As of writing, WWE have just released multiple people on the 1 year anniversary of their Black Wednesday. One of the most surprising names on the list was Samoa Joe, arguably one of the best wrestlers of the last 20 years. A man that should have been a multi-time world champion but was yet another victim of WWE’s misuse of talent. A phenomenon in the ring and a killer on the mic, Joe deserved much more than what was handed to him but what he did get given was instantly turned into gold. However, his best in-ring work certainly came before WWE. Everyone knows the classic ROH trilogy with Punk, the TNA Unbreakable triple threat with Styles and Daniels and the legendary match with Kenta Kobashi; but one of his most underrated matches of all time came against Bryan Danielson in 2004 in the midst of Joe’s record-breaking ROH title reign. The full match is available on ROH’s YouTube channel and I would highly recommend checking it out.
Previously, I wrote a piece on Mayu Iwatani vs Takumi Iroha and I mentioned that it was a match that seemingly gets better the more it’s re-watched. This match is similar in the amount of details that can be picked up on by re-watching it. Going into this, Joe had held the ROH title for 19 months and defended the title 25 times, this match being the 26th defence. Insanely popular with the crowd and entering to the classic “The Champ is Here” chants, Joe was the most popular guy in ROH at the time, and even got streamers as his name was announced. The same can’t be said for Bryan. The match starts slow but remains entertaining with some nice mat wrestling and escalates into a game of cat and mouse where Joe tries to strike Bryan but can’t even land one shot as Bryan simply avoids him by dodging and diving around the ring, which gets a standing ovation from the crowd. Soon after, Joe finally lands a clean strike which drops Bryan. The striking becomes a significant portion of the early goings, including certain moments that I loved such as Joe’s landing 4 or 5 strikes only to be dropped by a simple eye poke that riled up the crowd.
While a lot of this match does remain slow paced, Bryan’s control segments never got boring as Joe had small bursts of offense that Bryan kept cutting off. Also, the match picks up from simple mat wrestling and striking with some crazy dives to the floor. Bryan hits an amazing springboard flip to the outside and Joe later returns the favour with an elbow suicida. Once Joe gets a clean advantage, Bryan goes back to the leg that he worked on early on, which is something that commentary picks up perfectly.
Eventually, they start bringing out the big moves such as the huge lariat from Joe, the Regal-plex from Bryan and multiple attempts at his signature Cattle Mutilation. The ending stretch was great, both guys exchanging control and going for nasty knee strikes on the floor with Joe finally getting the upper hand and locking in the choke to win.
This match had lots of elements blended perfectly with a hot crowd and a great heel-face dynamic making for one of Joe’s best in his ROH title reign. Although it hits the 40 minute mark, it’s 40 minutes of two of the best wrestlers in the world telling a phenomenal story on pure workrate alone. Following his release, most people seem to think Joe will head to AEW, but I wouldn’t be against another run in ROH if it means we get epics such as this.