Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk
Nearly 20 years after their iconic series in Ring of Honor, Joe and Punk matched up again in the semi-finals of the Owen Hart cup. When they first battled, they were young and athletic, in the primes of their lives, and the passage of time saturated this match.
There is a reason that the Thrilla in Manilla is the Ali vs. Frazier match up which became legendary, both fighters were past their prime, but there is something special about athletes who can no longer rely on their youth and explosiveness, but need to find something deeper within them to keep going.
Punk took early advantage, trying to frustrate Joe by avoiding his chops and pepper him with jabs and chops of his own. After finding a bit of an advantage, Punk tried to get a little fancy and go for a body press, Joe nonchalantly strolled away sending Punk crashing to the mat (this was a callback to a similar spot in their ROH trilogy). Joe then starts grinding, pummeling Punk to the ground and bloodying his mouth with big right hands, sending him to the floor with a back elbow.
You could really feel the contempt coming off of Joe in this match, Punk never could beat him, but Punk ended up the WWE champion, the huge star, the guy with the entire separate show built around him, while Joe was stuck in TNA and just didn’t have the career his prodigious talent really deserved. If you ran back both men’s careers 100 times, Punk actual career would be in the top 10% of outcomes, and Joe’s would be in the bottom 20%. You could see Joe thinking “David Zaslav cut you the big check motherfucker, but you still can’t beat me.” Punk got a big run of offense, including some big knees in the corner, and a top rope elbow, but when he tried to lift Joe for the Go To Sleep, Joe dead-weighted him and locked in a crossface. The exchanged moves and attempted moves for a bit, then Punk slid out of the muscle buster, tried for the Go to Sleep, and when Joe tried for the choke to counter it, Punk rolled him up for the pin.
The post-match Joe beatdown hopefully means we get much more of this feud. It feels like something which needs an epic second act, neither man was able to hit any of their big spots here and there feels like a lot of meat still on the bone for the grey-templed iteration of this feud. The ROH PPV next week has no matches ready, and they should honestly just run this right back as the main event, it would loosen my pockets for sure.
Damon Kemp vs. Eddy Thorpe
This was a NXT Underground match, and way more successful then the Shane stained version of this they tried on RAW a couple of years ago. This felt very much like a flashier version of a Bloodsport match and had a couple of guys who fit very well in that milieu. Thorpe was originally New Japan Dojo trainee Karl Fredrickson, someone who spent plenty of time under Kazunori Shibata grinding and training in grappling.
Kemp is a Pan American champion Greco-Roman wrestler, and has excellent hips and ground control. Much of the match was Kemp chucking Thorpe with suplexes and trying to pound him out on the mat. Kemp hit an especially nasty belly to belly off of the ring apron, which came very close to putting Thorpe in traction. Thorpe threw a couple of nice suplexes of his own and had some nice chopping kicks to the thigh. I would have liked to see the finishing triangle a bit tighter and the elbows land a bit harder, but this had plenty of rad shit to heavily recommend.
Thorpe was seconded by Gable Steveson, and post match Steveson just hurled a handful of random Performance Center guys in a very Tazish performance. I am not sure why Steveson is with Thorpe instead of Kemp, who is his brother, but I imagine at some point they will unite. Too bad the Creeds lost the loser-leaves-NXT match, because I wanted to see a Creeds vs. Kemp/Steveson Steiners vs. Steiners style chuck fest, but maybe we get it on the main roster at some point.
KENTA vs. Eddie Kingston
Eddie Kingston is my current favorite wrestler for a lot of reasons, one of the big ones is his ability to bring real emotional resonance to his pro-wrestling matches. Eddie feels deeply, and is tremendous at conveying that feeling through his performances. In this match Eddie is wrestling in the iconic Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, for a title, against KENTA, a man who is part of the lineage of the Four Pillars. Eddie is someone who has said that Japanese pro-wrestling saved his life and this match is a Hajj for his religion.
KENTA has slowed down athletically significantly from his mid 2000s prime, but still works really stiff and has shifted his smart ass punk heel gimmick to more of a grizzled cheap shot heel. I have a lot of time for someone working like mid 2000s Gedo. KENTA taunts Eddie with slaps and gets him worked up, sucking him in and riling him up until he torches his arm chopping a turnbuckle. This gave KENTA a bullseye, and he kept working the arm, taunting Eddie into throwing shots with the bad arm.
Of course Eddie is an all-time great at selling a body part, and with so much on the line, you knew he was going to bite down and keep firing, like a club fighter throwing punches with a broken fist, because this might be his only big shot. KENTA broke out some amusing heel shtick, including bumping the ref and trying to hit Kingston with the NJ Strong belt, and after failing clocking him with the Defy title. Eddie kicked out of the double stomp, and dug deep, slamming KENTA with backfists with the bad hand and eventually hitting him with a big lariat and a Northern Lights bomb for the title. Lots of cool opportunities for Eddie with this belt, he is someone I will always root for, and this felt like a huge moment for him.