Ring of Honor TV
September 30, 2015
Why do you watch Ring of Honor Television? Or perhaps, why do you watch wrestling at all? You could enjoy watching wrestling for many of the same reasons people enjoy watching traditional scripted television. There are characters who are on personal journeys to overcome some obstacle. Wrestling even features the added bonus of getting to see those characters physically overcome those obstacles. It can be truly euphoric.
You could also enjoy watching wrestling for many of the same reasons people enjoy watching traditional sports. Wrestling often involves fairly high level athletes engaged in combined displays of strength, agility, and acrobatics that are rarely if ever seen elsewhere. And while the outcomes are pre-determined, when the stories are well-told, wrestling can provide the same exhilaration that watching your favorite sports team win provides.
While many fans enjoy the out-of-ring storytelling along with the sports aspects of wrestling, there is also a divide of spectators who came to wrestling due to their specific interest in one or the other of those attributes. That is especially prevalent among New Japan Pro Wrestling fans, a promotion that largely eschews western wrestling storytelling in favor of sports-style matchups and focuses more on who is the better wrestler. If you want feuds built on bigger personal issues, especially if you’re an English-speaking fan who might not pick up on the intricacies of NJPW storytelling, that product might leave you cold.
Ring of Honor began as a more sports-based promotion but evolved over time to feature traditional pro wrestling storytelling up and down the card. Modern ROH finds itself strangely stuck in the middle of those poles, however. The level of the in-ring wrestling is not where it was during ROH’s heyday, though it has been vastly improved with the consistent presence of New Japan stars. The in-ring wrestling is still very good and likely the best of the major American promotions. The storytelling, though, is not nearly to that level. Especially when you analyze the storytelling with regard to the way the promotion builds feuds and cards.
So why do you watch Ring of Honor Television? I often criticize ROH TV in this space because I want to see well-told stories that cause me to be invested in characters and in the ultimate outcomes of matches. Personally, I rarely get that from ROH. Of course, even with that criticism, it would be impossible for me to write off the promotion because the matches nearly always deliver. If you watch ROH TV strictly for the matches, I can see why the groundswell has again returned with many people heralding ROH TV as the best weekly television show in pro wrestling. But if you watch for the payoff, it can be a march that is unsatisfying, if regularly enjoyable.
This week’s episode of ROH TV promises to continue the show’s regular theme of featuring very good matches that mean very little in the grand scheme of Ring of Honor.
KUSHIDA vs. Matt Sydal
This match was filmed when KUSHIDA was still the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Sydal would appear in New Japan after this match occurred. So the motive seemed to be to present Sydal as a credible challenger to KUSHIDA’s title. I’m not sure why that would happen on ROH TV but here we are. KUSHIDA dropped the Junior title to Kenny Omega at NJPW’s Destruction in Kobe show but Sydal is indeed the next challenger for that belt. It does make you wonder if Omega’s title win was a change of plans.
The crowd was over the moon for this match before it even began with “this is awesome” chants filling the arena before the competitors had a chance to lock up. And once they did, they kept the crowd on their side through the finish. If you like these two guys, this was exactly what you would have wanted though slightly too short. KUSHIDA controlled most of the match but Sydal would eventually create enough space to get off a shooting star press. However, he missed the first one and allowed KUSHIDA to find the Hoverboard Lock. The crowd bit on both as finishes. But Sydal would escape and incapacitate KUSHIDA long enough to actually hit the shooting star press for the win. ***
BJ Whitmer Ruins Everything
As VOW’s Joe Lanza recently noted, ROH TV is good as long as they don’t feature BJ Whitmer. Unfortunately, ROH puts BJ Whitmer on their TV almost every week. If you only watched their TV and consumed no other media, you would have to think he was one of the top guys in this company. Whitmer was out to call out Jay Briscoe, who didn’t bother appearing. I can’t imagine what the point would be of Jay Briscoe wrestling Whitmer or Adam Page.
Four Corner Survival Match
Adam Page vs. Will Ferrara vs. Takaaki Watanabe vs. Moose
Watanabe was super over before this match, with his reaction likely topping even Moose’s. But any interest the crowd had was quickly killed when the first several minutes of this match focused on Ferrara and Page. They were never really able to get the crowd back. The match was poorly laid out to deal with that possibility as there were hardly any high spots at all and it took even those awhile to develop. Adding to that issue, this group of performers was either unable to adjust on the fly to try something big to get the crowd back or they aren’t permitted to do that. However, the crowd did enjoy the finish as Watanabe hit Ferrara with a German, then hit Moose with a German, and then finished off Ferrara with a stiff combo that ended in an STO to win. I’m not sure why you include Moose if he isn’t going over but at least he didn’t factor in the finish.
Watanabe has really improved. His offense looks great and he is really showing charisma. I’m looking forward to his return to NJPW. But this was exactly the kind of match that makes it difficult to understand what ROH is attempting. The match needed some sort of stakes. Instead it was just a nothing match with nothing on the line. That’s fine for a house show but if you want to show it on television, give me some reason to care. *3/4
Adam Cole vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Matches like this one are perhaps the best illustrations of the dichotomy I talked about at the beginning of this review. Do I want to see Cole vs. Nakamura? Yes! It sounds like a great time. I would absolutely tune in to see this (obviously) and would go to a live show to see it but it doesn’t get me invested in the product to the extent I’m going to tune in or buy a ticket to see what Adam Cole does next. Nakamura is the draw and that’s not great for ROH in the long-term.
This presentation of this match was kind of awkward due to Cole’s heel turn at All-Star Extravaganza. The crowd wasn’t aware of that when it was filmed so he was treated like a babyface. The commentators were forced to comment on Cole’s turn but had to speak only in vague terms since it hadn’t actually happened yet.
Kevin Kelly made a point of suggesting that New Japan stars are starting to want a shot at the ROH World Championship as they recognize its prestige. That’s quite a nod, with Nakamura in the ring, to the theory that AJ Styles will defeat Jay Lethal at Final Battle and defend the ROH World Championship against Nak at Wrestle Kingdom.
The match started with both men playing the crowd to great effect; it was simply fun. But then they got to work. Nakamura is well-known for occasionally mailing it in when he’s not in a big time New Japan match but he brought the effort here. Cole focused on Nakamura’s knee, presumably to reduce the impact of the Boma Ye (maybe it would take ten to finish Cole instead of the normal five). Nak basically sold the knee when it was most convenient for him. His selling wasn’t nearly on the level of what he did in the G1 final but it didn’t kill the match at all. Everything else was so good that it was easily ignored. Despite Cole desperately sinking to spitting in Nakamura’s face to stop the inevitable, the King of Strong Style recovered to hit a Landslide and a Boma Ye to finish off Cole. ****
Final Thoughts: I could perhaps copy and paste this section from many other reviews. The opening match and the main event were fantastic matches you should watch. You definitely should seek out Cole/Nakamura. But if you missed this episode and tuned into next week’s ROH TV, there wouldn’t be one second where you were confused because of something you missed here. So it all comes down to why you watch ROH TV. If you just want great matches, this product is on a very hot streak. If you want Final Battle to have the emotional pull that only comes with a very well-built pay-per-view, this show is not likely the vehicle to get you there.