Ring Of Honor, Opinions, Etc., 08.26.06

So…there seems to have been a plan at IP. We felt that Ring Of Honor wasn’t getting the amount of attention that it deserved. After all, it’s now the biggest independent promotion in the country, gets some of the biggest names to perform on its shows, sells lots of DVDs and merchandise, and yet it doesn’t get very much attention here. We let 1bullshit Junior do their press for them, and that’s just wrong. If you were a self-respecting wrestling promotion, would you want Milord and Big Johnson to be your press agents?

So, our plan was simple. ROH was doing another midwest swing, so why not get some of our local people to attend their shows this weekend and report on them? Their standard stop in the Chicago area is Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge. That’s in the near southwest suburbs. So, does IP have anyone in the southwest suburbs or on the southwest side of Chicago? Someone that has no life whatsoever and can waste a Saturday night watching wrestling? Maybe someone who went to high school a few miles away from the venue? Why, yes indeedy, we do have someone on staff that fits those criteria, and he just happens to do most of his writing in wrestling. There’s just one bit of bad news; it happens to be…

And yet Fingers decided to go for it anyway. It was a calculated risk, of course. We want to build a good relationship with ROH, yet we’re still going to take the chance of sending the most cynical, critical, jaded, angry person on staff, a person who courts controversy like a Republican courts the Religious Reich, and inflict him on ROH like a case of Ebola. Furthermore, it was a person who had only seen one ROH match in his life and has no clue about angles, characters, and most of the wrestlers that weren’t on TNA each week. Not good.

What makes it worse is that ROH triggers all of my hostile impulses. It’s been hyped to the gills since it started four years ago, and you know how much I hate hype. There was the general schadenfreude everyone indulged in when Rob Feinstein got his hand caught in the chicken jar. But the fact is that, by and large, ROH has delivered. They were able to get Christopher Daniels the attention he long deserved, for instance. They gave us two new major stars in Samoa Joe and CM Punk, two of the very rare men who’ve never had a negative word said about them by the IWC. Their successes include Alex Shelley, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, and Jay Lethal, among others. They’re getting ready to do the same with Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness. And that one ROH match I saw? It was Joe/Kobashi, and I was the one to nominate it for Match of the Year during our 2005 awards preparation. What they’re doing works. And it’s about time I venture into the belly of the beast and pass judgment on this Star Of Tomorrow Factory.

So, on this Hot August Night, I got into the Damn Vaninator and attended Brother Gabe’s Traveling Salvation Show. Did I have a good time? I wasn’t looking for a good time. I was working. Any enjoyment I may have experienced was purely coincidental. But don’t let that turn you off of reading this. Cary from ROH was worried that I wasn’t enjoying myself because I was so deadly serious and constantly scribbling in my notebook. I assured him that I was, indeed, enjoying the show and he seemed to be happy about that. Thanks for taking care of me, Cary, and pass along to Gabe and the boys my thanks for a good time.

Should I go for my particular comfort zone in recapping the evening? Actually, ROH should see it as an…well, an honor if I do so. After all, the Short Form format is usually reserved for organizations that don’t have to promote their shows by selling DVDs. It’s a way to give them legitimacy, in my mind. Of course, it’s also sheer laziness on my part, since I can do a Short Form in my sleep. And after that main event, I’m pretty much there already. So, ROH, get ready to experience what you’ve never had before…

THE RING OF HONOR SHORT FORM, AUGUST 26th, 2006, FRONTIER FIELDHOUSE, CHICAGO RIDGE, ILLINOIS

Match Results:

Shane Hagadorn over Pelle Primeau, Winner Gets Some Trophy Dark Match (Submission, wasn’t paying attention): I walked in during the middle of the dark match and decided to pay a little attention when these two guys started busting out some really nice moves against each other. Definitely cruiserweight types, supposedly products of ROH’s training academy. Very green, of course (they weren’t connecting on a good portion of their impact moves), but there’s potential there. Hagadorn operates in a My First Heel Program By Playskool mode, but he’s still learning, and he was able to draw a little heat. Kudos to Primeau, who sold his battering all the way back through the curtain. Hagadorn will definitely stop being a job boy soon. Let’s hope he can go on to some success.

Davey Richards over Alex Payne (Pinfall, double-underhook brainbuster): Alex Payne, nicknamed “Sugarfoot”, bears an incredible resemblance to Raspberries-era Eric Carmen. Davey Richards bears an incredible resemblance to a damn good technical wrestler. And, boy, does Richards work stiff. Lots of sharp-sounding kicks, chops, and high-impact stuff for a guy his size. Richards, though, has a problem. First of all, he uses one of the biggest cliche entrance themes of all time, “Runnin’ With The Devil”. Then there’s the name. It’s redolent of Stevie Richards, and if you want to be taken seriously, he’s the last guy you want comparisons with. The Davey part is also problematic. Petey Williams gets away with it because of the Canadian Destroyer. However, if he gets that brainbuster over, maybe he can overcome that as well. Richards, though, is good on the mic. After the match, he cut a very effective promo calling out the Briscoes for something that happened in St. Paul the night before (guess there were some post-match shenanigans after he and Colt Cabana beat the Embassy). He can go places too, if he makes some judicious choices about his career.

Nigel McGuinness, Jimmy Rave, and Sal Rinauro over Delirious, Jake Crist, and David Crist (Pinfall, McGuinness pins one of the Crist brothers, with what in another organization would be called a Clothesline From Hell): A match teaming up the already-over with the just-getting-over. The brothers in Irish Airborne have to be seen to be believed. Rockers circa 1988 comparisons are valid. They’ve got some damn nice combination moves, they always stay in synch, and they maintain good flow. They pulled out a fantastic double-team Lionsault and a great assisted powerbomb. They’d fit in perfectly on Smackdown right now, except they might end up showing up London and Kendrick (yes, they have that much potential). The Embassy are already masters at drawing heel heat, especially Rave. Among the chants directed at Rave during this match were “Jimmy likes balls”, “Rave’s a pussy”, and “Jimmy swallows”. Guys, save some of these for the next time Raw comes through town to use on Jeffykins, okay? By the way, they’re also pretty decent wrestlers. If you’re looking for the PG-13 of the 21st Century, the Embassy is it. And Delirious? From what I understand, he’s ROH’s main comedy figure, and he showed that to great effect in this match, essentially turning the match into pure comedy. But he does have a talent for it, and I’m sure that someone could exploit that talent to great effect (*coughECWcough*).

However, everyone was there for one thing, to see Nigel. That’s what I was there for. I’ve never seen the guy in action, and wanted to. And after this match, I can safely say that I still really haven’t seen him in action. He did one short portion in the middle of the match and came in for the pinfall, and that was about it. This upset the crowd greatly, and there were many people wondering why this was going on. I didn’t know until I came home and looked at Friday night’s results from St. Paul. Nige was in bad shape after his sixty-minute match with Danielson and was still exhausted from that effort, so they stuck him in this six-man and had everyone else do the heavy lifting. When he was in there, though, he exhibited why people are so high on him with a short chain-wrestling clinic with one of Irish Airborne. Yeah, I want another round of McGuinness on tap.

I do have to say, though, that due to his lack of action and due to the location of my seat, I can verify something: Nigel McGuinness has a pretty nice ass.

Jimmy Jacobs over B. J. Whitner (Pinfall, surprise rollup): Despite his Robert Smith-cum-Cyndi Lauper hairstyle, Jacobs didn’t seem to attract too much heel heat or attention (except for his “pull out the cell phones and wave them around” entrance). That was reserved for his valet/slut Lacey (generic blonde bimbo) and chubby-boy vagina-goateed ref Todd Sinclair, who is on a mission to make Mike Chioda and Slick Johnson look subtle. However, I came to see Whitmer, and, as was turning out to be a trend for the evening, I wasn’t disappointed. He pulled out a picture-perfect tope suicida and powerbomb during the match, just to cite two examples. The guy has skills, there’s no denying it. I just wonder about his mentality a bit. Telling someone who’s a buck seventy-five to “Come on, motherf*cker” just seems to be counterproductive. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much WWE lately.

Jacobs has some good aerial stuff, as befits someone his size, but he did make the one major f*ck-up of the night. He was supposed to ‘rana Whitmer through a table, and although I was on the opposite side of the ring, I could hear the “thunk” instead of the crunch (instead of doing the standard “you f*cked up” chant, the crowd wittily blamed Lacey for it). They quickly improvised into a ten-count spot, which gave Whitmer the chance to garner some more crowd heat. Alas, the rest was in vain, since Jacobs got the rollup victory shortly after Whitmer came into the ring. Then Jacobs showed that little guys can be nasty. He put one folding chair under Whitmer’s ankle, two chairs above the ankle, and then did a senton on top of the chairs. This allowed Whitmer to do an injury angle and me to get a smoke.

Great heat for everything Whitmer did. Jacobs is a slightly harder sell, but he seems to be working out nicely as well. Since I don’t follow ROH, I don’t know what the deal is with Lacey, but it’s great to see a valet with actual heel heat rather than indifference.

The Briscoe Brothers over Homicide and Davey Richards (Pinfall, one of the Briscoes pins Richards, springboard Doomsday Device): This was set up by the Cornette promo, in which Corny gave instructions to the Briscoes to take out Homicide by any means necessary, including getting a truck and running over his testicles. Well, they didn’t pull out the truck, but all of the guys pulled out everything else. Homicide solidified his face credentials within the first minute (something that was jeopardized by Cornette’s incredibly effective promo) by throwing his doo-rag right in the face of Chubby-Boy Sinclair.

Everyone got their moves in, with perfect transitions between. Homicide was able to pull off a top-rope inverted atomic drop and a top-rope DDT that can only be described by the word “sweet”, plus did something he couldn’t do in the Impact Zone: scream out “f*ck you” and give his opponent a piledriver. Richards was stuck playing Ricky Morton most of the match, but he was still able to get some offense in; he does a terrific bridge suplex, for instance, and he pulled out a springboard handstand Shining Wizard that made my eyes pop out. I also admire him for pulling double duty. The Briscoes…oh, they’re good. They’re really good. Their double-teams are picture-perfect, and they’re incredibly athletic. They can go places. Except for one little thing: visually, they remind me too much of the Bashams, another team pegged for greatness who fell to the rocks below the cliff. In fact, at least twice in my notes, I called them the Bashams. This is not a calculated insult, of course. It’s just that there’s a resemblance there that they have to overcome.

This match received both “this is awesome” and “ROH” chants from the audience, and deserved them. No dead spots, no screwing around, effective wrestling from everyone, and Homicide showed me that he’s more than what TNA’s allowed him to be. He deserves his rep. Bravo, and a great way to take the crowd into intermission.

Samoa Joe over Claudio Castaglioni, Grudge Match (Pinfall, Musclebuster): And what a way to come back from intermission. Here’s another thing on my short list of stuff I came to see: Joe perform live. We must examine the young master at close quarters, after all. Castaglioni entered to three distinct sounds: the Olympic fanfare, “Sledgehammer”, and chants of “Joe’s Gonna Kill You”, a spooky combination. Joe entered to the opening notes of his TNA theme segueing into LL Cool J, as is his wont.

As for the match, well, it wasn’t exactly a squash, since Castaglioni got a great deal of offense in. But you knew what was going to happen, and it happened. It was terrific to see Joe sell for a guy who’s obviously not in his league popularity-wise. Talk about a refreshing change. Of course, the roof went off when Joe hit the second-rope plancha and the Musclebuster. It wasn’t sheep-like behavior, though. It was definitely out of affection for what the guy can do. If Joe’s the Future Of Wrestling, the future is now, and he’d better be at the top of Willside’s list this year.

Unfortunately, since the result was going to be so obvious, attention started to focus on poor Claudio. Why does a guy who bill himself as being from Switzerland have dollar bill signs on his trunks? I’d like an explanation, seriously. And Claudio became the target of the crowd. The half-dozen ‘tards around me started going through every pizza-related joke in the known universe, only stopping before they actually did the “Where’s My Pizza?” chant (naturally, out of respect for ECW). Not the first disappointment I had of the crowd, and it sure wouldn’t be the last.

Austin Aries and Roderick Strong over Christopher Daniels and Matt Sydal, Tag Title Match (Pinfall, Aries pins Daniels, 450 splash): How do you follow up a match like Joe/Castiglioni? With this, one of the best tag matches I’ve had the privilege of seeing. When someone at TNA watches the DVD, I hope that person decides to hang himself in the bathroom, knowing that they could have had this match, except with A. J. Styles in place of Matt Sydal, which would have made it even better (no insult to Sydal, but there’s only one A. J.).

After the entrances, each performer was able to start up a chant of his name from the audience, with the other wrestlers encouraging it (thus emphasizing that this match was being fought on the basis of respect, ROH’s particular meme). Only after that did the match really start, and when it started…from start to finish, I just kept saying “Wow” to myself. Every little touch was perfect. Aries came out with his ribs taped, and that fact was utilized perfectly by Daniels twice during the match, when Daniels blocked a frog splash and when he put on the abdominal stretch. Aries, of course, sold like a champ. I didn’t expect anything different, of course. Aries is a true pro.

Having seen three of these guys in action before, I paid heavy attention to Matt Sydal. Definitely a bantam type, but he’s got moves that belie his stature and size. At one point, Strong attempted to clothesline him. Sydal leaped up, twisted around, and turned the attempted clothesline into a crucifix on Strong. Later in the match, he broke out a pump-handle brainbuster that made me wince. Oh, yeah, he could definitely hang with guys of the caliber he was in there with. If his size is a drawback with other, larger organizations, there’s simply no justice in this world.

The highlight of this match: a wonderful series of outside-the-ring spots that blows away anything the X Division’s done lately, culminated by Daniels pulling off a split-legged Asai moonsault. That made up for the fact that the BME only got a two. I’d be disappointed in that if I hadn’t seen the BME only getting two so often in TNA.

Again, I can only damn with faint praise. This match has to be seen by everyone, if only to prove to the WWE-only types out there that great tag matches can still happen and prove to the TNA watchers that these guys, if given a little room, can work wonders far and above what they’re allowed to do on Impact or even on PPV. If you want one reason to buy the DVD of this show, it’s this match. Oh, yeah, to top it off, post-match, Aries cut a promo that set up a match between him and Daniels on October 28th. Another reason to attend.

Bryan Danielson versus Colt Cabana, ROH World Title Match, Two Out Of Three Falls, Sixty-Minute Time Limit (Time-limit draw with each wrestler holding one fall): And here’s the reason not to buy the DVD. If you’re expecting a transcendent Ironman-style contest with great moves, great pacing, and great wrestling, well, ROH did that on Friday night in St. Paul with Danielson and Nigel McGuinness. This one was the very definition of anti-climax.

Let me clue you in on a little secret: Colt Cabana sucks. I preferred his routine and character when Glenn Gilberti was doing them, thank you. And I think Gilberti was a better wrestler. He bills himself as being from Maxwell Street. Has he been down to Maxwell Street lately? I drove by there two weeks ago. It’s all condos and luxury apartments, with Starbuckses and convenience stores and high-end supermarkets. They’ve gentrified the shabby charm out of the place. And like Maxwell Street is now, Colt Cabana is charmless. Hell, you can’t even get a good Polish down there anymore. And you can’t get a good match in this vein out of Colt Cabana. Yes, he may be good in tag teams, he may be good in short appearances, but sixty minutes is too much Cabana to Copa with.

And, yes, they had to do sixty minutes, because, hey, this is Ring Of Honor. The crowd was, of course, solidly pro-Cabana, which grew to be very depressing as the match unfolded. It was even more depressing because of the way the match was booked. Cabana got a pinfall inside of the first five minutes with a double-underhook backbreaker, and then…nothing. Nothing for the next forty minutes. I took a piss and missed nothing. I went outside for a smoke and nothing happened. “Watching paint dry” is such a cliche, but I can’t think of a better one to describe it. Fans were starting to leave, and I didn’t blame them one bit. The crowd even started to turn a bit, starting up a “Same Old Shit” chant at one point (which was drowned out by a “It Still Works” chant). When the two took the match to the crowd, the crowd starting chanting “We Can’t See Shit”. So, there was a great deal of negative reaction and grumbling going on.

Yet those who stayed popped for every little wet fart that Cabana did. He actually pulled off a Lionsault, and the roof went off. It took him over a minute to set up a simple surfboard, and he got cheers (I did like it when Cabana dropped the surfboard into a leg scissors; nice transition). My people…they’re idiots sometimes. There was a sign of hope, though. I caught a number of people mentioning how they’re sick and tired of Cabana always getting title shots in Chicago just on the basis of hometown pops. At least they’re holding up the reputation of Chicago fans being discerning and intelligent.

All this Cabana LUV was very distracting to me because I was here to see Danielson. The guy’s verging on triggering my anti-hype meter, and I wanted to see if he was for real. Yeah, he’s definitely for real. Great moves, a nice job at attempting to use some psychology (which Cabana ruined), and some nice cocky actions. At one point, he had Cabana in a standing figure-four, then proceeded to pull out the Rick Rude swivel-hips, which got a terrific pop. Very, very nice indeed. He did his best to relieve the boredom by planting Cabana in the second row, then diving out into the audience after him. And he pulled out a nice little tribute to Lance Storm (whom he resembles somewhat, albeit by crossing Storm with a Cro-Magnon and a marine) by putting Cabana into Testicle Ecstacy. I can definitely get into him.

I guess that the distress caused by watching this worried Cary from ROH, who wandered over to me and asked me if I was enjoying myself. I told him, in my best diplomatic fashion, that I thought I knew what they were going for here, and they were getting close, but hadn’t reached it. Cary didn’t ask me to elaborate, and, in retrospect, I’m glad about that. What I thought they were going for was a tribute to the legendary era of Chicago wrestling, a match that, say, Dick the Bruiser would have wrestled in 1966. Of course, there was a simpler explanation: Danielson was completely knackered from doing sixty with McGuinness the night before. Supposedly, Danielson dry-heaved after the match. So, they were taking it slow because Danielson didn’t have the energy to go all-out. Reading too much into things can embarass you sometimes.

They eventually picked up the pace in the last ten minutes or so with a host of near-falls. Unfortunately, they decided to send the audience home happy/angry. In the final minute of the match, Danielson picked up his pinfall with a Greco-Roman Ball Shot and rollup, right before the time-limit bell rang. Cabana got cheated, Danielson still had his title, the crowd chanted “Bullshit”, etc., etc., etc. For an organization that’s supposed to be on the cutting edge of wrestling (Cornette said so, twice, during his promo), they can fall back on booking so old-fashioned that Strangler Lewis would have regarded it as cliche.

Maybe I should have just gone home after the tag match.

Angle Developments:

The Great Unwashed: As everyone knows, I hate wrestling fans. However, an ROH crowd is different. It’s a wrestling crowd I can stand, namely heavy-duty smarks. There weren’t that many people wearing wrestling shirts, but those that did mainly wore ROH shirts with some old-school ECW shirts in evidence; very, very few WWE shirts, although one ‘tard did wear a Carly “Spit Or Swallow” shirt. That gave me hope. Later on, during the main event, those hopes were dashed, but at least it was there. The crowd was heavily dominated by the 18-24 Male demographic (and also heavily dominated by the Stupid Facial Hair portion of that demographic), although there were females in attendance, and they made their mark known. For instance, the woman behind me who kept screaming “Come on, Delirious” during the six-man and the woman whose shrill screams during the tag title match drew a “Holy Shit” chant from the crowd.

By the way, the crowd was around 850, a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, to quote someone who shall remain in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. The thing is, from the small talk that I was picking up from the crowd, there didn’t seem to be a lot of first-timers there, despite the great shows they had here on Wrestelmania weekend. That’s a shame, really. The ROH experience is so solid and so appealing that wrestling fans should naturally gravitate to it. It definitely appealed to me, and everyone knows how hard I am to please.

Some Actual Wrestler Sightings: Before the event, I caught Austin Aries chatting up a couple of the better-looking female ROH employees near the concession stand. He was rocking the “too cool for the room” look with the shades and the pukka-shell necklace that he probably stole from Joe. I wasn’t going to go up to him for some good reasons. First of all, he was occupied with his conversation, possibly anticipating who was going to be sharing his hotel room that night. Also, if I told him my name, and he happens to read me (a lot of wrestlers do, and more than you think, actually), he’d probably remember that I blamed him and Strong for what happened to them re: TNA, and wrestlers do have fragile egos. Also, it’d be hypocritical of me to do so after my screed a couple of weeks ago stating that wrestlers deserve their privacy as much as any private citizen. The last was the reason why I didn’t chat up Nigel McGuinness as he watched the main event from the merch table. By the way, he got bored with the match too.

The Things You Overhear: While having a smoke during the time that Whitmer was being checked on and led from the ring, I overheard a guy who does some local indie promotion talking to a buddy. According to him, despite the fact that Nikolai Volkoff is running for office right now, he can still be had for dates, at around $600 a night. Tony Atlas, despite his WWE Hall of Fame status, can also still be had, but there’s one thing he won’t do: Saba Simba. Atlas claims the costume’s in tatters, but you know he doesn’t want to be reminded of that. I thought that was interesting enough to throw in.

Definitely Not Corny: Hearing Jim Cornette doing a live, uncensored promo is the wrestling fan’s equivalent of the Hajj: in order to be a true wrestling fan, you must experience it at least once in your life. And he was on fire with this one. First of all, he came out to Cerrone transitioning into Skynyrd, which is so far beyond cool that a new category has to be invented for it. He had the Briscoes out there for protection, which was only appropriate considering the subject matter: Homicide. He started off with denying the Net reports that he was going to do a heel commissioner character, calling it one of the biggest cliches in wrestling. Then he dealt with the situation in Philadelphia recently regarding Homicide coming to the rescue during the Cage of Death. Essentially, to thank Homicide for his help, Cornette offered him any three things within his power to grant. The first two, Corny was fine with. The third, though, was to reinstate Low Ki, which Corny refused to do because Low Ki is “a pain in the ass” to deal with on a business basis (now this is how to do a work-shoot, folks). Homicide spitting in his face, he said, was the last straw, because Homicide embarassed him in front of his friends and the Philly fans. He then ended the solo part of his tirade by apologizing to the Philly people who like him, but telling Philly people who don’t like him, “f*ck you”.

A summary just seems too weak to capture this promo. Hell, a transcript seems too weak. I think even the DVD will be too weak. It had to be experienced live. Cornette has that ability to take the crowd in his hand and capture their attention completely, all while putting legitimate emotion and passion into his promos. It is an experience rather than just listening. He did ten minutes on the mic, but the entire crowd wouldn’t have minded if he did thirty. My respect for Cornette was great before this. It’s now at an unbelievable level for a manager. I think I may actually respect him more than I do Heenan right now, and that’s something that Corny would probably be mad about me saying. This is a good thing.

Ghost In The Machine: Seeing Joe live shows one exactly how much TNA has suppressed him in order to establish his monster image. The guy is engagingly human, and connects with a crowd on a human level in addition to his in-ring ability. When the crowd started a “Fuck ‘Em Up, Joe, Fuck ‘Em Up” chant, he gave a little humble smile and a shrug of his shoulders. During his promo afterward (yes, he cut a promo after the match, something that may shock anyone who’s only seen him in TNA), he started out by recounting his matches in Chicago with “his best friend in the world” (and the crowd immediately responded by starting a “CM Punk” chant), and Joe was able to get a zinger off of that by saying that Punk couldn’t be there because “he’s hunting vampires right now”. He utilized that perfectly by saying that when he comes to Chicago, he wants some real competition, and proceeds to call out Danielson. The crowd, of course, erupted, and the match was made for October 28th, whether or not Danielson still has his titles or not. I may have to attend.

So, does Ring Of Honor Live pass my acid test? Yes, it certainly does. It provided me with some familiar names in new circumstances, exposed me to some new names that I have a lot of hope for in the future, gave me one helluva tag match to appreciate in my memories, and satisfied my Inner Smark. Definitely get this one on DVD when ROH puts it out. The tag match, the Joe match, and the Cornette promo are worth the price. But eject the disk after the tag match, unless you’re some freak Colt Cabana fan, and do something more productive with the hour you’ll have not wasted.

Will I be back on October 28th? You never know, but I won’t be as hesitant as I was this time.

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