Ring of Honor Wrestling
“13th Anniversary – Winner Takes All”
March 1, 2015
Orleans Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
You know 2015 is a weird year for wrestling in North America when I am going out of my way to review a Ring of Honor pay-per-view that no one else affiliated with this site had volunteered for earlier than today.
The first reason is that this site reviews everything, and you wouldn’t think this ROH show would have slipped through the cracks until I mentioned it. The second reason is that it is me who is voluntarily plopping down 35 bucks to watch a ROH ppv and review it. And I am doing this not because I expect to hate the show, but rather because I expect to like it. And going even further than that, I expect to like the show because in 2015 Ring of Honor is the best wrestling promotion in North America.
From my perspective this is an amazing turn of events. As recently as two years ago I found ROH to be largely unwatchable. A promotion filled with wrestlers I didn’t care for, working a style I loathed, in settings that seemed bleak and depressing, Ring of Honor may have been the most boring promotion in the United States, even if it wasn’t technically the worst (TNA is the default pick there and rightfully so).
But slowly over the course of the last several years things have changed. The most annoying and spotty workers in the promotion either left (Richards and Edwards), improved (O’Reilly and Strong), or became less significant parts of the show (Elgin). Part time acts like AJ Styles, The Young Bucks, The Addiction, Chris Hero and Alberto El Patron started to add depth and authentic “dream match” qualities to virtually every card. The best overall act in the promotion, The Briscoes, became arguably the best overall act in the World, with Jay Briscoe becoming a multiple time World champion in the process. Stale acts like Jay Lethal were given new directions, making them interesting in the process. Perhaps most surprising of all, the right-wing media congratulate-owned ROH pushed and developed more black stars, in less stereotypical ways, than maybe any other promotion in wrestling history. Even the commentary of Kevin Kelly — which I once found grating — has become a net positive, as he often adds to matches, and virtually never detracts from them. As it stands ROH has arguably the best weekly television show in wrestling, arguably the best promo in wrestling (Jay Briscoe), arguably the best tag teams in wrestling (The Briscoes, The Young Bucks, reDRagon), arguably the most important and well protected titles in wrestling, and has had more critically acclaimed matches than any U.S. based promotion so far in 2015.
That’s not a bad haul for a promotion that you couldn’t have paid me to watch a complete show of a couple of years ago.
So here I am. Dylan Hales, ROH fanboy, ready to review the second ROH show I plopped down money to watch this week. The first was a home run, which I reviewed here. Will the second one live up to that standard?
Cedric Alexander vs. Matt Sydal: This was an odd match in that they started out teasing that this would be a spotfest, then pulled back a bit on the pace with some irrelevant legwork from Sydal, and then they decided to go the spotfest route after all. Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t balls to the wall “stuff,” but it was largely a match built around big impact offense, counters and big bumps. Usually a match with Sydal sees him leading the way with the crazy bumps, but Cedric took a wild one into the guardrail early, and nearly killed himself on a head bump to set up the finish. I thought the best parts of this were the counters both guys brought to each others signature moves, but this felt rushed as a whole, and it probably should have been better than it was. Alexander worked somewhat heelish in this at points, and after the match pouted a bit before storming out, so perhaps something is in the works with him. Decent opener, but ultimately disappointing. **3/4
Moose vs. Mark Briscoe: Both Moose and Mark put in great performances on the absolutely awesome Atlanta ROH show, so I had high hopes for this one, and I’m happy to say they were met. I could see some people being really critical of the relative brevity of this, but even though Moose is improving rapidly, I do think he needs to be protected a bit by keeping his matches on the short side. Plus it fits his gimmick and the story they are telling with him. Anyhow this was a match designed for both guys to get their shit in, but in a way where the big man v. little engine that could dynamic was still the real story of the match. Mark took some crazy bumps in this, including a fallaway slam into the guardrail, and a nasty fold up for the Moose pop-up clothesline. We also got the big Mark “Cactus Elbow” on the floor, though he didn’t have a sustained run of offense, which was really the right thing to do from a booking perspective. This was more of a “good for what it was” match, than it was “go out of your way to see it” match, but I’m invested in both guys at this point, so I dug it. ***
Karl Anderson/X vs. The Addiction vs. The Kingdom: Anderson cut a pre-match promo explaining that Doc Gallows wasn’t there, and then didn’t replace him. Well that’s stupid and lazy. Bullet Club is a bad (deliberately?) NWO tribute act, you mean to tell me they couldn’t have Anderson draft some aging veteran into the groups C-team for the night? Budda Khan still makes all the Cauliflower Alley events doesn’t he? Surely he could have been brought in, working a slightly out-of-date hipster roller derby gimmick, as a Bullet Club version of ironic, post-modern, Vincent. Jesse Hernandez used to make all of the AWA Showboat shows, they couldn’t get him in to reprise his role as Baby Vader’s partner opposite the greatest short-lived tag team of all time Buddy Rose and Doug Somers? Hell, Nick Diaz probably won’t be able to fight for a few years, Stockton isn’t that far, he has a track record of getting to Vegas on short notice, and he would probably work for weed.
Why not give Nicky a shot? It almost doesn’t even matter who they plugged into the spot, the point is the Bullet Club gimmick would have allowed for almost anyone to be plugged in for a single night and they chose no one. And that’s the sort of thing that makes ROH look like an indie and not a “real” major wrestling promotion. Did it hurt the match a ton? Probably not. This match was the most explicitly spotty match of the night. Daniels in particular seemed to be really over with the crowd, and hit some really nice spots that got big pops. Taven and Bennett bumped all over the place, and played the fool well as they often do. Anderson hit a bunch of cutters. There were lots of moves based around guys hitting or hopping over the ropes. It was what it was, and The Kingdom went over continuing their push, coming off their win over the Briscoes in a great match on the recent ROH show from Atlanta. But I never really got over how stupid it was not to replace Gallows with someone. Anyone. **
BJ Whitmer vs. Roderick Strong: This match never really had a chance. Whitmer is Whitmer, and even though Roddy has been better over the last 18 months or so than he has in a long time, he’s still basically the indie version of Randy Orton. The reality is that this was a perfectly well put together match, but the crowd simply wasn’t going to react to a straight match between these two. In hindsight it probably should have been a street fight, which plays to the strengths of Whitmer to the extent that they exist, and is something Strong has done very well this year. Like everything on the show up to this point, this was kept fairly short, and the final Roddy backbreaker got a big response from the crowd, but this really came across as a waste of time. Basically the divas match of the show. **
ODB vs. Maria: Pre-match Maria cuts a promo saying she can’t work because she is pregnant, which is just a set up for a Mike Bennett sneak attack on ODB, which itself just a set up for a Maria cheapsot on ODB. And well, that basically describes this one. I actually think for a match built around bells, whistles, and bullshit this was pretty decent. They kept Mark and Bennett out there all match which led to crazy stuff like Maria kicking out of an accidental superkick from Mike, Maria getting pressed to the floor onto both men, a big ODB dive on everyone, and Mike Bennett eating a ODB/Mark Doomsday Device on the floor. If you are going to book a match between these two you probably aren’t going to get anything much better than this, so for that reason I have to give this a thumbs up. That said I was really hoping for a post-match ODB speech where she revealed she was pregnant with Mark’s baby, followed by a beer bash. Oh well. **1/2
AJ Styles vs. ACH: The early portion of this had some great moments. I really loved AJ’s smirk when ACH taunted him for example, and the early Styles Clash tease, and big Styles dropkick after the ACH flip fest, were both awesome, and incredibly well done. More importantly than the fact that the spots were cool and well done, is that the early stuff really did a good job of setting the table for the match. They established that Styles was the craftier veteran and clear favorite, by letting him cut off a bunch of ACH stuff, but they did it in such a way that when ACH came back with his own big spots the crowd was even more amped to see them. Styles controlled the bulk of this, but all of ACH’s comebacks were well-timed and AJ did a great job reacting for his offense. The match was hurt a bit by the fact that nothing ACH could do was going to convince you he could get the win, but I thought the finish with him going for an arguably unnecessary 450 leading to his downfall was pretty clever, and kept him well protected. In the end he left looking like more of a star than he did when he came in, and I am a big fan of the Styles finishing combos, so this match worked for me. ***1/2
ROH Tag Team Championship – The Young Bucks vs. reDRagon: This was interesting because Styles basically worked like a face in his match, Anderson got a huge babyface pop for the babyface act of going it alone in his match, and the Bucks were the clear faces in this with the reDRagon working as the clear heels, cutting off the ring on the Bucks to set up a hot tag, and using MMA fighter Shayna Baszler for distraction spots. So I guess The Bullet Club are huge babyfaces here. Whatever the case may be, this was a hell of a match. As a Southern tag mark I would have preferred a slightly longer heat section on the Bucks, but I liked that they at least gave me some of the traditional, before they went crazy with the spots you expect to see out of these guys. There was way too much in this to even try to give an accurate recap but highlights included a misdirection moonsault to the floor, an Indytaker on the floor to O’Reilly, and a crazy spot with one of The Bucks flipping over O’Reilly as he was tied up in the ropes holding the other Jackson brother in an armbar (if it sounds ridiculous it was, and it’s even more ridiculous to try to describe the spot). They also did a great job with the superkick in this, as not only was it hugely over with the crowd, but it also was used at key moments to turn the tide, or set up something bigger from The Bucks. The nearfalls down the stretch were incredibly well done, and for the most part every major spot had some meaning. They cut a hell of a pace, but the selling of all of the spots was good, or at least good enough for what they were going for. The energy sort of fell out of the place when reDRagon retained, but this was still really, really good. Probably about as good as this style gets. ****1/4
ROH Television Championship – Alberto El Patron vs. Jay Lethal: I am not a Lethal fan at all, but I have to admit he has done a really good job in this role as the secondary champion, who believes he’s the real top champ of the promotion. Still I was not in love with the idea of this match, as Patron has been kind of disappointing since leaving the WWE, and Lethal hasn’t had a singles match I’ve liked in years. Well this one really exceeded my expectations. One of the challenges of working in front of an ROH crowd is trying to strike the right balance between the big spots they expect, and the kind of pacing that allows for the big spots to be something more than just…well…big spots. Here they hit just the right balance. What this meant is that Alberto had to adapt some, and break out all of his big spots, including a tope, the reverse suplex off the top, and the double stomp to Lethal in the tree of woe position. On the other hand Lethal had to slow down, which runs counter to his natural instinct as one of the more annoying “go-go-go” guys around. What this meant for him was that when he hit his big topes down the stretch they came across as substantially more important than they usually do, and served as a nice transition from the first half of the match to the second. You could argue that the finish was a little cutesy, but I liked Lethal selling his arm on the first handspring attempt, and him taking the fall — even via interference — was a good use of the part-time, probably soon to be departing, El Patron. ***1/4
Samoa Joe came out right as they were about to start announcing the participants for the main event. He got a heroes welcome, and cut an impassioned promo putting over Ring of Honor, the Ring of Honor title, and the upcoming main event. I thought it was a bit odd that he didn’t talk about any of the guys by name, but the most significant thing here was that he threw his name into the hat as a future challenger for the ROH World Title. Overall a good segment.
ROH World Championship – Hanson vs. Tomasso Ciampa vs. Michael Elgin vs. Jay Briscoe: As a collection of spots, some based on really contrived set ups, this was hurt by comparison to the 6-way match from the Atlanta show, and the Bucks v. Dragon match from earlier in the show. As a World title match in a promotion that has generally been well booked recently, this was hurt by the fact that it was a four-way in the first place, and an absolutely absurdly overbooked one at that. I mean, I guess you can give props to Todd Sinclair for taking a really good-looking bump for a ref. And I’m glad Ray Rowe is back. And I suppose the stuff with Nigel was at least in theory a rare instance of something that happened a long time ago having some sort of payoff (I think?). And the idea of protecting Hanson is a good one. But at the end of the day this was just fucking stupid. There is just no way you can justify that sort of horseshit in a World title match on a major show. It’s even worse when you consider the fact that the last scene of the show was Jay Briscoe and Samoa Joe having an intense stare down. That is something that should absolutely work in theory, as these guys both come across as legit badasses and have an awesome ROH history to play off of, but when Jay just lucked his way into retaining the title via a cornucopia of sub-Russo horseshit, it just came across as laughable. Jay v. Joe is probably the match I most wanted to see with Joe back in ROH, and I am actually less excited for it coming out of this pay-per-view. An absolute dogshit finish, to an otherwise good show. *
It’s really unfortunate that the main event was so poorly booked, because up until that point this was clearly a good show, trending in the very good direction. The main event couldn’t kill all of the good will that ROH has built up with the me over the course of the last several months, but it deserves to be ridiculed, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Still a good show overall, but the fact that I feel I have to qualify that statement tells you just how bad the main event was.