Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – Rising Above, and beyond…

Rising Above, the fifth Ring of Honor pay-per-view, premiered last Friday night. The show was highly anticipated, as it featured the vaunted title match between new company Ace, Austin Aries, and the ROH world champion, Nigel McGuinness, in his first title defense on ppv.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Ring of Honor presents Rising Above on pay-per-view.

After a quick introduction by the best announce team in the business today, Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard, and a brief backstage promo by Kevin Steen and El Generico, the show began with Adam Pearce and the “Gun for Hire” Brent Albright in the ring. Pearce’s cult-leader character is always engaging, and the Hangmen 3 are an interesting group.

In a phenomenal feud based on a simple premise, the Hangmen have been battling for months against my favorite guilty pleasure in wrestling, the man who hails from the edge of sanity, Delirious. Pearce called out Delirious to face Albright, who wore Delirious’ own trademark green and black mask (the very mask the Hangmen stapled to Delirious’ head) as a trophy.

Since he was missing his usual mask Delirious wore red and black, and sported a new aggressive attitude to match his new look. He also spewed a mist at Adam Pearce before the match began, and it must have incapacitated Pearce, because it kept him from interfering.

As could be expected, Albright utilized his power-based wrestling game plan, while Delirious attempted to counter with speed and aerial attacks. Delirious nailed the Panic Attack and Shadows Over Hell, then cinched in the Cobra Stretch submission hold. Albright countered into his own punishing Crowbar arm hold, but Delirious survived the pain long enough to roll Albright up for a near fall. Reminiscent of Savage/Steamboat at WrestleMania III, Delirious countered a suplex attempt with a cradle, and scored the victory via pinfall.

My mark-out moment celebrating Delirious’ victory was cut short as the Hangmen immediately attacked and laid a vicious beating on the masked man, but thankfully Steenerico came to his rescue, and the battle was on. Not far behind were the Age of the Fall, who took advantage of the chaos to cut a promo, reinforcing the idea that they intend to claim the tag team titles and use them as power to spread their message of… whatever.

Thankfully Julius Smokes and the Vulture Squad cut off Jimmy Jacobs mid-rant and called for a four-way tag team scramble, a signature ROH match in which partners are not required to tag in and out, and the first decision wins. So Steenerico, the Hangmen 3 (Whitmer and Pearce), AOTF and the Vulture Squad (Evans and Ruckus) went to war. This was classic original ECW booking, having one segment lead into the next match. It kept the opening of the show hot and fast-paced, and made things exciting.

AOTF hit a gorgeous combo dropkick, and the Vulture Squad nailed back-to-back flying attacks on Tyler Black. Steen hoisted BOTH Evans and Jacobs atop his shoulders for a cool visual, and nailed an impressive looking double fireman’s carry on them. Very innovative! Steenerico ruled the ring briefly until the Hangmen reasserted themselves and took control.

Then things went wild as wrestlers hit big moves on their opponents over and over. Yakuza Kick from Whitmer to Ruckus. Springboard clothesline from Black to Whitmer. Super Kick from Steen to Black. Springboard corkscrew strike from Evans to Steen. Leg lariat from Generico to Evans. Swinging head-scissors from Jacobs to Generico. Big piledriver from Pearce to Jacobs. Whew! Then things settled down a bit, but certainly kept moving.

The Vulture Squad cost the Hangmen a victory twice, and that seemed to set up a future feud between the two factions. Following a good deal more of the fever-pitched action, Steen planted Black with his gorgeous package piledriver, then rolled him through to his partner El Generico, who delivered a nice brain-buster, and Steen covered for the pinfall victory. That was a great way to accomplish several storyline goals at once and shake-up the show with a thrilling four team match. Steenerico have a claim to the number one contendership once again via this win.

The Briscoes then cut a promo backstage stating they had two orders of business tonight. The first was to successfully defend their tag team championships against the No Remorse Corps, and the second was to hunt down the Age of the Fall and get a little pay-back for the attacks they’d suffered from Jacobs, Black, and the Necro Butcher.

Next up was a triple threat women’s match between AOTF’s Lacey, the powerhouse Sara Del Rey, and diminutive firecracker Daizee Haze. At one point in the match, Del Rey had Lacey’s legs tied up in the first portion of an STF, and Haze jumped on Sara and locked in a modified abdominal stretch while also wrenching back on Lacey’s arm, adding pressure to the hold she endured. That was certainly different.

Del Rey trapped both her opponents in a double Royal Butterfly submission hold, in a great feat of strength and balance. Haze eventually hit the Mind Trip on Lacey for the win. This was a solid women’s contest, and as a deep breath for the crowd after that wild four team scramble before the Stevens/Richards grudge match, it more than served it’s purpose. Tammy Sytch was shown at ringside a few times, watching intently, which would lead to the Video Wire segment between she and Lacey. The crowd stayed right with the match throughout, which is a testament to their ability to work a decent story and keep the pace moving.

Next was the vendetta between NRC member Davey Richards and Erick Stevens, from the former NRC rival faction the Resilience. Stevens in an impressive package – a combination of power, agility, wrestling skill and intensity, all wrapped up in a unique look. Considering his big push that started shortly after this, I was surprised to see Stevens lose to Richards here, but Stevens was distracted by the debut of former WWE Tough Enough competitor and current MMA fighter, Daniel Puder, who caused a disruption during their match by entering the arena with a flourish.

The match itself was entertaining, but it was mostly a backdrop for the ROH debut of Puder, who continually jawed with Stevens throughout the match. Puder’s disruption caused Stevens to lose focus, allowing Richards the opportunity to lock in the Kimura submission hold, and force Stevens to tap out.

Puder’s distraction of Stevens was obviously meant to spark a new feud, as Stevens wanted a piece of Puder then and there, but Larry Sweeney prevented Puder from accepting Stevens’ challenge, instead inviting him to Sweet N Sour Inc.’s dressing room to watch the rest of Rising Above on a private monitor over champagne and sushi, and a little “meeting” later on. Sweeney was clearly offering Puder a spot in SNS, but ROH’s cutbacks forced Puder out of the company before he accomplished too much with this angle.

This led right into the big grudge match between the former Kings of Wrestling, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, with the stipulation was that if Double C lost, he’d have to leave ROH. In typical heel stable fashion, SNS attacked Double C en masse before Hero even appeared in the arena. When the time was right, Hero attacked from behind, and match began proper. Hero did his usual repertoire of showboating and grandstanding before taking over thanks to an assist from his teammates.

Terrific in the role of the babyface with his back against the wall, Castagnoli fought back and gained control through his sheer will, but Hero had plenty of gas in his tank. He punished Double C until eating a nice springboard European uppercut from the Swiss grappler. The advantage switched from Hero to Castagnoli again and again, until Claudio overcame the numbers disadvantage and ensured his continued presence in ROH by countering Hero’s Cravice (combination cravat neck hold and body vice) into the Ricola Bomb for the win. This was a good match, but considering the hatred between Hero and Claudio, I think I was expecting something a little more special from these two.

Next on the card was yet another chapter in the hate-fueled saga of two former ROH world champions, Bryan Danielson and Takeshi Morishima. After their last ppv match resulted in a referee stoppage due to ‘Shima pummeling Danielson’s injured eye, which he himself damaged at Manhattan Mayhem II back in August and promised pre-match NOT to attack, there was no telling what would happen during this meeting of the two warriors.

The match was contested under “relaxed rules”, which is not a No DQ stipulation, but does allow the ref a bit more leeway than usual in ROH. Danielson was busted open early in the match on the outside, bleeding heavily all through the bout. As usual, Morishima utilized his massive size to manhandle the American Dragon.

Danielson did get his licks in, but Morishima is a puzzle that the “Best in the World” just hasn’t yet solved. No matter what he tried, the Japanese Juggernaut had an answer, but his fury with the situation caused Morishima to get himself disqualified, as he was a raging bull in the ring. He put his hands on the referee more than once, and stomped Dragon’s groin repeatedly until the official could take no more of his rampage. Post match, Danielson took the handle of the bell hammer to Morishima’s face, seeking to blind the behemoth just as ‘Shima had done to Dragon. This battle set the stage for another, perhaps final, encounter between these men, and I am certainly looking forward to it.

The Briscoes then defended their coveted ROH world tag team titles against the NRC contingent of Roderick Strong and Rocky Romero in a 2-out-of-3 falls match. It was a pleasant surprise that the Briscoes, even before their tour in Japan, adjusted their style and slowed things down a bit in order to craft a better story. A key point highlighted here was that in the 2-out-of-3 falls format, the Briscoes had not lost a fall in their last four outings, winning eight straight falls. As the match began, the crowd predicted they’d do it again by chanting “two straight!” to the defending champs.

The No Remorse Corps wasted no time in breaking the streak, however, scoring the first fall in the contest after a Gibson Driver by Strong. Now the Briscoes’ titles were in jeopardy, and in a must-win situation, they needed to score the next pinfall to keep the match alive. And that’s just what they did when Mark reversed another Gibson Driver attempt into a jackknife pin cover. It was nice to see the Briscoes score a decision in the match using a wrestling hold, showing that there’s much more to them than high spots and risky offense.

Tied at one fall apiece, the two teams faced off mid-ring before hammering each other as the third fall began. As Lenny Leonard correctly noted, it was now a whole new ballgame, with the next fall deciding the match. Mark hit a wicked springboard Ace Crusher off the top onto Strong, and a sudden Spike Jay Driller ended the battle, as the champs did win two straight falls, but after losing the first one.

This was a preferable pace to some of the manic Briscoe spotfests I’ve witnessed, and it seems one of the best tag teams around today are actually interested in adapting, which will not only make their high spots more impactful when they do sprinkle them in, it will also allow them to thrive for longer in the business rather than wearing themselves down before their time, as their previous style was sure to have done. Also, this match type is better for storytelling, selling, and psychology, which were the only elements lacking in some of their more explosive, but less believable, daredevil whirlwinds.

Finally, newly crowned ROH world champion Nigel McGuinness defended against Austin Aries, fresh off his amazing best-of-three series against Bryan Danielson. The champ and the new Ace of ROH had a great deal of hype to live up to, as head booker Gabe Sapolsky claimed this was the best match on ROH ppv ever, and one of the greatest efforts of Aries’ distinguished career. It would take quite a match to deliver on that level, but you couldn’t ask for two more capable hands to try.

My second viewing of this match revealed a far better contest than the one I saw live on ppv Friday night, so perhaps I was burned out from the rest of the card and a long week of work. Right away the crowd was on Nigel, and he clearly let that fact get inside his head. Keep that in mind for a little later.

Making no bones about his drive to become the first ever two-time ROH world champ, Aries quickly went to work on Nigel’s left arm. It was this same arm that suffered the torn biceps recently, and that may have inadvertently led to Nigel’s heel turn, since missing shows as the brand new champion due to injury caused McGuinness to fall out of favor with some fans. The seeds of his heel turn were certainly evident here.

Aries was frustrated that Nigel seemed more interested in pleading his case to the New York crowd than with his very talented challenger. While Nigel stood on the floor, back to the ring and jawing with the audience, Aries delivered a Heat-Seeking Missile and drove McGuinness’ eyebrow directly into the top of the steel guardrail, busting him open hard way and causing an ugly gash over the champ’s right eye. Nigel’s lack of focus on Austin had cost him, perhaps dearly, as the blood began to flow.

One can’t fault Aries for taking it to the champion, and if McGuinness didn’t want to pay attention to the Ace, then he deserved to lose the strap. But the laceration awoke the champion, who adjusted his focus immediately and got his head back into the match. Aries continued to punish the left arm while also targeting the new weak spot he’d just created over McGuinness’ eye.

They told a solid story of experience and knowledge of their opponent, as each showed he’d done his homework by countering or avoiding key attacks. In retaliation for Aries’ strategy, McGuinness attacked Aries’ left arm as well. Nigel’s booming lariat was ever-present, as a single strike slowed Aries down and changed the tide in the contest. Again and again, Aries punished the rehabbed left arm of the champion, and McGuinness continued to respond with high-impact strikes.

The champ countered a second attempt at the Heat-Seeking Missile with a vicious back elbow, followed by a brutal Tower of London to the floor. That was a wicked shot, and clearly affected Aries. Thankfully, Nigel continued to sell the left arm, especially when he used it to throw those massive lariats at the Ace.

Nigel looked to win after scoring with another Tower of London, this time inside the ring, but he couldn’t break the will of the challenger and Aries kicked out in the nick of time. Aries delivered a plethora of elbow strikes in the corner, but Nigel placed him astraddle on the top rope and flipped Aries inside out with a wicked lariat from the top rope, sending Aries all the way to the floor. This was yet another brutal attack.

Aries responded by delivering a brain-buster on the outside, while drilling Nigel’s head on the top of the guardrail. Ouch! Back in the ring, Aries was a man possessed. He pummeled Nigel with shot after shot, nailed the brain-buster, and went for the 450 splash. But Nigel countered by raising his knees, and broke out his new arm submission hold. Aries escaped and landed yet another brain-buster before locking in the Horns of Aries. When Nigel made it to the ropes, a slugfest followed.

Aries countered the Jawbreaker Lariat with a powerful lariat of his own. Then out of nowhere, McGuinness delivered the coup de grace, a violent Jawbreaker that nearly took Aries’ head off, and the match was over. This really helped get the Jawbreaker over as a sudden knock-out punch as opposed to the 37 Jawbreakers it took to McGuinness to defeat Morishima on the last pay-per-view. A fine fighting champion indeed, Nigel battled through both the recently recovered arm injury that Aries assaulted for most of the match, and the blood loss and pain associated with that nasty gash on his face, all to successfully defend his crown. I enjoyed this match on the third viewing better than the first two, and I now understand all the MOTY talk associated with it.

Two hours of non-stop wresting action for $10 is always a good deal, and Ring of Honor hasn’t disappointed yet. All five of their ppvs have been well worth the price; I’d be happy to buy each and every one. ROH has proven once again that they are Rising Above every other wrestling promotion in the US. Check them out at ROHwrestling.com.

For more on ROH here at Pulse Wrestling, look no further than our own ROH Ace, Pulse Glazer with Ring of Honor Weekly, Jonathan Kirschner’s report on Rising Above, and various stuff from newcomer Bones Barkley.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes.” – St. Clement of Alexandria

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