Mt. Killamanjaro Presents:
This past Friday and Saturday Ring of Honor Wrestling put on their annual WrestleMania weekend, two day iPPV. This year's event was entitled "Showdown in the Sun" and emanated from the War Memorial Auditorium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Part two of this two-part editorial will be available shortly, as ROH is currently working through technical difficulties of their second day's event, due to a power outage in the facility.
Proving Ground Match: The Briscoes def. TMDK (Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste)
The Story: For those unfamiliar with Ring of Honor's "Proving Ground" stipulation, it is quite simple. A young, up-and-coming talent (or in this case, a team of talents) step into the ring with a ROH Champion and attempt to "survive" them; they can either win the match or force a time-limit draw. If the rookie challengers are victorious, they will receive a title opportunity within 60 days.
My Thoughts: What I know about Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste is extremely limited. I gather they are two rookie talents from Australia, and I know they won a "Rise and Prove" tournament to be granted access to this match. From what I was able to see, both look competent and fluid in the ring - although it's often a challenge to look BAD when you're in the ring with the Briscoes. That being said, I've never been a huge fan of "Them Boys", although I would be a fool to deny their athleticism and contribution to Ring of Honor's tag team division over the years. That being said, these two teams put on a decent opening match that did what it needed to - gave the champions a win on iPPV and put over a new team at the start of the show. From what I've seen from the Briscoes, the match could have been a lot better, but I'm sure time restraints and unfamiliarity with TMDK had more than a little to do with that.
Adam Cole def. NWA World Champion Adam Pierce
The Story: The night prior to this event, ROH was able to submit one wrestler to challenge the current reigning NWA World Champion Adam Pierce at an NWA event - that man was Adam Cole. Adam Pierce would win the match and retain his title after a questionable low blow and a Piledriver (a move outlawed in Ring of Honor). Cole was one half of ROH tag team "Future Shock" with Kyle O'Reilly and one of the company's fastest rising stars, while Pierce is a multipe time World Champion with both Ring of Honor and NWA. This match was set up when Jim Cornette welcomed Adam Pierce to the ring during "Showdown in the Sun", preceding an interruption and challenge from Adam Cole.
My Thoughts: It's rare that stars get real ring time to cut promos at Ring of Honor iPPV's - it's even more rare when it's against a World Champion from another organization. Pierce has a decent reputation on the independent circuit, and I've had some great interactions with Adam Cole in the past. After interviewing him last November, I'll be the first to say that Cole has a great mind for the business and is a true wrestling fan at heart. He just "gets it". After Future Shock split I was worried Cole would fall to the back burner with Kyle O'Reilly involved in so many opportunities with the World Champion. As it turned out, Cole is still very much a feature for the ROH product and I'm overjoyed with that decision.
The match was quick, fun, and much like the previous Briscoes match it did what it needed to: get Adam Cole a high profile victory in a ROH ring without taking up a lot of time or sacrificed the advertised card. Well done.
Tornado Tag Match - ANX (Kenny King & Rhett Titus) def. The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson)
The Story: Rhett Titus, working through a knee injury, was picked apart by the Young Bucks during the Tag Team Gauntlet match at "Final Battle 2011". This forced Titus, and ultimately the All Night Express to be benched for several months, while the Young Bucks were able to challenge for the ROH World Tag Team Championships. Upon returning in early March, ANX defeated Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team while the Bucks lost in their championship match against the Briscoes, reigniting their feud.
My Thoughts: ANX is my favorite tag team in the world right now - in fact, I'm actually wearing their T-Shirt as we speak. The Briscoes may be the most brutal ring warriors in the industry, and Haas and Benjamin may be the most well-known, but Kenny King and Rhett Titus know how to straight-up entertain in a wrestling ring. They have an interesting dichotomy; the obvious racial extremes help set them apart from more patterned teams like the Bucks or TMDK, while their styles both contrast and complement each other in the ring. Why they aren't tag champs right now, I have no idea...
I like this feud that's been brewing - I got a small taste of it live when both teams were in Chicago at the close of last year. The Bucks need to do something to separate them from the pack still, but they've got good chemistry and can wrestle a fine match. ANX has all the tools - ability, athleticism, technical know-how and charisma - they just need the right circumstances and a shot at the Briscoes. Together they did a decent job. It could have been better, and I look forward to their Street Fight on Day 2.
ROH Television Championship - Jay Lethal def. Kyle O'Reilly
The Story: Kyle O'Reilly receives a shot at Jay Lethal's Television Championship after a very successful past few months in Ring of Honor. The problem is, Lethal is currently distracted by a feud with the "Dominant Male" Tammaso Ciampa. Ciampa and the Embassy Lmt. (one of the longer running heel stables in ROH) stole Lethal's title belt and have been demanded by ROH management to return the championship here at "Showdown in the Sun".
My Thoughts: A great, slow-moving battle of technical wrestling skill. Many fans today can't handle a match of this style, filled with holds and only ending when one many makes a big enough mistake - personally I loved it. As Nigel McGuinness said on commentary (alongside Kevin Kelly), it's like watching a game of human chess. With the focus on the situation OUTSIDE of the match, I'm not sure how much this actually helped Kyle O'Reilly, but a championship match in Ring of Honor can never really hurt... Well done by both men, and I'm excited to see where this goes, as Tammaso Ciampa is one of the better in-ring talents in ROH today.
Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team (Haas & Benjamin) vs Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander
The Story: Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team have been involved in a feud with the Briscoes for most of their time in Ring of Honor. As two of the best tag teams in industry today, it's only natural. Haas and Benjamin would face Coleman and Alexander on ROH television in a huge opportunity for the young talents, but the Briscoes would eventually interfere. Charlie Haas would take an unprotected chair shot to the head by one of the Briscoes, allowing Coleman and Alexander to steal the win.
My Thoughts: The heel/face line in Ring of Honor is incredibly convoluted. One of their biggest "issues" is that the fans will cheer for whoever they want, regardless of their actions - generally speaking, better in-ring ability will get you cheered. Coleman and Alexander stole a match with the help of the Briscoes, and combined with their attitude they were the obvious heels in the match. But it was Charlie Haas with the extreme attitude (who's surprised?) and refusal to adhere to the Code of Honor (ROH's pre-match handshake). I'm not sure that it really matters, and if it did I'm not sure the company is that obsessed with following the standards of "sports entertainment", but it's something to think about.
Great match. I've always appreciated the mix of professional and amateur wrestling in Haas and Benjamin, and Coleman/Alexander seem like a solid young team. Good story being told in the match, and in the end the veterans pull out the victory going into their huge championship match in Part 2 of "Showdown in the Sun".
"The Prodigy" Mike Bennett def. Lance Storm
The Story: Lance Storm is one of the true veterans of the wrestling industry. While his own time in the spotlight with "major wrestling companies" may be limited, he's also one of the best wrestling trainers on the planet. You want to know why Dolph Ziggler is "that damn good"? Lance Storm. Who has trained with and sharpened the skills of Chris Jericho? Lance Storm. Simply put: the man is a machine. Mike Bennett is a young talent flying up the ranks of Ring of Honor, and not stopping any time soon for a lesson in manners. Storm wanted to return and teach Bennett respect - we'll see if the aging veteran can get the job done against the deadly combination of youth, speed and size in Mike Bennett.
My Thoughts: A huge win for Bennett, no doubt about it. Here is a guy who has consistently been told by ROH faithful "you can't wrestle". Every single time he's in the ring - "you can't wrestle". But I've seen him come a long way in the ring, and by bringing his real-life girlfriend Maria Kennelis in as his manager, Bennett has done a lot to legitimize himself in wrestling. Gone are the frustrating chants, and that in itself is a huge victory.
If there's any man who can put over a young, talented wrestler it's Lance Storm. And the best part is, he can make you look like a million bucks in the process. Many expected Storm to pick up the victory in his return, but I wasn't bothered by ROH doing the "right thing" here, and putting some stock in their future. Many claim Bennett is "WWE ready" and I wouldn't agree. He's certainly got the look, and his style is much more native to the "sports entertainment" feel. But I'd like to see him stick around in Ring of Honor - a lot of new fans will see Bennett and realize there's more to the company than flashy flips and tricks. They've got a little bit of everything, and since the "you can't wrestle" chants seem to be behind us, I think the fans are starting to appreciate that too.
Last Man Standing - Kevin Steen def. El Generico
The Story: Steen and Generico have been at war for years - it's one of the longest running, most brutal rivalries in Ring of Honor history. Generico exiled Steen from the company last year, and this is a return to that feud. This time...it's Last Man Standing.
My Thoughts: These two went to battle and tore the house down, plain and simple. I went in hating Kevin Steen - he's a fat **** that assaults the name of the company every chance he gets - but came out truly appreciating what he can do in the ring. They told a great story, because whether real-life heat is present or not, they come off like they truly hate each other. It got to the point that you really wondered what it would take to put either of these men away. It turns out what it took was interference by Jimmy Jacobs, and a rather evil heel turn. At first I absolutely HATED this decision; the run-in took away from the pacing of the match and took focus off the story being told between both competitors. I still think they could have finished the match before dissecting Generico, but Jacobs' look and aggression eventually sold me.
ROH World Championship - Davey Richards (c) def. Eddie Edwards & Roderick Strong
The Story: Davey Richards and Roderick Strong used to be tag team partners "back in the day". Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards used to be one of the greatest tag teams in ROH history, again, "back in the day". Now they all meet in this triple threat match as quite possibly the three biggest main event guys in the company right now. In fact, Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong were the two wrestlers to hold the ROH World title before Davey Richards! This is a fairly simply battle of top guys going at it for the biggest prize in wrestling.
My Thoughts: I might be the only Ring of Honor fan to not have a man-crush on Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards. I'll sing praises of their athletic ability to the mountaintops, but I just can't get into their matches as much as the ROH faithful seem to. Most of the time it seems like ROH title matches are made up of two guys hitting dozens of moves one-after-another, until somebody finally does something to put his opponent away. Sounds obvious right? You're an idiot Mr. Killam, that's how wrestling is SUPPOSED to work! My issue is, there's rarely ever any down time. Moves aren't sold, the pacing is too quick to invest in, and by the 27th near-fall you just don't care who wins, as long as the match eventually comes to an END! Like I said, I won't deny their ability, but I'd much rather watch the story being told in something like Steen/Generico than the spectacle of maneuvers put on by Richards, Edwards and Strong. Just my opinion - I'm well aware there are likely hundreds of thousands of wrestling fans that will disagree with me.
This match was kept to a decent length, and the elimination style helped things flow a bit better than they usually do. With Richards facing Michael Elgin for the title in Part 2 of "Showdown in the Sun" that added a bit of extra drama, at least telling some sort of story after the match was over. Maybe it's that I was exhausted after watching a really solid card of wrestling, maybe it's that I really, REALLY hate the Truth Martini character... I will say that every time I see Davey Richards perform live, it's an absolute honor. But when it comes to TV or their iPPVs, that tension built up along the match just isn't there.
Despite my criticism of the main event, if you go back and look at the ratings I've handed out, not a single match was rated under a B-. Part One of Ring of Honor's "Showdown in the Sun" was a huge success with a big card of great matches. A lot of good stories were told, and regardless of how I feel about the World Champion or his challengers, a lot of fans were sent home happy - and that's really the bottom line. Kevin Steen and El Generico tore the house down and walked out with the match of the night, but the biggest highlights for me were ANX's victory and seeing Adam Cole in such a great opportunity (especially since he wasn't booked for the card!).
There's definite room for improvement; I'd like to see some ROH guys start to "own" their moveset. When they set up for a finisher I want to know it, and I want to hear the crowd pop at the same time. The stories being told are good, but there are more subtle ways of getting the fans invested in your characters too! Overall I was really impressed with Day 1 of this event, and I'd say it was well worth the $20 I spent on it, and I haven't even seen the second half yet! A job very well done - the roster and its management should be proud.
FINAL RATING: B+