ROH Road To Best In The World: Night One 6/6/2014

ROH 353 – Road To Best In The World: Night 1 – 6th June 2014

At this stage we are two weeks out from ROH’s return to nationwide pay-per-view with Best In The World 2014, and this weekend’s Illinois double shot represent the final stop-off on the way. At this stage, with only the World Title match really nailed down, it’s actually pretty hard to tell how relevant these shows actually are, but given their ‘Road To…’ titles one presumes they will be somewhat significant. The main event tonight will see Adam Cole defending the ROH Championship against an opponent to be determined in a 6-Man Mayhem earlier in the evening, so he has his work cut out for him just to get to the ppv. Jay Lethal will issue another open challenge for the TV Title, Michael Elgin faces The Decade’s Jimmy Jacobs, and Delirious makes a rare appearance to honour his late father in a special attraction match. It’s a debut live show in Carbondale, IL tonight, with Kevin Kelly going solo on commentary.

SIDENOTE – We have an extremely odd set-up for this building. It feels like half the house lights are on (rather than ROH’s lighting rig), meaning the arena seems incredibly light and exposes a rather feeble crowd turn-out. On the positive side, at least it means this show looks different…

Tommaso Ciampa vs Ethan Gabriel Owens
We saw Ethan make his return to Ring Of Honor television in Baltimore as ‘Ethan Page’, but has now taken a new moniker, an acronym of ‘ego’, to fit in with his #ALLEGO persona and name he uses on other indies. Ciampa gets a World Title shot tomorrow night, so badly needs to build momentum here.

Tommaso isn’t impressed with Owens’ showboating, and tries to put him in the Sicilian Stretch before the bell even rings. The former TV Champion looks thicker around the stomach area, although that could just be the weird lighting on this show. Kevin Kelly trying to shill Ethan as a product of ROH’s ‘developmental system’ is so embarrassing it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to. He struggles to overcome Ciampa’s dynamic and unpredictable wrestling style initially, but eventually starts to get the more seasoned ROH competitor grounded. Tommaso realises he needs a change of scenery, so takes the match outside the ring where he can assault EGO using the guardrails. Back in the ring he hits a Bare Knee smash then a double arm DDT for 2. Credit to Owens, he manages to block Project Ciampa – only to be dropped with the Air Raid Crash instead. Gamengiri blocks Project Ciampa for a second time, followed by a jumping enzi from the second rope! Tommaso DROPS HIM ON HIS NECK when he goes for a rana though, and gets the win with Project Ciampa at 10:32

Rating – ** – This was boring. I try not to use that word to describe matches too often as I find it rather derogatory to the performers…but I really think it’s an appropriate term for this. I really rate both wrestlers but whether it was an off night for them, whether they were playing safe, or whether it was the stifling amount of restrictions SBG and Delirious place on matches in ROH these days this just wasn’t even remotely interesting. I went 2* on it because most of it was perfectly sound and functional, but there was no hook on this at all.

ACH vs Silas Young vs Caprice Coleman vs Kyle O’Reilly vs Matt Taven vs Cedric Alexander
The winner of this gets a World Title shot later in the night. All six of these men have been in the midcard for much of the last year, with World Championship opportunities few and far between for them. Kyle O’Reilly is fresh from regaining the Tag Titles and would love the chance to renew hostilities with his former tag team partner Adam Cole. We’ll see Caprice and Cedric cross paths for the first time since the WrestleFactory disbanded, and on TV Silas announced that he was going to start taking what he wants. A main event slot is surely high on his agenda this evening.

Taven and O’Reilly get things started, with first blood going to Matt as he lands a moonsault press. Caprice is soon in to level him with a spinning axe kick, then ACH and Cedric take turns blasting opponents with high impact dropkicks. Alexander tosses a couple of guys into the aisle so he can hit them with a SOMERSAULT PLANCHA! SUICIDE DIVE BY TAVEN! SPRINGBOARD MOONSAULT BY COLEMAN! After those dives, the heat Young gets for stopping ACH hitting Air Jordan is amongst the loudest reaction from the small crowd you’ll see all evening. He knees ACH in the back of the head, softening him up for O’Reilly to start stretching him out. The Tag Champion starts targeting the midsection, but gets into an argument with Silas leading to them both getting dropped with the cutter/flatliner combo. Tags all round – to Caprice and Cedric! Hart Attack leg lariat on Taven! Total Elimination on Kyle! Then the former partners start frantically trying to pin each other. Overtime misses on Silas. FIVE STAR FROG SPLASH from Taven to Alexander! Mind Trip by Coleman before he is kicked into touch by O’Reilly. Young drops ACH with the backbreaker/lariat combo then blocks the Lumbar Check from Cedric. Axe & Smash from Kyle to ACH! Super McLariat from Silas to Caprice! ACH and Cedric start running around at Yoshino-esque speed, and Ced looks set to gain the advantage until BJ Whitmer appears on the apron distracting both Alexander and the ref. Tadarius Thomas runs through the crowd to attack Cedric. 450 SPLASH by ACH! He wins at 11:01

Rating – *** – This was a whole lot of fun, as you’d expect given the level of talent and athleticism from the workers involved. In truth I think giving ACH the title shot is a bit of a waste as we’ve already had that match during Adam Cole’s reign, and I’d really hoped to see Cole/O’Reilly since they’ve both improved significantly since their 2012 feud. I see the logic (ACH and Cedric were the only real choices if you wanted a babyface challenger), and I thought Decade’s involvement in the finish kept things relevant with Best In The World in mind. Ultimately I liked the match, but can’t pretend I’m not disappointed they went for a cheap face/heel dynamic rather than the obvious quality that Cole vs Kyle would produce.

Bobby Fish vs Romantic Touch
Unfortunately for Fish he’s the unlucky sucker who is stuck working Rhett Titus tonight. His won/loss record as a singles competitor in ROH is really decent though, so RT will know that a victory over him will be a significant boost to his underwhelming career thus far.

Kelly gets a boner over Rhett’s body. Unfortunately, ROH is now a company where having a great physique means you can get a spot even if you can’t actually wrestle. Watching Fish have to work several steps slower than he normally would to accommodate RT’s clumsiness is rather sad. Snuggle-monkey flip lands, but Touch is starting to exhaust himself with his inane theatrics. Aries tumbling reverse elbow strike gets 2…then moments later he tries it again and gets a boot through his quad from Bobby. He starts working the leg, so clearly buys into the theory that Touch is Rhett – since Rhett has a horrible history with knee problems. Touch eventually hits his big dropkick spot but instantly collapses to the ground holding his now-injured knee. It doesn’t stop him blowing kisses to the crowd though. Fish knees at the leg to block a brainbuster before dragon screwing him off his feet. Saito suplex gets 2 and an anklelock finishes it with a submission victory for Fish at 11:15

Rating – * – A star for Fish’s leg assault, with everything else about this one sucking hard. Romantic Touch and Cheeseburger are my least favourite acts in ROH now. They are stupid, unfunny gimmicks who contribute nothing to the product. I don’t need every act to be a Bryan Danielson or a Davey Richards and I understand the need for occasional comic relief and goofy characters, but those two in particular have zero business in an ROH ring. Titus has been horrible since his knees were f*cked in 2011, is SO slow in the ring and he was horribly exposed with a world class performer like Fish. He should never have been booked to go longer than ten minutes with Bobby.

BJ Whitmer/Tadarius Thomas vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe
The Decade have had issues with Mark Briscoe, since they tried to recruit him before he disagreed with their ways of treating up and comers in the business. BJ and TD will be aware that a victory over the top team in Ring Of Honor history will give a considerable boost to Decade’s stock in the company.

Tadarius goes to shake hands, but is admonished by Whitmer for doing so. We begin with he and Mark in the ring meaning it’s capoeira skills against Redneck Kung Fu. Mark got the better of that so BJ aggressively tags his partner out. The Briscoes make short work of Whitmer too, so he laughably backs into the corner and orders Thomas back in. The 8-time former Tag Champions isolate him until Whitmer manages to cheap shot Jay from the apron. The illegal move gives The Decade the advantage for the first time, wearing down the former World Champion. TD gets a nearfall with a half nelson suplex before getting shoved into his own partner and planted with a running DVD. Doomsday Device wins it for the Briscoes at 09:56

Rating – ** – Another utterly uninteresting match for this DVD, which is quickly becoming one of the worst of 2014. As with almost every other match, all four guys were working slow, working safe and working well within themselves – making the match thoroughly tedious to sit through.

The House Of Truth enter the arena next, issuing an open challenge to prove the prestige of the ROH TV Title and to prove how great Jay Lethal is. Former Hoopla Hottie Seleziya Sparx steps through the curtain and lays down for Jay to pin her. Cheeseburger isn’t impressed and comes out to make fun of them – prompting Lethal to challenge him to a match…

Jay Lethal vs Cheeseburger – ROH TV Title Match
We already had this on television, why on earth do we have to sit through it again? Of course, the answer is because Cheeseburger is cheap to book and gets an easy pop out of a live crowd meaning it’s a simple ‘out’ for Delirious and SBG so they don’t have to pay more, or put their talent in an actual competitive match where they might get injured. Burger lasted less than five minutes last time he challenged for the Television Championship. Can he do better this time?

Cheeseburger slaps Jay, then runs away before the champ can retaliate. Amazingly he then hits a corkscrew senton off the apron to take Lethal off his feet! Normal service is soon resumed though, with Lethal easily dominating his significantly smaller opponent and opting not to pin him. Cheese hits some abysmal strikes, then scores with the Shotei that Jushin Liger taught him. Chocolate Rain gets 2. Lethal wins with a low blow at 04:41

Rating – DUD – Unless Elgin/Jacobs and Cole/ACH are good this is becoming a candidate for worst ROH show ever. A massive waste of Jay Lethal, who is actually really entertaining as the new focal point of the HOT, as well as being one of the most consistent and hard-working in-ring performers. I will say that this was a marginally better showing than the TV squash thanks to the incorporated humour of Liger teaching Cheese the Shotei.

The House Of Truth want to assault Cheesburger some more but Matt Taven makes the save.

Michael Bennett vs Delirious
As the man behind the mask now heads up ROH’s creative, we rarely see Delirious compete in the ring anymore. He hasn’t been on the roster full-time in years meaning that his act (which had grown incredibly stale by 2010) seems like a big deal on a B-show like this. His father had recently passed away so he is competing to honour his memory, and has a tough challenge across the ring from him. Bennett has been in good form of late, joining up with The Kingdom and making plenty of opponents tap to the Go Back To Japan.

Kevin Kelly saying that Bennett/Tanahashi stole the show at War Of The Worlds is one of the biggest (of the many) lies he’s told during his ROH commentary tenure. Delirious, meanwhile, carries a child around ringside during his entrance – and I really hope he knew who she was because the poor girl looked TERRIFIED! It’s worth pointing out that most of the crowd are absolutely eating up his act. The two barely touch each other in the first few minutes but they are as vocal for it as they have been for anything else. Bennett tries to bully the smaller man but at every turn finds himself frustrated by the oddball antics of the Lizard Man. Delirious chases Maria around the ring (with hilarious facials), and has enough gas in the tank to sprint back into the ring for some comedic standing waistlock exchanges with Michael too. Maria and Delirious are genuinely hysterical in their interactions (‘I don’t want you, you’re not my type…it’s the mask thing’ – Maria to Delirious) and he chases her under the ring, as Bennett freaks out about her well-being. Eventually he appears behind Bennett and hits a cannonball senton off the apron! Maria rears her head again, distracting Delirious as he scales the ropes for Shadows Over Hell and allowing her fiancé to level him with a dropkick. It causes the masked man to tumble to the floor, where Bennett is on him quickly to give him multiple trips into the guardrails. That is until Delirious’ fans grab his arms, allowing Delirious to rub his bare feet in his face! Intelligent response from Bennett though, as he starts stomping on the aforementioned bare feet (which Delirious sells by sucking his own toes). He hits back with repeated snap suplexes, then goes Ultimate Warrior no selling strikes and shaking the top rope. Cobra Stretch attempted, but Maria jumps onto the apron again and both men end up knocking each other to the ground with clotheslines. Bennett tries to fly, only to jump straight into a torpedo headbutt to the stomach…but recovers quickly to drill Delirious with a spinebuster for 2. TKO NAILED! Twist Of Fate blocked though…so he drops the Lizard Man again using a hard superkick. GO BACK TO JAPAN! Somehow Delirious makes it to the corner though, setting him up for the Panic Attack! SHADOWS OVER HELL! FOR 2! COBRA STRETCH! Maria tries to interfere again, and this time gets dragged into the ring for a big Lizard kiss! Bennett didn’t like that and wins with a RUNNING DOMINATOR at 23:15

Rating – **** – I’m being generous with the rating, but on a show so completely devoid of entertainment and fun this match felt like a breath of fresh air. For the most part it was still pretty low impact, but Delirious’ act has been away for so long that it felt very fresh and unique. ROH can be so damn serious meaning genuinely funny matches like this are an extremely rare delicacy. Obviously Delirious steals the headlines because his zany performance is the catalyst for much of the comedy, but Bennett and (in particular) Maria also deserve plenty of credit. Their reactions were priceless and the ideal foil for the antics coming from the other side of the ring. Delirious also looked in much better cardiovascular condition than he did last year at Night Of Hoopla, where he looked visibly gassed after only a few minutes against Jay Lethal. I know he worked the Future Of Honor card prior to this event, so maybe that allowed him to work off the ring rust. A welcome return to ROH for Delirious, and I’ll be surprised if anything else is as downright fun as this one all night.

Delirious gets a standing ovation and looks extremely emotional as he leaves…

Jimmy Jacobs vs Michael Elgin
The Road To Best In The World is an important one for Elgin, as he needs all the preparation he can get before stepping into the ring with Adam Cole and challenging for the World Championship. Tonight he faces The Decade’s Jimmy Jacobs – who wrestled Cole twice in 2013, producing two of Adam’s best matches of last year. Elgin will know he can’t afford to lose to a man Cole has beaten twice in high profile matches in the last eighteen months. For Jacobs, who has spent much of his time disciplining young boys and working tag matches, this is a real opportunity to showcase that he still has something to offer as a singles competitor in Ring Of Honor. He has a limping Tadarius Thomas in his corner, still performing young boy duties even though he injured himself against the Briscoes.

Even Elgin hasn’t been around long enough to have earned Jimmy’s respect it seems. Unbreakable really doesn’t like that, so gives him a ONE-HANDED PRESS SLAM! He is furious and seems determined to beat the respect into Jacobs in the opening minutes. ST-Joe rattles the Decade member’s spine and it’s soon clear that’s the body part he intends to target. Tadarius grabs Elgin’s leg in an attempt to buy his mentor some time – and it works perfectly as Jimmy uses it to hit a TORNADO DDT TO THE FLOOR! He then tries to tie Michael in the apron to beat on him…but still finds himself getting viciously shoved into the guardrails. Next he attempts to keep his massive opponent on the canvas with a stretch plum but appears totally powerless as Michael simply stands up to escape it. In the end it’s some cheap tactics which put him in the ascendancy – as he chokes his opponent in the ropes then dropkicks his skull into the ringpost for 2. Danielson-style elbows rain down on Elgin’s neck and he is now visibly weakened, as demonstrated when Jacobs is able to survive a strike exchange and apply repeated sleeper holds. A jumping eni to the neck is Elgin’s response and it is followed by the Black Hole Slam for 2. Dead-lift German COUNTERED TO END TIME! Only for Michael to simply muscle out of that with an overhead suplex. Rebound cutter gets 2 for Jimmy! Contra Code is blocked though as Jacobs just can’t haul his opponent’s bulk over. Buckle Bomb blocked…SNAP GERMAN SUPLEX INSTEAD! SPEAR TO THE FLOOR BY JACOBS! And to his credit he doesn’t want a count-out victory and opts to drag Elgin back inside. Creditable though it was, it doesn’t appear that smart and he winds up injuring his own knee. TD again gets involved, this time stopping Elgin from hitting the dead-lift superplex. Jimmy tries for the senton bomb but sails right his opponent’s knees! NO SOLD! SPEAR GETS 2! He tries another rebound cutter but this time gets caught with a Roaring Elbow. Buckle Bomb countered with a hurricanrana! SOMERSAULT PLANCHA…ELGIN CATCHES HIM! GUARDRAIL BOMB! ELGIN BOMB ON THE FLOOR! Elgin wins at 18:19

Rating – **** – From a workrate standpoint this was match of the night by a country mile. Apart from the six-man spotfest, these two are the only guys to get out of the lower gears. I really don’t know why Jacobs has been permanently positioned as a sidekick, a tag wrestler or a back-up act since Sinclair took over because inside the ring he’s as good now as he’s ever been (well, I do – it’s because he’s not big and/or overly muscular). This was a great match, where he used his resourcefulness and cunning to overcome Elgin’s early dominance and, with a little help from Tadarius, wound up proving himself to be such a dangerous opponent that Michael had to downright murder him on the floor in order to score a victory. He looks good in defeat, and Elgin gets a great match and a big victory to get him over too as we progress to the Best In The World ppv. Everyone is a winner.

Adam Cole vs ACH – ROH World Title Match
We’ve already seen ACH survive a 6-Man Mayhem to earn this opportunity, but it means he comes into this one fatigued and carrying an apparent injury to his ribs. Cole has proved himself to be a top class performer during his time as World Champion – will ACH, in his second match of the night, be able to pose a threat to him?

Cole immediately kicks at ACH’s injured midsection and stomps him into the ground to indicate just how great his advantage is. Fans have to help the challenger to his feet after he is tossed forcefully into the guardrails to injure him still further. He courageously hops onto the guardrails for a MOONSAULT PRESS, but in truth it does as much damage to him as it does to his opponent. Cole wisely heads back into the ring in an attempt to slow the pace back down and pick apart his tiring adversary. ACH refuses to quit though, and opens up an injury on Adam’s arm after successfully sending him into the ringpost. He enjoys some success, but is a step slow thanks to competing earlier and is eventually caught on the top rope – getting swept off the ropes into a backbreaker. ACH gets a dropkick into the stomach as Cole attempts the flying crossbody (remember, he beat Davey Richards with that once), but it leaves both men on the ground recovering. The challenger is up first to drive another dropkick to the shoulder, only for Adam to knee him in the ribs! ROARING ELBOW by ACH gets 2! Quebrada Hero’s Welcome scores another nearfall, before he thinks about the 450 Splash. It takes him way too long to climb the ropes though and Cole capitalises by crotching him. Death Valley neckbreaker scores for the champ and is soon followed by the Shining Wizard for 2. Double stomp from nowhere for ACH, into a fisherman buster…but Cole superkicks his legs from under him to apply the Figure 4. A jumping enzi knocks him out of the ring though – RUNNING MOONSAULT TO THE FLOOR BY ACH! 450 Splash nailed, but it hurts his own ribs and he loses time before eventually pinning and subsequently doesn’t get the win. Free Bird Crossbody COUNTERED with a superkick to the face! Cradlebreaker blocks the Big Bang Attack, and Cole retains with the Florida Key at 19:31

Rating – *** – I thought their Proving Ground match at Pursuit weekend last year had much more verve and energy. There wasn’t necessarily much wrong with this, but in front of a pretty lifeless crowd and with ACH nowhere near top speed it never felt like these guys reached their full potential. It also didn’t help that their selling of their respective injuries was extremely poor. ACH has bad ribs – no problem, he’ll keep trying moonsaults to the floor anyway. Cole has a bad arm – no big deal, he can win with the Florida Key and seemingly not feel a thing. This wasn’t a bad match by any means, but it had plenty of issues which dragged it down into 3* territory. All the way through this I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d much rather have been watching Cole vs O’Reilly

Tape Rating – ** – This looked set to be one of the worst Ring Of Honor shows of all time at the half way mark. Thankfully Bennett, Delirious, Elgin and Jacobs saved it from that fate, but this was the worst ROH event of 2014 thus far, and it exposes exactly how shallow and unexciting the current core roster actually is. Without Kevin Steen, Roderick Strong or any of the high profile part-time guys (AJ, the Bucks, the Hooligans, Hero etc) and without a workhorse like Davey Richards or Bryan Danielson to save a show with their ability to work a classic against anyone, much of this undercard was dire. Romantic Touch and Cheeseburger make me want to stop watching ROH (and having watched this company for twelve years, that’s saying a lot), and the predictable ‘ten minutes, no high spots, no false finishes’ structure of EVERY SINGLE UNDERCARD MATCH at ROH live events this year is becoming increasingly tough to sit through too. Delirious’ return was a lot of fun, and Elgin/Jacobs was a great match – but that’s nowhere near enough to recommend I’m afraid. The show only runs two and a half hours as well. This is not good value for money for the ROH fanbase, even at the reduced VOD price. In truth this is the kind of Ring Of Honor SBG likes, so this is what we’re stuck with for the time being. I’m sticking it out for now but if they are still rocking the same formula for their shows by the end of 2014 that could be it for me. There is plenty of choice out there on the independent scene right now, and ROH just isn’t captivating me as it once did.

Top 3 Matches
3) Adam Cole vs ACH (***)
2) Michael Bennett vs Delirious (****)
1) Michael Elgin vs Jimmy Jacobs (****)

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