This week honor sets up camp on the shores of the Cumberland River in lovely Nashville, TN. Final Battle left many fans, including myself, wondering what direction the company is going in creatively during 2015. All three champions ended the previous year with definitive wins and looked dominant going into Music City. Who will challenge them in the new year remains to be seen. A bevy of new talent started their climb up the card in 2014 and the intrigue of who will be this year’s Cedric Alexander or ACH hangs in the air. Several well known stars joined ROH in 2014 and former WWE wrestler Alberto el Patron is set to make his ROH debut in a few weeks. It will be fascinating to see what other castoffs make their way to Ring of Honor during the next twelve months. So with all this in mind let’s look at our first taste at what ROH had to offer this year.

Roderick Strong vs. Mark Briscoe: The inaugural brawl of 2015 was between two ROH mainstays and men who have battled each other plenty in the past. As a result of their familiarity with one another Strong and Briscoe spent the opening section of the match trading holds and reversing the other’s signature maneuvers rendering the early going a stalemate.

It seemed that the first man that made a mistake would walk away with a defeat. On this night that man would be Mark Briscoe. As he attempted a dropkick through the ropes Briscoe found himself trapped in Strong’s grip. Roddy pulled one half of Dem Boys in the air and Briscoe came down neck first on the ring apron. A sick elbow/knee strike combination and an End of Heartache later Roderick Strong found himself with his arm raised in victory.

A competitive opener between two veterans that work well together. **½

At Final Battle Tomasso Ciampa hit an ROH official— which violated the probation Nigel McGuiness had put him on. McGuiness rendered the decision this week not to fire Ciampa because he inadvertently struck the referee. Ciampa did not seem to care and was focused on getting a shot at Mark Briscoe. In response McGuiness stated that Hanson and Michael Elgin would be fighting for the number one contendership in the main event. As Ciampa protested Elgin came out to remind Ciampa of his victory over him in December. Elgin figured he could beat both Hanson and Ciampa so he lobbied to face both men. Nigel obliged and the main event was changed to a three way match. Nice promo work by Elgin and Ciampa.

Top Prospect Tournament First Round, J. Diesel vs. Will Ferrara: The two ROH Dojo graduates should have made head trainer Delirious proud by putting on a good big man-little man matchup. Ferrara bumped well for all of Diesel’s power spots including taking a Fall Away Slam into the guardrail. What impressed me the most was watching Ferrara take Diesel’s body punches and to his credit I’ve never seen anyone sell them so well. While his selling and babyface fire are solid Ferrara needs to work on making his offense seem more impactful as it did not come across well on television.

Wannabe House of Truth member J. Diesel was impressive as well. His offense is very diverse for a power wrestler—Diesel included submission work and a flying stomp in his arsenal for the opening round of the tournament. He is definitely a project though, one with a lot of upside, and benefited from working with a smaller opponent that made him look like a killer. I’d like to see what he does against a larger opponent to really gage what his ability level is at this point in his career.

A solid match between two young workers who despite their potential have a ways to go before they are ready for the spotlight. **1/2

Number One Contender Match – Michael Elgin vs. Hanson vs. Tomasso Ciampa: When these three mammoths go to war, someone is going to get hit hard enough for their ancestors to feel it. Except in this match. The bone shaking hits were kept to a minimum here. In their place was a tremendous showing from Michael Elgin. Renowned for his power, Elgin took this opportunity to demonstrate his versatility. He flew off the tope rope an unprecedented three times with grace not expected from a man of his stature. Say all you want to about online antics but the Canadian strongman is one of the most consistent workers in the business today.

As is the case in any multi-man match, there is plenty of one wrestler preventing the other from emerging as the victor. Though each man had their title dreams dashed by an opponent none stung more than Tomasso Ciampa’s. With Elgin seemingly finished on the outside the former Television Champion somehow hoisted Hanson up for Project Ciampa. Before Todd Sinclair could count the three the combustible Elgin pulled him out of the ring. Enraged, Ciampa moved to the floor to butt heads with his rival and then, out of nowhere, a flying Hanson wiped them all out. Without an official the match was called leaving the number one contender slot still vacant.

A stupid, stupid finish. This is the second time in as many months that a referee getting knocked out led to a non-finish. If Delirious keeps using these finishes he will risk alienating the fan base at time when the promotion is making head way. Hopefully this is the last one because the asinine finish really hampered an otherwise decent main event. ***

Final Thoughts:

ROH ended this episode with more questions than answers in correlation to the company’s creative direction. The in-ring offerings were above average-to-good but nothing special. Skip this episode unless you want to watch Michael Elgin fly or are hell bent on catching the Top Prospect Tournament. Advertised for next week is the latest installment of the never ending feud between Jay Briscoe and the Kingdom and the first appearance of Alberto el Patron.