Omne trium perfectum – ‘’Everything comes in threes is perfect’’. This Latin phrase, although not grammatically correct today seems very apt when one mentions the CM Punk and Samoa Joe trilogy in Ring of Honor in 2004.
A lot of people will have their own opinion on what their favourite trilogy of wrestling matches are, sure you can make a great argument for Flair/Steamboat or maybe the The Rock/Steve Austin? Both of those trilogies are pretty much perfect, but in my humble opinion the Punk/Joe series is the best and my personal favourite.
This is my first article for The Indy Corner and I wanted to recap on why these Punk/Joe matches still stand up today and are as relevant a benchmark to wrestling perfection that you will find. If you haven’t checked them out, do so, now, RIGHT NOW! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it and re-watching these epic matches.
In June 2004, Samoa Joe was THE man and in the middle of a legendary ROH World Title run. He captured the belt in March 03 and his reign had eclipsed the 1 year mark. He had already defeated several challengers, he was booked strong, had a killer move set and was massively over, there seemed to be no one in sight that could dethrone Joe, However, a young kid from Chicago seemed to have other ideas….
CM Punk was fresh off the back from his recent blood feud with Chris Hero in IWS Mid South and had Samoa Joe in his sights. Joe and Punk had legitimate respect for one another, this feud wasn’t about personal hatred or disrespect, it was simply two excellent workers believing one was better than the other and it magic!!!
The first match took place at ROH World Title Classic in Dayton Ohio, on the 12th June 2004.
Les Thatcher came out pre-match and presents Joe with a new ROH Title belt for making the World Title a ‘’A World Title’’… Whatever that means.
What follows is probably one of the most hard-hitting matches you will see; the first third of the match is surprisingly based around striking and high tempo chain wrestling. More often than not in longer wrestling matches the mat work will take much stronger precedence early doors, to preserve energy for the later match periods… Not with Punk/Joe though.
The two rip into each other strong kicks, forearms and strikes. Both push the limits of their fitness as both are blowing by end of the second third. What still surprises me is the sheer amount of offense both gets in within the match.
As the end of the match draws close, the near falls get more and more dramatic. Joe in particular, is out on his feet at this point and hits hard at Punk but Punk keeps on coming even if a Joe lariat takes his head off.
The 60-minute time limit expires and a draw is probably a fair result, this match would be my favourite of the 3 if it weren’t for the painfully obvious spot calling in the second half of the match.
The second match took place on the 16th October 2004 in Chicago, Punk’s hometown. The event is simply called ‘’Punk vs Joe II’’
This match was built on Punk’s brilliant strategy of trying to wear the much larger Samoa Joe down in their previous match and make it go as long as possible. Joe was game, though, and survived for a draw in Ohio. Now, we get the rematch.
The match starts just as furiously as the previous one, lots of stiff strikes, submissions, we even get an Undertaker style ropewalk as Punk leg drops the arms to set up a hammerlock.
Although this match is in Chicago which as I mentioned is Punk’s home town, there is still lots of support for Joe. Much like the first at the end of the second third, both men are well and truly out on their feet, the fitness levels are insane as the strikes and signature moves keep coming. Dramatic near falls aplenty, with crowd red hot and heavily invested throughout this contest.
A minor gripe of mine from their first bout was the loud spot calling, you can hardly hear it here but you can see them set up some spots, this probably isn’t fair criticism as after nearly two hours of some of the best pure and strike wrestling yours truly had seen up to this point, both performers probably can be forgiven for helping each other out, a minor gripe none the less.
The finish to the match comes when both tease their respective finishers, Punk’s Pepsi Plunge and Joe’s Muscle Buster, Punk gets Joe up for the Pepsi Plunge but Joe wriggles out of it as he hoists Punk up for the Muscle Buster, the time limit expires!!! (At 59:57 – on my IPhone timer as I was re watching, RIP OFF!!)
Both Punk and Joe are out on their feet after the match and so is yours truly, after I re watched these matches for this piece I remember feeling exhausted after this one – a bona-fide classic wrestling match and quite possibly the greatest match ROH had produced up until that point. Great plans that almost came off with great ring psychology from Punk, great execution and hard work from Joe too.
This is what you want from a pro wrestling match, Dave Meltzer was clearly on my wave length too as he awarded the match the prestigious 5 stars rating, which up until that point was the first 5 star award in North America for 7 years.
Backstage, Punk says he could pin Joe with the Pepsi Plunge, but he’s not sure Joe could pin him with the Muscle Buster. He wants a no-time-limit match next time. Joe says Punk couldn’t beat him, so he’s not getting another shot. The object of the match is to win, not to survive. Great stuff – Both have always been so good on the mic.
The third and final part of this masterpiece takes place in Elizabeth, NJ. Leading up to this match, the video packages by ROH put over comments made by both stars after their second match, they’re well done and the no time limit stipulation of this one also adds an edge. After two time limit draws, two classic matches and with a feud built on respect…. WE NEED TO SEE A WINNER!!
The third match kicks off as both get streamers, Joe again gets the lesser of the boos from the audience.
The hard-hitting stuff continues with strikes and submission work as crisp as ever from both guys. Punk hits a lot more aerial stuff in this one and Joe is trying to keep Punk grounded, looking for the STF… Maybe Punk’s comments about him not being able to pin him with the Muscle Buster are playing on his mind?
Not likely, as they build towards the conclusion of the match both guys hit their finishers and both kick out for the usual heart stopping near falls. The finish is superbly done – The crowd starts chanting loudly for both men as they forearm each another. Joe rolls Punk up in the corner and tries to use the ropes for leverage but it only gets two and the crowd completely turns on him. (He was the crowd favourite for most of the series and match so far). Bloody great stuff! Punk goes for a rollup but Joe pulls him into the choke, He hits a German suplex and a dragon suplex, the dragon suplex looked especially vicious as Joe puts the choke back on. All the crowd support in the world can’t keep Punk from passing out, giving the match to Joe and the win after 3 hours of wrestling……
The first match saw problems with spot calling and some sloppiness. This match didn’t have any of these issues; this match is so much better than the first match.
The second match was perfection, it has everything a wrestling fan wants – smooth mat work and chain wrestling, big spots, signature moves and dramatic near falls aplenty.
This was shorter than the other two matches, but this didn’t matter as it achieved everything it needed too. Joe got over as a killer and still looked brutally strong, they got the ROH Title over as the best and most prestigious title since the old NWA Title in the Race/Flair days. Punk also looked very strong in defeat, he didn’t tap and wasn’t pinned, and he simply passed out from the pain of the submission. Everyone looked great coming out of this feud and left the fans wanting more – This is how you create legends.
This ladies and gentleman, in my opinion is the reason why the Punk/Joe trilogy is the greatest trilogy of matches of all time and still stands up today as the benchmark of a great feud and a great match.
Thanks for reading – please tweet me with any comments you have and follow me on Twitter at @pattmitt