Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

This weekend, cable and satellite providers aired the third pay-per-view offering from the promotion many consider the best all-around professional wrestling company today, Ring of Honor. Man Up followed in the footstep of its two predecessors, Respect is Earned and Driven, by making another solid contribution to the foundation of ROH’s burgeoning pay-per-view business.

TODAY’S ISSUE: ROH’s Man Up pay-per-view

As regular readers will remember, I found the inaugural ROH ppv a bit cluttered and difficult to digest in one sitting but I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they tried to hit new fans with as much content as possible to help guys like me learn what Ring of Honor was all about. Next came Driven, which was quite simply one of the most enjoyable top-to-bottom wrestling shows I have ever seen, so I was really looking forward to Man Up. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the third ppv from ROH.

As Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard opened the show with the usual fanfare and a quick promo by Nigel McGuinness, an ‘unscripted’ moment occurred when a man in a black hooded sweatshirt and ski mask grabbed Prazak’s microphone and rattled off something about the “age of the fall” before security tackled him, while a ‘visibly shaken’ Leonard screamed, “Go to the open, go to the open,” so the production crew wouldn’t show this moment live on the ppv. Which is exactly what they did. This intrusion was a harbinger of what was to come later in the evening.

Four Corners Survival – Nigel McGuinness v. Naomichi Marufuji v. Claudio Castagnoli v. Chris Hero. Marufuji is as good as it gets, Double C is very talented and capable in the ring, McGuinness is the man, and Hero can hold his own with opponents of this caliber. Unfortunately, this match type doesn’t allow for much development or build, and lends itself more to a spot-fest.

If nothing else, this was a solid adrenaline boost to kick-start the show. There’s no harm in the occasional fast-paced, frenetic opener to get things rolling, as long as it’s short and fun, and the other matches on the card build off the momentum once the crowd has been primed. From that perspective, I have no complaints here.

Thankfully this was far better than the last four-man opening contest I saw on an ROH show. Namely, the Unified event from Liverpool, England in August of 2006, which I recently enjoyed on DVD thanks to Mr. Glazer. After several minutes of action, McGuinness scored with the rebound Jawbreaker Lariat on Castagnoli for the victory. Of course, since McGuinness is the reigning heavyweight champ in “real time”, it was easy to predict his victory in this match. Inoffensive curtain-jerking fun.

The No Remorse Corps v. The Resilience – Best of Three One-On-One Matches. When properly executed, faction warfare has the ability to focus mid-card action and transform feuds from seemingly unimportant to visceral blood vendettas, making any match between the two sides that much more important and therefore more enjoyable to wrestling fans. The epic NRC versus Resilience saga has done exactly that.

Match 1: Rocky Romero v. Matt Cross. The story of this match was the unorthodox athletic, gymnastic style of Cross against the stiff striking of Romero, with Rocky’s dangerous submissions holds looming in the background. While Cross took the early advantage, keeping Romero off balance thanks to his stunning array of unusual attacks, Romero eventually knocked Cross out for the win with a brutal kick to the head, as the NRC stepped out to a 1-0 lead in the series. This was a strong first battle in the NRC/Resilience war to be waged in the Frontier Fieldhouse.

Match 2: Roderick Strong Davey Richards v. Austin Aries. In typical heel stable fashion, the NRC tricked Aries into “committing” to this match under the false impression that he was about to get his hands on his former world championship tag team partner, but it was the old bait-and-switch. Once Aries entered the ring, Storm ran away and Richards took the match himself. If I had to use one word to describe this contest, it would be intensity. Aries had an axe to grind with the NRC since rejoining ROH at the last ppv, and while he had his sites set on Strong, Richards got to bear the brunt of Aries’ anger, but Davey held his own quite well throughout the contest.

Of course this being a best of three series, it was a foregone conclusion that Aries would score the win for the Resilience, evening the series at one fall apiece. He did exactly that by hitting his vaunted combination of a Brainbuster followed by a gorgeous 450-splash.

Match 3: Roderick Strong v. Erick Stevens. With the series tied, the last members of each faction were left to determine which side would emerge victorious. Strong had Stevens outgunned in the experience department, so Erick turned to his power and strength to hang with the reigning FIP heavyweight champion. Stevens was calm, cool, and collected as he plowed his way through the opening moments of the rubber match, but Roderick weathered the storm to take over, showcasing his one-of-a-kind chops and his punishing, aggressive style.

Late in the match, the two displayed their will to win in a brutal exchange of chops that hurt MY chest. Typical hard-hitting ROH style right there; you gotta love it. After a stiff kick to the head of Stevens, Strong drilled him with a half-nelson backbreaker, and that should have been the end. But concerning big finishers ending a match, ROH fans know by now that once is rarely enough. Stevens’ kick-out was unlikely to say the least, and the match continued.

But Stevens’ determination and heart were not enough to defeat Storm, and the leader of the NRC hit a wicked modified Splash Mountain Bomb off the top rope, then quickly nailed the Gibson Driver for the win, taking the match and the series for the No Remorse Corps.

As the leader of the Resilience, Aries did the classy thing, entering the ring to assist his fallen comrade and ensuring the crowd paid Stevens his due, which they were all too happy to oblige. If the NRC/Resilience war lasted for another two years, I think I’d be okay with that. There’s such a strong rivalry between the factions, resulting in hard-fought matches and intense competition between them whenever they face each other. WWE would likely have spread these three matches throughout the card, but having them back-to-back was more fun for this fan.

Next came highlights from a show in Hartford, CT featuring Nigel McGuinness defeating Adam Pearce, B.J. Whitmer, and my closet-favorite Delirious in a Four Corners Survival match. After the contest Pearce, Hagadorn, and Brent Albright attacked Delirious. With a little manipulation by Pearce, Whitmer joined forces with Pearce and Albright to form the new “Hangmen 3”, who disgustingly stapled Delirious’ mask to his head, and thankfully Pearce’s rant about why they perpetrated this heinous act was well thought out and logically delivered. I never have a problem with pro wrestling “ga-ga” when it makes sense and builds heat. This Hangmen 3 faction appears to be a force to be reckoned with in Ring of Honor.

ROH World Heavyweight Championship Match – Takeshi Morishima v. Bryan Danielson. The American Dragon earned this shot by defeating Nigel McGuinness in the main event at Driven. In addition to the title, he was also seeking revenge on Morishima for seriously injuring his eye at Manhattan Mayhem II. Daniels was forced to wear an eye patch for this championship contest, but Morishima publicly claimed before the match that he would not take advantage of the injury he caused, wanting to successfully defend due to his wrestling skill alone.

The action quickly spilled to the outside, as the champ is very comfortable when things break down. Morishima has no problem using the environment outside the ring as an ally against his challenger. Danielson answered the champ’s vicious attacks with heart, desire, and intensity, as the clear crowd favorite chopped down the larger title-holder. Dragon weakened the champion with the Triangle Choke hold and the Surfboard followed by the Bow-and-Arrow, all in sequence. His focus was obviously on wearing down and out-lasting the heavier Morishima. Not a bad strategy, since Danielson has no chance of ever overpowering the Japanese monster.

Continuing the theme, Dragon rode Morishima’s back with a sleeper hold, but the champ continued to utilize his superior mass and power to keep himself in the match. Danielson floated over from a Tiger Suplex into Cattle Mutilation, but even his ace-in-the-hole submission hold was not enough to defeat the behemoth champion. Morishima continued to power himself out of trouble, refusing to lose.

The champ nailed a huge Backdrop Driver, and only proximity to the bottom rope saved the gutsy former world champion from certain defeat. After a brutal charging lariat, Morishima went back on his word, removing the eye patch from Dragon’s head and punching him square in the orbital bone, firmly establishing himself as the evil heel champion from that moment forward. Fair play was now out the window.

The champ continued to mercilessly attack Dragon’s eye until referee Paul Turner was forced to stop the match to prevent Danielson’s eyesight from perhaps being permanently damaged. That was a unique, and in this case very satisfying finish. How irresponsible would it have been in “real life” if an appointed official allowed a professional athlete to be maimed during a contest he had the authority to stop? Boxing referees stop matches all the time, and the way ROH handled this stoppage worked perfectly from a storyline perspective. I’m already salivating for the next time a fully healed American Dragon gets his hands on Takeshi Morishima. Call it a shortcut, but the champion always does anything and everything he needs to do in order to retain his crown.

ROH World Tag Team Championship Ladder War – The Briscoe Brothers v. Kevin Steen and El Generico. Let’s get this out of the way now. A ladder match involving the Briscoes is not going to feature a great deal of psychology, storytelling, transitions, realistic fighting style, selling, or logic. What it will deliver is more exciting, high-risk, fast paced offense than you could ever hope for, a few “Holy shit!” chants, and a couple of maneuvers the average fan has never seen before.

Ring of Honor’s first ladder match started with a bang as the Briscoes wasted no time taking it to their challengers. Things broke down in violent fashion with Steen literally throwing Mark over the ringside barrier into the crowd, while El Generico and Jay assaulted one another with chairs. The outside action was undeniable ugly. These four men tried to tear each other apart, and the hatred between the teams was palpable. By the time the ladder came into play, the champs and the challengers had all endured a full match worth of wear and tear.

I was disappointed to see Generico do the ultra-slow ladder climb; I expected more from ROH in that regard. I guess they were limited by the match format, and Steen did a more realistic job of climbing, as did Mark Briscoe. Damn, the belts were HIGH above the ladder, and the crowd chanted “please don’t die!” while Steen attempted to yank Mark down from the top rung.

The Briscoes launched Generico with a signature big beale, and he crashed through the ladder, bending it in the process – ouch! The next ladder introduced was much taller, which makes title belt retrieval easier, but bumps that much harder. Jay took a big bump off the tall ladder onto the ladder Generico had crushed earlier, which drew cheers of “ROH” from the appreciative Chicago crowd, followed by the classic “This is awesome!” chant.

With Jay Briscoe trapped between a ladder and the corner, Generico hit him with a Yakuza Kick, crushing Briscoe between it and the turnbuckles. A damaging shot for sure, but what followed was even worse. Steen powerbombed Mark from the ring to the outside, through a third ladder set up horizontally as a bridge across the ring apron and the barricade. Briscoe only brushed the ladder on his way to the cold, hard floor, and I have to think he intended to hit more of the ladder and less of the concrete on that bump. Yikes.

At that point in the match, Steen’s slow, deliberate climb made more sense. Indeed he should have climbed slowly, as battered and beaten as his was. After Steen took a rough bump from the top of the ladder, Generico ate a gruesome German Suplex, landing right on his head. These four men WANT IT! Briscoe crashed Steen into the side of a ladder using a Death Valley Driver, and that looked truly painful.

Sick bump alert: Mark hit a Shooting Star Press from the top rope onto a ladder which was on top of a prone Generico, followed by Jay leg-dropping Steen off the top rope through a table on the floor. Obviously, all four warriors were now down. “Crazy Mark” Briscoe took a nasty bump off the ladder when Generico dumped it over. Next, the crowd surfed a giant maintenance ladder to the ringside area at Mark Briscoe’s command. While Dave Prazak claimed it “wasn’t intended to be part of the match”, the referee allowed the giant ladder which was tall enough to reach the lofty belts easily.

Jay flew through the giant ladder with the springboard Doomsday Device on Generico, and that should have been it for the masked wrestler, but Generico had one more big bump to punch on his card that night. Alone in the ring, the champions climbed foolishly slow when they had the chance to successfully defend their titles, allowing Steen to reassert himself into the fray.

Even sicker bump alert: After bridging a standard ladder between the giant ladder and the turnbuckle, Steen plowed Mark Briscoe through the bridged ladder with a Package Piledriver – evil!

Sicker than that bump alert: Jay Briscoe set up another bridged ladder on the opposite side, and absolutely wrecked Generico by driving him through it with his Jay Driller – inhumane!

Finally, Jay and Steen were both at the top of the giant ladder together, each pounding the other and trying to grab the title belts. Steen took one last ugly bump through one of the decimated ladders, and Jay seemed to have the match won but couldn’t free the belts from the hook. After an awkward moment and one final try for the save by Steen, Jay finally got the belts down, successfully retaining the ROH tag team championships as the crowd chanted “Match of the year!”

But as Prazak ran through the usual sign-off, a scream erupted from the crowd as the followers of “Age of the Fall” lined the ringside barricade in black hoods and ski masks. Tyler Black and Jimmy Jacobs then entered the ring, followed by the Necro Butcher, and the three of them assaulted the Briscoes. Necro Butcher had barbed wire wrapped around his fist as he pummeled the champs, and Tyler Black flattened Jay with his wicked Small Package Driver.

The show went off the air before any answers were revealed, as the Age of the Fall ruled the ring. This was a nice cliffhanger, effectively making me anticipate the January 2008 Undeniable pay-per-view that much more. What exactly is the Age of the Fall, and what does that mean for Ring of Honor? Stay tuned to find out…

ROH delivered the goods yet again with another phenomenal show up and down the card. The bottom line is, there is no better professional wrestling value for your pay-per-view dollar today than Ring of Honor. If you’re missing it, you’re missing out. At $10 for a two-hour show, ROH on ppv is a steal, especially compared to the three-hour events from WWE and TNA that cost $40 or $30 respectively, and deliver maybe one good match or fun moment per show.

ROH pay-per-views are so amazing, entertaining, and fun to watch that I wish they would expand to monthly shows. I also maintain that a weekly ROH television show could revolutionize the American wrestling landscape. For the average consumers who only watch free wrestling on cable and purchase an occasional pay show, ROH would have the opportunity to redefine in-ring action and satisfying storylines, and might just wash the taste of “sportz entertainment” right out of fans’ mouths. ROH is the ideal company to set a new standard for mainstream professional wrestling in the United States.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

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