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ROH Underground 1/21/2012

ROH 297 – Underground – 21st January 2012

When Ring Of Honor announced they were running the sizeable Norfolk Scope Arena, they were met with pretty much universal laughter and derision until they clarified they were running an exhibition hall within the building – not the main arena itself. They encountered more problems when the size limitations of the building meant they couldn’t get the usual ROH lighting rig in, so for the first time since about 2003 Ring Of Honor will be running a show using the building lights which immediately makes the product look more small-time. Indeed, it seems they were so unhappy with this event they opted to hide it away as a bonus DVD with February’s ‘Rise & Prove’ show (even though this was taped the night after Homecoming 2012). Weirdly, the announced card looks decent with Team Richards facing the House Of Truth, the Briscoes defending the Tag Titles against C&C, Tommaso Ciampa in the Proving Ground with Jay Lethal and Adam Cole looking to end ‘Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare’ in Kevin Steen. There’s some other stuff, but this was apparently so inconsequential ROH declined to even print it on the packaging of the Rise & Prove event. We’re in Norfolk, VA (another debut town, I’m guessing Sinclair runs TV there) with Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino. Is this the first show Corino has done commentary on since 2002? He was part of the broadcast team for the first ever batch of ROH events with Eric Gargiulo then Donnie B.

Jim Cornette and Eddie Edwards open the show, breaking the bad news that he can’t compete this evening just as he couldn’t in Philadelphia yesterday. Bobby Cruise isn’t here tonight either.

Andy Ridge bitches to Veda Scott about not getting opportunities in ROH, and says he’ll show what he can do against Kenny King…

Andy Ridge vs Kenny King
Kenny is still flying solo after Rhett’s knee surgery, and may be without his partner for a while longer after Kevin Steen put him in the Sharpshooter yesterday. Ridge is clearly frustrated about his lack of progress in Ring Of Honor, so needs to start scoring some upset wins.

King is pretty jovial but his lack of focus seems to annoy Ridge who looks to punish him with some big strikes, then tries to catch him out by going for a series of quick pins. He takes the fight to the floor, and just when Kenny looks to have shut him up, Andy still explodes from the guardrails and clobbers King from behind. Kenny isn’t happy, slamming Right Leg into the apron then hauling him back into the ring for a serious working over. To that end he amends his usual snap suplex into mounted forearms by floating over into straight punches to the face. Ridge goes for a superkick only for King to catch him in a capture suplex for 2. The ANX member tries an Austin Aries-influenced slingshot corkscrew splash but is met with Andy’s knees. The rope hurdle guillotine is blocked too, which allows Ridge to nail the slingshot cutter for a nearfall of his own. Capo Kick from Kenny, immediately followed by Shotgun Knees then the Royal Flush for the win at 07:53

Rating – ** – Better than I thought it would be. Nothing worth going out of your way to see but they told a good story, and Ridge showcased real character growth with his actions in this contest. Even if his actual skillset hasn’t improved drastically it’s nice to see him adapting his style in a logical manner to keep his matches interesting as we go into 2012.

Mike Bennett vs Grizzly Redwood
Haven’t Ring Of Honor run this match on like 30 house shows already? I’m pretty sure Bennett hasn’t lost to Grizzly in all their matches together, so could be forgiven for being over-confident. This was originally scheduled to be Bennett/Edwards I believe.

Wow, Grizzly gets a HUGE babyface pop. Spike Dudley in ECW level stuff. He hides under the ring, re-emerging to take The Prodigy by surprise and nearly beating him in the first minute of the match. He crotches Mike on the top rope as Bennett’s horrible start to the match continues…but he recovers and nearly takes Grizz’s head off with a big boot. Redwood tries a sleeper then lands the tomahawk chop from the top for 2. Corino is arguing with Kevin Kelly about why Allison Danger is the ‘First Lady Of ROH’, not Maria Kanellis. Meanwhile Bennett drops Grizz with the TKO to win at 05:02

Rating – DUD – I had no need or desire to see these two wrestle again. Mercifully they kept it short, and I’m guessing this was more fun live as heckling Bennett is always entertaining. But on DVD this was bad, and hugely disappointing that we didn’t get Prodigy vs Eddie – which could have been a huge breakout match for Bennett.

Veda Scott wants to know if Adam Cole is nervous about facing Kevin Steen tonight. He’s nervous, but thinks he’s the dangerous one because he’s under-estimated.

SIDENOTE – It’s nice having a backstage interviewer again. It’s a format that ROH has used since the early days with the likes of Gary Cappetta, Shawn Price and Becky Bayless all doing the job over the years. Veda is super-hot which helps…

Kevin Steen vs Adam Cole
This is a big match for Adam. He had what many people are calling his breakout singles match last night at Homecoming 2012 when he took Roderick Strong to the limit in a No Holds Barred Match. But this is ROH. Anyone can have a good match. The breakout stars and the big names in this promotion are the ones who put runs of must-see matches together in quick succession. Can he continue to build his reputation, and gain favour with the Ring Of Honor office by killing the momentum of the newly reinstated Kevin Steen on just his second show back with the company?

Steen pretends to be respectful, only to maul Cole into the corner as soon as the bell rings. Adam looks for an early pescado, and luckily for him even when that doesn’t land he adapts quickly to take the fight back to Steen on the outside. Sadly, Mr Wrestling soon F-5’S HIM AROUND THE RINGPOST! That swings the whole match in his favour and the next few minutes of the match pass without Cole looking remotely like getting in any offence. Steen is basically goofing off now, demanding the ref count for a TKO victory then throwing in some Bryan Danielson tribute spots just to piss the live crowd off. It is that casual attitude that comes back to bite him in the ass though, as Adam eventually springs out of the corner into a swinging DDT to leave both men down. Cole up first and he rattles Steen’s skull with a series of kicks for 2. His momentum is stopped flat in its tracks when Steen counters a springboard into an elevated DDT out of the ropes…followed by the cannonball senton which gets 2. Lungblower out of nowhere by Cole, but even after three superkicks he can’t take Steen off his feet – and is soon laid out again with a powerbomb. F-5 wins it for Steen at 10:06

Rating – ** – As an enhancement match for Steen this was quite entertaining…but what the f*ck is this booking? Cole had a huge breakout night yesterday in Philadelphia when he took Roderick Strong to the limit in a great match. Then the next night the bookers relegate him right back down the card in a squash match against Steen? If I was Cole I’d feel pretty pissed off by that. On the bright side, at least Mr Wrestling looked good. For all the potential that Adam has, Steen is clearly the money man in ROH at this point.

Steen tries to give Adam Cole the Package Piledriver, but doesn’t succeed as Eddie Edwards runs in to make the save. I guess that repays the favour after Adam stepped into his match with Roddy last night.

Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander are psyched, and ready to bring the Tag Titles home tonight…

Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe vs Caprice Coleman/Cedric Alexander – ROH Tag Title Match
These two teams have locked horns a few times, although normally it’s taken a back seat to the never-ending Briscoes/WGTT feud. Tonight C&C have a chance to end the 7th Briscoe Tag Title reign in their very first defence. It’s been done before – Shingo and Naruki Doi took the belts from Jay and Mark back during the 5th Year Festival.

Coleman starts with Mark, and it’s actually him who makes most of the early running. He even finds time to wipe Jay out with an elbow in the corner then roll over the top rope straight into a plancha to Mark on the outside. Cedric tagged but he’s a little too excited…and he runs straight into the turnbuckle flatliner from Jay. The double football tackle almost flips Alexander off his feet as the champions press home their advantage. Cedric takes some abuse before blocking the Splash Mountain Neckbreaker and Caprice comes to his rescue with a crazy hangtime missile dropkick! Slingblade gets 2 for Coleman before he misses a dropkick and walks into a BIG BOOT/DRAGON SUPLEX COMBO! Cedric tags and soars in with a springboard clothesline on Jay, followed by a sit-out full nelson slam for 2. Superkick/Mind Trip combo gets a close nearfall for C&C! Jay has seen enough and brutally fights through both challengers…DOOMSDAY DEVICE ON CEDRIC! It’s over at 10:03

Rating – *** – Slightly sloppy at the finish, but most of this match was solid and entertaining. I like Caprice and Cedric, and they shone here even though this wasn’t really the big star-making match I guess they were hoping for. They certainly got enough offence in for this to be credible, and didn’t walk away seemingly squashed like Adam Cole just did after his match with Steen. With defences against Team Chikara and the Young Bucks lined up this was only ever going to be a filler title defence for the Briscoes…but I thought all four did ok in the circumstances.

Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin vs Team A1
On the subject of the tag division, the former champions Haas and Benjamin aren’t happy at the moment. Having lost their belts at Final Battle, they’ve had to start over in the tag division – forced to jerk the curtain with Future Shock last night, and now facing enhancement talent on a small-time house show this evening. They’ll be looking to take their bad moods out on these popular local guys…

Haas moans about having to ‘wrestle in a garage’. Sound quality is so atrocious you can hardly make out WGTT’s pre-match promo though. They are interrupted by Team A1, who get totally buried by pink and black streamers. Benjamin starts with Zak Hilton (spelling?) and doesn’t break a sweat in beating the hell out of him. Haas is even more remorseless, dragging the poor guy to the canvas and nearly ripping his arm off with a wristlock. But somehow Zak gets the tag to Jeff Early, and together they actually drive WGTT out of the ring – and get a huge ovation from the live crowd. Unfortunately A1 follow Haas and Benjamin out of the ring like idiots and walk straight into stereo superkicks from the former Tag champions. WGTT cut the ring in half, isolating Jeff from his corner with great precision. Finally the tag to Hilton is made though…not that Shelton is particularly interested in selling the poor kid’s hot tag routine. He doesn’t even bump for a couple of clotheslines before grabbing Zak and drilling him with a spinebuster. Haas has it won, but pulls Early’s shoulders off the canvas at 2. He and Shelton argue with the ref…and end up shoving him over. WGTT are disqualified at 09:51.

Rating – DUD – Haas and Benjamin were in no mood to help these kids out at all. They weren’t unprofessional, but they made absolutely zero effort to help these two guys looking to get a spot in ROH. I don’t think either of them bumped in the entire match…and the less said about that embarrassingly pointless finish the better. Total mess, and Haas and Benjamin were a complete waste of a paycheck this weekend.

WGTT aren’t happy at all and keep beating on Team A1 for no real reason. The Briscoes run in, more to fight with Haas and Benjamin than to save Zak and Jeff. Jim Cornette is out here too but is powerless to prevent a huge brawl breaking out between the current and former Tag champs.

In another horrendous promo, Jay Lethal vows to end Tommaso Ciampa’s winning streak tonight.

Jay Lethal vs Tommaso Ciampa
In many ways this is the most intriguing match on the entire card. Lethal has been so impressive since returning from TNA, and up until last night in Philadelphia, had barely lost a match. Tonight he opens up the TV Title Proving Ground to Tommaso Ciampa – a man thus far undefeated in ROH singles competition. Tommaso has been demanding bigger challenges and tougher matches – and gets his wish tonight. If he makes it to a draw, or can beat the reigning TV Champion, he’ll earn himself a shot.

Ciampa lays down an early marker by trapping Jay in the corner, then easily flooring him with a shoulder tackle…but to Lethal’s credit he gets back to his feet and drives Tommaso out of the ring after the hiptoss/dropkick combo. But he goes for it a second time…only for Ciampa to avoid the dropkick and look for his kneeling dropkick – but in turn Jay blocks that and delivers a sliding enzi! Great little sequence, and the TV Champion’s speed of thought and agility appear to be getting the best of Tommaso’s brute force thus far. He delivers a springboard dropkick which knocks Ciampa out of the ring, and continues the assault by successfully landing a pescado. It takes some distraction from Prince Nana to turn the tide in Ciampa’s favour, as the Dominant Male clobbers Lethal with a clothesline on the apron as he rounds on the Prince. The pace immediately slows with Tommaso methodically stalking Jay around the ring and repeatedly trapping him in corners and on the mat to press home his advantage. Corino and Kelly start to voice concerns about how much Lethal has in the tank after his hard-fought World Title challenge last night in Philadelphia. He goes for one of the Lethal Injection variants out of desperation, and propels himself into a BRUTAL dropkick from Ciampa. Ten minutes in now and Lethal is struggling…but not out of it yet as he starts swinging chops and punches like a wild man. Tommaso acts quickly to shut the comeback down with the REPEATED KNEE STRIKES IN THE CORNER! Lethal COUNTERS with a jumping heel kick and both men are down! They battle back to their feet and start teeing off on each other with big right hands, with the crowd really starting to get into the contest now. Jay nails a handspring elbow for 2, but he now has less than two minutes on the clock to put Tommaso away. Dragon Suplex blocked…LETHAL INJECTION #1! Ciampa kicks out! Lethal Injection #2 (Macho Elbow) set up, only for Tommaso to catch Lethal in the corner. AVALANCHE AIR RAID CRASH! How the f*ck did Lethal kick out of that? Less than a minute in the time limit remaining as Ciampa nonsensically goes for a chair. All of Embassy Ltd pile onto the apron distracting Lethal…PROJECT CIAMPA! Tommaso wins at 15:20 (I’m guessing the timekeeper screwed up, I definitely started by watch when the bell rang), and earns himself a TV Title shot.

Rating – *** – I know some people are finding him hard to get into, but I rate Ciampa. He’s a future ROH World Champion in my opinion, if he doesn’t get signed up by WWE first. The reason I say that is that, despite the fact he’s still a little green when it comes to the ‘ROH style’, he oozes star quality – and that’s something you just can’t put a price on. So few people have the charisma to be believable and entertaining in the ‘silent killer’ gimmick he’s been given. If anything, The Embassy were almost holding him back here, as the way the Nana circus was booked into the match made no sense. It made Tommaso look weak when he needed Prince Nana to stop him getting his ass kicked by Lethal, and the finish, with Ciampa needlessly going for a chair, then having the whole Embassy swarm the ring was puzzling too. Minor quibbles aside, this was a solid match, and Tommaso’s biggest win in ROH to date. Question now is do ROH pull the trigger on Tommaso’s push and give him the belt, or do they keep it on the popular, recognisable name of Jay Lethal?

Roderick Strong/Michael Elgin vs Davey Richards/Kyle O’Reilly
Main event time, with the House Of Truth taking on the Team Richard duo now dubbed ‘Team Ambition’. Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly have started to become frustrated at the limited success of their tag team, but in singles action Kyle produced some impressive performances against his two opponents towards the end of 2011. Tonight he teams with his mentor as Richards and O’Reilly look to settle the score with Strong and Elgin – who have been out for Team Richards’ blood basically since the SBG TV show began. The winners of this will receive a Tag Title shot at the Briscoes next month.

O’Reilly has no hesitation about starting with Roderick…even after the former World Champion slaps him square in the face. Strong pretty disrespectfully beats Kyle down and demands Davey get in the ring and face him…only to tag straight out to Elgin once Richards steps in. Davey tries his kicks, but Unbreakable totally no sells them and hoists the champion high into the air with a back suplex. Both members of Team Ambition retreat to the floor to revise their strategy after a thoroughly unsuccessful opening five minutes. O’Reilly gets DESTROYED in the corner by Roddy, but finds some reserves of stamina to fire back with a vicious strike combo which drops Strong for the first time. Again the power of Elgin comes to Strong’s rescue and soon the 2011 SOTF winner is going to work stomping the World Champion into the canvas. Richards rolls him into a cross armbreaker…only for Elgin to hoist him up and drive him into the turnbuckles! The improvement in quality in this match compared to the rest of the card thus far is frightening. Davey kicks Strong off the apron, then sprints across it to deliver a running punt to Elgin’s chest for good measure. SOMERSAULT PLANCHA from O’Reilly takes out both members of the HOT.

For the first time Team Richards seize the initiative and look to work over Michael Elgin’s back. JUMPING ENZI BY ELGIN! That crumples O’Reilly like a piece of paper!
In an instant it’s the House Of Truth in charge, with Roderick dragging Kyle outside for a BACK SUPLEX INTO THE SIDE OF THE RING! O’Reilly is being tossed around like a ragdoll and Elgin displays his incredible strength as he easily counters a tornado DDT into a backbreaker – a set up for Roderick to wear him down using a grounded bearhug. Some of the rough treatment HOT give Kyle during this heat segment is shockingly violent for a house show. He tries a desperation Triangle Choke on Unbreakable…but again Elgin counters with a one-arm powerbomb for 2. Strong blisters up his chest with chops, then sensibly grabs a leg and drags him to the mat as Kyle looks to string together another strike flurry. Still O’Reilly won’t quit though, and finally he fights through both opponents to get that critical hot tag to the American Wolf. Machine Gun Kicks on Elgin, followed by the Handspring Enzi for 2. That is succeeded with a bridging German suplex but again Michael gets the shoulder up. He has enough left in the tank to pick both members of Team Ambition up for a SAMOAN DROP/FALLAWAY SLAM COMBO!

Strong takes advantage by drilling Richards with elbow smashes then a back drop driver for 2. Strong and Richards, perennial rivals, launch into a huge strike exchange…which Roddy wins with the Death By Roderick into the Stronghold! Kyle tries to save but RODERICK WON’T LET GO! Elgin goes for the Spiralbomb…COUNTERED WITH THE FRONT CHOKE! RICHARDS COUNTERS STRONG TO THE ANKLELOCK! SPINNING BACKFIST BY ELGIN! JUMPING KNEE BY STRONG! SUPERKICK BY O’REILLY! Everyone is down! O’Reilly is first up to hit Roderick with the Rolling Butterflies…and Elgin inadvertently splashes his own partner trying to break the fall! MISSILE DROPKICK TO THE FLOOR FROM KYLE! That’s Elgin out of the match…leaving Strong alone to absorb the Alarm Clock from Davey then a Regalplex from O’Reilly for 2. Michael finally returns to the match and sprints in with a Bossman Slam on O’Reilly. Strong boots him so hard Kyle’s gum shield goes flying through the air, but it doesn’t stop him trapping Strong in the FRONT CHOKE! Truth Martini saves his man, then accidentally BELTS Roddy with the Book Of Truth! O’Reilly pins Strong to win it for  Team Ambition at 29:44

Rating – **** – Very obvious MOTN here. This whole show has been brutally B-show, but these four men brought nothing but sheer quality to a great main event. The heat segment on O’Reilly was very enjoyable if only for the stiffness and brutality with which the HOT team treated him…and once they got into the spot sequences down the stretch it was incredibly exciting. There were multiple times when I thought the match was over – and if a match has sucked me in enough to buy the false finishes, I really can’t ask for much more. The finish was slightly anti-climactic, albeit a fun way of giving Kyle a huge win and furthering the growing dissension in the House Of Truth ranks. At this stage I think I’d rather see Briscoes/Ambition rather than Briscoes/HOT too.

A couple of fans can audibly be heard yelling ‘That show sucked’ after the match. Fans filter out of the building rather than listen to the usual Davey Richards ‘thanks and goodnight’ promo.

In the back Roderick berates Truth for costing him the match, and has to be pulled away by Elgin

The Embassy Ltd locker room is a happy place. ‘The investors’ are delighted with Tommaso’s performance tonight, but Nana is still noticeably more interested in spending their money on wooing Princess Mia than on furthering The Embassy cause.

Tape Rating – ** – Lets not dwell on this show too much. Yes, it is comfortably one of the worst shows ROH has done…BUT it gets bonus points for being given away for free and for however much the undercard sucked, Lethal/Ciampa and Ambition/HOT were well worth checking out. I’m absolutely baffled as to why ROH booked such an underwhelming show, particularly after such a positive return to the Philadelphia market last night. I know the main event was great, but I really don’t think that one match was enough to carry such a poor night of wrestling. Is this really the kind of product they want to bring to fledgling, television markets they’re looking to run for the first time? Of course it doesn’t help that Eddie Edwards was injured, or that the lack of the light rig made this look so obviously like a house show…but that doesn’t change the fact that this show was very underwhelming. Bennett/Grizzly again? Giving a Tag Title Match only 10 minutes when you have so little else on the show? The WGTT/A1 catastrophe? Squashing Adam Cole one night after his biggest match in ROH thus far? All poor and avoidable booking decisions in my opinion. BUT, as I said, kudos to ROH for giving this away for free. I’ve heard that Rise & Prove was fun, albeit entirely forgettable house show event too. Maybe combining two underwhelming B-shows (as they did with Battle In The Carolinas) is the way ROH are choosing to go when selling these lesser events. I’m ok with that. I’ll buy all the shows anyway and, like I said, for a free bonus show, I was happy to sit through some crap to get to the top two matches – which delivered.

Top 3 Matches
3) Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe vs Caprice Coleman/Cedric Alexander (***)
2) Jay Lethal vs Tommaso Ciampa (***)
1) Davey Richards/Kyle O’Reilly vs Roderick Strong/Michael Elgin (****)

Top 5 Homecoming 2012/Underground Weekend Matches
5) Michael Elgin vs Chris Hero (*** – Homecoming 2012)
4) Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe vs Jigsaw/Hallowicked (*** – Homecoming 2012)
3) Roderick Strong vs Adam Cole (**** – Homecoming 2012)
2) Davey Richards/Kyle O’Reilly vs Roderick Strong/Michael Elgin (**** – Underground)
1) Davey Richards vs Jay Lethal (**** – Homecoming 2012)

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