ROH Raising The Bar: Night One 3/7/2014

ROH 347 – Raising The Bar: Night 1 – 7th March 2014

Since the post-12th Anniversary tapings haven’t actually started airing yet, this is the first new content we’ve had since the decent Anniversary Show itself. ROH heads back to the Midwest bringing a strong talent roster and attractive cards to two of it’s major markets. Tonight Adam Cole will defend the World Championship against Matt Taven, giving the latter a serious opportunity to showcase his wrestling skills in a feature match for the first time in a while. The Decade, perhaps the hottest thing in ROH right now, are also in action – with Roderick Strong facing another talent returning from the big leagues (Chris Hero) and the Whitmer/Jacobs team hooking up with Cedric Alexander and Adam Page. We have Instant Reward Proving Ground action in the tag division featuring the in-ring return of Outlaw Inc. – plus a trios tag which got serious praise from a number of critics as the Briscoes and Michael Elgin face three members of PWG’s ‘Mount Rushmore of Wrestling’ – Kevin Steen and the Young Bucks. Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness are in Milwaukee, WI.

Adam Cole opens the show, coming to the ring to address the crowded World Title picture at present. Having run through all his current contenders (Steen gets a significantly bigger pop than anyone else), he apologises to Milwaukee since they are only getting a ‘warm-up’ defence tonight – against Matt Taven. It brings Matt out to protest…and absolutely BURN him for ‘hiding behind some fat has-been’. Cole runs away before they come to blows, ending a surprisingly effective opening segment.

Silas Young vs Jay Lethal
There is a massive hometown reaction for Silas, even though he hasn’t had a particularly successful year thus far. He’s lost two TV Title shots and a singles match against Matt Taven, so will know he needs a victory against current TV Title #1 contender Jay Lethal if he wants to get back into championship reckoning.

It’s pretty cool seeing Silas so over as a babyface in this city, despite being such an obvious heel. He is cheered for landing a flurry of chops…but gets trapped in the corner and knocked out of the ring with a springboard dropkick. Lethal hits the tope suicida trilogy, and returns to the ring for a 2-count from his hiptoss dropkick combo. Clearly Young hasn’t wasted any time watching his Jay Lethal tapes. He manages to drop him with a cheeky low blow and as Lethal falls out of the ring selling that Truth Martini appears on the stage apparently continuing his attempts to recruit Silas. The Last Real Man clings to a chinlock but can’t keep his opponent on the ground and he finally fights back to his feet and lands the Lethal Combination. The former TV Champion is all over Young now, crashing into him with strikes from all angles and getting a close nearfall with a jumping heel kick from the second rope. Lethal Inection blocked…but so is Young’s Finlay Roll. He nails the backbreaker/lariat combo instead for 2. Headstand Arabian Press gets knees…but still Silas blocks the Lethal Inection! Jay returns the favour with a low blow on Young – winning with the Lethal Injection at 09:28

Rating – ** – The crowd was absolutely fantastic for this match, and into absolutely everything they were doing. In many ways I’m not sure they actually deserved such a hot crowd since they really didn’t do anything more than run through their normal spots, coasting along on autopilot. The finish was a nice piece of story-telling (as it foreshadows events to come for Lethal) but this was an incredibly basic match that, if it had been in front of a sullen crowd, you’d have already forgotten about. I’m a fan of both guys, but the Milwaukee fans were the stars here.

Nigel McGuinness points out that Truth Martini smiled and seemed extremely pleased when Jay used a low blow and won the match.

Michael Bennett vs Tyson Dux
As Kevin Kelly points out, Tyson has had a number of opportunities in the past but never really broken through and cemented a spot on the roster. He has a lot of vocal supporters, but needs to produce a stellar performance in an ROH ring to secure more bookings. His opponent tonight is Michael Bennett, who has been defeating all comers in 2014 with signature moves of a certain former ROH Champion.

Bennett doesn’t look to be taking Dux too seriously as he circles the ring smiling, joking and offering the most condescending of clean breaks he possibly could. Tyson strings together some generic offensive strikes and smiles right back at Bennett, demanding he engage in a chop exchange with him. Michael isn’t interested and pokes him in the eyes before planting him with a spinebuster for 2. They visit the cramped floor area, Dux taking a couple of hard trips into the guardrails as his woes continue. Tree of woe spear scores, with an assist from a Maria Kanellis-inflicted eye gouge. From nowhere Dux hits a vertical suplex into the turnbuckles but since he’s taken such a beating through the match he takes an age getting back to his feet. Eventually he tags Michael with a running lariat for 2. Stalling neckbreaker gets another nearfall…but as he lines up another lariat Bennett drops him with a superkick. Dux counters a brainbuster attempt with an Ace Crusher. Sharpshooter COUNTERED to the Go Back To Japan! Bennett wins at 10:19

Rating – ** – I don’t get the hype for Dux, I really don’t. He’s perfectly solid, and has a decent body – but every time I’ve seen him he looks brutally boring and generic. There’s nothing remarkable about his look, he does bog standard wrestling spots and gives you no real reason to care about what he’s doing. Personally I thought Bennett carried this near total-squash. His heel work and facial acting was at least interesting (and SOMETHING to hook you into the match), whilst Dux’s comeback sequences did nothing for me.

reDRagon vs Outlaw Inc. vs Adrenaline RUSH
This is an Instant Reward Proving Ground Match, meaning if either A-RUSH or the Outlaws can beat the champions they will receive an immediate title shot afterwards. Nigel McGuinness decided ACH and Tadarius earned another crack at reDRagon after their performance at the 12th Anniversary Show, where ACH actually had Bobby Fish pinned for a three count before referee Todd Sinclair spotted Bobby’s foot on the ropes. This annoyed the Outlaws, who didn’t receive a rematch and were actually suspended after losing their title shot against Fish and O’Reilly back at Final Battle 2013.

The fiery Outlaws shove Tadarius and ACH around, kick-starting a three team brawl before the bell has even rung. Homicide repeatedly crunches Thomas’ head into the guardrails and it’s clear he and Kingston favour a fight on the outside. Next the Notorious 187 plants O’Reilly with a suplex on the ramp, then escorts him back into the ring so the match can finally officially start. Cop Killa blocked, before ACH saves O’Reilly with a dropkick. Cide blocks Chasing The Dragon…but as the champs try to retreat he sprints at them with the TOPE CON HILO! SPLIT-LEGGED MOONSAULT to the floor by ACH! Eddie slides in to stop Thomas hitting a similar dive spot and a semblance of tag team order is at last restored by the increasingly frustrated referee. Having seen him roughed up by Kingston, reDRagon forcibly tag their way in and try to isolate TD. The Outlaws take offence to it and Homicide angrily tags O’Reilly out so he and Kingston can take turns beating up the hapless Tadarius. They hit the Briscoe football tackle on him (including Homicide popping up and shouting ‘Man Up’ like a lunatic) as the beatdown continues. Fish blind tags his way in so reDRagon get another go beating up Thomas – channelling the Young Bucks (their opponents tomorrow night) by using rapid fire tags as they go. Cide is back, once again forcing Kyle out of the ring and capturing Thomas for the Three Amigos. Fish steals his heat in AWESOME fashion by blind-tagging him and hitting the third ‘amigo’ for himself. The dissension between those two leads to Fish knocking Homicide’s block off with a roundhouse kick and Thomas lunging into a hot tag to ACH. Kingston NO SELLS all his offence and gives him a killer bitch-slap…so ACH trips him out of the ring causing his leg to smash into the rails. Big Bang Attack blocked by O’Reilly, only for ACH to drop both he and Eddie with the flatliner/DDT combo. Capoeira kick/slingshot flatliner combo by A-RUSH! The Outlaws look increasingly agitated, lifting ACH into the air for the DOOMSDAY BULLDOG! They can’t pin him though as neither of them are legal (it’s ACH and Kyle). reDRagon grab Homicide for the backbreaker/knee drop combo, whilst Thomas hits a BERMUDA TRIANGLE to the floor! ACH nails O’Reilly with the slingshot cutter and lands the 450 SPLASH! ACH WINS! He pins O’Reilly at 14:17

Rating – *** – I had a blast watching this. reDRagon were their usual selves, bringing entertainment and quality wrestling in equal measure – but it was the performances of their two opposing teams that really stood out. For Adrenaline RUSH it was a return to form after (what I felt were) a couple of underwhelming performances in high profile matches against the champions at State Of The Art and the 12th Anniversary. They were crisp in their execution, and most importantly, the personality shortcomings of Tadarius were well masked by a cracking heat segment. It was also Outlaw Inc.’s best performance since they came back to ROH. They didn’t mess up any spots, and they are so entertaining as unpredictable, dangerous psychos. As I said, the heat segment, with them and the champs taking turns beating up Thomas was so much fun, concluding in the brilliant Fish/Homicide Three Amigos sequence. All three teams brought the goods, the brawl/dive elements at the start and end of the match were outstanding, and everything in between was surprisingly watchable too. I didn’t have high hopes for this but it really impressed me. I felt the finish was a little sudden (and Homicide was just sitting there watching it) – had they had a little more time to blow the roof off with a hotter final stretch I could have gone higher on my rating.

reDRagon vs Adrenaline RUSH – ROH Tag Title Match
So having won the previous match, ACH and Tadarius now get their Instant Reward with another title shot against the reigning Tag Champions. They defeated them at State Of The Art, and got another pin on them (albeit an illegal one) at the Anniversary so will know they have what it takes to get the job done and unseat the champions tonight.

Before the match even starts Kingston hits the SPINNING BACK FIST on ACH, before Homicide joins him in the ring for a SPIKE BRAINBUSTER on Fish! Security pour into the ring and have to drag the Outlaws away. The bell rings with all four men on the canvas looking utterly exhausted. ACH and O’Reilly are up first wearily lunging into an elbow strike duel. NECK DROP German suplex by O’Reilly! Thomas comes to the aid of his partner with some capoeira strikes and a German on Kyle, and in follows Fish for a Saito suplex on TD. All four men are down again! Fish SPEARS TD INTO THE RAILS! FLYING KNEE OFF THE APRON BY O’REILLY! Fish dives into the ring and rolls ACH up using the tights to win at 02:48

Rating – N/A – I’ve generously given this an ‘N/A’ rating because, in all fairness to them, they packed a hell of a lot of action into less than three minutes and it was certainly an exciting follow up to the thrilling three-way tag that came before it. However, I won’t deny I was a little disappointed. This had the potential to mirror something like the Xavier/London ROH Title match from the 1st Anniversary Show, where Paul came through an epic triple threat against Low Ki and AJ Styles before pushing champion Xavier to the limit. I felt like reDRagon and A-RUSH had the stamina, and had held enough big spots back to go at least another ten minutes and really do something special. In the end this was a rather low key end to Adrenaline RUSH’s pursuit of the championship. That said, this is 2014 ROH, the vast majority of matches don’t get enough time (in my opinion), so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

INTERMISSION – Nigel McGuinness leaves commentary to ‘sort out’ Outlaw Inc. meaning Steve Corino replaces him for the rest of the show. Roderick Strong also hops into the booth as he has a vested interest in the next match

Cedric Alexander/Adam Page vs BJ Whitmer/Jimmy Jacobs
Thanks to The Decade Cedric has endured a pretty rough year so far. He produced an outstanding performance when defeating Andrew Everett at Wrestling’s Finest, but the use of his Lumbar Check backbreaker finish has got him in hot water with Roderick Strong. He was beaten by Jimmy Jacobs at State Of The Art, then forcibly ejected from the ROH locker room by the bullying veteran group who felt he wasn’t showing them the proper respect. Things got worse at the 12th Anniversary Show when he was beaten by The Decade again – in a match which also featured his partner tonight, Adam Page.

Jacobs starts with Page, shoving him in the corner and looking to rough the youngster up. Page looks hesitant to retaliate (even when Jimmy turns his back) and instead opts to tag out to Alexander. Ced holds his own trading spots with Whitmer but is blind-tagged by Adam just when he looks to press home his advantage. BJ slaps Page in the face, but again he doesn’t fight back and is punished with an exploder suplex. The Decade set to work beating down Page who continues in his bizarre hesitance to fight back at any time – even when Jimmy pretends to cock his leg and PISS on him! At last Page shows some fight, hitting a satellite DDT on Whitmer and crawling into the vital tag to Cedric. He catapults himself OFF Whitmer into a tope which flattens Jacobs into the rails, then comes back in with a slingshot DDT for 2. Alexander points at Strong in the announce booth, and picks Whitmer up for the LUMBAR CHECK! Jacobs gives him a spear as he continues shouting at Strong, so he’s forced to tag out to Page. He lands a Red Star Press on BJ for 2! Roderick has apparently left commentary as in the ring Jimmy and BJ join forces – and still eat a moonsault press from Adam! Whitmer stays down clutching his neck, and Page backs off obviously aware of BJ’s history of neck problems. Cedric screams at Page to capitalise…but as he refuses Jimmy takes Alexander off the apron. It was all a ploy, with BJ popping up to LARIAT Page…into the ALL SEEING EYE! Decade win again at 12:08

Rating – *** – It wasn’t necessarily the most action-packed match, but once again The Decade produce an incredibly absorbing piece of story-telling that you really couldn’t tear yourself away from. Jacobs continues to be perfect in his role as the crabby veteran, and in turn Whitmer looks a lot more comfortable hiding behind Jimmy’s character work and getting to play more of a silent enforcer. Page’s ‘troubled youngster’ showing also deserves plenty of plaudits. It played up Cedric Alexander’s past actions extremely well, with him clearly wanting to avoid the Decade’s animosity that Ced has been experiencing over the last few shows.

Cedric Alexander tends to Page, but demands to know why he didn’t attack Whitmer when he had the chance. Jacobs ejects Alexander from the ring as he wants to talk to Page. He tells Adam that he’ll end up like ‘Xavier or the Ring Crew Express’ if he follows Cedric’s path. Page holds the ropes open and opts to leave with The Decade rather than side with Alexander…

Roderick Strong vs Chris Hero
Former World Champion Roderick Strong will be extremely motivated for this one. Hero is a natural enemy of The Decade as another guy who has left ROH for another promotion only to come back to a proverbial ‘hero’s welcome’ when it didn’t work out. Chris Hero also has another World Title match in Chicago tomorrow, so Roddy knows a victory here would put him in pole position for a shot at the belt should Hero take it at Raising The Bar Night 2.

Strong refuses a handshake on moral grounds, and is quickly escorted to the canvas for a wrestling lesson at the hands of the ‘Knockout Artist’. They have an intriguing exchange on the canvas with Hero looking capable of comfortably out-classing his opponent even though Strong keeps trying different things to get the better of him. Roderick is kept on the canvas absorbing a variety of sentons and strikes. Eventually Mr ROH has to leave the ring…and even then it’s no escape as Hero FLIPS over the top rope into a mafia kick! Eventually Chris goes for one senton too many – looking for a slingshot senton and propelling himself straight into Roderick’s knees. They go back to the outside where Strong hits a BACK DROP ON THE RAILS! Classic Roderick Strong tactics come next, picking apart Hero’s back with gusto. On commentary Jacobs and Corino are having a fascinating conversation about different methods of nurturing young talent in a locker room…so Kevin Kelly interrupts them with some moronic babble. In the ring Hero tries another rope flip, but this time lands on the apron and gets walloped with an enzi to the back of the head. They trade strikes and just when Strong’s chops look like they have the edge Chris hits a JUMPING BOOT right into the jaw! Hero hits a flipping neckbreaker and nips up signalling that Roddy’s back assault was pretty worthless. Electric Chair Death Blow blocked with a running knee into the Olympic Slam. Strong isn’t done with countering either, converting the rolling bicycle kick into a cradle backbreaker for 2. We get another intense strike duel ending when Hero lands the release suplex. ELBOW SMASH! He hit that with such authority the crowd genuinely thought the match was over and popped huge when Strong kicked out. Roaring Elbow countered into Death By Roderick. SICK KICK…FOR 2! STRONGHOLD! Hero escapes and ploughs into Roddy with more savage elbows in the corner. ELECTRIC CHAIR DEATH BLOW! STRETCH PLUM! The referee stops it, giving Hero the win at 15:46

Rating – **** – I’ll admit to being annoyed at Hero’s total no-sell on the back throughout this one, but it didn’t prevent it from being a hell of a match. What it lacked in psychology it more than made up for in hard-hitting, super-physical and intense pro-wrestling from two veterans of the independent scene. Hero looks so comfortable in the new Sinclair-ROH, having refined his ring-style in his time in FCW he is now perfectly equipped to present his exceptional skills in significantly shorter in-ring times than he needed during his previous runs.

Kevin Steen/Young Bucks vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe/Michael Elgin
The Bucks make their first ROH appearances of 2014 this weekend, and are booked into two huge matches. They have a title shot against reDRagon to prepare for tomorrow, but first they have a huge trios tag as they join forces with friend and fellow-Mount Rushmore member (in PWG), Kevin Steen – to face old rivals and ROH tag team stalwarts the Briscoes and their partner – perennial World Title contender Michael Elgin. Unbreakable and Mr Wrestling have their own rivalry going, having traded high profile wins (Glory By Honor 11 and Death Before Dishonor 11) and both looking to secure a title shot against Adam Cole as soon as they possibly can. It’s worth pointing out that Matt Jackson is competing with a pretty severe hand injury, and has most of his right hand and forearm in a heavy cast.

This has a real PWG vs ROH vibe. Steen and Jay start, keen to renew hostilities from Supercard Of Honor 7. Kevin showcases his recent weight-loss by working the speed and running circles around the ‘Real World Champion’. Matt and Mark enter the fray, with Jackson keen not to let a broken hand prevent him from enjoying himself. Elgin looks far from impressed when Nick tries the same sh*t with him. Nick tries to come off the ropes only to be wheelbarrowed straight into the turnbuckles. The stalling vertical suplex comes next…and it only ends with Matt rocks Elgin with a blindside Superkick! Finally Mount Rushmore have Elgin weakened meaning they can now have some fun. Their enjoyment comes to a complete halt when Nick foolishly tries to get Unbreakable up for a stalling suplex of his own. It fails and Jay is on hand to punish him with the Rude Awakening for 2. Young Bucks block some classic Briscoe offence by dragging Jay out of the ring as they line up the Splash Mountain Neckbreaker. Matt applies tassels to his injured hand and uses it to put Mark in a MANDIBLE CLAW! Steen in next to steamroll him with the Cannonball, followed by Nick with the handspring back rake. Mark makes a crucial tag to Elgin, who stomps in for an EXPLODER SUPLEX on Steen! DOUBLE BACK DROP DRIVER to the Bucks! ST-Joe sends Nick packing, with his brother soon following as Mark flies through the ropes into a dropkick. Dead-lift German from Elgin to Steen gets 2. Buckle Bomb blocked and everyone piles in the ring for a brawl. Nick Jackson counters the Buckle Bomb with a rana, before the Bucks hit an assisted Shiranui/Shining Wizard combo. It doesn’t keep Elgin down for long though – he’s soon scooping up both Steen and Matt for the fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo. SPLASH MOUNTAIN NECKBREAKER on Nick! CORKSCREW SENTON NAILED BY ELGIN! He almost never hits that! DOOMSDAY DEVICE COUNTERED WITH A MATT JACKSON SUPERKICK! JAY WITH A SUPERKICK ON HIM! BACK FIST FROM ELGIN TO STEEN! BUCKLE BOMB! DOUBLE SUPERKICK BY THE BUCKS! PACKAGE PILEDRIVER! STEEN TOSSES MATT INTO A LEAPFROG SPIKE TOMBSTONE! Mark avoided the brunt of the punishment there, and tosses himself over the top rope into a suicide dive aimed at Mr Wrestling. Elgin catches Nick on the top rope with an AVALANCHE ELGIN BOMB to win at 18:18

Rating – **** – ROH’s 2014 MOTY thus far. Corino and Kelly pointed out at the start that this was going to be ‘fun’ and they were absolutely right. Unlike so much of contemporary ROH, this felt like they’d been sent out there with no strings and relatively few limitations – and were allowed to express themselves and produce the kind of trios tag we all knew they were capable of. The Bucks and Steen are a brilliant team, and they looked awesome even in defeat thanks to that stunning flurry of highspots they hit down the stretch. Giving Elgin the win over a NJPW Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champion is a pretty big deal for him as he looks to position himself for a World Title shot.

Adam Cole vs Matt Taven – ROH World Title Match
This is very obviously a filler title defence for Cole, but he’d be well-advised not to rest on his laurels this evening. The last time he was scheduled for a ‘filler’ title defence against Taven was when he held the Television Championship just over a year ago…and he wound up losing to him in a real shocker. Taven is actually undefeated against Cole, and knows if he can keep that streak alive tonight he’ll leapfrog the likes of Steen, Briscoe, Elgin, Hero and Styles to be crowned new World Champion.

The crowd seem in favour of a Taven victory…so Cole rewards them by hopping out of the ring and delaying the start. Even when he does get into the ring all he does is slap Matt in the face before slithering out of the ring again. RUNNING SUICIDE DIVE BY TAVEN! He got such ridiculous hang time on that he seriously nearly missed his opponent! He springs back into the ring with a crossbody block and it really seems like Cole is struggling against an opponent he hasn’t prepared properly for. The champ takes steps to establish himself – launching Taven right into the ringpost. His shoulder seems to connect with the metal and it looks to open up a serious injury which Taven struggles with for the next few minutes. Even when he floors Cole again with an enziguri, he lands right on that shoulder and loses valuable time he could’ve used to cover or continue the attack. He nails a flipping neckbreaker next, screaming in pain and clasping the arm as soon as he executes the manoeuvre. SHINING WIZARD TO THE SHOULDER! Cole then drops the challenger on his neck with the DVD over the knee for 2. Another Shining Wizard, this time to the head, follows soon afterwards. Panama Sunrise blocked and converted to Angel’s Wings. Taven misses a Lionsault and absorbs a superkick to the back of the head. SLINGSHOT DDT ON THE APRON! Cole makes sure he drags Matt back into the ring with his bad arm to cover him as well. The challenger crouches on the top rope, but has his attempt at a frog splash countered with a MID-AIR SUPERKICK! Black Superkick next, then a cradlebreaker which may well put the match out of Taven’s reach. Defiantly he spits in Adam’s face and rallies to score with a forearm flurry. A rolling bicycle kick drops Cole into the path of the FIVE STAR FROG SPLASH! Cole has his arm in the ropes, and things get worse for Taven as Truth Martini struts down the aisle. Immediately Matt is distracted, meaning he takes so long to attempt a super rana that Cole is able to shove him off for the PANAMA SUNRISE! Cole wins at 15:52

Rating – **** – I’m pleased for Taven, as I’ve always felt he was a talented worker even though his TV Title reign was, by and large, a failed experiment. In this under-rated little gem he really proved he has the chops to produce decent matches in this company. It’s not easy working filler title defences where the winner is a foregone conclusion but he played his role well here. The crowd was on his side, he sold relatively well to make himself a sympathetic figure, and was right on point when it came to breaking out big spots at just the right time. Cole has bigger fish to fry, and this title defence will most likely fly under the radar for him – but I thought it was pretty good.

Adam Cole looks set to close the show with his signature cocky smile…but has his moment of triumph stolen as Jay Briscoe, Michael Elgin, Kevin Steen and Chris Hero all make their way through the curtain looking to intimidate him.

SIDENOTE – I didn’t like the booking behind this closing segment. We had Hero closing the show talking up ROH and talking up it’s World Championship held by Adam Cole. That’s not an issue, but the show ended with him shaking hands with a completely placid Jay Briscoe – where surely Jay should be pissed off that Hero doesn’t acknowledge him as the ‘Real World Champion’. They’ve worked so hard to build up Jay’s persona following his forced-vacation of the ROH Title, so it seemed odd that they so willingly ignored it here.

Tape Rating – *** – This show is a bit of a slow-burner. It started in an underwhelming fashion with two completely forgettable filler bouts…but picks up momentum as it goes along, concluding with three outstanding main events. The Mount Rushmore vs Briscoes/Elgin tag takes the headlines, producing a PWG-esque spot-filled offensive splurge which stole the show. Able support comes from the really solid Hero/Strong and Cole/Taven matches. If you are a fan of Matt Taven, this show is essential viewing because it’s one of his very best ROH matches thus far.

Top 3 Matches
3) Adam Cole vs Matt Taven (****)
2) Chris Hero vs Roderick Strong (****)
1) Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe/Michael Elgin vs Kevin Steen/Young Bucks (****)

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