While the card for Ring of Honor’s upcoming Best in the World PPV (the company’s first show in front of fans since February 2020) had slowly begun to take shape over the past several weeks, the next ROH World Title defense for RUSH had yet to be announced. My initial guess was that Brody King would be challenging, since he’s coming off debuting his new faction, VLNCE UNLTD, at the previous PPV in March. However, that was completely ruled out when it was confirmed that Brody King would be facing Jay Lethal at Best in the World. The questions surrounding the ROH World Title bout were answered with the announcement that Survival of the Fittest would be returning, with the winner getting their title shot at Best in the World.

This would be the first Survival of the Fittest since 2018. The 2019 edition of the tournament had been scheduled for November of that year, but those shows were ultimately canceled (I don’t recall the specific reason for those cancellations). Meanwhile, the 2020 edition of the tournament never took place for…..very obvious reasons. Regardless, it was great to see Survival of the Fittest return, and it was nice to see that it would have implications for the upcoming PPV.

The way ROH handled Survival of the Fittest this year is that they put three of the qualifying matches on ROH TV, while the other three took place on ROH Week-By-Week. For those who might not be aware, Week-By-Week is a show on ROH’s YouTube page that serves as your weekly ROH recap hosted by Quinn McKay (with storyline recaps, video packages, interviews, and so on), along with a bonus match. At the start of each match review, I identified where you can find each bout, so they’re very easy to find.

Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match
Demonic Flamita def. Rey Horus

This match aired on the June 4 episode of ROH TV. This first Survival of the Fittest 2021 qualifier featured the first appearance of the newly christened Demonic Flamita. Of course, the story since the 19th Anniversary Show has been the dissension within MexaSquad, with Flamita being the one to turn heel. He defeated Bandido several weeks ago on ROH TV via nefarious means, and here, he showed off his new look (all black gear, black makeup/paint under the mask, and a black ring jacket with a pointed hood that looks like something he raided from the closet of The Undertaker’s druids) against his former stablemate Rey Horus.

I know this was only the first of the six qualifying matches, but I can tell you right out of the gate that none of the other qualifiers are topping this one. These two had an awesome match that had some great action right from the opening bell. Flamita didn’t waste any time, as very early on, he just went all out and nailed Horus with a spear through the ropes to the outside. Horus would be able to recover, and he connected with a big dive onto Flamita a short time later. Things didn’t slow down much once they got back in the ring, and the two exchanged some incredible offense back and forth before Flamita eventually won the match with a rollup. I would’ve gone a little higher on this if it had a better finish, but as a whole, this bout was just great. Two luchadores going out there and putting on a kickass match for eleven minutes. While it sucks that there was no crowd to witness this action, it still doesn’t take away from how much fun it was to watch. A solid win for Flamita as he debuts this new demonic side of himself. ****

Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match
Brian Johnson def. Sledge

This match aired on the June 8 episode of ROH Week-By-Week. Sledge is a guy who, thus far, has mainly been confined to Week-By-Week. He had an entire mini-feud with O’Shay Edwards on Week-By-Week, where the two of them had two time limit draws before Edwards won a third bout (a No DQ Match) to settle the feud. He’s taking on Brian Johnson here, in the first of three Survival of the Fittest Qualifiers to take place on Week-By-Week.

Before the match even began, Johnson jumped Sledge, clipping his leg and connecting with the Tower Of London. This seemingly gave Johnson the edge before the bell even rang, but once it did, Sledge pretty much dominated Johnson early on. While Johnson would attempt to fight back, the strength of Sledge (who seemed to get busted open above one of his eyes at some point) seemed to be too much for him. Johnson would eventually start to mount some sustained offense after attacking the leg of Sledge that he targeted before the match. We then get to a point where Sledge seemingly is about to close the deal, but as he goes to run the ropes after nailing a rolling forearm strike, Johnson (who is seemingly knocked out) falls on the Sledge’s injured leg, causing Sledge to scream out in pain. Johnson then recovers and rolls Sledge up for the win, meaning that both Survival of the Fittest qualifiers thus far have ended with a rollup.

This was a perfectly fine match for what it was. I’m a little curious to see what’s next for Sledge, since he’s had all of these bouts with ROH, but none of them have been on TV yet, aside from a Battle Royal appearance. As for Brian Johnson, I really don’t know what to think of this guy. It’s clear that he’s a solid wrestler, but I’m not sure how to react to him. Am I supposed to laugh at his over-the-top seriousness and boastfulness? I can see how the spot at the end of this match with him lucking into victory could be taken as comedy, but is that the intent? I can’t tell you for sure. Is he supposed to be so annoying that I want to see him get his ass kicked every time he wrestles? Maybe. I’m just not sure. Regardless, Johnson did get the win here, so he moves on to the Finals. ***

Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match
Eli Isom def. Dak Draper

This match aired on the June 11 episode of ROH TV. These two had a fifteen-minute time limit draw several weeks ago, but the main story coming out of it was Dalton Castle (who has a new gimmick where….I think….he’s supposed to be an entertainer?) attacking both of them after the fact. Castle comes out just as the match is getting started, and states that he’s just here to look at them, along with also promising not to get involved.

Draper and Isom start wrestling, and they’re having a decent match, but the attention is split between what’s going on in the ring and Castle’s reactions. Castle and The Boys did end up distracting Isom at one point, and that allowed Draper to take control. There were actually some pretty good spots between the two down the stretch, but once again, the storyline with Castle got intertwined with the match. Castle told Draper that he wanted to see him do something bigger, and as Draper was setting up to do just that, Castle abruptly left, with the excuse being that he’s a busy man with other things to do. This distraction allowed Isom to take advantage, and he was able to hit his Brainbuster (called The Promise) for the win. The wrestling from bell to bell was pretty solid, all things considered, but the bout was without question overshadowed by the stuff with Dalton Castle. I’m honestly not sure what the endgame of all of this is, whether that be Castle feuding with one or both of these guys, or maybe he’s trying to form a team with one or both of them? As it turns out, it would end up being the latter, as just yesterday (as I type this), Castle announced that his request for a shot at the ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Titles at the Best in the World PPV (with Draper and Isom as his partners) had been granted. So there you go. Anyway, the end result is Eli Isom punching his ticket to the Finals. ***

Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match
Chris Dickinson def. O’Shay Edwards

This match took place on the June 15 episode of ROH Week-By-Week. Chris Dickinson, of course, is a member of Violence Unlimited (though it’s actually styled as VLNCE UNLTD), while O’Shay Edwards is coming off winning the mini-feud with Sledge on Week-By-Week that I mentioned previously. This bout only went about eight minutes or so, but I thought these two made the most of the time they were given. Edwards would have the advantage early on, but Dickinson would find an opening when he went after one of O’Shay’s legs. There was some good action in the closing stages, but Dickinson continued the work on that leg. He nearly won with a STF, but after attacking the leg some more, Dickinson locked in the STF for a second time, and Edwards had no choice but to tap out. Not much else to say about this one, other than it was pretty solid. While I didn’t think the result was in question at any point, O’Shay Edwards had a good showing here. Shane Taylor joined the commentary team for this match, which sort of set up the reveal a few days later that O’Shay Edwards had accepted an offer to join Shane Taylor Promotions. So even though Edwards came up short here, he’s clearly been set up for better things. ***1/4

Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match
Bandido def. Bateman

This aired on the June 18 episode of ROH TV. Bandido is coming off his loss to Flamita a few weeks back. As for Bateman, he mentioned in the pre-match video package that, should he win Survival of the Fittest and go on to capture the ROH World Title, he would hand it over to Vincent. Obviously, that’s never going to happen, and Bateman’s efforts were stopped cold in this bout, as Bandido won after hitting the 21-Plex. With Flamita going through to the Finals, it seemed like the obvious choice to put Bandido through as well to continue their feud. In that regard, the result wasn’t in much doubt, but the match itself was still very good. I actually had it as the second best of the qualifiers. Bandido is always so much fun to watch, as he’s able to pull off some incredible things in a wrestling ring. At the same time, Bateman had a solid outing here as well. He even seemed to be on the verge of victory late, as he set Bandido up for a tombstone piledriver, but Bandido was able to reverse as he spiked Bateman right on his head before the aforementioned 21-Plex. I might be a tad higher on this match, compared to others, but I enjoyed this a lot. ***1/2

We did get an angle afterward with The Righteous, where a returning Vincent said how he was disappointed in Bateman’s failure to advance to the Survival of the Fittest Finals, before having Dutch and Vita VonStarr attack him. They played it off on commentary as Bateman willingly accepting this beatdown as punishment for his failure, and he was in Dutch’s corner for his match with Matt Taven the following week, so I guess this was just done to put over that The Righteous are, in fact, a cult.

Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match
ROH World Tag Team Champion Rhett Titus def. Danhausen

Our final Survival of the Fittest Qualifying Match took place on the June 22 edition of Week-By-Week. In an interesting trivia note, Rhett Titus was the only person in the field of twelve who had any previous Survival of the Fittest experience. Out of all six qualifiers, this one was easily the most predictable of the bunch, and even though the match itself ended up being perfectly fine, it was still the worst of the tournament. Titus dominated the bout early on, but Danhausen was able to make a comeback, and even managed to mount some offense later in the bout. He was only delaying the inevitable, however, as once Titus shut him down, he took him out with a series of moves before setting up his sitting Full Nelson for the submission. The finish actually looked very impressive, as he nearly bent Danhausen in half. Again, a decent match for what it was, but definitely the weakest qualifier. **1/2

Survival of the Fittest – Finals
Bandido def. Brian Johnson, Demonic Flamita, Chris Dickinson, Eli Isom, & ROH World Tag Team Champion Rhett Titus

The 2021 Survival of the FittestFinals took place this past week on ROH TV (the June 25 episode), with the winner receiving their shot at the ROH World Title at the Best in the World PPV on July 11. The action started straight away as Bandido and Flamita went right after each other, and that was followed up by the other four competitors splitting off into pairs as they went through their initial exchanges (Dickinson with Titus and Isom with Johnson). This opening part of the match culminated with Bandido hitting Flamita with a moonsault fallaway slam from the top rope, to the floor, onto everyone else. That was an absolutely insane spot and easily one of the biggest highlights of the match.

Once the action got back to the ring, we saw another exchange between the former MexaSquad teammates before Bandido managed to roll up Flamita for the elimination! Seeing Flamita go out that early was a big surprise, but he quickly took out his frustrations on the man who eliminated him in Bandido. After dragging him to the outside, Flamita put his former partner through a table and battered him with chairs until Rey Horus and security came out to break things up. Bandido would remain on the floor for a few minutes, selling the attack, as the rest of the field battled it out in the ring. Brian Johnson had some fine back-and-forth battles with Eli Isom and Rhett Titus, before Titus ultimately eliminated him after hitting a King Kong Knee Drop (which must be a new move of his, as I don’t ever recall seeing him use it before, let alone pin someone with it). Titus himself was eliminated shortly thereafter via submission after Chris Dickinson trapped him in a kneebar.

This left the final three as Chris Dickinson, Eli Isom, and Bandido (who had finally managed to get back in the ring after Titus had been eliminated). Dickinson would target the arm of Bandido, which got injured in the Flamita attack, but Eli Isom soon took his attention away, and the two of them started going at it. This allowed Bandido to have more time to recover, and when there was an opening for him to hit the 21-Plex, he took it, as he hit Dickinson with it for the elimination. I had Dickinson as a heavy favorite coming into this, so seeing him fall short of making the final two was definitely a surprise.

Bandido and Eli Isom were not the final two I was expecting, but once they got to that point, it was pretty obvious who was winning in the end. Bandido struggled with his injured arm, as Isom also went after it. Bandido was able to survive, but his arm was definitely damaged, as he wasn’t able to hit the 21-Plex for a second time. The two had some more exchanges in the final few minutes of the bout, and eventually, Bandido was able to lock in a submission of his own. I’m not entirely sure what the submission was that Bandido busted out here, but it proved to be too much for Isom, as he was forced to tap. Bandido is your 2021 Survival of the Fittest winner, and he earns a ROH World Title shot against RUSH at Best in the World.

This wasn’t a great match by any means, and it was far from the best Survival of the Fittest final. That being said, it was still a very good television main event. You got some advancement of the Bandido/Flamita storyline early on, which then fed into the story of the match itself, as Bandido had to overcome the injuries to secure the win. Everyone else got opportunities to shine here as well, and having Isom make it to the final two was a nice little moment for him. In terms of Bandido winning, your only choices here were him or Dickinson, so I don’t have any issues with it. Dickinson was my pick, but given that they seem to be setting up him and Homicide going after the ROH World Tag Team Titles, the result makes a little more sense. Bandido and RUSH have wrestled each other on ROH PPV before (they squared off at the 17th Anniversary Show back in 2019), and I’m sure this encounter will be just as exciting. ***3/4

Final Thoughts

I’ll always prefer having Survival of the Fittest under the traditional format (with the six qualifying matches taking place the same night as the Finals), but given the circumstances with COVID, I can give this one a pass. In terms of match quality, the only bouts you really need to seek out are the first qualifier between Demonic Flamita and Rey Horus, as well as the Finals (if you want to see the setup for the PPV main event). Everything else was right around what you expect from your typical episode of ROH TV. I’m just happy that they brought the Survival of the Fittest concept back for the first time in three years, and I hope it’s back to being an annual thing.