This review is dedicated to the late, great Larry Csonka.

“It used to be better.” – The Lapsed Fan Pro Wrestling Podcast

A quick introduction:

Some of you know me more over the past 13-14 years as “Supersonic” throughout various message boards. During that time eight years ago, having grown frustrated with Jim Cornette’s direction with Ring of Honor under the ownership of Sinclair Broadcast Group, I went back to ROH’s birth and chronicled “The Good Shit” on message boards, spending 5.5 years reviewing roughly the same amount of years for ROH and other promotions, concluding with Man Up.

With over 2.5 years of not reviewing anything since, I now feel recharged and will once again go back in time during this pandemic. But this time, it’s different; no longer am I cherry-picking just “The Good Shit,” and no longer am I wasting these away on message boards. Although I grew as a reviewer, the early ROH events didn’t get the best effort from me; now they will.

In addition, as a dedicated member of the Lapsed Fan Wrestling Podcast’s “Solar System,” it’s become crystal-clear over the past several years that while the business has grown in many ways, it’s also largely evolved away from many of its emotional intangibles that once truly hooked viewers. Of the many different hashtags and catchphrases that have come from that podcast, one has stood out above the rest:

It used to be better.

And this is your chance to learn why that’s completely true for ROH. This won’t be some rose-colored glasses bullshit.

Throughout the 2020s decade, I am reviewing every ROH event of the company’s first nine years and four months (sans the Do or Die jobber/tryout cards.) Every DVD event. Every PPV. Every TV episode that would come so many years later. It’s all going to be chronicled.

This journey will capture a time period that will never be duplicated. It’s a time when a monopolized mainstream giant arrogantly spent a decade allowing the underground to become arguably the premier spot for the most dedicated, passionate pro wrestling fans.

And during that decade spanning from the end of the Monday Night War all the way to a certain Chicago wrestling icon’s barrier-breaking “Pipebomb” style promo being brought onto mainstream cable television, no underground company benefited more than Ring of Honor.

But before digging into ROH’s first chapter in February 2002, the stage was set throughout 2001 in the wake of WCW and ECW’s death, as well as one pioneer’s bad choices that briefly landed him back in the underground.

As I’m about to dig into the 2001 chapters that would eventually spawn ROH, I want to thank Voices of Wrestling for being the introductory and currently exclusive home to this journey. I can’t think of a more fitting platform than the very site that was spawned from the summer of events which ended the decade-long period that this journey will cover.

This is the Lapsed ROHbot.

Our first match comes from the summer of 2001 in Queens. As the mainstream monopoly was in the midst of overdoing arguably the greatest gimmick match concept of all-time, two young, hungry competitors would climb the ladder to determine who the top dog was in Impact Championship Wrestling (not to be confused with the company formerly known as Total Nonstop Action.)

ICW Title – Ladder Match
Low Ki vs. Xavier
ICW Last Stand at the Elk’s
June 30, 2001 – Queens, NY

This match is uploaded on ICW’s YouTube channel, but due to the company’s choice to split it into multiple videos, it won’t be embedded here.

After some terrific back-and-forth stuff, including attempts for each to establish themselves as alphas, Low Ki got the brief advantage due to a corner kick, only for Xavier to cut him off with a yanking head-first towards a turnbuckle. This allowed Xavier to set up the ladder as a platform on the apron and a nearby barricade, resulting in a strike exchange on the ladder before Low Ki wins that battle.

Shockingly, Xavier got the advantage and drew a “Holy shit” chant when he sent a charging Low Ki directly onto the ladder via an overhead belly-to-belly suplex, which I wasn’t expecting so early on. When Xavier got time to try climbing the ladder, they paid homage to a spot from WrestleMania X, with Low Ki pulling Xavier’s pants down and then chopping his naked ass, causing him to then fall in a Tree of Woe position on the ladder for Low Ki to kick the shit out of.

Moments later, Xavier regained the advantage by cutting off Low Ki and powerbombing him on the ladder as he sat across the middle ropes, drawing another “Holy shit” chant. His joy would be short-lived however, as Low Ki would catch a break by suplexing him on the ladder as it sat across the apron and barricade. I really appreciated that at this point, they were selling the pain (much of it likely real) as they struggled to land strikes on each other

After back-dropping Low Ki off the ladder, an overly cocky Xavier mocked him, only to be placed in a Dragon Sleeper. But Low Ki was too gassed and damaged to keep up the advantage and hold on, ending up outside to eat a beautiful Arabian Press from Xavier.

The match would even out when Low Ki forced Xavier to eat a DDT on a ladder, both of them down as the Queens crowd stood and gave their approval. But even when Xavier cut off Low Ki to deliver a Kiss Your X Goodbye, he was too damaged to quickly capitalize on the opportunity, sluggishly setting up the ladder and giving the challenger enough time to match him up there for another battle.

The match has a brief clip, although nothing that ruins the momentum for the viewer. Both got atop the ladder, but Xavier won that battle by hitting a Sunset Flip Powerbomb; although this may seem a typical spot nearly 2 decades later, this was quite the sight to behold in the aftermath of the War.

Xavier arguably got too cute after hitting his trademark Sitting Neckbreaker, opting to go for a 450 Splash off the ladder instead of trying to get the championship. Low Ki predictably moved out of the way in time, and upon standing up, Xavier was sporting a partial crimson mask as they both exhaustively climbed 2 ladders.

After the ref was knocked down, Low Ki managed to bring the belt down but when a second referee arrived, it was in Xavier’s possession; a third ref arrived to say that’s inaccurate, causing the match to restart. Not a big fan of this sports-entertainment booking, especially as the third ref briefly struggled to reattach the belt above the ring. In addition, there appeared to be confusion, as Xavier was announced as the “new” champion, even though some records indicate he was the defending champ coming into this.

Once attached, Xavier put the final touches on cementing his heel position for this match by shoving the ref off the ladder. The heel heat is nonexistent, making it clear that the fans aren’t emotionally connected with Xavier (even with him shitting on Queens in the geographical location part of his intro announcement) and/or they just wanted to experience a crazy ladder match. In no surprise to me, the match peaked when they ascended to the top of the ladder again and Low Ki landed a Ki Crusher. This rightfully won the match for Low Ki, who grabbed the belt and collapsed down to the mat to the thunderous Queens applause.

Low Ki’s friends immediately checked on him and hoisted him on their shoulders to help him celebrate, the crowd continuing to chant the champion’s name. Many more faces that would become familiar the following year were on scene, some of them surprising. As Low Ki had enough in him to stand alone and show off the belt, the crowd chanted for the company. Xavier blew off a handshake attempt, perhaps foreshadowing a possible dishonorable future elsewhere.

This started off as an all-time classic ladder match that got a bit soiled by the sports-entertainment direction; so one big takeaway coming out of this is that as great as this match was, it didn’t leave the impression that ICW was the alternative needed in a world monopolized by the WWF. Someone else would need to step up for that.

As mentioned, the lack of clarity on who the defending champion was is really sloppy and unacceptable. It’s not clarified in the pre-match introductions, and the ring announcer’s statement at the false finish isn’t in line with the info found on Cagematch (but the results and title lineage don’t appear to be in sync there either.)

Where this match truly succeeded though is that it established Low Ki as arguably the top star on the underground, someone to keep an eye on as a potential centerpiece for anyone who dare try filling the void left behind by ECW.

This also showcased Xavier tremendously, although he still had a lot of improvement to make in order to truly connect as a heel. With that said, this is one of the greatest matches of his career and a shining piece of evidence to point to when discussing opportunities that would come later his way.

While this failed to be an all-time great ladder match, it was still a great one, and more importantly, a historically significant one for the underground scene, a much-needed sense of hope to close out a rather bleak, depressing first half of 2001 for pro wrestling.

And it also left me with one question:

Although there wouldn’t be very many opportunities for it, why didn’t Gabe Sapolsky ever book Xavier vs. Paul London in a ladder match?

Rating: ****

Our next match from 2001 is the first chapter in one of the greatest in-ring rivalries ever, one that spanned all across the underground, across oceans, and eventually onto mainstream cable TV. With the War now 6 months concluded, two undercard prospects from WCW’s final days collide for the first time ever.

AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels
NWA 53rd Anniversary Show – Battle Of The Belts 2001: An NWA Odyssey
October 13, 2001 – St. Petersburg, FL

Styles was accompanied by someone named Jeff G. Bailey, who talked shit about the crowd and contrasted how both men fared on Nitro – that Styles impressed, while Daniels suffered a neck injury. It’s really obvious here that Daniels needed to make the same choice as Steve Austin did a half-decade earlier – shave that blonde shit off and go bald, as he was far more resembling Bob Holly or Scott Taylor with it.

In addition to the blonde hair, it felt quite unusual for Daniels to play the babyface role in this matchup, with Styles cast as the brash, cockier acrobat. Perhaps that was just the more natural story 19 years ago after what had taken place in WCW, but it’s still weird to take in.

Styles was definitely showcased well here, pulling out rather dazzling shit to pop the Tampa Bay crowd. In addition, he blocked a Moonsault attempt by the veteran Daniels, eventually cutting him off with a superkick after some near-falls to good applause. Perhaps the most impressive of all was the gorgeous Snap Brainbuster that Styles would hit on Daniels, a trademark of his career for many years. I do wish Daniels had sold that a bit more considering the mentioned neck injury, although the way he cut Styles off made sense, hitting a desperate powerbomb while selling his exhaustion.

The most impressive spot to me wasn’t Daniels successfully hitting the Best Moonsault Ever, or Styles going onto to his trademark combos, but the Fallen Angel having Styles on his shoulders, slamming him down and still in that position for a near-fall. Around this time, someone in the audience made it clear that he was hoping to see the Angel’s Wings.

Once that requested finishing move came, Bailey distracted the ref, but Daniels appeared to outsmart them. However, Bailey would bail out Styles by grabbing the Fallen Angel’s foot, allowing Styles to pull off the upset via a Styles Clash as they got a standing ovation.

This was the match that got Styles noticed on the underground scene and for good reason. While clearly still quite green, he pulled out some eye-popping moves and it was only a matter of time before he would be one of the biggest stars and top performers on the indies. Then again, what else should be expected when working with a true all-time professional like Daniels?

Rating: ***

Now we get to the marquee attraction of this “Prologue.” It’s time to dig into arguably the greatest tournament of all-time.

Note: highly recommended to stick to the events’ embedded YouTube videos that are included in this review, as RF Video’s version on DVD-R has an absolutely unacceptable glitch that comes up during the tournament final’s finishing stretch.

APW King of Indies 2001 Day 1
October 26, 2001 – Vallejo, CA

A horrible intro video is shown, ending with Powerman 5000’s “When Worlds Collide” briefly playing before getting to the goods.

All wrestlers are introduced one at a time to kick off the event in front of the live crowd.

Participants include Tony Jones (featured on Beyond the Mat), Bison Smith, Samoa Joe, Adam Pearce, Frankie Kazarian, Doug Williams, Donovan Morgan, Super Dragon, AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson (billed as American Dragon), Scoot Andrews, Vinny Massaro, Brian Kendrick (billed as Spanky), Jardi Frantz (also billed as The Kamikaze Kid), Low Ki, and Christopher Daniels.

This was a very generic, low-rent segment, but to be expected for late 2001 indies. Most of the talents also cut pre-taped promos, with the best being saved for last, as the 2000 tournament winner Daniels is so captivating and head-and-shoulders above everyone else that I’m absolutely floored the WWF didn’t have him under contract and at least programmed in the juniors divisions with the likes of Tajiri and Billy Kidman.

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Doug Williams vs. Adam Pearce

Those familiar with these two can pretty much plot this entire match. Williams outclassed Pearce throughout the majority of the match, while nearly every advantage Pearce got had an underhanded tactic behind it. With that said, it was surprising to see Pearce bust out a spinning Olympic Slam for a near-fall once he had the heat, and ditto for a follow-up Top Rope Hurricanrana as well.

Pearce had nothing left, crying to the ref and then going for another Olympic Slam. Williams of course had that scouted and got a big pop as he finished Pearce with the Chaos Theory.

Rating: less than ***

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Tony Jones vs. Bison Smith

Jones is apparently a replacement for APW Champion Mike Modest. This was a 7-8 minute bowl of nothing special. Never once did this match develop any drama, and I’m not sure what they were going for. It’s fair to mention that Smith may have suffered a hard hit to his head on a Superplex, which doesn’t bode well for him advancing to the next round. Terrible match.

Rating: less than ***

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Samoa Joe vs. Frankie Kazarian

Easily the best match of the tournament so far, much more competitive than the prior two. Joe didn’t dominate as much as I expected, but perhaps that’s clouded by how much more star power he’s since accumulated compared to Kazarian.

I’m sure Joe surprised those who were introduced to him in this tournament, to see a guy his size showing so much mobility. But for every suplex he’d throw, Kazarian kept up with his own arsenal of flashier-looking moves.

But perhaps Joe proved here with his Anaconda Vise submission victory why he’s gone on to achieve so much more than Kazarian. He simply has the killer instinct. Huge palette cleanser after the 8 minutes of dead air that came before it.

Rating: ***¼

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Scoot Andrews vs. Donovan Morgan

Just a shade over 10 minutes, this was another worthy tournament match, although unsurprisingly nothing special considering the participants.

While there was nothing technically wrong with this match other than a partially botched attempt at a Sunset Flip, neither one worked in a way that drew the audience in, and they also didn’t take a page out of Pearce’s book from the opener to draw some heat either.

I wasn’t surprised to see Morgan win considering he was the prior year’s tournament runner-up, but he’ll have to do better than just style his tights like Dean Malenko’s in order to stand out based on what I’ve seen so far from those remaining in this tournament. He’s got a long way to go before he can perform to Malenko’s level, let alone emotionally connect like the Iceman did throughout the late ‘90s.

Rating: less than ***

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Brian Kendrick vs. Bryan Danielson

Nearly 15 minutes, these two tore the house down, giving almost a preview of what a Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels match could look like (they were often compared to those Hall of Famers back then.)

This was a very good match that had what I feel was one fatal flaw. Undoubtedly, Kendrick made Danielson look like a million bucks, getting cut off in spectacular fashion by the American Dragon, including an incredible Cravate Suplex for a near-fall. It was very clear watching this why many with their fingers on the underground pulse saw a very bright future for Kendrick.

For as crisp as this match was, and even though I would ultimately deem it a great match thanks to the standing ovation it got afterwards. I didn’t care for the fact that Danielson’s attacks on Kendrick’s abdomen didn’t really end up going anywhere. This was an opportunity to really target that body part, so that when Kendrick would attempt for the Shiranui, he wouldn’t have the appropriate core strength to pull it off. Struggling for this could’ve led to far more drama once the Shiranui was hit, getting the crowd to rally around Kendrick even more than they did.

What these two did with Kendrick’s Shiranui was the real fatal flaw to me. While the crowd did pop for it as a near-fall, it wasn’t treated as a potential game-changing moment to elevate Danielson. Perhaps asking that was too much, to try somehow establishing Kendrick’s finisher to then turn it into an epic near-fall. But the bottom line is that it didn’t live up to the epic moment that it could’ve been.

The finish was definitely spectacular, as Danielson now had the Shiranui scouted, putting down his contemporary with a Dragon Suplex. On its own, this match was a success.

I won’t pretend to be clued in what the stock was for all of these wrestlers going into this tournament, nor will I pretend to know what the politics may or may not have been for where all these wrestlers came from. I can only say that hindsight is 20/20.

If this tournament could’ve been redone and made perfect, then Kendrick vs. Danielson would’ve been a quarterfinal match for Day 2, the two of them eliminating Scoot Andrews and Donovan Morgan on this night. By doing that, one of them gets what’s pushed as the major upset by taking out the prior year’s tournament final runner-up in the opening round, while Kendrick’s Shiranui could’ve also been established to this crowd as a killer finisher, that way they’d get the most out of it as a near-fall on Day 2.

For all the flaws that kept this from reaching the sensational levels it was capable of, it’s very clear that these two had very bright futures on the underground, which would highly gain from them being cut by WWF developmental the year before this.

Rating: ****

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Super Dragon vs. Christopher Daniels

Just a shade over 10 minutes, this turned out to be one of the easy best matches so far. Daniel was the king so far for commanding attention, having the swagger that was lacking from his fellow competitors.

Dragon definitely held his own though, showcasing stuff so early in his career that I’d never seen. He got in just enough shine to keep this competitive, but once he missed a Shooting Star Press, there was no way Daniels wouldn’t smell the blood in the water, the reigning King of Indies capitalizing with a Best Moonsault Ever and Last Rites.

Why the fuck was Daniels released by WWF during the Attitude Era?

Rating: ***½

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Jardi Frantz vs. AJ Styles

For whatever reason, no entrance is shown for Styles, but it’s already clear just in the pre-match face-off that he’s so much more of a star already, even if he hadn’t been featured on WCW TV earlier in the year.

With that said, Frantz surprised me, having never seen him before. He was extremely competitive with Styles, and it’s a shame he didn’t go on to do more, as he showed quite a bit here that could’ve potentially translated onto gradually grander stages.

The finish was actually the highlight thanks to Styles authoritatively putting Frantz down with a Pop Up Styles Clash, but before then was some splendid stuff. Frantz did more overall to shine here, specifically with some springboard moves and even a Suicide Plancha early. But there was no denying that after Styles had pulled off the upset over Christopher Daniels just a couple weeks earlier, he was the right choice to advance.

Rating: ***¾

2001 King of Indies Tournament 1st Round Match
Low Ki vs. Vinny Massaro

For someone who’d go on to show disdain for Kevin Steen on social media, Low Ki gave quite an awful lot to Massaro, who got to shine and get plenty of heat.

While the work was surprisingly fine and managed to get more reaction than Scoot Andrews vs. Donovan Morgan earlier on the card, this still was nothing special, doing nothing to solidify its placement as the night’s main event. That Low Ki won was absolutely no surprise; that this went 15 minutes absolutely was. Massaro showed plenty of skill in this match, but didn’t have the presence, cache, or charisma to be put in this spot.

Hindsight is 20/20, so here’s another brief 1st round rebooking: stick Massaro against Joe in a battle of the heavies, while Low Ki gets the chance to have a barnburner against Frankie Kazarian in the main event.

Rating: less than ***

There’s no post-match angle of any kind as the show comes to a close, just the ring announcer thanking the fans and reminding them to return the next day for the tournament’s conclusion.

Not a great show by any means, but it’s historically significant with Joe vs. Kazarian, Kendrick vs. Danielson, and Frantz vs. Styles all delivering to varying degrees, so this is an easy recommendation.

Now we move on to the REALLY good shit that’s been praised about for 18 years now, the kind of good shit that left a lasting taste and which is still felt to this very day, that will be felt forever.

APW King of Indies 2001 Day 2
October 27, 2001 – Vallejo, CA

The event started with the ring announcer putting over the Cauliflower Alley Club, and then promoter Roland Alexander (featured on Beyond the Mat) arrived with another individual named Jason. Alexander gloated about Day 1, further putting over the CAC and the wrestlers for their performances. He promised a satisfying experience and says this isn’t for the money, admitting to being a “minor league feeding system.” He also put over various legends for being present and contributing to the weekend, gathering them one at a time for their spotlight. CAC President Red Bastien put over the wrestlers, promising tonight to be wrestling rather than what’s seen on TV. This in-ring advertisement for CAC is getting redundant as the organization’s VP Nick Bockwinkel speaks too.

That was an irritating opening 20 minutes. This would’ve been much more suited to be placed before the tournament final rather than kick off this event. Then again, maybe wasting 20 minutes to kick off a highly-anticipated wrestling event rubbed off on the promotion that was born out of this.

2001 King of Indies Tournament Quarterfinal Match
Bison Smith vs. Donovan Morgan

In a tournament that includes Doug Williams, Low Ki, Samoa Joe, Jardi Frantz, Super Dragon, Brian Kendrick, AJ Styles, and Christopher Daniels, I can’t say I’m thrilled one of these two gets to the semifinals.

Smith, unfortunately, had a left knee injury, causing the match to be about 90 seconds when Morgan pinned him via Small Package.

Rating: less than ***

2001 King of Indies Tournament Quarterfinal Match
Doug Williams vs. Bryan Danielson

After nearly 30 minutes into this event, we finally get some genuine pro wrestling.

The match had the potential to be a classic had they continued the story of Danielson targeting the left leg of Williams. Instead of that, they told the story of these two being evenly matched on the strikes and submission work. Danielson brilliantly had the Chaos Theory scouted, and Williams ultimately had no other answer for him. The finish was also brilliant, with Williams kicking out of a Dragon Suplex near-fall, but Danielson immediately went for the Cattle Mutilation, quickly earning the tap out victory, and both earning their post-match standing ovation. Hope promoters were licking their chops on booking these two in rematches.

Rating: ***½

2001 King of Indies Tournament Quarterfinal Match
Low Ki vs. Samoa Joe

More good stuff here as expected, Low Ki came out of this as a huge star even with the ref falsely claiming Joe had kicked out of an exhausting beatdown; Low Ki just moved forward by finishing Joe off with a Guillotine Choke.

But before that finish, they also got themselves over well with great strikes, highlighted by them taking turns Snapmaring each other for spinal kicks, grating and firing up the other. This is definitely another matchup to headline across the underground.

Rating: ***¾

2001 King of Indies Tournament Quarterfinal Match
AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels

The rivalry continues just 2 weeks after it began on the other side of the continent.

A big improvement on their Tampa Bay match, as these two had each other scouted now. Styles was already showing so much more seasoning already as well, even with him slipping on a high-risk Springboard Elbow to the outside. As for Daniels, he continued to showcase the stupidity of whoever was making the roster decisions in WWF back then, once again being a tremendous ring general and still shining while elevating the stock of Styles.

The two biggest highlights were Daniels taking the momentum of Styles on an attempted handspring move, turning it into a German Suplex; and Styles hitting a Super Styles Clash to a massive pop. I almost wish the latter had been the finish instead of Daniels grabbing the rope.

Having finished Super Dragon the night before with the Last Rites, Daniels finished off Styles here with the Angel’s Wings. I assume having multiple finishers established going into the semifinals will pay off quite dramatically.

Rating: ***¾

Battle Royal Match

With The Last Dance having just aired over the past several weeks, it was quite timely for me to once again hear the Alan Parson Project’s “Sirius” play as all the match’s participants got introduced. They include the 8 first-round tournament losers plus a handful of other jabronis.

This is an obvious glorified intermission spot on the card in between tournament rounds, and the usual horrendous battle royal match. Apparently eliminations could also occur via pin-fall. Awful booking that couldn’t even ensure that that it had a proper final four, which would’ve been Jardi Frantz, Brian Kendrick, Super Dragon, and Frankie Kazarian. Instead, the final was Vinny Massaro against someone I don’t know, and I don’t care to inform myself to know either. Oh, he wins and his name is Robert Thompson. At least there’s a nice nostalgic kick as his theme song is Lil Troy’s “Wanna Be a Baller.”

I also couldn’t believe an audible wasn’t called to have Kendrick go over since he clearly connected the most and had by far the most well-received match in the first round.

Rating: DUD

2001 King of Indies Tournament Semifinal Match
Donovan Morgan vs. Bryan Danielson

Danielson was clearly the underdog, as not only did Morgan have an easy quarterfinal victory, but Danielson limped from his victory over Doug Williams. Morgan also spat on Danielson early for some heel heat before they got going.

The match was short-lived though, as, after several minutes, Danielson used Morgan’s positioning against him on a Rolling Bridge, and they did a disputed finish with Danielson winning even with both having their shoulders down. God-awful finish to a promising technical wrestling match, but perhaps Danielson was also being preserved for the final.

Rating: less than ***

2001 King of Indies Tournament Semifinal Match
Low Ki vs. Christopher Daniels

A quality match as expected, with Daniels playing the ring general. He spent a good chunk targeting Low Ki’s left arm, and it did manage to get Ki over a bit more to have him climbing uphill a bit. Daniels was also great in just being an asshole, a much more suited position for him than he had shown a couple of weeks earlier in Tampa Bay.

I was disappointed to see that Daniels never once hit the Last Rites or Angel’s Wings. Having put down Super Dragon and AJ Styles with those moves, I wanted to see Low Ki kick out of both, shocking the defending tournament winner and getting Ki even more over going into the final against Bryan Danielson. Doing that would’ve truly put the match into the upper echelon, right in the mix of that year’s MOTYCs with the likes of Steve Austin vs. Chris Benoit or The Rock vs. Chris Jericho.

This was still a good match, but I know these two can do better and the rematches will be money for whoever books them.

Rating: ***3/4

The video went straight to the tournament final, thus confirming that the 20-minute verbal blowjob at the beginning was more suited here.

2001 King of Indies Tournament Final Match
Low Ki vs. Bryan Danielson

Danielson’s right arm was taped, while Low Ki’s left shoulder was taped, selling the damage from their prior tournament matches. I’d still say Danielson was the favorite due to the quick, controversial win over Donovan Morgan, while Ki had to get past Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels in hard-fought contests.

This was a brilliant conclusion to the tournament, and while not the very best these men could do, delivered in spades. I loved that when Low Ki got desperate with an eye poke and started dishing strikes, he only used his right arm, selling the additional damage Danielson had done to that body part.

Even with that desperation, Low Ki wasn’t the heel, as both men came out of this looking like a million bucks. And while the wrestling was great, it was the story of the Cattle Mutilation that was the biggest takeaway. Twice, Low Ki didn’t tap out, but Danielson was too exhausted and lacked the core and lower body strength to keep it locked on.

Shockingly, Danielson kicked out of a Super Ki Crusher, which got over humongously. But when Ki went for his handspring kick, Danielson cut him off with a Dragon Suplex for a sensational near-fall, then followed up with a third Cattle Mutilation, leaving Ki no choice but to tap out.

In the post-match, they embraced as the other wrestlers and those in attendance celebrated Danielson, a truly resilient champion. Underground bookers might wanna start brainstorming super indy megacards to get these two rematched.

Rating: ****½

The video fades to black, keeping it simple.

Despite some irritating tripe, this gets the highest, easiest recommendation for its influential significance and getting so many new underground talents over as future potential stars. THIS right here might be just what the underground had been in desperate need for throughout 2001.

This “Prologue” begins to wind down with some big news, as Eddie Guerrero had been cut by the WWF after his drunk driving arrest on November 9, 2001, kicking off his redemption tour.

ICW Title Match
Low Ki © vs. Eddie Guerrero
ICW Expect the Unexpected Part 2
November 30, 2001 – Queens, NY

Eddie got the predictably thunderous reaction, coming out after the champion, the Queens crowd chanting his name during the pre-match intro as well. But in kayfabe, this was a huge opportunity for Low Ki to redeem himself after his failure to become the King of Indies the month before.

This definitely showed Eddie’s rejuvenated commitment in the ring, as he and Low Ki showed tremendous chemistry. These two clearly should’ve gone on to take rematches to much bigger stages back then, whether it was WWF, NJPW, or elsewhere.

Both had something to prove, but it was Low Ki that proved to be hungrier, pulling off the upset of the year and maintaining his spot as ICW’s top dog. He had Eddie’s best stuff scouted, briefly frustrating the proven big-league star early on, then evading many trademark moves, including the Frog Splash near the end.

They also showcased much of Eddie’s best stuff from prior matches against Rey Mysterio, making me wonder what could’ve been had these two gone on to work a program in lucha, not just the big leagues or puro. But despite Eddie’s size and experience advantage, all of Low Ki’s scouting paid off, for when Eddie evaded the Phoenix Splash, the defending champion rolled him up for the victory, just barely scraping by a veteran challenger that had seen it all.

Unfortunately, Eddie’s generosity to job clean may have poisoned Low Ki’s ego behind the scenes. But that’s to be chronicled much later on throughout this decade-long journey.

Rating: ****

We have another championship match to cover, this time on the other side of the Atlantic.

FWA British Heavyweight Title Match
Doug Williams © vs. Christopher Daniels
FWA Crunch 2002
February 1, 2002 – Broxbourne, England

Before getting into the match itself, a brief backstory courtesy Pro Wrestling Only member TonyPulis’Cap 

“We are also in the midst of the main storyline going on in the FWA for most of 2002; the ‘Old School’ – veterans who didn’t like the new direction for wrestling in the UK and the newer, younger guys brought up on the Attitude era and ECW. This match plays into that, with Christopher Daniels being managed by the Old School’s manager Dean Ayass and brought into be a hired gun to take the title off Williams. When the promotion wide storyline had begun Doug was something of a tweener, but after rejecting the Old School’s advances he’s now very much in a face role. The nice hook is that Daniels has been brought in specifically as he already has a victory over Williams in the UK.”

Daniels has wisely shaved his head bald sometime since the 2001 King of Indies tournament. By this point, he was fully committed to the Fallen Angel persona, complete with catchphrase cadence and pre-match coat gear. Speaking of gear, the referee is atrociously unfashionable, wearing some hideous beige pants that don’t compliment the traditional striped shirt.

Daniels established himself as the clear heel early on, jaw-jacking with fans and acting cocky upon evading the Tornado DDT. Although he’d already beaten Williams before, I certainly wouldn’t give anything but my full 100% undivided attention if I was squaring off against a national judo champion like Williams.

Anyone who enjoyed Shawn Michaels cutting Kurt Angle off with repeated headlocks years later during their WrestleMania 21 dream match may find the early portions of this equally enjoyable. But after Williams briefly got control, Daniels successfully blocked another Tornado DDT attempt, countering with an Atomic Drop and follow-up Neck-Breaker. With Daniels in control, he focused on the neck of Williams, perfect to hopefully eliminate the chance of a Chaos Theory and set up for the Last Rites.

The match looks to have had a commercial break, but it doesn’t seem to ruin any momentum. Daniels was still in control after the break, but wasting time with more crowd jaw-jacking was all Williams needed to temporarily regain the advantage. But Daniels just kept working the neck once back in control, utilizing beautiful moves and submissions aplenty while continuing to also talk shit. (Why exactly was Daniels stuck working British indies at this time instead of being groomed for a Cruiserweight Title program at the Skydome?)

A desperate Williams got momentum back upon crotching Daniels, targeting the Fallen Angel’s neck with a Super Knee Drop. But a Super Double Underhook Suplex evened the match, allowing Daniels to hit a Blue Thunder Powerbomb, Uranage, and Best Moonsault Ever for near-falls.

After knocking each other down with mutual clotheslines, Williams successfully hit the Revolution DDT finally for a near-fall, but it wasn’t as dramatic as the commentars sold it to be, nor was Williams kicking out of the Angel’s Wings. The finish was definitely the peak though, with Daniels trying so hard to block the Chaos Theory, but not having enough to escape it.

This is nowhere near the classic that many told Dave Meltzer it was at the time, but I definitely am interested in rematches.

Rating: ***3/4

We conclude this “Prologue” with stars from the prior two matches just chronicled colliding in their only singles encounter, staying put in the UK for another FWA gem.

King of England Tournament Semifinal Match
Doug Williams vs. Eddie Guerrero
FWA Revival – King Of England Tournament
February 9, 2002 – London, England

Another brilliantly wrestled match with Eddie elevating Williams and doing the clean, sudden job once again on the indies. In this one, Eddie played the default heel, going for an eye poke early and showcasing that Black Tiger aggression he had become known for throughout the ’90s.

Perhaps the sudden surprise roll-up pin was the logical choice, as Eddie had briefly targeted the back of Williams midway through. While it wasn’t devastating enough to keep Williams from fighting back, it arguably eliminated the Chaos Theory from the equation, requiring Williams to pull off a desperate surprise like Low Ki had done in America.

Something’s crystal-clear now, which I’ll address after throwing out the snowflakes.

Rating: ***½

The “Prologue” has finally concluded, and there’s 1 major takeaway I’ve gotten out of this.

Undoubtedly, this “Prologue” has shown that the 4 talents for the underground to use as their foundations are Low Ki, Brian Kendrick, Bryan Danielson, and Christopher Daniels, while also hoping Eddie Guerrero could be available to capture the WWF and WCW audiences thanks to his in-ring resurgence and willingness to put these younger, lesser known talents over clean.

After a star-making ladder match, after such a historic tournament, and after a big league pioneer had so generously contributed, it was time for there to be hope in the monopolized American wrestling scene. It was gonna be a very, very, very long time before competition could step up. But someone could aim a bit more realistically, try to become the face of the underground scene that ECW once was, while also trying to be a much more distinct product from that extinct brand compared to other federations back then, while also serving as a complete palette-cleanser from the WWF, a company that rather than see its popularity heighten with all of its accumulated big-league treasures, instead saw its business and popularity go down massively as 2001 progressed.

No longer was it time for mentalities rooted in “extreme” or “attitude.” Without quite knowing it yet, it was time for something a bit more… honorable. And a select few had the sense to know that.

The Lapsed ROHbot begins the era of honor… on June 12.

Note: the video below has audio playback only on the right side.

While the reviewing part of this column is done, there’s one last thing to address. In a concept taken from “The Nostalgia Critic” Doug Walker, every review during this journey will end with a charity spotlight. Typically, one charitable organization will be spotlighted to help those in need, and often correspond with something or someone involved in the reviewing topic.

I had initially chosen this past weekend to kick off the journey because it happened to be Bryan Danielson’s birthday; since he was the most highlighted star coming out of the 2001 King of Indies tournament, I was going to spotlight a cause he cares about, something in the environmental realm.

Unfortunately, that’s being postponed for a later time, as last week was the absolute worst week in pro wrestling since June 2007. It was already going to be bittersweet, as Dr. Martha Hart and her children were finally sharing their side of the story after 21 years without their husband and father. We’ve clearly seen them grow tremendously since that tragedy, and did so wisely by completely avoiding the professional wrestling business.

But to compound that with the untimely deaths of Shad Gaspard, Larry Csonka, and Hana Kimura has made this an especially trying week for wrestling fans, particularly the most hardcore ones that this lapsed journey attracts. There will come a time when other causes will be spotlighted, and typically it will be just 1 charitable cause in each review. In light of this week’s events, multiple causes are being spotlighted.

Today’s charity spotlights include:

The Official Shad Gaspard Family Fund

LarryMania: Living on in his Girls

The Owen Hart Foundation

“On May 23, 1999 my husband Owen Hart died violently and tragically after falling 8 stories from the top of Kemper Arena in Kansas City, MO as the result of a wrestling stunt gone horribly wrong. Owen’s death made no sense to me and threw me into a world of darkness. It was so preventable and so unnecessary. Questions haunted my mind – “Why did this happen to him, to me, and to our children?” My answer came one day like a flash of light, in the form of The Owen Hart Foundation. I believed that if I could help others in Owen’s name, it would give meaning to his death – to me that meant he did not die in vain.

I established the Owen Hart Foundation in his memory in December 2000. Building this meaningful tribute to my husband and our children has given me strength and saved me from despair over his death. The Owen Hart Foundation is a permanent legacy that is in place to help people today and for generations to come.

Owen was a practical man of profound integrity, a wonderful husband and devoted father. He would be extremely proud of the good work carried out by the Foundation and would be honoured to be remembered for what he loved best, which was his sincere kindness to all people.” – Dr. Martha Hart

Ditch the Label

Founded in 2012, this charity tackles different forms of bullying. A brief intro first from the charity itself:

“We believe in a world that is fair, equal and free from all types of bullying.

Our mission is to combat bullying by tackling the root issues and to support young people aged 12-25 who are impacted. It is estimated that every 3 minutes at least one person will benefit from our support.”

Courtesy Ditch the Label’s Wikipedia page:

“Ditch the Label is an anti-bullying charity, dedicated to promoting equality and provides support to young people who have been negatively affected by bullying and prejudice. Their award-winning work spans across the UK, USA and Mexico; empowering people aged 12–25 to overcome bullying.

They are a digital charity, which means that most of the support provided is through their website and partnerships with games and social networks.”

Remember to love and appreciate one another, and that this lapsed journey resumes on June 12.