Editorials Looking Back ROH

Armories and Snowflakes #3 – ROH Unscripted III

I always thought the point of this series would be to find a random event and rediscover what I was doing at the time and maybe talk a little bit about where wrestling was at the time, but I’m going to break my own rule today. I’m sitting here in Philadelphia, unable to leave my house due to about 30 inches of snow. I’m sure I’ll be able to get out soon, but I really have nothing to do right now but to write about wrestling and watch old movies and check twitter an unhealthy amount.

As I look out my window, with work already cancelled for the day, I can’t help but think back to probably the dumbest ever wrestling road trip I went on. Let me clarify: I went on many road trips to see wrestling, and I made countless questionable decisions along the way, but I think this is the only one I can think of where the entire trip was probably ill conceived. That was the case when I decided that I needed to go by myself to see both legs of a Dayton/Chicago double shot In late November, 2007. The second of those shows is one of the more infamous in Ring of Honor history, and ended up being called Unscripted III. The main event of this show ended up being a trios match, but the match that always sticks out in my head from that night was the singles contest directly prior to it: Bryan Danielson vs. Jimmy Jacobs.

Originally, the Saturday show was supposed to be the 2007 Trios Tournament, which for some insane reason I convinced myself I needed to see. The first two were not great, and I don’t think this one was truly shaping up to be that much better. As always, I try not to look things up for these because it’s fun for me to see how close my memory is to what actually happened, so here is my recollection of the teams and what they were up to at the time in ROH:

– The Hangmen 3: BJ Whitmer, Brent Albright and Adam Pearce. This faction was straight garbage. BJ Whitmer cut and bleached his hair and was somehow the most likable person in this group.

– The Vulture Squad: Jigsaw, Ruckus, and Jack Evans. This faction, to the best of my knowledge, never came close to winning anything, but Jack Evans could basically do with his body anything you could do with an action figure and they had Julius Smokes running around like a loon at ringside, so there were worse things to watch.

– The No Remorse Corps: Rocky Romero, Roddy Strong and Davey Richards. Let me tell y’all something: I’ve been hating Davey Richards since before it was cool.

– The Briscoes and Claudio Castagnoli. Not really a faction, but some fan favorites thrown together for reasons that escape me now.

– Sweet and Sour Inc: Chris Hero, Tank Toland and Bobby Demspey. If you guys haven’t seen any of this era of Chris Hero, it’s pretty great. Larry Sweeney was an American treasure and I get sad about wrestling and life just thinking about him, but the sheer joy in all of their stuff together is amazing. Hero was in the midst of a big push, he had just won Survival of the Fittest and pinned Nigel McGuinness, so this team was a sexy pick going in to the tournament. Also, if you’ve never seen this stuff, watch it just to marvel at how over Bobby Dempsey was.

– Age of the Fall: Necro Butcher, Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black. The odds on favorites to win the trios tournament, at least in my mind.

The Age of the Fall are sort of a weird part of ROH history. Maybe I’ll do a whole thing on the lead up to the Man Up pay per view, but I think Age of the Fall/Project 161 is the first instance I can remember of a sort of viral angle. There were fake takeovers of the ROH message board, there were mysterious people handing out shirts outside live events, there were easter eggs and clues placed on myspace pages and live journals. Christ, typing that makes me feel old. I am old. Anyway, I ate it up, I desperately tried to figure out what was happening and when it led to the debut of the Age of the Fall, I thought it was a tremendous angle and couldn’t wait to see where it went next.

Unfortunately, since that debut, the angle had started to lose steam a little bit. ROH had just wrapped up a truly amazing invasion storyline with the CZW stuff, and to make Age of the Fall that same thing again would have made them pale by comparison. So for a bit they were just a good team with a dark, somewhat muddled message and a propensity for violence and promos, but then “faction warfare” started, and soon enough they were just another three man team. Winning the Trios Tournament and subsequently getting the three title shots would have given AotF some much needed credibility back and would have added a real sense of unpredictability to the shows.

As you might know, or as you might have gathered from the fact that I’m writing about Unscripted III and not Trios Tournament 2007, this whole thing didn’t happen. Ohio, Indiana and Illinois all got absolutely hammered with a horrible ice storm. Fans and wrestlers alike all had trouble getting from Dayton to Chicago. From what I understand, the show was basically booked on the fly as talent kept trickling in throughout the evening. The show had to be changed as Necro Butcher and Jack Evans got in a car wreck and never made it. I remember thinking when I heard they were in a wreck that it was a real bummer but I was sort of glad it happened because if it hadn’t I probably would never have known that Necro Butcher and Jack Evans traveled together.

My story of getting to Chicago is somewhat serendipitous. I had gone to the ROH show in Dayton the night before, and after that was over met up with a few non wrestling friends for some light conversation and an adult beverage or two. I must confess that one or two led to significantly more than that, and I remember very little of that night after a certain point. I remember being in a bar with one of those jukeboxes that had the internet (a novelty at the time) and I spent entirely too much money playing skits off of Wu Tang records followed by Velvet Underground songs. No one thought this was nearly as great as I did but genius often goes unappreciated at the time. There were shots, and beer specials, and strange people, and I came to the next morning in a house I didn’t really recognize fully clothed in the bathtub. No one else was up, my head felt twice the normal size, and I figured I’d do everyone a solid and go grab some cokes and gatorades and maybe hash browns if I could find a fast food place. I drove around for a bit and found everything, but by this point I realized that it wasn’t even six in the morning yet, and no one would be up for hours. I knew I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I figured I may as well just get on the highway and drive, blissfully unaware that I was just ahead of the worst of the weather.

By the time I got to Chicago, feeling pretty awful from the previous nights activities coupled with a still sort of white knuckle driving experience, I tooled around for a bit before heading over to the venue like 5 hours early. Already there were rumors about what was going to happen that night, how people wouldn’t make it, how the highway was at a complete standstill. The ring had left the night before so at least that was there. I didn’t feel great, I had thrown up most of the hash browns somewhere on the shoulder of I-65, and I had a bunch of time, so I went back to my car and tried to nap, but the icy rain hitting my roof as I lay across the back seat just made me more and more worried about how the hell I was going to get back to Cleveland. The more I thought about it, the more I felt incredibly lucky to be where I was, but I also started to come to grips with the fact that I really had no plan for what I was going to do after the show. I guess in my head I was gonna drive the five or so hours back home that night, but one look out any window nixed that idea. The venue wasn’t really by a busy area, so I didn’t even know where to go for food or shelter or anything. It was getting darker all the time, and I really had made no progress, but content in being at the show, I wandered my way in and prepared for what I thought would be a pretty wild night.

Funny note about rewatching this show: Sara Del Ray comes out to Ride of the Valkyries, so when Lacey calls out anyone in the back and Del Ray’s music hits, my immediate thought now is “Why is Daniel Bryan coming out to fight Lacey?” Isn’t Lacey like a doctor or something now? That’s amazing. Someone quitting wrestling and becoming a successful professional has to be the brightest of all possible timelines.

Jimmy Jacobs came in through the crowd, which was pretty great because I sort of got caught up in the Unscripted thing and the weather outside and figured he honestly had just gotten to the building. Daizee Haze comes out to fight Allison Wonderland, but Jimmy Jacobs spears her. What show was it that speared her out of her shoes? ROH back then booked so much violence against women by heels and it always got a face pop. Wrestling is pretty terrible. Jacobs cuts a promo saying sometimes you have to destroy the worst things in the world, and sometimes you have to destroy the best in the world, which cues The Final Countdown. I’ve got to hand it to the sound guy at this show. Dude really picks up the cues. How many times have you watched a wrestling show where a person is supposed to be interrupted, so they stop, thinking music was gonna hit, only to awkwardly start repeating themselves while they pretend like they aren’t just stalling for time? Not tonight, my friends. Danielson is out and the crowd is in to it. Jacobs attacks him during his entrance.

I was really pulling for Jacobs here. As I wrote above, I loved the Age of the Fall gimmick, and I going in to the evening I was ready for them to win the Trios tournament. I thought Jacobs was at this point the best performer in ROH. There were alot of people who had great matches in the company at the time, that was sort of what ROH was built on, but Jacobs added a variety that the show sorely lacked. He really was a tremendous tool for ROH, and allowd them to build narratives and throughlines to shows that other performers couldn’t really provide. At that point in my fandom, I sort of gravitated towards the darker gimmicks, and I thought that Jacobs really understood a subsection of wrestling fans and was able to tap in and be culturally relavent in a way that wrestling hadn’t seen in years.

Conversely, I was pretty over Danielson at that point. It sounds insane now, but I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of ROH fans at the time who really felt as though Danielson needed to move on or take a break. His matches had stagnated in some way, and fans didn’t really buy him being out of the title picture and back in a gatekeeper role. We were a spoiled lot, I suppose. Sure, he was still having great matches, but so were alot of people. Danielson wasn’t holding people down or anything, but he was in a weird way taking up space. I can feel everyone reading this and shaking their heads at me, and I swear I wasn’t alone in thinking this. If the old ROH message board was still around, I’d have threads to prove it. It’s a pretty great example of how fickle wrestling fans are, when you get right down to it. Sure, you’re the best in the world, we said, but what else can you do? We’re sick of just watching you be awesome. I can’t even really put the whole thing in to words. Thinking back, part of it was probably due to Danielson not really being in any tag stuff after his title reign. The ROH roster was small, and he had basically cycled through it. We all knew he wasn’t getting the belt back, at least not yet, so it all felt the same, and it created a clear divide for the roster: you were either high enough on the card to fight Danielson in a singles match, or you were fodder.

Jimmy Jacobs, for all of his promo ability and charisma, certainly fell in the latter category. That’s why when Danielson came out, I was immediately invested. The first Unscripted had made a star of a charismatic, slightly scrawny guy who hadn’t been seen as a big star. As soon as Danielson’s music hit, I thought we were all about to see that happen again.

First thing about this match: It’s been so long since I’ve seen Dragon without any sort of hair. I know the beard is basically his entire gimmick at this point, but I sort of miss him looking like an angry, pasty little man. Danielson eats Jacobs up to start, as Jacobs doesn’t really have anything to counter with on the mat nor could he believably go toe to toe. Give Danielson credit, he never really did the Kurt Angle thing of getting outwrestled every match despite being an olympic champion at fucking wrestling. Danielson killed people on the mat if they couldn’t keep up, and if they could, it became a huge deal. That idea was basically responsible for an entire Jimmy Rave title push. Anyway, Jacobs powders and stalls and has some words. Jacobs takes down Danielson with a hammerlock but immediately gets mounted and toyed with because he forgot about what happened like one minute ago. Jacobs escapes the surfboard out of sheer desperation and goes outside again, prompting Danielson to quip: “I thought you were starting a revolution?”

It’s amazing watching Danielson in ROH, when the pervading criticism was that he did not have enough charisma to make it in WWE. What the hell were people watching? It practically oozes out of him. Granted, that has some benefit of hindsight, but he’s always so present, and he involves the crowd so effortlessly. Everything he has been able to do in WWE you can watch almost any ROH show and see him doing the exact same thing.

Jacobs takes off his knee brace, which is a fun bit of visual storytelling and gives the match some interesting routes to take. Danielson is just manhandling Jacobs here. Much like seeing him without hair, it’s fun to revisit a time when Bryan could believably bully an opponent. I know he got over by being an all time great face with a tremendous hot tag, but I would have loved to see cocky prick Danielson in WWE just stretching dudes and projecting how little he cared about their attempts to counter. That would have been fun to see at some point. Granted that’s not really a heel character WWE uses ever, but it still would have been neat for a brief stretch. Jacobs finally takes over with a punch to the nose. That is effective against everyone, but Danielson is able to go the newly unbraced knee. Jacobs again has no counter put to hit Danielson in the face, which leads to a near fall.

Jacobs has great punches, and it really helps here. He can keep the offense simple, but we all still buy it as effective against someone who has earlier looked dominant. Danielson again fights back with a big uppercut out of the corner and some clotheslines, but it’s taking him longer and longer each time Jacobs finds an opening. Danielson hits the flying headbutt and I can’t help but to cringe and get a little melancholy that I love watching people hurt themselves for my entertainment. Jacobs is able to get a nearfall off a senton but again is bested on the mat, and Danielson gets Cattle Mutilation locked in.

Lacey comes out and distracts the ref, which draws the ire of Danielson, who threatens her with physical harm. Allison Wonderland (Whatever happened to her? I’ll bet she did not become a doctor) hands Jacobs his cane, but Bryan blocks the shot. while fighting over possession of the international object, Jacobs pulls the handle off, revealing the railroad spike from a hidden compartment. Danielson turns around to ask the crowd if he should hit Jacobs with the cane and gets spiked because he is a doofus who turned his back on a dastardly Jimmy Jacobs. Lacey screams at the referee to count which he does, but Bryan kicks out at two. I’ve always loved the kick out after a distraction spot, because to me it represents the heel being hoisted by his own petard in some small way. They have this careful plan, but it never quite times out perfectly or exactly the way they want it to. Danielson is busted open and Jacobs starts working the cuts with a closed fist like a tiny HHH.

I think this match was probably a little slow paced for the live audience at that point in ROH, but Jacobs does enough between spots to keep everyone engaged. This is his first portion of extended control, and he’s smart enough to jaw with the crowd and keep the crowd vocal. Dragon is a mess. It takes a lot to look really bloody without long hair, and he is covered. Jacobs asks a fan for a chair, which he is granted, which prompts another fan to loudly ask “Why would you give him that?” Pretty great. Jacobs hits a plancha to a seated Dragon which looks tremendous. I love Jacobs’ offense in this. Everything is simple but desperate in an organic way. He’s going above and beyond, but just getting tougher and more vicious instead of more intricate. Danielson sells like D-Von Dudley. Dragon keeps kicking out, and Jacobs gets visibly frustrated, slapping Danielson and going to the top rope, where he gets crotched and superplexed.

Danielson starts a comeback with forearms and strikes, which I think works perfectly given that’s what Jacobs has been using throughout the match. A tope gets the crowd to their feet and Danielson hits the missile dropkick, but takes too long, and allows Jacobs to go for the choke for the first time in the match. Danielson goes back to the air but gets hit with a midair spear for a big near fall. We’re near the end, and the back and forth begins in earnest. A Contra Code is countered in to a german suplex, which leads to the Cattle Mutilation, which leads to the Elbows, which leads to the contra code for a huge nearfall. Danielson gets the knees up on a senton, and kicks Jacobs a bunch and goes to the triangle choke, but he just barely gets to the ropes. Danielson sets him up for the back superplex, which at that point basically always led to Danielson’s finishing stretch, but Jacobs countered with the guillotine choke off the top. Danielson gets one big burst of energy, but passes out shortly after with the crowd chanting Please Don’t Tap. Lacey screaming don’t let go over and over and celebrating like they had just won every belt ever matched my emotion. It really felt like we had just watched a new star being made. Instead, we got an in ring promo from Nigel McGuinness calling it the worst loss of Danielson’s career, immediately undercutting what we had just seen. There was another match after this, but that whole bit left such a sour taste in my mouth. I just couldn’t understand why they would do that and decide it was best served as a vehicle to get Nigel over as a prick instead of Jacobs as a threat. Oh well.

Throughout the night, in my section there was a group of fans that were constantly buzzing about a special surprise that just had to be on its way. You see, Unscripted was the show that CM Punk first broke out on, and when ROH again ran in to inclement weather and had to to put on Unscripted II, CM Punk made a surprise return despite being in OVW at the time. This show, being in Chicago and being called Unscripted III, I mean, the signs were clear, right? These gentlemen left discouraged, but they should hold their heads high: They were ahead of their time. Nowadays everybody spends the whole night chanting for CM Punk on shows he isn’t on. These guys were true smart mark trendsetters.

Leaving the building, I decided I didn’t really have money for a hotel, so I would just start the drive back to Ohio. I got like four miles before I almost crapped my pants in terror. I found one of those emergency pull offs and figured I’d sleep there. Every time a car would go buy I would jolt awake, thinking they were about to lose control and careen in to the back of my little two door. Sleep was hard to come by. I sheepishly started the car back up and fishtailed my way to the next exit and spent the night in a shitty motel. The next morning wasn’t much better, weather wise at least, but I didn’t have any money for a second hotel night and I needed to work the next day. I slowly worked my way on surface roads for as long as I could, and got on the highway and watched Chicago fade in the distance. I remember thinking I would hold a grudge against the city forever because of how crappy this weekend had ended up. The irony of being from Cleveland and getting mad about the weather somewhere is not lost on me. I spun out twice on the way home, but no one else was on the road. Both times I pulled over and waited to my legs to stop shaking, thankful I didn’t manage to hit anything. Eventually I would get back on the road and my mind would wander back to the shows I had just watched. Despite everything, it never crossed my mind that I had made a poor choice in going. I would probably do it all over again.

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