ROH 216 – Proving Ground 2009: Night 1 – 6th February 2009
For only the second time in it’s near seven year history, Ring Of Honor arrives in Florida for a weekend of shows. These were originally planned for autumn last year but ticket sales wound up being so poor that they were cancelled with the events switched to Danbury and Edison (I think). The concept behind the weekend is allowing up and coming talent to shine. That couldn’t be more epitomised than with tonight’s main event which pits the two guys who many believe are just waiting to make that step up to World Title level when #1 Contender Tyler Black meets Davey Richards. Brent Albright, having lead his team to victory in Steel Cage Warfare, gets an opportunity to make the step into World Title contention as well as he faces Nigel McGuinness. There’s also a lot of debuts tonight – mostly for local Floridian talent being given an opportunity to make a mark in ROH. The Dark City Fight Club, having impressed in FIP, face the Tag Champions in arguably the most high profile of these. Bison Smith also makes his in-ring debut, with lots of questions to answer after assaulting Bryan Danielson at Caged Collision. We’re in Coral Springs, FL – one of the markets Full Impact Pro run regularly so I’m surprised ticket sales were so weak. As ever Lenny Leonard and Dave Prazak provide commentary.
ROH VIDEO WIRE (03/02/2009) – Kyle Durden bravely tries to get an interview with Bison Smith, who comically spits his gum and claims that nobody can stop him.
– Davey Richards make fun of Tyler Black’s inability to win the big match and his recent draws. They vow his luck won’t improve in Coral Springs.
– Brent Albright promises to prove all his doubters wrong and establish himself as a World Title contender by beating Nigel McGuinness in Florida
– The Jerry Lynn interview continues with him reminiscing on his lengthy career.
– Nigel McGuinness tries to cut a promo hyping his World Title defence with D’Lo Brown without bursting into laughter. He manages…
Roderick Strong and Erick Stevens psyche Bobby Dempsey up in the locker room. He’s their partner in a 6-Man Tag tonight having finally turned his back on Sweet’n’Sour Inc. in Chicago.
Shawn Osborne vs Brad Attitude
Try-out match for some local talent. Brad’s name is so identifiably indy that it’s painful to even read it in a graphic on the screen. But ROH has always been about producing the goods in the ring. If you can do that, regardless of your look or name, you’ll get more opportunities. What will these two produce?
The fact that Prazak and Leonard are talking about the debut of the Dark City Fight Club should tell you how interesting the first two minutes of this match are. Although it is slightly mean when some hecklers urge Osborne to tap out to a basic armbar to get the match over with. Neckbreaker into a slingshot somersault senton for 2 by Attitude. He goes for a corkscrew crossbody but winds up diving into Osborne’s knees. Shawn stays on the midsection with a gutwrench suplex then a bodyscissors on the mat. Abdominal stretch next, but since he’s the heel he does the dastardly thing and grabs the top rope for additional leverage. Second rope elbow drop misses allowing Attitude to start a comeback. He wins with a swinging faceplant at 07:33
Rating – * – It wasn’t horrible or anything, but it certainly didn’t capture my imagination. In terms of future ROH bookings, neither looked overly outstanding. I’d take Attitude over Osborne though. Shawn seemed to have a decent gimmick but wrestled like he was in the 80’s. Brad looks incredibly generic but did pack a couple of decent spots in. They’re in FIP so I’m sure if they’re ever good enough for a spot on ROH’s touring schedule they’ll be brought right in. Not sure what Adam Pearce has against good opening matches though. Outside of Danielson/Titus in Detroit all the opening matches thus far this year have been completely mediocre, which is a shame after 2008 ended with a run of strong opening matches featuring Kenny Omega.
Sal Rinauro vs Bison Smith
We have a former ROH Tag Champion in Sal Rinauro competing in this match. The problem I have with Sal getting these ‘Do Or Die’ style shots is that, solid and experienced hand though he may be, he’s had SO many shots in Ring Of Honor. You have to think if he was ever going to cut it, he would’ve made it by now. I would imagine he’s here tonight as nothing more than cannon fodder to Bison though, who has been showing up and beating the sh*t out of people for over a month without an explanation.
Bison’s ring jacket is simply magnificent. Sal goes for a body slam and gets clobbered like a seal. Swinging backbreaker scores, followed by a colossal biel. Backflip kick off the turnbuckles scores for Rinauro, but he gets floored again moments later. CLAW SLAM! Bison wins at 02:11
Rating – ** – Brief, but impressive debut for Bison. I can’t say I’ve ever been massively impressed with him from what I’ve seen in NOAH, but you do feel that ROH is lacking a dominant heavyweight right now. I’m sure Samoa Joe had a lot of doubters when he came to Ring Of Honor in 2002. He has a presence to him and, assuming he’s not costing silly amounts of money to book, he seems like he might be worth a gamble…
Kenny King/Rhett Titus/Chasyn Rance vs Roderick Strong/Erick Stevens/Bobby Dempsey
I’m surprised to see a lot of the guys who really excel themselves in FIP stuck in this low on the card. Strong and Stevens are Floridian wrestlers and are massive favourites in Full Impact Pro, whilst King and Rance, as part of the YRR have been an effective and entertaining act on FIP’s midcard for sometime. Dempsey competes for the first time since leaving S’n’S Inc and will be looking to prove himself after appearing to be a beaten down putz for so long.
Strong and Stevens get an early 2-count on King with a double press slam. Dempsey splatters Rance with a dropkick in the corner, but it’s the heel team that get the lead by isolating Strong from his partners. Finally Stevens gets the tag and throw all his opponents around with ease. Choo Choo into the Samoan drop nailed on Kenny but Titus saves before he can even cover. Impressive contribution from Rhett ensures his team smoothly transition into working Erick over instead. I’m pretty sure I can hear Lenny Leonard mocking ROH on HDNet announcer Mike Hogewood by the way. The show debuts in late March so I’d imagine production and commentary was done on this DVD release around the time that it started. Chasyn pulls Dempsey off the apron just as Stevens looks like he’ll be able to lunge into a tag. King is shoved out of the corner but lands on his feet…only to be floored by a second rope football tackle. Dempsey effortlessly catches Rance to deliver a front slam for 2. FATTY CANNONBALL! DVD! Dempsey wins it in 10:55
Rating – ** – Decent heel work from Titus, King and Chasyn but this wasn’t anything other than filler. It’s a shame they wasted Strong and Steven’s big Floridian homecoming, as well as Dempsey’s first match as a ‘free man’ in such a forgettable manner.
Kyle Durden inquires as to Bryan Danielson’s health after his attack at the hands of Bison Smith. He offers little comment other than to say he’s looking forward to teaming with Jerry Lynn tonight.
Austin Aries vs Necro Butcher
These guys indirectly feuded last year, with Aries getting into Necro’s head on several occasions when he got caught in the Aries/Jacobs crossfire. If Necro can stay free of the mindgames his physicality may be too much for A-Double to handle.
The opening stages of the match immediately establish Aries’ fear of Necro’s abilities as a brawler. First he plays the cowardly lion in the ropes, then starts working headlocks and wristlocks to stay out of reach of the big punches. What he doesn’t bargain on, however, is Necro’s ability to trade wrestling holds. He goes hold for hold with A-Double, then forces him to flee the ring after a flurry of hiptosses and armdrags. Wisely Aries is straight back inside the ring when Necro tries to give chase – the ringside area, as ever, being ‘Necro territory’. Butcher plays to that, knowing he can manipulate the rules on the outside, and keeps trying to toss Austin outside. Finally Aries gets too cocky, and skins the cat straight into a HUGE right hand which sends him bouncing over the ropes to the floor. Austin has his A-Doubles driven into the ringpost, but uses that misfortune to his advantage by clambering back into the relative safety of the ring and using his superior knowledge of that environment to deliver an elevated neckbreaker out of the ropes. Just as Butcher could bend the rules on the floor, in the ring is where Aries can do the same, using the ropes to choke his dangerous foe. STO into the Power Drive Elbow scores for 2. He climbs to the top rope…RAM JAM MISSES! That’s the move that put away Necro Butcher in ‘The Wrestler’ I believe. ‘Give him a heart attack’ – slightly mean spirited fan. Necro tries his best by delivering the Necro-canrana for 2. Brainbuster countered to a chokeslam, but Aries shoves Butcher to the corner just as he looks to line up the Tiger Driver. Impact Explosion Dropkick is BLOCKED with a fist to the mouth. Jimmy Jacobs does a run in but takes a right hand to the face. Delirious then sneaks in from behind to hit Necro with a chair. IED scores, followed by the Kick of Death then the BRAINBUSTER! Aries wins in 12:54
Rating – *** – The match was surprisingly good, but I really wish Adam Pearce would get over his thing for having a run in finish in basically every match – it’s starting to grate on me now. That said, heel Austin Aries is very possibly the best thing about ROH thus far in 2009. It’s a totally different direction from anything else he’s ever done before in the company, and it’s so damn entertaining. And it was a persona which is such a natural clash with Necro that they clearly had fun working together. The one thing that gash finish did leave us with is the progression of the whole ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ storyline we have between Aries and Jacobs right now.
SIDENOTE – The crowd is really poor tonight. Not necessarily silent, but full of smarky comments and an assortment of unfunny ‘LISTEN TO ME’ chanting that gets the ROH fans such a bad rep from some quarters. They’ve been a little distracting…
Jimmy Jacobs/Delirious vs Bryan Danielson/Jerry Lynn
If these four guys are allowed to cut loose then this should be a good match. Lots of issues between them all here as well. Danielson is still seeking revenge after suffering another singles defeat to Jacobs at Full Circle, and also had a memorable series of matches against Delirious whilst holding the ROH World Title. Jerry Lynn got involved with Age Of The Fall on ppv in Chicago last week and is lined up against them again now. Remember, he still has his sights set on getting another shot at McGuinness.
Jimmy restraints Delirious by the tassels as he threatens to lose his mind with the ringing of the bell. Lynn and Danielson make a wish with the masked man’s legs, provoking Jacobs to angrily tag in to lock horns with the man he defeated in Manassas. A spitball lands in Dragon’s face…and then he tags Delirious back in before Danielson can get his hands on him. Things don’t go well for Delirious – he falls victim to a number of double teams from the babyface teams. Jimmy looks to lend a hand, but it only leads to AOTF being put into STEREO MEXICAN SURFBOARDS! Springboard dropkick sends Delirious outside, but as Lynn goes for a senton off the apron Jacobs runs through him, sending him flying into the guardrails. Age Of The Fall proceed to isolate Lynn from his partner. Spear nailed by Jimmy as crazy Delirious tries to stroll casually past the referee whilst wielding a chair. Ligerbomb on Delirious, then the hot tag to Danielson. He lands a REVENGE SPITBALL on Jacobs, followed by a running knee smash for 2. Double chokeslam by AOTF puts the brakes on the Danielson offence until Lynn saves his partner. Hart Attack on Jacobs, then CATTLE MUTILATION! MMA ELBOWS! Countered to the Contra Code, which Dragon blocks. Nearfalls…END TIME! Dragon rolls to the ropes and sends Jacobs to the floor with a running elbow. STEREO PESCADOS BY DRAGON AND LYNN! Followed by stereo missile dropkicks too. Dragon sidesteps Jacobs who connects with the Spear on Delirious. Cattle Mutilation again, and this time Jacobs taps. Time is 17:02
Rating – *** – I was glad to see this one get some time, and the final five minutes were really high quality stuff. Before that it was a little paint by numbers. The work was really good, but it was just a little generic and lacking in personality – which is surprising considering the levels of talent we had involved here. Lynn is being built up to a title shot and doesn’t have the same connection with the ROH fans that Dragon has, so I think the AOTF heat segment may have had more resonance with the live audience had it been Bryan taking the working over with Jerry getting the hot tag moment. Still, even when they were working within themselves this was still easily MOTN thus far.
The tide is turned tonight as it’s Delirious angrily telling Jacobs off for losing. They eventually get on the same page before walking out.
Brent Albright vs Nigel McGuinness
This is the third weekend in a row where Nigel has worked a non-title match on the first night of the double shot. Whilst the ROH Championship may not be up for grabs tonight, Albright will know this is still a huge opportunity for him. He’s coming in hot after winning Steel Cage Warfare at the last show, and will have watched Tyler Black defeat Nigel at Full Circle to earn himself an immediate World Title match the following night in Edison. A win here will do much to establish his credentials as a great wrestler as well as a brawler, and would put him up there in the queue for a title match.
Albright gets to show off his technical acumen almost instantly as he reacts quickly to take Nigel down when the Brit looks to get the jump on him at the bell. He then drops McGuinness with a single big elbow smash and Nigel leaves the ring. The World Champion engages in a rather petulant game of one-upsmanship by entering and exiting the ring at the same time as Albright does the opposite. He throws the Jawbreaker but it’s COUNTERED to the Crowbar. Nigel grabs the bottom rope and heads to the floor once again. He hammerlocks Albright’s arm and shunts the shoulder into the metal railings. MODIFIED TOWER OF LONDON ONTO THE TIMEKEEPING TABLE! That was all impact on the face and shoulder. Already Albright’s arm is hanging worthlessly down by his side. He goes for a roll-up only for Nigel’s kick-out to rocket him arm-first into the turnbuckles. Some fan throws some trash into the ring in case you’d forgotten that they’re being assholes. Albright comes up with the Crowbar from nothing, but a combination of his weakened arm and the finger he takes to his eyes means he can’t maintain it for too long. Cobra Clutch McLariat ducked into a German suplex. The damage move does to both men means it takes the pair of them a while to recover. Brent completely no sells the arm damage to hit a military press slam, then scales the ropes to nail a suicide dive all the way to the floor. He ducks Nigel and watches as the champion LARIATS the ringpost. CROWBAR LOCKED IN! Once again McGuinness saves himself by raking the eyes. Albright is sent shoulder-first into the ringpost. BELL HAMMER to the shoulder, then the LONDON DUNGEON! Brent escapes and counters the headstand mule kick into an AIR RAID CRASH! Foolishly Brent goes upstairs again, and his punishment is the Tower Of London for 2. Kobashi-Plex blocked into a McLariat. London Dungeon again at 15 minutes. Albright escapes and briefly latches onto the Crowbar again. Nigel crawls to the ropes and counters to a TOWER OF LONDON TO THE FLOOR! Albright just about beats the 20-count to stay in the match. More shots to the shoulder…but Brent ducks under a running McLariat to hit a clothesline. CROWBAR APPLIED! The ref stops him raking the eyes this time. HE HAS THE TIGHTS INSTEAD! At 18:20 Nigel escapes with another shady victory using a handful of tights.
Rating – **** – Screw it, despite a few major flaws I really enjoyed this one, so I’m going to be VERY generous with the rating. It was nice to see the ‘Proving Ground’ concept used to good effect here. Last year Brent used the same concept to work a decent match with Bryan Danielson. Tonight he got 20 minutes with the World Champion and produced a really solid wrestling match with him. They both worked the arm like real bastards (although that Albright no-sell to hit a freaking press slam was absolutely criminal), made each other’s submission finishers look like a million dollars. Coming into this Brent said he wanted to prove his doubters wrong and show he can hang with the best in ROH. Too often during his Ring Of Honor career he’s been sidetracked into brawling feuds. Whenever he’s allowed to toss gimmicks aside and just flat-out wrestle (much as Paul Heyman allowed him to do in OVW) he delivers. Check out his matches with Christopher Daniels, Bryan Danielson and Takeshi Morishima alongside this one for examples of his abilities.
Dark City Fight Club vs Kevin Steen/El Generico
Once again this is non-title action here. The DCFC have earned this lofty spot on the card having put in some impressive performances in Full Impact Pro. They are Kory Chavis and Jon Davis. Chavis used to wrestle on the independent circuit as Rainman, and actually made a Do Or Die appearance for ROH during 2004 I believe. They are a bruising, brawling, physical team who’s style is at jarring odds with the established “Briscoe” style of ROH tag team wrestling so it’ll be interesting to see how they fit in.
Chavis jumps Generico as he dances around the ring to his own entrance music, immediately making the point that the debuting team are uncompromising street fighters. But the champions soon establish themselves, hitting the backpack double senton for 2. Davis responds by MAULING Kevin Steen, dragging him off the apron and physically throwing him THROUGH the guardrail. Inside he delivers a big spinebuster to Mr Wrestling to ensure DCFC have total control of the contest. I really like the intensity of Jon Davis. He shows off his power as well with a stalling vertical suplex on Steen. Even when on the apron he FLOORS Steen with a wild elbow strike. Elevated leg lariat gets 2 for the Fight Club. At last Steen draws Davis into punching the canvas and does manage to get the hot tag to El Generico. Rope run tornado DDT floors Chavis, followed by the double springboard flying headscissors on Davis for 2. YAKUZA KICK! CANNONBALL SENTON! Flying splash gets 2 for Generico. But Chavis hits him with a lungblower into TOTAL ELIMINATION FOR 2! PROJECT MAYHEM NAILED! STEEN SAVES! He hits the PACKAGE PILEDRIVER on Rainman, and rolls him into the BRAINBUSTER! The champions pick up the win at 12:09
Rating – *** – Really strong debut match for the Dark City Fight Club. I would imagine there are plans to bring them in again as they were pushed VERY hard tonight. They’ve got the sub-main event slot, and basically got all this match on offence. And, credit where it’s due, they looked very good. Neither looks a sensational wrestler in his own right but they’ve got a terrific gimmick and, actually reminded me a great deal of The Eliminators back in ECW. That’s a real compliment by the way. Davis, in particular, looked excellent. He brought great intensity and has real mobility to go with his size. They’re definitely welcome to come back in my opinion…
Davey Richards vs Tyler Black
Many people believe these two to be the next generation of ROH main event players. It started with Low Ki and Christopher Daniels. Then it was Samoa Joe and Homicide. Then it was Samoa Joe and CM Punk. We’re still in the era of Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness, and in the future many believe we’ll talk about Black and Richards as another one of those epic rivalries. 2008 closed with the clear decision to give Tyler a big singles push (although, that was in the works anyway as Gabe had planned to put the belt on Black at Final Battle). His ties with Age Of The Fall were severed and it’s been noticeable that his top priority has been Nigel McGuinness and the World Title rather than immediate revenge on Jimmy Jacobs and Austin Aries. Fans have bitten on his push thus far and have continued to throw their weight behind him to be the man to finally dethrone Nigel. Tonight the Proving Ground concept gives these two future marquee names get the chance to enjoy the main event spotlight in a hotly anticipated singles bout.
Larry Sweeney is in a neckbrace tonight, selling the beating he took at the end of Caged Collision. The camera oddly zooms in on Black whilst he tries to cover up a very obvious yawn during the opening minute. That’s an interesting contrast to the uber-intensity of Davey. He cartwheels into a slap to Tyler’s face. Tyler snapmares him into a stomp, THEN a revenge slap. Davey suplexes him into the ropes ribs-first and follows it with a knee deep into the midsection. Snap suplex then a camel clutch as he continues to work Black’s trunk at the 5 minute mark. Back suplex followed up with a bodyscissors hold next. Tyler tries to mount Richards and deliver some right hands, but Richards is able to roll him over and unload with a volley of elbows. ALARM CLOCK, then the Benoit headbutt TO THE RIBS for 2. Sweeney pulls on Davey’s arm for additional leverage as he goes back to the bodyscissors to continue to squeeze the air from Black’s lungs. Just when Tyler looks like he’s mounting a comeback Sweeney sweeps the legs and plants him on his stomach again. But the ref saw it…and Todd Sinclair makes the call to eject Larry from ringside. RUNNING SOMERSAULT PLANCHA from Tyler, but he stays down clutching at his ribs after hitting the move, such is the punishment that body part has sustained over the course of this match. Lionsault feint into the BLACK STAR PRESS! Once again he takes an age feeling his own ribs before being able to get to his feet and capitalise on the offensive move. Springboard clothesline COUNTERED WITH A DROPKICK TO THE STOMACH! RUNNING HEEL KICK DEEP INTO THE GUT! Tyler literally shotguns backwards into the corner from that one. He fires back with the Pele Kick to leave both men down on the mat. Peroxism gets 2 for the #1 Contender to the World Title. He heads to the top rope for the Phoenix Splash but is caught in the corner. ROPE RUN GERMAN SUPERPLEX! BLACK LANDS ON HIS CHEST AGAIN! TEXAS CLOVERLEAF APPLIED! Tyler counters out of that but can’t have much left in the tank now. Dropkick to the face as Davey looks for the handspring enzi. F-5 nailed, but it was hit with far less impact than usual, such is the pain Tyler’s ribs are now causing him. Superkick evaded…as is God’s Last Gift. BUCKLE BOMB! SUPERKICK! It’s over at 17:34
Rating – **** – Tyler’s excellent 2009 continues with another show stealing bout there. This is what Ring Of Honor should be all about. Two guys getting 20 minutes to tear each other apart and produce a great match for the fans. These two have terrific chemistry as opponents and are sure to hook up again in future. I’m sure that, back in 2009, when the people of Coral Springs heard that this was going to be their main event they were a little underwhelmed. I hope these two exceeded their expectations as I was really impressed by that.
Rating – *** – This was a real sleeper show here. I’ve heard next to no praise at all for this event, and with a strange card thanks to the ‘Proving Ground’ concept, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Admittedly the opening match would have been better served by being dropped to the pre-show, the 6-man was a mild disappointment (perhaps it would have been better served as the curtain jerker), and the crowd was a minor annoyance. But, there was also a lot to like about this DVD. Bison’s debut was exactly what it should have been. Necro/Aries was a surprisingly intelligent and engaging bout. The Age Of The Fall tag was packed with quality and fine for it’s placement on the card. Nigel/Albright exceeded all expectations, the Dark City Fight Club produced a strong debut showing, and the main event was one of the best matches of the year so far. Tomorrow night’s event in Orlando seemed to get most of the praise coming out of this weekend – but it will do well to top this one. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ll heartily recommend this as one of your ‘bonus’ picks in some kind of sale at ROHwrestling.com, or if you can find it for a good price on eBay.
Top 3 Matches
3) Kevin Steen/El Generico vs Dark City Fight Club (***)
2) Nigel McGuinness vs Brent Albright (****)
1) Tyler Black vs Davey Richards (****)