This is another match that was recommended to me by one of our readers here at TJRWrestling. I’ve been told that it’s a genuine classic and one of the best matches of the 2010s. Plus, it features one of the most talked-about wrestlers today, Seth Rollins.
Rollins has many loyal fans and just as many detractors. His tenure in WWE has had its ups and downs, especially in terms of his gimmicks, promos, and overall personality. But one factor has remained more or less consistent with him for almost a decade now: his tendency for great matches. That got me thinking. Was Rollins the same wrestler before WWE? Or did he have to ‘tone things down’ like so many others do when they come work for Vince McMahon?
To answer that question, let’s look back at one of Rollins’ best matches. It’s from his days under the name “Tyler Black”, and in this case, it’s his big title defense against ROH wrestling legend Davey Richards from ROH’s Death Before Dishonor VIII show in 2010.
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.
After Black wrestled Austin Aries to a 60-minute draw at ROH Final Battle 2009, ROH commissioner Jim Cornette booked a rematch for the ROH World Championship on ROH’s eighth anniversary show in February 2010. Black beat Aries to become world champion in that match and hoped to show the world that he really was the best. During his first few months as champion, Black went on a spree of big matches in which he sought to prove to everyone that he was worthy of being champion. He defeated Aries in rematches and also beat new challengers Roderick Strong, Kenny King, and Chris Hero. Then, Cornette reappeared and handpicked a new challenger for the Death Before Dishonour VIII show to be held in Toronto. His chosen challenger was none other than Davey Richards, one of the best wrestlers in ROH history and a very serious threat to Black’s reign.
This match originally took place on June 19th, 2010. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It also came in a very close second in the annual WON awards votes for Match of the Year for 2010 but lost to Undertaker/Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI. Let’s see how well the match holds up now.
This is for Black’s ROH World Championship. A single fan chants “Die, Tyler, Die” loud enough for Black to notice. That fan must be German. The two wrestlers trade holds and technical changes to start things off and then Richards bitchslaps Black. They shove each other until Richards lands some kicks and takes Black to the mat. Black counters with a headscissor but Richards counters into a jackknife cover for a one-count and then grapples out into an STF and then a camel clutch. Black shoots him into the ropes but gets knocked down to the crowd’s delight. Richards gets a two-count off a roll-up and then wrestles into a surfboard stretch. Black counters into a pin for a one-count and then into his own surfboard stretch but lets go as the fans chant “f**k you Tyler”.
They do some chain grappling that ends with Black trapped in a cross-arm choke, but then Black floats over and counters into his own choke. Richards escapes and lands an armdrag into an armlock and then a crucifix but that doesn’t even yield a one-count. Black escapes another armlock and goes for a dropkick but Richards holds onto the ropes. Black lands on his feet, misses a second dropkick, and then rolls into a third and successful dropkick as Richards runs the ropes. Black gets a one-count and lands a slam. Richards sits up to avoid a stomp but gets soccerball kicked instead. a successful stomp gets Black a two-count so he goes to the top rope. He dives…and gets dropkicked in midair. Richards realizes that he has lost a tooth but that only enrages him. He stiffs Black with kicks and then lands a clothesline.
Richards follows with an armtrap cloverleaf hold but Black gets a ropebreak Black kicks out of a back suplex at one so Richard kicks his back once again. Black gets up and slaps Richards so Richards rushes him and hits a flurry of chest kicks in the corner. He hits one corner clothesline but Black hits a pre-emptive clothesline, only to get kicked in the gut for his effort. Richards charges but Black hits him first with an enzuigiri. Both men go down but Richards gets up first and charges. Black gets him onto his shoulders but Richards escapes and goes for a German suplex. Black reverses and goes for an O’Connor roll…into a back suplex…and then tosses Richards to the floor. Black isn’t done. Somersault suicide dive to the floor.
The fans chant “you still suck” at Black as he lands a springboard clothesline into the ring for a two-count. Richards hits a head-butt out of nowhere and then stops Black in his tracks with a back elbow. Black hits back with an elbow followed by his Paroxysm/lifting inverted DDT but only manages a two-count. Black walks over Richards as he goes to the top rope but then Richards cuts him off. Black elbows to stop a super back suplex but Richards keeps trying. Black hits him harder and harder but Richards keeps coming. Eventually, Richards grabs Black’s waist and goes for a top-rope German suplex. Black lands on his feet. Then he lands a big boot, a poisoned Frankensteiner, and an electric chair driver*. One, two, Richards kicks out and rolls to the floor. Black chases him and chops him around the ringside area and then covers in the ring for another two-count. Brainbuster by Black. Richards kicks out. Mounted punches. Richards kicks out again. Chop/kick exchange. Richards lands on his feet to avoid a back suplex and then kicks Black off the apron. Richards follows with a suicide dive through the ropes. He goes so fast he almost misses Black completely and dives into the crowd.
After a long time with both men down, Richards tosses Black into the ring and then they do the yay/boo strike exchange. Richards reverses an Irish whip into a handspring dropkick for a two-count. Another “this is awesome chant” erupts as Richards charges to a corner but Black sends him onto the apron. Black goes for a kick to stop a shoulder check but Richards counters with a dragon screw leg whip through the ropes. Richards follows with a missile dropkick and a chest/calf kick combination. Black blocks a German and goes for his own. Richards lands on his feet and hits a pop-up powerbomb into a Texas cloverleaf. Black gets a ropebreak so Richards slams him and goes to the top rope. Richards lands some punches to send Black back down but Black jumps back up and hits a superplex rolled into a type of F-5. One, two, Richards survives. Black solely climbs a turnbuckle but Richards cuts him off by punching his weakened knee. the two trade punches in the corner and then Richards trash-talks Black. Black hits back with nasty chops and goes for the Phoenix Splash…which misses.
Richards charges again but runs into a boot. Both guys rush each other. Richards rolls into an ankle lock. Black kicks him off, ducks a huge penalty kick and gets covered for another pin. One, two, Black kicks out. Then they do the Danielson/KENTA 2006 quick roll-up exchange. Multiple two-counts for both guys. Richards does the Shawn Michaels bridge into a backslide for another two-count. Then there’s a kick exchange. Black goes for another enzuigiri. Richards jumps, catches his leg in midair, and applies a grapevined ankle lock. Black crawls and crawls until he gets another ropebreak. Richards answers with a bridging German suplex. One, two, Black kicks out again and blocks a suplex to the floor. Black charges but Richards kicks him. Then the suplex to the floor is successful and both wrestlers go down. The two get up fairly soon after the initial fall and trade strikes until Richards boots Black into the crowd. Another wrestler named Shane Hagadorn comes down with a chair. Richards sees him and stops him from getting any closer. The ref sends Hagadorn to the back but Richards has the chair in hand. He turns around…and Black superkicks the chair into Richards’ head. Richards collapses at ringside which gives Black crucial time to recover.
Richards makes it into the ring but Black rushes him and goes for his God’s Last Gift finisher. Richards blocks and sends Black falling out of the ring. Black bounces back up and the two wrestlers trade strikes on the apron. Black gets the upper hand and hits a Paroxysm from the apron to the floor. Nasty landing for both guys. Black gets into the ring fairly quickly but Richards struggles to get up. He reaches the ropes with one hand…and then falls back down. The referee’s getting closer to the count of twenty. Then, at the count of 19.5, Richards musters what little strength he has left and makes it back into the ring to keep the match going. Black can’t believe it. He asks the ref to stop the match but Richards keeps moving so the ref won’t do so. Richards slaps Black defiantly and demands Black hit him back. Big mistake. Black hits a superkick followed by a God’s Last Gift/cradle small package driver. One, two, and th – Richards kicks out. Black signals the end and lands a bucklebomb. He winds up for a superkick. Richards catches his leg and lands another dragon screw. Then he locks in another cloverleaf hold. Black tries crawling to the ropes again. But Richards has learned from earlier and walks back to the middle of the ring. Black tries crawling again. Richards pulls him away a second time. Black rolls over onto his stomach and pulls Richards into a small package pin. One, two, Richards kicks out.
Both guys charge at and boot each other. They’re both so battered and drained they need to use each other to support themselves. Another strike exchange ends with Richards hitting Kawada kicks. But Black hits back with stiff slaps. Richards no-sells and lands more Kawada kicks. Black hits back with even more strikes. Then he charges and runs inti a pop-up middle kick. Superkick from Black. Lariat from Richards. Black kicks out of a pin at 2.9. Richards tries a powerbomb but lacks the strength to keep Black up so he lands even more Kawada kicks. This time he musters his strength and connects with a bucklebomb of his own followed by a kick to the side of Black’s head. Richards signals the end. Double-underhook piledriver. One…two…thr – NO, Black survives.
Richards goes for a shooting star press. Black cuts him off and climbs onto the same turnbuckle. Both men tease big moves from the turnbuckle to the floor or onto the apron. Black walks onto the second rope to land a superkick which traps Richards in the tree of woe not inside the ring but outside. Then Black climbs to the top rope. Diving double stomp to the apron. Black covers in the ring. One, two, and Richards kicks out yet again. The fans chant “match of the year” as Black lifts Richards up once more. Another bucklebomb/superkick combo by Black. Richards, you guessed it, kicks out. The fans chant “you can’t beat him” at Black as Richards continues to stir. Black pulls Richards to his feet but Richards sinks to his knees. That allows Black to hit one more superkick and then a wrist-clutch God’s Last Gift. One, two, and three! There’s the match! Black retains his title and gets loud applause for his efforts.
Winner and STILL ROH World Champion after 34:44: Tyler Black
This was the Frankenstein’s monster of wrestling matches. It was a patchwork of different wrestling styles, series, and wrestler trademarks stitched together to create…something. It had the intensity, stiffness, and sense of escalation of the Misawa/Kawada rivalry (to a limited extent). There was a speed and technical fluidity similar to Pegasus/Sasuke. Both wrestlers invoked Bret/Austin by learning as they went to adapt to what each one was doing to the other. There was even a bit of Michaels or Flair in there with some of the counters and classic spots. But even though the match had all these elements come together…they were still more a patchwork than a single, seamless piece. And the sewing lines dividing them were too wide and glaring to ignore.
The match had a straightforward enough story: the tenacious, never-say-die challenger vs the champion that thought himself the best in the world. The two were evenly matched here with Richards being the superior grappler and technician here while Black had a better grasp of ring awareness and had better timing with his out-of-nowhere counters. There was a clear sense of escalation with Richards becoming more frustrated as the match wore on and Black pulling a trope straight out of Pro Wrestling NOAH with a wrist-clutch variation of his finisher (in NOAH, apparently adding a wrist-clutch to a move = more powerful version of said move). BUT, that sense of escalation was there on the offensive side but not on defense. Both guys sold exhaustion but not pain or damage. They both hit so many moves yet there was no slowness in pace or movement. So both guys only upped the ante when they threw bigger and bigger bombs, but neither one sold said bombs as adding more and more damage onto each other’s bodies. And all the technical wrestling at first and any subsequent limbwork was rendered redundant because none of it had an impact later on.
This match has many similarities with another great match involving Davey Richards that I’ve reviewed before: his match with Michael Elgin from 2012. A major flaw with that match was present here as well, and that was the ridiculous no-selling. I get that Richards was trying to sell his bravado and his tenacity by surviving every big move Black threw at him just like the 1990s All Japan greats. But once again, there was a major difference between them and Richards: those guys slowed down towards the end whereas Richards didn’t. Those AJPW guys built tension by slowly making their way towards their opponents and making a titanic struggle out of simply landing a move successfully. Here, Richards and Black just spammed moves over and over, most of them successfully, and relied on the diminishing returns of constant kick-outs to try and keep the audience enthralled. It got to the point where things were just too ridiculous to believe.
I think that’s a bit of a problem with the so-called modern style wrestling match: if everything is about moves, ‘workrate’ and ‘both these guys’, then what’s the point of having feuds, angles, and emotional investment? If people are only paying to see moves and not a story, what separates a ‘MOVEZ’ match from watching someone play a wrestling video game?
And going back to the question posed at the beginning, was Black/Rollins better in ROH than in WWE? Well if this were the sole metric to answer that question, then no. Save for match length and move variety, Tyler Black was the same wrestler in ROH as Seth Rollins has been in in WWE. Black was very much a ‘performer’ here that lacked a sense of spontaneity. Even though the crowd was ‘smarkish’ to a ludicrous degree, Black barely acknowledged them. He was so hell-bent on having his match that he didn’t take their reactions into account and use them to improve the match. Black wrestled the way he always wrestled. There was no sense that he was really working the crowd or did anything notable to make the crowd rally behind Richards even more. It was like he was a stand-up comedian dealing with an annoying heckler.
But instead of using the heckler’s comments against them, Black just went the bland route and ignored them altogether. I’m not saying he should’ve gone full steam ahead by yelling at fans and making them central to the match. But even doing something simple like slowing the match down, working over a limb, or giving a ‘smart’ crowd the opposite of what they came to see for a short period, would’ve made Black more believable as a wrestler that knows how to strike a chord to sell a ticket. By sticking to what he did best here, Black had to do more work to get the same reaction. He wouldn’t’ve had to go so long and put himself (and his opponent) through such hell to get the same reaction.
Final Rating: ****1/4
At the end of the day, nothing in this match really stood out. Even with so many good moving parts, the match just doesn’t hold up that well over time. Part of that lies in the mechanical performance of at least one wrestler, part of it is that so much of the wrestling is pointless fluff, and part of it is that so many moves were rendered inconsequential.
I think too many modern matches have devolved into this obsession with landing cool moves just for the sake of doing so, instead of wrestlers asking if they should do so. Giving everything a purpose in a match is definitely challenging, but just throwing everything at a wall hoping that something sticks is the wrong alternative solution.
This match is fine to revisit, especially if you’re a big fan of Seth Rollins, Davey Richards, or ROH in general. That said, I recommend watching it on fast forward as watching it at regular speed is likely to really try your patience.