In early November this year, ROH held its annual singles tournament to decide who would challenge World Champion Jay Briscoe for his title at ROH’s second PPV and last show of the year Final Battle. This year it was taking place over two days, with the six one on one qualifying matches taking place on this show, and the six man eliminations finals occurring the following night.
Ring of Honor “Survival of the Fittest” – Night 1
Friday, November 7, 2014
Columbus Expo Centre
Video on demand available at http://www.rohwrestling.com/news/survival-fittest-2014-available-now-vod
Survival of the Fittest Qualifier – Tommaso Ciampa vs. Will Ferrara: Ciampa’s drew an easy first round match facing ROH dojo wrestler Will Ferrara, who those of you who’ve been following my reviews will know I’m not too high on. Will got the occasional little flurry, but Ciampa cut them all off fairly quickly, and this was really just an extended squash. Ciampa hit several knees, stretched him in a variety of submission and threw him around ringside a bit. Will then countered out of the Project Ciampa, rallied with a series of forearms and hit a code red for a nearfall. The match ended abruptly after that though, with Ciampa hitting a knockout knee to an onrushing Ferrara, gaining him the pinfall. It went on quite a while, but that was just because Ciampa was enjoying the pain he was dishing out so prolonged the experience. It was fine for what it was, and Ferrara did his job pretty well. **
After the match, Ciampa teased giving him a Project Ciampa, but then just dropped him back down and sarcastically shook his unconscious hand.
Survival of the Fittest Qualifier – Tadarius Thomas vs. Roderick Strong: Both these guys had recently separated themselves from the Decade, Roddy because they want him to feud with Whitmer and Page, and Tadarius because they realised how bad he was and wanted to get him away from a fairly hot angle. Roderick is the first of our former Survival of the Fittest winners in this year’s tournament.
I’ll be honest, I don’t like Tadarius, so when my mind kind of drifted during this match I couldn’t find it within myself to go back and watch it again. From what attention I did give it, the story told was of Strong being the better wrestler but Thomas’ unique style allowed him to make opportunities for himself. It wasn’t enough in the end though, as Strong caught Thomas in a backbreaker followed up by the Strong Hold for the victory. Fine I guess, but way below your standard Roddy match, because Thomas isn’t very good. Strong as a face was really over, which is a good sign to take away from this. **1/2
Survival of the Fittest Qualifier – Cedric Alexander vs. Adam Page: Yay, a match I’m actually looking forward to. Adam Page is accompanied by his mentor BJ Whitmer, and is somebody who I feel is the most improved guy in the company in 2014. The entire Decade Young Boy storyline has come off really well, and Page has gone from somebody I had no interest in seeing to somebody I’m really invested in. It doesn’t hurt that he’s really improved in the ring too from what I’ve seen of the tag matches he’s been a part of. Apart from a few short TV matches, this is his first singles match in quite a while, so will really be a good test to see if that improvement bears through into his singles work. He’s going up against Cedric Alexander, whose been finishing out the year strongly with some really good performances, after disappointingly not living up to his strong booking in the early part of the year.
This was a good showing for both guys, and the crowd absolutely loved it. One nice storyline moment in the early portion of the match was Whitmer handing Page a water bottle to drink from, after Page having to spend the last year as Whitmer’s water boy. In fact, Whitmer was all in on cheerleading Page here, the latest step in a slow progression of this storyline.
These two had a very enjoyable back and forth match-up, with Alexander just about having the best of it. However, he yet again hesitated when on the verge of victory, and allowed Page to stay in the contest. After hitting a beautiful Tope con Hilo dive over the top rope, Alexander rolled Page back into the ring and went for a springboard, but Page used the ruthlessness that has been ingrained in him through his year with the Decade and snatched him off of the top rope and hit a Back-to-Belly Piledriver to achieve victory. In a nice touch after the match Page looked really shocked and BJ ran into the ring to celebrate with him for finally picking up a big victory and pulling off the upset. ***1/2
Survival of the Fittest Qualifier – Delirious vs. Adam Cole: Current ROH booker the Lizard Man Delirious is your second former Survival of the Fittest winner of the night. Corino got a good one in about how Delirious was showing Elginesque promo skills. This match was fine, there were some nice sequences, but they did feel pretty much on autopilot to me. They weren’t really telling any perceivable story, and just seemed to be somewhat running through their spots. That’s not too much of a crime, but if that’s the case then there was no need for this to go 23 minutes. Then cap it off with a countout finish when Cole pushed Delirious to the outside then slapped on a figure four till the eighteen count allowing him to climb back into the ring and move on, and you’ve got a pretty underwhelming ,match which doesn’t really make a lot of sense. I don’t have too much of a problem with that sort of count-out finish, in fact I think it’s important it happens occasionally so that crowds buy into the countout spots, but this match really doesn’t make sense for it to happen in. Delirious appears a handful of times a year in ROH, and loses every match, why not put over your top heel clean? Too long, odd finish, no story but pretty good action. Crowd were really into it though. ***
Survival of the Fittest Qualifier – Hanson vs. Jay Lethal: Both Hanson and Lethal have been on really good streaks of quality matches, so I’m really looking forward to this one. Lethal is our third and final former winner, although Hanson also has tournament pedigree in Ring of Honor, being the Top Prospect Tournament winner earlier this year. Lethal came down to the ring with two girls from the local gentleman’s club who were sponsoring the show. They then made out on the ring apron, as you do.
Lethal tried to jump start the match with some chops, but Hanson grabbed his hand and forced him into the code of Honor before clubbing him. Throughout the match Hanson not only out-powered Lethal, but also proved to be a lot closer to the athletic prowess of the TV champion than Lethal predicted. As a result, Lethal had to rely on a series of small underhanded maneuvers and advantages gained from Truth Martini to gain any sort of control in the match.
After Lethal gained a fairly lengthy period of dominance, he slipped back into overconfidence, and this proved to be his undoing. He called for the Lethal Injection, but took a second to berate the fans, and in this time Hanson gathered himself and left the crowd awestruck by hitting a handspring back elbow of his own. The crowd were still going nuts when he clambered up to the top rope in the hopes of sealing the deal, and flew off with the agility rarely seen by a 275 pounder, executing a huge moonsault only to find Lethal had rolled out of the way.
As Hanson groggily got back to his feet Lethal backed him up into the ropes with a series of forearms and chops, followed up by a running back elbow. Lethal then went to run the ropes again, but Hanson rushed out after him, only to eat a superkick on the way out, dropping him down to a knee. This allowed Lethal a second attempt at the Lethal Injection, but on the way back from the handspring Hanson got underneath him and in mid-air elevated him up into a move similar to a back body drop but with him landing on his front. The momentum of this move pushed Lethal back up to his feet, and Hanson fluidly caught him flush with a Spin Kick of Doom which in turn lead to the pinfall victory.
This was a great match, and a real showcase of Hanson. Lethal did a fantastic job of managing to take control of the match while still making Hanson look like a beast, which allowed for him to make a great comeback right at the end. The crowd, who’ve been really good all night, became totally unglued for the entire finishing stretch which I just described, and it really added gravitas to Hanson’s upset of the TV champion. Hanson’s primed for a big 2015, and I’m really looking forward to see just how high he’ll get. ***3/4
Next up, RD Evans and his New Streak Family came out for some promo time ahead of his upcoming challenge for the Television Championship coming up at Glory By Honor XIII. Instead of his usual comedic antics, which I also really enjoy, he came out there and cut a really good serious promo about how this is about him testing himself to see if he can cut it with the elite of Ring of Honor in a serious environment. Because it was so different to his usual stuff, it was really effective in building up how important this match was to RD Evans the character.
As this was happening, out came Jimmy Jacobs, flanked by BJ Whitmer, to cut Evans off. This was his first appearance since the split between Whitmer & Page with Strong, and he told everybody he really wasn’t happy with the way things went down and it was a travesty for the company that Strong, Whitmer and Jacobs weren’t together. Evans then pulled Jacobs back around, but Jacobs ordered him to leave the ring and let the people who built the company talk. He then turned his attention to Moose, and offered him a place as a Decade young boy because at the moment all he is is a washed up football player pretending to be a wrestler. This lead to brawl between the two teams, until Page ran down the ramp and gave the Decade side the advantage. This in turn brought out the Addiction who were Jacobs’ and Whitmer’s opponents for the night.
The Decade quickly bailed from the ring, and Kazarian got on the mic to distract them while Daniels climbed to the top and hit a crossbody on all three of them to start the match.
The Addiction vs. The Decade (Jacobs & Whitmer): This was a fun little back and forth tag match to take us back from intermission. Both teams showed off some nice team combinations, but you could kind of tell they weren’t going all out here. After Page got involved once or twice, Moose came down to the ring and speared him, and that allowed The Addiction to hit a Northern Lights Bomb/Cutter combination on Jacobs, and then their flip release belly-to-back suplex into a double knee gutbuster finisher which they’re calling the Celebrity Rehab (and I will be too from this point on because that’s a bitch to type and I’m not even sure if it makes sense) to Whitmer for the win.
The Decade literally never wins any match, that’s been the worst bit about the group since its inception and the thing that’s stopped it being a real success. Oh and Daniels is so perfect at who is legal that he refuses to make a pin if he’s not the legal guy even when Frankie has already gone off to pose. He got up and dragged him over for the pin. Another reason to love Daniels. ***
Survival of the Fittest Qualifier – Matt Sydal vs. ACH: This one is for the final spot into the finals, and is just about my most anticipated match of the qualifiers. My two favorite post WWE Sydal matches have come against Ospreay and Ricochet, so with ACH fitting right into that groove I’ve got high hopes for this one. And boy did it deliver.
They started off quick with some fantastic sequences, with both men battling hard for any small advantage. Although they matched up so closely, after a while it became clear that ACH had an ever so slight advantage in the speed and agility department. From that point forward, Sydal stopped trying to match ACH step for step and instead wrestled more on the counter and trying to pick his spots more.
This lead to the vital moment of the match; ACH rushed in for a dropkick on Sydal, but he dropped down out of the way and ACH got his leg tangled up in the ropes. From that point on, Sydal worked over ACH’s knee consistently. This played into the finish later, when it slowed ACH climbing to the top enough for Sydal to regain his footing and stop ACH hitting his 450 by grabbing his injured leg and then hitting a jumping knee. He then jumped up and hit a top rope huricanrana with a bit extra snap, so instead of ACH falling normally on his back he made an extra 90 degrees of rotation and landed kneeling, a far worse conclusion to the move after the work that had previously gone into the limb. This gave Sydal enough time to climb up to the top rope and hit his perfect Shooting Sydal Press to move onto the finals.
This was a tremendous match, my favorite post WWE Sydal match by quite some way. One of my issues with Sydal’s more recent matches are that they didn’t flow too well, but this one didn’t have that problem at all. ACH is so good as a sympathetic babyface, and these two matched up so well. Not only was this a great high flying matchup, and it was, but it told a fantastic story around the knee. Sydal doesn’t get many chances to play the de facto heel and be the guy in control for much of the match due to being such a natural underdog but, with ACH an even more natural heel, he got a chance to here. He’s really good in the role, and was brilliant at working over the knee in an exciting and inventive way. ACH’s long term selling was really good too, selling it while off offense and on. was a fantastic match, and just about getting into the category of what I’d call “must see”. ****
No DQ – The Kingdom (Bennett & Taven) vs. The Briscoes: This was just a long wild but unfocused brawl. The Briscoes basically battered Matt and Michael around for about five minutes with chairs, stripper poles, the entrance ramp, barricades and tables. Then Taven hit a springboard enzuigiri into a chair into Mark’s face, and then things turned around and the opposite happened. Mark dived off the top rope onto Taven through a table. Bennett took a Death Valley Driver off the apron onto the ring entrance way. The finish came when Mark took a spike piledriver through four standing chairs while Jay was tied up in the ropes and Maria crucifixing him to stop him getting out.
This was a wild, unstructured yet fun brawl. It didn’t tell any real story, and the selling was pretty shoddy (guys were up after some major bumps pretty damn quickly), but the aim of this match was just to be fun, and it achieved that. These sorts of matches are always way more enjoyable when you’re there live in person I find, and the crowd really dug this, so you can’t complain. ***1/4
After the match, Cole came down and all three Kingdom members laid a beating on Briscoe, adding a little more kindling to the fire that is the near two year build to the Final Battle main event. It culminated with a triple superkick to Jay in the corner, and that’s the way we close the show.
First of all I have to say thank you to anybody who was in the crowd for this show, because the crowd here was absolutely fantastic all night. They really enhanced the show, and were seemingly into everything. Aside from the two NJPW crossover shows, I’d say this crowd was ROH’s best all year. The commentary was actually fairly good here, Corino was on form joke wise and, aside from maybe over-talking their sponsor which you can’t really blame them for, they did a good job focusing on and calling the action.
Overall, I think this show gets a resounding thumbs up from me. ACH-Sydal really is a piece of art, and Hanson-Lethal and Alexander-Page are both really enjoyable matches too. Throw in a smattering of other good matches, and you’ve got yourself a very good show. You may well be best off skipping the first two matches on this show, as they’re really not worth your time, and it’ll leave you two and a half hours of really good wrestling. Hopefully Night 2 will be just as good.