AJ Styles returns to ROH. What else do you want me to say? Let’s get to it.
ROH Top Prospect Tournament Semifinal – Hanson vs. Andrew Everett
Prince Nana joins the commentary table for this semifinal match. Hanson has a mighty viking beard and some gear to match. Everett grapples at Hanson, who’s having none of it. A middle rope dropkick barely moves Hanson, the much bigger man. Everett wants to fly and high-impact moves might be his only chance. Another dropkick puts Hanson to the outside. Everett high jumps the top rope, but Hanson catches him on his shoulder. He torpedoes Everett into the ring post in an impressive show of strength.
Hanson lariats Everett in the back of the head when Everett goes to hit the ropes. Some distant “huss” chants in the crowd. Hanson tries to throw Everett like he did before, this time into the top turnbuckle, but Everett is quick to reverse with headscissors. Everett is on top now. He gets Hanson back down two more times, first with a hurricanrana and then a springboard dropkick. Hanson’s a little hurt, though he can still grab Everett by the scruff of the neck and toss him around.
Hanson clotheslines Everett outside then sizes him up for a dive. A big man is considering this, so the crowd pops at the idea. Actually, they’re really into the entire match. Hanson suicide dives through the ropes and gets nothing but air. He rolls through it pretty gracefully, if I say so myself. Everett gets back in the ring just so he can use the top rope. A springboard shooting star press leaves both men down outside.
The crowd is chanting for Everett. Everett leaps over the top rope from the apron, kicking his legs out almost into the splits, and springboards off the inside of the middle rope. Too bad for him that Hanson flattens him with a big spinning leg lariat. The 1-2-3 puts Hanson in the tournament finals against Raymond Rowe.
Match rating: **1/2. Simple concept: big man hurts smaller man, smaller man has to soar to do anything about it. Everett’s a fine high flyer and Hanson’s got a look that stands out in ROH. This opened the show up nicely and the spinning leg lariat to a springboarding Everett made for a nice finish.
Michael Bennett (/w Maria Kanellis) vs. Cedric Alexander
Maria takes the mic before Alexander can come out. She’s ripping on Kevin Steen: he touched her in a vile way, he’s everything that’s wrong with wrestling, and he didn’t deserve a victory over Bennett. If the crowd was in to the opener, then they sure tuned out quickly for this. No heat.
Bennett tries a sucker punch as the bell rings. Alexander gets under it and pops Bennett with a right of his own. Alexander has control for only a few moments before Bennett is back in charge. Alexander picks up the pace of a slow starting match when he topes onto Bennett. Alexander’s really fast and he executes the leap well, but these spots start to lose meaning when they happen every match.
We come back from commercial with the two outside the ring. Bennett shoves Alexander into a barricade then rolls him back inside. But that lasts for all of a two seconds, the time it takes to get a two count, before Bennett throws Alexander back out of the ring. Fair enough, I guess Bennett is arrogant enough to think shoving someone into a barricade is good for a pinfall. Back into the ring again. Cedric’s in the corner. Bennett charges. He leaps. Alexander moves out of the way, letting Bennett crotch himself on the middle turnbuckle.
Alexander starts to fire up. Bennett slips outside and they tease another dive. Alexander hits a springboard clothesline. A moment later, he goes for another. Bennett spears him, or so the announcers say, it looked more like a spinebuster, I guess. Nearfall for two a moment later. Bennett hoists Alexander up on his shoulders. Alexander slips off and kicks Bennett into the corner. Alexander tries to finish Bennett off, but Bennett rolls outside again. Alexander lays out Bennett once again, goes up top, and gets two knees to the body for trying a frog splash. Bennett clotheslines Alexander, throws on an anaconda vice, and Alexander taps immediately. Bennett calls it a “Go Back To Japan” after the match.
Match rating: *. The only thing keeping this from being a DUD was the crowd being pretty in to it. Otherwise, I hated this. It wasn’t a botchfest or even sloppy. It was just a sequence of moves, one guy taking advantage of the other for a brief with little rhyme or reason. The constant going outside and the dives/springboards irked me more than a little. Plus, you know I hate guys tapping out with no build. Or you do now. Maybe I’m being ornery, but I’m sticking to my guns.
Roderick Strong v. AJ Styles
Match maker Nigel McGuinness pops on a headset for the main event. Strong and Styles start off with grappling. Strong has a waistlock. Styles gets out and brings him to the mat with a wristlock. Strong ends up getting Styles in headscissors. He slaps his thigh and tries some heeling, sarcastically yelling “yes” whenever Styles says “no, I do not give up this early” to the ref. “You’re in my ring now, AJ.” Styles takes Strong down for a moment. The two try to out wrestle each other for all of a minute before the crowd starts a “this is wrestling!” chant.
We move on from the mat work section of the match to the running the ropes section so the pace can pick up. A Styles dropkick forces Strong to roll outside. Styles goes for a baseball slide instead of a suicide dive. I respect that. Commercial break.
Styles hits a gut buster when we come back. Styles is in the corner. Strong eats boot when he rushes in. Styles goes over the top rope and onto the apron. He tries a springboard of his own, but Strong dropkicks Styles just before he can. Smooth execution. Strong takes Styles outside and throws him into a barricade. He drags Styles towards another, then whips him into that one too.
Styles rolls across the ring after Strong puts him back in it. Styles rolls out of a back suplex attempt on the apron and into the ring. He forearms Strong off the apron. Styles tries another baseball slide. This time Strong counters it. Strong lifts Styles up and slams his back against the edge of the ring. Let the back breaking commence! Strong gets a two count for that. Strong and Styles both hit the ropes and try a crossbody, meaning both are laid out. Styles gets up first. He clotheslines Strong, elbows him, and spinning kicks him when Strong keeps springing up. Styles goes out to the apron. He springboards in, forearming Strong. Another two count leads us to a commercial break.
Styles taunts like he’s about to finish off Strong. Strong back body drops Styles, nope, Styles rolls through. He tries a Styles Clash. Strong escapes with a heel to the head. Olympic slam by Strong. Big running knee into the corner, hitting Styles clean in the jaw. Strong hits a running forearm and one of his many back breakers to finish the combo. Two count. Strong and Styles are hurting now. They’re countering each other left and right until Styles back flips off the middle rope in the corner and catches Strong for an inverted DDT.
Styles drags himself up top. Strong forearms, slaps, and chops him, in that very order. Strong gets up on the top rope too. Strong hits the big superplex then rolls over for the cover: only two! Both guys look absolutely exhausted at this point. The match moves at a blistering pace, so I can’t blame ’em. Strong double underhooks Styles. Styles kicks Strong to the head before Strong can flip him over. Strong misses Styles in the corner and a Pele kick to the shoulder hurts Strong badly. Short brainbuster by Styles. Two count. Styles thought that would be enough.
Styles goes back onto the apron and springboards in. He misses the rope and hyperextends one knee. The other smacks Strong in the head as he’s on the mat. Styles is selling the knee big time. Styles is on the top rope again, sitting on the turnbuckle. Strong jerks him off and nails Styles with a backbreaker. Strong follows with a double knee gutbuster, but it’s only good for two.
Strong elbows Styles, who shells up until he recovers enough to fire back. Strong blasts the hell out of Styles with a high jumping knee. He tries a clothesline too, but Styles gets a leg pick and rolls them both down to the mat. Styles has Strong in a calf-cutter. Strong only gets out by rolling Styles over into a pin. They trade a few chops and forearms. Both men stagger after each shot. Styles hits a flurry of strikes. Strong ducks a clothesline, hits the ropes, ducks a Styles clothesline, hits the other rope, and CRUSHES Styles with another big knee. One, two, nope, only two. Jumping knee from Strong. Styles is all fired up and clotheslines Strong immediately after it. Styles yanks Strong in, lifts up his waist, steps over the arms, and hits a Styles clash. Styles hooks the leg. 1-2-3. We have a winner. AJ Styles wins in his return. BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs ambush him before the celebration can sink in, but a gaggle of faces run them off.
Match rating: ****1/4. Very, very good match. It’s good work rate in spades, but actually adds some psychology, build, and sense of timing to make that mean something. This is the most difficult match recap I have written yet because of how fast these two were going at times. Way more pausing and rewinding than a Stan Hansen match. The only thing that really brings this down are a few slip ups (nothing really bad except the springboard) that both guys covered for nicely and an ending that felt a little rushed. And it looked like it broke Strong neck. Luckily, the outcome wasn’t that bad, but he’s been hurt ever sense. Otherwise, top stuff.
Watch the show at http://www.rohwrestling.com/tv/roh-tv-ep-124-air-date-020114