Several years ago I found myself writing weekly reviews of WWE SmackDown and was slowly going out of my mind. I had been a diehard WWE fan since the first WrestleMania, but the stuff I was watching on TV each week left a lot to be desired. Dear lord, do you remember The Cat?! I found myself filling my recaps with links to Pre-Federline Britney Spears pictures and finding new ways to drive Wade Keller insane just to keep myself interested. For at least six months two of my friends, Keith Lipinski and Sean Radican - both of whom have gone on to bigger and better things - tried to get me to watch Ring of Honor. I gave them all the excuses most people give to justify not watching ROH; I already watch too much wrestling, indy wrestling is unwatchable on DVD, I don't know any of these guys, etc.
I was finally sick of their relentless attack and decided to sample some ROH. Taking advantage of one of the weekly buyer-friendly ROH sales, I figured I would try the shows that featured Jim Cornette, as anything the "Louisville Lip" is a part of is usually fun to watch. I popped in the show Wrath of the Racket and thought I may be onto something. Then I watched the first Death Before Dishonor and had to pick my jaw up off the floor. The only experience I can liken it to was watching Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and realizing everything I knew about movies was about to change. Ring of Honor contained everything that I wanted WWE to be. Hot matches, believable characters, and most importantly, consistency in the booking, made watching ROH as addictive as heroin.
It wasn't long before I stopped reviewing SmackDown and switched over to recapping ROH DVDs. I also went to every ROH show that I could drive to, which included road trips to shows in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Every year, without fail, I would think ROH had peaked and would never be able to top themselves. From the booking of Samoa Joe's 21 month long title reign ending in a 450 splash from Austin Aries in 2004, to CM Punk's shocking 2005 run with the title on his way to the WWE, to the incredible inter-promotional feud with CZW and Homicide's electric title win in 2006, ROH has been a roll. 2007 has more shows in red hot markets such as Chicago and New York, tours in the UK and - later this month - Japan, and the first ever ROH PPV. They already have my money, but will this PPV attract new fans or people who have given up watching thanks to current WWE and TNA bullshit? Let's check it out!
RESPECT IS EARNED
Being taped in New York City, this show has one advantage over most wrestling shows in that the fans in attendance are one hundred percent certified batshit insane throughout the show. A good wrestling show is fun to watch. A good wrestling show with a rabid crowd makes you remember the all time great shows such as WWE's Canadian Stampede and ECW's One Night Stand. You can't help but feel the energy and excitement thanks to the awesome crowd reactions, and not since the first ECW PPV, Barely Legal, has a crowd looked so great and reacted so well to a show. It was fucking awe inspiring and so jacked that it seemed like that building was the place to be. The New York crowd for ROH shows in this building – such as Final Battle 2006 and Glory By Honor V Night Two - is the perfect setting for this event, the biggest show in ROH history. ROH should see if there is enough money in the coffers to fly each and every one of these fans to every single ROH PPV.
BJ Whitmer, fresh off being on the losing end of an epic feud with Jimmy Jacobs, started off the festivities by welcoming us to Ring of Honor and issued an open challenge, one that was immediately accepted by ROH champion Takeshi Morishima. At this point in the show the announcers have not said one word and yet there is no way in hell anyone watching wasn't completely captivated. In a glorified squash, Whitmer was manhandled by Morishima as everyone in the crowd was losing their mind. That is exactly how you book a champion. You watch enough RAW and iMPACT and you begin to realize that everyone is equal with the asinine even steven booking. ROH immediately shows you who is THE MAN. It reminded me of when I first saw Joe vs. Kobashi. I don't watch Japanese wrestling, nor do I have any interest in it, but within a minute or two ROH can establish guys such as Kenta Kobashi and Morishima as wrestlers I want to see more of. And fear not, if you are a BJ Whitmer fan – and God help you if you are – the match also did a nice job of getting over Whitmer's never-say-die attitude. A fun squash that made it somewhat believable that Whitmer could possibly beat Morishima.
*** Nigel McGuinness, who I can't fathom won't be a big star in WWE or TNA in the next two years, came to the ring and challenged Morishima to a title match. This brought out Bryan Danielson in street clothes, who told Nigel that Danielson was the one who deserved the title shot. It's hard to argue with one of ROH's greatest world champions ever. In a fantastic moment, Bryan put his finger in Nigel's chest, a la Shane Douglas to Terry Funk in ECW's Crossing the Line show closing promo, and Nigel informed Danielson that if it happened again he would break the finger off and shove it up Danielson's ass. This all led to Danielson and Morishima teaming together for a bit to teach McGuinness some old school respect. Danielson and Morishima even had a little stare down themselves once Danielson picked up the ROH title. Danielson held the belt and looked at it like his pride and joy, sort of like Vincent Verhei's look when holding up a Quizno's Baja chicken sub. Morishima was sure to remind Danielson exactly who was the champ. Fantastic little segment that made the ROH world title seem like the biggest deal in the company.
*** Video package aired for Brent Albright, who had a cup of coffee in WWE last year as the horrendously named Gunner Scott. Albright is "coming soon to ROH PPV" and this little clip job was effective in making you want to see more of this gun for hire as he beat the hell out of people. Sort of like the opposite effect of watching those horrible skits promoting the Highlanders for weeks on Raw last year.
Naomichi Marufuji versus Rocky Romero - This match is a great example of what ROH is all about. To the common fan watching wrestling on Monday nights, no one knows Marufuji and even less know Romero. In the Manhattan Center, these two guys are like Boba Fett and Darth Maul at a Star Wars convention. Such a high percentage of ROH fans appreciate good workrate that anyone can get over if they bring their "A" game to each show. I became a big fan of Romero once they put him with Homicide in the Rottweilers group a few years ago and I couldn't get enough of Marufuji after watching the fantastic Best of Japan 2005 DVD. Both guys got a nice little video package before the match and, as expected, the two put on a strong opener that had the crowd salivating for more wrestling action, especially after the red hot last minute. No going into the stands, which must be impossible for any TNA fan to believe. No bullshit interference. Just a hard hitting, super athletic match with some innovative spots that finished with Marufuji finishing off Romero with a Shiranui for the win. I was impressed with the announcing duo of Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard as they did a good job putting over both guys and answering any question –before it was asked – that viewers may have had about who Marufuji and Romero were. This looked to me like Romero's breakout singles match and one that can hopefully elevate him into a singles "star."
*** Backstage, Larry Sweeney was with Tank Toland. Tank was another guy who spent a short time in WWE and I can honestly say I don't remember one damn thing he was a part of. I know I watched it, but nothing stuck. Wait a second, wasn't he part of that fucking THE DICKS tag team? Dear lord, and here I spent so much time trying to forget that shit. Anyway, Sweeney, who is probably one of the best talkers in indy wrestling today, talked about his Sweet and Sour Incorporated stable and his number one client, Chris Hero. Sweeney also bragged about signing a new client, Sara Del Ray. Sweeney told Del Ray that she now had the services of Toland as a personal trainer and this segued into a great segment with Toland, Del Ray, and ROH trainee Bobby Dempsey. Toland vowed to whip Dempsey into shape, and let me tell you, that's a lot of whipping. Toland, Del Ray, and Dempsey then had a SQUAT OFF that ended with Dempsey passing out. I'm loving this Toland gimmick, and it makes me think of how much the WWE screwed up on the Simon Dean character. This whole skit from beginning to end was 15 kinds of fantastic and everything from Toland's interactions with Sweeney, to Del Ray's squat challenge, to Dempsey blowing up and crawling to the back, was hilarious. On an unrelated note, I think I may be in love with Sara Del Ray. We're talking "future stalker" type appreciation here.
*** The camera quickly went to the ring where a brouhaha was going down between Bryan Danielson, Morishima, and Nigel McGuinness. KENTA made the save by running to the ring and delivering a nasty kick to Danielson. This all set up the main event of KENTA teaming with McGuinness to face off against Danielson and Morishima. Again, Prazak did a masterful job of explaining who KENTA was, including how he had been Danielson's toughest opponent over the last year and a big rival to Morishima's stable in Japan.
The Briscoe Brothers versus Matt Sydal & Claudio Castagnoli for the ROH World Tag Team Titles - Earlier I wrote that Nigel will be a superstar in the big leagues someday. Well, I can't fathom how the Briscoes aren't dominating the tag team scene in WWE or TNA right now. INCONCEIVABLE~! These guys have money written all over them.
This match was worth the price of admission alone. Fans who have only watched wrestling in the last several years probably don't understand how great tag team wrestling can be. I grew up in a time when wrestling was filled to the brim with great tag teams. The Midnight Express. The Hart Foundation. The Four Horsemen. Demolition. The Can-Am Connection. The Killer Bees. The list could go on and on and on. Clearly, at some point Vince McMahon decided he didn't give a shit about tag teams and basically gutted that part of his company, and will only give half-assed pushes to any other team now. It's hard to watch a tag team match in ROH featuring the Briscoes or any others for that matter, and then turn on SmackDown and see Deuce & Domino or those fucking goofs the Major Brothers on WWE. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Long story short, if you are a fan of tag team wrestling, ROH is the one wrestling company that has delivered top shelf tag team matches and has been for over five years.
I hate to sound like a broken record putting over the announcing, but I honestly feel that good announcers are vital to enjoying wrestling on TV. This isn't a house show. Announcers and the cameramen become almost as key to enjoying the matches as the wrestlers and referee inside the ring, they just don't get the acclaim because the only time most people notice them is when they fuck up. How many great TNA matches have been completely screwed up thanks to their director picking the wrong camera to cut to? Anyway, the announcers clearly got across why Sydal was teaming with Castagnoli and what led up to this match taking place. It's the little things you appreciate when watching ROH, as a bigger picture starts to develop when you notice all the details along the way. This is a stark contrast to WWE and TNA where just about everything means nothing in the long run. ROH is about continuity and rewarding viewers for paying attention, and that is such a refreshing experience in a wrestling company. It's the exact same reason why shows such as LOST and Heroes are getting so much acclaim, and ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky deserves some major kudos for bringing the goods to wrestling fans.
As for the match itself, anyone who thinks that the Briscoes only do highspots needs to sit down and watch and both Mark and Jay hold a clinic on exciting wrestling. I might even have to drive to the state of Washington and tie Bryan Alvarez to a chair, make him watch this match, and add another list to the Bryan Was Wrong folder on www.F4Wonline.com. It certainly helped the Briscoes to have two world class opponents, Sydal with the high flying background and Castagnoli who can stand toe to toe with the best of them. Super fast action throughout, and at some points, you almost feel like you are watching a video game. It's incredible how good these guys are at this point in their careers. Seemingly a million fantastic spots in this match including the ROH trademarked supernova last few minutes.
*** The camera cut to Lenny Leonard and Dave Prazak as they put over the psychotic New York City fans. Kevin Steen and El Generico interrupted the proceedings by walking over to the announcers and made a challenge to the Briscoes. This led to a HUGE brawl that seemed more impromptu than anything I can remember on TV in the last year. Gabe Sapolsky has deftly accomplished a lot of major feats in the last five years, but one thing he can do better than just about anyone in the business is making certain things feel "real" even when every single fan in the building knows it is not. Super exciting sequence, and I can't wait for Steen/Generico versus the Briscoes.
Roderick Strong versus Delirious in a GRUDGE MATCH - Clips aired of a match Strong and Delirious had back in February during the Fifth Year Festival in which Delirious just about had his head cracked in two. Here's a great line from Prazak: "You don't threaten to rip the mask off of Delirious, that's where he gets a lot of his energy and power from!" The crowd seemed slightly down during this match, but that's bound to happen when you just seemingly had ten straight orgasms. I have to wonder if new ROH viewers would understand why Delirious speaks in his gibberish tongue, but these two were given a lot of time to build up the psychology on the mat. I think the deliberate pace, instead of being frenetic, helped establish the blood feud developing between these two men. The way Roderick Strong can weave backbreakers throughout a match is fun to watch. After yet another great finish to a match, save for a kick from Delirious that showed more light than a Sylvania 1000 watt bulb, the victorious Strong was joined by stablemates Rocky Romero and Davey Richards and the three men put the boots to Delirious. Strong and Romero set up a metal barricade and Strong than powerbombed Delrious on it! Sick. Erick Stevens came down to make the save. I'm a big fan of stables, but the names of these particular ones drive me insane. The No Remorse Corps? The Resilience? Ugh. Where have you gone Generation Next and the Rotweillers?!!
*** Promo backstage with Shane Hagadorn and Adam Pearce. ScrapDaddy Pearce has really grown on me since his ROH debut last year, and he has really taken his promos up about three notches to be among the best in the company. This was a creepy one, and I mean that in a good way, as Pearce talked about the history of ROH and how he was going to save BJ Whitmer's soul by destroying him. This is one worth going out of your way to see.
Nigel McGuinness & KENTA versus Bryan Danielson & Takeshi Morishima - Each team came out together, but I would have taken a page out of WWE's book and had each guy come out separately to further emphasize the "dream match" aspect. That's pretty much the quote/unquote bad news about this match as these four guys tore down the house. Prazak astutely noted that Morishima "hits people hard and dumps them on their heads." Short and to the point. I must note here that everyone reading this should check out the insanely awesome match between Nigel and Morishima at ROH's Fighting Spirit event. You should probably be watching Nigel and Danielson battle it out at Unified as well. Shit, you also have to see KENTA versus Danielson at Glory By Honor Night Two. That's one of the things I love most about ROH, the big time matches that contain months of various storylines all intersecting at once. What can I say about this match that you won't figure out reading any of the blow by blow writeups? It was fucking AWESOME. Every guy got in all their signature spots, and it reminded me of the best RAW main events where all the top names are in a tag match and hit every spot precisely when they have to. I remember distinctly how much I marked out when Shawn Michaels finally superkicked John Cena in a perfect spot and this match had at least half a dozen or so moments exactly like that. This is a match for wrestling fans who like wrestling. What's even better is that ROH has almost co-opted the realism of MMA while still remaining a pro-wrestling company. I've already rewatched this match three times, it's that fucking good, with four of the world's best wrestlers at the top of their game.
*** After the match, Danielson put the ROH belt on his shoulder, but was immediately given this crazy backdrop driver by Morishima. Nigel then returned to the ring, picked up the title, and handed it back to Morishima. Nigel started putting over Morishima by saying, "This is your belt, and I'm gonna –" WHAMMO! Nigel was taken out with a Morishima lariat. Just all kinds of awesome. Morishima closed the show by swinging the ROH belt around like Stan Hansen at his wildest and it was actually a nice bookend that tied into the start of the show with a raging beast showing his dominance.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: ROH, the little indy that could, is finally on PPV, and with a potential audience of fifty million homes they needed a good show for their PPV debut. What they brought to the table was a great introductory show for new fans while also providing a show that should please the demanding ROHbots. Because of all the real world stuff going on, there is a good chance many potential fans are going to be sick and/or disgusted with the world of professional wrestling, especially if Vince McMahon does any more talk shows or issues asinine press releases, but the ones who do drop the ten bucks for this show are going to be impressed. A great combination of highspots and UFC-like matwork with a wonderful crowd that really became the MVP of the show. I've noted throughout that the announcing in ROH is really hitting its stride as Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard (even with that goofy name) proved themselves to be the best duo in wrestling today as they artfully weaved in the explanation of detailed storylines with what was going on in the ring.
What can you say about Takeshi Morishima - just an absolute monster and this show did a perfect job of showing his dominance while also continuing to put over the importance of the ROH belt (as every good wrestling program should). Speaking of feuds, what about Steen & Generico versus The Briscoes? Everything those four have been a part of has been incredible so far and tonight they somehow raised the anticipation bar even further. What exactly is going on with BJ Whitmer? What has made Scrap Daddy so damn evil? Will Delirious get his revenge on the No Remorse Corps? How will the returning Austin Aries figure into everything? Who can possibly defeat the monster that is Morishima?! I'm already looking forward to ROH's second PPV!
Links of interest:
ROH: Milestone Series - A look at the best run of shows any wrestling company has ever put out.
ROH vs. CZW in the CAGE OF DEATH - The greatest booked match in the history of pro rasslin'
ROH's first UK doubleshot - Want to see INSANE fans? This is where to go.
Joe vs. Kobashi - Match of the year. Match of any year. If you don't believe that, than read this fan letter
Final Battle 2003 - ROH meets Great Muta and the rest of All Japan.
Punk: The Final Chapter - CM Punk's final match in his hometown of Chicago.
Top Ten matches in Chicago
Top Ten moments in ROH history
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THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).