Emanating from a sold out Ted Reeves Arena in Toronto, this was the first of two (initially) heavily anticipated ROH/New Japan joint shows. I say initially, because once the super safe, super political lineups were announced, interest levels seemed to wane tremendously for both shows, but particularly for this one, which was essentially booked as half of a New Japan show, and half of a ROH show combined into one.
On paper, with only one cross promotional bout (Michael Elgin vs Takaaki Watanabe), the ROH side of things looked stronger. New Japan opted to lump their three biggest stars, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, & Shinsuke Nakamura, in tag team matches where the outcomes were not in doubt due to the inclusion of usual tag team designated fall guys, Gedo & Jado (also the bookers). This followed the pattern of what usually makes up a common New Japan house show. The third “pure” New Japan bout, a three way tag for the IWGP Junior Tag titles, ended up being the best match on the card.
The ROH “half” of the show was the usual lineup of strong PPV caliber bouts, including a ROH World Title match with Adam Cole defending against he Canadian hometown hero, Kevin Steen.
This show was also the return of ROH to iPPV, after years of failed attempts that eventually drove the company out of the iPPV business altogether. The decision was made to use USTREAM, the provider that New Japan (and Dragon Gate, among others) had been successfully using since 2012. To the best of my knowledge, after dozens of New Japan, Dragon Gate, Wrestle-1, & Florida Underground Wrestling shows, the only USTREAM wrestling event to have broadcast issues was AAA TripleMania, and in that case USTREAM insists it was the fault of the promotion (AAA hasn’t attempted to run an iPPV since). This show went off with nary a single issue, which had to be a huge relief to ROH, and may make them rethink the decision made earlier this year to move to traditional PPV, where the revenue splits are presumed to be less favorable.
Our Twitter “buzz” level for this show was strong. In our usual roll call of followers watching the event (and our followers skew very heavily towards New Japan fans and people who would be familiar with New Japan), this event was being watched by more people than any New Japan event aside from Wrestle Kingdom, and was running even with some of the bigger G1 shows. Our roll call response level and in-show interactions were heavier for this than Invasion Attack or Wrestling Dontaku. I don’t know what this means for overall iPPV business, as obviously our samples are relatively small, but it certainly appears that at minimum a large chunk of the usual New Japan iPPV customers purchased this show.
1. Michael Bennet vs ACH – ACH is a charisma machine. He recently had a tryout with WWE, and it appears he won’t be signed. If not, I think it’s a mistake, but I also think it doesn’t matter, because he’ll eventually end up there anyway. When did Bennett get off the juice? He appears far less cut than ever, with a lean, athletic look. This had some interesting psychology, with the babyface working over the body part of the heel (Bennett’s knee). Maria was constantly interfering, until Bennett accidentally speared her on the apron after ACH moved out of the way. That was a good looking spot.
ACH missed a 450 splash, but aside from that, didn’t do a ton of his usual flying. The finish saw ACH on the top rope, but Bennett knocked referee Todd Sinclair into the ropes to knock him off balance. Bennett then pulled ACH off the turnbuckle and delivered a Dominator for the win. Good opener. ***
2. Takaaki Watanabe vs Michael Elgin – Elgin is challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in New York next week, so he had to win here. Watanabe has had good matches on his excursion when put in a position to deliver (meaning: not in PWS), and this was a decent little six minute bout. Watanabe was told to do two things on his learning excursion. One, learn English. Two, gain weight. And if you hadn’t seen him since he left New Japan, you surely noticed that he’s succeeded in the latter. The two hosses traded power spots early, with Watanabe working towards hitting his backdrop driver finish. He eventually did, but since the crowd didn’t know it was his finish (maybe they watch PWS, where he was told to find a new finish, and also never wins anyway so he never has a chance), there was no pop for the Elgin kickout.
Elgin used a delayed German for two, which did get a pop. The finish was Watanabe coming off the top right into an Elgin back fist, which led to the Buckle Bomb/Elgin Bomb combo. As good as it could have been for the length. They shook hands post match. **3/4
3. BJ Whitmer & Jimmy Jacobs vs reDRagon vs The Briscoes – This ended up being the worst match of the show. Look, i’m sure BJ Whitmer is a nice fella, but does anybody want to see this guy wrestle in 2014? Fish & O’Reilly may as well have not even come out from the back, as they essentially did nothing. Decade hit their finish on O’Reilly, but Mark broke up the pin. The Briscoes then hit the Doomsday Device on Jacobs for the win. Just a match. **
4. Roderick Strong vs Cedric Alexander – This started off slow, and dragged forever. A hot finish saved it and it ended up being a pretty solid match. The story was the veteran Strong dominating the younger Alexander, as they continue their veteran vs youth feud. Sort of surreal that Strong, once a member of Generation Next, is in this position. Alexander won with a small package coming out of a backbreaker, which sounds flat but worked for the story being told. ***
5. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles: Young Bucks (c) vs Forever Hooligans vs Time Splitters – Loud “welcome back” & “Alex Shelley” chants. This was insane, the perfect showcase sprint that the show needed at this point. Several people on Twitter noted that they were instantly interested in New Japan after watching this match. The plan here was clearly to go balls to the wall and have a crazy spot fest, but it never reached a point where it became overly obnoxious or egregious. All six guys really shined. I’m not sure this could have come off any better than it did. The perfect match for not only this spot on the card, but also as a showcase of the New Japan juniors, who haven’t exactly tore it up lately on their own shows. Best junior tag title defense in a long, long time. ****
6. RD Evans vs ? – Evans came out to do his streak gimmick, which is up to 104-0. He cut a great promo, including stating tha the streak is 208 3/8 – 0 when converted to Canadian. He handed ring announcer Bobby Cruise an envelope that contained the name of his hand picked opponent, which ended up being…Bobby Cruise. 105-0. NR
7. Shinsuke Nakamura & Jado vs Hiroshi Tanahashi & Jushin Liger – Liger was, by far, the most over of the Japanese talent. This was also the case during 2013’s New Japan mini tour with the NWA in Texas, as Liger, despite peaking in the U.S. nearly 25 years ago, still resonates with fans as a legit international superstar. Nakamura was more over than Tanahashi. Tanahashi has vowed to “steal the show” in New York vs Bennett, but they worked a very basic tag match here, with nobody taking any risks. Liger even bypassed his usual Koppo Kick off of the apron to the outside, and instead used a much safer cross body block. Simple psychology, and the faces went over when Tanahashi hit the High Fly Flow on Jado. Average match, but the atmosphere was electric, particularly during the intros. **1/2
8. ROH World Television Title: Jay Lethal (c) vs Silas Young vs Tomasso Chiamapa vs Matt Taven – This was sort of a trainwreck, but a few cool spots saved it. Silas used a superplex on Chiampa off the guard rail to the floor. Taven did a moonsault off of the top rope onto the floor on Young & Chiampa. With Young & Chiampa out on the floor, Taven had former manager Truth Martini in his grasp when Lethal hit the Lethal Injection for the win. **3/4
9. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo vs AJ Styles & Karl Anderson – Okada was more over than Tanahashi. In fact, Toronto really liked him a lot. All of the New Japan guys (all night) seemed to have some trouble with the smaller ring at times. This was better than the first New Japan tag. The match structure was better, and everybody worked harder. There was a great reversal sequence with Okada & Anderson trying to hit the Rainmaker & Gun Stun on each other.
Anderson hit a Gun Stun on Gedo, and held Okada off while Styles hit an implant DDT & Styles Clash for the win. Elgin did the nose to nose with Styles, as they will face off in New York for the IWGP Title. Okada jumped in the ring and joined them, as he faces the winner in Yokohama. ***
10. ROH World Title: Adam Cole (c) vs Kevin Steen – Crowd was expecting Steen to win, but with Cole booked against Liger in New York, and Steen booked with Nakamura, I didn’t see that as a possibility. Steen controlled early until Cole clipped the knee. He worked over the knee for the rest of the match, including a figure four around the ring post, and multiple figure four attempts that Steen barely escaped. A big spot early was Steen using four consecutive apron powerbombs on Cole, followed by a top rope senton, for two. It was too early to buy it as the finish. Steen hit a sick looking fishermarn’s buster from the top. He went for the package piledriver, but his knee gave out. His knee also gave out later when he had Cole in a sharpshooter. Michael Bennett tried to interfere, but ate a package piledriver. Not sure what the point of this was, as it led to nothing. Cole’s big near fall was a German followed by the Florida Key’s. Steen rolled through a top rope sunset flip and hooked on another sharpshooter, then hit a top rope BRAINBUSTAAAHHH for 2.9.
“Ole”chants. Finish came out of nowhere as Cole flipped out of the package piledriver and hit a superkick for the win. They immediately went off the air. Seemed rushed. Maybe they were out of time, but i’m not sure that’s an issue with USTREAM. Weird finish to an otherwise strong match. Crowd was mad Steen didn’t win. He cut a promo off air that many took as a farewell. ***1/2
Overall this was a solid show, with nothing terrible, but only one great match. Once the relatively lackluster lineup was announced, this was basically the show most people expected to get. Odd that the fans didn’t get to see a Rainmaker or Boma Ye. New York should (and needs to be) significantly better on 5/17.
Special thanks to the great @SenorLARIATO for the gifs!