Well folks, it is now officially winter. If either of my fans had noticed, these last two months or so have been rather barren for me regarding my contribution to the world of columns in the IWC. For those who remember my last column, it dealt with how frustrated I had become with wrestling, in particular WWE. I was “so bored with it all” and wrestling just wasn’t giving me the pleasure that it once did. To be honest, there were times when I wondered if it was the end of the road for my fascination with wrestling. I feared that in two years time, I would happen upon an episode of RAW and not have the slightest idea what was going on there anymore. I almost quit the IWC too. I even typed out a farewell type of column, but decided against it and took a few more days to think instead. Even then, however, I still couldn’t get inspired. When I would happen upon some action on TV, it was met with apathy. If any of my non-wrestling friends were there, I wouldn’t even try and make a case for watching wrestling. I had no argument to offer. What could I say? That this bra and panties match would be better than the last one? That Kenzo Suzuki singing “Born in the USA” is great entertainment? I prefer the Springsteen version myself, and I’m not a particularly big fan of Bruce. The wrestling fan inside me was terminally ill. I needed intervention. I would get it.
It was less than a week ago when I decided to check out my beloved Wrestlezone columns lounge. I was not expecting that it would be a particularly fruitful visit as I was having trouble getting interested in columns at the time. However, there just happened to be one column that would grab my attention. While reading his column ‘Passion’, it became obvious that Dougie Nunny had been having similar problems to me regarding his attitude towards wrestling lately. Doug had overcome his problem by watching hours upon hours of wrestling hoping to recapture his passion. He succeeded, and advised any readers suffering similar problems to follow his strategy. So, on a windy Monday night on the west coast of Ireland, from the hours of 11pm to 3am, I settled down in front of the TV and watched the show that helped me get my passion back. It wasn’t so much that the show itself was fantastic and helped me get my passion back, even though it was a great show. More important to me was that it showed that there are people out there, bookers, wrestlers, referees, production teams, everything, that share my view on wrestling. They gave me the kind of show that I know I could gladly watch every week and not be ashamed to show people. The show gave me a glimpse into what I believe is the future of pro-wrestling. The company was Ring of Honor. The show was Main Event Spectacles. I give you the future of professional wrestling, described eloquently as always by me in this addition of ‘The Pepsi Plunge’.
Any Ring of Honor fan will tell you what Main Event Spectacles is best known for. It bore witness to one of the strangest incidents in wrestling history. One of the premier matches of the night was the first ever Scramble Cage match. The match featured some of the best high-flying talent in ROH such as Jack Evans, the SAT’s, Special K and, significantly, Teddy Hart. The match itself, which I will go into in greater detail later, was a thoroughly entertaining affair. However, what happened after the match was an altogether different story. Teddy Hart promptly stopped selling his injuries and climbed to the top of the cage and hit a shooting star press onto a couple of baffled opponents. Not content with this, he scaled the cage again and hit a corkscrew dive to the outside again. At this point the Carnage Crew, who had competed in the match, angrily confronted Hart and started to beat him down. After whipping him with a strap for some time, eventually Hart got away from them. Immediately, he scaled the cage again and this time proceeded to do a moonsault from the cage top to a standing position in the ring, with nobody at all in the ring. He then repeated the moonsault from the top and started vomiting in the ring. It was one of the most bizarre and blatant breaks of kayfabe in history, and saw Hart forcibly removed from the building straight afterwards. What relevance does this have to me getting my passion back? Not much, it’s just an interesting story if you haven’t heard it.
So, let’s move on to the scripted part of the show. What made it so good as to reignite my wrestling fire? Simply put, it was nothing more than good matches back to back, each one different to the last in some significant way. It started with a solid match between Dan Maff and Colt Cabana, two excellent ROH workers. Cabana played a comedic role early in the match, breaking the crowd into the event slowly and relieving any tension in the audience. The match then became a more serious affair, with both hitting several big impact moves before Maff scored victory to end a very entertaining affair. This match was followed my an entertaining segment involving Jim Cornette, ROH Champion Samoa Joe, promising tag-team The Briscoes and a shocking plot swerve. All very simple, yet fantastically effective. It was an ideal way to start a show. I was interested. I wanted to see more. ROH would not disappoint. Over the next three hours I was treated to match after match that kept me entertained throughout and had made me a thoroughly satisfied man as I went to bed. I would see moves I had never seen before, moves I had only seen rarely, match types I had never witnessed before, and some of the most technically sound wrestling sequences I had ever been fortunate enough to encounter. There was no stupid comedy segments, no pointless squash matches, just eight top quality matches that each appeared as if they had been meticulously planned out and smoothly executed.
Two things stood out for me on the night. First of all, the amount of false finishes was much higher than what I have come to expect. The match between Homicide and B.J Whitmer in particular bore witness to several moments in which I was certain the match was over, only to be shocked by the last moment kick-out. By the time the match was finished, I had been worked into a frenzy by two wrestlers who I was largely unfamiliar with, simply due to their ability to tell a good story in the ring and keep the audience guessing. I cannot stress enough how much I believe false finishes contribute to a good match. It is one of my biggest gripes against WWE that they do not have enough false finishes in their matches. When somebody hits their finisher, 90% of the time it is the end of the match. Not before then, not after. It leads to the product being very predictable and often downright boring. The other matches were no different. The second aspect that pleased me was the diversity of match types I saw at the show. The main event pitted A.J Styles against Bryan Danielson in what was a technical wrestling display that illustrated just how good these two are, and what a great future they have in the business. There was a fatal four-way featuring CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and Steve Corino which, while not the best effort these four are capable of, had great wrestling between the four as they played off of each other nicely. There was a great tag team titles match with some great high-flying mixed with good technical wrestling, and there were times when each match showed aspects of a good old fashioned brawl.
However, the most impressive aspect of this diversity was the Scramble Cage match itself. ROH prides itself on being a “wrestling” company. It places its emphasis on in-ring action rather than sports entertainment. But if the Scramble Cage match showed anything, it was that ROH are definitely not what you would call wrestling snobs. The Scramble Cage was a spotfest, and deliberately so. The commentators basically admitted this on several occasions, or at least alluded to it. The cage was there to create a higher spot for wrestlers to jump from; nothing could be gained by exiting or entering it at all. There were small platforms set up on the top of the cages to “enhance the aerial skills of these tremendous athletes” for God’s sake! And they did not disappoint. The match contained some of the best high impact moves I had ever seen and, even for a guy who doesn’t usually go for spot-fests, by the time it was finished I was hugely impressed. During the match, Jack Evans performed a moonsault from the top of the cage to several opponents on the outside. That’s pretty impressive. All the more impressive when I mention the fact that it had two full rotations, rather than just one like a regular moonsault. He literally flipped 630 degrees in mid-air… backwards. I can do that myself of course, and have done regularly.
The notion of wrestling as a three ring circus is a popular one. If you give the fans different types of entertainment, there is a greater chance that they will find something that they really do like. At Main Event Spectacles, ROH put on different types of wrestling matches that were innovative, intense and generally fun to watch. There was no time wasted on dumb filler segments designed to attract casual fans in other ways. It was a wrestling show, and any potential casual fan lucky enough to see it will not need backstage storyline segments to enjoy this event. To this day, ROH is continuing to offer up diverse styles of wrestling within the one show. At present, one of their top feuds features Mick Foley and Ricky Steamboat clashing over which is better, hardcore wrestling or pure technical wrestling? The recruitment of legends like Foley, Steamboat and Jyushin Lyger (who made his ROH debut last weekend, and is one of Japan’s greatest ever wrestlers) is sure to garner even more interest from fans worldwide and continue to help ROH grow. If ROH can persuade such talents as AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels to return to working for them then this could be the spark that ROH needs to take it to an even higher level.(TNA forced Styles and Daniels among others to quit ROH after Rob Feinstein, who was connected to ROH significantly, was charged with child molestation. The charges were eventually dropped.) With ROH’s policy of focusing on putting on great matches rather than sports entertainment, it will surely appear an attractive option for the best wrestlers on the independent scene to work there.
Professional wrestling is a business that has evolved throughout the years. For years, it was territorial. Title defences were rare, title runs lasted years, only the truly biggest names ever got to have a realistic chance at holding the top belt in the business. In the late 80’s, Vince McMahon and Hulkamania changed the face of wrestling forever. Sports Entertainment was born. In the early 90’s, guys like Bret Hart, Sting and Shawn Michaels presented a new wave of wrestlers to a national audience for the first time, as the business soaked in the success of Hulkamania. The business went through a transitional period during this time, trying to find something to follow the phenomena of Hulkamania. The mid and late 90’s saw the attitude era, spearheaded by such legends as Stone Cold Steve Austin, Degeneration X, the New World Order and others. When the Monday Night Wars ended, the attitude era began to fade. Without competition, WWE had no reason to risk injuring its superstars in dangerous matches. Attitude was over, and the business entered another transitional period. As we type, it is still in this period.
WWE to me resembles a company who knows what the fans want, but are unsure whether to give it to them. They had the guts to take the “extreme” style of ECW and rip it off; will they be able to do the same with ROH? If the ROH signs and chants that were present at RAW two weeks ago are anything to go by, the ROH style is the style of the future. I believe this to be the case. The IWC and the increased popularity of wrestling in the 90’s have made fans much harder to please. There will never be another Hogan. To succeed in the business today, I believe you need to be able to put on a top class match. Being big and having a good gimmick is all well and good, but the fans are starting to see through it. The amount of great matches we have seen over the years has raised the bar to the extent that it cannot be lowered again. WWE has to go with the times. The era of Shock TV is gone. People want quality programming that suits their tastes. The fans of the attitude era have not disappeared. They just grew up. They got bored of seeing stupid angles that made no sense, much like I had recently. They changed the channel to something that did make sense, much like I had recently. They matured as wrestling fans, much like I have. I believe they can be won back, much like I have been. And I believe focusing on putting on great in-ring action is the way to do that. ROH does that, and they helped me get my passion back for the wrestling business. For that I can only say thank you to them.
Well, that’s enough of my humming and hawing. I hope you enjoyed my return column. I will be back in just a couple of days with another column (yes, I’ve multiplied my output vastly!) complete with a Pepsi Challenge and everything! Trust me; I’ve a nice one lined up for all you quiz lovers.
Anyway, that’s the end of that chapter.