Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – ROH, Live!

Fans of professional wrestling in the United States know that there are some events worthy of a pilgrimage, and each of us should attend at least once. I went to WrestleMania live in Los Angeles a few years ago, and SummerSlam in Phoenix before that. I’ve also been to live RAW broadcasts, SmackDown tapings, and various house shows from Italy to Albuquerque. I had the pleasure of adding a new, unique experience to that list last Saturday night when I attended a Ring of Honor show in Edison, New Jersey.

TODAY’S ISSUE: My first live Ring of Honor show.

Since becoming a fan last year, I’ve purchased every ROH pay-per-view, a stack of DVDs, and two t-shirts, but had no real chance of seeing them live while stationed in New Mexico. What’s worse, I’m heading to Korea this Spring for a two-year tour of duty in the United States Air Force.

But as luck would have it, ROH happened to be in my home state of New Jersey while I was visiting family before my next stint overseas, so I made the drive and took in my favorite wrestling promotion live and in color. Before the show began, Tammy Sytch drove right by me in the parking lot, and I watched Kevin Steen and El Generico (in full gimmick) walk into the building. Just standing in the arena and seeing the familiar set I’ve seen many times on a TV screen was fun, and I waited with great anticipation for the actual show to begin.

The set-up was obviously intimate, since ROH routinely draws around 1,000 fans per show. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and everything seemed much more accessible than sitting in the upper deck of some huge sports venue for a WWE show. Whether this is better or worse is your preference, of course, but I’d liken it to the difference between seeing the Rolling Stones in Shea Stadium along with 50,000 of your closest friends, and catching them in a simpler venue with a much smaller crowd. Things are far more interactive and you feel more connected in the smaller setting, but by the same token the show doesn’t have that epic aura on the more modest stage. Having done both, I can honestly say I enjoyed several elements of the ROH show more than the gigantic WWE events I’ve attended in the past.

Well before the show began, they gave us a dark match featuring Alex “Sugarfoot” Payne against Michael Nakazawa from the Japanese DDT promotion. This was nothing special, but the fact that there was action in the ring was like the dimming of the lights in a movie theater. Even though it means 15 minutes of trailers before the feature, it still signals that the show is getting on the road. So I was excited to hear the first bump in the ring and see the first lock-up, as Sugarfoot did the J.O.B. for the visiting foreigner in a somewhat uninspiring match.

The show started proper a good 20 minutes late, but I had nowhere else to be so I forgave them once the lights went down and the countdown began. They opened with a fun match between Jack Evans and El Generico, and the crowd singing “ole ole ole” along with Generico’s entrance music got the show off to a hot start. That sort of thing is much better when experienced live.

Generico and Evans gave us a brief dance contest to start, and then the match was off and running. They worked some cool spots, including Generico delivering a brain-buster to Evans on the top turnbuckle, and eventually scoring the victory. But the important part was when ROH World Heavyweight Champion Nigel McGuinness came out and took a cheap shot on Generico as a message to his partner, Kevin Steen, who was Nigel’s opponent for later on the card. This brought Steen to the ring, of course, and some mic work helped build the anticipation for the title match. Booking 101.

The next match was the recently unmasked Jigsaw, who may look like my inbred cousin without the hood, but his Jig ‘n’ Tonic finisher is a sight to behold. He squashed trainee Mitch Franklin in a fast-paced, entertaining match, and Julius Smokes’ interaction with the crowd was very effective, so a good time was had by all.

Delirious is my favorite guilty pleasure in ROH, so I was so thrilled he was on the card. I even sported his bright green “Chemical Imbalance” t-shirt during the show. Although he was forced to submit to Brent Albright in a solid match, he still put on a good show and hit some of his signature spots. Delirious connects with the audience in a unique way, and watching him do his shtick live was worth the price of admission for me.

Next up was a tag team match pitting Chris Hero and his newest SNS stablemate, Eddie Edwards against the hard-hitting Erick Stevens and trainee Pelle Primeau. Primeau made a good accounting of himself taking quite a beating from Hero and Edwards, although he seemed to suffer from more than one “malfunction at the junction” when Stevens urged him into positions and spots he seemed totally unprepared for. That came across as sort of bush league, but since he’s fairly green, I’ll give old Pelle a break.

Stevens is just a freight train, and his “choo-choo” corner avalanche is nothing short of pulverizing. While Stevens’ every strike and attack had monstrous impact, Hero knocked out Pelle for the win, which was the correct booking. SNS needs to stay strong for as long as possible, and losing to a random team of a trainee and a somewhat floating upper mid-carder wouldn’t be what the doctor ordered for the leading heel stable in the company.

Speaking of Sweet N Sour, the entertainingly obnoxious Larry Sweeney was all over this show, and that’s was a good thing. In an interesting bit of possible foreshadowing, both Brent Albright and Sara “Death Ray” Del Rey refused to do his nefarious bidding, and since Hero attacked Bobby Dempsey and kicked him out of the scheduled tag match, it looks like SNS might have a little civil war brewing soon. The crowd is already solidly behind the loveable loser Dempsey, so when he, Del Rey, Albright and maybe others turn on Sweeney, it should make for a lengthy and engaging feud.

The final match before intermission was a garbage no-DQ affair between the Necro Butcher and Roderick Strong. This was the traditional brawl through the crowd, and until they got into the ring I literally couldn’t see anything. They pulverized each other with wicked chair-shots, and Necro bladed before Stevens interrupted the contest and drilled Strong with a Doctor Bomb through a table, allowing Necro to pick the carcass clean for the pinfall victory. It was a typical street fight, with violence galore and moves that make me cringe more than they make me pop. I believe this sort of match should be saved for only the most heated feuds, and then, only for the real blow-off. Ring of Honor has enough quality wrestlers that they don’t need to have these massacres on every card. But for a garbage brawl, it was a good one I suppose.

After the break came my very first look at the high-flying, flippy spot-fanatic from DDT, Kota Ibushi, versus Claudio Castagnoli. Oddly enough, they worked about five minutes of mat work before turning it up a notch, but the crowd would have forgiven them for launching right into the meat and potatoes had they chosen to do so. Claudio was very over (except with Bones Barkley, who kept booing him), and the last half of the match was dynamite. Kota earned a “please come back” chant, and I suppose a foreign wrestler couldn’t ask for more from a crowd seeing him for the first time.

The obligatory Tammy Sytch segment didn’t really go anywhere, and left me sort of flat. Thankfully, the ROH World Title match was on deck, and McGuinness and Steen had a very good contest with some heavy striking, solid action, and a perfect heel champ escape when it seemed the strap was in jeopardy of changing hands. Steen’s reaction to getting screwed was right on the money, as it took half the locker room to stop his rampage. Good stuff.

Castagnoli got in Nigel’s face afterward and challenged him to a title match at an upcoming show. Nigel of course attempted to beg off, but certainly this title defense is now set. It was a good segment that the audience was rabid for, considering McGuinness’ slippery escape with his gold from moments earlier, and how much the fans were digging Double C on this night.

Since they left the tag team title match for last, I had a thought that it might be the Briscoes’ night and sure enough, I got to see a title change live when the Briscoes reclaimed the gold from the NRC of Romero and Richards. This was a very good outing for both teams, with the Briscoes hitting their typical spots and the NRC firing on all cylinders. The crowd popped huge for the change, and the Briscoes did the Stone Cold Steveweisers routine as the house lights went up.

From before the opening bell to after the crowd started filing out, I had a terrific time and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. I’d gladly go back to another ROH show, and look forward to my next opportunity. Ring of Honor offers a fantastic night of wrestling excitement for a very affordable price, and you’re sure to have a blast. I highly encourage wrestling fans to get out there and support this indy sensation the next time they come to town.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Life gets in the way of living.” – Patricia A.

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