Ring of Honor DVD Review: Reckless Abandon, 11/30/2007

Ring of Honor DVD Review: Reckless Abandon, 11/30/2007
by John Wiswell

Welcome to the Cult of ROH review of ROH’s Reckless Abandon, with an intro to the show and a breakdown of every promo and match. If you’d just like thoughts on whether it’s worth a purchase, scroll down to “Afterthoughts.” If you’d just like the results, scroll down to “Spoilers.” If you’d like show times for Nicholas Cage’s The Wrestler, I regret to inform you that he was replaced by a more suitable actor.

The Card:
-Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Seth Skyfire
-Falls Count Anywhere Match: Adam Pearce Vs. Delirious
-Chris Hero Vs. Jigsaw
-Relaxed Rules Match: Bryan Danielson Vs. Necro Butcher
-Nigel McGuinness Vs. Silas Young
-Triple Threat Match: Human Tornado Vs. Erick Stevens Vs. Davey Richards
-30-Minute Iron Man Match: Austin Aries Vs. Roderick Strong
-One-Fall Scramble Match: The Vulture Squad of Jack Evans and Ruckus Vs. BJ Whitmer & Brent Albright Vs. The Age of the Fall of Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe

Originally intended as the filler show before Trios Tournament 2007, Reckless Abandon was a show giving chances to a number of rising stars and rookies, including former OVW talent Seth Skyfire and California sensation Human Tornado. It was one of the stranger shows ROH ever put together, as every male champion was in action, including the injured World Champion, yet not one defended his title. The hopes for the show rested on a 4-team scramble main event and a half-hour Iron Man match between Roderick Strong and Austin Aries.

The Show:

Opening promo: Age of the Fall at the Hospital
A very interesting promo set outside the local hospital, where Necro Butcher was refused treatment because he didn’t have health insurance. Outside of letting Jimmy Jacobs rant against “the system,” it introduced several novel character traits: Necro Butcher’s wrestling style takes a serious toll on his body that he can’t afford to pay; Jimmy Jacobs is the son of a judge who looks down on his ideals; and Tyler Black is free with his step-father’s money. Everyone has met spoiled rich kids on a moralistic kick (I know I have – I went to a liberal arts college), and both Jacobs and Black hint that their behavior is at least partially just this sort of thing. Even if this is just an undertone, it provides another trait that helps anger people at the Age of the Fall. The segment also introduced Allison Wonderland, the second female wrestler in the Age of the Fall (and the owner of one of the best pun names in recent history).

Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Seth Skyfire
Claudio Castagnoli carried himself as a main-eventer despite being on the bottom of the card. On this show he reminded me of what Christopher Daniels used to be in ROH and what Nigel McGuinness was for a lot of 2007; a man with a certain aura of self-importance that isn’t forced or annoying, and that draws eyes to him. Castagnoli took advantage of that attention to set up a pretty good exhibition match with former OVW star Seth Skyfire. This was the typical match where a trusted ROH star tested a newcomer to see if they could fit into the ROH ringstyle. The outcome was less important than how well Skyfire could perform.

In under ten minutes Skyfire looked crisp enough, agile enough and generally competent, except for one serious flub during a big comeback that will probably stand out in most people’s first impressions of him. One big flub wasn’t as concerning to me as Skyfire’s frequently goofy facial expressions, which didn’t fit his serious performance. At a few points both men looked like they were waiting for cues from each another, which shouldn’t be held against Skyfire; both guys were new to each other, and new to each other’s styles. It turned into a perfectly passable rookie exhibition match, and I’d be fine with Skyfire getting another chance to prove himself on the undercard. However, Silas Young or Human Tornado looked much more impressive later on in the show.

Promo: Bryan Danielson in the Back
Danielson gave an angry, take-charge rant on his road to revenge against Morishima. The most interesting point was that he requested the match with Necro Butcher expecting him to go full-bore to prepare for Morishima’s brutality, seemingly ignorant that Necro Butcher was injured.

Falls Count Anywhere: Adam Pearce w/ Shane Hagadorn Vs. Delirious
There is something inherently great about a hero being half the size of the villain and still playing the monster. Delirious and Pearce didn’t play it entirely goofy, approaching Delirious’ offense segments with equal parts fun and logical thinking. For instance, Delirious got a running head start before jumping on Pearce to help take the bigger man off his feet, or waited to reverse Pearce’s momentum on an Irish Whip rather than just going for one. These were fundamental things that are easy to overlook amidst a crazy brawl with chairshots and catapults into support beams, but they made matters more meaningful in the long run. Pearce has such a fondness for the old school heels that lived to mug in the defeat for the crowd, and it manifested in several tactics that were done just so Delirious could reverse them, which added to the fun of a match that could have just been punches and chairs to the head. Things were timed beautifully, not for aesthetics, but to get the crowd as hot as possible. You’ll have to check a certain degree of your disbelief to enjoy this, but once you do, this match is a blast.

Promo: Erick Stevens in the Back
Channeling the generic intensity and generic anger of a thousand indy wrestlers, Stevens cut a generic promo. Inoffensive, uninspiring, he wouldn’t let Human Tornado make a name off of him or forget that Davey Richards injured him. There was nothing in this promo that we didn’t get a feel for in the match later, and it came off as ROH giving one of its guys a chance to practice promos. That’s admirable; everyone should practice them. Not all of them need to be on the DVD, though.

Chris Hero w/ Larry Sweeney, Tank Toland, Sara Del Ray & Bobby Dempsey Vs. Jigsaw
Strange that Jigsaw would come off as combative and uneasy around Hero when they tagged together and Jigsaw blended into his entourage at Death Before Dishonor 5. Also strange that the Vulture Squad stable wouldn’t send anybody out to have Jigsaw’s back when Chris Hero had four people who were likely to interfere from his corner. Hmm…

Thankfully, any jaggies in the booking didn’t get in the way of a fun opening. Where Seth Skyfire was competent in his match, Jigsaw was inspiringly fluid, so much so that a couple of his chains of offense were completely unpredictable until he actually put Hero’s shoulders to the mat. Hero played the sound base and brought antics to create an entertaining atmosphere in the first half, all the while playing into any impressive offense Jigsaw pulled out. It was hilarious to see Chris Hero kick a standing opponent in the chest with the same speed and force as a slap, making the move look casual. Hero has a great sense of character moment-to-moment, and he was able to give personal touches to pinfall attempts and the lulls between strikes.

However, like Hero’s matches at Manhattan Mayhem II and Honor Nation, the sense of fun gave way to the sense of time. I found myself waiting for it to end rather than anticipating the ending, a trouble in building drama that Hero has had for a long time. His antics and constant attempts to throw an opponent off his game can damage the pace of the match to the point where it can’t reach the drama you can sense it should. This ended up as a good match that didn’t pack the satisfaction it should have.

Promo: Austin Aries in the Back
A somber message to Aries’ former partner, bitter rival and opponent tonight: Roderick Strong. Very short without feeling rushed, Aries got across both that he wanted revenge on Strong and that he wanted to be the first two-time champion.

Relaxed Rules Match: Necro Butcher Vs. Bryan Danielson
I won’t bother asking why a Relaxed Rules Match was higher on the card than a Falls Count Anywhere match that seemingly had no rules at all. Instead I’ll ask why Delirious and Adam Pearce had a better brawl than Bryan Danielson and Necro Butcher. When this match was announced most people expected an insane brawl. Danielson improved as a brawler throughout 2007, and these things are Necro Butcher’s bread and butter. This should have been wild.

The first problem was that neither man seemed as special as he should have. Both usually have a great aura around them, an aura of importance that is particularly handy in wild brawls. It lends a sense of importance (see Danielson’s amazing ten-minute match with El Generico on PWG: Giant Size Annual #4 for recent evidence). It wasn’t here. They fought a little too slowly and were a little too awkward with each other, the awkwardness of guys being careful that is antithetical to a big brawl. Fans of the Butcher shouldn’t even bother to defend him for this performance, where more than half his punches don’t even come close to landing while Danielson curled up in the corner without attempted retribution.

But it wasn’t just Butcher. It’s almost as though there’s something about Necro Butcher that causes normally sound wrestlers to do idiotic things. I’ve seen Kevin Steen and Low Ki have similar baffling actions around him that they don’t normally pull out. For instance in this match, they peeled back the mats outside the ring to expose the floor, but Danielson suplexed Butcher onto the mats. Yes, this is safer for the real human being, but why on earth would an opponent drop him on a safer place?

Even the referee was ridiculous, giving the men 5-counts in the corners until Danielson screamed at him that it was, in fact, “relaxed rules!” Slapping the referee was more entertaining than anything Danielson and Butcher did to each other, which was a shame because they suffered some bad punishment here. I’m not accusing them of laziness; they tried and did fairly, but underwhelmed expectations on a match that could have helped a weak DVD.

There was something missing, the thing that should have lent their actions gravity. Without gravity, they just floated around and hit each other. And similar to hitting the referee being more entertaining than anything in the match, Necro Butcher selling the pain of his arm after the match utterly dwarfed any of his expressions during the match. With ROH’s fondness for rematches and the booking of an arm injury effecting Butcher’s performance, hopefully these guys will lock up again later on with better results.

Promo: Dave Prazak interviews the Human Tornado
Even though Prazak served as a human prop, his presence lent this promo a little variety in contrast to Stevens and Aries just looking into the camera and talking. Variety is essential if ROH insists on putting promos in-between every match. The interview established nothing more than Human Tornado as a wacky bastard who likes large women and backhanding people. Fans of Human Tornado should be just fine with that.

Non-Title Match: ROH Champion Nigel McGuinness Vs. Silas Young
Given the five promos on this show before this match, I would have appreciated one explaining why McGuinness, with a torn bicep, was wrestling a rookie with a 0-1 record in a match that had no long term ramifications. If McGuinness was able to wrestle, I’m sure there were plenty of more worthy challengers who would have appreciated the chance to beat the champ in a non-title match. It’s not like he was coming back from a long layoff with an injury and needed to test his arm; he defended his title two shows earlier and was supposed to be off healing his bicep.

The above paragraph is no reflection on the wrestlers. One of ROH’s strengths is that even if the booking is questionable, the talent in the ring can usually make it worth watching. Had Silas Young not signed a WWE developmental deal I would have been happy to see him stick around in Ring of Honor. He was technically capable, bumped and sold very well, has some slick reversals and a good energy that would have gotten over with live crowds once they got used to him. He was particularly good at expressing pain, seeming in far worse agony with his arm than McGuinness. McGuinness played the stoic main-eventer, picking Young apart with experience and roughness for another fair ten-minute rookie tryout match.

Post-Match Promo: Nigel McGuinness, with unexpected visitors
McGuinness shook off the fatigue of his match to thank the fans, compliment Young, and generally come across as a humble class act of a champion. The more I see him speak this way the more genuine it seems. Early on I wondered if he was poorly delivering scripted material, but now I’m convinced that whether or not McGuinness plays a badguy later on, this is very close to how he is in everyday life. It’s easy to get behind him unless you’re kind of fan who needs to cheer a heel Chris Hero.

Sweet & Sour Incorporated walked out to interrupt and lay the seeds for another title match with Hero down the line. Not particularly exciting like the Glory By Honor 6 confrontation, but it served its purpose.

Triple Threat Match: Human Tornado Vs. Erick Stevens Vs. Davey Richards
A quirky, fun dynamic. Davey Richards wasn’t even supposed to be in this match but came out for the chance of shutting up Erick Stevens, and when that proved a hard task, beating Tornado or just getting out of there. Erick Stevens was the force of the match, such that the other two guys had to find ways to dispose of him or handle him together. Human Tornado was the hilarious third wheel, trying to form unions with his opponents and pulling out stuff like pretending to be blind in order to avoid getting his ass kicked. What these three guys did that most don’t was emphasize different aspects of their roles at different times to keep things entertaining from start to finish. This would have made a great breather match between a stronger first half and the main events, but even on a weaker show it shined as a good three-way between up-and-comers, setting up at least one rematch down the line, though I’d be happy to see all three guys wrestle each other in singles in 2008.

30-Minute Iron Man Match: FIP Heavyweight Champion Roderick Strong Vs. Austin Aries
At Supercard of Honor 2 and Undeniable, these guys had passion, anger, counters for nearly all of their trademarks, and damn near had to kill each other for a single fall in matches that went 20+ minutes. If you approach it logically, this going to several falls can strain disbelief. However, with their straight-laced approaches and emphasis on technical ability, Strong and Aries made it believable within the structure of this match, regardless of its place in the series. Roderick Strong isn’t Bryan Danielson on the mat, so this wasn’t quite as deep as the Aries/Danielson I and III, though it picked up in the second half with more aggression and the guys showing weakness as falls begin to rack up. If you didn’t like that Danielson/Aries Best of Three Series, this probably isn’t for you, but for ROH fans that are tired of violent gimmick matches and everything turning into a bloodfeud, this is a refreshing approach.

Aries and Strong made kicks and backbreakers as meaningful as huge falls and chairs to the head in other people’s matches. The second half also used more nods to their earlier bouts, an odd touch since usually wrestlers will build that kind of thing in the beginning or throw out references in the feeling-out portion. By the twenty-minute mark they were both so hurt and exhausted that they needed to rely on any familiar openings, a nice twist on a wrestling rope. It was a smart, physical match that didn’t shortchange on anything and tried to keep a grasp on physical damage having lasting effects. I prefer iron-men matches at 60 minutes since a lot of one-fall main-event-quality matches go in the vicinity of a half an hour anyway, but Aries and Strong told a sound story that made the wear on them believable and earned the thirty-minute limit. It only truly lacked a good ending, instead feeling rushed (the announcer even had to clarify the winner for the crowd), a strange position to end up in a half-hour match.

At this point in their careers Aries was booked much stronger, so it was good to see the longer story make them closer to equals without bringing Aries down. At ROH: Domination, ROH fans saw a babyface Roderick Strong who was a totally believable force (then against Morishima), but he hasn’t had such impressive outings recently as a bad guy. Performances like this could revitalize him in that role. This match is absolutely worth seeing, though not necessarily worth buying the DVD for; in that, it comes down to how much you like Aries and Strong.

One Fall Scramble Match: The Vulture Squad of Jack Evans and Ruckus Vs. BJ Whitmer & Brent Albright Vs. The Age of the Fall of Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. ROH Tag Team Champions Jay & Mark Briscoe
This match earned the show its title. It was essentially ten minutes of “Holy crap, moves!” Jack Evans was a little crisper than usual, pulling off a Space Flying Tiger Drop into a Hurricanrana better than I can remember him ever doing before. Ruckus hasn’t shown much more than the ability to flip in Ring of Honor, but cripes his acrobatics were impressive. Jacobs picked his spots well, and Black busted out a surprising amount of innovation to get some much-needed stage time. Whitmer and Albright played passable muscle men, assisting each other on a few variations of their singles moves, but mostly serving to show how impressive the other guys were. It’s funny, really, that the Briscoes were almost an afterthought when mixed in with faction warfare – the factions brought the overkill before the Briscoes could think of doing so. Finishers showed up five minutes in, and you knew it couldn’t last much longer. It was a self-accelerating style where everybody had to one-up each other and pull out the big offense soon so that they could win the fall before they burned out. It reached a point where multiple pairs of opponents were chaining moves in truly beautiful fashion that made me drop my jaw twice.

Like most scramble matches, it had its moments where somebody had to act stupid and release a hold or stand still so that somebody else could club him, but I forgave them because… well, Hell, I bought a DVD with an indy scramble on it. I knew what I was getting into, though I didn’t expect it to be so short. There were few nice touches, like Jacobs and Black refusing to align with the Hangmen 3, remaining a totally outsider group. However, those things were worked in-between the breakneck style of wrestling that dominated this match. It following up a thirty-minute technical marvel is less ironic and more ROH saying, “If you wanted one or the other, here you go.”

The Inside Pulse
Afterthoughts: Skippable? Borrower? Wait for a sale? Buy it now?

The first half of the show feels uncharacteristically weak, with three (or possibly four depending how much you hate Necro Butcher) matches between top stars and newer guys where the outcomes are almost certain going in. Those matches would be fine for free on television, but making up half a DVD is pushing it, especially when none of those matches delivers an amazing breakout performance.

Danielson vs Necro Butcher in a Relaxed Rules brawl does not deliver the dream outing their fans might hope for. Delirious Vs. Pearce is a gem that a lot of people will sleep on or miss altogether because of the rap this show will pick up. Their match, and Tornado/Stevens/Richards near the end, are really good performances from guys who are usually overlooked in favor of Castagnoli, Hero and McGuinness. It is good to see some people step up, even if the opportunity to shine only lasts ten minutes. If you want to see lowercard guys shine, though, this show doesn’t come close to 2007’s Race to the Top tournament.

The first main event, Aries Vs. Strong, would make a good show into must-buy. Unfortunately, there is nothing near its quality on the rest of this DVD. Only big fans of Roderick Strong (who haven’t had much to cheer over in recent releases) and Austin Aries need to get this show.

The scramble main event just doesn’t cut it for the money. The trios tag from Honor Nation is more cohesive if you want crazy flying wrestling, and really if that’s what you’re in the market for, there is a whole library of Briscoes Vs. Steen & Generico out there that does it better with four guys instead of eight. The main event was fun and would make a great fan music video, but it is not worth the same money you spent on Good Times, Great Memories or Glory By Honor 6.

The recent show, Honor Nation, features a better long technical match in Danielson Vs. Aries, and a better aerial match in the No Remorse Corps Vs. Vulture Squad tag. With a stronger card around those matches and a better Necro Butcher brawl, that is a safer bet for your cash. Even Unscripted III from the next night (and my next review) is a stronger show.

The only matches I’m probably ever going to re-watch are Delirious Vs. Pearce and Aries Vs. Strong. With a few more gems on the undercard this might have been worth it, but as it is you can skip it entirely or wait for one of ROH’s many sales to pick it up. There is nothing significant in continuity to miss, and it doesn’t deliver anything other ROH shows won’t deliver better. Completists should wait for a sale, and social fans should borrow.

-Claudio Castagnoli pinned Seth Skyfire with the Ricola Bomb.
-Delirious made Adam Pearce submit with a modified Cobra Stretch on one of the lighting rigs.
-Chris Hero made Jigsaw submit in a variation of the Hangman’s Clutch.
-Relaxed Rules Match: Bryan Danielson made Necro Butcher submit in the Cattle Mutilation; Necro Butcher was suffering from an arm injury before the match.
-Nigel McGuinness made Silas Young submit to the London Dungeon arm hold.
-Davey Richards won the Three-Way by making Human Tornado submit to the Kimura Lock.
-30-Minute Iron Man Match: Austin Aries defeated Roderick Strong 4 falls to 3 by getting a KO victory after a barrage of knees in the final seconds of the match.
-One Fall Scramble Match: The Vulture Squad of Jack Evans and Ruckus won the scramble when Jack Evans pinned Mark Briscoe with a 630 Splash.