I was three quarters of the way to Dayton when I realized I had left all the tickets for the weekend on my nightstand in Cleveland. This was obviously a problem. For a brief moment, I forgot my company and shouted “Fuck” in frustration. I was immediately chastised. You see, my companion for a weekend of indie wrestling was my mother.
A few things about my mother: she is a lovely Australian woman who is up for just about anything, so I’ve never felt as though I’ve had to twist her arm for things like this. That being said, I’m quite positive that ‘attending a wrestling show in Dayton, OH’ would not be on her list of dream activities with her baby boy. Still, I was able to convince her to come along with rather minimal resistance.
The whole thing was sort of a compromise. My mother was going back to Australia for an extended period of time and because I was jobless and in my early twenties it wasn’t a big deal for me to house sit and look after her dogs. I was in Cleveland and she was in Springfield, MO and she’s always up for a bit of a road trip so she decided to fly up and then we’d drive our way down. A bit before we had made plans, ROH announced a double shot weekend leading up to their second ever pay-per-view, Driven. I bought tickets first and asked permission later, but it wasn’t a big deal, although our newly planned travel route of Cleveland to Dayton to Chicago to Western Missouri was a bit on the circuitous side.
My mother has always indulged my wrestling fandom. I remember she took me to a WWF show at the MCI Center in the height of the Attitude Era and we bought tickets off a scalper that ended up being nowhere close to one another. HHH came out and encouraged various women to undress with varying degrees of success, and then reciprocated a thank you by mooning the crowd. To this day I’m shocked I was still allowed to go to shows after that. After that, I usually ended up going alone. My present around the holidays was often a lone ticket to Starrcade. It was a good arrangement, a tacit acceptance of my obsession, perhaps lacking complete and total understanding. I think everyone reading this would take that concerning their fandom from their friends and loved ones.
We were about an hour from Dayton and two and a half from Cleveland, so it made no sense to turn around. I called my roommate and left a message asking him to go in to my room and tell me the seat numbers but he never got back to me. We got to the show pretty early and I really had no clue what to do about the whole thing, so I just sort of walked in with my mom in tow. Sid, the guy who was in charge of tickets at the time, was sitting there and I explained what happened. He basically ignored me to flirt with my mother, which was super awkward but ultimately successful as he ended up adding a couple of second row seats and telling us we could sit there. God love men showing off for women.
I don’t have much to say about the Dayton show (I’m going to talk more about the KENTA vs. Danielson match from the next night) but as I’m writing, I’m remembering bits and pieces from the evening. El Generico and Kevin Steen had a tag match and El Generico’s trunks had a hole in the seam, which my mother fixated on. Like moms do, I suppose. Anyway, I had to explain that it’s pretty tough for indie wrestlers to have nice things considering the average wage, which my mother was appalled at for the rest of the evening. A few matches later, Brent Albright and BJ Whitmer fought in to the crowd, absolutely destroying some poor dude in the front row. He left for a while and came back with an ice pack, a good story and a free Briscoes shirt. I’m pretty sure this is the only thing my mother remembers about this weekend. Whenever her friends eyes go wide that she’s been to pro wrestling and say Oh, surely you can’t have enjoyed it, she’ll respond, Yes, I do, it’s quite fun, It really is, except when they fight in the crowd.
Okay, last story from Dayton: when Davey Richards came out, a few people by us started chanting “Frodo! Frodo!” which I guess was a thing from the old ROH messageboards. I explained that this was due to his passing resemblance to Elijah Wood. I don’t know, I don’t really see it. Anyway, my mother laughed and quipped, “they should chant micro! He’s smaller than me! I can’t take him seriously”. It was amazing. I love my mother so much. She had seen a total of like 3 wrestling shows in her life and already had better taste than 85% of fans.
The trip up to Chicago was pretty uneventful, truthfully. We left in the morning. We passed a car on the road containing Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli and Alex Payne. Payne was driving. My mother recognized them and waved.
I wish I had context to give about the event, but those early ROH pay-per-views were sort of on an island and they didn’t really hype much. I remember knowing that the main event for the night was going to be Danielson vs. KENTA but the main event for the actual pay-per-view was going to be Danielson vs. McGuinness. The whole thing seemed like a bit of a mess, to be truthful. I was a big enough fan at the time that it didn’t really matter, but it’s one of those odd things where it really felt like everyone but ROH could see that the idea of a separate narrative for pay-per-view was a bit silly. Hindsight is 20/20 I suppose, and I was still psyched to be there. Again, not having tickets wasn’t a big deal when we arrived. My price of admission was watching a forty something with frosted tips hit on my mom. I should have just bought GA.
I feel like whenever KENTA had a match in ROH, there was always one random dude that would just shout KENTA intermittently throughout his entrance. I remember being psyched that this match wasn’t going to be on PPV because it meant we actually got the Final Countdown and not the public domain version. Danielson sure had some ugly merch for ROH. It’s fun to watch this period of Danielson’s work as there is such a marked difference between how much he moves compared to his run in WWE. He’s just as charismatic, but everything is so deliberate. In WWE, he was this unstoppable ball of energy running around. Here, he everything was considered.
I’ve re-watched a few Danielson matches for this series thus far, and it’s noteworthy that KENTA is the first person who hasn’t been totally eaten alive on the mat. Danielson gets some early advantage, but KENTA is always able to find a way to break free without relying on strikes in the early going. The match soon gets there as Danielson presses the advantage on the mat in the next sequence and KENTA forces him to relent by kicking wildly at his face.
KENTA backs Danielson in to the corner and slaps him hard instead of breaking clean. Prazak tries to sell it as KENTA knowing Danielson would do the same. It seems like a natural place for some simple escalation. It leads to some back and forth out of a collar and elbow tie up, and Danielson does his normal Johnny Saint escape, but instead of breaking with a dropkick, he repays KENTA in kind with a slap. This leads to a strike exchange, which Danielson loses. Danielson also takes a beating off an Irish Whip, which is par for the course in KENTA ROH matches.
As Danielson takes advantage on the mat again, I can’t help but credit him for keeping the stories between all their encounters so similar. The strengths and weaknesses that both men display remain constant, and it really adds to the series they had in ROH. It’s a credit to Danielson (and KENTA) that those themes were explored deeply enough to makes matches that were similar in narrative so individually interesting. Danielson starts working the legs of KENTA which is a logical choice, although I have a feeling that not much will come of it. KENTA keeps going back to stiff slaps as his main transitions, which has served to make his kicks stand out a little more at the beginning. Between the slaps, not breaking clean, and the springboard back heel kick thing he does, a good deal of KENTA’s offense in the early part of this match has been really heelish. They’re sort of both working heel, which I guess works in the context of “they don’t like or respect each other, and they badly want to win but respect the rules because it’s ROH so they won’t outright cheat”.
When KENTA does finally go to some repeated kicks, Danielson is able to time one and turn it in to a dragon screw leg whip, which is a great little scouting touch. Once KENTA went to offense Danielson was expecting and prepared for, he had a game plan that he could take full advantage of. Danielson has some extended control and does various painful looking things. I’ve written before how much I wish we lived in world where Dragon was able to fight the Busick’s, Thatcher’s and Gulaks of today’s indie scene. I really can’t say it enough. I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone in which they felt that CM Punk wouldn’t be able to keep up with today’s indie crop. That may or may not be true, but I don’t think we will ever reach a point where someone would wonder aloud if Danielson could keep up. I hope in 40 years some super smart doctor makes a pill that makes your brain healthy and we get a run of Dragon as a 75 year old stretching tiny randoms in the 2056 King of Trios tournament. He’ll look like a smaller version of Rupert from Survivor.
Danielson keeps the pressure on offense and slowly starts to increase the pace. This leads to a near fall for Danielson, but soon after KENTA is able to fight back out of the turnbuckle and hit Danielson with an ace crusher. KENTA starts to finally break out his go to offense, and hit Dragon with some hard kicks, including one right to the bicep. It leads to Danielson selling the dead arm, which is eerily reminiscent of how he looked when he would get a stinger later in his WWE days. The crowd starts chanting “this is awesome” after a kick to the face on an attempted tope, and I distinctly remember turning to the person next to me and saying that I thought they were going to go to a time limit draw. This is laughable watching it back because they are working at an absolutely insane pace, but I guess there was something so even about the match that it just felt like it would take a while for it to be settled.
Both fight on the apron and Danielson hits KENTA with an overhead suplex to the floor, which is the spot I remembered from this match more than anything else. I was on the exact opposite side, so it looked like KENTA fell off in to nothing. On the tape, he lands with a pretty distinct and painful sounding thud. Danielson stays on the apron in a rare showing of discretion. When they get back in the ring, Danielson actually starts to use his left arm to throw strikes, selling the kick from earlier. KENTA responds to Danielson selling a limb by initiating a sequence in which they both no sell two or three consecutive suplexes. I’m sure I loved it at the time. Fighting spirit was pretty over in 2007.
KENTA hits the knee off the ropes that Danielson beat John Cena with a few years later. They go back and forth, and KENTA uses Cattle Mutilation. I always love when dudes use each others finishers. I don’t know why. I could see it in every match and never get sick of it. When I was a kid and booking my own action figure fed, the big heel was Cobra Commander, who always won matches with the other guys finisher. He would cut epic shit talking promos about how he didn’t need a move of his own because he could just do yours but even better. Fuck, that still sounds awesome. If Dewey Foley and Max Landis can get jobs for their online ramblings, that should at least get me a position with SmackDown or something, right?
Danielson goes for the superplex but KENTA counters with a running powerbomb that almost goes badly at least three different times. Danielson pays back KENTA in kind and hits Go 2 Sleep. KENTA is having none of it and basically hulks up, but instead of pointing a finger and shouting “YOU” he just slaps the shit out of Dragon. Danielson is able to get the MMA elbows, counter a Go 2 Sleep attempt by KENTA, go back to the elbows, but KENTA had enough left to lift Danielson up and finally hit G2S for the victory.
We left and had a drink or two and made our way to a hotel for the evening. The hotel bar was over run with a wedding reception which was in full swing. Not wanting to deal, we made our way to the room for the night. We had a long day of travel ahead and all that. Almost the moment we walked in to the room, we realized that we could hear the couple in the room behind us. They were doing things that I normally highly encourage two consenting adults to do in a hotel room. They were doing those things with gusto. I turned on the television, and I swear it was like they took it as a personal challenge to make sure that I knew they were fucking. Good for them, cheers, mazel tov, all that, but I can think of better ways to spend an evening with a parent than listening to the groans of anonymous intercourse. I decided to get drunk and made my way down to the bar. It was closing soon, but some party guests took pity on me and I ended up playing pool and drinking Hennessy in the penthouse until about 4 AM.
I valiantly tried to drive the first few hours, desperate to pull my weight enough to hopefully hide my hangover, although of course my mom knew and thought it was pretty hilarious. We stopped for cokes and snacks and switched drivers and I napped for a while and when I came to I realized the same Morrissey album had been playing for the entire two hour block my mother had been driving. I’m sure she had gotten annoyed by it, but she said she didn’t mind. She didn’t want to wake me. It was sweet, and really my fondest memory of the whole trip. I changed the music to something I thought might be a little more of a compromise and looked out the window and saw the sunlight poking out of the clouds either side of the straight Midwestern highway. I made myself stay awake and I was glad of the conversation.