The ROH World Championship was on the line when two future legends, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, locked up all the way back in 2003!
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“The Phenomenal” AJ Styles made his debut for Ring of Honor during the company’s first year in existence in 2002 and quickly established himself as one of the top rising stars in pro wrestling. Styles went on to become the first holder of the ROH Pure Championship in 2004, defeating CM Punk in the finals of a tournament. Styles also was a top contender for the ROH World Title for a number of years, although the championship always eluded him. In 2003, Styles and Amazing Red became the second holders of the ROH World Tag Team Titles.
Styles, who returned to ROH in 2014 after an eight-year absence, joined Bullet Club in Japan and eventually became the leader of the faction. He won New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s IWGP Heavyweight Title on two occasions, and successfully defended the title against Kazuchika Okada and Michael Elgin in a triple threat match on a show co-promoted by ROH and NJPW in New York City in 2014.
Samoa Joe’s reputation as one of the hardest-hitting and most intense competitors in the sport was built during his time in Ring of Honor. “The Samoan Submission Machine” made his ROH debut in 2002 and won the ROH World Championship the following year. He would go on to hold it for 645 days. That’s not only the longest reign in ROH history, but it’s also the longest world title reign in a U.S.-based wrestling company since Ric Flair held the NWA World Heavyweight Title for 793 days in 1984-1986.
During Joe’s reign, he had three classic title defenses against CM Punk. They wrestled to two 60-minute draws before Joe won their final meeting. At an ROH event in New York City in 2005, Joe wrestled Japanese superstar Kenta Kobashi in a dream match that earned Match of the Year honors. Joe, who also is a former ROH Pure Champion, returned to ROH in 2015 for a series of matches after a seven-year absence.