ROH All Star Extravaganza VII
September 18, 2015
San Antonio, Texas

Ring of Honor returns to the PPV stage with their annual All Star Extravaganza event. The central focus tonight is double champion Jay Lethal defending his titles against one of ROH’s top tag teams, reDRagon. Lethal kicked the night off defending his ROH TV championship against the veteran of the team, Bobby Fish and closed his busy night taking on the youngster, Kyle O’Reilly. In between we saw a definitive #1 contenders match for the ROH Title, the blowoff of a long-running grudge, a mutli-team ROH Tag Title match and plenty of fun stuff in-between.

Ring of Honor Television Championship
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Bobby Fish

What a treat to start off All Star Extravaganza with one of my most anticipated matches of the night. The story for those who don’t know is both halves of ROH’s dynamic reDRagon team are getting ROH title shots tonight. The youngster of the team, Kyle O’Reilly, gets a chance at Lethal’s ROH World Title while Fish, the cagey veteran of reDRagon has a shot at Lethal’s TV Title. Given Lethal’s lengthy reign (Lethal won the title April 4, 2014) and the fact that there’s very little chance O’Reilly leaves tonight as ROH’s top champion, I expected a Bobby Fish win here.

Welp, it didn’t happen. The match structure was fantastic as Fish immediately worked over Lethal’s leg in hopes of getting the tap via his Fish Hook submission. There was added psychology here as Kevin Kelly smartly pointed out, Fish was also helping his tag partner. Even if Lethal found a way to win, he’d go into the ROH title match at less than 100%. It was a cool multi-layered story that was focused on throughout the match.

In the end, Fish had Lethal, well, hooked in the Fish Hook. Lethal reached for the ropes but couldn’t get there. Just when it looked like Fish had him finished, Lethal rolled through the submission, rolled Fish in a schoolboy, held the tights at got the win. Somewhat questionable result aside, this was a fantastic opener with two guys who may not get enough credit for how great they are. ***3/4

The Battle of the Boys
Silas Young vs. Dalton Castle

Lucky me, this is my most anticipated match of the night! This is a Battle of the Boys where Dalton Castle puts his…boys on the line against Silas Young. If Silas wins, The Boys are under his tutelage. Young promised in pre-match promos to teach them how to change oil, cut wood and “put a mouthy broad in her place.” Oh, Silas. If Dalton Castle wins, Silas becomes one of Castle’s Boys which would be hilarious television. Honestly, no matter the result here we’re going to get great TV. I see future vignettes with Silas and The Boys in a dirty driveway learning how to change sparkplugs and flat tires, Silas replacing their Mimosas and white wine with a 30-rack of Miller Geniune Draft. If Castle wins, c’mon, Silas is gonna wear god damn feathers. That writes itself.

The end result: Silas now has the Boys and it’s time to make them men. I’ve seen these two have much better matches both live and on TV, this one just didn’t work for me. It was disjointed and kind of sloppy, it really never got going. The finish saw Silas attempting to take his knee brace off and hit Castle. One of The Boys grabbed the brace causing the referee to come over. With the ref distracted, Silas hit a low blow, his Misery finish and picked up the win. I loved the story going in and I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing what happens with Silas, The Boys and Castle moving forward but this match just didn’t do it for me. Better luck next time, guys. **

The Briscoe Brothers vs. ????

The Briscoe Brothers Open Challenge was answered by The Decade (BJ Whitmer and Adam Page), of course, they can’t wrestle since both are nursing injuries so instead we had to hear BJ Whitmer on commentary the entire match, oh joy. Anyway, once they were out of the way, the Romantic Touch made his way down to the ring. The Briscoes quickly dispatched him and the lights went out and out came… All Night Express! For those who don’t remember the team (it was about four years since they were last regulars), it’s Rhett Titus (sorry for ruining Christmas but he was Romantic Touch too) and the returning Kenny King.

King originally left ROH under less than stellar circumstances. All Night Express had just defeated Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin) for the ROH World Tag Team Titles at Best in the World 2014. King, who’s contract was running out, made an appearance with TNA and that was it. Words were exchanged by both parties but when there’s money to be made in wrestling, bygones will be bygones. It’s great to see him back in the fold as I’ve always been a fan.

Anyway, the match. These two teams had a series of fantastic matches throughout 2011 including Ladder War III and their Chicago Street Fight. While King and Titus have both seemed to regress since then, they are obviously capable of putting together some great matches. I hope this team is back for the long haul as they give ROH some much needed tag depth.

This one took a little bit to get going but the closing stretch was really good. It was clear the Titus and King needed a little bit of time to get back into their tag flow. Once they got there, we saw elements of what made these teams feuds in 2011 so special. In a huge upset, All Night Express won with their amazing One Night Stand finisher. For those who haven’t seen it, Titus puts his opponent in the Powerbomb position while King comes off the top rope with a diving neckbreaker. It’s really amazing to see live and it was cool to them get the victory immediately upon their comeback. This wasn’t a complete match and these two are capable of much more but this was solid. **3/4

Moose vs. Cedric Alexander

This No Disqualification match was a long time coming and a real testiment to ROH’s ability to tell a long form story. Moose’s lengthy undefeated streak came to an end at May’s Global Wars show when Cedric Alexander used nefarious means. At June’s Best in the World, Moose’s long time manager Veda Scott turned on him, forming an alliance with Alexander.

This really couldn’t be a normal wrestling match, it had to be a war and boy was it. Moose came out and immediately set the tone destroying Alexander with a running headbutt while still wearing his football helmet. Moose then tossed Alexander against the barricades. Alexander got the momentum back after Moose attempted a flip onto a bridged ladder, Moose missed badly and Alexander took advantage. The remainder of the match saw both men trying to one up the other with chairs, tables, ladders and more. Moose is improving at an alarming rate, compare what this guy was capable of a year ago to today — it’s startling.

The finish was great storytelling as Alexander asked Scott to get him a wrench (Alexander’s weapon of choice against Moose). Moose’s current manager and former protege of Veda Scott, Stokley Hathaway intervened causing Alexander to heel kick Veda Scott in the corner. Hathaway then yanked away the wrench, hit Alexander setting up Moose for a spear into the corner through a table. This was a spectacular brawl/hardcore match and the perfect match for this feud. ****1/4

Match Three in a Best of Five Series
Matt Sydal vs. ACH

Having seen Match two in this series live last weekend, I had a feel for what this match was going to be. You may see Matt Sydal vs. ACH and figure it’ll be these two flying all over the place, flipping around the ring, diving to the outside and doing their best PWG tribute. Match two wasn’t that, it was a methodical match building to those patended dives and flips as opposed to going overboard with them. That’s exactly what this one was. Sydal worked over the knees of ACH throughout, hoping to slow him down. ACH worked underneath throughout but popped up every few moments with a shot of adrenaline. In the end, Sydal missed a Shooting Star Press, ACH hit a second rope 450 but Sydal kicked out. This was a fun callback as that was the finish from Chicago. So now ACH needed a new path. After a series of kicks between the two, ACH hit a beautiful brainbuster and followed with a 450 (Midnight Star) for the victory. ACH goes up 2-1 in the Best of Five series. Will ROH get ballsy and have ACH win 3-1 or are we going to the 5th match? Good joke, huh? ***1/2

ROH Tag Team Championship
The Addiction (c) vs. The Kingdom vs. The Young Bucks

Between New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor, I’m pretty well done with multi-team tag matches. They were fun for awhile but they are all starting to blend together these days. Maybe it’s because The Young Bucks are always involved them, I don’t know exactly but they are starting to make my eyes bleed.

This match had very little focus in the first half as the teams seemed to just trade spots and stick to a your turn, my turn structure. The last quarter saw things pick up a bit as The Young Bucks started taking control hitting many-a Superkicks and many-a Suck Its. Once I started getting into it, it got super gimmicky. Maria did her typical “I’m hot, look at me” distraction, the ref went down and a man in a red mask (presumably a member of The Addiction’s  Knights of the Rising Dawn stable). Instead, the masked man attacked The Addiction. The Bucks immediately took advantage hitting a Meltzer Driver to Kazarian, however, legal man Matt Taven snuck back into the ring, rolled up Matt Jackson, held the tights (the second tight hold for those keeping track) and picked up the win. Yup, The Kingdom are your Ring of Honor Tag Team Champions. Oh joy. **1/4

ROH World Title #1 Contenders Match
Michael Elgin vs. AJ Styles vs. Adam Cole vs. Roderick Strong

This was as good of a multi-man match as you’ll see. Like the match before it though, I couldn’t help but think of much better it would’ve been with a series of singles matches between these four. Maybe a mini tournament, double elimination? Sure, you give up some big time future matches along the way but who cares, it’s for a shot at the ROH Title, that’s a big deal.

Either way, this was really good. This was a classic clusterfuck multi-man match with multiple pin break ups, double team moves, #BigMike tossing guys around like rag dolls. The ending was of particular interest as Styles started taking control eventually hitting the Bloody Sunday on Adam Cole, following it with a Styles Clash and getting the clean pinfall in the middle of the ring. Though it seemed like any of the four could have won, Styles’ victory felt very definitive. There was a clear goal to set him up in a big way and with the continued increase in relationship between Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Styles with that title in Japan. Remember when Joe and I were trying to figure out what would occupy Styles at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom? Well, I think we have our answer.

I probably didn’t do the bulk of this match justice, it was really good and definitely another feather in the cap of this tremendous show. ***3/4

ROH World Title
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly

I’m on record thinking (from the moment I saw him in an ROH ring) that Kyle O’Reilly would be a star for the company. It’s taken awhile to get to that point but he’s almost there. There’s an aura and presence that wasn’t there even a few years ago. This match has me really excited, can’t wait to see what these two are capable of doing.

The champion Jay Lethal came out with a noticable limp, a good selljob based off the opener against Fish. O’Reilly noticed the opening from the outset and continued to work over Lethal’s legs. About half through the content, O’Reilly switched focus on his Kimura and his Armaggedon cross armbreaker. Lethal looekd completely against the ropes as O’Reilly controlled the match. Lethal’s manager broke up a pinfall by pulling referee Todd Sinclair out of the ring. ROH commissioner Nigel McGuiness kicked him to the curb, usually the sign of a clean finish. Welp, not this time.

Sinclair got caught up in the ropes and immediately went down. This is when the ran-ins began. First Lethal starting working O’Reilly over, hitting him with the ROH title. O’Reilly’s reDRagon partner Bobby Fish came in for the save but he was quickly thrwarted by House of Truth member Donovan Dijak. Former Kingdom member and longtime tag partner of O’Reilly, Adam Cole then ran down for the save. Or so we thought. Cole turned on his former partner O’Reilly, allowing Lethal to hit the Lethal Injection for the win. ****

Post match, Adam Cole revealed that he’s re-joined The Kingdom and engaged in a lengthy beatdown of O’Reilly. 

Man, they really had something good on their hands with this match but the finish hurt it a lot for me. I get that you want to keep Lethal strong, not have him lose, that’s fine. I get that you want to build to Cole/O’Reilly match down the line, that’s fine. To do this sort of stuff as the send off to a major PPV feels weird. That’s the way WWE ends PPVs, don’t be WWE, Ring of Honor. Be Ring of Honor. I won’t let the finish cloud my judgement too much, this was an incredible match up until that point but I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth. I’m not anticipating future matches but instead wondering what could have been tonight, that’s never a good thing.

Final Thoughts: Ring of Honor delivered big time with All Star Extravaganza VII — the lead up event was solid, the work in the ring was spectacular but the booking remains a central issue. Run-ins, roll-ups, holding the tights to retain championships is well and good but ROH needs to be an alternative, it needs to be above some of the standard tropes we’re used to in major professional wrestling. For almost a decade the company was able to tell engaging, fun and rewarding stories without relying on WWE mechanisms. Why start now? Don’t let me bitching cloud you from a purchase of this show, it was a really good wrestling event and probably the best top-to-bottom in-ring ROH show that didn’t include the guys from New Japan. Go out of your way to watch this event if you can, in particular the first half which was some of the best hour/hour and a half of wrestling you’ll see all year.