Ring of Honor DVD Review: Man Up, 9/15/2007

Welcome to the Cult of ROH review of ROH’s double-disc Man Up release, 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… it is. Buy it.

But for more detailed thoughts, scroll down to “Afterthoughts.” If you’d just like the results, scroll down to “Spoilers.”

The Card:
Disc One
-One-Fall Fourway Match: Nigel McGuinness Vs. Chris Hero Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Naomichi Marufuji
-Rocky Romero Vs. Matt Cross
-Davey Richards Vs. Austin Aries
-Roderick Strong Vs. Erick Stevens
-ROH World Title Match: Takeshi Morishima ( c ) Vs. Bryan Danielson
-Ladder War ROH Tag Title Match: Jay & Mark Briscoe ( c ) Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen

Disc Two
-Top of the Class Trophy: Mitch Franklin ( c ) Vs. Alex Payne
-Lacey & Sara Del Rey Vs. Daizee Haze & The Amazing Kong
-B.J. Whitmer & Brent Albright Vs. Chasyn Rance & Kenny King
-Jack Evans, Jake Crist & Dave Crist Vs. Tyler Black, Jimmy Jacobs & The Necro Butcher
-Matt Sydal’s Final ROH Match: Matt Sydal Vs. Delirious
-The “Blood Edit” video of the Age of the Fall’s debut

Ring of Honor loaded its third pay per view show. Bryan Danielson, still blind in one eye from the first time he fought Takeshi Morishima, demanded a rematch with the Japanese giant for the World Championship. ROH put forth their first ever ladder match to settle the feud between the Briscoes and Steen & Generico. The Resilience and No Remorse Corps had a best of three series of singles matches to determine the better faction. Matt Sydal wrestled his final ROH match. Amazing Kong wrestled her only ROH match. So much went on this show that Nigel McGuinness (who main evented Driven) and Naomichi Marufuji (former holder of every title in Pro Wrestling NOAH) were wedged into the opening fourway match with Claudio Castagnoli and the debuting Chris Hero. Everything they did couldn’t fit into the two-hour broadcast, and so now Ring of Honor presents a comprehensive two-disc edition of Man Up.

Disc One:

Opening Promos: Dave Prazak, Lenny Leonard, Nigel McGuinness, Hooligan, Claudio Castagnoli and Larry Sweeney
Out by the ring the commentators introduced the show, hyped up the two title matches, and handed the microphone over to McGuinness. McGuinness explained that though he lost at Driven, he was still gunning for the title and hoped to earn a shot tonight. A man in a black ski mask jumped the barricade to grab the microphone and claim “the Age of the Fall” was coming, but he was tackled by security. ROH played an intro video for their show, and Castagnoli came out to recover composure, talking about how he was gunning for Hero and a title shot. Larry Sweeney came out to introduce Chris Hero, talking about money and what a privilege it was for us to see Chris Hero debut on PPV. Sweeney was particularly charismatic, both funny and detestable at the same time. In a few minutes ROH managed to give direction to everything on the show: motivation for the wrestlers and importance to the titles and main events. Simple and beautiful.

One-Fall Four-way Match: Nigel McGuinness Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Chris Hero w/ Larry Sweeney, Bobby Dempsey, Sara Del Rey & Tank Toland
One of ROH’s best four-ways of the year, only behind the amazing Fight at the Roxbury four-way (which also conveniently featured McGuinness, Castagnoli and Hero). Here Marufuji and Castagnoli really brought the action with a little lightheartedness in early exchanges, graduating to serious athleticism through technical wrestling and into high-flying that was beautiful to watch. McGuinness added more of a brawling element to that mix, though he was able to add some slick reversals. Hero played the constant comedian, trying to flee from Castagnoli, show off, or ruin someone else’s moment to shine. All four guys were brilliant at pacing and exchanging with who would be featured at any given moment, avoiding the “do a move, stand there, have a move done to you” routines that make a lot of scramble matches stumble. This was fluid and told a complex but easy to follow story thanks to four clearly defined character-athletes, who either burst with personality or had distinct styles. Even the loser wasn’t hurt; all four men clearly belonged on ROH PPV and would be totally believable in winning their next outing.

There was also something really cool about an English, American, Swiss and Japanese wrestler in a four-corner match. Even ROH is American-heavy (it is in America, after all), but they strive for a lot of kinds of diversity, while always demanding talent. That was a really good theme to use to start off the show.

Backstage: Bryan Danielson Discusses Blindness
A very plain-spoken promo explaining how Morishima (legitimately) blinded Danielson in their first match. Danielson went over the real life concerns he and his family had for the injuries he’s suffered, and explained why he wore an eye-patch. To new viewers this may come off as mockable – and that itself is humorous, since Danielson was really blind in that eye. It wasn’t great acting, but heartfelt sentiment that definitely worked to explain why Danielson would leap at a second chance at the title, before he was back to full health.

Best of Three Series: No Remorse Corps Vs. The Resilience
Rocky Romero (NRC) Vs. Matt Cross (Resilience), Davey Richards (NRC) Vs. Austin Aries (Resilience) and Roderick Strong (NRC) Vs. Erick Stevens (Resilience) happened consecutively as a best of three series between the feuding factions. It was a story more congenial to live television, and might have fit in on Raw. Some people may be turned off by an angle that caused three matches to be announced on the fly on a PPV, but because ROH doesn’t have TV and because the story was very simple, it really worked out into one of the best twists of the night. The Resilience lost a coin toss and had to announce who would wrestle in each match, with the NRC being allowed to decide who would face each opponent. The team leaders, Aries and Strong, played really good experienced coaches in their corners.

Rocky Romero (NRC) Vs. Matt Cross (Resilience)
An action-packed five-minute match with Romero throwing out several good holds and a lot of big strikes in contrast to Cross’ beautiful aerial offense that went all over the ring. These guys put on the pro wrestling equivalent of a short fireworks display, not building to much but entertaining through visually impressive stuff, allowing the next two matches in the series to be deeper and more satisfying.

Davey Richards (NRC) Vs. Austin Aries (Resilience)
Strong faked out Aries into naming himself as the next Resilience representative, making Aries think he’d get to wrestle Strong, only to have Richards sub in. This was a great little tease, setting up more animosity between Aries and Strong for their eventual singles match (conveniently on the next PPV, Undeniable).

The returning Aries brought more passion to this one match than he did in his entire TNA career. Both he and Richards were so technically sound that everything they did looked crisp, and they brought an athletic energy to everything from stock offense to reversals to innovations. Very slick technical wrestling, graduating into striking and limited aerial offense that showed they knew each other well and always needed a foundation for themselves before taking off into something bigger. It was particularly fun to see them catch or avoid each other’s trademark offense, leading to them thinking two steps ahead at the end. When they went to aerial offense they kept off of the turnbuckles, leaving that for the Strong/Stevens match that came up next. So this managed to be faster, deeper and more intense than Romero/Cross, while managing to leave room for Strong and Stevens to impress on top of them.

Roderick Strong (NRC) Vs. Erick Stevens (Resilience)
Ring of Honor had Samoa Joe and Brent Albright. They’ve had big guys who were impressively athletic and played competent powerhouses who could keep up (to varying degrees) with the cruiserweights that still dominate ROH. Erick Stevens is a novel next step: an athletic bigger guy whose greatest strength isn’t being a dominant force, but a sympathetic seller. Stevens is really exceptional at conveying struggle and pain, even against opponents who are smaller. He was perfect for the role of a Resilience rookie accidentally stuck in a tie-breaker match against the NRC’s captain.

This wasn’t anywhere nearly as smooth as Richards/Aries, getting very rough with some scary power moves and sickening chops. Chops were one of Strong’s trademarks, but his former student could throw them just as hard. Strong had to do serious damage to Stevens just to even out the size and power difference, which seems to split a lot of wrestling fans. Some people adored this match, while others couldn’t buy Strong getting the better of the bigger man so much of the time with strike-and-throw offense. If you’re a long-time ROH fan and have seen Strong as a strong figure (pun intended, dammit) for so long, it will probably be much more believable.

They had a lot to build up to, too. Since the first two matches didn’t hit the turnbuckles as much, these guys climbed them repeatedly for the biggest and most devastating offense of the series. That was the last characteristic of a fine Best of Three Series, giving each match some definition and structure, while also working out as a whole.

Video Recap: B.J. Whitmer joins Albright, Hagadorn and Pearce to form the Hangmen 3; mathematicians commit mass suicide
A recap of an attack on Delirious from ROH: Domination, where Whitmer looked to make the save for Delirious, but ultimately turned on him and joined the squad of bullies. Especially the way they cut it, it was hard to understand why Whitmer would join a group that abused him over the cute little lizard man. However, this served as a good buffer between the emotional high of Strong/Stevens and the World Title Match.

ROH World Title Match: Takeshi Morishima ( c ) Vs. Bryan Danielson
This was a shorter, noticeably condensed version of their first match (at Manhattan Mayhem 2), but retaining all the snugness and passion. Here they dropped some of the pauses and drawn-out portions of the first, with Danielson showing even more drive to win, accentuating that he was fighting through a handicap for the title that meant the world to him. It was an old school brawl with some modern tricks.

Morishima promised not to attack Danielson’s eye, but he lied. For some reason the commentators tried to pretend his fists weren’t hitting the eye socket, but they obviously were, showing that Morishima was either callous or dastardly (we found out which later in the match). These two were too brutal to be careful about something like an eye injury, eventually not even going for a knockout, but just a sustainable advantage. They created high energy here, building a magnificent surprise of a finish with serious irony to some of the victories of Danielson’s title reign. If their first match was your match of the year, you must see this one.

Ladder War: ROH Tag Title Match: Jay & Mark Briscoe ( c ) Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen
One of the craziest matches I’ve seen in years, with all four guys putting their health on the line, starting at a brisk pace and accelerating until they broke ladders and had to bring out bigger, sturdier ones. The great theme of the match was consequence: if you let your attention off of one guy who wasn’t hurt, or left a weapon anywhere, it could come back to bite you. This theme allowed for several great emotional setups to inspired comebacks and death-defying moves that otherwise would have been done for the sake of doing them. Given context they were all the richer, even though several of their innovations will make great eye-popping footage for video packages for the next several years. This was the kind of endless action that is very easy to lose yourself in, if you don’t feel terrible for the damage those young men did to their backs (and the back bumps were far scarier than any supposedly callous “headshots” that the post-Benoit Tragedy crowd complained about). It was as wild as and even more creative than any of their previous matches, so even if you were tired of this feud, the conclusion is worth seeing. Only their match at Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1 ranks near this in terms of emotional roller coaster rides.

There have been a lot of arguments over whether this or Danielson/Morishima II was the best match of the show. Truly, they are incomparable. This was a completely different match, with lots of flying, hardcore elements, big moves thrown out in spectacular fashion – nothing like Danielson and Morishima’s match, and if you prefer one style to the other, it’s almost certain to be your favorite.

Disc Two:

Top of the Class Trophy Match: Mitch Franklin ( c ) Vs. Alex Payne
This was your typical pre-show match, under five minutes and just simple, mostly safe and inoffensive wrestling. Franklin and Payne don’t have the characters of Titus, Primeau or Hagadorn, but if you’re keeping up on the students, this is fine.

Lacey & SHIMMER Champion Sara Del Rey Vs. Daizee Haze & The Amazing Kong
I won’t hide my deep and embarrassing love for the Amazing Kong, which you may have heard me profess when she was on In Your Head radio. In her only ROH appearance, the wrestlers and crowd treated her like a goddess, giving her the stage and making her seem like a powerhouse monster from the moment she took her corner to the end of the match, which is the best way you could introduce such a lady.

Sara Del Rey looked better than usual by playing a brave and capable foil to Kong’s size, not a physical equal, but good enough to survive and sometimes even take her down. From that dynamic Lacey played the heel punching bag and Haze played the toady face punching bag, with those two ladies aiming at each other, recognizing that they’d have a harder time against Del Rey or Kong (respectively). Aside from playing better-defined roles than usual, Lacey, Del Rey and Haze put on their average ROH performances, not as slick as you might like, but decent when they stuck to their niches in the story. Kong was a step above in terms of character and making sure she established presence in-between every move, and the greatest shortcoming of the match was her not being in enough. When she was in, though, all three of the other women played off of her really well, whether it meant Haze backing her up or Lacey flying all of the place for her.

At around fifteen minutes and boasting an unusual amount of character-based logic, this is easily one of the best SHIMMER matches to take place in Ring of Honor, and probably the best.

B.J. Whitmer & Brent Albright w/ Shane Hagadorn (of the Hangmen 3) Vs. Chasyn Rance & Kenny King w/ Valerie Malone
Whitmer & Albright’s opportunity to beat the crap out of two guys that were noticeably smaller than them created a great match for Fire Pro fans who want to fill out the Hangmen 3’s movesets. Kenny King looked good in his whipping boy role, and had particular fire for his comeback, except for one very obvious flub of a springboard that hopefully won’t follow him for too long. Albright was particularly on task, crisp in his offense and showing a little more venom and personality than usual. At under ten minutes, though, there wasn’t much more of anything than usual.

Jack Evans, Jake Crist & Dave Crist Vs. Tyler Black, Jimmy Jacobs & the Necro Butcher (of the Age of the Fall)
This began as a singles match between Black and Jacobs, as Black’s singles debut. Minutes in the rest of the Age of the Fall hit the ring and laid out Evans, only for the Crist Brothers (AKA Irish Airborne) to save him and turn it into a trios tag. The Age of the Fall was introduced at the end of Disc 1 of this collection, so you may want to finish that before seeing this. Alternatively, you can view the “Blood Edit” extra on this disc to see a gorier version of their introduction. Either way, this was Black’s wrestling debut for Ring of Honor.

It was a shame that the match changed, because Evans and Black were doing pretty well for their couple of minutes. Black was quick, nimble, innovative and executed his stuff very well before all heck broke loose. The resulting trios match was long and meandering, with cool stuff happening here and there, but no real emphasis. Evans pulled some amazing acrobatics, Necro did some generic hardcore stuff, and eventually it ended. The Crists showed no outstanding characteristics, and even Jacobs looked lost. This wasn’t violent chaos; it was aimless action, and not very fast-paced action, either.

Matt Sydal’s Farewell Match: Matt Sydal w/ Larry Sweeney Vs. Delirious
Not every feud should reach the Rave/Punk, Homicide/Cabana or Danielson/Morishima level of intensity. Some feuds and rivalries are fun and work better at lower levels of intensity, like Delirious/Sydal. In their final match they played up Sydal’s cockiness and underhanded tactics, and got very physical, but never so much that Delirious couldn’t turn things back around with humor. It was a serious contest without needless seriousness, making it more fun to watch beneath the bitter rivalry of Danielson/Morishima and the Ladder War.

And as far as their matches go, this is in their top three along with Suffocation (when Sydal first showed underhanded tendencies) and Fifth Year Festival: Finale (a 2/3 Falls match with a more elaborate story). This match was a tribute to all their past matches, using Delirious’ comedy to upset Sydal, Sydal going underhanded, a lot of athletic competition, culminating in a serious but unforced ending. Delirious was particularly on for his final match against Sydal, with more antics and energy than usual. Sydal was his usual crisp self until the last third of the match, when he was concussed. You have to forgive him for losing his balance after that (similarly, you have to be in awe of some of the things he did despite the concussion – in awe, or complaining with an air of false moral superiority). Sweeney played a big role in the match, only really interfering once, but even that wasn’t annoying because of how much he hammed it up (and he was probably buying the injured Sydal some time). Instead, Sweeney’s interactions heightened the humor in the match, to the point where I hope he crosses paths with Delirious more often.

If you’ve liked Delirious and Sydal’s rivalry or are just a fan of Sydal, you owe it to yourself to see his farewell. It’s worth it, especially as a bonus to the amazing first disc of Man Up.

The “Blood Edit” video of the Age of the Fall’s debut
Well, this is sick. ROH shows off Necro Butcher beating Jay Briscoe bloody, licking the blood from his hands, and then Jacobs cutting a promo underneath Jay Briscoe as he drips blood all over Jacobs’ white jacket. Disturbing and a heck of an introduction to the Age of the Fall, it is what it is. If you want to see it then you’ll like it, except for a major production error. The first twenty seconds of Jacobs’ speech is shown from a bad camera, where the lighting prevents you from seeing or realizing that he’s being covered in blood, which sort of ruins the “best” part. They return to that camera angle frequently, which is good for the squeamish viewer, but criminal for what is supposed to be an uncensored look at a gruesome scene. It’s a waste considering that was Briscoe’s real blood.

At the end they also seemed to raise the audio in the crowd for a very unnatural sounding cheer from the crowd that, if it isn’t a production fluke, is remarkably amateurish for ROH.

This DVD extra lasts about ten minutes, counting the aftermath with the wrestlers exiting and the bloodied Briscoes pulling themselves together.

Afterthoughts: Skippable? Borrower? Wait for a sale? Buy it now?
The only reason an ROH fan has not to buy this is if he taped it when it aired on pay per view. The two-hour main disc is one of ROH’s best shows of 2007, and likely to be the favorite of their PPV releases unless you absolutely loved Driven. If Driven drove you wild, then this is more great stuff from that company.

In two hours you got one of their best multi-man matches of the year as an opener, a best of three series progressing an angle with great flying and technical wrestling, an amazing old school brawl and a death-defying ladder match. It’s like a sampler box of ROH.

Disc Two is much weaker, but it does feature a fun finale to the Delirious/Sydal feud and one of the best SHIMMER matches on an ROH DVD.

Don’t be fooled by the two discs, though. The two discs feature about three and a half hours of content, perhaps a little more, which should be able to fit on one disc. You’re not getting six hours of material here. However if you add up what is on the discs, you are getting one of ROH’s best shows of 2007, and it’s best PPV show to date, including Undeniable. Considering the two-disc Man Up collection costs $20, as much as a normal single-DVD release, there’s no extra expense, and the collector’s case unfolds with some nice art. It’s not as durable as a normal DVD case.

This show has something for just about every ROH fan and gets my highest possible recommendation for all the quality wrestling, from great technical wrestling and brawling to the most insane ladder match in years.

Disc One
-Nigel McGuinness won the four-way when he pinned Claudio Castagnoli with the Jawbreaker Lariat; Naomichi Marufuji and Chris Hero were also in the match.
-Rocky Romero pinned Matt Cross with an executioner kick to the head to put the NRC ahead of the Resilience, 1-0.
-Austin Aries pinned Davey Richards with a 450 Splash to tie things up with the NRC, 1-1.
-Roderick Strong pinned Erick Stevens with a truly scary Super Splash Mountain and Gibson Driver combination, winning the series for the NRC, 2-1. Despite the loss, Stevens showed so much power and fire that he came across as a legitimate threat to the NRC’s captain.
-Takeshi Morishima retained the ROH World Title when he beat Bryan Danielson by ref stoppage when Morishima hammered on Danielson’s bad eye, which was legal but so hazardous to Danielson’s health that the referee stopped the match. Morishima promised not to attack the eye, and this makes him a dirty liar. He should feel bad.
-The Briscoes retained the ROH World Tag Titles over El Generico and Kevin Steen when Jay Briscoe pulled the belts down. Ironically, the belts got stuck on the hanging device, and Jay Briscoe pulling them free was the slowest part of the match.

Disc Two
-Daizee Haze & Amazing Kong d. Lacey & Sara Del Rey when Daizee Haze pinned Lacey with the Mindtrip
-B.J. Whitmer & Brent Albright beat Chasyn Rance & Kenny King when Whitmer pinned Rance after a tandem Spinebuster. After the match Albright bitch-slapped Shane Hagadorn for being a doofus, which might have been more entertaining than the match itself.
-Jack Evans, Jake Crist & Dave Crist Vs. Tyler Black, Jimmy Jacobs & the Necro Butcher (of the Age of the Fall) went to a No Contest after Necro Butcher punched out the referee. No explanation why illegal behavior from one team is a No Contest rather than a Disqualification.
-Delirious pinned Matt Sydal with the Chemical Imbalance 2 before shaking hands and wishing him well in WWE.