(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe - TNA Turning Point 2005

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe - TNA Turning Point 2005

During the immediate years after the Monday Night Wars ended, there was a race for someone to fill the void left by WCW and ECW. The closest anyone came to doing so were Ring of Honor and TNA. TNA eventually became the second-biggest company in the US before AEW came along, and for a while TNA had a good thing going. They had a good balance of established stars of yesteryear with rising stars that were supposed to become the stars of tomorrow. But to reach that level, they had to prove to those that hadn’t seen them before that they were good enough to do so.

That is what AJ Styles and Samoa Joe did here. They put on a classic singles match that made top stars out of both guys. What would be dismissed as just another midcard ‘workers’ match’ ended up being one of the best matches in TNA history. Let’s look back now and see if the praise was well-deserved. Today we revisit the singles match between AJ Styles and Samoa Joe from TNA Turning Point 2005.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

One month earlier at Genesis, Samoa Joe attacked Christopher Daniels in an unprovoked assault, which was condemned for being an utter lack of sportsmanship on Joe’s part. In response, defending X-Division champion A.J. Styles challenged Joe to a match and Joe accepted. Thus a big match was setup. Not only would Styles be defending his X-Divison championship (which he had won three months earlier in an awesome match); but Joe also had his then-undefeated streak at risk as well.

The match

This match originally took place on December 11th, 2005 and was rated ****3/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Looking back now, over fifteen years later, let’s see how well this match holds up.

This is for the TNA X-Division Championship. The bell rings and Styles rushes Joe right away. Styles lands some shoulder thrusts to Joe’s gut and somehow snap suplexes the much heavier Joe. Styles lands some hard kicks and Irish whips Joe, but Joe counters into a step kick. Joe charges, Styles leapfrogs and lands a gorgeous dropkick that downs Joe. The crowd cheers both guys as Styles forearms Joe but Joe fights out and charges but runs into the ropes as Styles dodges him. After a standoff they have a stiff strike exchange and Joe downs styles then kicks him out of the ring.

Joe chops Styles into the barricade and tosses him back into the ring. He tries to suplex Styles over the ropes but Styles counters by dropping Joe’s throat across the top rope. Styles springboards but lands on the apron, and Joe kicks Styles so hard he faceplants on the apron. Joe grabs Styles’s legs and swings him head-first into the steel guardrail. Damn, that looks painful.

Joe whips Styles into another barricade and then lands a running kick to the face. In the ring, Joe snapmares Styles and lands a chop/kick/knee drop combo as the crowd chants his name. Joe lands more hard chops and Styles tries in vain to kick his way to freedom, but Joe immediately shuts him down with one hard kick to the torso. Joe whips Styles but Styles counters and goes for a dropkick but Joe counters into a flapjack. A big running senton gets Joe a two-count. Reverse chinlock. Styles slowly fights out. But Joe shuts him down with a knee lift in the corner. Joe does the facewash with his boot. Styles catches his foot and tries to fight back, but Joe shuts him down again with a hard slap to the mouth. Another running kick to Styles’s face.

Joe kicks at a helpless Styles mockingly. Styles manages to counter an Irish whip but Joe counters him and Styles lands on the apron. Joe cuts Styles off with a kick as Styles tries to re-enter the ring, but Styles lands a sudden enzuigiri. Springboard hurricanrana. No, Joe counters into a folding powerbomb for two. Styles escapes an STF but Joe applies a Boston Crab. Styles reaches the ropes but Joe quickly drags him away and reapplies the hold, but much deeper this time. Styles escapes by kicking Joe in the eye. Joe whips Styles into a corner but Styles ducks and sends Joe out of the ring. Fosbury Flop! AJ flips over the ropes, out of the ring, and onto Joe. Fantastic move.

Styles is in control as he tosses Joe back into the ring. He springboards again and lands the phenomenal forearm to the back of Joe’s head. Joe kicks out. Styles charges, Joe ducks and goes for a dragon suplex. Styles escapes, Joe traps the arms and goes for an X-plex. Styles lands on his feet and springboards again. Phenomenal DDT. Joe kicks out again. Styles charges once more but walks into a snap powerslam. Now it’s Styles’s turn to kick out, so Joe answers by kicking the crap out of Styles. He tries to dodge and tank some of those kicks but Joe just hits too hard. Then Styles ducks a forearm and lands a spinkick.

Styles is bleeding from the mouth and looks to be out of it to the point that he doesn’t know what to do. Then, out of desperation, he goes for the Styles Clash. Joe resists, so Styles kicks him and lands a powerbomb instead. Styles pins but Joe kicks out once again. Styles charges again but gets clotheslined. Joe pins but Styles kicks out at one. High-angle Tiger Driver. Styles kicks out and fires up. Joe charges, Styles ducks him, but Joe turns around and goes for the Coquina Clutch. Styles resists and lands a Pélé kick. Styles puts Joe on the top turnbuckle. He’s going for the Muscle Buster, Joe’s finishing move. Joe fights out. Styles climbs back up. Joe throws him down. Styles pulls Joe down with a powerbomb. Styles Clash! Styles lands the Clash on Joe. One, two, thr—no, Joe kicks out at 2.9. Styles climbs to the top rope but Joe cuts him off by shoving the referee from behind into the ropes. Styles manages to land behind Joe and goes for a roll-up, but Joe counters into the Coquina Clutch. Styles tries to roll over to the ropes. Joe repositions himself to his body blocks Styles’s hand from reaching them. Styles’s arm goes limp. The referee calls for the bell. Joe wins the title and remains undefeated.

Winner and NEW TNA X-Division Champion after 18:58: Samoa Joe

Turning Point 2005: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe

Review

That was an awesome match between two of the top workhorses in wrestling during the mid-2000s. They put on an incredible display of pro wrestling as an athletic contest. At no point did this match feel like a display of over-the-top theatrics or gimmickry. Instead, it came across as a competitive fight that just so happened to involve some wrestling moves in it.

They had a classic Davis vs. Goliath dynamic, with Styles having to rely on his energy and speed early on to try and score some kind of advantage. And while he did land some surprising moves here and there and seemed to get Joe off guard, Joe was just too much for him. Joe was bigger, stronger and a better natural grappler. Whereas Styles excelled with the aerial game and landing sudden moves out of nowhere, Joe was the better ground wrestler and was better at counter-wrestling. And that’s what got Joe the victory in the end. No matter how explosive Styles was, and no matter how much he tried to counter Joe or create an opening, sooner or later Styles would put himself in a risky situation. That came in the form of a pinning clutch, which Joe took advantage of and countered into the Coquina Clutch. From there, it was only a matter of time before Styles tapped out. It was a simple story, but it made sense and they made the most of it.

But Styles never made it easy for Joe. He took an absolute thrashing from Joe and never gave up. He looked for counters and sudden moves out of nowhere whenever possible, and at one point actually seemed close to winning. That was especially the case when he landed the Styles Clash, which seemed almost impossible given how heavy Joe was.  And even though Styles lost in the end, he went down swinging and looked valiant in defeat. By no means did this loss harm Styles; in fact, he looked stronger and more convincing as an underdog hero in defeat while Joe continued his run as the unbeatable monster.

But most importantly, this match never veered into overkill territory. Yes, it was what we’d call an ‘indy-style match’. But it wasn’t filled with the typical pitfalls that seem to have plagued the independent scene over the past twenty years. Sure, the match was more centered on pure athletics and ‘moves’. And Styles landed a lot of ‘death-defying’ high-risk offense, especially the Fosbury Flop (which looked awesome). And yet, these crazy moves from Styles weren’t done just for the sake of doing so; there was a method to his madness. Styles knew from the beginning that he needed to take as many risks as possible to try and win, simply because he was facing a heavier opponent that would out-grapple him if Styles wrestled the match Joe’s way.

But is this a 5-star epic? Sadly, no. Don’t get me wrong; this was a great match when it first took place and it still holds up pretty damn well over fifteen years later. It’s just that, I don’t think they went far enough to really earn that rare distinction of being a mythical, historic epic. Matches in this style were a dime a dozen back then, and this one just happened to be more polished and focused than most of them. But I think it still lacks some qualities to bring it up to that next level of greatness. This match took place three months after TNA’s legendary triple threat match, which featured everything this match had and then some. When you compare the two matches, this one comes off as blatantly inferior. While it’s less chaotic because it features two wrestlers instead of three, it also features less raw tension and unpredictability. This was definitely a match that would’ve benefitted from more time. Though the ending seemed abrupt and made sense in the context of the match, I think that was a key factor preventing this match from being better.

Final Rating: ****3/4

I don’t usually like agreeing with Meltzer on his ratings, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. This match was tremendous when it first took place and it’s still fantastic now. But there’s no historical significance behind it. Watching it you don’t feel like it’s anything historic or majorly significant. It comes across as the token ‘workrate-heavy’ match that exists on a card to simply to please that subset of fans. Which is disappointing. If these two got maybe five more minutes and went to further heights with the tension and believability of the near-falls, we’d be having a different conversation here.

That being said, both Styles and Joe proved just how good they could be in the ring. This was, for all intents and purposes, a random match for a midcard belt. Yet they made it feel important by wrestling their asses off to make you, the viewer, believe the match could and at almost any time. in that sense it’s like the TNA version of the WWE Intercontinental Championship, before that belt was completely killed off and rendered meaningless.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.