In September of 2009, I drove from northeast Indiana to Dayton, Ohio, to attend a Ring of Honor (ROH) event as I had done several times before. I had been attending ROH shows, and especially Dayton events, since ROH Gold in October of 2004. The product appealed to me from the time I saw my first show, which was an ROH event in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, that featured Raven, Jeff Hardy, CM Punk, Paul London and others. I was a huge WWE, and before that WCW, fan, so the former WWE stars drew me into ROH. I’m glad they did, because ROH really appealed to me. I became a huge follower of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Paul London and the stars of ROH. Mostly, Bryan Danielson. He was by far the first ever “favorite” wrestler I ever had that wasn’t in WWE.
Being a freshman in college at the time of ROH Gold, I was relatively free to attend these weekend events within a reasonable drive. So, I tried to get to Dayton and Chicago shows whenever I could. Eventually, I would branch out and attend shows outside of the near area, traveling to Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore for ROH shows. I was such a fan of the product, and wanted to get more into independent wrestling, that I sought out how to get involved with it. This lead to me eventually being trained as a referee, and I began working independent shows as a zebra in the ring. I would work almost every weekend from mid-2006 to early-2008, for companies mostly based in Indiana, and regularly for Ian Rotten’s IWA: Mid South. It was a fun time, overall. I got the chance to work events in several states, referee for superstars like AJ Styles and Ricky Morton, to up and coming stars like Ricochet and Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), and even work in the ECW Arena.
However, in late 2008 into 2009, I was falling out of touch with indie wrestling. Post-college work, and really life in general, did not allow me the time to travel as much for indie events, either as a fan or as a referee. I eventually stopped working as a referee, but tried to keep in touch with indie wrestling as a fan. That would only last for a brief time, however, as it was appearing that all the favorites I had followed since 2004 were slowly fading out of ROH. Alex Shelley wasn’t appearing on as many shows anymore, Austin Aries and Samoa Joe were in TNA, and Bryan Danielson was getting signed to WWE. I just didn’t have the energy to keep in touch with the indies like I used to, and having lived through the glory days of 2004-2006 in ROH, everything after just seemed less important to me.
That leads me to September of 2009. Bryan Danielson was on a farewell tour for ROH, making his final appearances before going to WWE. ROH was set to run an event in Dayton, Ohio, at the Oven. The Oven was the fan term for the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, the venue ROH would often run in Dayton. It was at this show that Bryan Danielson would wrestle Chris Hero in the main event in one of his final ROH matches. I had to attend this show, so I made the familiar drive from northeast Indiana to Dayton. It would be the last time I would ever make that drive for an ROH show. It also ended up being one of the last ROH shows I would ever go to, that is until this weekend.
After a five year absence from ROH, I made a trip to my first event since 2009 this weekend in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was initially surprised ROH was running Kalamazoo, as it seemed like an off the wall choice of cities for an ROH show. However, it should have come as little surprise. ROH camera man Michael Zee is from the area, Jimmy Jacobs isn’t from too far away, and there was a lot of support for a long time to bring ROH to more places in Michigan. ROH obliged, and held the event in the Annex of the Wings Stadium complex, a venue that hosts Kalamazoo’s minor league hockey team.
My first thought, when looking at the card for the show, was just how many folks from the glory days of ROH are still in the promotion. Now, I’m not naive to ROH. I read results every once in a while, I know who the champions and wrestlers are in the promotion, and am still more familiar with ROH than the average WWE-only fan. While WWE is my focus, I keep in touch just enough with the indies to know for the most part what exactly is out there. I just don’t watch anything. I haven’t watched indie wrestling, outside of a few youtube clips, in forever. To highlight an example, I was amazed earlier this year when I saw current matches from Drake Younger and Ricochet on the indie scene. I hadn’t seen an actual match from those two since maybe 2008. The body transformations from when I met them as they initially started out was amazing, and I realized just how long I had been out of the game. But in 2014, to see Roderick Strong, Christopher Daniels, the Briscoes, and Jay Lethal on the top of cards just like it was 2005 was a minor surprise. We like to think that ROH and other indies feature the next wave of talent, the up and comers, and the guys we’ll be watching on top for years to come. Well, with ROH at least right now, it just isn’t the case. Yes, there are up and comers who will be stars later on, but the top talent is the same top talent you could find on an ROH show a decade ago. WWE has far more turnover. Back in 2005, we were thinking how different ROH would be, if it still existed, ten years from then just based on everyone moving up to the big leagues. Well, many have moved on, but those who didn’t are still down there main eventing shows.
Not to say that’s a bad thing, because the Briscoes, Christopher Daniels, and Jay Lethal are all great talents that were overlooked in other places. ROH would be in trouble without these guys there. That really shows in Kalamazoo this weekend, as the top performers on the show were Daniels and the Briscoes. Other, newer talent, also shined. Talent such as Adam Cole, who could now be considered an ROH veteran, and ACH really delivered.
Kalamazoo, Michigan, was the setting for ROH’s annual Champions vs All Stars event. The main event would consist of all the champions in the promotion battling the non-champion all stars of the promotion. As a TV market for ROH’s syndicated television show, Kalamazoo didn’t draw too badly. TNA would kill for local audiences like the one ROH received. At it’s peak, there were around 500 fans in the building. That’s an accurate assessment of those in the building, not necessarily the paid attendance.
Back in the day, Gabe Sapolsky, as booker of ROH, would feature up and coming low level indie workers in pre-show matches before the actual event began. That’s still done a decade later, as Jay Diesel won a pre-show match with the jackhammer.
After the opening contest, the real show began. Taped for DVD and On Demand iPPV, ROH Champions vs All Stars was emcee’d by Scarlett Bordeaux and commentated at first by Kevin Kelly and Veda Scott. I was ready for the ROH I loved, a good wrestling show with an energetic crowd. I got just that throughout the night, and was happy I attended the event.
The event began when Scarlett introduced Nigel McGuinness, the ROH matchmaker, who came out to announce that Mark Briscoe would not be wrestling on the show due to poison ivy. That’s right. In one of the wackier reasons for missing a wrestling show, Nigel explained that Mark had gone hunting, and caught a nasty rash due to poison ivy. It was so wacky that it couldn’t possibly be made up. Although, I suspect that it was. Replacing him was Tommaso Ciampa. Ciampa, currently, is in a storyline that involved him going crazy on non-wrestlers after a loss in an ROH title match. Nigel warned Ciampa that he’d be banned for life if he ever put his hands on an official or non-wrestler again. In the past, during the Gabe years, it was rare that you would see a talking segment open an ROH show. I remember the night of Adam Pearce’s debut as a regular, a show from Detroit that opened with a lengthy talking segment featuring Pearce and Jim Cornette. The segment got trashed by ROH loyalists, and it was a rare instance where ROH did not begin the night with a match.
BJ Whitmer defeated Will Ferrara via Exploder: Will kicked out of an initial exploder suplex, but fell to the second one. The story was BJ felt Will was beneath him, and gave him no credit. Will held his own, had some near falls, but eventually BJ was just better. This was the type of match that ROH was good at. They knew that established stars had to make the new guys look good, because ROH would only survive with new guys rising up the roster. I don’t know if Will Ferrara will be a top player a year from now, but you also don’t know that he won’t. This was a quality ROH match. **
TaDarius Thomas defeated Owen Travers with a spin kick to the face: The initial finish was a top rop Zig Zag type move, but referee Paul Turner stopped his count at 2 although there was no kickout. Paul Turner screwing up finishes is a time honored ROH tradition dating all the way back to ROH Do or Die II in 2004. I’m glad I could take a five year ROH break and still get treated to the classics when I returned! TD was one of those up and comers I got a chance to meet in 2007 with IWA:MS. He, then known as just TD, was just starting out back then. I actually thought he got completely out of wrestling for a time, but then started seeing his name pop up in ROH results. He’s definitely improved in the years, so good for him. **3/4
Christopher Daniels defeated Cedric Alexander via Best Moonsault Ever: This was the best match on the show. Daniels and Cedric traded near falls that really got the crowd going crazy, all after a back and forth battle that shined the light on both guys as true superstars. After the match, Chris put over Cedric as the future of ROH. Cedric has been called the future of ROH for some time, I know. When will that future be the present? Christopher Daniels is one of the true pros still going on the indies, and it was evident in this match. There were good high spots, but they were made more important because they were sporadically inserted in between mat work and wear down wrestling. It was brilliantly laid out. ****1/4
Jimmy Jacobs defeated Kazarian with the Sliced Bread #2: Quality match, but it was tough going trying to follow the previous bout. Jimmy was portrayed as the home town kid coming back to his home. His parents, friends, fellow wrestlers, and more were all in attendance to watch him wrestle. So, of course, Jimmy worked as a babyface this night while Kazarian played more heelish. The crowd wanted to really get behind this match, but unfortunately, working after the Daniels match really hurt. **3/4
Matt Taven defeated Romantic Touch via top rope frog splash: A slow paced match, with Taven working rest holds to get the crowd against him. He was taunting the fans in attendance as he would put on a resthold, which reminded me of one of the big factors to ROH back when I was a regular fan attending events – Crowd interactivity. In the glory days, ROH wrestlers weren’t playing for the fans in the back row like you get with WWE. They were playing for every fan, in any row! Kevin Steen was brilliant at this, Alex Shelley, too. Taven continued to tradition of interacting with the crowd during this match, which was great because it was a borderline dud without Taven’s antics. After the match, Taven went into the crowd to a heckling woman, threatened to pull his tights down, but said she was to ugly for him and went away. This match occurred after intermission, also, so it served to get the crowd back into the show before the big main event. **1/2
Jay Briscoe won CHAMPIONS vs ALL STARS. Jay Lethal & Bobby Fish & Kyle OReilly & Jay Briscoe vs Adam Cole & Tommaso Ciampa & ACH & Roderick Strong: Of course, Mark Briscoe was originally in the bout, but Tommaso replaced him based on what happened in the opening segment.
Right after the match began, ACH made a surprise pin attempt on Jay Lethal successfully to eliminate Jay. This reminded me a lot of an ROH show in Philadelphia, when Bryan Danielson pinned Colt Cabana in just a few minutes in an ROH Championship match. It’s a pinfall you just don’t expect, but comes across well and plays into things later.
The second man eliminated was Tommaso Ciampa, by DQ, in the old Eddie Guerrero heel comedy spot. Ref Paul Turner was turned away when Bobby Fish slid the tag title belt into the ring. Kyle OReilly picked it up, tossed it to Ciampa, and bumped. The ref turned around and saw Ciampa with the belt and disqualified him. A funny moment that turned serious when Ciampa proceeded to land belt shots on all the wrestlers in the ring. After all, he was DQ’d for a belt shot he never got to give, so why not hit some real ones. The opening segment played into this here, when Nigel McGuinness ran out to stop Ciampa’s rampage. Tommaso nearly hit Nigel with the belt, and if he had, he would have been banned. So this was classic ROH continuity, a segment from earlier again playing a part later. One of the best parts of ROH when I was a regular fan was the continuity always seemingly staying in tact.
Nearly a half hour later, the third man eliminated was Kyle O’Reilly via a backbreaker by Roderick Strong. Strong was then eliminated by surprise when Bobby Fish slid in and schoolboyed him. Not too long after this, Bobby Fish was eliminated after a 450 Splash by ACH which was set up by an Adam Cole superkick. Now, the final phase of the match began as it was Cole & ACH vs Jay Briscoe.
Adam Cole kept trying to get ACH, the lone babyface on the Cole team, to cheat against Briscoe. ACH wasn’t going for it, though. Eventually, Jay and ACH were fighting on the top rope trying to get into position for a superplex. Cole ran up from behind to bust it up, and in doing so, ACH lost his balance, fell, and went through a ringside table. With the referees busy checking on him, Adam Cole grabbed a chair. Cole was set up to paste Jay Briscoe when his brother Mark ran in. The Briscoes together took out Cole with a Doomsday Device. Jay covered Cole, a ref came back in, and we had our penultimate elimination. It was down to ACH, the youngster, against Jay Briscoe, the promotion’s champion and longtime veteran. ACH put up a fight, trying to prove himself against the best in the company, but his time just wasn’t right now. Jay Briscoe got the pinfall win after a Jay Driller in a thrilling main event that went nearly 50 minutes. These lengthy main events were a staple of ROH during the Danielson years, and every once in a while you’ll still find them in ROH these days. ****
After the match, Truth Martini and Jay Lethal ran out and attacked Jay Briscoe but he was able to overcome and send them off. It was a good way to get heat on the House of Truth, while still sending the fans home happy with a Briscoe win. Overall, it was a thumbs up event, and a worthwhile show as a return to ROH for myself. I don’t know if it is enough to get me to watch their weekly TV product, as indie wrestling has certainly taken a back seat to WWE these days. However, it was a great night of wrestling for real fans of ROH, and new or returning fans (like me), as well.
I’m glad I got this change to say hello to you again, Ring of Honor. Five years was a long time. Maybe the next visit will come sooner.
Rob McCarron is a contributor to Wrestling Observer and Voices of Wrestling. He also hosts Shake Them Ropes, a podcast focusing on WWE you can find weekly on the Voices of Wrestling Podcast Network. Follow Shake Them Ropes on Twitter @ShakeThemRopes.