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ROH on HDNET 3/14/2011

ROH on HDNet – Episode 099 – 14th March 2011

I know there is still an episode left to broadcast after this show, but this is technically the last episode in the ‘regular’ series of ROH on HDNet. After this episode they took a three week break before finally airing Show 100, which was basically a farewell to the network with a blockbuster 6-man tag taking up most of the night. Which means that, as a ‘regular’ night of ROH action, this is their farewell to HDNet, and their only chance to use TV exposure to hype the Plymouth/Manhattan weekend coming up, as well as the huge Atlanta iPPV’s at the start of April. Already scheduled for this evening is the final of the Top Prospect Tournament with Kyle O’Reilly and Mike Bennett going one-on-one, along with Kyle’s ‘Team Richards’ friends showcasing their MMA skills in an exhibition bout. Mike Hogewood and Dave Prazak will call all the action from Philadelphia, PA.

The show opens with another lovably naïve Bravado Bandwagon promo – in which Lance and Harlem express their belief that 2011 is definitely going to be their year.

Bravado Brothers vs Grizzly Redwood/Bobby Dempsey
I suppose they had to put Bobby on TV at least once more to legitimise his presence in the Top Prospect Tournament. All four of these guys are familiar with each other having come out of the ROH wrestling school together. Will the momentum of the Bravado Bandwagon carry them to victory over their classmates tonight?

Before the match Corino warns Grizzly and Bobby that he doesn’t trust the Bravados and they should be careful. Harlem shows those to be wise words by using the Code Of Honor to put Bobby in a wristlock. Prazak says Grandma Bravado made her boys a ‘hearty breakfast’ this morning which is good to know. Predictably, much of the early action is hugely basic and largely uninteresting. The Bravados quickly isolate Redwood, hitting the back suplex neckbreaker for 2 and keeping him well away from Dempsey. The tag does eventually come and Bobby waddles into the ring for his trademark fatty offence. The Bravados scratch out a win with the world’s worst Total Elimination at 04:21

Rating – * – A star for the Bravados winning and all their pre-match interview time since most of the in-ring stuff here was a complete waste of my time. Lance and Harlem have potential but need to be in the ring with better guys than this if they’re going to improve. Redwood is decent as well, but we’ve seen both his and Bobby Dempsey’s act a hundred times over by now. In pointless, thrown together undercard matches their lack of talent, ability and the fact they just don’t LOOK like good wrestlers really hurts my enjoyment of what they do…and makes the whole product look amateur

Davey Richards vs Tony Kozina – PANCRASE Rules Match
I made my feelings pretty clear that I don’t like how this is being presented. I am all for presenting ROH’s product as more of a ‘real sport’ and giving it a more realistic vibe as opposed to going for over-the-top characters and gimmicks. Ironically, had they done that from the start they maybe would have had a better chance of staying alongside HDNet’s ‘YOUR HOME FOR MMA’ stream of shows and not got ditched from the network. But last week Davey really heavily implied he’d be a better wrestler because he was training in ‘real fighting’, which I don’t think is great promotion at all. It also makes no sense that Kozina goes from jobber who falls off the turnbuckles and out of the ring for no reason, to a guy who wants to fight MMA matches. Anyway, these two are training partners in the St Louis region and want to showcase the mixed martial arts skills they’ve learnt under PANCRASE rules for ROH on HDNet.

Jim Cornette and Kyle O’Reilly take over commentary, even though Kyle would probably be better served preparing for his big match with The Prodigy. Davey starts by booting Kozina in the head and flooring him. He keeps going for the strikes, then mounting Tony once he’s floored…whilst Kozina keeps trying to grapple Richards and stay away from the strikes. He drops Richards on his previously concussed head with a Saito suplex then knees him in the head. Davey counters his choke to an armbreaker then starts battering him with kicks and knees. He wins with mounted palm strikes in 04:13

Rating – DUD – You know what the irony is? If they hadn’t have made such a big deal of the whole fake-MMA thing and just gone out and worked this match I think people would have LOVED the whole worked-shoot hybrid style and really enjoyed four minutes of these two beating the sh*t out of each other. It also would have got Kozina way more over, which I presume is what Davey wants for his friend? But this whole PANCRASE exhibition format was totally bogus and killed it for me.

The familiar music of The Embassy starts to play…and Prince Nana comes to the ring flanked by Princess Mia, Ernesto Osiris and his ‘barrister’ RD Evans. Nana has rebuilt The Embassy with Evans’ help and tonight he is ready to debut his latest ‘project’ – Tommaso Ciampa

SIDENOTE – If you’ve seen Colt Cabana’s ‘Wrestling Road Diaries’ DVD, Ciampa is the guy that Colt wrestles in front of about 30 people at a ‘CTWE’ show early in the movie. Since then he’s clearly been hitting the gym and the tanning salon as he’s much bigger and several shades darker.

Tommaso Ciampa vs Mike Sydal
I’ve read people giving the newcomer mixed reviews. Some of the stuff he was doing before he came to ROH in various other indies was being highly praised…but the reaction since he made his way to this company has been decidedly mixed. Prince Nana is an enduring, popular and very marketable act so ROH needs to figure out a way to keep using him. If they can use him to give a young guy like Ciampa the chance to make an impression then it can only be a good thing. Given the rate Embassy members have been coming and going since their comeback in 2009, I wouldn’t have thought ROH will think twice about removing Ciampa again if he doesn’t cut it.

Tommaso is either wearing concrete shoes or dude needs to walk faster as his entrance takes an ETERNITY. He blows my concrete shoes theory straight out of the water by jumping OVER Todd Sinclair into a dropkick on Sydal. He nearly snaps Mike’s leg off trying to bend it behind his head, then tosses him out of the ring where Mia Yim is waiting to superkick him in the face! Mike comes back to the ring to land an enzi kick but is quickly floored again with a clothesline. PROJECT CIAMPA NAILED! That’s a powerbomb lungblower variant, and it’s his finish. He wins the match at 02:20

Rating – ** – Entertaining little debut sequence for the new Embassy members there. RD Evans has the perfect facials for a corporate stooge, Mia runs the line between hotness and bad ass that is required for her character whilst Ciampa (after his moronically slow walk to the ring) came off very well – particularly with that outstanding finishing move which fans will love.

4TH APRIL 2011 – ROH on HDNet ends with a huge 6-man tag pitting Davey Richards and the Briscoes against Roderick Strong and the Kings Of Wrestling.

Kyle O’Reilly vs Mike Bennett – Top Prospect Tournament Final
When you looked at the 8-Man field that started this tournament, these two were definitely two of the outstanding talents and have beaten some tough competition to get here. O’Reilly fought past the feisty debut of Jon Gresham, then emerged the unlikely victor in after a hell of battle with the House Of Truth’s powerhouse Michael Elgin. Bennett had the toughest 1st round match as he had to fight past Kyle’s tag partner Adam Cole, before enduring a kick rampage from Andy Ridge in the semis. In different ways, both of these two would be worthy winners – but which one will take the victory and get a head start in their bid to progress up the Ring Of Honor career ladder.

After two great matches so far, this crowd are right behind O’Reilly from the outset. He goes right for the cross armbreaker but Bennett’s strength enables him to block it. He scores with a few kicks which Mike shows great endurance to absorb then pops up to floor him with a standing dropkick. O’Reilly kicks him off the apron but misses a pescado. MISSILE DROPKICK OFF THE APRON INSTEAD! That sent Bennett crumpling through both a chair and the guardrails! But Bob Evans comes into play, distracting Kyle and allowing Bennett to hit a jumping knee to the back. Under Bob’s instruction Mike takes him all the way up the entrance ramp! O’Reilly hits a knee strike…DDT ON THE METAL! Bennett just turned his lights out and now sprints back to the ring looking for a count-out victory. O’Reilly’s ‘wobbly knees’ selling on the long walk back up the aisle is flat-out awesome! The Prodigy is devastated, but grabs him and puts him right into a surfboard to stretch out that back in preparation for his Side Effect move. Kyle counters out in spectacular fashion with a back suplex, but that hurts him as it does Bennett at this point. Kick combos, then a body-sacrificing somersault senton get 2 before Bennett shuts him down again – this time with the spinebuster. O’Reilly lands a tornado DDT then a missile dropkick but still Bennett kicks out! Triangle Choke locked in…but Bennett counters out into a bridging pin! Side Effect COUNTERED to a front choke! Mike starts ramming his back against the buckles but he hangs on! COUNTERED BACK TO THE SIDE EFFECT! Bennett wins at 10:01

Rating – *** – Another fun little match but I’m really disappointed (particularly with so much time left in this episode) that they couldn’t let these two go longer than 10 minutes. My big criticism of the Field Of Honor way back in 2003 was that it didn’t make any of the midcarders into main eventers because it was just midcarders working midcard level matches with OTHER midcarders. And the reason the Race To The Top Tournament worked so much better was that El Generico and Claudio Castagnoli contested a genuinely top quality main event to end the tournament and both came out better for it. This whole tournament has just been the young guys working little spotfest sprints against each other, and ultimately not looking ready for the main events as a result. We knew Mike Bennett was cocky and could go in matches like this. We knew what an explosive and exciting talent O’Reilly was. This was a super-fun match, but by not letting them work an ‘ROH main event’ style match, it does nothing to elevate either man. Credit where it is due because this was entertaining as hell, as were all of Kyle’s matches in this tournament. But both of these guys deserve the tag of ‘top prospect’…and honestly the booking of this match didn’t do much to help either of them progress.

Kyle Durden congratulates The Prodigy, who acts as if winning the tournament was just a formality. Then he turns on Steve Corino and berates him for his support of O’Reilly. He summons the King Of Old School into the ring to gloat and crack ‘old man’ jokes at his expense. Corino and Bennett have a pretty intense verbal showdown, occasionally ruined by Bob Evans’ involvement…which breaks Corino’s resolve to be a good guy and he tries to fight both of them. Of course, the numbers advantage is too much and the show ends with Bennett and Brutal Bob beating up the former ECW Champion.

Tape Rating – ** – There were some good aspects to this episode – particularly in the second half. In fact, whilst the actual quality of the wrestling hasn’t been as good, one thing I’ve loved about these last episodes of ROH on HDNet is how much work has gone into trying to get fans to KEEP watching once the show ends. Tonight you had Davey debuting his new MMA-influenced style looking to appeal to a different market of potential fans. The ‘new’ Embassy debuted too, with Tommaso Ciampa, Mia Yim and RD Evans all looking like fun additions to the previously very stale stable…and the entire Top Prospect Tournament has afforded new talent like Bennett, O’Reilly and Elgin a real opportunity to shine. Sure I’m disappointed as a hardcore ROH fan that Bennett and O’Reilly didn’t get the chance to really tear the house down in a stellar main event tonight. But the priority here wasn’t to appease existing paying customers like myself. Their 10-minute match was plenty enough to please me, and the match, along with the post-match angle may well have done enough to tempt a few people to go to the website, go to the live shows, buy a few DVD’s and keep following ROH once the show ends. Something I’ve struggled with throughout the ROH on HDNet run is that guys like me, existing customers, aren’t really the focus or target audience of the show at all. Sure I’m important, but the whole thing exists to grow the fanbase and get more money coming in. If fans like me were enough to pay the bills, the product would be very different, and Gabe Sapolsky would still have a job. But the reality is it’s not, and ROH needs to be looking to the mainstream fans, to the MMA market, to fans who are used to watching heels like Mike Bennett and more. As much as the Richards/Kozina exhibition sucked, or I wanted the main event to go longer, I can still hold my hands up and appreciate what Ring Of Honor is trying to do.

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