wrestling / Columns

The Top Ten Matches of 2007

December 24, 2007 | Posted by J.D. Dunn

The Top Ten Matches of 2007
Yes, it is that time of year again. Time to look back at the year that was in wrestling.

Surprisingly, all promotions had up-and-down years. The WWE had brilliant performances from Shawn Michaels and John Cena. Guys like Umaga, Batista and MVP really stepped it up. They were also torpedoed by injuries, the wellness debacle, and that little Benoit incident you might have heard about.

TNA expanded its geographical reach and earned a much-needed two-hour timeslot. They brought in stars from Japan and former WWE stars, but nothing seems to make much of a difference to their bottom line. It doesn’t help that they have some of the most mind-numbingly stupid booking since… well, since Vince Russo was booking WCW.

Ring of Honor took a major step to national respectability, putting on three critically acclaimed PPVs in 2007. However, with TNA yanking big names like Homicide, Samoa Joe, and Austin Aries, and with Bryan Danielson out with an injury for a lengthy period, ROH was left scrambling to come up with new superstars. The results were mixed to say the least.

But enough analysis. Let’s get on with the matches.

The rules are the same, but I’ll go over them again.

  • The eligible period is from December 1, 2006 to November 30, 2007. That’s the traditional wrestling year. For those who always e-mail me and ask me why – well, I’m not entirely sure, but I assume it’s because when the Observer and PWI used to send out ballots, they wanted to leave enough time for people to send in their ballots by snail mail. Plus, you had printing times and layout to consider. Ah, the days of pulpy newsprint.
  • If I haven’t seen it, it doesn’t make the list. Nothing’s worse than hearing someone say, “Well, [Japanese match] is way better than the Matt Hardy match you mentioned.” And so you ask what they liked about it, and they say, “Well, I haven’t seen it, but Meltzer says it was good.” If I wanted Meltzer to write my list for me, I’d set up a TV camera in my apartment and watch him come running. Kidding.
  • I’m more of a storyline guy than a details guy. Mike Campbell and Arnold Furious are details guys. Larry Csonka and I are storyline guys. To draw a metaphor, if Mike Campbell is Popular Mechanics, then I am Car & Driver. He’ll talk about the horsepower, the torque, and the expected gasoline usage per mile. I’ll talk about whether or not the car has a DVD player so that little bastard you have the nerve to call a son can watch “Hannah Montana” on the way to the dentist. There’s not a right or wrong, it’s just a matter of values.
  • Yes, the list of nominees is ROH heavy. I got a few e-mails last year about how biased I was toward ROH. It’s not that. I don’t care where I get my good wrestling. It’s just that ROH focuses on in-ring product while WWE focuses on “tits ‘n’ skits” and TNA focuses on losing money. Ha! Seriously though, ROH’s business model necessitates that they put on great matches or else no one will buy their DVDs. What ROH is doing, in effect, is putting on a PPV every time out. If Raw sucks, no one cares. It does a 3.3 instead of a 3.5. If ROH sucks, they go out of business.
  • Finally, it didn’t come up the last few years, so I didn’t mention it, but it does this year a few times. The star ratings, while subjective, refer more to the match’s quality on its own merits. A match’s Match of the Year position is magnified by how important it is to its promotion and storyline. The WWE could bring in the Briscoes for a ***** Velocity match against London & Kendrick, but it wouldn’t make any difference in the long run, and if it never existed, no one would notice. So, from time to time, you’ll see ****1/4 or **** matches being bumped up ahead of higher rated matches. If it took place at WrestleMania, it’s probably getting bumped up. If it’s the blowoff to a big feud, it’s probably getting bumped up. In other words, there has to be something to make it memorable other than, “Hey, that match was pretty good.” I only point this out so there’s no head-scratching.
  • The nominees (**** or higher) are:

    **** matches

    – WWE Tag Team Titles, Ladder Match: London & Kendrick vs. the Hardy Boyz vs. William Regal & Dave Taylor vs. MNM (Armageddon 2006).
    – NWA Heavyweight Title: Christian Cage vs. Samoa Joe
    – The Kings of Wrestling vs. The Briscoe Bros. (Final Battle 2006)
    – ROH World Title: Bryan Danielson vs. Homicide (Final Battle 2006)
    – Jay Briscoe vs. Davey Richards (ROH)
    – ROH World Title, Cage Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Samoa Joe
    – WWE Heavyweight Title: John Cena vs. Randy Orton (Summerslam 2007)
    – WWE Heavyweight Title, Last Man Standing: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
    – ROH Tag Team Titles: Christopher Daniels & Matt Sydal vs. Austin Aries & Roderick Strong
    – ROH Tag Team Titles: Christopher Daniels & Matt Sydal vs. The Briscoe Bros.
    – 2/3 Falls: Matt Sydal vs. Delirious (ROH Fifth Year Festival, London)
    – Dragon Gate Rules: CIMA, Shingo & Susumu Yokusuka vs. The Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito & Masaaki Mochizuki.
    – Roderick Strong vs. Jack Evans
    – ROH World Title: Takeshi Morishima vs. Austin Aries (“The Battle of St. Paul”)
    – Bryan Danielson, CIMA & Naomichi Marufuji vs. Masaaki Mochizuki, Davey Richards & Rocky Romero
    – Texas Death Match: Chris Harris vs. James Storm (w/Jackie Moore)
    – King of the Mountain Match, TNA Heavyweight Title: Christian Cage vs. Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Harris

    ****1/4 matches

    – WWE Heavyweight Title: John Cena vs. Umaga (Royal Rumble
    – WWE Heavyweight Title: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania)
    – Mark Briscoe vs. Jay Briscoe (ROH Fifth Year Festival Finale)
    – ROH World Tag Titles: The Briscoes vs. Shingo & Naruki Doi (ROH Fifth Year Festival, London)
    – Jay Briscoe & Erick Stevens vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (“Fighting Spirit” — 04.14.07).
    – Bryan Danielson vs. Go Shiozaki
    – Takeshi Morishima & Naomichi Marufuji vs. Bryan Danielson & Nigel McGuinness
    – ROH World Tag Team Titles: The Briscoe Bros. vs. Bryan Danielson & Nigel McGuinness (“Race to the Top, Night One” — 07.27.07)
    – Boston Street Fight: The Briscoe Bros. vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico
    – ROH World Title: Takeshi Morishima vs. Bryan Danielson (“Manhattan Mayhem II)

    ****1/2 matches

    – Dragon Gate Rules: Austin Aries, Roderick Strong & Delirious vs. CIMA, Shingo & Matt Sydal (Final Battle 2006)
    – CIMA, Susumu Yokusuka, Dragon Kid & Ryo Saito vs. Austin Aries, Delirious, Rocky Romero & Claudio Castagnoli.
    – Steel Cage Showdown: Jimmy Jacobs vs. BJ Whitmer.
    – Philadelphia Street Fight: The No Remorse Corps & Matt Sydal vs. The Resilience & Delirious
    – Non-Title: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (Raw, 4/23)
    – Ladder War: The Briscoes vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico

    ****3/4 matches

    – ROH World Tag Titles: The Briscoes vs. The Murder City Machine Guns (“Good Times, Great Memories”)
    – Bryan Danielson vs. Nigel McGuinness (ROH Driven)

    And with all that in mind…

    10. I’m not a big fan of the last half of 2006 in ROH. After the CZW feud was blown off (in 2006’s MOTY, btw), Gabe and company settled into a tired, clichéd “anti-hero vs. evil boss” storyline that we’ve seen a hundred times before. However, Homicide was on a path to the title, and Bryan Danielson had squeaked out victories in matches where the booking pointed to an absolutely, positively certain title change. The result was one of the hottest blowoffs of the year, despite some goofy overbooking. This is the textbook example of how to finish a long title chase, and if any future bookers are reading, this is how it’s done.

  • ROH World Title: Bryan Danielson vs. Homicide (“Final Battle 2006” — 12.23.06).
    So, here it is. It’s a match nearly a year in the making, and even further if you want to take it back that far. Both of these guys have been with ROH since the beginning, but Homicide has never carried gold before. After several near-misses against Samoa Joe and a failed attempt to end Danielson’s reign earlier in 2006, Homicide promised that if he didn’t win here, he’d leave ROH. Both guys are coming in with injured shoulders, and both have been putting off surgery. Homicide is clearly the hometown favorite, and Danielson doesn’t endear himself any, calling the fans “wannabe thugs” and flipping off Homicide in lieu of a handshake. Homicide holds his own in a mat-wrestling battle, taking Danielson to a stalemate and applying several leglocks. Danielson comes back with a Mexican Surfboard. Danielson abuses the ref’s count and slingshot suplexes Homicide. He works in a Goku-Raku Stretch with his knees in Homicide’s back. It gets reversed on him, and Homicide tosses him to the floor. Back in, Homicide hits the Triple Verticals and goes up, but Adam Pearce and Shane Hagadorn run down and hit Homicide with the Spiked Piledriver for the DQ at 10:50. Julius Smokes returns and clears Pearce and Hagadorn out of the ring, but Danielson retains the title on the DQ and walks out with it.

    Yeah, right. At the biggest show of the year; are you kidding me? Referee Todd Sinclair says there’s no way in hell he’s accepting that finish and restarts the match, going from the most hated ref in the promotion to the most beloved. Homicide hits a running knee in the corner, but Danielson targets Homicide’s injured shoulder. He goes up for the Swandive Headbutt, but Homicide catches him with the Ace Crusher. Homicide hits a tope con hilo and falls into the crowd. Dragon tries a forearm shot but only connects with the post. Back in, Homicide hits a sick hammerlock suplex into the armbar, but Danielson reaches the ropes. Danielson hits a flying forearm and, this time, the Swandive Headbutt hits. Fans chant, “You’re not Benoit!” They trade blows, knocking each other loopy, but neither man can knock the other down. Homicide spears the champ to the floor but gets clotheslined into the crowd. Danielson goes old-school American Dragon by springboarding and turning himself into a missile to wipe Homicide out. Back in, Homicide shifts his weight to counter a backdrop superplex, but Danielson rolls through for two. Danielson tries again, and it hits. ONE, TWO, THR-NO! Danielson fires off the elbows, which caused the ref to stop the match at “Destiny.” CROSSFACE CHICKENWING! Homicide fades, and his arm drops three times, but he grabs Sinclair’s pant leg before Sinclair can signal for the bell. Great, dramatic moment as Homicide reaches the ropes, and Danielson refuses to release the hold, screaming, “FUCK THE FIVE COUNT!” Sinclair has to pull Danielson off of him. Homicide applies the STF and then the Regal Stretch. Danielson rakes the eyes and flips out of the Cop Killa. CATTLE MUTILATION! Danielson rolls over and hits more elbows before going back to the hold. Homicide tries the Bret Hart counter, but it only gets two. Danielson with a forearm. And another. Homicide ducks a third and hits THE COP KILLA! He got him! ONE, TWO, THRE-Danielson grabs the bottom rope. The crowd is on fire at this point. Homicide thinks about using the ring bell (á la Roddy Piper), but Todd Sinclair takes it away from him. Danielson punts Homicide right between the uprights as Sinclair is putting the bell away. SMALL PACKAGE! That’s his move! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Homicide’s lariat attempt is blocked, but a second try ENDS Danielson. ONE, TWO, THREE! New champion! Homicide gets his first title at 30:37 (total time). The locker room empties to celebrate as Danielson hands over the title belt and shakes Homicide’s hand. Great moment as it dawns on Homicide that he is the champion. Danielson tried everything that worked in the past: getting disqualified, elbowing his opponent unconscious, even the small package. In the end, none of it worked. Homicide overcame it all and won out in the end. All blowoffs should be like this. ****

  • 9.

    The year 2007 was a watershed year for John Cena as a performer. Sure, he’d turned in a number of Match of the Year Candidates in 2006, but those were mostly in brawls where the stipulations could hide the fact that he was still one-dimensional as an in-ring performer. Cena shattered that image with a number of high-quality performances, and this year’s Royal Rumble title match got the year off on the right foot against the unlikeliest of opponents.

  • WWE Heavyweight Title, Last Man Standing: John Cena vs. Umaga (w/Armando Alejandro Estrada — “Royal Rumble” — 01.28.07).
    JR notes, for us Karma buffs, that it was 36 years ago today that Bruno Sammartino lost the title to Ivan Koloff. So…Bruno was reincarnated as a Samoan for all his good deeds? Maybe numerologists would get a bigger kick out of the year thing. There are five letters each in “title” and “Umaga.” They jawjack early, and Umaga tosses Cena to the floor. “Floor” also has five letters. They brawl (also five letters) in the aisle (five), and Umaga goes to the ribs. Back in, Umaga continues to go after the ribs with shoulderblocks in the corner. Cena blocks a charge but runs right into a clothesline to earn a seven count. Umaga tosses the steps in, but Cena knocks him off the apron and launches the steps into his face. Umaga shakes it off and grabs a bearhug. That gets an eight count as Umaga sets up the steps in the corner. He puts Cena in front of them and goes for the buttalanche, but Cena dives out of the way and rams the steps into Umaga’s face again. Cena hits the Throwback to the steps and a spinning backdrop. He adds the Five-Knuckle Shuffle to break up the count but his ribs give out while he’s trying the FU. See, *that’s* where good psychology comes in. The replay shows Cena’s head got caught between Umaga and the steps when he collapsed. Cena tries to hulk up but gets caught with a Samoan Drop. Cena blocks the Samoan Spike and avoids the tree-of-woe headbutt. A guillotine legdrop knocks Umaga silly, and Cena tosses him into the post. Cena grabs one of the monitors and smashes it into Umaga’s head. Umaga still won’t die, so Cena knocks him to the floor. Umaga catches Cena and slams him into the post. Umaga and Estrada set Cena on the ECW table, and Umaga runs atop all three tables before missing his splash and taking out the table. NO WATER IN THE POOL! Umaga nearly gets counted down before staggering to his feet. Back in the ring, Armando undoes the entire top rope, but Cena avoids Umaga’s charge and chokes Umaga out with the ringrope. Great visuals on that one, combining “the Austin Scream” with Raven’s creepy passed-out grin. Umaga stirs, so Cena puts him in the STFU and chokes him out again. This time, it’s enough to get the win at 22:39. Innovative spots and great storytelling lead to a surprising early MOTYC. ****1/4

  • 8.

    After a lackluster start to his title reign, Takeshi Morishima really started to come into his own at the end of the summer, turning in quality performances against Shingo, Austin Aries, Claudio Castagnoli and Brent Albright. As we entered the Fall of ’07, Morishima began to remind me more and more of a young Andre the Giant, quick, mobile and able to use his size in more strategic ways. His brutal slugfest with Bryan Danielson was made all the more impressive knowing that Danielson suffered a broken orbital bone that nearly ended his brilliant career.

  • ROH World Title: Takeshi Morishima vs. Bryan Danielson (“Manhattan Mayhem II” — 08.25.07).
    Here we go, baby! The crowd is amped for this one because, thus far, Morishima has looked indestructible. The opening sees Danielson luring Morishima in and then kicking his legs out from under him. Morishima occasionally catches up with Danielson and clubs him down. He boots Danielson right in the face, breaking Danielson’s eye socket. To the floor, Morishima Olé kicks Danielson right in the face. Danielson guts it out and tosses Morishima into the crowd. He goes up and dives off the top onto the champ. Back in Danielson hits a missile dropkick, but it’s no sold. Morishima shrugs him off and NAILS him with a lariat. Danielson reverses a Backdrop Driver for two. Danielson goes back to the legs, taking Morishima down and applying a side leglock. Good stuff. Morishima powers up into a German Suplex and slams Danielson down with the uranage. Danielson goes back to the anklelock and then the half-crab. Morishima rolls over and boots him in the face. Danielson gets pissed and rattles off a few forearms. He gets two off a small package and two more off a German Suplex. ELBOWS! Morishima powers up, but his bad leg buckles. Danielson starts stomping his face in. ONE, TWO, TH-NO! Dragon rolls over into Cattle Mutilation! Morishima counters a backdrop superplex and squashes Danielson. Dragon gets fired up but gets NAILED with a lariat. That sets up the Backdrop Driver at 20:17. Half the people in the crowd are pissed, and the other half has a newfound respect for Morishima. I liked this match even better than their PPV rematch because of the strategies employed by Dragon here, and, more importantly, they didn’t overwhelm the match. Great match, and it’s nice to see Morishima coming into his own. ****1/4

  • 7.

    In-ring stories are few and far between in the WWE in recent years. Vince’s male soap opera is more apt to generate pregnancy storylines, evil twins, amnesia, and ‘it was all a dream’ scenarios than simple, in-ring psychology. Thankfully, there’s still someone in the WWE with a love of the old school, which is exactly what we got in the feud between Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. Shawn had repeatedly kicked Orton’s head in with the superkick, making Randy a little skittish about even getting in the ring with the Heartbreak Kid. When they finally met for the title, a desperate Orton got himself disqualified rather than risk losing the title. Shawn was so incensed that he admitted to Vince McMahon that a rematch would be less about the title than about getting revenge on Randy Orton. Orton agreed to put up the title one more time at Survivor Series with a few stipulations – the superkick would be banned, and if Orton got himself disqualified, he’d lose the title. But the question going into the match was: Would Shawn even care? And, if so, what move would he use to win if his finisher was banned? Something had to give, and the result was one of the best matches to “work the stipulations” that WWE fans have seen in recent memory.

  • WWE Heavyweight Title: Randy Orton vs. Shawn Michaels (“Survivor Series” — 11.18.07).
    If Orton gets disqualified, he loses the title. If Shawn uses the superkick, he’s disqualified. Shawn grabs a cravat and won’t let go no matter what. Orton finally has to shove him into the corner and pummel him. Shawn shoves him back and fakes him out with the superkick. Instead, he chops him and rides him down into a rear naked choke. Orton pulls himself to the floor, so Shawn hits an Asai Moonsault. Back in, Orton rolls through a crossbody for two and clocks Shawn with a European uppercut. But, he’s not even European! Shawn takes Orton down into a pretty crappy Sharpshooter. Pfft. Like Shawn would ever win with a Sharpshooter at the Survivor Series. **cough** Orton makes the ropes to break. He gleefully hits a rope-assisted DDT. Now it’s Orton going with the rear chinlock. Shawn comes back with the Flying Forearm and kip-up. Orton blocks an atomic drop and snaps off a dropkick for two. He misses a second dropkick, though, and Shawn gets two. Odd moment as Shawn bodyslams Orton, but Randy pops up. Um, has he never seen a Shawn Michaels match?!? Shawn slams him again and hits the Picture-Perfect Elbow. He tunes up the band, and the ref warns him that he’ll be disqualified. Instead, Shawn fakes Randy out again and small packages him. Orton rolls him up for two, but Shawn rides him down into the… Crippler Crossface. Oh. Um. Yeah, that’s a bit awkward. Fans pop big, though. Orton gets his leg on the ropes. Orton rolls through another attempt and hits the Stretch Backbreaker. Orton stalks Shawn for the kick to the head, but Shawn catches him and turns him over into the Anklelock! See, he can’t use his own finisher, so he’s using other people’s finishers. Awesome storytelling and psychology there. Randy reaches the ropes. Shawn goes for the figure-four but gets posted. Shawn slips out of a slam and instinctively goes for the superkick. He stops short, but that moment’s hesitation allows Orton to hit the RKO for the win at 17:48. Randy *finally* gets a win to go along with his two-month plus reign. This was some awesome stuff. The work was good enough (***3/4-ish), as usual with Shawn, but the extra elements of psychology – Randy Orton being so freaked out by the multiple superkicks he’s taken that he leaves himself open to making mistakes, and Shawn working all of the other famous finishers because he can’t use his own but, in the end, letting a momentary lapse in concentration leave him open to the opportunistic Orton – add up to one of the best matches of the year in the WWE. ****1/4

  • 6.

    When one match takes up an eighth of your four-hour show, it will probably make or break your show, depending on the quality of the match. That’s a lot of pressure. Shawn Michaels and John Cena certainly delivered in the main event at WrestleMania and turned what was a middling supercard into one of the best of the year. It’s not without its flaws, but it definitely deserves its position as the top match at the biggest show of the year.

  • WWE Heavyweight Title: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (“WrestleMania XXIII” — 04.01.07).
    The show lives or dies by this match. Shawn talks trash and slaps Cena in the face, getting inside Cena’s head and making him careless. Shawn is able to avoid Cena’s every swing and pepper him with jabs. Cool spot. Shawn controls with a side headlock but gets leveled with a stiff clothesline. Big boos for that. Cena steamrolls Shawn with a shoulderblock, but Shawn counters to a Thesz Press on a second try. To the floor, Shawn hits an enzuigiri and a springboard moonsault that bends Cena back over the announce table. Back in, Cena tries to block a charge, but Shawn grabs his leg and pounds on his kneecap. Shawn doggedly goes after the knee, as the cocky 1997 Shawn emerges. That’s certainly the smart way to go about it. The ref keeps asking Cena if he wants to give up, but Cena ain’t having it. If they’re trying to build sympathy for Cena, I don’t think they’re going to get it from this crowd. Finally, Shawn misses a charge and posts himself, busting his head open. Cena comes back with a clothesline and the spinning backdrop. YOU CAN’T SEE ME! The Five-Knuckle Shuffle sets up an FU attempt, but Shawn slips out. He tries a superkick but takes out the referee instead. Cena goes for another FU, but Shawn counters to a DDT. Shawn takes Cena to the floor and piledrives him on the steps! Back in, a new ref runs down. ONE, TWO, THR-NO! Shawn hits the flying forearm and the picture-perfect elbow. He tunes up the band, but Cena closes the gap and nails him with a clothesline. They slug it out, and Michaels counters yet another FU attempt to a rollup for two. Cena catches him in mid-air and hits the FU. He’s in too much pain to cover immediately, though. ONE, TWO, THR-NO! Cena tries an FU from the top, but Shawn elbows out and hits a crossbody. Cena rolls through, though, and counters to another FU attempt. Shawn lands on his feet! SWEET CHIN—no, Cena ducks and trips him into the STFU, but Shawn twists out of that before he can lock it in. Shawn misses an enzuigiri and winds up in the STFU! Shawn makes the ropes. The ref has to pull Cena off because he won’t break, so Shawn superkicks him while the ref is admonishing him. ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! It looks like Shawn has a handful of “the Little Marine” there. What the hell? Shawn slips out of another FU, but Cena trips him down into the STFU again. Shawn has to tap at 28:22. The fans are deflated by that ending. Cena tries to shake Shawn’s hand, but Shawn walks off instead. All grown up, my ass. It felt like they were trying to force an epic that wasn’t quite there in the middle of the match. Once it hit the home stretch, though, it was gold. ****1/4

  • 5.

    Wow. I did not see this one slipping down this far, but, well, here it is. Kevin Steen and El Generico came out of obscurity to pick a fight with the Briscoes, and, more importantly, they backed it up. A series of sneak attacks and concussions later, and we had the best feud of the year. Street Fights, Cage Matches, singles matches, 2/3 falls matches; these guys did it all. The only thing missing was a Coal Miner’s Glove. While everyone was anxious to see what ROH would do in its first ladder match, I think it’s safe to say the Briscoes, Steen & Generico turned in a classic.

  • ROH World Tag Titles, Ladder War: The Briscoe Bros. vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (“Man Up” — 09.15.07).
    This would be ROH’s first and, if you believe Gabe, only ladder match. The Briscoes toss the ladder into the ring right away, and everyone brawls out into the crowd. Jay and Generico slug it out on one side, Mark and Steen on the other. Jay NAILS Generico with a chairshot as Steen goes low on Mark. Mark gets distracted by some AotF kids, allowing Steen to nail him. Mark comes back with a springboard Ace Crusher off the barrier. Jay and Generico get to the ring, and Generico dropkicks Jay right in the face. Generico makes the first real attempt at going up, but Jay yanks him down and hits the sitout gourdbuster. Generico sells it like the Rock taking the Stunner on a trampoline. Mark avoids the packaged piledriver and goes up, but Steen yanks him down and knocks him into the barrier. The Briscoes recover and toss Generico from one side of the ring though the ladder. That necessitates the introduction of a bigger ladder, which is lucky because I don’t think anyone could have actually reached the belts from the smaller one. Jay goes up, but Steen tips over the ladder and sends Jay through the broken one. Um. Okay. OUCH! Steen superkicks Mark, but Mark MANS UP! Steen superkicks Mark again, but Mark MANS UP! Steen kicks him in the nuts. Mark does not MAN UP this time, not surprisingly. Steen drags him back in, but Mark utilizes Redneck Fu. Generico jumps him from behind, though, and Yakuza Kicks a ladder into Jay’s mug. Steen decides he feels homicidal and Awesome Bombs Mark though a ladder on the outside. Steen goes up, but it’s Steen so he can’t go very fast. Jay powers his way past Generico and shoves him into the ladder. The ladder tips out from under Steen, sending him down… straight down. Mark adds an Exploder to Generico, putting him through the ladder. Mark puts a ladder on top of Generico and hits the SSP on it. I’m not a big fan of that spot, but it makes sense in the context of Mark’s insanity. Jay climbs up the other side but puts Steen through a table. Mark goes up, but the ladder is more unstable than he is. Generico shoves the ladder out from under him, so Jay calls for the maintenance ladder – the one heavy duty ladder in the whole place. Generico boots Mark in the back of the head, so Jay boots Generico. That sets up a Doomsday Device with Jay going *under* the open ladder! Okay, that was cool. Steen brings in another ladder and knocks the Briscoes off. He sets it up between the corner and the big ladder and package piledrivers Mark through the bridged ladder! Generico crawls up and gets his hand on the belts. Jay has a little trouble setting up the ladder for the next spot. Ooh. Minus a little for that because Generico has to wait for him instead of going up and getting the titles. Jay drags him down and gives him the Jaydriller though another bridged ladder. Well, that’ll make up for it. Cool visual as Steen goes up and reaches for the belts, but Jay reaches up and grabs his wrist. They slug it out furiously from the top of the ladder. Jay wins that battle, knocking Steen through the ladder below. Jay has the belts in his grasp, but he can’t get them undone from where he is. Steen manages to climb up the other side and give him a run for his money, but Jay fights him off and yanks the titles down for the win at 27:22. The intimate setting meant that there weren’t many “Jeff Hardy” spots, but they made up for it with intensity and hatred. The fans were chanting “Match of the Year” and this match has generated a lot of buzz. I don’t know if I’ll go that far, especially since Nigel/Dragon set the bar pretty high, and we’ve seen tons of ladder matches before. I would rank this on par with some of the TLC matches the Hardyz, E&C, and the Dudleyz had, though. It’s just hard to keep raising the bar after all these years. ****1/2

  • 4.

    Perhaps the most impressive feat accomplished by Gabe Sapolsky is to put both Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer in an angle for nearly a year-and-a-half and have twists and turns that are still felt in ROH today. Once upon a time, Jacobs was a sweet little kid who liked video games and Transformers (or at least the soundtrack, but then, who doesn’t). When Dan Maff was put out of action by a “car accident,” his partner BJ Whitmer recruited plucky little Jimmy Jacobs to replace him. It was a fun pairing for a while. Then, they hooked up with Lacey who was looking to replace her jobber team with a pair of winners. That even worked for a while, but Jimmy had to go and fall in love with her. Growing depressed and paranoid, Jacobs began to tear apart from BJ. Whitmer tried to convince him that Lacey was up to no good, but Jacobs was sprung on the cat, as Sir Mix-a-Lot might say. Despite the fact that Lacey could barely stand to be around him, Jacobs was convinced they were meant to be together, and guys like Whitmer and that nogoodnik Colt Cabana were just getting in the way. Whitmer and Jacobs nearly killed each other several times in 2006, so in 2007, in a Steel Cage Showdown, one man would not walk out the same… in fact, neither man would.

  • Steel Cage Showdown: Jimmy Jacobs (w/Lacey) vs. BJ Whitmer (w/Daizee Haze — “Supercard of Honor II” — 03.31.07).
    This is the big blowoff to a year-long feud that included several near-death experiences for both men. Jimmy hits a tope on BJ as he’s trying to get through the cage door. They slug it out on the outside and fight back into the cage. BJ tosses Jacobs into the cage and calls for a chair. He sets it on Jacob’s face and dropkicks it. Jimmy fights back but misses an elbowdrop and gets ROCKED by a chairshot. We get a good shot of Jacobs’ missing tooth. BJ sets up for a brainbuster on the chair, but Jimmy escapes and drop toeholds him into it. Jimmy calls for a railroad spike, but BJ already has one hidden in his boot! Great reaction from Jimmy. They stab each other in the face with the spikes. That’s not enough, so they tattoo each other with the spikes! Both men are bleeding all over. Whitmer powerbombs him into the corner and boots him in the face. Whitmer calls for a barbed-wire bat, but Jimmy kicks it away and then uses it to block a charge. Jimmy goes batshit (no pun intended) by biting down on the barbed wire and then licking the blood off Whitmer’s face. He puts BJ’s face on the barbed-wire bat and then slams it with the chair. BJ fights his way back up, and they slug it out again. Jimmy misses a spear and goes headfirst into the chair. BJ catches him with an Exploder on the rebound. BRAINBUSTER ON THE CHAIR! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Whitmer goes over to talk to Haze, so Lacey slams the door on his head. Jacobs adds a bat shot to the head and dives off the top with a senton. Jacobs takes him to the corner, but Whitmer counters to an Alley Oop. That leads to a German Suplex and a Jackknife Powerbomb! ONE, TWO THRE-NO! Jacobs kicks out. BJ calls for a table, but in the meantime he takes him up for a superbomb. Jacobs counters to a rana in mid-air. He sets up for the Contra Code, but Whitmer counters to a Tombstone Piledriver. Lacey hops in, but now SHE takes Tombstone Piledriver. It would have looked better if she were not adjusting her cleavage afterward. Sometimes you just have to let the girls out for your art. BJ goes up but misses a frogsplash! CONTRA CODE! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! The staff gets the table set up in the ring as Whitmer and Jacobs tease a spot on the top of the cage (and they’ll do it too!). Jacobs sets Whitmer on the table and hits a SENTON THROUGH THE TABLE! That’s enough for the win at 23:42! Match of the Year Candidate? You’d better believe it. With the exception of a few contrived spots (and find me a match that doesn’t have a few of those these days) this was a bloody, violent, well-conceived blowoff to one of ROH’s longest running feuds. The Shawn vs. Cena may have more importance to the industry, and the ROH vs. Dragon Gate match from the night before might be more exciting, but neither of them combine the drama, storytelling, action, violence and effort as well as this match. A leading MOTYC. ****1/2

    Take that, Disco Inferno! **Ahem** Uh, anyway the preceding match was made to seem all the more important and life-altering thanks to the Promo of the Year from Jimmy Jacobs in which he describes his old self as a happy-go-lucky kid who was turned into a depressed emo thanks to Whitmer’s interference in his ‘relationship’ with Lacey. He mentions that, if he could just beat BJ, maybe he could go back to being that kid. Of course, the exact opposite happened.

  • 3.

    It was a breakout year for Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin as a tag team. After his feud with Kevin Nash fizzled, Chris Sabin spent the next few months meandering around with no real direction in his career. Enter Alex Shelley, who also found himself with nothing to do after Nash’s departure. The two were paired up in various indies as either the “Motor City Machine Guns” or “Murder City Machine Guns,” depending on how PC the promotion wanted to be. What happened next was chemistry that Marie Curie couldn’t invent. Look it up. Sabin seemed to drop some of his heel mannerisms and focus more on in-ring work while Shelley provided the teams cocky personality. In ROH, they stormed back as cocky heels. In TNA, they were the underdog babyface defenders of the X-Division. Either way, the MCMG were here to stay. Oh, by the way, they can wrestle a damn fine match too.

  • ROH World Tag Titles: The Briscoe Bros. vs. The Murder City Machine Guns (“Good Times, Great Memories” — 04.28.07).
    Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin attacked the Briscoes back at All-Star Extravaganza III, challenging them for the tag titles. Good start as the Machine Guns play total pussies. The funny thing is that they have such a tough name, but they’re such cowardly heels. Sabin outwrestles Jay but gets cocky and gets bitchslapped right upside his head. Shelley refuses to tag in and prefers the role of “comforter” every time Sabin crawls over. Shelley eventually is forced to tag in and gets more of the same. He stops for some water and then dares, DARES, Jay to step across an imaginary line. When Jay does, Shelley spits the water in his face to take advantage. It doesn’t help much because Shelley winds up playing heel-in-peril for a while. He suddenly snaps off a Russian Leg Sweep to take over, though, and once the MCMG take over, things get really interesting. They rattle off a series of doubleteam maneuvers while Shelley constantly mocks the Briscoes. Their chemistry is incredible, something that doesn’t always come across in TNA. Sabin catches Jay in the Texas Cloverleaf. Mark tries to save, but Shelley jumps him from behind with the Border City Stretch. The fans sense a possible finish! Mark elbows out of the Stretch, though, and saves his brother from the Cloverleaf. The last five minutes are just wall-to-wall action with doubleteams, narrow saves, counters and counters of counters. Mark hits the SSP at one point, but Sabin just…makes…the save. Mark sets up for the Super Cutthroat Driver, but the MCMG block and counter to a Doomsday Dropkick. Shelley hits the Air Raid Crash! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! He can’t believe it. He sets up and hits the Shellshock, but Jay breaks up the tag at the very last second. Mark recovers and hits the Cutthroat Driver! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Shelley kicks out. Finally, the Briscoes have had enough, and Jay adds a legdrop as Mark hits another Cutthroat Driver to end an incredible match at 34:19. The best compliment I can pay the MCMG is that this is the first time in a long time that I felt like the Briscoes were facing a team that was on their level both as individual wrestlers and as a unit. The MCMG chemistry was off the charts here, as they hit everything crisply and perfectly. Sabin reminded me of Austin Aries with the snap he was putting into his moves, and Shelley was…well, Alex Shelley. All the Briscoes had to provide was their usual great match, and they certainly did that. Another easy MOTYC. ****3/4

  • 2.

    Okay, so maybe this match isn’t as technically good or exciting as the Guns/Briscoes tag match, but the fact that it was sprung on us on Raw with little or no warning as the second-longest match in Raw history in era where 20-minute main events seem like epics has to count for something. That was what we call a “run-on” sentence. It proved a few things. 1) John Cena can work a long match that doesn’t involve goofy over-the-top booking or foreign objects or stipulations to protect him. 2) Shawn Michaels, even at his age and in his condition, can still deliver a fantastic match. 3) The WWE, for all of my (still-held and completely legitimate) complaints about them, can occasionally get creative with their booking and deliver a memorable in-ring moment on Raw. (You might also note that I bumped up the rating a 1/4* after I watched the match on DVD instead of in its chopped up form on the live broadcast.)

  • Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena (“Raw” — 04.23.07).
    I should have known something was up by the placement of the match. Of course, I just thought it was going to be a run-in. Shawn tries to work the arm early, with Cena nearly trapping him with the STFU a few times. Cena taunts Shawn by signaling that he was this close to tapping out again. Shawn gets pissed and slaps Cena in the face, triggering a brawl. Wha’choo wanna do, huh? Wha’choo wanna do?! The ref gets things calmed down during the break, though. Cena slows things down with a side headlock. Shawn tries to shoot him off the ropes and gets steamrolled, so he tries again and closes the gap enough to hit a back elbow. That’s the kind of subtle storytelling that separates great wrestlers from average-to-good wrestlers.

    Cena goes back to the headlock for a bit and goes for the FU, but Shawn slips over the top to the floor to escape. We take another break and come back to Shawn chopping the hell out of Cena in the corner. He mis-times a leapfrog attempt and gets powerslammed for two. A Fisherman’s Suplex gets two more. The Throwback gets two, but Cena can’t finish him off. Shawn chops his way back and hits a neckbreaker. Shawn hits the flying forearm and teases a double KO before kipping up. PICTURE-PERFECT ELBOW! Shawn tunes up the band but has to settle for a backslide when Cena rushes him. That gets two. Cena misses a flying shoulderblock and tumbles to the floor. Shawn gets caught on a plancha attempt but he manages to slip off Cena’s shoulder and toss him into the steps as we go to break.

    We come back to find Shawn working over Cena’s shoulder, which everyone agrees is the major flaw of the Mania match. He snaps Cena’s arm off the top rope and then rides him down into a hammerlock. Cena powers up and hits a pair of flying shoulderblocks. He stops to chastise his own shoulder for giving out on him, which seems silly, but it works in the context of the match. YOU CAN’T SEE ME! The Five-Knuckle Shuffle sets up the FU! ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Shawn kicks out! Cena can’t believe it as we go to another break.

    We come back again to Cena tossing Shawn to the floor. Back in, Cena clubs Shawn’s back and hits a suplex for two. Shawn fights back but gets whipped hard into the corner and falls all the way to the floor. Back in, Cena hits a Fameasser off the top. ONE, TWO, THR-NO! Shawn blocks a Super Samoan Drop and counters to a powerbomb! Cena tries to catch Shawn with the STFU but gets kicked to the apron. Shawn charges and knocks Cena into the announce table. The heelish streak comes back again as Shawn sets up for a piledriver on the steps. Cena counters to a backdrop, though, and tackles Shawn over the announce table. At this point, I’m racking my brain trying to remember when the last one-hour draw in WWE history was (not counting Ironman Matches). I’m sure there were some at house shows, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.

    The ref admonishes them to get back in, so Cena tosses Shawn back in and locks in the STFU! Shawn…struggles…to make…the ropes. Cena blocks Sweet Chin Music, but Shawn slips out of the FU and hits it anyway. Shawn is slow to cover. ONE, TWO, THRE-Cena grabs the bottom rope. Shawn chops away in the corner but gets whipped hard to the other side. Cena goes for the FU, but Shawn slips out and hits Sweet Chin Music with his last gasp, falling on top of Cena for the pin at 56:48! I don’t think anyone would have predicted this at the beginning of the night. On first viewing, I thought this was easily better than the WrestleMania match. A second viewing shows that they exchanged some flaws for others. The final stretch, for instance, wasn’t nearly as furious here as the WrestleMania match, and it felt like they ran out of steam about 4-5 minutes before the end. Still, it was 50 minutes of great wrestling on free TV and another near MOTYC. ****1/2

  • 1.

    I think my opening musing about the differences between “virtuosity” and “artistry” pretty much sum this match up. This is a match that I am proud to hold up and say *this* is why I watch wrestling. Whenever someone points out the ludicrousness of Vince blowing up, or fathering a mythical character with magical powers, or a “diva” running across the ring and tripping on her own nipple, or Rosie vs. Trump, or any of about a dozen moves TNA has done this year, or the steroid scandals, or the Benoit deteriorating into murderous insanity as reasons why wrestling is nothing more than a carny sideshow targeted and brain-dead troglodytes who couldn’t even get into a junior college if their declared major was Pottery, I can say, “Well, have you seen Danielson vs. McGuinness?”

  • #1 Contender Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Nigel McGuinness (“Driven” — 06.23.07).
    Virtuosity: the mastery of all technical elements of a performing art to such a degree that the ability to perform becomes nearly second nature. Artistry: the ability to transcend the technical conventions of genre, redefining the art in the process. Is this match either? Both? Lots of jockeying for position to start. They take it to the mat early, and we get our first little contest-within-the-contest as Danielson gets caught in a bodyscissors while trying to throw forearms at Nigel’s face. Nigel blocks at first and then takes him down into a keylock. Danielson gets out of it and offers a handshake, but when Nigel accepts, Dragon slaps him in the face. They trade uppercuts, and Nigel returns the slap. Nigel goes after Danielson’s arm, which was injured a year ago and put him out for months. Danielson turns it around into a Goku-Raku Stretch, but Nigel knocks him to the floor. The brawl continues on the outside, and Danielson slams Nigel’s face into the table. Then, he slams the table onto Nigel’s face! The ref admonishes Danielson to take it back in the ring, but Nigel rebounds with a STIFF lariat. Dragon falls into the crowd, so Nigel goes up and comes off with a crossbody! Nigel sets up for a running European Uppercut, but Dragon cuts him off and drops him on the top of the rail with a suplex. Sweet Baby Jesus! Danielson suplexes him on the floor and starts driving his knees into Nigel’s back. Nigel fights up and turns it into a slugfest. LARIAT BY NIGEL! Moses on a motorbike! That was stiff! Nigel thrust kicks Danielson and hits another stiff lariat. Dragon goes up, but Nigel cuts him off and sets up for the Tower of London. Danielson blocks but winds up in the Half-Crab. Nigel even puts his knee right in Dragon’s back. Danielson struggles to the ropes and delivers a BACKDROP SUPERPLEX! The Crossface Chickenwing puts Nigel down, but he fights back up. Nigel reverse suplexes Danielson into the Tower of London! Oh, but Nigel’s back is so buggered, he can’t cover. He is able to recover first, though, and set Danielson on the ropes. FLYING LARIAT! ONE, TWO, THRE-Dragon’s foot is on the ropes. Dragon clutches the ropes like a baby before hitting an enzuigiri. They both struggle to their feet and come face to face – literally. SLAPFEST! They take turns headbutting each other, and Dragon gets cut open. SICK! I love it! Danielson misses a swing and gets CLOCKED by a lariat. He does have the wherewithal to block the Jawbreaker Lariat and hit a Dragon Suplex. ONE, TWO, THRE-NO! Dragon tries to segue to Cattle Mutilation, but McGuinness rolls Danielson onto his shoulders. Dragon rolls through again, ties up Nigel’s arms and elbows him to oblivion. The Cattle Mutilation is a mere formality at 24:31. I have no problem calling this the Match of the Year. It’s certainly the best singles match of the year, eclipsing both Michaels vs. Cena contests, and probably the best match since Cage of Death last year. Maybe the Motor City Machine Guns/Briscoes match will give it a run for its money at the end of the year, but right now, today, this is the best match I’ve seen all year. Believe the hype! ****3/4


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