ROH Matches: January 2023

Claudio made his first defense of the ROH World Championship on January 9th, and it was also the first World title defense to take place in the state of Washington:

1 - Claudio vs Woods

ROH World Championship
Claudio Castagnoli vs. Josh Woods

AEW Dark Elevation #97 – Seattle, WA – 1.9.2023

Castagnoli has been champion since 12.10.2022 and this is his first defense. “Smart” Mark Sterling is in Woods’ corner and Wheeler Yuta is in Castagnoli’s corner. Woods scrambles to the ropes when Claudio looks to have him hooked for the Giant Swing. A distraction from Sterling allows Woods to pop Claudio’s knee and smash it into the canvas repeatedly. Woods continues to attack Claudio’s knee, but Claudio picks up momentum with an uppercut out of the corner. He strikes Woods across the ring and pummels him in the opposite corner before pulling him into a short-arm clothesline. When it looked as if Claudio was going to try the Giant Swing again, Woods pulled Claudio down into an ankle lock on his bad leg. Woods pulls him up into a leg-capture German suplex for two. Claudio weaves out of a double underhook and drops Woods into a Giant Swing. Claudio has to let go early because of his knee, and Woods knee strikes him in the chin for a two count. Woods attacks Claudio’s knee to block a superplex and brings down Claudio with a super neckbreaker for two. Claudio elbows his way out of a Chaos Theory. He blocks a rolling forearm smash from Woods with a European uppercut for the pin at 7:06. Even more than the Giant Swing being a finisher now, I love that the uppercut was established as a move that could lead to a knockout victory. This match was excellent – a simple story executed effectively. More Josh Woods in ROH matches, please. ***

Athena would then defend the Women’s World title the following night, the first defense of the Women’s title in Oregon:

2 - Athena vs Shafir

ROH Women’s World Championship
Athena vs. Marina Shafir

AEW Dark #178 – Portland, OR – 1.10.2023

Athena has been the champion since 12.10.2022 and this is her third defense. Vickie Guerrero is in Shafir’s corner. Shafir denies the Code of Honor and takes dowN Athena with a waistlock. Athena retreats to the outside. Athena trips Shafir from the floor, causing the back of Shafir’s head to hit the mat. Athena then swings Shafir’s legs so that her head hits the ring post. Athena cranks on Shafir’s neck, but Shafir ankle picks Athena to maneuver her into a cross armbreaker attempt. Athena muscles Shafir up into a single-armed powerbomb to escape. Athena ducks a chest kick and thrust kicks Shafir in the chin. Shafir boots Athena to the floor and Athena decides to grab her title belt and leave. Shafir stops her with two Judo throws onto the entrance ramp. In the ring, Shafir ducks a kick and powerbombs Shafir out of a horse collar position. Athena throws herself forward when Shafir gets her in a rear-naked choke, but Shafir sits up after a few moments and goes to re-apply the hold. Athena this time climbs to the second rope and falls backwards when she begins to fade. Shafir recovers first from the fall. Athena stomps on Shafir’s bare toes and heel to stop her onslaught and forearms her in the side of the head. Shafir gets a mount but Athena pulls her by her waistband to send her to the floor. Athena wipes her out with an elbow suicida before sending her into the ring steps and following in with double knees. Shafir fights out of a crossface back in the ring, so Athena hooks her tights in a lateral press to get the pin at 12:02. Outside of the two title wins for Mercedes and Athena, this is the most convincing a challenger has looked in an ROH Women’s title match since the Khan purchase. Shafir was instantly convincing as she relentlessly attacked Athena, and with Athena having to take shortcuts or get lucky to turn the match in her favor. It was also very different from most of the other women’s title matches we have seen which helps. It’s too bad matches like this are an afterthought on YouTube. ***¼

Someone in AEW finally realized that maybe Athena shouldn’t be defending against non-contracted women like Mercedes did on several occasions, and that instead, they could hold Eliminator matches. That happened on the following week’s Dark: Elevation:

3 - Athena vs Zhang

ROH Women’s World Championship Eliminator Match
Athena vs. Zeda Zhang

AEW Dark Elevation #98 – Los Angeles, CA – 1.16.2023

If Zhang is victorious, she will earn a future ROH Women’s World title match. She was in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. Athena broke a waistlock by running Zhang throat-first into the top rope and then knocked her down with a big boot. Athena choked her in the corner with her boot. She traps Zhang in the corner, gives her a backbreaker across her own back, and then applies a modified crossface while fishhooking Zhang with both hands until Zhang submits at 2:05. Nice and squashy.

Athena looked to stomp Zhang onto the Women’s title after the match, but Yuka Sakazaki came to her rescue. Sakazaki dizzied Athena with numerous forearm smashes. Athena rolled to the outside, Sakazaki made sure Zhang was OK, and then held up the ROH Women’s title indicating her interest. That would be an excellent match.

Speaking of the Women’s title, it became the first title to be defended outside of AEW/ROH since Tony Khan purchased the company. Athena took the title to Prestige Wrestling and put it on the line against the current EVE Champion:

4 - Athena vs Miyu Yamashita

ROH Women’s World Championship
Athena vs. Miyu Yamashita

Prestige Wrestling “Vendetta” – Pomona, CA – 1.21.2023

Athena has been the champion since 12.10.2022 and this is her fourth defense. Yamashita tires of the champion stalling on the floor and mocking her with a dance and takes out her frustrations with numerous kicks. She also drops the champion stomach first directly onto her knees. Athena uses the ring apron to sweep out Yamashita’s legs from underneath her, and swings her legs so that her head hits the ring post. Athena jams Yamashita’s leg into the ring apron twice and then slams it into the ring post. Athena stomps on her leg when Yamashita turns the tide back in the ring. Athena slams Yamashita’s knees into the canvas for a two count. Yamashita elbows Athena’s in the face and kicks her in the gut. She hits a couple of quick strikes before landing a chest kick for two. When Yamashita goes for another kick, Athena catches her leg and pulls her down into a grapevine heel hook. Yamashita uses her other leg to kick her way out of it and lands a running chest kick. Athena knocks Yamashita to the floor with a forearm smash to the face. Yamashita cuts off Athena’s dive attempt with a kick to the side of the head. Athena turns the tide on the ring apron, shoving Yamashita shoulder first into the ring post before giving her a belly-to-back suplex on the ring apron. Yamashita halts Athena on the top turnbuckle and begins her down with a super Death Valley Driver for two. Athena trips Yamashita to end a strike exchange and rolls her up into a front slam off of her shoulders for a two count. Athena locks her in a crossface. Yamashita reverses into a pin attempt and scores with a high kick when Athena kicks out. Athena ducks a skull kick and lands a superkick. Yamashita wipes her out with a Black Mass and thinks she won the title, but she did not see Athena’s foot under the rope. The celebration is cut short for Yamashita and the match continues. Athena takes advantage of Yamashita and the referee fighting over the title belt, clobbering Yamashita with the title as the referee isn’t looking and pinning her at 20:59. Terrible ending to a pretty solid match. If these types of finishes are needed for outside title matches, maybe it’s for the best to not have outside title matches anymore. Overall this was good, but too long, and at one point they just abandoned the narrative of Yamashita’s leg completely. ***

Tragedy struck on January 17th, when Jay Briscoe passed away in a car accident at 38 years old. AEW held a tribute show after the Dynamite tapings the next day in Fresno, CA, with Tony stating it would not be the only tribute to the thirteen time tag champion. The following week, Mark Briscoe would honor his brother in the main event of Dynamite against another ROH staple:

5 - Mark vs Lethal

Mark Briscoe vs. Jay Lethal
AEW Dynamite #173 – Lexington, KY – 1.25.2023

Sonjay Dutt is in Lethal’s corner. Appropriately, Bobby Cruise is the ring announcer for the contest, and Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman join Excalibur on commentary. After chopping each other in the corners, Mark takes down Lethal with a single-leg basement dropkick. Mark utilizes his brother’s ratchet neckbreaker after taking Lethal’s hip toss/dropkick combo. Lethal knocks him to the floor with an enzuigiri and follows with a suicide dive. Back in the ring, Briscoe fights his way out of a chinlock and knocks down Lethal with a flying karate chop to the top of the head. Briscoe scores a nearfall with an Iconoclasm. Lethal drops to a knee to avoid the Jay Driller and drops Briscoe with the Lethal Combination. He drops Briscoe with the Lethal Injection, but Briscoe wisely rolls to the floor to avoid being pinned. Briscoe knocks Lethal off the top turnbuckle when he sees him perched. He follows that up with a Spicy Dropkick and a blockbuster off of the ring apron. Mark places Lethal on the timekeeper’s table and puts him through it with a Froggy Bow! Mark fights for a Jay Driller back in the ring, finally getting it after countering a Lethal Injection with a pair of lariats, pinning Lethal at 12:26. To have a match this good under these circumstances is remarkable. If my brother passed away suddenly, I couldn’t imagine being mentally fit to do much of anything, let alone travel to another state and wrestle. How Mark kept it together and seemed to be in good spirits the whole match is remarkable. It’s impossible to critique this match without consdering the emotional weight behind this – I almost lost it when Mark was announced as “one-half” of the Ring of Honor tag team champions. This was a fantastic tribute to Jay Briscoe. ****

6 - Claudio vs Christian

ROH World Championship
Claudio Castagnoli vs. Blake Christian

AEW Dark Elevation #100 – Lexington, KY – 1.30.2023

Castagnoli has been champion since 12.10.2022 and this is his third defense. Claudio immediately dropkicks Christian at the bell to get a quick two count. He does some damage to Christian’s midsection before dropping an elbow directly on his chest. Christian low bridges the top rope to send Claudio to the floor. Claudio however press slams Christian face first onto the ring apron and then drives him back first into the ring post. Christian earns a moment of reprieve with a back elbow, but is quickly taken back down with a backbreaker. Claudio double stomps him on the chest for two. Christian gets his boots up in the corner to stop an attack. He gives Claudio a modified bulldog and a back handspring heel kick. He spears Claudio on the ring apron and follows up with a Fosbury Flop. Christian lands a top rope double stomp onto Claudio’s neck for two. After a rolling Death Valley Driver, Christian lands a springboard 450 Splash for two. When Christian goes for a running double stomp, Claudio rolls over to his back, catches Christian, rolls him down to the mat and muscles him up into the Ricola Bomb. Christian passes out in the Giant Swing, giving Claudio the victory at 7:17. Truthfully, Claudio’s response to Christian’s perseverance and endurance did more for Christian than any of the impressive offense he produced. That isn’t to take away from Christian, but it goes to show just how great Claudio is at helping make wrestlers look good. It helped make him seem like a credible opponent and like an obstacle Claudio had to work hard to overcome. A solid title match to end the month. **¾

ROH matches no longer being on AEW TV is a double-edged sword. I appreciate and think it is better for both groups to keep them separate, but it does mean a lot more work needs to be done to watch these ROH title matches, which less committed fans are unlikely to do. I wonder if the interest in ROH raised by Jay’s passing will sustain, as morbid as that may sound.

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