hammerlock. Strong tries to turn the champ over for a pinfall attempt, but Aries grabs an inverted headscissors. Strong counters out and takes Aries down with a headlock. Aries rolls into a pinfall attempt for two, but Strong holds on to the headlock. Aries fights his way to his feet and tries to power out, but to no avail. Finally, he reverses to a hammerlock, but Roddy takes him down into a modified deathlock. Strong goes for a Mexican surfboard attempt, but Aries grabs the ropes to break before he can get the move fully applied.

They circle for a bit and then go into a bizarre criss-cross sequence that gets very little accomplished. That’s the kind of spot that works better in an established comedy match (like the Cabana vs. Spanky one that we looked at a couple of months ago). They stop pretty abruptly and then Aries grabs another headlock. Strong pushes him off and they start another criss-cross that goes until Aries drops down and Strong stops to grab a headlock. Again, it’s funnier when Cabana does it. Although come to think of it, maybe this is where he and Kendrick lifted the spot from. I digress. Roddy threatens to bite Aries’ injured hand but thinks better of it (Strong: “Oh, wait… I don’t want to do that…”). Aries hits a backdrop suplex to get out of the headlock, but Strong pops right back up and reapplies the hold. Aries tries to elbow out this time, but when that doesn’t work, he reverses and gets a headlock takedown of his own. Strong gets a headscissors (which is never really a good idea with Aries) and actually holds it pretty tenaciously as Aries tries a couple of times to bridge out. Aries goes for the headstand but Strong spikes his head to the mat on the first couple of attempts in a sort of mini-piledriver. Finally, Aries is able to get his patented headstand into a dropkick spot to break.

Aries comes running with a kick to the midsection to take control and strikes Strong into the corner. The champ walks Roddy around with kicks and forearms and then whips him cross corner. Aries follows and gets sent over the top to the apron, but immediately comes back in with a slingshot back elbow in the corner. Aries struts around a bit, allowing Strong to reverse a cross corner whip. Roddy then hits a boot on the blind charge and so Aries goes for a tornado DDT. It is, however, Roderick Strong, so he reverses that mid-move into a backbreaker variation. Strong chops at Aries and then Irish whips him into a standing dropkick and then a running back elbow. All of that gets two (with a big kick out by Aries). Strong continues with the strikes and then whips Aries into a big side slam. The announcers question Strong for not going for a pinfall attempt, but Strong shows solid strategy by stomping in Aries’ injured hand. Well, you can’t argue the effectiveness of that.

Aries rolls out to recover, but Strong follows him and hits a clubbing forearm to the back. Strong then rams Aries’ injured hand into the guardrail in another smart spot. Strong gets some more strikes as they do a pretty lackluster walk-around brawl for a bit, ending with Aries regaining control and ramming Strong’s face into the ring apron before rolling him back in.

Aries tries to come in with a slingshot somersault senton, but Strong moves and Aries further injures the back. Strong gets a chop and then whips the champ into a back body drop (again, landing Aries on his back) for two. Nice to see that psychology pay off with a relatively close two count off of what is normally a transition move. Strong powers Aries to the corner and strikes away, culminating in another hard chop. Strong follows Aries around the ring with more strikes, but Aries gets a Downward Spiral (inverted STO) into the turnbuckle to stop his momentum. Aries gets a crossface in the ropes to reiterate that he’s the heel and then hits a jumping stomp to Strong’s back. Aries whips Strong into a side double-axehandle and follows up with a jumping elbow drop, but makes a lazy cover that barely gets two. Strong tries to come back with forearm strikes, but Aries goes low with a mule kick and then comes off the ropes with a running knee strike to the face. Aries stomps away and gets some stiff kicks to put Strong on the outside, following up with a baseball slide that sends the challenger into the guardrail. Aries continues the assault on the outside, but Strong chops him so hard that he rolls back into the ring to recover. They fight over a couple of strikes with Strong on the apron, but Roddy is finally able to get a sunset flip. Aries holds onto the ropes for dear life, but for some reason, the ref kicks Aries’ hands and Strong completes the rollup for a close two count. That was absolutely inexcusable for the referee to do, especially given the established injury to Aries’ hand.

Aries pops up with a running clothesline to put Strong down and then Aries kicks away as Strong rolls to the apron. Aries goes to suplex Roddy in from the apron, but Strong counters mid-move and lands in a cross body for two. Aries grabs him and rolls into a butterfly lock in the middle of the ring, trying to get the submission. Strong powers his way out, forcing Aries to grab a front facelock instead, but then the champ gets driven into the corner to break the hold proper. Strong gets a clubbing forearm to the back and then a couple of strikes to the face, and then Aries reverses a whip, only to come charging and get thrown over the top rope. Aries lands on the apron (albeit, not completely cleanly) and motions to the crowd about how smart he is, only to turn around and have Strong dropkick his legs, sending the champ crashing face-first into the ring apron. Strong follows him out with a slingshot plancha that puts both guys down at ringside, with Strong having seemingly tweaked his ankle on the dive.

Aries rolls in first and is followed in short order by the challenger. Aries goes to take advantage, but Strong reverses to a series of forearms, kicks and hard chops. Aries finally blocks one of the chops and sets up for the brainbuster, but Strong counters and hits a falcon arrow for two. Strong forces Aries to the corner and gets a forearm and another chop before whipping the champ cross corner and following him in with a clothesline. Aries avoids a second clothesline and comes off the ropes with his missile dropkick to the corner for a two count. Aries calls for the brainbuster again, but again Roddy is able to reverse it, this time hitting the fireman’s carry gutbuster that has never been appropriately named (and certainly wasn’t by this point). Strong goes for a cover, but Aries gets a foot on the ropes to break the count at two. Strong gets a big kick to the back and gets some clubbing forearms to the back before going for the CX ’03 (Gory Special into a neckbreaker). Aries slips out, however, and comes off the ropes with a hard lariat that gets two. Aries goes for the brainbuster again, and again Roderick is able to counter, this time to an attempt at the half-nelson backbreaker, but now Aries floats over, and just when it looks like Strong is going to hit the fireman’s carry gutbuster again, Aries plants him with the Crucifix Bomb. Aries goes right to the fishhook for a moment and then transitions right into the Rings of Aries (double armlock submission) and Strong gives up at 17:10. The ref hands Aries his belt and we’re out.

The Analysis:
In some ways, this was like a slow motion version of what a normal ROH match is like. I liked that they didn’t just start throwing moves out there with no psychology (which champions are known to do when not in front of their home promotion’s crowd), but this match never really got out of first gear. Actually, that’s not completely fair. I would say it topped out in second gear.

The psychology was sound, especially with Strong working the back effectively (his one real trademark at the time) and even managing nearfalls off of transition moves like the back body drop. Aries was a little bit more scattered, but earned some praise back by acting like a full cocky heel, a role he sometimes ignored in his Ring of Honor matches. It would have been nice for him to put his feet on the ropes or get a low blow in, but that’s nitpicking at its worst. I do give them credit for getting the Rings of Aries over as a legit finish to the match.

The truth is that this match probably suffered some because of two other elements of the show it was on. First, Strong had already worked once that night, and though I wouldn’t call it a grueling matchup or anything, it was regardless another match that he had already worked. Second, the main event of this show was CM Punk vs. Bryan Danielson in a 2/3 Falls Match, a contest that went over 40 minutes. It was probably wise of FIP to not book two consecutive half-hour-plus matches to end the show, as that’s really just not the style FIP fans were accustomed to at that point. In a perfect world, Strong would have rolled over into a cover to counter the Rings of Aries, with Aries kicking out and them going into another finishing sequence with Aries eventually winning by finally hitting the brainbuster and following up with the 450 splash.

The Aftermath:
Aries and Strong’s careers in Ring of Honor were linked long before this matchup, and would remain so long after the final bell sounded. The two held the ROH Tag Team Titles for nearly nine full months from December of 2005 to September of 2006, in the process elevating those belts into the ROH World Tag Team Titles with their defenses against international teams like Dragon Gate’s CIMA & Naruki Doi.

As for Aries’ title reign, he would go on to make a total of 16 defenses of the Ring of Honor World Title before losing it to CM Punk in June of 2006. Along the way, he made celebrated defenses against Alex Shelley and Bryan Danielson as well as a tremendous pair of matches with James Gibson. In FIP, he would eventually go on to join Dave Prazak’s DP Associates stable, which is arguably the most loaded stable in wrestling history (members at one time or another include: Aries, Danielson, Punk, Samoa Joe and Jimmy Rave, amongst many others).

Strong, one of the top players in FIP to NOT be a member of DP Associates, would continue to be one of the top draws for Florida Impact Pro, mostly as a result of a number of excellent matches, including a tremendous encounter with Generation Next stablemate (over in ROH, of course) Jack Evans at an event that was actually titled Strong vs. Evans. In November of 2006, after a heated, promotion spanning rivalry with the “American Dragon”, Strong upended Danielson to become the new FIP Heavyweight Champion, a belt he still holds as of this writing.

The Final Word:
With Strong having turned on Aries at this past weekend’s ROH events, one of the top teams in pro wrestling is no more. As a fan, I kind of like the move, as I think Strong and his new partner Davey Richards will both benefit from their heel turn. The pair have already held the PWG Tag Team Titles, so the notion of them as a tag team isn’t unprecedented or anything. As for Aries, his proclamation that he will be assembling a team to battle Strong and Richards’ No Remorse Corps is an enticing one, as the idea of Aries as the father figure to a group of up-and-comers is a great use of his talents until he leaves the promotion later this year to focus on his work with TNA. I can’t be the only one who thinks Aries, Matt Cross and the boys of Irish Airborne would be a pretty good looking stable.

And if absolutely nothing else, when the inevitable Aries vs. Strong singles match does happen in Ring of Honor, it’s going to be fun to watch it with this contest in mind, to see how far two of the Independent scene’s best really have come over the last couple of years. I’m just hoping it happens in Chicago.

If you’d like to see this week’s match, FIP’s Bring the Pain is available at both rohwrestling.com and fullimpactpro.com. I highly recommend it, especially with the great Punk vs. Danielson main event.

While you’re here at 411, be sure to read some other stuff as well. Ari’s Column of Honor and Stu’s Friendly Competition, as usual. Also, be sure to check out Part 2 of Jordan’s WWE vs. TNA Roundtable Spectacular. And make sure to take the time to read JD’s ROH DVD Reviews, as he’s recently hit on three of my all-time favorite ROH shows (Manhattan Mayhem, The Final Showdown and Nowhere to Run). Also, a new edition of The Box in the Attic should be up at some point this week, so do me a solid and check that out whenever it appears.

There will also be another ROH Roundtable this week, with the staff taking a look at the upcoming Fifth Year Festival events in Dayton and Chicago. I’ll be sitting front row in the Windy City, and hope everyone who can will also come out for what is sure to be a fantastic event.

With no birthday messages or condescending comments to get in this week, I’m going to check out. Have a good one everybody.

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Samuel Berman

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