Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

My first exposure to Ring of Honor was their opening pay-per-view Respect is Earned in early July. While there was a lot to appreciate about that show, I didn’t instantly fall in love with the indy sensation as I thought I might, in fact, I marked them down in a few areas in my review. But after watching their second ppv, Driven, I’ve decided I was too hard on RoH, or I simply hadn’t yet acquired a taste for this unique and special wrestling promotion. Either that, or Driven was loads better than Respect is Earned, because I loved it. I might have to go back and review Respect is Earned again sometime soon to clear up my own controversy, but until then, here’s my take on RoH’s second ppv effort.

TODAY’S ISSUE: A look at Ring of Honor’s Driven.

The first contest, which began mere moments into the broadcast, was an “impromptu” six-man tag team match pitting Delirious and “Resilience” members Erick Stevens & Matt Cross against the “No Remorse Corps” comprised of Roderick Strong, Rocky Romero & Davey Richards in a super hot opener. Delirious incorporated his signature “Shadows Over Hell” and “Panic Attack” maneuvers while Stevens, Cross and Richards all came across like stars. Since there were six men to absorbed all the amazing offense, victims surviving so many big moves flowed into a better story than some of the matches at Respect is Earned did.

Not only did this match feature hot-yet-believable and extremely entertaining action, but I found myself drawn in, cheering for the Resilience to win. Although I was unfamiliar with most of the wrestlers in this match, I was cheering for Matt Cross and company, and was disappointed when Cross hit a gorgeous corkscrew moonsault on Romero which felt like it should have been the finish, yet Romero managed to kick out. I was even more deflated when Davey Richards snuck in to hit his wicked “DR Driver” finisher on Cross for the win. Any time a match can draw you in, make you pop for a false finish and truly care who wins, the wrestlers have done their job well. Bravo, gentlemen.

During the match commentator Dave Prazak deftly snuck in that the Resilience were without their leader, Austin Aries, due to contractual obligations to another wrestling company without ever saying “TNA”. Of course by mentioning Aries was in the audience after buying a ticket, Prazak practically told the audience that Aries would make an appearance on camera.

And appear he did, rescuing his compatriots from the post match beat-down, and declaring he was back in RoH for good, signing an RoH contract mid-ring. Aries even got in a little shot at his former employers with the line “I’m Austin Aries. This is ROH, and we are wrestling!” This entire segment was intense, and very enjoyable. Aries comes off much better in RoH than he was allowed to in TNA. It’s too bad Russo and Friends didn’t know what to do with the guy. Perhaps rather than trying to turn him into some Macho Man/Jesse The Body hybrid, they should have let him be Austin Aries, because Austin Aries comes across like a big deal in an RoH ring.

Next up was a contest between two men who were partners at Respect is Earned, Claudio Castagnoli and Matt Sydal. Apparently Sydal blamed Castagnoli for their failure to defeat the Briscoes for the tag team championships at the inaugural ppv, leading to this match and sowing the seeds for a heel turn. One word: wow! This match was well performed, well paced, and fun to watch. Both guys kicked ass and looked awesome. There were more unique counters and reversals in these nine minutes than you’re likely to see in a month of WWE programming. The high-flying Sydal got to showcase a few of his daredevil attacks, and Castagnoli utilized his superior size and strength to keep things even. Ultimately “Double C” reversed a rana into a sunset flip for the pinfall victory. After the finish, Sweet and Sour Inc. signed Sydal to their stable (although CC attempted to talk some sense into young Matt first) and proceeded to beat Claudio down, but unfortunately that storyline won’t advance since Sydal has left RoH for WWE. It’s too bad, because these two pulled me in just as much as the opening six-man match did, and I would have enjoyed a blow-off to their budding feud.

The third match was Naomichi Marufuji versus BJ Whitmer, who you’ll recall was the unfortunate victim of RoH World Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Morishima at Respect is Earned in a three-minute squash. This time, Whitmer was allowed to go for over ten minutes, and looked far more credible in the process. This was another really hot match, as Marufuji looked amazing, and Whitmer kept up with him throughout. Highlights included Marufuji’s coast-to-coast dropkick, Whitmer’s suplexes, and a nice little chopping exhibition between the two. Marufuji scored the impressive win with the “Shiranui” that he invented, which Brian Kendrick utilizes on RAW, although Kendrick refers to the Shiranui as “Sliced Bread #2”.

Fourth on the card was former SmackDown! rookie “Gunner Scott”, using his real name Brent Albright, in a vicious two-minute massacre of a graduate of RoH’s wrestling academy, young Pelle Primeau. When the opportunity to defeat the young man presented itself, Albright displayed true heel form by pulling Primeau’s shoulders off the mat before the referee could reach the count of three, opting instead to execute a devastating overhead drop into his Crowbar submission hold. Wisely, the kid wasted no time in tapping out. Live to fight another day, Pelle.

The thing that got my attention here was the original ECW quality of making someone seem impressive. Don’t get me wrong, Albright IS impressive, but in his SmackDown! run he was forced into the roles of “plucky young kid” and “Benoit clone/disciple”, neither of which set the world on fire. In RoH, he’s the hired gun and vicious submission assailant. Just like Aries, Albright seems far more impressive in Ring of Honor than with one of the “Big 2”.

Next up was the RoH Tag Team Championship match with Jay and Mark Briscoe defending against challengers Kevin Steen and El Generico. The first time I saw the Briscoes wrestle was at Respect is Earned in July, and I really found their match to be a bit too much because of the spot-fest nature, and far too many kick-outs from devastating attacks. I speculated they were trying to highlight as many impressive signature maneuvers as possible for their brand new ppv audience, and to me it hurt the overall presentation of their match.

But their title defense at Driven felt a bit better paced without sacrificing the electricity the champs bring to the ring. I enjoyed this one far more, and was converted to a Briscoe brothers fan by the time the closing bell rang to signal another successful title defense for the brothers from Laurel, Delaware.

These teams tossing each other into vacant audience chairs just looked painful, and I don’t think there’s any way a wrestler can learn to absorb that kind of punishment other than to just take it. Ouch. The Briscoes’ tandem offense must be seen to be believed; those two are amazing. Mark stomped Steen from the ring apron through a table on the floor, upon which the big man was lying prone. Ouch, again. Jay’s elevated Death Valley Driver seemed like it should have spelled the end for El Generico, but I guess a Briscoe brothers title defense isn’t likely to end without one last big double-team. So after the Generic Luchador kicked out, the Briscoes drilled him with a spike piledriver. Ouch the third.

I really appreciated this tag team title defense much more than the first one I saw. Also, Kevin Steen is amazingly agile for his size, and I loved his intensity and role as the true force behind his team. A great match, to say the least. Steen laid out both champions with a ladder after the match, which absolutely must signal a ladder match for the gold between these two teams somewhere down the line.

Sweet and Sour, Inc. performed a typically silly pro wrestling segment backstage to give the crowd a chance to catch their breath before the Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Championship was decided.

I realize they’re trying to establish Takeshi Morishima as a dominant monster champion to the new ppv audience, but at some point they’re going to have to give the folks who pay for these shows a title defense that’s more than a 4-minute squash. The champ attacked his challenger, Jimmy Rave, before the match even began – what a jerk! With his trusty Backdrop Driver, Morishima made short work of Rave, who has already appeared on TNA programming. Well, RoH certainly didn’t do him any favors on his way out the door. Fortunately, the brevity of this match gave us the opportunity to witness one of the best professional wrestling matches I’ve ever seen: American Dragon Bryan Danielson versus Nigel McGuinness in a #1 contenders match.

Even before the match began it was clear that these two men were big-time players in RoH, but Danielson in particular came across as a superstar. The crowd sang along to the lyrics of his ring entrance music, Europe’s “The Final Countdown”, while the American Dragon made his way to the ring amid laser lights and a smoke effect. Clearly the “best in the world” puts asses in seats for Ring of Honor.

This contest between Danielson and McGuinness was so amazing that I had to watch it twice just to wrap my head around all the cool spots, innovative moments, and well conceived action in the ring. The two fierce rivals utilized a series of counters and common sense maneuvers, such as blocking strikes to the face instead of taking them like the average grappler does, and wrapping up their opponent to avoid damage when vulnerable. They displayed fluid, logical offense instead of pro wrestling’s typical convoluted spots, and worked at a believable pace rather than a high-flying frenzy of excessive action. Danielson and McGuinness each utilized extremely stiff strikes, fantastic mat-based attacks and holds, and solid chain wrestling. If ever there was a pro wrestling match that resembled a legitimate professional fight or MMA contest, this was it.

McGuinness’ wicked lariats are a thing of beauty, and his “Tower of London” variation on the old Ace Crusher fits nicely into his repertoire. Danielson’s grappling, striking, and intensity help him back up his claim of being the best wrestler in the world today. In great appreciation of both men’s efforts, the Philadelphia crowd was compelled to chant, “this is wrestling!”

After the American Dragon secured the submission victory courtesy of his Cattle Mutilation hold and became the #1 contender, the two gladiators shook hands in accordance with RoH’s “code of honor”, which highlights the company’s approach to pro wrestling as an athletic competition between hard-nosed competitors. Having witnessed the age of the nWo sneak-attacking and spray painting everyone in WCW, and Stone Cold Steve Austin giving stunners to the most innocent of bystanders in the WWF, it was truly a pleasant surprise to see two men who had just pounded the life out of each other for 25 minutes show each other respect and display such sportsmanship.

The handshake was accompanied by another telling chant from the live crowd of “thank you both!” That gratitude spoke volumes about the relationship between the consumers and producers of ROH’s special product. The fans love it, and the wrestlers love giving it to them.

Simply put, Danielson and McGuinness gave us a sure-fire MOTYC, and one of the best wrestling matches in recent history. This contest was worth the price of the show on its own, and if you missed it, you really should find it somewhere.

Ring of Honor has brought back professional wrestling excitement, intensity, and passion. These warriors wipe away the pestilence of “sportz entertainment” with every fan-pleasing show, raising the bar for other wrestling promotions and securing their spot in the hearts and minds of true fans everywhere. I’d still love to see RoH get a weekly television slot at some point, but until then, I’ll drink deeply of as many $10 pay-per-views as they air.

The next RoH ppv titled “Man Up” debuts on Friday, November 30th, and I can’t wait to see what they offer next. Believe the hype – Ring of Honor is for real, and it’s for real wrestling fans.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.” – Aristotle

For more on Ring of Honor, check out Ollie Sutherland’s own report on the Driven pay-per-view, and anything from our resident RoH fanatics Pulse Glazer and Big Andy Mac.