wrestling / Columns

The Independent Mid-Card 08.07.07: Gibson vs. Spanky

August 7, 2007 | Posted by Samuel Berman

Hello loyal readers. Welcome to this week’s edition of The Independent Mid-Card. Last week we took our first look at Fight Sports Midwest, but this week we return to the friendly confines of Ring of Honor with a look at a couple of my favorite performers ever to wrestle on the Independent scene. We’ve looked at both individually in the past, but when the duo hooked up early in 2005, the results were fantastic. It’s a look back at one of the best debuts in ROH history in this week’s IMC.

James Gibson vs. Spanky
Ring of Honor – Third Anniversary Celebration, Part 2 – Dayton, OH – February 25, 2005

The Wrestlers:
James Gibson – Also known as Jamie Knoble (alternately spelled ‘Noble’) during his days in WCW and with World Wrestling Entertainment, James Gibson left the latter organization under less than honorable circumstances late in 2004. It had been discovered that Gibson was using steroids, and thus was released from the company. After recovering from a staph infection, which was rumored to be involved in the revelation of his steroid use, Gibson began working for a variety different companies including Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. When it was announced that he would be making his ROH debut against fellow former WWE employee Spanky, the match quickly became one of the most anticipated contests of ROH’s Third Anniversary Celebration.

Spanky – A trainee of Shawn Michaels’ wrestling academy, Brian “Spanky” Kendrick was a part of Ring of Honor’s very first show, gaining much success during the company’s early period. In fact, Spanky participated in the four-way Ironman Match to crown the very first ROH Champion. Though he eventually left the company to pursue a career with World Wrestling Entertainment, Spanky remained a favorite amongst ROH fans. When he left WWE in early-2004 after a mostly undistinguished run, he announced that he would be returning to competition for Japan’s ZERO-ONE promotion. After nearly a year free from his WWE obligations, Spanky decided to return to ROH for a second stint. Since returning at the beginning of 2005, Spanky had earned a pair of wins, defeating both Alex Shelley and CM Punk.

The Match:
Danger! High Voltage plays Spanky down to the ring and the crowd is notably amped to see him. An interesting change in style sees no weight announced for him. A Country Boy Can Survive begins to play and James Gibson comes through the curtain into Ring of Honor competition for the first time. Though it’s not the most traditional of entrance music choices, in this case it’s more than appropriate and fits Gibson perfectly. Gibson almost looks a little nervous to be in front of the small but energetic crowd. No weight is announced for Gibson, either, but I’m pretty sure both guys are in the realm of 185 pounds if you’re curious. A “SmackDown! sucks!” chant breaks out that seems to thoroughly amuse both guys with Gibson going so far as to actually applaud the fans. Spanky extends his hand and Gibson accepts it and then the referee calls for the bell. Miscellaneous fashion note: both guys are wearing orange tights for whatever reason.

They circle and lockup in the middle of the ring. Gibson forces Spanky to the corner but gets pushed off to break. They circle and lockup again and this time Gibson drops down and gets a single leg trip, riding Spanky into a front facelock on the mat. Spanky tries to counter into one of his own, but Gibson rolls through and keeps the hold on. Spanky eventually reverses to a wristlock and both men get to their feet, only to have Gibson roll around to counter and send Spanky over the top with a Northern Lights throw right into an armlock of his own. Spanky tries to counter into an Indian Deathlock, but can’t get it cleanly and gets into a mount position until both guys grab the ropes to force a break.

Spanky backs off and Gibson gets back to his feet. Dueling chants start as the two men knuckle up for a test of strength. Gibson wins that early, but Spanky fights back when he can’t hold the bridge. Gibson counters that into a Northern Lights Suplex while still holding the knucklelocks, but it only gets two. Spanky grabs a standing front facelock out of the kickout, but Gibson counters back to a wristlock. Spanky counters to one of his own, but Gibson works his way back to controlling the hold. Gibson segues into a headlock takedown and then both men work back to their feet. Spanky pushes Gibson off the ropes but gets the worse end of a shoulderblock. They go into a leapfrog sequence until Gibson swats away a dropkick and tries for an arm submission or rollup of some kind. Spanky avoids it and trips Gibson up, trying for a camel clutch, but Gibson avoids that and goes for a three-quarter chancery, but Spanky counters that into a hammerlock. Incredible mat sequence there. Gibson gets to his feet and moves back into the corner to force the break, even hitting a back elbow just as Spanky was releasing the hold.

Gibson gets a straight shot to the face before shaking his arm out because of the hammerlock. Gibson gets in another shot to the face, but Spanky floats over on a body slam attempt and grabs a waistlock. Gibson counters to one of his own, but Spanky runs towards the ropes and sends Gibson crashing to ringside. Spanky runs to the corner and hops right to the top, flying out onto Gibson with a body block. Spanky rolls Gibson back in and goes straight to the top, but Gibson catches him with a Fujiwara armbar as he comes flying in. Spanky wriggles over to the ropes and forces the break. Gibson stomps away and then grabs another wristlock before pounding away on Spanky’s arm. Spanky tries to push Gibson off as he goes to reapply the wristlock, but Gibson calmly takes him down with a side armdrag and goes right into a hammerlock. Spanky tries first to knee Gibson in the head to break, and when that doesn’t work tries to roll out of the hold, also to no avail. Finally, Gibson chooses to release, but not before dropping an elbow on Spanky’s arm for good measure.

Gibson slams Spanky’s arm into the mat a couple of times and then locks in the wristlock again before getting a snapmare takedown and hitting a legdrop to the arm. Gibson knees Spanky in the arm and then locks in an overhand wristlock. Gibson turns that into an armbar when Spanky tries to roll out, but Spanky makes the ropes and the referee forces the break. Gibson grabs another hammerlock and sends Spanky shoulder-first into the turnbuckle and then repeats the spot into the opposite corner. Certainly can’t argue with the effectiveness. Gibson gets a chop in the corner that sends the crowd into a near-frenzy and then follows up with a beautiful hammerlock backdrop suplex for two. Spanky rolls over to the ropes on the kickout, but Gibson goes right over and tries to drag him away from them. When Spanky tries to hold onto the ropes, Gibson just stomps his arm and locks in another armbar. Spanky tries to force Gibson to the corner, but Gibson reverses and gets a rope-assisted armlock in the corner. The referee forces a break, so Gibson just dropkicks Spanky in the back of the head.

Spanky gets his feet up into a modified dropkick when Gibson tries to move in. Gibson responds with a chop to the chest, but Spanky uses his good arm to forearm Gibson in the face a couple of times. Gibson gets a knee to the gut and whips Spanky cross-corner, but misses on a blind charge and Spanky plants him with a bulldog. Spanky comes off the ropes with a flying forearm, being sure to use the good arm, and then follows up with a dropkick. Spanky then goes for an Irish whip, but Gibson reverses and sends him flying over the top to the floor.

Gibson rolls out to continue the assault and chops Spanky against the barricade. Gibson sets up for what looks to be a Tiger Driver on the floor, but Spanky forces him back into the guardrail. Gibson tenaciously goes for the Tiger Driver again, but this time Spanky back bodydrops him over the barricade and into the crowd. Spanky goes out and retrieves Gibson, tossing him over the guardrail and landing him with a ‘thud’ on the floor at ringside. Important aesthetic note: the floors are hardwood and there aren’t any mats out, at ringside or otherwise. Gibson is clutching at his knee, but Spanky rolls him into the ring rather than going after it.

Spanky climbs straight to the top and comes in with a frogsplash that gets a two count. Spanky sets Gibson up in neckbreaker position and then plants him with a facebuster into the knee, but then staggers around for a bit before covering for two. That would seem to be a strategic error. Gibson reverses an Irish whip attempt, but Spanky kicks his arm away and gets a boot to the face and then a step-up enziguiri. Gibson is wobbling around, but won’t go down, so Spanky hits a jumping leg lariat. Gibson still won’t go down, so Spanky runs the ropes, only to get caught with a powerslam for two. Another dueling chant breaks out as both guys lay around trying to recover. The referee begins to count both guys down.

Both men use the ropes to help them to their feet just as the referee’s count reaches six. Spanky runs at Gibson in the corner, but Gibson gets a back elbow to block the charge. Gibson climbs to the second rope and tries to lock in for what looks to be a Tornado DDT, but Spanky strikes away to block and climbs all the way to the top. Spanky takes Gibson over with a Frankensteiner, but Gibson rolls through into a sunset flip for two. Spanky grabs a triangle choke armbar right out of the kickout, but Gibson eventually works his way to his feet, forcing Spanky’s shoulders down for a two count. Gibson then counters right into a Texas Cloverleaf that looks to finish until Spanky crawls to the ropes. The crowd was incredibly hot for that sequence.

Gibson goes for a Tiger Driver, but Spanky fights it off and goes for Sliced Bread #2 (Springboard backflip reverse DDT) only to have Gibson reverse that mid-move and plant him with a hanging neckbreaker out of the corner. Gibson tries to scurry over to Spanky to cover, but Spanky smartly rolls out to ringside to avoid being pinned. Gibson goes out and rolls a deadweight Spanky back into the ring, but by the time he can cover back on the inside, it only gets a two count. Gibson tries to move in, but Spanky pushes him off. Gibson tries again, but meets the same response. On the third try, Spanky just pastes him with a superkick and hooks the leg to cover, but Gibson kicks out at two. Spanky gets to his feet, still holding the injured left arm close to his body mind you, and waits for Gibson to recover. He goes for another superkick, but Gibson catches it and tries to reverse into the Tiger Driver. Spanky counters with a double-leg takedown and goes into a reverse laying press, but Gibson again kicks out at two. Spanky tries for a clothesline, but Gibson reverses it into a double-arm DDT and then rolls Spanky over right into a Guillotine Choke for the near-immediate submission at 13:38. The crowd gives both men a standing ovation for their efforts as Gibson is announced as the winner.

A Country Boy Can Survive starts to play again as Gibson makes his way to the different turnbuckles to pose for the fans. Loud ‘Gibson’ chants break out as the crowd continues to applaud. The ‘SmackDown! sucks!’ chant makes another appearance, and Gibson goes over to hug Spanky. Spanky raises Gibson’s hand and the two men exchange a heart-felt handshake before Spanky, still selling the arm, by the way, makes a classy exit so that Gibson can soak in the crowd’s cheers alone. Gibson bows to the crowd and then pumps his fists, seeming genuinely pleased with the victory and the performance. He continues to celebrate for a few more moments before hopping down to ringside and heading to the back.

The Analysis:
If not a classic, this match surely ranks as amongst the best debuts in ROH history. Nearly as effective in its own way as Samoa Joe’s debut against Low Ki and Mark Briscoe defeating his older brother in his first ROH contest, Gibson ended up looking like a million bucks in this match, keeping pace and even occasionally dominating the highly-regarded Spanky. Fans who had only seen Gibson’s WWE work were perhaps shocked at both his speed and technical prowess, both of which had been kept shackled during his Stamford tenure.

The counter wrestling here was of the highest order, playing off the fact that the two men were familiar with each other from their time in WWE. Each man countered his opponent’s counters with new moves and smart psychology. Gibson’s relentless work on Spanky’s arm early in the match paid off later on when Spanky was trying to hold onto the ropes and one light kick was able to pry his arm free. Also, Spanky was unable to immediately cover after the facebuster primarily because he was tending to his injured arm, another moment where Gibson’s assault bought him a few extra seconds at a crucial juncture.

In itself, Gibson’s focus on the arm was a great bit of storytelling. In the opening moments of the match, the pair went back-and-forth, waiting for the other to make a mistake. When Gibson was able to grab the Fujiwara armbar on the flying Spanky, he had his first opportunity to target a weakness. Gibson took that opportunity with gusto, beginning an unyielding attack on Spanky’s arm. Along the way, Gibson did just enough work to Spanky’s head to make the Guillotine Choke a reasonable finish, including the fantastic neckbreaker reversal from Sliced Bread #2, but until the final stages kept his offense focused primarily on Spanky’s arm. To his credit, Spanky was careful to use only his good arm while on offense, further legitimizing Gibson’s work.

On the whole, this match did a ton to establish James Gibson as a major player in his very first match with the company. With Spanky having just come off of wins over key performers like Shelley and Punk, Gibson would instantaneously be viewed as being on the same level as those three men, a major accomplishment for a wrestler who was appearing for the company for the first time.

The Aftermath:
Spanky continued his push towards an ROH World Title shot as 2005 went on. Finally, after losing a bid at Jay Lethal’s ROH Pure Title, Spanky worked his way back into title contention. After he was unsuccessful once he received his shot at then-ROH World Champion Austin Aries, Spanky spent much of the Summer wrestling in Japan. Though he returned to Ring of Honor in August, he had already announced that he would be returning to WWE. Before leaving, he had time to challenge for both the ROH Tag Team Titles as well as take another shot at the ROH World Title, but he was again unable to earn ROH gold and left the company after briefly joining Prince Nana’s Embassy faction. Since returning to WWE, Spanky, now wrestling under his real name, has had a mixed bag of results, but did hold the WWE Tag Team Titles along with fellow ROH alumnus Paul London. In fact, Kendrick & London held the titles for so long that the eventually became the longest tenured champions in the history of those belts, holding them for almost eleven months uninterrupted.

James Gibson ran into a number of stumbling blocks in his quest to win ROH gold. Though he earned a shot at Austin Aries’ ROH World Title, their initial contest went to a draw when both men’s shoulders were simultaneously pinned to the mat. Gibson came out on the loser’s end of the eventual rematch, but the ending was viewed to be as much a fluke victory for Aries as anything. Gibson went on to have a well-received Pure Title match with Samoa Joe, but again walked away without the belt. However, when CM Punk won the ROH World Title from Aries and immediately turned his back on Ring of Honor and its fans, Gibson jumped in to stand up for the company and people who had given his career a new lease on life. Punk was able to escape with a tainted victory over Gibson in their first match, but when the champ was forced to take on three challengers at once during his final weekend with the company, it was Gibson who outlasted the field to achieve his goal of becoming ROH World Champion. Gibson’s post-match celebration remains one of the all-time feel-good moments on company history, even to this day.

Upon winning the gold, Gibson’s impending return to WWE immediately seemed to limit his time as champion. Gibson did make successful defenses against Colt Cabana, Roderick Strong and former friend Spanky, who turned on the champion during their joint shot at BJ Whitmer & Jimmy Jacobs’ ROH Tag Team Titles. Gibson, who had said he would remain in ROH until losing the championship, would end up being defeated by a returning “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson in September, ending his title reign and ostensibly his run with the company. Gibson defeated a debuting Jimmy Yang at the beginning of October before going out on his back against protégé Roderick Strong in his final ROH appearance. After beginning work for WWE again, Gibson, again using his Jamie Noble ring name, teamed with Kid Kash as the Pitbulls. After Kash got into hot water with the company and left under less-than-pleasant terms, Gibson was left as the odd man out. Though he is currently feuding with WWE Cruiserweight Champion Hornswoogle, the big story for Gibson is having recently been asked to become one of the company’s road agents. Even though it seems as if Gibson will never reach the success in WWE that he found in ROH, he continues to be a part of the main roster, allowing his fans to hold out hope that one day he will be given the opportunity to again shine as a major player.

The Final Word:
I’m a huge advocate for James Gibson’s ROH work. I think that his 2005 run with the company is amongst the best in-ring runs by any performer in the company’s history, and perhaps any stint anywhere in wrestling. Gibson consistently put on show-stealing matches throughout his time in ROH, including fantastic contests with Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, CM Punk, Samoa Joe and Black Tiger. Perhaps the most unfortunate non-existent ROH DVD release is “A Country Boy Can Survive: The Best of James Gibson”. Perhaps someday we’ll be able to see James Gibson grace a Ring of Honor ring once again. Until then, I suppose I’ll just keep trying to catch Velocity.

To see this week’s match, you can purchase Ring of Honor’s Third Anniversary Celebration, Part 2 at rohwrestling.com. The show’s main event is AJ Styles’ one-night-only return to ROH to take on former protégé Jimmy Rave, which is one of Rave’s best performances ever. Also on the card are CM Punk taking on Alex Shelley and Colt Cabana and Nigel McGuinness’ first match, which has a very different feel to it than most matches you see on the Independent circuit. In my opinion, the three Third Anniversary Celebration shows are great purchases for any fan looking to see get into that period in Ring of Honor.

There’s a bunch of other stuff you should be sure to check out this week at 411. First, there’s Ari’s Column of Honor (complete with Part Two again this week), Bayani’s Truth B Told and Adamson’s Destiny. There’s also a great Buy or Sell featuring the boss taking on Ryan Mancuso in discussion of Puro and Lucha. Brad and Jake have reviews up for ROH’s This Means War II and Fighting Spirit shows. Oh, and Brad’s got a special look at the Briscoes’ GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title reign. Finally, be sure to look at my fill in for Jordan Linkous’s Why I Love Wrestling column, where I take a look at big match feel and its effect on a match.

The new ROH Roundtable should be up later this week to preview this weekend’s Death Before Dishonor V shows. Also, Stu and I are taking care of Buy or Sell for this week, so be sure to look out for that for even more ROH coverage.

I’m in Allentown, PA (home of former WCW Cruiserweight Champion Billy Kidman) for my buddy’s wedding this weekend and won’t be back until late Monday night, so there will either be a fill-in, a delay or a week off for this column, but all other projects will be unaffected. Hopefully everyone will handle the change in schedule, and fortunately it’s the last major schedule shift for me in the foreseeable future. There’ll probably be a wedding short form (ala last week) whenever I return to action. Have a good week, people. Go watch some Scrubs.

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Samuel Berman

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