|Available at Amazon.com|
Wrestling in the States has been going downhill ever since WWE ended the “Monday Night Wars” and bought rival WCW. And when Northeast-based Extreme Championship Wrestling folded, Vinny Mac and his stable of wrestlers were the only show in town.
Well, at least on the national level.
As someone who has followed wrestling off and on for several years now, I’ve tried to be a smarter fan and appreciate the work that goes into making sports entertainment. As such, I looked outside World Wrestling Entertainment and discovered the independent wrestling circuit. One of the biggest players is Ring of Honor. I was fortunate to find ROH mere months after the company held its first show in February 2002. Over the past six years the company has evolved; it was been retooled and been reborn many times over. Wrestlers who competed on the undercard have risen to be prime players. Others used the promotion to showcase their skills before heading to greener pastures. The company has even benefited from cameos by the likes of Mick Foley and Matt Hardy.
At first glance, ROH is a treat for the uninitiated. The wrestlers are smaller but the tempo is much faster than the laborious kick-punch pace of the big leagues. Emphasis is placed on the technical aspect. Even so, there are plenty of innovative maneuvers, combinations and high spots that dazzle those with the benefit of flash photography. Since the company is based in the Northeast, those who can’t attend the live events must settle for the eventual DVD releases, which is both welcomed by the fans and is a steady stream of income for the promotion.
Following in the footsteps of ECW and its line of long out-of-print Pioneer DVD compilations, Ring of Honor became Retail of Honor in April thanks to Koch Vision Entertainment. The independent DVD label has given the company major DVD distribution with the releases of Stars of Honor and Bloodstained Honor. The second title is more geared towards those who enjoyed the bloody brawls and feuds of ECW. Stars of Honor is the polar opposite and is technically based, and the subject of this review.
The DVD is hosted by ROH personalities Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard; together they introduce this collection of matches, each featuring famous faces. The faces are of wrestlers who have competed in Ring of Honor for a period of time, or who have visited the promotion briefly. This release is a great primer for anyone who is new to Ring of Honor or just looking for an alternative to WWE. Appearances by the likes of WWE’s Matt Hardy, MVP, and CM Punk help WWE fans familiarize themselves with the ROH product. But Total Non-stop Action (TNA) fans aren’t left in the dark as Samoa Joe, Christian Cage, Homicide and Christopher Daniels are spotlighted.
Here’s the complete match listing (a total of eight matches)
Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk (ROH World Title Match – Elizabeth, NJ, 12/4/04 – All Star Extravaganza II)
Homicide vs. Antonio Banks (MVP) (FIP Heavyweight Title Match – Elizabeth, NJ, 2/19/05 – Do or Die IV)
James Gibson vs. Roderick Strong (Asbury Park, NJ, 4/2/05 – Best of the American Super Juniors Tournament)
Bryan Danielson vs. Spanky (Asbury Park, NJ, 4/2/05 – Best of the American Super Juniors Tournament)
Matt Hardy vs. Homicide (Dayton, OH, 8/12/05 – Redemption)
Matt Hardy vs. Roderick Strong (Chicago Ridge, IL, 8/13/05 – Punk: The Final Chapter)
Christopher Daniels vs. Christian Cage (Cleveland, OH, 7/29/06 – Generation Now)
Samoa Joe & Jay Lethal vs. Low KI & Homicide (Chicago Ridge, IL, 8/13/05 – Punk: The Final Chapter)
These eight matches make for a good, albeit not perfect, collection. The biggest highlight, of course, is seeing the final match in the Joe/Punk trilogy. The prior encounters ended in 60-minute time-limit draws. So for this match a no time limit stipulation was implemented. I’m still puzzled why they didn’t go with the Noble/Strong match from October 2005’s Unforgettable since it is highly regarded, and is better than their first encounter from April. The weakest offering of the eight matches is Homicide taking on a “still green” Antonio Banks (aka MVP).
It’s funny, this title is intended to showcase former stars that are now competing in TNA and WWE, but those new to Ring of Honor will probably be getting their first glimpses of guys like Bryan Danielson and Roderick Strong. Danielson is the equivalent to Ric Flair. Okay, that may be stretching things a bit. But he is definitely ROH’s icon. The match he has with Spanky, while good, doesn’t even begin to showcase “The Best in the World.” And Roderick, the guy is a utility player. He can do a bit of everything. He’s main-evented against the likes of Danielson and he was part of one of the best tag teams with then partner Austin Aries.
Most likely intentional, the bookend of the World Title and tag matches makes sure things don’t end on a sour note. The crowd is hot for both contests. The post-match brawl after the tag match is heated; the wrestlers go into the crowd and use anything they can to knock each other out. Steel chairs, somebody’s shoe, anything in close proximity. And the crowd responds in unison with chants of “Holy $#@%!” and “You killed Lethal!”
Those who have followed Ring of Honor for years or are new to promotion, Stars of Honor is an exceptional deal. Eight matches and nearly three hours of action for less than fifteen bucks, that’s a steal. ROH may not have the production values of World Wrestling Entertainment, but its fanbase is vocal and its action is both athletic and entertaining.
ROH’s production design is considerably better now than it was back when it started in 2002. The lighting is different for each venue but the action in and out of the ring is discernable. But it has a blown-out picture, oftentimes whiting out the faces of the competitors. The full frame transfer has issues of compression artifacts and pixellation, similar to the ROH’s video releases.
As for the audio, we get a Dolby Digital presentation but it is equally rough. The audio is neither dynamic nor engaging, but you’ll definitely notice the crowd. The play-by-play commentary that is recorded in post-production is thin and sometimes tinny. Still this isn’t a deal breaker for loyal ROH fans.
Special to Stars of Honor is a trio of additional segments. The first is Mick Foley in ROH (7:36). Taken from Weekend of Thunder, Night II in November 2004, Foley is joined in-ring by CM Punk, where he shills his new children’s book and mentions that he is here with an ulterior motive. He wants to bring CM Punk and Samoa Joe with him to WWE, but first he wants Punk and Joe to face a month later on December 4th.
The CM Punk – Samoa Joe Respective (11:22) has Punk and ROH personality Jimmy Bauer discussing his past encounters with Joe. The feature consists of Punk talking over footage of his first two matches with Joe. Again, this helps educate the viewer about the CM Punk/Samoa Joe rivalry.
The last segment is Bruno Sammartino in ROH (9:04). Here, Sammartino addresses the crowd at All Star Extravaganza III from March 30, 2007. The former WWWF champion is humble and polite and has many kind words to say about the Ring of Honor product and its young talent. As he’s wrapping up Larry Sweeney and his entourage of Tank Toland and Chris Hero interrupt him. Let’s just say he gets some assistance from someone who’s in it to win it.
It’s a new day for Ring of Honor. By entering the retail marketplace, the company will have DVDs positioned next to WWE and TNA titles. And you can’t beat 170 minutes of action for less than fifteen dollars – or less than ten on some online outlets. Sure, its presentation may not be as polished and look how fans weaned on a steady diet of Monday Night Raw think it should, but seeing familiar faces in a more low-key environment is an interesting sight. Koch Vision has released the first of what I hope is many ROH compilations. If Stars of Honor is an introductory course, I can’t wait to see what else ROH has in store.
Koch Vision presents Ring of Honor: Stars of Honor. Featuring Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Matt Hardy, and Christian Cage. Running time: 170 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: April 1, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.