Ring of Honor has experienced quite the renaissance in 2014. The company welcomed back several stars such as Chris Hero, AJ Styles, Matt Sydal and Christopher Daniels while young guns like Cedric Alexander and ACH are ensuring that the future is bright.
A year of house shows and television resulted in consistent attendance throughout the country and Ring of Honor even resumed its tradition of international cross-promotion by partnering with New Japan for two brilliant shows in May. Can ROH close 2014 out with a bang?
Four Corner Survival: Mark Briscoe vs. Caprice Coleman vs. Jimmy Jacobs vs. Hanson: This match boiled down to three men trying to don the greatest beard in professional wrestling. Hanson was given this match as a vehicle to shine and the ten-year veteran did just that in his pay-per-view debut. The big man showed off his unique offense, a cartwheel into a lariat and a gorgeous dive to the outside through the legs of Caprice Coleman. Credit also needs to go to the three veterans in the match who bumped well for Hanson’s offense and made him come across as a force.
A solid opener that served its purpose to set Hanson up as a name to watch in 2015. ***
Adam Page vs. Roderick Strong: I absolutely loved the build to this match. The dissension in The Decade was used as an excellent way to elevate Adam Page, the “young boy” of the group.
Roddy did his absolute best to brutalize his former young boy with his trademark chops and back breakers. There was an especially brutal spot on the outside where Strong eviscerated Page’s back with an Angle Slam onto the cold steel of the ring apron. Page was made to look tough by taking everything Strong had to give and more. All the punishment wound up being too much for Page to overcome and he passed out in the Stronghold. After the match, Jimmy Jacobs congratulated Page and accepted him as a member of The Decade.
I would have liked to see Page go over but having him pass out instead of tapping served the same purpose. Strong deserves a lot of credit for his work this year with both Page and Cedric Alexander. Both feud established the two as wrestlers on the rise. **¾
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Michael Elgin: ROH established both guys as being pretty far off their rockers in the build to this so anything below a cavalcade of violence would be unacceptable. Thankfully, both wrestlers were game to brutalize each other.
Ciampa stooped low first by grabbing Elgin straight in the junk to escape the Canadian’s famed standing vertical suplex. Elgin re-paid him in kind by executing a Russian Leg Sweep into the guard rail. The rest of the match was both workers throwing bombs at each other and surviving the other’s high impact offense for several near falls. Nearing the finish line, Ciampa inadvertently lariated referee Paul Turner out of his boots. As a freaked out Ciampa saw his career flash before his eyes (he’s on probation for attacking ROH officials) Elgin took advantage to get the win with a delayed double arm DDT for the win.
Post-match, ROH played Ciampa’s probation by having Nigel McGuiness get up from the commentary table and head to the back. Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino discussed the possibility of Ciampa being fired.
Elgin played the heel very well in this match, go back and look at two moments in particular. The first was the spot where he pulled his knee pad down and tried to mock Ciampa by stealing his signature running knee. The second instance occurred much later in the match Elgin also applied Ciampa’s taunt to him while Ciampa looked down and out. If Elgin keeps doing that to his opponents than I foresee him developing into an effective arrogant bully character.
Tommaso Ciampa also excelled in playing up his gimmick during the bout. Look at his expressions after he realized he murdered Paul Turner. His face told the story of a man who knew he had committed a cardinal sin. Usually when a character is portrayed as being mentally unbalanced they act less and less human, often seeming glee with their mayhem making. While Ciampa has done so during the storyline there have been moments where he expressed great remorse. To me that sheds a new and fascinating light on a tired trope in professional wrestling.
For a match with a story that many fans detest I thought this was a fun slug fest between two of my favorite wrestlers in ROH. It also showcased solid character and angle development for two tales I think are higher in quality than many fans give them credit for being. *** 1/2
Cedric Alexander and The Addiction vs. ACH and The Young Bucks: Steve Corino said it best that this match would be “a lot of wows and whoas”. The Young Bucks brought the flips and super kicks, ten to be exact. Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian ensured that crisp, efficient double teams were displayed during the match, including a jaw dropping spot where they caught ACH in a dive to the outside and executed a joint Blue Thunder Bomb. At one point Kazarian hit a spring board cutter, what followed was a beautiful flurry of offense that ended with an Angel’s Wings by Daniels. Just watch it, be sure to pick your jaw up off the floor when the sequence is over. To cap off the most fun match of the night ACH and the Bucks picked up the win with a Meltzer Driver followed by a 450 Splash.
A very fun sprint with plenty of ridiculous spots. ***¾
Moose vs. R.D. Evans: I don’t have real complaints about the match or the angle that followed but both felt really out of place on the card.Moose picked up the victory after Veda Scott gave R.D. Evans a low blow. Now all of Evans’ old crew has turned on him and joined up with Prince Nana. **
ROH World Television Title Match – Matt Sydal vs. Jay Lethal ©: For two of the more athletic wrestlers on the roster, Sydal and Lethal wrestled a match with a very controlled pace. There were no crazy spots like the six-man tag but it was a very nice back and forth match that put the talents of both combatants on display. Matt Sydal continues to impress me in his second run with ROH. His technical and selling skills are much better than I have thought after seeing his WWE work.
Jay Lethal’s title reign has yielded several good matches. The issue I have with them is that almost always interference from Truth Martini leads to the finish as it did here. I don’t care if Lethal cheats to win but I would like to see find more creative ways to do so, it would definitely add some variety to his defenses.
Besides the finish, this was another solid match on the show that had an excellent pace and did not wear the crowd down. At this point I am wondering who will dethrone Lethal in 2015. He has seemingly cleaned out most of his credible challengers. Look for the Top Prospect Tournament winner to be his new adversary in the coming year. ***3/4
ROH World Tag Team Title Match – The TimeSplitters vs. reDRagon ©: This was a great match and it was all because of the small details. Moments like Bobby Fish breaking up a pinfall by pushing his opponent onto the man pinning Kyle O’Reilly. In wrestling logic it makes sense to inflict a little damage on your opponent when the opportunity presents itself. I also loved Alex Shelly breaking up a submission attempt via a double stomp on O’Reilly. Usually when such a save happens the wrestler chooses a flashy move that lands on not only the opponent but their partner as well. Logic dictates that any man would not want to injure the party that has his back. The finish had some subtle touches as well. To make sure KUSHIDA did not escape from the armbar O’Reilly hooked his leg as well as the arm, thus nullifying KUSHIDA’s ability to move.
ReDRagon’s dominance of the ROH tag scene does not appear to be ending anytime soon and I have no problem with that. Fish and O’Reilly constantly have the best match on the card and bring out the best in their opponents. KUSHIDA’s performance was admirable as well. In May he showcased his ability to fly and at Final Battle he showed tremendous technical acumen. Hopefully, we will him in an ROH ring sooner rather than later.
All in all, this match was tailor made for wrestling fans who appreciate the finer details of the art. ****¼
Fight Without Honor for the ROH World Title – Adam Cole vs. Jay Briscoe ©: Good old fashioned hate! Human beings can deny it all they want but deep down inside our souls we love to hate. We crave one to project our inner venom onto. We devilish desire one to war with, one to forge a bond of the darkest kind. Jay Briscoe and Adam Cole have been each other’s one and only in this regard since September 2013. This match was to be a perverted love letter to their mutual loathing.
How do you let someone know you despise their very existence? Perhaps you stomp them through a table like Mr. Briscoe did to Mr. Cole. If one desires to take their cue from Adam Cole than stapling a piece of paper to a man’s forehead is the way to go. Now from time to time even vile acts like those described above are incapable of truly articulating hatred. Filling a man’s mouth with thumbtacks may be the only true righteous declaration of hatred. Other times the symbolism of an action speaks the loudest. Just like when Jay Briscoe used his Jay Driller onto the ROH World Title belt to beat his nemesis. The one thing Adam Cole loves more than anything was the instrument of his downfall.
Simply put this was a war between two men who wanted to end each other. Normally I am not a fan of the levels of violence this match went to, but every so often I find it acceptable to finish a given feud, like El Generico vs. Kevin Steen. Not only was I surprised by the violence but also the result of this match. Like most I had Cole pegged to regain the championship. Where Jay Briscoe’s reign goes from here is up in the air and I relish to see who his next challenger will be. ****
ROH ended 2014 with one of their better shows of the year. Overall, the card was very balanced and well-paced. Other than Moose/RD Evans every match was good, the last two being exemplary in their quality. ROH was wise to not tease any stories to come for 2015 as it created a sense of finality to the angles of the past year. Seek this show out, it is proof that ROH is worthy of being the second most important promotion in North America.