ROH 291 – Survival Of The Fittest 2011 – 18th November 2011
Since 2004, the (almost) annual Survival Of The Fittest event hasn’t really been something I particularly look forward to on the Ring Of Honor calendar. Sometimes you get something good – such as 2004’s Aries/Danielson finale, 2007’s entertaining Chris Hero victory, whilst in 2009 the whole show was actually pretty good…but more often than not they’re pretty skippable shows. And until Eddie Edwards, the eventual winner was pointless because they NEVER won the subsequent title match anyway. And that’s why I welcome the fact that the new, Sinclair-owned ROH have shaken up the format for 2011. The finals will still be a 6-Man Elimination, but this time we only have five qualification matches – which include a tag match and a four corner survival. It also helps to have some intriguing non-tournament matches booked and that’s certainly the case this evening as we have the Generico/Corino match postponed from Death Before Dishonor, as well as a big tag match involving all the current ROH title holders. We’re in Dayton, OH (I think this is the last show to date at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds building that has hosted ROH events since 2003). Kevin Kelly and Dave Prazak will call the action.
Bravado Brothers vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe
For these two teams, this is actually a rematch from the first round of the Contenders Lottery tournament at Tag Team Turmoil – when Lancelot and Harlem actually scored the shock win over the Briscoes, albeit with some outside assistance from Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team. This is an SOTF qualification bout and both members of the winning team will advance to the finals.
Mark starts with Harlem, aggressively taking the fight to him and clearly looking for revenge for that shock defeat in Richmond. Both Bravados get violent trips into the guardrails as their miserable start to the evening continues. Finally Lancelot stops Jay from hitting the double football tackle, as Harlem chop blocks Mark’s problematic knee out from under him. The Bravados start picking apart the legs, showing that they’ve done their homework as Mark has a history of knee and leg injuries. Eventually he hits a KNEE SELLING enziguri and gets a much-needed tag to his brother. Gentleman’s Approach stalls Jay’s momentum and gets Harlem a 2-count. Sadly Mark has now recovered and storms in with some Redneck Kung Fu. Doomsday Device on Lancelot…and the Briscoes advance at 06:13
Rating – ** – Too short and insignificant to rate particularly highly, but this was fine for an opening match. Slightly odd that we’re supposed to be booing the Briscoes on TV, but then book them to play babyfaces again here, but that’s a minor criticism. The Bravados got to show growth and improvement as a team since July (I loved that they tried to work Mark’s legs), but ultimately the victory was still resounding enough that no lasting damage to the Briscoes’ credibility was done.
The Briscoes celebrate victory by demonstrating that, once they’ve eliminated everyone else, they’ll happily fight amongst themselves to see who wins the tournament tonight
Andy Ridge vs Kyle O’Reilly
SOTF tournament action again here. You’d have to consider both of these two rank outsiders given their lack of experience and atrocious won/loss records in ROH competition. But both of them have a lot of potential, and O’Reilly has tournament experience having progressed to the finals of both the Top Prospect Tournament and the Contenders Tag Lottery already this year.
Kevin Kelly sets about burying Ridge as he talks about Kyle having an ‘easy road’ to the finals. As you’d expect, the opening exchanges are very much kick-centric. Andy takes O’Reilly off his feet with a big kick, then blocks the hiptoss armbreaker into a backslide for 2. Kyle retaliates and gets a nearfall following a nifty strike flurry. Rolling Butterflies…into the cross armbreaker! More kicks, until both guys collapse to their knees holding their stomachs in pain. Ridge hangs O’Reilly in the ropes to deliver a boot, then gets another 2 with the slingshot cutter. Then Kyle goes for victory with the RegalPlex. Guillotine Choke locked in, forcing Right Leg to submit at 07:10
Rating – * – Lots of people liked this more than me. I thought it was a whole bunch of pretty mediocre kick exchanges, mixed in with some really sloppy matwork and a few spots for good measure. Both are capable of much better than this, but worked lazy because the repetition of kicks were getting enough of a reaction out of the live crowd.
Mike Bennett vs Eddie Edwards
Where as the last match put two of the tournaments rank outsiders in the ring together, this one showcases two of the favourites to win the whole thing. Edwards is a former World Champion and comes in as defending SOTF winner, having won it last year outlasting all the finalists despite sustaining a severe shoulder injury in his qualification bout. He’ll come in knowing that nobody has ever won the SOTF tournament twice so will be looking to add that to his list of ROH ‘firsts’ (first triple crown champion, first SOTF winner to win the World Title). Bennett won the Top Prospect Tournament on HDNet earlier this year, so has proven pedigree in a tournament environment too.
Bennett struggles to cope with the big chops of Eddie Edwards, retreating to the corner then falling on his ass under the ferocity of them. Tree of woe dropkick from the floor scores too, and The Prodigy just can’t get going here. At last he drops Edwards with a northern lights bomb and keeps it together for long enough to pepper the former World Champion with a flurry of punches and shortarm clotheslines. Camel clutch applied only for Edwards to fight free then dive through the ropes with the ELBOW SUICIDA! That’s the move that messed his shoulder up last year! He has better luck this year and quickly gets up to chase Mike around ringside to deliver more emphatic chops. He wants the Achilles Lock…and nearly loses from there as Bennett traps him in a pin with his feet on the ropes. Box Office Smash countered with a hiptoss…but Bennett blocks the Backpack Stunner in return! Double stomp instead…rolled into the Achilles Lock! Still The Prodigy gets to the ropes, and all of a sudden we have less than 3 minutes left in the time limit. Both guys start climbing…AVALANCHE BOX OFFICE SMASH! EDWARDS BACK FLIPS OUT IN MID-AIR! DRAGON SLEEPER! Bennett taps at 12:48
Rating – *** – As ever, those that don’t like Mike Bennett will say that this sucked or that it was only good because of Edwards…but I thought this was really fun and found both guys contributed to that. Fans are always so into Bennett matches – ‘wrong kind of heat’ or not. The finish was particularly fun, not only for the incredible mid-air counter by Eddie, but because it continued the theme we started on the SBG TV show this week with Eddie having been taught the Dragon Sleeper by his new mystery trainer and can execute it with such force that it presents a real threat to Davey at Final Battle.
In the locker room Davey Richards preps Kyle O’Reilly for the main event tonight. He gives him some pointers for wrestling the likes of Eddie Edwards and Michael Elgin (who hasn’t actually won his match yet, but lazy editing is nothing new for ROH)…and drops the horrific ‘Team Ambition’ name for the first time.
Tommaso Ciampa complains about not getting to wrestle the likes of Richards, Edwards or Lethal, so is planning to win Survival Of The Fittest and force his way into the ROH title picture.
ANX get psyched for their matches too, including Rhett Titus talking about losing to Roderick Strong in the qualifying rounds back in 2009.
Michael Elgin vs Tommaso Ciampa vs Adam Cole vs Kenny King
Of all the SOTF qualification matches, this is comfortably the toughest one to call. All four of these guys are potential future main eventers for this promotion and have masses of talent. Elgin is so powerful it’s frightening, Ciampa is undefeated, King has the most ROH experience and comes in still hot after the huge Ladder War victory in New York, and even Adam Cole made it to the SOTF finals in 2010.
Ciampa has a rocky start against King but does manage to rattle him with the kneeling dropkick before piefacing Adam Cole and calling it a tag. Cole tries to match strength with Kenny which proves to be a mistake but gets his sh*t together in time to use his speed in outwitting Michael Elgin instead. Finally Unbreakable hits a dead-lift German on Cole…and it gets confusing as everyone piles into the ring to trade spots. King SLIPS ON THE ROPES and nearly dies…and thankfully not a single guy shouts ‘you f*cked up’ at him. They’re soon distracted as Elgin scoops King and Cole up for a FALLAWAY SLAM/SAMOAN DROP COMBO! King looks pretty injured and scurries into the corner as Elgin and Ciampa drop bombs on each other. Tope suicida by Cole, but then he gets picked up into a f*cking PROJECT CIAMPA WITH ADDED SPRINGBOARD BLOCKBUSTER FROM KING! Shotgun Knees from King to Ciampa. But he tries it on Elgin too and gets caught! Spider German by Tommaso, as Elgin smacks Cole with a back fist. SPIRAL BOMB! Elgin pins Cole to advance at 09:57
Rating – ** – Some of the spots were great, but some of this was business-exposingly sloppy and I couldn’t look past it. As far back as 2002 people were ripping the poor Special K kids apart for going out there and throwing around loads of spots they weren’t capable of executing correctly. In 2011, just because these guys have great looks and physiques, it doesn’t excuse some of the clownish mishaps we saw in this one. That said, I’m glad Kenny King is ok, his spill off the ropes was nearly tragic…
Steve Corino vs El Generico
This one was originally scheduled for Death Before Dishonor 9, but Corino was so unconfident in his ability to wrestle the man he tortured throughout 2010 that he fled to Japan and left his sponsor (Jimmy Jacobs) to fulfil his obligation. The match that evening ended with Jimmy and Generico oddly united in their desire to fight Kevin Steen (who invaded the arena again that night). Now it’s a couple of months later, and with legal proceedings to get Mr Wrestling back into ROH well underway, Corino is back from Japan and finally ready to step into the ring and test his reform from ‘evil’ with the luchador.
Generico refuses to shake Corino’s hand in a surprisingly tense pre-match scene which also involves the Dayton crowd booing all over a Jimmy Jacobs promo too. Steve, who looks to have dropped a bit of weight since the start of 2011, holds his own in an exchange of speed moves with the luchador (although he comes up of the mat breathing heavily and needs an immediate rest). Generico refuses another handshake and is punished by Corino as he grabs the arm anyway and drops him to the mat with a wristlock. Abdominal stretch applied…but he doesn’t complete the Thumb In The Bum and releases the hold, allowing Generico to plant him on his neck with the Michinoku Driver. Steve seems to allow Generico to beat him up, continually urging him to hit him harder and stay on him without letting up. It continues for several minutes until Corino comes out of the corner with a running STO. Colby Shock follows for 2, only for El Generico to provide an instant retort by nailing the rope run tornado DDT. Roles are reversed as Generico now pleads with Steve to ball up his fist and hit him. Corino refuses and decks him with a lariat instead! Eternal Dream countered to a roll-up for 2! Generico hits a Yakuza Kick which knocks Corino all the way to the floor, seemingly injuring him. Jimmy tries to convince Corino to give up and take a count-out loss, but Steve demands to be allowed back in. He walks into the Half Nelson Suplex…and kicks out! Brainbuster next, and Steve kicks out again! BRAINBUSTER AGAIN! STILL 2! Jacobs is begging Corino to stay down! 30 seconds remaining in the time limit as Generico hits another Yakuza Kick. Jimmy teases throwing in the towel, only for Corino to hit a northern lights bomb as the 15:00 time limit expires.
Rating – *** – I seem to remember a lot of people didn’t really like this. I’ll admit it was slow going, and the lack of a finish was frustrating. But, for my tastes, I found the story telling in this one really intriguing and certainly way above the usual ‘going through the motions’ spot for spot warfare you usually see on B-show midcard matches. It started with Generico still hating Corino so much he wouldn’t shake hands. Then you had the portion with Corino trying to earn Generico’s respect by trading lucha holds with him, whilst battling his own urges to cheat and bend the rules. Then Steve wanted Generico’s respect by allowing him to beat the hell out of him…and in the end got to show his fighting spirit by refusing to stay down even whilst injured and absorbing repeated Brainbusters. I can see how some might not like this, but it did feel vastly more meaningful, significant and emotionally resonant than most things you get on the non-major live events.
Corino begs for more time, even with Jacobs, Grizzly Redwood and Jim Cornette all surrounding him asking him to stop. Under the encouragement of Cornette, El Generico agrees to shake Corino’s hand and bury the hatchet with him – ending their rivalry and almost moving Steve to tears.
In the locker room Steve celebrates that handshake as redemption, and turns his attention to having to become evil ‘one more time’. He promises to kill Kevin Steen at Final Battle…
Roderick Strong vs Rhett Titus
Not sure why the final SOTF qualification match is taking place after intermission. Perhaps one of these two had travel issues or something. The winner of this advances to join the Briscoes, Kyle O’Reilly, Eddie Edwards and Michael Elgin in the finals.
The opening minutes pass without incident, with both guys more interested in playing games with the live crowd than doing anything more than trading basic holds. Titus fails in an attempt to trade chops with Roderick, then wisely takes it to the mat with a grounded bodyscissors. He lands a jumping knee strike as well, forcing Strong to leave the ring. That works to his advantage as he’s able to put Rhett on his shoulders then drop him stomach-first into the ring apron. He makes the injury to that body part much worse by ducking an ill-advised crossbody attempt by Titus, ensuring he lands flat and hard on the canvas. Titus mounts a comeback, planting Roddy with the Thrust Buster for 2…but walks into the Death By Roderick and the Black Superkick. Titus nearly murders Roderick with a horrific botched Snake Eyes which sees him land nowhere near the turnbuckles and straight down on his face, neck and shoulders. There’s less than a minute left in the time limit when Rhett allows himself to get distracted by Martini. Strong nails him with the Sick Kick to win at 14:34
Rating – ** – Now that was brutally slow. I understand why (they were booked to go nearly 15 minutes and one of them still has to work the finals with barely any time to recover) but this was really hard to sit through at times. There was a vague attempt at some psychology and story-telling with Roderick working the ribs – although that was nothing but perfunctory, superficial fluff as these two basically stalled for time until they could hit a few spots at the end and go home.
Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin vs Davey Richards/Jay Lethal
I think the last time Lethal was in the Dayton market in ROH was all the way back at Tag Wars 2006. That night he formed a makeshift team with Bryan Danielson to face then-Tag Champions Austin Aries and Roderick Strong in a criminally underrated match. He returns nearly 6 years later, once again forming a makeshift team with the World Champion and once again facing the Tag Champions. ROH are billing this as a ‘Champions Challenge’ as the World and Television Champions face the Tag Champs in a non-title bout. I don’t even think this is under Proving Ground rules, but there’s lots of pride at stake as each man will want to secure the high profile victory.
Richards starts with Benjamin, bridging into a kick which visibly rattles his opponent. Davey goes for a surfboard, immediately putting pressure on the ribs which are still taped up just as they were at Gateway To Honor. Tags all round, and there’s a nice touch as Charlie drops to his knees looking to go amateur prompting Davey to pull his partner to one side and instruct him to use his speed. He can’t avoid the clutches of the celebrated amateur wrestler unfortunately, and Haas drags him down and works circles round him on the canvas. Credit to Jay, he takes the punishment there and does manage to land a few speed moves on Charlie before WGTT join forces and unleash some combo moves on him that put the Tag Champions well on top in the contest. ‘Tonight is NOT the night he’s been waiting for’ – Prazak making a smarky little comment that only long term followers of the ROH product will get to describe Lethal getting smashed face-first into the turnbuckles. Davey tries to save Lethal, only to be picked up alongside him for a DOUBLE LEAP OF FAITH! The World Champion does put together a comeback for his team, landing a missile dropkick on Shelton then a running knee strike to Charlie’s jaw. Anklelock on Benjamin but he rolls through. Stinger Splash ducked, so Davey hops onto the apron to deliver a running punt into Haas’ face. Tope Suicida lined up…and BLOCKED with a knee strike by Benjamin. SOMERSAULT PLANCHA BY LETHAL INSTEAD!
He drives a dropkick straight into Shelton’s injured ribs with Davey quickly following up with a double stomp aimed at them too! Anklelock on Benjamin…and Lethal thwarts Haas’ save attempt by trapping him in a crossface. Richards switches to a cloverleaf to do more damage to the ribs in a neat little hint of psychology at the 15-minute mark. Lethal follows that with a gutbuster, a bodyscissors then an abdominal stretch as the assault on the ribs continues at an unrelenting pace. Eventually he hits the Dragon Whip on Richards and gets the hot tag to Haas though. Richards tries the Handspring Enzi but it’s COUNTERED to a German suplex which sends him all the way through the ropes to the floor. Jay saves his partner with Lethal Injection #3 (Handspring Ace Crusher) to leave both of those two down. Davey and Shelton trade kicks…OLYMPIC SLAM from Haas to Lethal! GERMAN from Richards to Haas! All four are down, dazed and confused now! They fight up and start taking wild swings at each other. Benjamin yields first and falls out of the ring, allowing Richards and Lethal to floor Haas with a double Alarm Clock. The two singles champions climb opposite turnbuckles for a diving headbutt and Macho Elbow combo which gets 2! Charlie dives out of the way of a missile dropkick attempt then puts Lethal in the HAAS OF PAIN! Davey tries to save…SHELTON STOPS HIM WITH THE ROPE JUMP SUPERPLEX! LETHAL TAPS! WGTT get the victory at 23:25
Rating – **** – Every bit as good as you’d expect considering the talent involved (on the assumption you haven’t become jaded by WGTT yet). I really enjoyed this, largely because it made so much sense. After a respectful opening period WGTT dominated by isolating the perceived weaker member of their opposition (Lethal) and used a number of signature combo moves to do so. The singles champions compensated for their lack of experience as a team and fought back by going after Shelton’s rib injury, but in the end it was the cohesion and fluidity of the WGTT duo which finally gave them the win. The SOTF final will have to be good or we could potentially have the first ever Survival Of The Fittest event where the 6-Man final isn’t match of the night!
Jay Briscoe vs Mark Briscoe vs Kyle O’Reilly vs Eddie Edwards vs Michael Elgin vs Roderick Strong
The line-up for the finals this year is fascinating. Four of them have been to the finals before (the Briscoes, Strong and Edwards), Roddy and Eddie are both former winners and World Champions, the Briscoes are 6-time former Tag Champions and have been in the promotion since 2002, whilst O’Reilly is in his third tournament final of 2011 and Michael Elgin is a beast and came through the most demanding qualifying bout relatively easily. Who leaves Dayton with a guaranteed World Title opportunity in their back pocket?
The Briscoes and the House Of Truth come to the ring as a tag team, perhaps signalling their intentions for the match to come. Kevin Kelly rightly points out that basically everyone except Elgin dislikes Roderick Strong. Jay and Mark start dominating Edwards, until Elgin tags himself in and turns it round so it’s the House Of Truth working over the Briscoes. They dish out similar treatment to O’Reilly as well – Elgin lifting Kyle into the skies and easily holding him there in a stalling vertical suplex. Eddie helps Kyle out by tagging Elgin out of the match, and they have a tentative handshake before facing off. Kelly reels off a few SBG TV spoilers which are annoying but forgivable given that the DVD’s are released after the show airs. Edwards and O’Reilly go kick for kick with each other, then separate to tag both Briscoes in together! But there’s no Jay vs Mark encounter yet, they happily split out and try to fight all four guys by themselves with the fight spilling out to the floor and getting messy in a hurry. The Briscoes isolate O’Reilly to work him over, whilst on the floor the House Of Truth are also working as a team to assault the defending SOTF winner. Kyle hits the double dragon screw on Jay and Mark, making a crucial tag to Edwards even though Die Hard is still showing the effects of that attack on the floor. Once again the HOT pile in to hit him with double teams!
O’Reilly tries to help only to be caught in the Splash Mountain Neckbreaker…things are starting to get messy. HOT and the Briscoes come to blows – broken as Kyle and Eddie climb the ropes for DUELLING DOUBLE DROPKICKS! Then it’s Edwards vs O’Reilly again, taking turns to tee off on each other with ferocious strikes. Crazy Mark sprints across the ring to hit a somersault plancha on one side…as O’Reilly does the same on the other side and ends up in the front row for his trouble! BACK SUPLEX ON THE APRON BY STRONG! O’Reilly took a horrible landing on that! The brawl continues and, unseen, Elgin climbs the ropes! TOP ROPE MOONSAULT TO THE FLOOR BY ELGIN! He brings Kyle back into the ring and drops him with another backbreaker…then things break down as everyone starts killing everyone else with kicks. STEREO SUPERKICKS BY EDWARDS AND O’REILLY! DIE HARD ON JAY! That’s Jay eliminated at 18:21…DRAGON SLEEPER ON MARK! The other Briscoe is gone at 18:37! Eddie eliminated both Briscoes is less than 20 seconds and the crowd is so shocked that they fall into a hushed silence for the first time in this final so far. Kyle climbs the ropes, just as Eddie boots Truth Martini into them! O’REILLY FALLS THROUGH THE TIMEKEEPING TABLE! HOT try the Alabama Spinebuster on Eddie, who is fighting them by himself with Kyle seemingly done for the night. He rolls Strong up…AND PINS HIM JUST LIKE AT MANHATTAN MAYHEM! Roddy is eliminated at 20:41!
BACK FIST BY ELGIN! He just knocked Eddie’s lights out! Die Hard is gone at 20:58…leaving Elgin alone in the ring and O’Reilly still in the wreckage of broken table on the floor. Kyle drags himself up, in a dramatic staredown with Elgin where he never breaks eye contact. He desperately tries to crucifix Elgin but is easily picked up. BIG BOOT! BACK FIST! KYLE COUNTERS THE SPIRAL BOMB TO THE GUILLOTINE CHOKE! But Unbreakable is so powerful he simply throws Kyle over his own head in a suplex! DDT BACK TO THE CHOKE! Davey Richards is at ringside cheering O’Reilly on…but Elgin refuses to quit! Kyle won’t let go so Michael counters to a huge side slam for 2! Buckle Bomb nailed…SPIRAL BOMB COUNTERED TO A REVERSE ANA! REGALPLEX! ELGIN KICKS OUT! He tries a triangle choke…WITH MMA ELBOWS! Elgin tries that suplex counter only for Kyle to roll through into a small package for 2! Kyle starts kicking him so hard that Elgin’s mouth is bleeding. Elbow smash duel, with O’Reilly’s gumshield going flying amidst a barrage of shots from Unbreakable. LARIATOOOOOO! But somehow O’Reilly gets the shoulder up! SCREWDRIVER NAILED! KYLE GETS A FOOT ON THE ROPES! He tries a sunset flip bomb to the floor, and when Elgin blocks that he switches to a BACK DROP DRIVER OFF THE F*CKING APRON! MISSILE DROPKICK INTO THE GUARDRAIL! He tries another missile dropkick back into the ring…COUNTERED TO A BUCKLE BOMB! SPIRAL BOMB SCORES! ELGIN WINS! After a hell of a fight, it’s Elgin getting the trophy at 32:02
Rating – **** – One of my favourite SOTF finals ever, and Elgin/O’Reilly should be considered amongst the best ‘final 2’ SOTF sequences right alongside Danielson/Aries, Delirious/Sydal and Black/Strong. The first 20 minutes were basically chaos, with lots of combustible personalities and egos colliding to create a wild, sprawling brawl which was enjoyable in it’s lack of flow or predictability. I liked how they kept Eddie over with multiple eliminations (particularly repeating the Manhattan Mayhem finish with Roderick)…and even if the crowd were DEVASTATED when Edwards was eliminated it was totally worth it to watch two of Ring Of Honor’s young lions step to the plate and deliver one of the year’s great moments. The story they told, with an injured and exhausted O’Reilly taking the fight to the dominant and powerful Elgin was fantastic. Kyle was brilliant as the underdog, and Elgin was every bit as good in his role (he also deserves credit for bumping like a crazy man to make Kyle look good). Absolutely loved this, and I’m so happy for both Elgin and O’Reilly who have been putting in terrific performances since they debuted without ever really getting the victories and chances to shine that other guys (Bennett) have received.
Davey Richards climbs into the ring to check on his student, but is confronted by the victorious Elgin promising to take the belt from him somewhere down the line.
Tape Rating – *** – As with Gateway To Honor, this was unashamedly a low level house show event. However, as far as the B-shows go, I thought this was very entertaining. There were four matches I really liked in Edwards/Bennett, Corino/Generico, the Champions Challenge and the SOTF finals, then everything else on the card was so short and insignificant it really wasn’t a bother to sit through at all. I was amazed when I checked the clock on this DVD and saw it ran nearly 2 hours 50 minutes. It flies by I promise you. The two main events mean that, whilst this isn’t an essential purchase, you’re certainly getting your moneys worth if you do pick this up in a sale or once it’s been discounted. The conclusion to SOTF with Elgin and O’Reilly was really special…
Top 3 Matches
3) Steve Corino vs El Generico (***)
2) Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin vs Davey Richards/Jay Lethal (****)
1) Michael Elgin vs Kyle O’Reilly vs Eddie Edwards vs Roderick Strong vs Jay Briscoe vs Mark Briscoe (****)