All Continental Classic 2023 reviews linked here.
Hatred’s a funny thing.
Eddie Kingston has hated Claudio Castagnoli for a very long time, almost two decades at this point. That all came to a head this year after they renewed their rivalry over the ROH World Championship, ending in the catharsis of Eddie Kingston finally getting a clean win over Claudio for the title in his hometown. While that’s perhaps not enough to just let a man let go of so much hate, that kind of experience certainly morphs the emotion into something else.
When Eddie Kingston wrestles Claudio Castagnoli for the Continental Classic, one can still feel the embers of that old hate burning. But it’s taken on a somewhat different tone in this new setting. After taking his second loss in a row the week before, then getting outright humiliated by Bryan Danielson after the bell, one gets the impression that Eddie’s emotion in this match is a broader frustration–he’s desperate to get back into contention on the scoreboard, he’s pissed off at Danielson, and it’s just his good luck that standing in the path of all that emotion is someone he loves hitting in the face.
I think this match actually benefits a lot from this being less of a personal affair. Separating it from the momentous occasion of Grand Slam helps too. This match comes across as unburdened of purpose, and that works to its benefit. Given all that, it actually ends up exceeding something like Grand Slam, as it’s given the space to just be itself.
Eddie and Claudio turn to some familiar tropes of theirs: the early burst of their big offense recalls the 2009 “I Respect You” match, for example. But they add some new twists like Eddie being desperate enough to go for a tope suicida–a rarity from Eddie these days, made all the more impactful for hitting it so early in the match. Notably though, it’s Claudio that actually rushes in early this time, charging Eddie at the bell, and it’s a burst that allows him early control over an already battered up Kingston when he catches an awesome looking desperation Neutralizer.
The match gets to settle into a more familiar rhythm from there. Claudio stays in control, and it’s perhaps his best performance since Supercard of Honor. Vicious and petty in control, just sort of relentless with the punishment he’s laying in on Eddie. Even with Eddie coming in fired up, it’s Claudio that ends up expending himself emotionally in control.
Unfortunately for Claudio, when it’s a matter of heart, there’s really no topping Eddie Kingston. Claudio pokes the bear too long and those big boots in the corner awaken the champion’s mentality in Eddie Kingston, not just the contempt of an old foe, but that confidence that Eddie’s been here before and he can win it again too.
Mechanically, this is just a fucking marvel as to be expected. Eddie comes in bruised up like all hell but both guys still hit full force, bump big for all the best spots. Eddie’s selling is always top notch, and he has some great punch drunk selling in this especially when he’s applying the Steamboat rule and swinging wildly at the dominant Claudio.
The finish is perfect for the moment too. In so much of their feud, Eddie losing his head has cost him, but this time his smarts carry him through. He attempts the folding powerbomb on Claudio but Claudio turns it into a headscissors–much as Eddie did to Claudio’s Ricola at Supercard of Honor. Eddie retained that memory though and rolled Claudio all the way through into the same pin that beat him in March.
In a lot of ways, it’s the kind of finish that maybe would have worked better at Arthur Ashe. But it just works here still, since we needed that added context of Kingston needing the powerbomb in the first place. Once again, Eddie Kingston surpasses hate and transforms into determination instead. And that’s what makes him a champion.