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ROH Survival Of The Fittest 2012 9/22/2012

ROH 313 – Survival Of The Fittest 2012 – 22nd September 2012

This is a slightly unique review in that, strictly speaking this shouldn’t be considered part of the ROH DVD series. The 2012 Survival Of The Fittest tournament was taped for the Sinclair TV show, meaning that this DVD is simply a collection of the four ROH on SBG TV episodes that make up the tournament. However, since ROH put this out as a standalone release, as I’m a completist and for the sake of continuity I’m going to review it as such. That means my reviews for Episodes 55-58 of the TV show will be pulled directly from this. The field is as strong as ever this year. Former winners and House Of Truth rivals Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin head up a field which includes last year’s beaten finalist Kyle O’Reilly, Jay Lethal, the reigning TV Champion Adam Cole, former World Champions Homicide and Davey Richards looking to add the SOTF crown to their illustrious list of ROH accomplishments too. There’s also non-tournament action – the pick of which sees Kevin Steen defend the World Title against Rhett Titus. We’re in Baltimore, MD with Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness.

Adam Cole vs Tadarius Thomas
This is our first SOTF qualifier. Cole is the current TV Champion and therefore has to be listed among the favourites to win the tournament. He comes in hot having scored big wins over the likes of Roderick Strong and Mike Mondo in recent weeks. Tadarius is an outsider, but impressively won his place in the field by dispatching Silas Young in a surprisingly one-sided encounter at Death Before Dishonor 10 in Chicago last weekend.

Cole tentatively locks up with Thomas, clearly concerned at being caught out by his unorthodox capoeira attacks. The TV Champion has an obvious power advantage though, and it’s he that scores the first nearfall with a northern lights suplex. He snaps off a neckbreaker next as Tadarius really struggles to get a foothold in the contest. Eventually he does find a way to deliver a few strikes to put Cole on the back foot for the first time. Adam doesn’t like that, so he springs off the canvas into a jumping enzi! CRADLEBREAKER from nowhere gets 2! Somehow Thomas shakes that off and starts blasting Cole from all parts with some ridiculous-looking kicks. Back flip dropkick into the Slingblade…but Cole leaves the ring to protect himself from more damage. Tadarius cartwheels across the apron…into a MID-AIR SUPERKICK FROM COLE! Figure 4 countered…so Cole SUPERKICKS HIM IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD! FLORIDA KEY! Cole is going to finals with a win at 06:42

Rating – *** – It felt less important than qualifiers in previous years, although that’s understandable given the time constraints of putting this tournament on TV. In the time they had available this was actually a hell of a lot of fun. Thomas’ style takes a bit of getting used to, but I thought the way he and Cole worked his capoeira spots gradually into the match as it progressed was quite clever. This was the first time I felt that Tadarius’ style was presented as more of a legitimate threat and less of a gimmick, so credit to Adam Cole for making him look good even in a losing effort.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team are set to face Fusion DS, but they are interrupted by Rhett Titus – who is still pissed off at how he lost in the finals of the Tag Title tournament. He orders Saigon and Dragon to the back, and brings out BJ Whitmer to be his partner in an impromptu tag match…

Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin vs Rhett Titus/BJ Whitmer
The odd couple tandem of Charlie Haas and Rhett Titus made it all the way to the finals of the Tag Title tournament. But their fragile alliance finally broke down beyond repair, and in the end it was Haas’ partner Shelton Benjamin who laid Titus out to cost them the match. WGTT are now in pursuit of the new champions SCUM in their quest to get the Tag Titles back. Titus is looking for revenge of course…whilst BJ is just looking for a job and loves a fight so he fits perfectly too.

Whitmer absolutely tears into WGTT, leaving Shelton begging for an early time-out as his team take a pounding. Haas changes the course of the match by hanging Rhett in the ropes, exposing him to a big running punt from Benjamin. Haas and Benjamin do what they do best and cut the ring in half to work Rhett over. That lasts a couple of minutes before Titus finds a way to tag in his partner. Whitmer continues to tear through WGTT and evades Shelton’s Stinger Splash to pin him at 04:45

Rating – * – Whole lot of nothing. Seriously, the match was five minutes long and almost nothing happened. I’ve basically awarded a star for this because it was a neat way to put BJ over on his first significant Sinclair TV appearance. How ROH can still justify paying WGTT’s presumably sizeable appearance fee is anyone’s guess.

WGTT aren’t happy about their loss and put a post-match beating on both opponents. Whitmer gets the crotch-to-ringpost treatment we saw them give the Briscoes a couple of months ago.

INSIDE ROH – This is the final Sinclair TV show to air before Glory By Honor, and since absolutely no real TV time has been dedicated to building the ppv due to the taping schedules, these Inside ROH segments are basically all we’ve had. This instalment also sees Mike Mondo continue to be a sex-pest and force himself on Maria Kanellis again…which is still just awful booking for a babyface.

There is some confusion around Tommaso Ciampa. It’s common knowledge that he blew out his knee at Boiling Point and is now injured – but for some reason RD Evans has demanded his spot in SOTF 2012 be held and that he will compete. The Barrister says his man will definitely be in the tournament.

Kevin Kelly brings SCUM to the ring – all three proudly carrying championship belts. But as SCUM includes Steve Corino (who is technically still contracted as a commentator), he orders Kelly out of the ring and will conduct the interview with Steen for himself. The World Champion wants Michael Elgin, his opponent for Glory By Honor, to join him in the ring. He doesn’t like Elgin, and doesn’t think his challenger has sufficient back-up to go up against SCUM on ppv. Elgin is surprisingly smooth on the mic…then tries to fight off Steen, Corino and Jacobs all at once. Truth Martini tries to convince Roderick Strong to help…but he refuses. Rhino and the Guardians Of Truth finally save Elgin but the damage is already done.

Jimmy Jacobs/Steve Corino vs Caprice Coleman/Cedric Alexander – ROH Tag Title Match
This one has been booked as a title match because ROH officials felt that C&C got a ‘rough deal’ in their semi-final match at Death Before Dishonor 10 when Jimmy used a chair to knock Caprice out. Since C&C earned a title shot via the Proving Ground some time ago they have opted to award them the first title shot against the new champions.

ROH have laughably photo-shopped a tag title belt into their stock picture of SCUM for their Tale Of The Tape graphic. It is embarrassingly amateurish. C&C start quickly and aggressively as the challengers in this one – hitting a couple of suplex/slingshot senton combos in quick succession to temporarily neutralise Jacobs. Cedric blocks the Thumb In The Bum with a dropkick, and they then drop Corino with the Hart Attack leg lariat for 2. Inexperience catches up with Alexander though, as he over-excitedly tries a springboard crossbody and the veteran former ECW Champion easily avoids it. The champions isolate Alexander as we go to commercials (annoyingly ROH haven’t included the uncut matches on DVD). When we come back Cedric gets knees up to block Jimmy’s senton bomb and makes the hot tag to Coleman. He hits the rolling northern lights suplexes on Jacobs…then a DOUBLE NORTHERN LIGHTS on both champions for 2! SPRINGBOARD CROSSBODY TO THE FLOOR WIPES OUT CORINO! 619 ROUND THE RINGPOST! SOMERSAULT PLANCHA BY CEDRIC! Electrifying sequence by C&C! Coleman hits a top rope leg drop for a hot nearfall which requires Corino to break it up at the last. Contra Code blocked…and Alexander hits Impact Explosion Dropkicks. OVERTIME (super rana/frog splash combo) on Jacobs. But Corino levels Caprice with a roll of quarters causing his team to be disqualified at 07:09 (shown)

Rating – ** – Caprice and Cedric were absolutely on fire for this one, but the flat finish really let it down. Who the hell uses a few coins as a weapon? Such an anti-climax, which is a real shame as the C&C dive sequence which came before it was off the hook. I’m also rather disappointed ROH couldn’t have spent a little bit of time in the editing suite and put out the full matches for the DVD release of this show. The cameras still roll during the breaks – how can they not use that footage? For this match it’s not the end of the world or anything…but presumably we’ll miss big chunks of the SOTF final when that airs in three episodes time?

Michael Elgin runs in to save C&C when Corino and Jacobs threaten to beat them up. Steen is conspicuous by his absence as Elgin hammers his allies out of the ring and up the aisle.

Mike Bennett vs Davey Richards
Many have this down as the pick of the SOTF qualifiers this year. It’s the first time Davey has been on ROH television for months following his back-to-back losses to Kevin Steen on ppv over the summer. He returned at Caged Hostility, telling everyone that the ‘Wolf is back’. There’s no better way than to emphasise that statement than by winning the SOTF tournament – something he’s never done before.

Davey looks to have dropped a little weight during his hiatus and looks good for it. He is relentless from the bell, kicking lumps out of The Prodigy in the corner. Anklelock applied early, prompting Bennett to desperately grab the ropes and flee. He actually hides behind Maria such is his desire to get away from Richards…and that distraction allows Brutal Bob to level the former World Champion with a clothesline. More kicks from Davey anyway…into a mafia kick against the rails which nearly takes Bennett’s head off. He even shows some personality, breaking out the Bryan Danielson gyrating hips deathlock. It’s all Richards…UNTIL BENNETT HITS A SPINEBUSTER ON THE APRON! That was frighteningly rapid, and it puts The Prodigy in the ascendency as we go to commercials. Back from the break and Bennett shows some of what he learned in his battles with Lance Storm as he blasts Richards with a superkick for 2. ‘I always wanted to see Maria’s pussy’ – Nigel. Kelly totally no sells that line…as Davey lands a TOPE SUICIDA! Exploder on the apron blocked…and Mike bails forcing Richards to deliver a violent kick to the metal ringpost. SPEAR ON THE APRON! ANKLELOCK ON DAVEY! Richards is limping now…but still manages to hit an exploder suplex followed by a running punt to Bob! Anklelock on Bennett…broken with a slap from Maria! Mike Mondo runs in for more sexual assault! The Prodigy chases Mondo off…then walks into the Alarm Clock. He’s already out of it, so it’s just a formality as Richards hits a SLIDING BUZZSAW KICK and wins at 09:59 (shown)

Rating – *** – Another decent TV match in the SOTF tournament, and say it quietly but it’s another really good Mike Bennett match in 2012. Had they focused more on the wrestling and less on Mondo, Maria and Brutal Bob getting involved this could easily have got into 4* territory. It was also good to have Davey back in an ROH ring. For all the criticisms of his gimmick and attitude over his run as World Champion, he has always been one of ROH’s best workers so getting him back into the promotion is a big deal. He didn’t really break out of second gear here but that was more than enough to deliver something really entertaining with the always-improving Bennett.

Up next it’s scheduled to be another round of the Lethal/Ciampa rivalry – this time in the SOTF tournament. Everyone knows Tommaso is on the injured list after Boiling Point, but for some reason RD Evans has insisted he’s fine and demanded his spot in the tournament be kept open. Ciampa comes to the ring on crutches (to a huge babyface response) and clearly isn’t wrestling. RD Evans seems to be putting Ciampa over…but of course it’s all a scam. He compares Tommaso to a racehorse with a broken leg needing to be shot, and brings out QT Marshall as his new client and presumed entrant into the tournament. Evans nails Tommaso in the leg with his own crutch – putting him on the mat for Marshall to do a number on him…

QT Marshall vs Jay Lethal
So instead of Tommaso, it’s now Marshall and Lethal competing for the right to join Davey Richards and Adam Cole in the Survival Of The Fittest finals. Lethal has been to the final before, and is a former TV and Pure Champion – but like Richards has never won it. He is also preparing for a title shot against Kevin Steen in his home state of New Jersey when ROH returns to that market later this month. He knows winning Survival Of The Fittest would be a massive insurance policy and momentum builder going into that show – dubbed ‘Killer Instinct’.

Lethal teases punting QT in the balls as he did to Taven a couple of weeks ago. Marshall blocks that, so Jay SPRINGBOARD DROPKICKS him out of the ring instead! Tope suicida soon follows as Jay’s hot start continues. It’s all Lethal until Evans interrupts him setting up the Lethal Injection – allowing Marshall to pounce with a tilta-whirl slam. Foot on the ropes pin gets 2 for God’s Gift. But QT isn’t doing enough damage and can’t keep Lethal down. Handspring elbow levels him, but he counters the Lethal Injection into a big lariat to put Jay back on the canvas. Lethal Combination nailed, but instead of pinning he wants to do more damage…which I guess is supposed to show Killer Instinct. In the aisle Prince Nana attacks the Barrister, distracting QT as Jay hits the LETHAL INJECTION to win at 06:24

Rating – ** – QT gets a lot of stick from ROH fans, and whilst a lot of it can be justified he really did nothing wrong in this one. His facials and body language were pretty decent and made him easy to hate, and given that all he had to do was bump around, hit a few spots then put Lethal over there wasn’t much more he could do. Personally I think he’s not needed in ROH, and he’s a MASSIVE waste of RD Evans’ managerial skills but nonetheless. He’s here, he did ok in this and the right guy went over…so there’s not too much I can complain about.

INSIDE ROH – Since this episode is broadcast over Glory By Honor weekend, there’s not a lot Kevin Kelly can progress storyline-wise on Inside ROH this week. He covers the on-going issues between Rhett Titus and WGTT (topical as Rhett is in the main event tonight) and the tension currently engulfing the House Of Truth.

Kevin Steen vs Rhett Titus – ROH World Title Match
Ordinarily there’s no way Rhett would be getting a World Championship opportunity. But these aren’t normal circumstances and, in Jim Cornette’s eyes, Steen is far from a normal champion. He’s doing everything he can to get the belt away from Mr Wrestling, and has of course forced him to defend it in every singles match. Titus faces him tonight, and is rewarded with a title match after voluntarily getting involved in the fight to rid Ring Of Honor of SCUM at Brew City Beatdown in July. He’s a former Tag Champion (and wasn’t defeated to lose those belts) and was on the winning team in the 6-man Steel Cage main event at Caged Hostility too. Will Steen send him packing back to the midcard or will Titus grab this unlikely opportunity with both hands?

No need for introductions, with Titus jumping Steen during his entrance as Corino and Nigel happily crack jokes on commentary. Interestingly Rhett has brought BJ Whitmer to the ring with him, meaning we have former Tag Champions BJ and Jimmy Jacobs at ringside too. SOMERSAULT PLANCHA from Titus to take out both Steen and Jacobs! Thrust Buster gets 2. F-5 blocked…so Kevin drops Titus with a hanging DDT out of the ropes instead. TREE OF WOE CANNONBALL NAILED! That’s going to do real damage to Rhett’s knee. Despite that he manages to hit a discus lariat which creates some distance. IED nailed for 2! Jacobs runs at Titus causing a distraction, and although he gets punched out it gives Steen the chance to land an APRON POWERBOMB! Moonsault misses, but Rhett is noticeably limping now. Whitmer and Jacobs are fighting now…and Jimmy’s spike falls into the ring! Titus tries to use it…and EATS F-5! Steen retains at 06:41

Rating – *** – Having Steen defend the belt in every match is starting to devalue the belt. Not that this wasn’t an entertaining TV main event (it was for the record), but the ROH World Title shouldn’t be about Rhett Titus losing in six minutes on national television. In the time they were allotted I’m not sure what more these guys could do. They ran through some really brutal spots. Corino and Nigel were solid gold on commentary, and the involvement of BJ and Jimmy was well-executed too. Like I said, the match was good…it just shouldn’t have been a title match.

Roderick Strong vs Homicide
All three matches on this episode are SOTF qualifiers, deciding the final three spots in the finals. This one should be decent as it pits two ROH veterans and rivals against each other for the first time in a while in this promotion. 2005 SOTF winner Roderick’s World Title win back in 2010 was spoilt by Homicide, who interrupted his moment of victory to make his return to ROH. Their (really underwhelming) rivalry came to a conclusion at the 9th Anniversary Show when Strong defeated Homicide in a Street Fight and effectively ended the Notorious 187’s career as an ROH regular. He’s appeared as a special attraction sporadically since then – but has been coming back more and more in recent months, looking healthier and more athletic than he has in years too. He beat Eddie Edwards at Best In The World, took Steen to the limit for the World Title and showed real passion in a losing effort against Jay Lethal at Death Before Dishonor 10. Both of these two are former World Champions looking to reclaim that belt. But for Homicide, winning the tournament would secure him not only another title shot, but also cement his roster spot.

Despite having the reputation for being a thug, it’s Homicide who starts better by comfortably out-wrestling Roddy. Strong actually tries to run away…but only succeeds in taking the fight to the floor where Homicide can do more damage. He dishes out a few guardrail bumps, then starts choking Strong with some electric cable. Sensibly Roderick gets back in the ring, manipulating the situation to enable him to deliver a tilta-whirl backbreaker for 2. Homicide looks for the Three Amigos, but his back is hurting him now and Strong capitalises to hang the Notorious 187 in the ropes. Homicide is injured, and clearly wants to grab a win and go home as he tries a flurry of pinfalls. Ace Crusher countered, but the neckbreaker isn’t. It only gets him another 2-count though. Roderick blasts him across the back with an enzi, and follows up with a cradle backbreaker. Gibson Driver blocked…and Cide NAILS a super rana! Exploder suplex…but Homicide is so injured he can’t hold a bridge now. He can’t lift Roddy for the Cop Killa either and eats DEATH BY RODERICK! SICK KICK! HOMCIDE KICKS OUT! GIBSON DRIVER! That is it, and Strong advances at 10:20 (shown)

Rating – *** – Pretty basic, but again I found that quite enjoyable. There are countless matches out there with Strong working the back as the central theme, so this certainly wasn’t breaking any new ground – but it was perfectly solid and highlighted by a brilliant sell job on the back by Homicide. Cide was rightly criticised for his 2010 return but this year he’s had a lot more hits than misses and really deserves to be a regular again in my eyes. I’d certainly rather watch him than QT Marshall.

Kyle O’Reilly vs Mike Mondo
Of all the SOTF qualifiers this is perhaps the toughest one to call. Both have been really hot in recent months. Mondo is embroiled in a feud with Mike Bennett, but it didn’t stop him running Adam Cole incredibly close in their TV Title match at Death Before Dishonor. On the flip side, since quitting Team Ambition O’Reilly’s form has been spectacular – highlighted at Caged Hostility when he beat Cole in the Proving Ground to earn himself a future title shot. Kyle went all the way to the final two in 2011, and will be looking to go one better and win the whole thing in 2012.

I’m not Mondo’s biggest fan as a worker. But his entrance music is so cheesy and easily one of my favourites in ROH right now (other favourites are Steen, Bennett, Davey, Cole and Rhett). Davey Richards is at ringside, again taking a front row seat to watch his former protégé. He witnesses an intriguing and evenly matched opening segment as each man goes for holds only to have them countered. O’Reilly steps up the aggression by shoving Mondo off the apron into the guardrails. MISSILE DROPKICK TO THE FLOOR! I’ve seen that spot countless times now and it’s still totally crazy. That does some serious damage, and for the next few minutes it’s all O’Reilly as he pummels an almost defenceless Mondo. CRAVAT SUPLEX gets 2! No Fear is fighting hurt, but it doesn’t stopping chasing Kyle all the way to the top to deliver a huge superplex which leaves both men down. O’Reilly goes for a strike flurry…COUNTERED INTO A MIND TRIP by Mondo! Double Arm DDT is blocked…but once again Mike shows great defensive skills to avoid another O’Reilly strike combo to stomp him in the back of the head. MMA elbows from Kyle…KNEES FROM MONDO! O’Reilly nearly falls out of the ring! He recovers and levels Mike with a jumping knee strike. AWESOME MOVIE STYLE NEAR MISS STRIKE EXCHANGE! REVERSE RANA BY O’REILLY! REGALPLEX GETS 2! Cross armbreaker….countered to a Mondo Clutch! Kyle taps! It’s contentious as he didn’t tap the canvas and was slapping the referee…but Mondo is the winner at 10:43 (shown).

Rating – *** – Putting the Survival Of The Fittest tournament on television is actually turning into a great idea. Running the qualifiers as short, TV-length bouts is really producing some excellent results. This is up there with Richards/Bennett as the pick of the 2012 SOTF Qualifying Matches. For ten straight minutes these guys went back and forth, busting out some ridiculous counters and near-miss sequences that really need to be seen. Mondo has found his niche in ROH after a rocky start and is starting to become a really consistent and reliable midcard performer – even if his gimmick sucks.

INSIDE ROH – RD Evans announces he has filed a restraining order against Prince Nana and will send him to jail if he attacks him again. Kevin Kelly announces Steen/Bennett for the World Title and a TV Title showdown between Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly for the Pittsburgh television tapings.

Michael Elgin vs Rhino
This is the last of the SOTF qualifiers, and it’s an unfortunate one for Truth Martini as he continues to struggle to keep the peace within his organisation. Strong and Elgin are vying to be top dogs in the stable and flat-out don’t like each other. Meanwhile Rhino has been obedient as the hired mercenary but has outright refused to lay down meaning this one is going to be a legitimate match between two heavyweight stable-mates. Elgin won 2011 last year and is looking to become the first repeat winner.

Martini makes one last plea to Rhino and Elgin to forfeit, but neither man is willing and the fight is on. Rhino has a slight size advantage, but Elgin is clearly the more athletic and demonstrates that as he nails the Man Beast with a slingshot elbow. Roderick Strong appears at ringside to make Martini’s job even more difficult. In the ring Elgin gets 2 with a flying shoulder tackle. But Elgin is out of his comfort zone as a high flier…and takes one chance too many before walking into Rhino’s belly to belly suplex. A big spinebuster follows for a nearfall…and Rhino slows the pace to a near-standstill as he looks to wear Unbreakable down. Again it’s Elgin’s athleticism that brings him level, springing into an enziguri from seemingly nothing. Bossman Slam for 2! Rhino isn’t worn down enough for the Spiral Bomb so gets a GERMAN SUPLEX instead. On the outside Strong is seemingly cheering for Rhino, so he no doubt enjoys the Man Beast hitting a TKO for 2. Indeed, Roddy complains that it wasn’t a victory there. Truth Martini tries another peacekeeping mission to no avail. GORE ON RHINO! SPIRAL BOMB NAILED! Elgin advances to the finals for the second year running in 07:52

Rating – ** – Sort of disappointing in that they let the outside interference and House Of Truth shenanigans define and overshadow the match, rather than showcase what should have been a brutal big man showdown between two incredibly evenly matched powerhouses (something you don’t get to see too often in ROH). I liked how Elgin went for all his high-flying or more athletic spots to counteract the fact that he was the smaller man…and him using the Gore in the final moments definitely puts Rhino over even in defeat. I’d definitely like to see these guys lock up again on a house show or ppv when they’d get more time to play with.

Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe vs Bravado Brothers
I’m sure these two brother tandems have done battle before, and I’m equally sure that it was probably 95% Briscoes beating the shiznit out of the Bravados. But things have all changed since Lancelot and Harlem returned from Japan. They come into this hot after stealing the show at Caged Hostility with their cracking undercard battle with Coleman and Alexander and will want to make a big impression (as well as going to the head of the line to challenge SCUM for the Tag Titles) by beating the stalwarts of the Ring Of Honor tag division.

The Briscoes are clearly two of the biggest stars in ROH and the response they get, even from the horribly mic’d crowd is really something. They quickly assert their dominance over Harlem with a flying leg drop/sidewalk slam combo. He really takes a beating until Lancelot comes to his rescue, distracting Mark and allowing Harlem to land a bicycle kick for 2. The Bravados get a chance to show off their own proficiency as a team and cut the ring in half to isolate Mark. Eventually the Redneck Kung Fu opens the window for Mark to bring Jay into the mix – and he promptly gets a nearfall on Lancelot with a falcon arrow. Doomsday Device COUNTERED with a blockbuster from Harlem! FLIPPING NECKBREAKER FROM THE TOP! Gentlemen’s Agreement misses though…and Mark returns with a springboard dropkick. Doomsday Device on Lance…for the win at 05:24

Rating – ** – For such a short match this one started rather slowly, but really picked up towards the end. I really think the Bravados should be taken as a serious team in the tag division now. They have an incredibly entertaining gimmick (in a promotion pretty much devoid of comedy they are hugely unique in that aspect) and they clearly now have ring skills to back that up. I definitely think they are beyond matches like this – where they get fed to the Briscoes like jobbers.

The Guardians Of Truth enter the arena. They feel neglected by Truth Martini since he’s been so distracted trying to fix Roddy and Elgin’s relationship. They decide to do things their own way, and unmask to reveal themselves as The Headbangers (to the surprise of nobody). They cut a horrible promo – in essence laying down a challenge to the Briscoes. It’s all quite embarrassing…

We cut to an awesome video package with highlights of the previous Survival Of The Fittest finals. Future WWE and TNA stars like Bryan Danielson, Austin Aries, Matt Sydal, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli and Tyler Black get significant screen time emphasising ROH’s role in cultivating talent before they get to the big leagues…but it’s alongside the likes of Roderick Strong, Eddie Edwards (who’s one-armed win in 2010 is still absolutely remarkable) and Michael Elgin who have all won the tournament previously and are still on the roster. I was surprised to see how many SOTF finals have been won by submission (only Tyler in 2009 and Elgin in 2011 won by pinfall)…and it made me miss Dave Prazak on commentary a lot. I know he had his detractors, but to me he was the voice of ROH and I’ve never enjoyed any ROH commentator’s work more than his. I’d be delighted to have him back.

Adam Cole vs Davey Richards vs Jay Lethal vs Roderick Strong vs Mike Mondo vs Michael Elgin – SOTF Elimination Match
This is the SOTF finals and main event of the episode – which comfortingly still has another 25+ minutes to run so this match should get some time. There’s so much experience in this match it’s hard to pick a winner. Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin are rivals within the HOT, and both have won the tournament before (in 2005 and 2011 respectively). Jay Lethal and Adam Cole have made the finals before (Lethal in 2005, Cole in 2010). Davey doesn’t have much of a record in the SOTF, but he is a former World Champion so has to be amongst the favourites. Mondo is the odd man out, competing in his first Survival Of The Fittest, but even he showed his credentials by beating last year’s losing finalist Kyle O’Reilly. There’s lots of little scores to settle too. Davey lost to Cole at the 10th Anniversary Show and won’t have forgotten that. He’s also a former stablemate and rival of Roderick Strong, and shared one of 2012’s top MOTYC’s with Michael Elgin at Showdown In The Sun. We also have Adam Cole as the current TV Champion, facing off with the two men who preceded him with that belt in Strong and Lethal. Again, you’d think Mondo would be the odd man out – but he’s not. He took Davey to a time limit draw in Charleston and has been boasting that Davey can’t beat him ever since. Despite being on TV the rules are the same – so it’s an elimination match, last man standing gets the title shot.

Davey and Roderick start, renewing a long term rivalry as they’re in the ring together for the first time in months. But it’s not for long as Elgin tags himself in and makes a beeline for Strong…who flees and has no intention of getting in the ring with his colleague in the House Of Truth. Mondo tags in with Elgin and laughably tries to trade power moves with him…and is predictably squashed into the canvas with a big powerslam. Davey explodes into action again, hitting the running punt from the apron on Elgin. APRON BACKBREAKER BY STRONG! TOPE SUICIDA BY LETHAL! MONDO-SAULT TO THE FLOOR! He goes for the Double Arm DDT on Cole…but turns his back on Strong who levels him with a Sick Kick. Mondo is eliminated at 04:49. Roderick puts a vicious beating on Cole, making a statement at the expense of the man who beat him for the TV Title earlier in the year. DEATH BY RODERICK! Cole barely kicks out there and is clinging onto his spot in the finals now. But Strong gets distracted by Elgin…WHO BACK FISTS HIM IN THE FACE! Superkick from Cole, and he eliminates the 2005 winner at 06:41. Richards rolls in to capitalise, ripping apart Adam’s leg with an anklelock. Elgin tries Chaos Theory…but Cole counters to a roll-up. SHINING WIZARD COUNTERED TO THE BUCKLE BOMB! SPIRAL BOMB! Elgin eliminates Cole at 07:43. Things are happening so quickly it’s hard to follow this! Jay Lethal has barely been involved thus far, but with Elgin’s back turns it’s him that flies into action next – flooring Unbreakable with a sliding dropkick. When we come back from commercials it’s clear that didn’t have much effect as Elgin is hoisting both Richards and Lethal up for the SAMOAN DROP/FALLAWAY SLAM COMBO! For some reason Roderick Strong is still at ringside…and he shoves Elgin off the top rope.

Elgin is still woozy from that bump and Richards capitalises to hit an EXPLODER SUPLEX OFF THE APRON…AND THROUGH A TABLE! Elgin looks done, leaving Lethal and Richards alone to beat the hell out of each other in pursuit of a shot at the World Title. It’s only their disbelief at seeing Elgin crawl wounded back into the ring that breaks up their brawl. Davey enzi kicks Elgin into a DDT from Lethal! DOUBLE STOMP! MACHO ELBOW! ELGIN KICKS OUT! The crowd are right behind him here, and he refuses to go down despite a barrage of strikes from both opponents. STEREO BUZZSAW KICKS! For some reason a double pin is legal, and Elgin is eliminated at 13:15 (shown). That leaves Richards and Lethal as the final two, as the locker room empties to cheer them on. LETHAL INJECTION! MACHO ELBOW! FOR 2! Richards knocks him back with the Alarm Clock…ROLLING LETHAL COMBINATIONS! STILL 2! KOJI CLUTCH! COUNTERED TO THE ANKLELOCK! Lethal counters out of that into that crucifix stretch before both men collapse wearily into the ropes. They trade shots on the apron…until Davey hits an EXPLODER TO THE FLOOR! And he whips him straight back into the ring for a flying double stomp. ONE COUNT OF DISRESPECT! REPEATED KICKS TO THE FACE! LETHAL KICKS OUT! Lethal Injection COUNTERED to the Anklelock, only for Jay to kick free of that! SUPERPLEX…ROLLED INTO A BRAINBUSTER! Lethal barely got his shoulder up! Sliding Enzi (which beat Mike Bennett) gets 2 as well! ANKLELOCK COUNTERED TO A HEAD DROP GERMAN! NO SOLD! DRAGON SUPLEX BY LETHAL! GETS 2! Can he show the killer instinct to put the American Wolf away? LETHAL INJECTION NAILED! LETHAL WINS! He’s the 2012 SOTF winner at 20:45 (shown)

Rating – **** – This was a strange match to call. On the one hand seeing the SOTF format so rushed to fit into the TV time allocations took some getting used to. But, on the other hand, it meant everyone moved at a breakneck speed…and as a non-stop spotfest this was tremendously exciting. There was no psychology or story-telling to speak of, it was just 20 minutes of high octane pro-wrestling…and what’s not to like about that? The never-ending slow burn on the Roddy/Elgin split continued in an entertaining fashion, and Elgin’s last stand against a vicious assault from both Davey and Lethal was hugely memorable. But, as with most SOTF’s it was the showdown between the final two which really made this. Richards and Lethal continued the proud tradition started by Bryan Danielson and Austin Aries back in 2004 by delivering a scintillating climactic portion. They dropped bombs on each other, countered each other’s signature moves in front of a really hot crowd. The finish, with Lethal feigning remorse…then busting out the ‘killer instinct’ to finish Davey off was particularly striking. It wasn’t an all-time great Survival Of The Fittest final. In fact, it wasn’t even as good as last year. BUT, for free TV this was top notch stuff and definitely a must-see for Ringside Members if they haven’t already.

Kyle O’Reilly (who had been watching from the stage) turns away in disgust at the sight of his former mentor losing. Davey doesn’t see that, and sportingly raises Lethal’s hand in victory to end the show.

Tape Rating – *** – Every year I say that Survival Of The Fittest isn’t one of my favourite ROH events on the calendar. But I have to say, chopping it up and putting it into tv-show format actually made for quite an enjoyable DVD. I know technically this was just four episodes of the Sinclair TV show, but it was all taped in one evening…and even though it’s broken down into episodic format the whole thing flowed quite well. Television time constraints meant that nothing goes too long at all, and with so many matches to cram in this becomes over three hours of non-stop wrestling. And although the final is the obvious highlight (and one of the better ROH on SBG matches of 2012 for sure), there’s some really underrated stuff on the undercard. Mondo/O’Reilly was a pulsating mat battle. Mike Bennett continued his strong 2012 with a great little match against Davey Richards – and other matches like Cole/Tadarius, Steen/Titus and Strong/Homicide were all fun for what they were as well. I’m sure critics will bash this DVD as nothing but a load of short matches and a spotfest for a final…but personally I enjoyed this for what it was. Nothing comes close to threatening the MOTY standings, and even the SOTF final was only a low-end 4* bout. But for completists there is a lot of entertainment to be had, and lots of little gems to be found. My biggest criticism of this was the lazy editing decision to just throw all the Sinclair TV episodes onto a DVD – rather than spend a day in the editing suite to incorporate the footage taped during the commercials into the DVD release. If you’re stuck and ROH is running a sale you could do worse than pick this up.

Top 3 Matches
3) Davey Richards vs Mike Bennett (***)
2) Mike Mondo vs Kyle O’Reilly (***)
1) Jay Lethal vs Davey Richards vs Michael Elgin vs Adam Cole vs Roderick Strong vs Mike Mondo (****)

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