ROH on HDNet – Episode 001 – 21st March 2009
There is no doubt that Ring Of Honor got the world of independent wrestling buzzing in early 2009 when they announced they’d inked a national TV deal with HDNet. This was major news, and a colossal shift in the focus of the entire product. So long a promotion focused on DVD sales, making ROH a televised wrestling product will drastically alter the Ring Of Honor landscape. It’s a bold move taken as Cary continues to seek growth for his organisation. Having seemingly hit a brick wall in how far the ‘DVD sales’ market will take them, and now at a point where falling DVD sales is causing real financial problems (although I’d argue that the lacklustre shows ROH has put out recently won’t have helped), taking ROH onto TV and the opportunity to reach thousands of new potential fans was a logical step. It wasn’t universally popular. Those like myself, who have followed ROH since the beginning through purchasing DVD’s suddenly find themselves alienated from a number of noteworthy occurrences and missing out on great matches as there is no international distribution in place (although there was the option of watching the shows on Youtube for the first 18 months of the show’s run). Taping blocks of 6 episodes in advance weeks before they air mean the majority of ROH’s existing fanbase know exactly what went down before the show airs. Some of ROH’s smaller DVD markets are also now likely to fall by the wayside as ROH looks to cut back on the amount of live events it runs. But for all the potential negatives, the huge positive is the excitement of seeing ROH take it to the next level. Like ECW before them, it’s a real shame that this move happens when the roster is arguably the weakest it’s ever been. ROH alumni CM Punk, AJ Styles, Alex Shelley, Chris Daniels, Homicide, Matt Sydal, Samoa Joe and more are all established national television stars with other promotions now. Bryan Danielson is noticeably scaling his back his ROH involvement ahead of a rumoured move to the big leagues in the summer, World Champion Nigel McGuinness is coming to the end of his lengthy run with the belt etc. But when Gabe Sapolsky was let go Adam Pearce’s brief was to make ROH a more storyline centred promotion. Weekly television will give the ROH roster a chance to shine in a way never before seen. We should see more character development, more slow build on storylines with the need to shift DVD’s removed, and the same determination to produce quality in ring action. All episodes (bar a series that aired at the start of 2011) are taped at The Arena in Philadelphia, PA. Commentary comes from ROH’s Dave Prazak, and the HDNet funded Mike Hogewood – a veteran sports broadcaster whom the network felt contributed more to the product (and was also based far more locally) than Lenny Leonard. Just so you know, I’ll be reviewing these shows by broadcast date. I hope that ROH doesn’t start acknowledging things that happened at TV tapings on their house show releases BEFORE they were broadcast. The ROH storyline canon could get even uglier than it got during 2007 when they were really focused on pay-per-view if that happens. Lets get ready to welcome a whole new breed of fans to Ring Of Honor
SIDENOTE – I’ve had a couple of emails questioning my decision to review the ROH on HDNet series. The theme of them is that I should skip the show, review the ‘Best Of’s and get caught up on my backlog of ROH shows quicker than I am now. It certainly made me question my decision. I am well aware that reviewing ‘ROH on HDNet’ episodes represents a largely selfish endeavour as ROH are, as yet, unwilling to release complete box sets of the series (although with the announcement in early 2011 that the series was coming to an end, they totally should). I always considered my purpose to be someone who reviews shows to help people choose which shows to buy and whatnot. Having that purpose removed means I’m just another internet writer who thinks my opinions actually count for something. It’s been a tough decision to do this. But ultimately, at my core, I am a huge fan of ROH. I started following them way back in 2002, was writing about the promotion regularly by late 2003 and by this point, the promotion represents the bulk of the pro-wrestling I actually watch. I deeply ENJOY writing about ROH. Although covering the entire ROH on HDNet series is a massive undertaking, it’s one I’ve decided I want to do. I’ve worked hard over the years building up my ROH archive. I am proud that it’s started getting the following that it has, and as a fan of the ROH product, I decided I couldn’t bare knowingly skipping over the TV show and missing out on ROH making the huge leap into nationwide broadcasting. Plus, you know, if ROH ever DO release entire seasons of ROH on HDNet, all of a sudden the McXal Archives will have the jump on loads of other places!
ROH has opening credits and everything! We start in the studio with Mike Hogewood (who seems to take lead announcer duties) and Dave Prazak who run through the basic premise behind Ring Of Honor wrestling. They also promise that each week ROH on HDNet will give us a huge main event. Tonight we have Tyler Black and Jimmy Jacobs in singles action.
Delirious vs Jerry Lynn
Absolutely perfect choice to open for ROH on TV. Delirious is a character cut out for weekly television. Although most of ROH’s core fanbase have become bored of him, he’s a terrific, unique character and certainly appeals to lots of younger fans. And putting him up against a recognisable face with and respected veteran in Jerry Lynn, who has been on national TV with ECW, WWE and TNA in the past gives ROH an early air of legitimacy. Interestingly there is an attempt to keep the TV show relevant to CURRENT happenings in the DVD canon. Delirious is noted as a FORMER member of Age Of The Fall, even though this was taped in late February before he separated from the group.
Lynn locks in an early bow and arrow to quell the initial, erratic energy of Delirious. Satellite headscissors, followed by a tilta-whirl backbreaker from the veteran. Delirious fires back with a senton then goes to an Anaconda Vice hold. Clothesline flurry next, ended by Jerry countering to a backslide for 2. He gets another nearfall with a Gory Special into a front slam. Panic Attack from Delirious, but he MISSES Shadows Over Hell. Cradle Piledriver blocked, so Jerry takes it upstairs for a super rana. TKO scores only for Delirious to kick out at the last split second. CRADLE PILEDRIVER NAILED! Jerry Lynn wins the first ever HDNet match at 05:40
Rating – ** – Of course this was pretty basic, but it was a fine introduction to what ROH wrestling is all about. It probably seemed short to most ROH fans, but five minutes is probably about standard length for a RAW match, so when you’ve got an hour less of TV time to play with, every second is precious. I’d call this a decent start
SIDENOTE – You immediately notice how different the production is for HDNet. The whole product looks completely different. Of course picture quality is better, sound is MUCH better and there are a plethora of flashy graphics flying all over the place. But even the way matches are shot is completely different. There are far more cameras, the hardcam is barely used and we cut between all the different angles at high speed, leading to a very earthy, edgy, but somewhat disorientating experience when watching. And Mike Hogewood has a strong voice for wrestling commentary…but someone needs to either turn him down or tell him to calm down. I could do without him shouting really loudly out of my TV when Delirious kicks out of a basic backslide.
Kyle Durden has clearly impressed enough people on the house shows to keep his spot as backstage reporter. He talks to Tyler Black about his history with Jimmy Jacobs. He thanks Jacobs for bringing him into ROH, but berates him for being the one that lost sight of what Age Of The Fall was all about. He only wants exacting his revenge to take one night…
Sami Callahan vs Kenny King
You’d imagine this is nothing more than a brief enhancement match to debut Kenny King. Although it’s actually Sami who gets some promo time first – albeit promo time that makes him seem like he has a few mental problems. King points out that this is a return to national TV for him, although stops short of directly mentioning Tough Enough.
Early Japanese armdrag from Kenny, but he congratulates himself a little too much and gets hauled down to the mat into a vicious front facelock from the New Horror. Rope hurdle into the guillotine choke nailed for 2. Springboard leg drop follows yet showmanship towards the HDNet cameras. Capoeira Kick into a spinebuster nearly puts Callahan away. Sami hits back with a cradle urinage to leave both men down. Sliding Ace Crusher into a sliding clothesline gets a nearfall, then Callahan locks in the Koji Clutch. Shotgun Knee from Kenny, into the Coronation. King wins at 05:43
Rating – * – I’m not sure why they went to so much effort to put Sami on an equal standing with King here. The clear purpose of the match was to make Kenny look good, and since there are very obviously no plans to use Callahan more frequently at the moment, giving him so much offence and making this match even does nothing but damage the credibility of the guy you’re planning to put over. And waste valuable airtime. This was good when Kenny was on offence (since that was the whole purpose) and a little scrappy when he wasn’t.
Kyle Durden now interviews Jimmy Jacobs, who looks absolutely ridiculous. He roundly blames Tyler for the split in Age Of The Fall and promises to bring a war to the main event tonight.
Commercial break – including hot chicks going to Bora Bora and a much better advertisement for ROHwrestling.com than ROH themselves manage on their own DVD’s.
We return with a nice little video package which tries to condense seven years worth of ROH history into about thirty seconds using only clips which involve crazy high spots or big names that have come through ROH over the years.
Rhett Titus vs Brent Albright
You’d think that Titus is another guy really cut out for the televised environment. His inexperience as a wrestler can be hidden in short matches, and he’ll get plenty of time to showcase his charisma and endless reel of comedic catchphrases. He’s surely the underdog here against the experience of Brent Albright though.
Sexy Suplex blocked in the first minute, allowing Albright to counter into a stalling vertical suplex of his own. He sweeps Titus out of the corner into a backbreaker for 2, and nearly wins it again moments later with a splash mountain powerbomb. Pescado to the floor next which almost gives Hogewood a heart attack. Calm down man. Rhett rakes the eyes to stop the relentless assault from Albright. And he keeps going back to those eyes for the majority of the next minute, causing Brent real problems. He knocks Rhett back with an exploder suplex but walks into the explosive dropkick of the ROH graduate moments later. HALF NELSON SUPLEX! CROWBAR! Titus taps in 06:34
Rating – * – I didn’t think these two gelled as opponents when they worked a singles match against each other earlier in the year. This one wasn’t great either to be honest. There were some obvious mis-steps, real inexperience from Titus, and together they displayed a real inability to keep the crowd interested. I know Brent needed to win here, but Rhett is the kind of personality that can really contribute to your show, and I don’t think he was helped by essentially being beaten up for five minutes then pinned. This was FAR more one-sided than King/Callahan earlier.
Another video package depicts the incidents that lead to Jacobs kicking Black out of Age Of The Fall. Slightly lazy editing in that they don’t cut out the old Prazak/Leonard commentary meaning Dave has to shout over his own commentary to tell the story. This leads to a nifty ‘Tale Of The Tape’ graphic
Jimmy Jacobs vs Tyler Black
Main event of Episode 001 is right here. As we saw in the video package, Jacobs was furious with Tyler when he refused to throw in the towel at Rising Above, forcing Jimmy to say ‘I Quit’ to Austin Aries. That lead to Final Battle 2008 when, realising that Tyler was fighting for selfish reasons rather than for the good of the Age Of The Fall, he unceremoniously kicked him out of the group. This is the first time since then that Tyler has had the chance to fight him in singles action.
‘Jimmy Jacobs: Violent and Evil’ – that is Jimmy’s graphic as he enters the ring. That seems mean. Apparently Hog loves the fact that he’s ‘never seen Tyler quit’. Given that I imagine this match is the first time he’s ever seen him, I’m not surprised. Tyler drives Jacobs out of the ring where Jimmy has a mini tantrum and starts throwing chairs. Slingshot into a rolling heel kick from Black, followed by a stomp to the throat for 2. Jacobs manages to turn Tyler into a headscissors to the turnbuckles, and thanks to the HDNet camera crew it looks like Black is being catapulted into your living room. Black heads upstairs but gets THROWN TO THE FLOOR before he can set himself for the Phoenix Splash. CACTUS ELBOW by Jacobs. Dropkick to the base of the neck gets 2, but more importantly does some damage ahead of a potential Contra Code or End Time finish. Double stomp trampoline next as the crowd falls into a hushed silence with Black really struggling. Impressive press slam from Tyler, and he hits his big springboard clothesline for a nearfall. Lionsault feint into the BLACK STAR PRESS gets 2 as well. Phoenix Splash misses and Jacobs hits the Spear. Pele Kick knocks him away but Jimmy tosses him out of the ring and scores with a RUNNING PLANCHA THROUGH A CHAIR! He goes for the Senton Bomb but flies into Tyler’s knees. God’s Last Gift COUNTERED TO END TIME! Tyler throws Jacobs away once, but misses the Superkick and gets locked in the hold for a second time. Black bridges out of it to pin Jacobs for the win at 13:50
Rating – *** – For this feud to be a success they’ll need to have better matches than that, but given the circumstances this was really decent. Under double amounts of pressure to deliver a strong TV main event AND progress their feud without giving anything too spectacular ahead of other bouts down the line, they weren’t given an easy task. But this was a brisk introduction of what you can expect to see from a Ring Of Honor main event. Good wrestling, lots of intensity and purpose, some really fun countering and hopefully a more rewarding viewing experience that you’ll see on any of their rival pro-wrestling television shows.
NEXT WEEK – Nigel McGuinness makes his HDNet debut.
Tape Rating – ** – Ring Of Honor’s major television debut was, in the end, a bit of a mixed bag. The positives were a decent main event, a fun opening match, and the fact that the product has never LOOKED better. Those that have always been turned away by the rough production values of ROH’s own DVD’s should find this a lot more accessible. I also liked how they built to the main event throughout the hour with interviews and video packages. But there were certainly shortcomings too. HDNet’s multitude of cameras make for a somewhat disorientated viewing experience at times, so they’ll need to work out how to continue giving that ‘underground TV’ style of shooting they are looking for without detracting from the wrestling. And, whilst I admire the notion of building your TV show around three of your top up and coming stars (King, Titus and Black), bringing ROH onto national television for the first time and not including your World Champion (Nigel McGuinness), the best wrestler in a “wrestling” promotion (Bryan Danielson) and without established ROH ‘name’ talents like Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Jay Briscoe etc was a gamble which I don’t think paid off. The King/Titus matches really killed the momentum of the episode. Albright/Rhett in particular was a real low point. But, they were never going to hit the ground running, and for a first try, it could have been a lot worse. And things will only start to improve as we progress, move past the bedding in stage and viewers become more knowledgeable of the product.
SIDENOTE – I won’t be doing a ‘Top 3 Matches’ segment for ROH on HDNet episodes since that would be stupid and pointless. I’ll probably try something like a ‘Top 5 Matches’ for every 5 episodes or something. Although that may change if I end up just listing the 5 previous main events in varying orders. Reviewing these shows is a work in progress for me too!