ROH Road To Best In The World: Night Two 6/7/2014

ROH 354 – Road To Best In The World: Night 2 – 7th June 2014

It’s fair to say I wasn’t the biggest fan of Night 1 of the Road To BITW weekend shows. I have a number of frustrations with the ROH product which feel like they’ve become more and more pronounced since 2011 when Sinclair purchased the company. It feels like less and less of the programming the promotion produces is suited to my taste. As a fan of the company since it’s first year of existence, feeling like I’m so far separated from the target audience of Ring Of Honor does make me frustrated and disappointed, which sometimes seeps out through my writing. Hopefully this DVD will provide a much more positive experience. As with yesterday, much of the undercard looks pretty terrible (which is as much to do with how weak the current roster is, as it is to problems with Delirious’ booking), but there are four strong top line bouts which I’m looking forward to. Michael Bennett looks to do his Kingdom stable-mate Adam Cole a favour by weakening Michael Elgin before we reach the pay-per-view, whilst Cole himself defends the World Championship against a highly motivated Tommaso Ciampa. Silas Young and ACH lock horns in a match which has drawn plenty of critical acclaim, and our main event sees reDRagon defend their Tag Titles against the Briscoes. Kevin Kelly will, unfortunately, be working commentary alone once again. This was taped in Collinsville, IL.

Zizou Middoux vs Ethan Gabriel Owens
This is the first time Middoux has made it onto a main show for a while. He had a couple of shots last year with Mike Sydal as the #PartyBoys – and whilst they were somewhat entertaining, both of them really lacked the in-ring chops to go anywhere at that time. He seems to have ditched Sydal (just as well, he was terrible) and goes solo now, carrying a South African flag to the ring and sporting a bizarre haircut. He faces another talented up and comer looking to cement a permanent roster spot in Ethan Owens. EGO has got a few bookings recently, but hasn’t won a match yet. He did, however, beat Zizou at the first Future Of Honor event so will be looking for a repeat of that tonight.

I liked party boy Zizou more than his new generic, cowardly foreign heel gimmick. Owens punishes him early with a D’Lo Brown-esque needless pointing/posing leg drop, before driving him out of the ring to land a tope suicida. Eventually he misses a big boot on the apron, allowing Middoux to drop him on his back for 2. Zizou still isn’t that experienced, so a lot of his work consists of generic heel tactics and rather desperate posturing to the audience so they stay interested in the match. In fact, he’s so desperate for heat he even plays up to ‘What’ chants. It’s actually that distraction that allows Ethan to hit a drop suplex as he mounts a comeback. Crossbody countered into a swinging facebuster for 2 (that move must have a name), with another nearfall coming seconds later off a swinging DDT. Middoux retaliates with a pumphandle slam, but misses a phoenix splash and is finished with a swinging Rock Bottom (again, that must have a name) at 09:06

Rating – ** – Very basic, but there wasn’t really anything wrong with it. Middoux may be less interesting as a character now, but his in-ring work has noticeably improved. His moveset still seems rather limited and generic but he moves significantly more quickly, and was hitting things with far more precision and grace than he was last year. Ethan looks a good prospect, but he gains very little by floating around on the undercard like this (just ask Adam Page).

Tadarius Thomas vs Cedric Alexander
We know Alexander still has unfinished business with The Decade’s Roderick Strong, but tonight he looks to take out his frustration on one of their young boys instead. TD also cost him victory in the 6-Man Mayhem #1 contendership match last night, so he has plenty of motivation. Apparently Thomas is replacing Jimmy Jacobs, who sustained an injury wrestling Michael Elgin yesterday. It would have been good to see a backstage segment or something to explain that…

Alexander makes no secret of his disdain for Tadarius, and after refusing to shake his hand sets about trying to out-wrestle him as a way to evade any of his capoeira strikes. Eventually TD does find a way to hit one of his innovative kicks, cartwheeling to strike Cedric across the head as he tries to springboard from the apron. Thomas actually shows some personality as he beats his opponent down, including a really fun little cartwheel slap to his grounded opponent. He simplifies a lot of his other kicks, maximising their impact rather than trying to make them flashy to appeal to the crowd. Alexander retaliates with a springboard DDT but finds his attempts at the Lumbar Check blocked. Michinoku Driver instead for 2! Jimmy Jacobs comes to his protégé’s aid…before they go into a CRAZY AWESOME near miss kick exchange. Thomas lands the half nelson suplex for 2! Jacobs hops onto the apron, but is inadvertently knocked off by Tadarius before Cedric hits the LUMBAR CHECK! Alexander smirks as he picks up the victory at 07:18

Rating – *** – This was much better than I’d expected it to be. It was also TD’s best ROH performance in many months, and it seems like being a heel is really suited for him. He is a talented striker, and he showed an innate ability to hit hard and violently when needed, and also to play to the crowd to draw heat by using his more flashy kicks/slaps on occasion. Alexander makes for a solid babyface too, and both competitors were helped by a fantastic crowd who lapped up everything they did.

BJ Whitmer joins his stable-mates in the ring as Jacobs gets the microphone to give Cedric a warning ahead of Best In The World. Roderick Strong is going to break him apparently. He then calls out Cedric’s mentor Caprice Coleman so Whitmer can make an example of him…

BJ Whitmer vs Caprice Coleman
Jacobs just outlined what The Decade’s mission is for this match. Whitmer’s goal is to beat up and humiliate Coleman, thus sending a message to his former tag partner Cedric Alexander. Caprice has made himself a thorn in Decade’s side anyway, disagreeing with their treatment of the younger guys and trying to convince both Adam Page and Tadarius Thomas to abandon the group.

Caprice isn’t remotely intimidated by Whitmer or The Decade, and knocks him on his ass with a big punch in the first minute. The spinning axe kick gets an early nearfall and drives BJ out of the ring for a break. Unfortunately Coleman makes the mistake of pursuing his opponent out there. Whitmer is an accomplished brawler and wastes no time tossing him into the guardrails. Coleman is rattled by those, but retaliates with a Mind Trip into the side of the ring and the ringpost 619! Jimmy Jacobs has to come to his partner’s aid: distracting Coleman so BJ can hit a big superplex. Springboard heel kick from Coleman, only to have another Mind Trip blocked with an elbow smash to the head from the Buzzsaw. Caprice is starting to fade in the face of the relentless punishment from Whitmer, and sinks to his knees after desperately landing the Bless-TO. Did he just hit the Five Finger Death Punch? Trinity rolling northern lights gets 2, and Coleman completes a miserable weekend for the Briscoes as he counters the Exploder ’98 into a roll-up for three at 09:40

Rating – ** – Not as exciting or purposeful as the Cedric/TD match, but I don’t want to be too harsh on my rating as I really like Caprice so am pleased to see him go over. The Decade gimmick is pretty over right now, so they don’t desperately need wins – but I’m not sure having them go 0-4 this weekend does them many favours. It’s not like Roderick Strong has been winning many matches in 2014 either.

BJ, TD and Jimmy put the boots to Caprice after the match, until Cedric runs in to save with a steel chair in hand. The Decade leave, with Cedric having sent a clear message before Best In The World.

Jay Lethal is scheduled to wrestle later, but comes out in street clothes accompanied by Truth Martini and Seleziya, who is apparently back in the House Of Truth. Scarlett Bordeaux (who is ring announcing tonight) looks less than pleased to see them, which is some good continuity. Truth flat-out calls Romantic Touch ‘Rhett Titus’ and calls him out. Lethal says facing him is a joke and a waste of his time (true fact)…so agrees to face RT right now in his street clothes, and even sends Truth and Seleziya to the back.

Jay Lethal vs Romantic Touch
This is a Proving Ground Match, so there is an opportunity for Touch to earn a TV Title shot in play. Lethal will be focused on his forthcoming title defence against Matt Taven at Best In The World (apparently Ciampa isn’t involved despite being in all the televised feud so far) and is so convinced of a victory here he isn’t even wrestling in his gear. Anybody notice anything different about Romantic Touch tonight? Hint hint…

Touch blows rose petals into Jay’s face, then starts punching him in the face before ripping his dress shirt off his chest. Snuggle-monkey flip lands and, to add insult to injury, he rips Jay’s trousers off too – meaning the TV Champion is legitimately fighting in his underwear like he forgot his gym kit. He hits the Lethal Combination from nowhere, and retreats to the ropes as a concerned Truth and Seleziya rush back to ringside to comfort him. Lethal Injection blocked…and he rips Touch’s mask off to reveal MATT TAVEN! Angel’s Wings! CLIMAX! Taven/Romantic Touch wins at 05:56

Rating – *** – As a match obviously it didn’t reach 3* level, but as a piece of entertainment I felt it did more than enough to justify this rating. I’m documented as not being a fan of Romantic Touch/Rhett Titus, and I’ve gone on record as being extremely sceptical about Delirious’ ability as a booker. However to give both him and the gimmick credit, this was extremely fun and something completely unique that we’ve not really seen in Ring Of Honor before. The Taven/House Of Truth feud has been raging all year and this was certainly a neat little addition to it as we move towards their big ppv showdown. This weekend remains a colossal waste of Jay Lethal’s in-ring ability, but he is getting genuinely over as a heel now, and you his willingness to be made a fool of and wrestle in his socks and boxers is admirable.

Michael Bennett vs Michael Elgin
The mission for Bennett tonight is a simple one. His task is to soften up Elgin as much as possible before he reaches Nashville to challenge Adam Cole for the World Championship. Elgin came through a hard-fought battle with Jimmy Jacobs on the previous evening, so will feel like he’s starting to build momentum as we head towards the big show.

Bennett tries to run away from Elgin…so Unbreakable DROPKICKS him into the guardrails! Since his only job is to hurt the #1 contender tonight, Bennett doesn’t care about the rules and tries to nail him with a chair. Elgin is thoroughly unimpressed and demands that the match is made No DQ, which Todd Sinclair agrees to. It’s Unbreakable that benefits from the new lack of rules first as he starts bashing a chair across Bennett’s spine. They start clobbering each other with some fierce strikes on the outside until Elgin again seizes the initiative – this time by hitting a back suplex from the floor to the apron. Maria Kanellis comes to her fiancé’s aid and helps him sweep Elgin’s legs into the corner. HANGING NECKBREAKER ON A CHAIR by Bennett! He then rips out an entire section of the guardrail and deposits into the ring with evil intensions…though that winds up taking so long that Elgin is able to recover and ring the bell over his balls. Another chair shot and a superkick to the face but Bennett in charge again though, with the ring now full of weaponry to boot.

Box Office Smash on the floor COUNTERED with the spinning back fist! Then the Twist Of Fate is countered by sending Bennett face-first into another chair! Flying Codebreaker gets 2, only for Bennett to hit back by now successfully executing the Twist Of Fate. Go Back To Japan locked in! When Elgin stands up out of that Bennett goes for the Spear…but gets sent into the guardrail segment! That then gets positioned between two open chairs! He looks set to Elgin Bomb him through the rails…but Adam Cole runs in and levels him with the World Title belt! He’s also carrying an ominous black bag with him and pulls out zip-ties which he, Bennett and Maria use to secure Elgin to the ropes! Cole then pulls out a pair of scissors and CUTS OFF THE MULLET! Next he pulls out electric clippers and starts shaving his entire head! The Kingdom look set to bash his brains in with a chair…prompting Elgin’s wife, MsChif, to run in and ask them to stop. Bennett grabs her, and Cole gives her the choice of kissing him (with tongue) or watching him cave in Elgin’s skull. She refuses…FIGURE 4 ON MSCHIF! Elgin is so irate that he actually breaks one of the zip-ties, but can’t get to the smiling World Champion before he leaves…I guess this is a no contest at 22:30 then?

Rating – N/A – As a match this was probably in the 3* range, but as an angle it was 5*, and one of the best pieces of feud-advancement that Ring Of Honor has done since Steen and Generico in 2010. This wasn’t ‘cool heel’ wrestling heat Cole and The Kingdom were getting. This was legitimate, ‘we think you’re a son of a b*tch’ heat, with the crowd both shocked and appalled as Cole first chopped off the mullet, then shaved his head, then put his wife in the Figure 4. I’d go so far as to say that this is now the first time since 2009 and Austin Aries that it feels like we have a legitimate ‘crowd hates his guts’ World Champion – and that is a precious thing. In my mind the worst thing ROH could do now is take the World Title off Cole just when he finally has the chance to be a serious draw, with fans genuinely wanting to pay to see his ass kicked…

Elgin is freed from the zip-ties once The Kingdom have left, and promptly destroys a host of security guys who came to the ring to help.

Silas Young vs ACH
ACH apparently lives in the St Louis area (where this show was taped) so he is something of a home town favourite. Young, meanwhile, is preparing for his big ppv showdown with Kevin Steen at Best In The World. He is looking at a major opportunity to raise his stock in this company, but needs to start beating guys like ACH if he is to progress.

Young doesn’t look at all impressed by the love the crowd show ACH, and looks to make a statement by out-wrestling the smaller competitor. He realises he needs to keep things grounded and slow if he is to prosper – and wisely takes evasive action and gets as far away from the ring as possible when ACH quickens things up and looks to take to the skies for a dive. CAPTURE OVERHEAD SUPLEX by Young! He then cranks onto a camel clutch, slowing it right down again and looking to break his popular opponent. Silas is pretty flexible himself too, and bridges out from under some mounted punches from ACH to punt him square in the jaw. I also catch Silas calling ACH by what I believe is his real name (Albert) on several occasions as he grinds him into the mat. He doesn’t appear to like that at all and pops up to repeatedly blast Young with forearm smashes. Sadly he’s so beaten up that he takes far too long trying to get up the turnbuckles. ROPE RUN SUPERPLEX from Young! Pee Gee Waja Plunge blocked once…so Young KICKS HIM IN THE HEAD! He does then hit the Plunge, but only gets 2 for it. ACH retorts with some really freaky pinning combinations, with Silas barely surviving those then DESTROYING HIM with a running lariat for 2! He is such a vindictive bastard that he genuinely drags ACH up by the ear! Unsurprisingly he doesn’t take well to that, and slaps him so hard that he falls out of the ring. RUNNING CORKSCREW MOONSAULT TO THE FLOOR! 450 Splash misses…RUNNING ELBOW BY SILAS! YAKUZA KICK BY ACH! 450 SPLASH MISSES AGAIN! Killer Combo by Young gets 2! FULL NELSON CLUTCH! Young wins at 15:30

Rating – **** – A welcome return to form for both guys, who have a ton of potential but have somewhat plateaud with their in-ring work in 2014. I really liked the simplicity of this match. There wasn’t a lot of intricacy or overly complex sequences, it was the simple equation of whether ACH could use his speed and crazy moves to beat Silas Young before the veteran flat-out killed him with his rugged, no-nonsense, hard-hitting offence. The Collinsville crowd (who have been great all night) excelled themselves here and made this feel like a really big deal. I’ve been pretty down on ROH recently, so it’s really nice to see a match like this to remind me why I follow this promotion.

Adam Cole vs Tommaso Ciampa – ROH World Title Match
Not sure why this isn’t going on last. I presume the hero’s welcome the Briscoes got in Carbondale yesterday has something to do with it though. Ciampa put a really killer little promo on the internet where he vented his frustration at being looked over, and vowed to ruin all the Best In The World marketing by dethroning Adam Cole tonight and taking his spot in the main event of the ppv. These two both debuted in ROH towards the end of the HDNet era, and have locked horns a few times, sharing the wins relatively evenly. Cole won their highest profile bout in 2013 though, when he defeated Tommaso in the semi-finals of the World Title tournament, and inflicted such damage to Ciampa’s knees with the Figure 4 Leglock that he missed a TV taping as a result (in kayfabe).

Ciampa seems to be limping and has a brace on his knee again which is worrying. Cole, still getting nuclear heat from earlier, jumps him to start the match but is swiftly beaten back and has to bail in order to avoid the Bare Knee strikes. Weirdly, the champion doesn’t instantly go after Tommaso’s knee and tries to attack the neck instead. He enjoys some success but soon finds out just how fired up the challenger as he nearly has to submit to the Sicilian Stretch. OCEAN CYCLONE INTO THE APRON! That devastating blow leaves Ciampa struggling, but Cole takes so long lining up his next move that he can recover…for a GERMAN SUPLEX INTO AN OPEN CHAIR! OLE OLE KNEE STRIKES! Ciampa is dominant, despite his limp getting worse, and Cole realises he needs to take drastic action to establish himself in the match – and he does so with the Figure 4 around the ringpost, finally going after his opponent’s bad leg. Back in the ring he launches into a full-blown assault on the knee, commencing with a knee-DT. Tommaso levels him with a discus lariat, but collapses in pain himself alongside the fallen champion. SNAP GERMAN by Tommaso, followed by the Air Raid Crash for 2, even with his knee buckling under him once again. He tries Project Ciampa but can’t hit it thanks to his leg, allowing Cole to instantly sweep him into the cradlebreaker. Panama Sunrise blocked with a Bare Knee strike! He starts hitting a flurry of knee strikes…so Cole drags referee Todd Sinclair into his path! Todd is dead, and Cole uses the distraction that causes to low blow Ciampa into the Figure 4. A replacement official is on the scene as both fighters work their way up the turnbuckles. COLE SHOVES CIAMPA THROUGH THE TIMEKEEPING TABLE! Scarlett Bordeaux’s terrified scream as Tommaso’s flying body nearly snapped her in half massively added to that spot. Adam is happy with a count-out victory, and when Ciampa dives in to avoid defeat he slides straight into a Black Superkick. FIGURE 4 LEGLOCK! This is how Tommaso lost at Death Before Dishonor 11 remember, and just when it looks like he’s going to fall unconscious again he manages a last gasp roll to the ropes. CLIMBING BARE KNEE STRIKE! AIR RAID CRASH ON THE APRON! SICILIAN STRETCH! Michael Bennett runs in and knocks out the replacement referee whilst Maria hops onto the apron distracting Tommaso. BARE KNEE ON BENNETT! Cole superkicks the back of Tommaso’s head into the FLORIDA KEY…FOR 2! They botch something, although cover for it well with Tommaso’s knee injury, before working into position for PROJECT CIAMPA! Tommaso isn’t pinning properly because he’s selling the knee though…and Cole reverses the pin to win at 17:53!

Rating – **** – This was on course to be one of my favourite matches of 2014 until the finish got a little messy. Bennett and Maria’s interference was unnecessary and hugely frustrating, whilst the minor botch took the crowd out of it (when previously they had been molten). Despite those shortcomings, this was still an enthralling championship bout, and quite possibly Cole’s best defence other than Ladder War 5. Ciampa always brings the goods when he is let off the SBG undercard leash, and he was fantastic here. Somehow he managed to portray himself as an absolute bad-ass, and still sell the knee so hard he became a plucky, vulnerable underdog too. They also produced one of my favourite roll-up finishes ever – tremendously innovative, very much in keeping with the match that had gone before and a great way to protect Ciampa after one of the finest performances of his Ring Of Honor career. Best match of the weekend (so far) by a distance…

reDRagon vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe – ROH Tag Title Match
You could ask what exactly the Briscoes have done to qualify for a title shot, but as 8-time Tag Champions and the greatest team in the history of the promotion, you could equally argue that they are entitled to a title shot anytime they want. However, not since they repeatedly failed to beat AJ Styles and Amazing Red in 2003 have they had such a tough time getting the better of another duo than they have with reDRagon. Fish and O’Reilly beat them to win their first Tag Titles back at the 11th Anniversary Show, and also won the subsequent rematch at Dragon’s Reign. Can the Briscoes make it third time lucky against reDRagon, and go home with a ninth ROH Tag Team Championship?

Mark and O’Reilly start with a top quality mat wrestling exchange. Fish (who in two minutes is already more excited than he was in his entire match with Rhett Titus yesterday) tags in, but quickly retreats again after falling victim to some early Redneck Kung Fu. He and Kyle then share a loving hug after O’Reilly saves him from an Irish whip into the buckles. As you might expect, Jay Briscoe is thoroughly unimpressed with that (he doesn’t like the homosexuals) and boots the snot out of both of them. He and Kyle trade STIFF European uppercuts next, with Jay hitting so hard that it necessitates Fish coming to his partner’s aid with a cheap shot. Mark is tagged, saving his brother with more Kung Fu strikes. He and his brother start isolating Bobby, showing their years of experience as a team, before O’Reilly manages a blind tag and drives Mark’s shoulder into the ringpost. Arm wrench on the apron follows, then a shoulder-first shunt into the guardrails as the champions start opening up an injury. They pick apart Mark’s arm and shoulder for several minutes and inflict some serious damage. Guillotine choke applied by Kyle (with the bad arm captured too), whilst Fish sprints around the ring and hauls Jay off the apron to make sure there’ll be no tag even when the younger Briscoe escapes. Mark finally climbs to the top rope and dives ACROSS THE RING into the hot tag! Rude Awakening on O’Reilly, into the Splash Mountain Neckbreaker for 2. Mark isn’t remotely selling the arm now…which apparently pisses Fish off as he back drops him OVER THE RINGPOST to the floor! Knee drop/tilta-whirl backbreaker combo gets 2 for the champs as they now have a 2-on-1 advantage on Jay. They tease a Doomsday Device, and when Jay blocks that they hit an ARM-AGEDDON/DIVING HEADBUTT COMBO! FROGGY BOW to break the hold! Fish and Mark are the last men left standing, so they tear into each other with strikes. Urinage by Mark! Axe & Smash by O’Reilly! JAY DRILLER! KYLE KICKS OUT! Doomsday Device blocked with an unseen low blow (Bobby had distracted the ref), before the champs hit CHASING THE DRAGON on Mark to win at 20:07

Rating – **** – Not necessarily the most exciting of matches until the closing period, but this was such a fundamentally sound encounter and a pleasure to watch four experts in the field of tag team wrestling go at it for twenty minutes. Fish and O’Reilly have been head and shoulders above every other contracted ROH team since last summer, so this was a nice reminder that the Briscoes can still go in this environment and aren’t just gimmick wrestlers these days. If I’m being critical I’d say that Mark’s total lack of desire to sell the arm/shoulder was poor form, and I felt the finish was a little sudden. It wasn’t a frenetic, non-stop action affair like the reDRagon/Bucks matches, but still a strong main event that definitely made me want to see more of the Briscoes working as a regular, main event level team again as soon as possible.

Tape Rating – *** – Another show coming in at around two and a half hours, which in my opinion isn’t good enough and is poor value for money. These cards are consistently running too short now, and with so many matches being rushed, and not getting enough ring-time there really is no excuse for a lost half hour on almost every B-show. Once again, the undercard here was thoroughly predictable and forgettable…but thankfully in the second half things REALLY picked up. The Lethal/Taven stuff was fun, the Cole/Bennett/Elgin/MsChif angle was utterly spectacular and there were three back-to-back top quality matches to round off the show and leave me feeling much more positive about Ring Of Honor after the Carbondale show fell so flat. Cole/Ciampa and the Cole/Elgin angle make this show well worth checking out, at the very least on VOD.

Top 3 Matches
3) Silas Young vs ACH (****)
2) reDRagon vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe (****)
1) Adam Cole vs Tommaso Ciampa (****)

Top 5 Road To Best In The World Weekend Matches
5) Michael Bennett vs Delirious (**** – Night 1)
4) Silas Young vs ACH (**** – Night 2)
3) reDRagon vs Jay Briscoe/Mark Briscoe (**** – Night 2)
2) Michael Elgin vs Jimmy Jacobs (**** – Night 1)
1) Adam Cole vs Tommaso Ciampa (**** – Night 2)

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