It’s been billed as the best singles match in ROH for almost a decade. Let’s take a look eh?
In recent weeks Jonathan Gresham has exploded back onto the European scene’s consciousness, largely as a replacement for Kid Lykos… but he’s been bubbling away in the States too, with his most prominent recent rivalry being in Ring of Honor against Jay Lethal. This iron man match aired as the main event on ROH TV #364 – available for free via Fite.tv if you want to catch it with your own eyes…
Iron Man Match for ROH Championship: Jonathan Gresham vs. Jay Lethal (c)
We’ve a 30 minute time limit, so ROH had to do some editing to earlier matches to present this in full.
Gresham got the hometown pop at Atlanta’s Center Stage, but first… commercials!
Tellingly, we have a scoreboard but no clock on-screen, with this match coming days after the WWE crowd made a game of things. Lethal started by working the wrist of Gresham, before he was taken into the corner after a waistlock was blocked. They keep the “slowly, slowly” pattern going, while remaining on each other’s wrists as both men struggled to find a foothold.
The exchanges and counters are really smooth, but tellingly done at a pace to make sure neither man wore themselves out early. Gresham keeps up on Lethal’s wrist as we headed into a commercial, returning to see Lethal charge Gresham off the ropes as the pace looked to quicken a little. The crowd did remain a little quiet though, perhaps falling for the usual trope of “nothing really matters in the early parts of Iron Man matches.”
Still, Lethal was able to build some momentum, returning fire with some chops as he started to wear down the Octopus in the corner, before a full-on chop battle broke out. A snap suplex ends that war, getting Lethal a near-fall as Gresham barely bridged up out of the lateral press, before Lethal went back to the striking game. A suplex is good for a near-fall as Gresham’s rolling up rather than kicking out, but Lethal stays on top of him, squeezing in a chinlock while audibly asking for a time check. That seemed to be the cue for Gresham to fight back with more chops, but we crossed the halfway mark with Gresham on his knees as Lethal looked to be comfortably in control.
Putting the boots to Gresham in the corner, Lethal eventually slips up as a Gresham catches a boot and began to go back after Lethal’s arm… just in time for another advert break! We resume with the pair on the outside, trading more chops as Gresham again focused on the arm, dropping Lethal by the arm and wrist into the ring apron before he broke the referee’s count-out for… reasons. There’s more wrist work as Gresham stomped on Lethal’s arm, before he again broke the count and brought the match back into the ring as he began to search for pinfalls. Gresham looks for a double armbar, trapping Lethal’s arms between his legs, then snapping back as we entered the last ten minutes with Gresham bending Lethal into knots a la Zack Sabre Jr. It ends with a pinning predicament, but Lethal somehow kicks out at two, before he resumed his striking battle.
Gresham invites chops from Lethal, and the champ obliges as back-and-forth chops are freely exchanged, before attempts at the Lethal Combination get blocked and turned into roll-ups. An enziguiri clocks Gresham, as we go in and out of a commercial break with Gresham teasing a dive… only to get taken outside with a dropkick as it’s Lethal who took to the air with a tope. Lethal only goes for one though, as he throws Gresham back in for a top rope elbow… then changes it into the Lethal Combination for a near-fall as Gresham looked to be almost running on fumes. We enter the final five minutes as Gresham had one more burst of offence, scoring a near-fall with a bridging German suplex, before more Germans and a straight right land lays out Lethal for another two-count!
From that kick-out, Gresham goes for a cross armbar, but that doesn’t work as he ends up kicking away a Lethal Injection, before landing a La Mistica and an Octopus clutch as a barrage of strikes forced Jay Lethal to tap with minutes remaining! Lethal’s got to come from a fall down… and we’ve got no rest period as Lethal comes right back in with a series of knees to a cornered Gresham.
After kicking out of an O’Connor roll, Lethal goes for a Figure Four… but Gresham blocks it before Lethal finally got the hold in… dragging Gresham into the middle of the ring as he had minutes to hold on for. Lethal tries to pin him with the hold, but Gresham keeps on kicking out, only for Lethal to pull back on the hold and force Gresham to tap with 90 seconds on the clock!
So now the focus is on Gresham – he needs a decision in the dying seconds to win the belt… and he almost does it with a roll-up as we hit the final seconds… but a series of two-counts juist eats up time and almost costs him as Lethal kicked out, rolled on top of Gresham and scored another near-fall as the clock ran-out! The match was declared a draw… but Gresham got on the mic and demanded five more minutes, which Lethal agreed to.
We’re under sudden death as well, and we resume with the pair laying into each other as if they were both re-energised… but Gresham survives a palm strike and a rolling elbow to clock Lethal with an enziguiri, before attempting a snap German suplex. They switch around until Gresham pulls down Lethal and bridges him for a near-fall. Another Octopus attempt’s countered into a torture rack, with Lethal Finlay rolling through for extra discomfort, before he goes up top for a flying elbow drop… but Gresham barely kicks out! A powerbomb from Lethal’s rolled through as we broke into a series of indy’riffic sunset flips, before Gresham tried to squeeze a win out with a sleeperhold. Lethal keeps breaking it up, eventually turning it into a cutter before springboarding into the Lethal Injection… and that’s enough to put Gresham away!
Say what you will about Iron Man matches – and yes, they have an inherent issue in that crowds are conditioned to only care about the ending – this was a technical masterclass that would have worked equally well had it been a standard singles match without any of the stipulations tied to it. While I’m perhaps not fully on board with the “best ROH match in the last decade” classification, it’s all the way up there, and more than worth half an hour of your time… ****½