Meltzer’s Classics: Samoa Joe vs Christopher Daniels vs AJ Styles (11/9/05)

It’s been a while since I’ve dived into a five-star classic, so I’ve decided to mix up the formula a bit. Previously, I was going chronologically, but it was proving hard to find certain matches which kept derailing me. Therefore, in a change to your regularly scheduled programming, I’m going to start jumping around history, picking bouts I’m in the mood for, rather than what Father Time dictates. That explains why we’re going straight into a favourite of mine: Styles vs Joe vs Daniels from TNA’s Unbreakable 2005.

It’s been a few years since I watched this, and the first thing that came to mind was that Christopher Daniels was outstanding at this stage of his career. He’s such a prick as right from the start he’s whining for Joe and Styles to ‘STOP KICKING ME!’ before he gets booted into next week. It’s a spot that will be familiar to anyone who read my review of the first ROH show, and it works just as well here as it did then.

Daniels isn’t the only one at the peak of his powers either. Samoa Joe was a fucking beast. For many wrestling fans, including me, he was the first person we saw who was built like a traditional powerhouse but could move like an actual cruiserweight. That combination of speed and strength is intoxicating, as he bounces between bullying his opponents and covering ground like a sprinter.

Which leaves Styles, and truthfully, he is the one who still had a way to go. We’re a few years away from his peak, and while he does some astonishing things (see the Springboard Shooting Star Press or Daniels Monkey Flipping him into a Hurricanrana on Joe), he doesn’t yet have the in-ring presence of the other two. He’s there to do the incredible, while they provide the world-class wrestling.

For here’s the thing folks, three-way-dances are hard. It’s weird that this makes my list of favourite matches because usually, these things are a mess. Even the entertaining ones have to ascribe to a formula that pulls them down. The old two wrestle while one sells trick. It’s a move that this match pulls on a few occasions, but they have a secret weapon. I say secret, it’s pretty obvious what they do. They do it better than everyone else.

It means that while you have moments where people step aside to leave two others to go at it, it’s never for long. Joe will sell for two minutes and then throw himself over the ropes to break up the party he’s been missing. Or Daniels will vanish to the outside before sneaking in, pest-like, to grab an opportunity and take control. The action is so fast that no-one is ever gone for long before they’re thrown back into the wonderful clusterfuck of insane moves and huge spots. Even if you wanted to complain, you never get a chance as for nearly twenty-three minutes these men are going all out.

All of which sounds an awful lot like something you might see in PWG or on a super indie show. It’s impossible not to see the influence this match has had on wrestling in the years that have followed it as it’s worked at a million miles an hour with factors like selling and psychology taking a backseat to the incredible. Don’t get me wrong, those things are still there. Each of these men has a defined role: Joe is the monster, Daniels the pest and Styles the battling babyface. The problem was that less talented wrestlers watched this and took the spectacular while leaving behind the rest.

So, is it still a five-star match? I’m not sure. It’s sublime, and if you dropped this into nearly any company not called NJPW right now, it would still steal the show. There is even a chance it would nick a few New Japan spotlights. However, the finish lets it down. After all that, AJ Styles wins not by doing something jaw-dropping, but by countering Angel Wings into a pin. It’s too sudden, and after the chaos, it feels cheap. TNA valued the rematch over giving us a satisfying conclusion.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact this was one hell of a showing, particularly if you take it in the context of the time it was wrestled. As a young kid who had predominantly watched WWE, stumbling upon this for the first time opened up a whole new world to me. It was a time when TNA’s X Division was one of the best things going, and even if it doesn’t hit that five-star mark, it’s damn close.

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