ROH 352 – War Of The Worlds – 17th May 2014
As entertaining as Global Wars was, it was always going to be the warm-up act for tonight’s show. Every match on the card tonight features ROH vs NJPW action. The stakes are high, company pride at stake and for many of the Ring Of Honor stars it is a chance to test their skills against some of the best professional wrestlers in the world. The scheduled main event is AJ Styles defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Michael Elgin – emphasis on the word ‘scheduled’, so don’t expect that to remain. We have NJPW stars challenging for ROH championships as Kushida challenges Jay Lethal for the TV Title and Jushin Liger vies for Adam Cole’s World Title. We’ll see Ring Of Honor guys look to get ROH belts back from NJPW talent too in a rematch from Raising The Bar weekend when reDRagon challenge the Young Bucks for the ROH Tag Title. Kevin Steen and Michael Bennett have massive opportunities too, as they face two of NJPW’s main event talents in Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi respectively. The Decade face NJPW’s very own veteran tag team in Jado & Gedo, the Briscoes challenge for the IWGP Tag Titles, ROH vs New Japan trios tag action, a UFC fighter running around too – so it should be an action packed show. Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino welcome us to the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, NY.
With countless championship belts in tow, every member of the Bullet Club booked tonight crashes the opening of the show. ROH/IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champions the Young Bucks, IWGP Tag Champions Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, and IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles all hit the ring taking selfies, cracking jokes and openly smirking at the ‘f*ck TNA’ chants they draw. Their pop is instantly dwarfed by that for Kazuchika Okada as he interrupts them to voice his displeasure at being robbed of the IWGP Heavyweight Title two weeks ago. Michael Elgin comes out to demand that tonight’s main event is made a triple threat (apparently he REALLY wanted to wrestle Okada). Nigel McGuinness has agreement from NJPW’s management, and after a Bullet Club huddle, AJ Styles agrees too. Our main event is now Styles vs Elgin vs Okada.
SIDENOTE – It’s not that I don’t like the new main event, and whilst I was looking forward to Styles/Elgin III, I don’t mind waiting to see that on another ROH show. But surely there was a better way to set up the triple threat than to make Michael Elgin look like an absolute fool. You can explain it away as him really wanting to work Okada, or him being ‘so confident’ that he doesn’t think anyone can beat him. But the reality is, most fans will think he looks stupid. He reduces his chances of winning, reduces his chances of getting his ‘lifelong dream’ of going to Japan, and allows a world class performer like Okada into a match when previously he was facing someone who had failed to beat him on two previous occasions. Fun opening segment (especially the ‘2 sweet me’ stuff), but with the long game of making Elgin Ring Of Honor Champion in mind, I don’t think it’s too sensible to make him look like a bit of a fool.
Forever Hooligans/Takaaki Watanabe vs Tommaso Ciampa/Matt Taven/ACH
This is our first inter-promotional bout of the evening. The Hooligans are former ROH Tag Champions and will want to recover from the disappointment of failing to become IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champions at Global Wars last weekend. The task of facing two former ROH TV Champions in Taven and Ciampa, plus exciting high-flier ACH, isn’t an easy one for them this evening either.
ACH is SUPER excited for this and comically gets shoved into the ROH corner by Ciampa, who isn’t remotely impressed by him. Taven impresses early, holding his own against a world-travelled competitor like Romero. ACH is still full of enthusiasm as he finally gets tagged in and takes out all three of his opponents with dropkicks. Watanabe gets genuine heat for stopping little ACH hitting Air Jordan…as the Hooligans and the ex-TV Champions brawl on the floor beneath them. Cossack Kicks rattle ACH’s brains as the NJPW team set about isolating the smallest member of their opposition. Finally ACH catches Rocky with a turnbuckle flatliner and gets a hot tag to the Sicilian Psychopath. Ciampa drops Koslov on his head with a snap German suplex then piles into Romero with repeared Bare Knee strikes. Taven gets battered into the corner by all three New Japan guys, before Watanabe gives him a spinning back suplex for 2. ACH double stomps Watanabe…and sprints across the ring to finally hit AIR JORDAN! CLIMAX from Taven to Watanabe wins it for ROH in 09:10
Rating – ** – I’d say this was a functional rather than overly fantastic way to open the show. I’ve been criticising ROH’s time allocations for months now, but in fairness, the best part of ten minutes should have been long enough for these six to accomplish a little more than they did.
LAST WEEK – We see The Decade injuring Cedric Alexander after his victory over Roderick Strong at Global Wars. That cost him a dream match against Okada tonight.
Roderick Strong/BJ Whitmer vs Jado/Gedo
This is an interesting test for The Decade. They pride themselves on being the veterans of the Ring Of Honor locker room – but in experience terms even they are mere young boys when compared to Gedo and Jado who are twenty year veterans of the junior heavyweight puroresu scene. It casts Strong and Whitmer in the roll of precocious young talent looking to make their name at the expense of a couple of bigger names – a real role reversal for The Decade. Jimmy Jacobs and Adam Page are at ringside.
Kelly and Corino are furious that Decade refuse to shake hands with their veteran opponents. Jado and Gedo don’t take too kindly to it either, and waste no time taking the fight to the home team. A cheap shot from Whitmer allows them to isolate Gedo. Even though Strong and BJ aren’t a regular team, all three core members of The Decade are former ROH Tag Champions and they showcase their experience in this format as they fluently move in and out of the ring whilst wearing Gedo down. Strong starts targeting the back of his opponent, but Decade grow increasingly annoyed as Jado starts openly encouraging ‘BJ sucks’ chants. It provokes a mistake from Whitmer, who tries an ill-advised second rope elbow drop which misses and allows Gedo to tag out. Crossface Of Jado on Roderick – broken at the last by BJ! CRADLE BACKBREAKER from Strong to Jado! Olympic Slam on Gedo gets 2! They set up the All Seeing Eye…but Gedo blocks it and Jado NAILS Strong with a chair behind the ref’s back! Somehow Roderick kicks out! DEATH BY RODERICK/LARIAT COMBO on Gedo, followed by the SICK KICK! Strong wins for his team at 08:40
Rating – *** – Nothing groundbreaking, but I thought this was a really solid little match. In and of itself it was really cool seeing Jado and Gedo do their thing in ROH. They obviously played it safe, so it was the chemistry and fun dynamics between them and Ring Of Honor’s own squad of veterans that carried this match. Casting the Decade into the role of disrespectful young guys was a lot of fun, and their heat segment on Gedo certainly didn’t feel like ‘dead time’ or filler material at all. The NJPW guys let them get in plenty of offence, bumped hard when needed, hit a couple of their own signature moves then stared at the lights to get the Ring Of Honor team a victory. Losing does nothing to tarnish the legacy of Gedo and Jado, but a victory over them is a brilliant feather in the cap for The Decade, so I’m pleased that whatever politicking was needed to make that happen was carried out effectively.
Cedric Alexander, with his shoulder heavily bandaged, runs in to attack The Decade again. Security has to stop him throttling Jacobs, before he then sprints up the aisle in pursuit of Roderick.
Jay Lethal vs Kushida – ROH TV Title Match
At Global Wars we saw Kushida as part of the Time Splitters in an unsuccessful challenge to the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles. Alex Shelley isn’t booked for tonight’s show, but Kushida can ensure this isn’t a completely wasted trip for him if he can dethrone Jay Lethal and become Ring Of Honor Television Champion. Presumably he has done his homework and will be aware that Truth Martini may pose just as much of a threat from outside as his opponent will in the ring with him.
The pace is seriously quick from the bell…with Kushida amusingly trying to lift both the hiptoss dropkick and the Lethal Injection from Jay’s own repertoire! Lethal is thoroughly unimpressed and stomps his young opponent out of the ring. Martini tries to give his charge a pep-talk and winds up distracting the challenger – as Jay lines up the rolling topes. The Japanese athlete is rattled and finds himself hung up in the ropes seconds later. Truth takes a picture of Jay grinding his foot into Kushida’s face whilst hung in that unfortunate position. Having struggled to keep up with him in the opening moments, it’s clear that Jay wants to slow Kushida down to a crawl in order to beat him. And in response Kushida is keenly aware he needs to quicken the pace – springboarding off the ropes for a chop then delivering a standing moonsault for 2. Lethal Combination blocked, and Kushida counters the Lethal Injection moments later with a dropkick to the face! SWANTON BOMB OVER THE RINGPOST TO THE FLOOR! And the challenger puts boots into Lethal’s face as he tries to re-enter the ring, softening him up for a satellite DDT. Truth Martini prevents Todd Sinclair from counting to three…so is ejected from ringside! SNAP GERMAN gets 2 for Kushida! Lethal Combo nailed for 2! Hail To The Truth attempted – but Lethal takes way too long climbing the ropes and is caught with a HANDSPRING HEEL KICK! SUPERNOVA RANA NAILED! Somehow the champ kicks out, much to the annoyance of the raucous New York crowd. Kushida misses the Tajiri Handspring Elbow and eats a superkick. LETHAL INJECTION wins it at 11:36. ROH goes 3-0 up over NJPW
Rating – **** – Since Taven held the TV Title for a year without ever really living up to his full potential, and Ciampa only had a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ title run, this was comfortably one of the best ROH TV Title matches since 2012. On the surface it was a thrilling, non-stop offensive splurge, but what I liked was that there was actually some attempt to give the contest some real depth. Lethal’s burgeoning heel persona adds much-needed freshness to his act which had been becoming massively stale, and his attempts to bring some psychology into play by slowing Kushida down were appreciated. I also really liked Kushida not only scouting and countering Jay’s moveset – but actually trying to steal his moves and use them for himself. The underlying intelligence to what was already an exciting and dramatic contest meant I had no qualms about going to 4*.
Karl Anderson/Doc Gallows vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe – IWGP Tag Title Match
If ROH go 4-0 here it will mean that the Briscoes have added some IWGP gold to their already lengthy list of tag team accolades from their decorated career. Despite several NOAH tours, and holding the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles in the past, they have never made it to NJPW or the Tokyo Dome; ambitions Jay and Mark could fulfil if they can cause an upset here. Anderson has an impressive Ring Of Honor record since returning at Supercard Of Honor 7, and has only actually lost once (to Michael Elgin at Manhattan Mayhem 5). It’s an ROH debut for his partner and co-champion Gallows. You’ll remember him from his run alongside CM Punk in the Straight Edge Society in the WWE, and most acknowledge that he has decent ability for a guy of his size.
Anderson’s ‘machine gun’ sound effect during his introduction is never timed correctly in ROH. Mark makes a point of going face-to-face with Gallows, the larger member of the opposing team. The Briscoes drive the champions out of the ring, with Jay giving chase with a SOMERSAULT PLANCHA into both opponents. Cactus Elbow from Mark to Anderson! Jay is normally one of the bigger and more physically intimidating members of the Ring Of Honor roster, but even he is absolutely dwarfed by Gallows. His size is such that the timekeeping table gives way under him when Mark tosses him into it. The champions realise that brawling around on the floor with the Briscoes isn’t in their best interests, so bring it back into the ring where they can start using their size to isolate Mark. They beat Mark with such force that his only escape is to climb up the ropes and jump ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE RING to tag his brother! BLOCKBUSTER OFF THE APRON from Mark to Doc! Inside the ring Jay is scoring a nearfall with the Rude Awakening. Amazingly, Gallows is back on his feet moments later to back drop Mark on the floor! He returns to the ring to mow down Jay with a lariat, then a Warrior Splash for 2. Mark’s Redneck Kung Fu comes to his brothers aid, and he soars through the air into the Froggy Bow which draws another close nearfall. Gallows rescues his partner from the Doomsday Device…and Mark jumps off the ropes into the GUN STUN from Anderson! MAGIC KILLER retains the belts for the Bullet Club at 10:27
Rating – *** – I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one. The Briscoes aren’t the force in tag team wrestling that they once were, and I was sceptical about how they’d mesh with Gallows and Anderson, who don’t necessarily have the most compatible style for them. I needn’t have worried, as this was a lot of fun. They didn’t waste time trying to work too much of a conventional match, and instead played to everyone’s strengths by working a feisty and at times chaotic brawl. Gallows, in particular, was great fun as the monster than repeatedly defied whatever offence the ROH stalwarts threw at him.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kevin Steen
This match is arguably the biggest draw on the entire show. It pits the most popular wrestler in Ring Of Honor against a man who has been one of New Japan’s biggest stars for over a decade. Nakamura is a multi-time former IWGP Heavyweight Champion and among the most decorated wrestlers in NJPW history. After the disappointment of failing to regain the World Championship from Adam Cole at Border Wars, and with a potential WWE deal on the horizon, Steen knows pulling off a shock win over a major puroresu star like Nakamura would be a massive way to rebound.
The showmanship of the two competitors as they follow the Code Of Honor is a riot. Steen tries to get the jump on Nakamura with a cheap shot…but he just STANDS THERE! He’s no stranger to taking stiff shots, and Nak has no problem beating Steen down into the corner. Steen tries to convince him to reign in his slightly odd physical twitches, then drops him with a back suplex when Nakamura tries to sock him anyway. He looks for the Cannonball off the apron…but Nakamura moves and he crashes hard onto the floor. The knees of Nakamura come heavily into play now, first as he drives Steen into the rails with one…then as he repeatedly knees his face as he hangs over the apron. Slingshot knee drop misses though, allowing Mr Wrestling to scoop him up for an APRON BOMB! Both men have taken a real beating on the floor and take their time dragging themselves back through the ropes. More knees have Steen slumped in the corner, only for the Canadian to block a high kick and haul Nak back in with a hanging DDT for 2. Cannonball misses again, this time putting Steen on his head and neck against the turnbuckles. But Nakamura then misses a running knee, allowing Kevin to make fun of his crazy rope shaking before hitting the CANNONBALL! RUNNING KNEE TO THE STOMACH gets 2 for Nakamura. Front Sleeper applied but Steen is simply too big for the King Of Strong Style to hold down, and Kevin drops him with a brainbuster. Package Piledriver blocked and countered into a lungblower. Boma Ye COUNTERED WITH A SIT-OUT POWERBOMB for 2! Still Steen can’t hit the Package Piledriver, but when Nakamura chases him up the turnbuckles he swoops to take advantage with the avalanche fisherman buster instead. JUMPING KNEE from the second, into the BOMA YE KNEE! ONE COUNT OF DISRESPECT BY STEEN! KNEE TO THE F*CKING FACE! Nakamura gets the win at 12:17
Rating – *** – There’s no denying that this was a lot of fun, but I was seriously disappointed by this when I watched it live, and I remain so on a second viewing. This had the potential to be Joe vs Kobashi levels of awesome. The crowd were great, and when Steen pelted Nakamura in the face after the handshake only for the NJPW star to totally no sell it, the place was molten hot and ready for a classic. But at twelve minutes, they were completely robbed of any possibility of delivering something special. There was no time to sell anything, no time to tell a story and no time to create anything of epic resonance with a live audience desperate to see them produce something special. What could have been a classic battle between two charismatic aces of their respective promotions was almost reduced to a mere spotfest as they sprinted around the ring trying to cram as much as possible into their measly time allowance. The finish was incredible, and the constant blocking of Steen’s Package Piledriver made for an interesting subplot. But this match needed at least another 5-7 minutes to really deliver the goods. A decent match, but once again the ‘we need our shows to be three hours’ SBG mantra cripples a potentially show-stealing battle.
Steen grabs a microphone to profess his love of Ring Of Honor, but also admit that he isn’t happy being in ROH if his job is to continually lose all his big matches. With a new baby in his family, and his contract expiration coming up he needs to ‘step away’…but before he can formally leave ROH he is interrupted by Silas Young. He calls Steen a pussy for playing up to the fans on his way out, leading to a brawl which requires swathes of security guys to stop. Steen climbs the turnbuckles for a STEEN-TON BOMB ONTO ALL THE SECURITY GUARDS…as Young sneaks away.
INTERMISSION – Nigel McGuinness is added to commentary for the second half. I feel bad for Nigel. He and Kevin Kelly were getting a decent chemistry going as a commentary team, but he simply isn’t as entertaining or charismatic as Steve Corino and is now being gradually having his role reduced.
Michael Bennett vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
When Ring Of Honor announced that Bennett was the man who would oppose Tanahashi in New York it provoked outrage from a portion of the fanbase. Tanahashi is among the biggest professional wrestling stars in the world, and has been one of the finest workers in Japan for a long time. When he was booked for these ROH/NJPW shows Bennett definitely wasn’t at the front of the ‘dream match’ list fans had. HOWEVER, Bennett is a serviceable talent and extremely over as a heel, meaning we should get some hot responses from the live audience tonight. It should also be remembered that Tanahashi was reportedly really banged up at this point, so someone like Bennett who doesn’t necessarily have a hard-hitting, high risk ring style but who will guarantee crowd heat is ideal for him. Can Bennett defy the odds and the haters to produce a career-defining victory over a bona fide superstar of the professional wrestling industry and one of the finest workers of the last decade?
Michael Bennett shows just how seriously he takes this opportunity…by leaving the ring to make out with Maria rather than lock up with Tanahashi. Maria then grabs Tanahashi’s leg, distracting him so Bennett can jump him and finally get the fight underway. Michael is no match for the skills of the ace of New Japan though, and is quickly worked into the corner by the sheer speed and precision of his opponent. Tanahashi poses to the crowd…and gets SUPERKICKED TO THE FLOOR! Bennett is clearly aware of the rumoured back problems Tanahashi has been suffering – and looks to exploit them by whipping him into the rails. Despite that Tana hits back with a running crossbody against the rails – prompting Bennett to hide behind Maria, then jump out from behind her to clothesline the Japanese star onto his troublesome back once more. To add insult to injury he then throws Tanahashi around by his signature haircut! It makes me sad that most of the crowd miss his subtle ‘I’ve got till 5’ Bryan Danielson reference to boot. He goes for the spear but Tanahashi counters with a dropkick to the same knee that ACH targeted at Global Wars. Quebrada press follows that before he locks in the Cloverleaf! Maria is involved again, hopping onto the apron to slap Tana in the face. CLOVERLEAF ON MARIA! Bennett capitalises to superkick Tanahashi in the head then drop him on his back again with the spinebuster. He tries to permanently put Tanahashi out of action with a superplex, but is knocked off the ropes. HIGH FLY FLOW GETS KNEES! On the outside Maria is selling the leg better than Michael Elgin did against AJ Styles on television…and inside the ring Bennett hits the spear. GO BACK TO JAPAN! More torque on the back, before Tanahashi counters to a roll-up – which Todd Sinclair misses because Maria is making out with Todd Sinclair! PILEDRIVER BY BENNETT! The move banned in Ring Of Honor goes unseen by the ref, but STILL Tanahashi refuses to lose! So frustrated is Bennett that he risks disqualification by trying to piledrive his opponent on the apron. Tanahashi counters to the KINKASAN SUPLEX ON THE APRON! HIGH FLY FLOW TO THE FLOOR! HIGH FLY FLOW BACK IN! Tanahashi wins at 13:28
Rating – *** – In a statement sure to provoke criticism, I actually preferred this to Steen/Nakamura. Steen and Nakamura tried to cram a twenty minute match into twelve minutes, whilst these guys went out with a clear story they were able to tell within the allotted time period – and executed it well. The opening minutes proved that Bennett was no match for Tanahashi when it came to actually wrestling with him…but we already knew that. He’d stated he’d do whatever it took to win, so he attacked the injured back like a dick, he used Maria to his advantage repeatedly, cheated, used a banned move and generally did whatever he could to steal an unlikely victory. In the end it wasn’t enough and Tanahashi’s explosive skill proved too much for him. Of course I could have used slightly less interference from Maria, and it would have been nice if Tanahashi had bothered to sell the back at any point, but this was still a lot of fun to watch.
SIDENOTE – I read somewhere that the Young Bucks’ springboard spike Tombstone spot is called ‘More Bang For Your F*ck’. I really hope they use that move in this match so I can type that!!
Young Bucks vs reDRagon – ROH Tag Title Match
With the scores between the promotions tied at 3-3, we come to the hotly anticipated rematch between these two teams. At Raising The Bar Night 2 they produced a stunning encounter, which ended when the Young Bucks ended the second dominant Tag Title reign of reDRagon. Fish and O’Reilly were livid, as it was the second time they’d seen off every challenger Ring Of Honor had only to lose to a team from New Japan (last summer they briefly lost them to Forever Hooligans). After instantly earning a rematch at Supercard Of Honor 8, they are more focused than ever on regaining their belts tonight. In fact, they’ve been training with UFC’s Tom Lawlor to further hone their skills ahead of one of the biggest matches of their careers.
The Jacksons kick the middle rope into Tom Lawlor’s crotch before the bell even rings. I wonder if UFC were happy about that? Nick gives Fish the handspring back rake, before joining his brother for a DOUBLE BACK RAKE on Kyle! CRAZY DIVE TO THE FLOOR BY NICK! Lawlor then gets some retribution by crotching Matt on the top rope as he attempts his own dive. Having proven their superiority when it comes to throwing spots around, reDRagon realise they need to slow the pace down if they want to beat the Bucks. After a backbreaker/knee drop combo O’Reilly takes Matt to the canvas and wears him down with multiple submission holds. They seem to be targeting Matt’s ribs which will make it hard for him to breathe and significantly more difficult to string together endless high spots. Even when Matt edges towards a tag to Nick, Tom Lawlor is again on hand to drag the other Buck off the apron. O’Reilly scores the first serious nearfall of the match with the Regalplex. Finally Matt lands a springboard blockbuster on Kyle and does get the hot tag to Nick. TORNADO DDT ON THE FLOOR for O’Reilly! He returns with the slingshot X-Factor on Fish for 2. Moonsault off the apron misses though, with Fish COUNTERING WITH A SPEAR INTO THE RAILS! MATT SPEARS FISH! MISSILE DROPKICK OFF THE APRON BY O’REILLY…COUNTERED WITH A SUPERKICK! Fish barely kicks out of a springboard splash/standing moonsault combo whilst his partner is totally incapacitated on the floor. More Bang For Your F*ck countered (damnit) into an Anklelock by Bobby…as Matt lunges into the ring for a Superkick on O’Reilly. The Bucks position their opponents then superkick them into a FORCED TOMBSTONE FROM FISH TO O’REILLY! DOUBLE DRAGON SCREW by O’Reilly! MISSILE DROPKICK FROM THE APRON TO THE GUARDRAILS! Fish slips on the ropes, but STILL manages to plant Matt with an avalanche falcon arrow! Chasing The Dragon countered with a Superkick. Axe & Smash COUNTERED WITH ANOTHER SUPERKICK! Fish kicks Nick’s legs from under him though, with Kyle cranking on Matt with a front choke. NICK SAVES WITH AN ELEVATED 450 SPLASH! FOR 2! SUICIDE DIVE TO THE FLOOR! MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK…COUNTERED WITH KNEES ON NICK THEN A TRIANGLE CHOKE ON MATT! COUNTERED TO THE RAISING THE BAR ROLL-UP FINISH…FOR 2! AXE & SMASH! BRAINBUSTER! MATT KICKS OUT! CHASING THE DRAGON! MATT KICKS OUT AGAIN! ARM-AGEDDON! MATT TAPS! New champs at 12:40
Rating – **** – Consider the show stolen. I could be critical and say that a scrooge-like mere 13-minutes for these two teams was another dick move by ROH/SBG. I could complain that I really hated Tom Lawlor’s persistent interference (although not as much as his UFC bosses did I’d wager). And I could point out that giving reDRagon the belts for a third time feels a little stale as there really isn’t a team in Ring Of Honor they’ve not beaten already. But, to complain would be wholly out of place following a match which was such unashamedly good fun. Raising The Bar was a more intelligent, spaced out and, to be frank, BETTER match. However, for non-stop thrills, constant action and mind-bogglingly complex tag team sequences this was as entertaining as it gets. In 2014 most wrestling fans know that what they are watching is a ‘work’. They come to have fun and to enjoy themselves watching great athletes do amazing things inside the ring. Sometimes ‘super serious’ ROH can lose sight of that. Not tonight. This was stunning
Adam Cole vs Jushin Liger – ROH World Title Match
Such is the hype that has gone into Elgin, Styles, Okada, the IWGP Heavyweight Title bout, and Cole’s defence versus Kevin Steen last week in Toronto…that it’s almost gone under the radar that tonight Cole defends the ROH World Championship against one of the most influential and iconic junior heavyweight workers of all time. At almost 50-years of age, and with three decades of physical punishment behind him, every time he visits the United States now there is a serious chance it will be the last time he wrestles in an American ring. Adam Cole wasn’t even born when Liger started wrestling. He may be younger and faster, but will he be able to live with the power and overwhelming experience of Liger? In the twilight of his career, in one of his final overseas trips as an active wrestler, can Liger become a World Champion?
The opening exchanges are largely mat-based, with Liger controlling proceedings as the bigger, stronger and more experienced worker. The World Champion looks totally out of his depth and has to flee the ring as Liger looks for a Shotei. Even on the outside Cole isn’t safe though, as his challenger gives chase with a crossbody block off the apron! Back in the ring he stretches Cole out with a Mexican surfboard, a dragon sleeper and a grounded abdominal stretch. Adam is so desperate he actually BITES the bottom rope to escape as the veteran challenger looks to recreate Stu Hart’s dungeon in the middle of the Hammerstein. Once again he leaves the ring…and this time he manages to tag Jushin with a superkick. He defeated Kevin Steen with that superkick in Toronto, and it appears to have inflicted significant damage to Liger too. He is instantly knocked loopy and doesn’t offer up any resistance as the champ taunts the fans and works a lengthy chinlock. Nigel and Corino both approve of Cole’s strategy as he looks to wear Liger’s back down with repeated Irish whips into the buckles…and neither sees it coming when Liger finally explodes out of the corner with a Koppu Kick! SHOTEI NAILED! Followed by a frankensteiner for 2! Cole blocks the Brainbuster though, rattling his skull with a jumping enzi kick into a Shining Wizard. SHOTEI to block a second Shining Wizard, and Liger soars from the top into a frog splash moments later! BRAINBUSTER gets 2! The challenger tries to set up for a super Brainbuster and very nearly finds himself lined up for the Panama Sunrise as a result. That is blocked, but Cole kicks the knees out from under him to apply the Figure 4 Leglock. Liger survives that…so Cole superkicks him down and cranks onto the Figure 4 again. LIGER TAPS OUT! Literally nobody saw that coming. Cole retains at 13:18
Rating – *** – For the second time over these two ROH/NJPW shows the finish to Adam Cole’s match has left the entire building completely flat. I liked large portions of this match, with Liger taking Cole to school in a standard wrestling match – forcing the champion to take the fight outside the ring to get an advantage. Liger is such a selfless worker, and he knows that at this stage of his career is legacy is assured, and he remains perennially over regardless of his won/lost record. He magnanimously and graciously put Cole over here by tapping out, really legitimising his Figure 4. The problem was that it was so sudden and out of the blue that it actually LOST some of it’s effectiveness. Had they had a little more time to allow Cole to target the leg and really crank up the drama this win would have felt drastically more significant. It’s a cool feather in Cole’s cap and a wonderful gesture by Liger and New Japan – but I don’t think it quite had the impact Ring Of Honor were hoping for.
If anything, the finish was so flat that it actually gets Liger over more than Adam Cole – as the smart fans realise how cool of Liger it was to agree to that finish. Cole refuses to shake his hand and leaves, whilst the Hammerstein gives Liger a standing ovation.
AJ Styles vs Michael Elgin vs Kazuchika Okada – IWGP Heavyweight Title Match
Originally this was scheduled to be Elgin/Styles III. That is significant because Styles failed to defeat Michael Elgin in both their previous encounters. If the situation wasn’t already precarious for AJ and his IWGP Title reign, we also now have an extremely cheesed off Kazuchika Okada added to the mix. He is still very much smarting from his controversial championship loss to Styles in Fukuoka and will have his sights firmly set on avenging that loss tonight. Will AJ survive two dangerous challengers?
Styles realises he’s a marked man in this, so tries to get the jump on both his opponents…but is rather unceremoniously booted out of the ring by them. He then changes approach and sets up shop next to the commentators to watch as Elgin and Okada fight amongst themselves. He cleverly trips Okada, sending him stumbling towards Unbreakable – who scoops him up into the stalling vertical suplex. And with the Rainmaker high in the air, AJ pounces again to clip Elgin’s knees. It drops Okada into the suplex, and damages Elgin’s knees simultaneously. A moonsault press to the neck knocks the Rainmaker out of the match, before a shinbreaker once again knocks Unbreakable to the ground clutching his legs. Working Elgin’s legs worked well for him in Baltimore so he starts reprising that here tonight. It sees Michael unable to lift him for the dead-lift superplex…and as he struggles with his leg Okada returns and dropkicks him in the back of the head. HANGING DDT OFF THE APRON! Rainmaker has successfully incapacitated the ROH entrant in this match, meaning he finally gets his hands on Styles. He lays into the Phenomenal One with relish, drilling him into the mat with a flapjack after pausing to make sure Elgin isn’t able to get back in. Michael has to take drastic action and climb up to the top rope in order to force his way back in! He swats both his opponents aside, mowing them both down with a flying shoulder tackle. Elgin Bomb on Okada blocked with a jumping enzi from AJ…so Elgin picks them both up for the Samoan drop/fallaway slam combo. There’s even a hint of leg selling there, which is a welcome improvement from the Baltimore TV match against AJ. He then starts using Styles’ prone torso as a weapon, picking him up to batter Okada with before levelling AJ with the dead-lift German suplex. Okada retaliates with the Reverse Neckbreaker for 2…so gets an ST-Joe. Jumping Codebreaker on Styles…before Okada lifts Elgin into Heavy Rain. TOMBSTONE from Elgin to Okada, but delivering that move injures his leg again causing him to roll over in pain. CALF KILLER BY STYLES! A screaming Michael Elgin almost pleads with Okada to get back to his feet and rescue the match for him. Flying elbow drop nailed by Okada, but as he lines AJ up for the Rainmaker Elgin rolls him up from behind into a LARIATOOOOOOOO! Despite a heavy limp, Elgin trundles up to the second rope and scoops Okada into the DEAD-LIFT SUPERPLEX! And as he grabs the leg in pain AJ nails the SPRINGBOARD 450 SPLASH for 2! PELE KICK ON OKADA! Styles Clash blocked and countered into a TOMBSTONE PILEDRIVER! ELGIN BLOCKS THE RAINMAKER WITH A SPINNING BACK FIST! BUCKLE BOMB! Okada survives that and hooks Elgin up for the RAINMAKER! SPRINGBOARD ELBOW FROM STYLES KNOCKS OKADA OUT! STYLES CLASH ON ELGIN! AJ retains at 17:19
Rating – **** – I’ve not seen too much praise for this match, but personally I think it’s better than a lot of people are giving it credit for. Despite a few of the usual triple threat problems, they actually packed quite a lot into less than 20-minutes without ever feeling like it was frantic or sacrificing quality (as we saw with Steen/Nakamura). Once again the exchanges between Elgin and AJ were solid gold, and to give credit to Michael, he clearly realised he could have done a better job selling the leg during their second match in Baltimore – and worked hard to rectify it here. Okada played his role well too, treating Elgin as a worthy competitor but really coming alive whenever the opportunity arose to get his hands on AJ Styles for some payback. As usual with ROH in 2014, it’s easy to criticise the bookers for not giving these outstanding workers more time to play with. Given how well they gelled together I think that they could really have produced a stellar, MOTYC-level showing if they’d had more time in the ring. But thankfully they were all so good that they more than made the best of what they had. AJ has a rematch with Okada scheduled for a future NJPW event, and presumably we will get Elgin/Styles III somewhere down the line in 2014.
A petulant Adam Cole doesn’t like the IWGP Title getting top billing – and storms into the ring to lay out AJ, Elgin and Okada with the ROH World Title belt. The show ends with him standing tall having sent a powerful message to Michael Elgin ahead of Best In The World 2014.
Tape Rating – **** – I came away from this show with plenty of things to complain about, but I try to be positive in my reviews and, despite some reservations, one must still acknowledge that this is an outstanding DVD. It wasn’t the all-time classic ROH event that it could have been, but after an underwhelming opener pretty much everything else is of a very decent standard. Seeing Gedo and Jado do their thing in an ROH ring was great. Liger tapping out to Cole was a memorable moment. Steen/Nakamura and Bennett/Tanahashi were both lots of fun. Silas Young stepping up to provide Mr Wrestling with one last feud before he leaves for the WWE is fantastic booking from Delirious, whilst three of the championship bouts (Bucks/reDRagon, Lethal/Kushida and Styles/Elgin/Okada) were all absolutely tremendous. I really don’t get why Court Bauer, Delirious and Sinclair were so desperate to rigidly format a three hour pay-per-view though. I understand they are preparing for Best In The World, which is their live debut on ACTUAL ppv, so they need to practice their timings – but they could have done that with Global Wars last week. This was the ‘big show’ with the New Japan guys, and they should have done everything possible to entertain the fans – not shackle the talent with diminutive time allocations. Twelve minutes for Steen/Nakamura was an absolute joke, particularly in front of a molten crowd who clearly wanted to see the two charismatic performers engage in a US Indies vs puro superstar clash along the lines of Joe vs Kobashi. Less than 20-minutes for the IWGP Heavyweight Title meant the three workers had their work cut out just to produce a solid match, rather than concentrating on delivering a killer, memorable match for the historic first defence of New Japan’s top prize on a Ring Of Honor event. Not giving Adam Cole and Jushin Liger more time meant that fans barely acknowledged Cole’s landmark submission victory over the legendary performer. This will end up being one of the better shows in a pretty consistent 2014. But it could have been one of the best ROH shows ever. The New York fans WANTED to see a candidate for best ROH show ever. Most of the talent were f*cking ON too. The only thing that held this show back was the restrictions put in place by producers, middle men and management. The exact sort of crap Ring Of Honor was founded in 2002 to rebel against. Welcome to corporate ROH folks…
Top 3 Matches
3) Jay Lethal vs Kushida (****)
2) AJ Styles vs Michael Elgin vs Kazuchika Okada (****)
1) Young Bucks vs reDRagon (****)
Top 5 Global Wars/War Of The Worlds Matches
5) Cedric Alexander vs Roderick Strong (**** – Global Wars)
4) AJ Styles vs Michael Elgin vs Kazuchika Okada (**** – War Of The Worlds)
3) Young Bucks vs Forever Hooligans vs Time Splitters (**** – Global Wars)
2) Adam Cole vs Kevin Steen (**** – Global Wars)
1) Young Bucks vs reDRagon (**** – War Of The Worlds)