It's been a while. Sorry about that.
I recently purchased a couple of Ring of Honor DVDs. The first was last year's "Death Before Dishonor VIII," largely considered the best wrestling show of 2010. The other was the "Allied Forces" release. From what I can tell, that's a pretty typical (I haven't watched it yet) and not one that would jump out as worth buying if you haven't bought any ROH DVDs before. Except, it's got a bonus disc featuring the 2004 trilogy of matches that Samoa Joe and CM Punk had for the Ring of Honor World Title. I've heard about this trilogy since I got back into wrestling and the chance to have it all was very hard to pass up. It's my first real experience with ROH aside from a few matches I've seen online... but I'm a sucker for great wrestling trilogies.
Match #1: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("World Title Classic" Dayton, OH 6/12/04)
I loved the early pacing of this match, the way that the two men would lock up, exchange some holds and strikes, and, then, break apart for a breather. The announce team talked a lot about Punk using a rope-a-dope style against Joe, taking a lot of punishment to wear the big man out, and it was clear that this was structured as a boxing match initially with the concept of rounds. It was an effective way to build the match. One thing I didn't like was, around halfway through, the announcers started talking about hour-long matches. Christ, talk about giving it away, gentlemen. I know we all know now that this was a one-hour broadway, but it really spoils the mood of the match. The way things progressed from round to Punk usually as the one taking the breather to Joe taking it to him on the outside was good. It felt organic; Joe recognised what Punk was doing and was having none of it. The second half of the match was start and stop, but in a different way: it became not so much rounds but fits of action followed by fits of exhaustion by both men. The effect was similar in pacing, not in impact and storytelling. It was like neither man had the energy to really finish the job after a certain point, hoping that each last-ditch strike would just knock the other guy down long enough to get the win. Punk hitting the Pepsi Plunge and falling out of the ring was a nice tease. I really loved the way they paced this.
Result: One-hour time-limit draw [****1/4]
Match #2: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("Joe vs. Punk II" Chicago Ridge, IL 10/16/04)
This match built on the first one with Punk using headlocks again to wear down Joe, but not taking the 'rounds' or 'rope-a-dope' approach, instead using the same offence he did in the first match with a lot more aggression. He didn't try to wear down Joe by taking punishment and tiring Joe out, he tried to wear him down by just kicking the shit out of him and cutting the blood flow off to his brain as much as possible. Punk owned the first half of this match with Joe unable to make any comeback stick. Punk used his speed and brains to counter everything Joe tried and stuck to his aggressive offence. And that didn't work. Joe took it all and, oddly, Punk was the one who was worn down. He just went too hard against Joe, allowing Joe to take over. What hurt Joe was his overconfidence. It's like after taking all of that punishment, he assumed that Punk would not win, that victory was guaranteed, and delivered a lot of slow, cocky offence. It was an entirely different type of match with Joe almost becoming a heel with his lazy covers and hamming it up as he beat down on Punk. Since this was in Punk's hometown, Joe leaning into a heel role made a lot of sense and he pulled it off. From there, it became a more traditional wrestling match that echoed the last part of their first match, except with more desperation. Each man tried whatever he could to take the other out, seemingly afraid of another draw. When it happened, both men looked defeated. Punk because he couldn't capture the title, Joe because he couldn't retain the title by defeating his opponent -- to this point, Joe had been a dominant champion, ROH's greatest champion, and a draw may have meant he kept the belt, but it wasn't a win.
Result: One-hour time-limit draw [*****]
Match #3: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("All Star Extravaganza II" Elizabeth, NJ 12/4/04)
This match was no time limit and Punk's final shot at the title. Again, this was as much about putting on a good match in and of itself as it was building on and responding to the previous matches. Punk went for the headlocks and Joe continually countered, leaving him a little stumped on what to do. So, he got in Joe's head with a fantastic bit surrounding chops to the chest where Punk delivered this weak little nothing of a chop and got in Joe's face, so, when Joe went for his chop, Punk ducked and was able to get the headlock on. Punk still wanted his regular strategy, but got there with head games. But, Joe splitting open Punk was a big point of divergence and allowed Joe to dominate a lot of the match, reversing things a bit. Punk tended to go for the headlocks and sleepers, hoping to wear down Joe. But, with Punk split open, Joe attacked the head and looked more for wins based around Punk losing consciousness. I loved Joe just headbutting Punk in the corner, leaving Joe with this bloody mark on his forehead from Punk's cut. It's not that Joe would never go for a choke hold, it's that this was more Punk's strategy and Joe took it over well, just beating down Punk, making him lose blood. A big sign that things were different in this match was the first attempt by Joe to go for the Ole Ole kick in the corner -- he hit it. Something that hadn't happened in the first two matches. In the second one, he eventually hit it, but not on the first try. It was a nice reversal with Punk looking like the guy trying to survive and stay on his feet after two matches where that was Joe. There was a spot where I thought the finish might have worked better as they exchanged quick pinfalls, but the finish of Joe choking Punk out, stopping his breathing, was a good one and played off Joe's different strategy here. While just over half the length of the previous two matches, this one held its own, creating a lot of spots that built on the first two to make a unique match.
Winner and STILL ROH World Champion: Samoa Joe [****]
Everyone was right. A trilogy of three amazing matches, each building on what came before. A good sign is when you know the result (and I did for all three) and the match still surprises you and draws you in. It's worth buying Allied Forces just for this disc.