This was a commissioned review from frequent contributor Kai. You can be like them and pay me to write about anything you would like also, be it a match, a series of matches, a show, or whatever. The going price is $5/match (or if you want a TV show or movie, $5 per half hour), obviously make sure I haven’t covered it before (and ideally come with a link). If that sounds like a thing you’d like to do, head on over to www.ko-fi.com/elhijodelsimon and do that. If you have an idea more complex than just listing matches and multiplying a number by five, feel free to hit the DMs and we can work something out.
I don’t know if this was something that the reader who commissioned this piece ever knew, but this is genuinely one of my favorite matches of all time.
That doesn’t mean I think it’s one of the best matches of all time, of course, so much as that if someone hypothetically paid me to list my 100 favorite matches, or maybe even 50, this is one that would probably make the cut. Not that it isn’t a genuinely incredible match, but that when discussing it, I do need to admit my bias. Not only in the sense that this has several of my favorite wrestlers of all time in something near the peaks of their powers (in Jimmy Rave’s case, 2005 is absolutely is the peak, and Aries’ is 2004-5 for certain, but longer-term successes like Shelley, Sydal, and Roddy have far more open cases), but because I actually saw this live.
I used to have grandparents in Dayton, Ohio, where this show happened, and I had this habit in the mid to late 2000s of visiting them in windows that JUST SO HAPPENED to line up with Ring of Honor shows. This habit ended with November 2008’s truly awful show, and it isn’t like I went to Dayton shows anywhere near as often as Chicago Ridge or even Detroit shows, but I went to a nice little handful here, including this one. It wasn’t my first Ring of Honor show ever, that would be NOWHERE TO RUN (5/14/2005), in which I genuinely bought a ticket to see CM Punk destroy Jimmy Rave inside a steel cage, an experience that sounds like it should have died out in like 1987, but that only speaks to the power of both men in those roles. This show, REDEMPTION, was my second. I had a very rare opportunity here in that I would be going back to Illinois early the next day with my cousin, and actually made both this and PUNK: THE FINAL CHAPTER, and outside of like Money in the Bank 2011 or All Out 2021, it’s maybe my favorite experience as a wrestling fan. This match isn’t quite as much of a reason for that as something like James Gibson winning the ROH Title in the main event or CM Punk’s departure on the next night’s show were, but it’s a really great match that I just so happened to see with my own eyes in person at a formative age.
Now, this is a great match without all of that attached to it, of course, but if your opinions on this match do not totally line up with the megaton of praise I am about to heap upon this bad boy, that’s why.
It also helps that, given what it is going for, it is absolutely perfect.
This is not a match that necessarily aims to be a Great Match, but that through the complete airtight perfection in every facet of the thing, winds up there anyways.
Really, truly, and genuinely, every inch of this thing is great. We don’t often think of ROH midcard matches — even Peak ROH ones — as being the kinds of matches I often describe as being alarmingly self-confident and surefooted, but this really is. Stunningly so. This is maybe sixteen or, at most, seventeen minutes, and not an inch of it is misspent. The offense is pristine and crisp as hell. The selling is very good. The construction is immaculate. Every single thing that happens in this match either rocks or matters, and more often than not, they tick off both of those boxes, while also featuring six (6) different outstanding performances.
Each member of Generation Next is great in this.
The real strength of this match lies in the fact that while it is a window into several of the best wrestlers of all time at their very best, it is hard to pick out any one of them as the MVP of the match. Everyone contributes something real and important to the success of this, it is hard to imagine this without any of the six of them, and yet, they all feel like they contribute in equal measure.
Generation Next, first of all, are phenomenal babyfaces.
Firstly and most obviously, there is the all-time best wrestler of the six, the Rod Dog. Roderick Strong in 2005 is as good as it got for the guy before he really figured it all out in 2014. Booking helped, but as a new force on the scene doing a lot of things people hadn’t seen before, Roderick Strong was one of the most exciting wrestlers in the entire world, and it is all on display here. His hot tag in the back third of this thing is incredible. Fast, furious, cool as hell, super efficient, it’s all there. Part of that has to do with raw construction, but his execution and the fire he brings to this help so much. If the match has a weakness, maybe it is that with current eyes, it is hard to feel any sympathy for Austin Aries. Even at the time, he was never all that natural of a babyface. And yet, he does very well in peril here, and the snap on everything he does is another thing that helps the match out so much. Matt Sydal gets the least attention of the three, which is maybe odd in a match specifically framed as Sydal’s test to get into Generation Next, but he is just so great as an underdog babyface. Naturally likeable on top of being one of the most remarkable athletes of the generation, he’s the best underdog babyface of the mid 2000s, and maybe the entire decade. It is not on its absolute best display in this match, but everything Sydal gets to do here from his early offensive to his crucial cut off in the clutch is really great.
As great as Our Heroes (and also Austin Aries) are on one side, The Embassy is maybe even better on the other.
Most obviously, Abyss is perfect in Ring of Honor in a way that he never really was anywhere else. TNA being TNA restricted him in a lot of ways, a big-but-not-monsterous guy at the whims of often suspect booking, but as a big man in a promotion full of mostly smaller wrestlers and cast in the perfect role to accentuate that, I’ve never liked Abyss more. Shelley and Rave are just as great in what they get to do. Shelley is a perfect stooge, who also has the ability to get really and truly mean when the period of control on Austin Aries calls for it. Jimmy Rave, as previously mentioned, is on the roll of his lifetime in 2005. I genuinely do not believe there was a better working heel on the planet than 2005 Jimmy Rave, or that there have been too many better ones in wrestling history. Everything he does is disgusting and contemptable. As opposed to Shelley and Abyss — presented as capable wrestlers who can turn the tide cleanly through scientific ability and raw power respectively — Jimmy Rave is an all-time great example of the sort of heel that cuts off anything respectable about themselves. He doesn’t spend the entire match cheating, of course, but nothing he does is cool on any level. Basic offense, cheap little shots here or there, and even when he does a little thing that kicks ass or a cool move, the smug little look on his face or the way he carries himself undercuts it. Again, Jimmy Rave is the only wrestler who I have ever explicitly paid to see get beaten up, and while this match is not his best work of this period, it is a stellar example of just why I was motivated to do that only three months earlier.
This is one of my favorite stable iterations of all time, and in this match — as with the few others they ever got to have together — you really get to see why. Not only three wildly different wrestlers all doing career level work, but working together in perfect synchronicity as well. A genuinely perfect act.
Something else this match does so well is that it never goes exactly the way you think that it’s going to.
Certainly, this is a formula tag team match, but the small changes make such a big difference here. They are all so gifted at just slightly modifying things in a way that is unexpected, opening you up as a viewer for greater hits down the line. You expect the smaller man Matt Sydal to get isolated here, especially with the way that this was built up for him. In actuality, it is more impressive for him to face those odds, only to fight through it and not suffer that fate, proving himself in a different way than one might expect, even down to him providing the big cut off at the end rather than the obvious pinfall win. It makes him look better for doing so, while also making The Embassy itself look stronger for isolating the leader of Generation Next in Austin Aries. Similarly, the match is full of these great teases and payoffs, things like Roddy being unable to lift Abyss initially, but building to it and him succeeding with help from Aries and Sydal.
Following a great Strong vs. Rave run at the end, it’s Sydal who comes through by cutting off The Embassy’s tank in Abyss with his all-time gorgeous Moonsault dive, allowing for Roddy to get Rave one on one. He hits him with the Half Nelson Backbreaker, and then Aries follows up immediately off of a tag with the 450 Splash for the win. It’s not only an outstanding finishing stretch, but one that wastes zero time, and that leaves so much on the table for the next four months. There’s a real urgency to it, on top of everything else that it does so well.
It feels rude to call this a miracle in any sense, given the talent involved, but an all-time great example of what I am looking for when I talk about things like raw efficiency and talent and booking working together perfectly. Every centimeter of this thing is great for a million different reasons, every wrestler in it more than delivers on what they are asked to do, everything goes as perfectly as it ever could, and the result is one of the best ever versions of the kind of match that this is going for.
While not the spreadsheet monster or widely heralded epic that like twenty other 2005 Ring of Honor matches are, it’s as great an example of any of them of why, truly, there may not be any greater year for a promotion than this.