Everyone loves a good underdog story. We all love to watch the smaller, unlikely hero fight against insurmountable odds and conquer the bigger villain. That’s the mindset a lot of people had in the 2000s, when Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling came along to challenge WWE’s hegemony over the American wrestling landscape.
TNA was the underdog that tried to stand up to WWE by bringing to wrestling fans that which WWE did not. One of the things TNA did better for a long time was its X-Division. The X-Division was basically a cruiserweight division without weight limits. That meant that anyone could compete for the division’s title as long as they brought their A-game.
This match featured three of the best and most athletic wrestlers not signed to WWE at that point. AJ Styles was a rising star and former X-Division Champion who was known for his incredible high-flying offense and technical precision. Christopher Daniels was the cocky and clever defending champion. Finally, there was Samoa Joe, the 275-pound undefeated submission expert who could go toe-to-toe with either opponent.
As a reminder, I am reviewing 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.
This match took place on September 11, 2005 in Orlando at a PPV called Unbreakable and it was the main event of that show.
Daniels starts with some trash-talking, but then gets double-teamed by both Styles and Joe. Joe hits a snapmare and both he and Styles hit stiff soccer kicks to Daniels’ back. He gets up and shouts ‘stop kicking me’, but Styles and Joe trip him up and the crowd cheers. Styles then turns on Joe and gets three consecutive 2-counts via quick pins. Joe locks in a scissored armbar, but Daniels breaks it up. Daniels whips Styles and hits a great dropkick. Joe chops Daniels’s chest and then hits a vicious enziguri sending Daniels out of the ring.
Joe hits hard strikes on Styles but Daniels trips him up as he runs to the ropes. Daniels hits a combination bulldog/dropkick on both of them, sending Styles to the mat, but his pin is broken up by Joe at 2. The fans start chanting ‘fallen angel’ as Daniels and Joe exchange strikes. Styles gets whipped into the corner and Joe whips Daniels into Styles. Daniels tries to repeat the same combination move from earlier, but Joe reverses that into a lifting one-arm slam. Styles hits a running headscissors onto Joe, followed by more hard kicks. Styles goes for a running jumping strike on Joe, but Joe hits an overhead suplex to reverse that.
Joe hits a facewash as Styles sits in one corner and prepares to hit the running facewash, but Daniels cuts him off and tackles Joe out of the ring. Running baseball slide by Daniels followed by a picture-perfect springboard split-legged moonsault onto Joe out of the ring. The two of them brawl outside as Styles hits a springboard shooting star press onto both of them. Wow. The fans chant ‘holy shit’ and I agree with them.
Styles pins Joe back in the ring but gets a two-count. He sends Joe running the ropes and hits another dropkick for two again. Daniels gets back in and whips Styles into the corner opposite Joe. He tries to whip Joe into styles, but Joe reverses that, sending Daniels into Styles. Daniels attempts a monkey flip on Styles, but Styles catches Joe and hits him with a hurricanrana. Wow, I thought for sure Joe was going to hit a powerbomb there. The crowd goes nuts and gives them a standing ovation and begin chanting “TNA”.
Styles charges Joe and is thrown out of the ring from a great height. Daniels slaps Joe disrespectfully, but Joe fires back with multiple hard strikes. Daniels reverses a strike and tries a roll-up, but Joe reverses that into the Coquina Clutch in the middle of the ring. Joe has Daniels in the centre of the ring, but Styles hits the Spiral Tap to break up the hold. Styles tries to pin each man, but only gets a two-count each time.
Daniels knees Joe and hits a reverse STO, but Styles crotches him on the top rope as he prepares for the Best Moonsault Ever (BME). Styles ties Daniels in the tree of woe and hits stiff kicks, but Joe enziguri’s Styles and then hits a running dropkick on Daniels as he’s still hung upside down. The fans then chant ‘this is awesome’ back when that was rare.
Reverse atomic drop by Joe followed by a sick running kick and a horrifying-looking senton, but Styles kicks out at 2.5. Joe kicks Daniels, but Daniels reverses into a Death Valley driver for 2, but Styles breaks that pin up. Styles attempts a vertical suplex and then he gets tossed out of the ring. The two of them attempt various moves on each other ringside and start slugging it out, but here comes Joe out of nowhere with an over-the-top-rope corkscrew plancha. Everyone – including the commentators – is losing their minds.
Joe attempts the muscle buster only for Daniels to power out. Styles climbs onto the same turnbuckle Daniels is on, and then Joe climbs it as well and tosses both of them off that top turnbuckle. Crazy!
Joe and Styles have a back-and-forth strike exchange, but Joe ducks a kick and hits a heaving German suplex and then plants Styles with the Muscle Buster. Daniels charges Joe with the X-Division title belt only for Joe to reverse that into a snap powerslam. Joe smack-talks Daniels while holding the title, but Daniels kicks the title into the side of Joe’s head.
Daniels brawls with Styles now, and then hits a blue thunder bomb for a 2.75-count. Lifting slam by Daniels, and then hits the BME but Joe breaks that up and kicks Daniels’ chest in. Snapmare by Daniels followed by the Last Rites rolling cutter, which sends Joe back out of the ring. Daniels whips Styles into the ropes but Styles blocks that and hits the Phenomenal DDT for a 2.5. Styles is up first and climbs the turnbuckle, but Daniels cuts him off. They punch each other on that top turnbuckle and Daniels nails a huge superplex. Joe crawls in and pins both of them and they each kick out at 2.
Folding powerbomb by Joe gets a 2.5 and then Joe locks in the STF, but gets the rope to break it. Joe hits uppercuts to Styles, then AJ hits the Pele kick right away, followed by a Rack Bomb for 2.5. Daniels strikes Styles and slams him onto Joe. Styles blocks a suplex, Daniels elbows out of a waist lock, Styles rolls through and plants Daniels with the Styles Clash. Joe breaks that up at 2.9. Awesome nearfall.
Joe tosses Styles out of the ring and whips Daniels, but Daniels ducks and Joe ends up diving out of the ring. Styles crawls back in and he and Daniels brawl yet again. Daniels hits a thumb to Styles’ eye and goes for the Angel’s Wings, but Styles reverses that and bridges to score the 3-count and wins the match and the title. It went 22:50.
Winner and new TNA X-Division Champion after 22:50: AJ Styles
This was an excellent wrestling match between three of the best wrestlers TNA had at the time. There was an ungodly amount of reversals and counter-reversals in this match. Watching this bout you felt like all three of these guys had known each other for years and had each other’s moves scouted perfectly. There were so many awesome sequences. I especially loved when Daniels tried to monkey flip Styles into Joe and I was 100% sure Joe was going to drop Styles with a huge folding powerbomb. But Styles reversed his way out of that with a split-second Hurricanrana that came out of nowhere. This was everything you’d want to see in a match between three outstanding grapplers.
Each one of them played their respective roles perfectly. Joe was the unbeatable monster that had the power advantage, which he used to great effect. His strikes and throws looked brutal, which made his pinfall attempts more believable. Styles was the innovator and the creative one that used so many unique and incredible moves. Finally, Daniels was the crafty genius that kept finding his way into the right spots to keep the match going strong. There also wasn’t a single dull moment in this match; no boring rest-holds, no lengthy periods of all three being supine and no slow or plodding sequence.
Finally, what made this match so great was that it made total sense. There was a story of Daniels thinking he was the better champion and also there was the fact that Joe was going into this match undefeated. Both of those stories evolved after this match ended. Daniels lost via sudden bridge and Joe was not involved in the decision, meaning that he was technically still unpinned and had never submitted. Logic prevailed in this match.
Final Rating: *****
This match earned that rating for sure. This was an exciting wrestling classic between three phenomenal grapplers (pun definitely intended). When this match ended, four things had been proven. First, that Samoa Joe was one of the top workers around and that he was more than ready for a main-event-level feud. Secondly, that AJ Styles was destined to become a wrestling legend down the road. Thirdly, Christopher Daniels was one of the best wrestlers in the business and he deserved a lot more credit than what he actually achieved. Fourthly, TNA had so much potential to rival WWE properly by fostering its homegrown stars.
Had their bookers gone all in with stars like these guys instead of over-relying on ex-WWE stars, there’s a good chance their success as a company would’ve been much greater.
This was the only TNA match to get the five star rating. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.