Written by: McXal
ROH on Sinclair – Episode 224 – 2nd January 2016
So it’s been more than a year since I last reviewed any Ring Of Honor, which is crazy to think about. It’s not strictly true to say I’ve not watched any ROH in that time, as I’ve attended at least one show on every one of their recent UK tours and I’ve tuned into a couple of pay-per-views, but I just haven’t found the motivation to sit down with my laptop and do a write-up. I can’t entirely blame my issues with the product. Sometimes life gets in the way as well (my wife and I have conceived and welcomed our second child since I last reviewed any ROH!)…but the problem is when I have found time to watch pro-wrestling, there are other companies I enjoy more. If I want to watch wrestling for fun I tune into NJPW or take in a UK independent show. I adored Lucha Underground and have had a blast reviewing their first two seasons. The hard work and fiercely independent spirit of SHIMMER means their shows are always enjoyable. Set that against a backdrop of an ROH product I was already losing interest in, with a booker I don’t rate, narrated by a commentator despise (Kevin Kelly) and the pending departure of the vast majority of the guys on the roster that I actually like. But I’m not putting it off any longer, and with 2019 set to be an interesting year for ROH thanks to a MSG sell-out (which seems mad to even type) and another host of rumoured talent exits looming it seems as good a time as any to jump back in time to 2016 and pick up where I left off.
And what was the landscape in ROH when I saw them last. The Young Bucks had inked full-time contracts and looked set to become a focal point of the company due to their outrageous popularity. Jay Lethal stands tall as World Champion and sent AJ Styles packing after triumphing in the Final Battle main event. War Machine are the new Tag Champions with Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis on their way out the door too. Roderick Strong is TV Champion, and leads an outrageously loaded roster featuring the likes of Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Alex Shelley, ACH, Cedric Alexander, Matt Sydal, Christopher Daniels et al. Michael Elgin is #1 contender but wants to take his title shot in NJPW (and is on his way out too). We are preparing to go on the Winter Warriors Tour, then to Japan for some cross-promotional events with New Japan, and then on to Vegas for the big 14th Anniversary Celebrations. For now we’re back in Philadelphia, PA for the Final Battle fallout. Kevin Kelly and Mr Wrestling III (finally making his TV debut on commentary I believe) will call the action.
Roderick Strong kicks off another year with this company. Fans goad him for tapping to Bobby Fish at Final Battle, but crucially he is still TV Champion and wants to continue with his ‘Roddy vs The World’ gimmick that he’s apparently started (did I miss that?) with an open challenge tonight…
Roderick Strong vs Stevie Richards – ROH TV Title Match: Given that this is taped in the old ECW Arena, Richards inevitably gets a big pop. Having another ECW-alum (Corino in a mask) point out that this is the very building he became famous in is quite a poignant moment. He was in a Proving Ground Match with Jay Lethal in late 2015 and handled himself admirably. He’s in much better shape than most ex-ECW talents and looked comfortable keeping up with the World Champion. Does he have enough juice left in the tank to spring a colossal surprise by defeating Strong for the TV Title instead?
Stevie confidently trades holds with Strong, giving as good as he gets in an evenly matched opening period. Strong lands the first substantive offence with the Olympic Slam for 2. But just when he looks set to start punishing Stevie’s back the challenger retaliates with a back suplex. Back from commercials and still Roderick is struggling to maintain control. He unloads a savage jumping knee strike just to stop Richard throwing punches…but hops to the top rope and eats STEVIE KICK as he perches on the turnbuckle. Stevie-T gets a nearfall as Richards continues to surprise the over-confident champion. Muso blocked…Stevie Kick COUNTERED TO THE CRADLE BACKBREAKER! Death By Roderick nailed…SICK KICK COUNTERED WITH THE STEVIE KICK FOR 2! STRONGHOLD BY STEVIE! Roderick is very familiar with that hold so knows how to escape it though. He kicks free and uses the urinage backbreaker to pull Richards into his version of the Stronghold…only for Stevie to grab the ropes. JUMPING KNEE! He just KO’d Richards and retains the title at 07:48 (shown).
Rating – *** – Holy cow was that ever fun. They didn’t get long, but the way the flipped the script on the usual Roderick Strong match was brilliant. Stevie looked even better here than he did in the Lethal match a couple of months ago, although admittedly he was in the ring with one of the most in-form wrestlers on the planet at this point in time. Strong retains the belt, furthers the ‘Roddy vs The World’ gimmick which is a thing now…and all in this was an entertaining way to get the year started.
Bobby Fish interrupts Strong’s victory celebrations. He’s suited and booted, ready to host an impromptu live edition of The Fish Tank! Roderick doesn’t look thrilled, and it’s all an excuse to show stills of him tapping out at Final Battle. He calls Fish a sore loser then storms off…
Will Ferrara vs Caprice Coleman – No DQ MatchLast time these two did battle the match had to be thrown out because they both tried to use weapons. They are apparently both fuelled by the mysterious letters that Prince Nana gave them, and no enter this with scores to settle, names to be made and no rules to hold them back.
Coleman grabs a microphone and antagonises ‘Willy’…so Ferrara knocks him out of the ring and bulldozes straight through him with a tope suicida. Body shots and a heel kick knock him back though, and Caprice nabs the leather belt of a ringside security guy to use as a weapon. Cleverly Will counters by using the belt to jerk Coleman towards him, right into a German suplex. Just like last time they grab steel chairs, and with no rules to hold them back they swing at each other with gusto. Rebound tornado DDT by Ferrara, but it’s countered into the TRINITY THROUGH A STEEL CHAIR! Coleman keeps hammering on Will with the chair…only for Ferrara to no sell and give him a DDT on the same chair for 2. Ferrara brings a table in and opens it up in front of Caprice as he climbs the ropes. SKY SPLITTER THROUGH THE TABLE BY CAPRICE! He wins at 05:44
Rating – *** – Probably a little generous, but f*ck it. My biggest problem with ROH has been that it’s too safe, too predictable and too conservative. At least here they gave two unappreciated wrestlers a little time, no rules and more of a leash to go out and entertain the fans with wild spots. And they had some good stuff tucked in there. I’m on record as thinking Caprice is under-rated, and he delivered on both a character and in-ring level during this. That finishing spot was wild too!
Cedric Alexander vs Jonathan GreshamAt Final Battle Alexander and Veda Scott crashed the show with an announcement that they’d settled terms with ROH and come to an agreement whereby we’d be seeing much more of them in 2016. It didn’t work out that way, and it now seems odd that they are kicking that angle off with an enhancement match against Gresham, who by 2018 would go on to become a core part of the roster. It’s not a debut for Gresham, who has popped up a couple of times since debuting back on HDNet.
The one thing that holds Gresham back has always been his height, as even Alexander towers over him. He acts like a dickhead and quickly beats Jon down. It forces Gresham out of his comfort zone; trying to trade strikes rather than use his grappling skills. He does show impressive ability to counter Cedric’s Three Amigos spot then rock him with a big dropkick. A flying crossbody finds the mark as well then he climbs up Alexander’s body into the Octopus Hold! Cedric looks set to tap until Veda hops onto the apron as a distraction. 540 Kick, followed by repeated IED’s then the Lumbar Check look to have polished Gresham off…but Cedric takes an eternity posing to the fans. He lounges back into a cocky pinfall without looking, and gets CRUCIFIX PINNED! GRESHAM WINS! What a shock at 03:32
Rating – N/A – I’ve liked Gresham every time I’ve seen him wrestle, be it on DVD or live in person at UK shows. He’s such a talented pure wrestler, he’d be a major star if he wasn’t quite so short. I’m not sure ROH can be that picky with the talent they are losing, and I thought it was brilliant to see him win here. Obviously it’s just to further the angle they are working with Cedric, but Gresh handled his end of the deal well here and got a huge pop for the win. I’d happily watch these guys get a longer match…
Donovan Dijak vs Michael ElginQuite cleverly, this is airing two days before Wrestle Kingdom, the New Japan show at which Elgin has chosen to receive the World Title shot that he earned by winning Survival Of The Fittest last year. Dijak’s mission is simple: injure Lethal’s next challenger (and former House Of Truth member himself) as much as possible to make Jay’s life easier. Lethal himself is in Dijak’s corner (by way of a weird, awkward confrontation with former ROH Champion Jerry Lynn)…
Elgin almost takes Dijak’s head off with an early elbow strike which should set the tone for a physical match. Donovan retaliates with a massive boot to the face…only to be decked by a stocky tackle by Unbreakable. PRESS SLAM BY ELGIN! It’s incredible power to get a guy the size of Dijak up for that, and even more remarkable when he follows it with a stalling suplex for 2. SPINNING KICK OFF THE APRON by Donovan sends Elgin to the floor and has Truth Martini celebrating with a Spin-A-Roonie! Donovan drags the SOTF winner back inside for his impressive release suplex spot. Elgin hits an impressive suplex spot of his own – an exploder suplex out of the corner – before leaving the ring to execute his slingshot splash. DEAD-LIFT GERMAN gets 2! Elgin Bomb countered with the Chokeslam Backbreaker. DIJAK MOONSAULT NAILED FOR 2! He lines up Feast Your Eyes but can’t get past Elgin who clubs at his neck like an axeman. ROARING ELBOW! DEAD-LIFT FOLDING POWERBOMB! ELGIN BOMB! Big Mike takes the win at 08:15 (shown)
Rating – *** – Well this was a solid little match too. I’m sure they could have better matches under different circumstances, but when given less than nine minutes for a TV main event they more than made the best of it. It was an engaging and physical ‘hoss battle’, featuring plenty of big strikes and some amazing feats of strength from both men. Dijak is exceptionally agile for his size and it’s no wonder the WWE would soon take an interest in him. If he could ally a believable character to his considerable physical gifts he’d be a sensational prospect.
Lethal hops into the ring to staredown with Elgin, who simply smirks and bides his time until they reach the Tokyo Dome…
Tape Rating – *** – Ring Of Honor came out swinging with its first episode of 2016 and did a decent job. Three good matches (plus the brilliant Gresham upset of Cedric), all worked in different styles but all equally rewarding. Strong/Richards was a hot way to start, and Fish’s appearance ensures we still have a hot feud over that belt as the new year progresses. Coleman and Ferrara had a blast beating each other up in a no rules environment, and the main event was a big, physical slug-out which had plenty of merit to it as well. I don’t like four-episode shows as a rule, since it compresses everything so much that none of them get enough time (and there’s little scope for any storyline or character development – not that Delirious pays much attention to those anyway). But, if they want to do four-match episodes, this is the way to go about it!