Cult of ROH: Remember When X Beat Y?

Comparing ROH’s stories to the disasters of TNA feuds make some fans forget that ROH, too, is mortal. But recognizing the company for what it truly is isn’t necessarily negative: looking at it realistically can help us come to grips with things that secretly bother or disappoint, and will help us introduce it to new fans. Hailing ROH as the perfect company will only disappoint new fans when they see ROH do something goofy, like drop the ball, or completely forget there was a ball in the first place. For instance, they’ve had some huge upsets that could have been a serious boost to careers that were soon forgotten. Most of us remember when Austin Aries upset Samoa Joe at Final Battle 2004. But do you remember when Claudio Castagnoli upset Austin Aries?

It was January of this year, as Castagnoli geared up for a run at Nigel McGuinness. Aries was in a slump while Castagnoli was on an undercard streak, making examples of the likes of Ruckus and Chris Hero. Castagnoli connected with crowds but was not a hot enough act, and the match happened in the middle of Transform. Like an average mid-card match, it was brief – only about fifteen minutes. If it had run longer they might have built something. Aries is a very talented flyer and Castagnoli excels against such guys, but they didn’t click and didn’t have the time to rebound with the great finishing stretch that makes so many of Aries’s matches these days. What was a very good match for its show failed to become great and was overshadowed by more interesting performances later in the show.

It didn’t help that on the next two shows he wrestled in the opener against Adam Pearce and to a draw against Generico. It definitely didn’t help that the draw against Generico was a much more entertaining match. The more entertaining something is the more attention it will get, and an unintentional result is that the draw against Generico lingered in people’s minds longer than defeating Aries.

Do you remember when Jimmy Jacobs choked out Bryan Danielson? You should because it was a great match, but a lot of people missed it on virtue of it being on an Unscripted show. These throw-together events have the grievous disadvantage of having little preparation time, being in place of something that was promised to the crowd and not having much effect on continuity. On the flip side the roster tend to bust their humps trying to put on a good show. Paul London Vs. Michael Shane and the original Austin Aries Vs. Nigel McGuinness were both buried in Unscripted DVD’s. Jacobs Vs. Danielson is the best testament to both the hard effort wrestlers put forward on such shows, and how little they affect continuity.

Jacobs killed himself to help make this show up to the crowd. He came out of the gate swinging, and Danielson gave him a lot of control time. One of Danielson’s few glaring weaknesses is that he’s not nearly as good following someone else’s lead on defense as he is at controlling a match, but this was one of those matches where it really worked, especially thanks to Jacobs throwing nearly all of his high-end offense at him. On DVD, Danielson passing out in the Guillotine after the Super DDT is completely believably. Live people still thought he’d fight out of it, a testament to the energy of the match and how great he is in the eyes of the fans. It was a prime opportunity for money rematches, but Jacobs went to Final Battle, won the tag titles for a short run, and his singles career was almost forgotten. The commentators barely acknowledged it at Breakout when Danielson hooked up at Black. We can only wonder if they’ll acknowledge it as Danielson is drawn closer into Aries’s feud with the Age of the Fall.

How about when Jack Evans pinned a former ROH world champion? That happened at Fifth Year Festival: New York, when Evans won a fourway elimination by pinning both Shingo Takagi and Xavier. I may never understand ROH’s opinion of Xavier, who they made their second-ever champion, first-ever heel champion, who scarcely ever had a rumor of attitude and performs well every time he gets a shot, and still can’t get the time of day from them. They could at least treat Evans beating him cleanly as something special, especially back when Joe was on his way out and there were even fewer ex-World Champions floating around to beat. Yet Shingo (who Evans pinned next) got the World Title shot a few months later. Evans constantly taking time off from ROH hasn’t helped his stock, but it’s almost a joke that he’s never challenged for an ROH singles title. It’d be nice if someday Evans could devote more steady time to the company and have a proper run.

Do you remember when Brent Albright pinned Homicide? It was 2007, and Homicide’s last singles match in the company.

No one ran in. They threw each other into chairs and brawled so wildly that when Albright did put Homicide through a table the crowd popped rather than registered it as cheating. Albright also didn’t pin Homicide uncleanly, but out-maneuvered him into a Half-Nelson Suplex, knocked him out and pinned him fairly. It was actually a really good little match.

Unfortunately it happened on This Means War 2, a solid show without enough buzz to move DVD’s. Ring of Honor also didn’t follow up on Albright’s victory, putting him back into relatively meaningless undercard matches and brawls. He wrestled a meager dark match at the first ROH PPV a month later, and it would be quite a while before ROH put him on the road to challenging Morishima in what remains his best ROH match. It could have been a much earlier jumpstart, especially when it turned out Homicide was TNA-exclusive and that it had been his last singles match – but by then fans were lamenting the loss of their favorite Puerto Rican brawler, not paying attention to who had beaten him.

We could on about how ROH could have followed up Pelle Primeau’s big fourway win over Toland, Cabana and Albright, or that time Tony Mamaluke and Sal Rinauro were actually tag champions, or that Jay Lethal did in fact beat both Christopher Daniels and Low Ki at different points in his ROH tenure. But let’s go straight to the most curious piece of recent amnesia in the ROH consciousness: do you remember when Nigel McGuinness beat Takeshi Morishima for the ROH World Championship?

You can probably name the show. I’ll bet more people can name the event than actually saw it. ROH: Undeniable had little buzz around it. Its tag title match was underwhelming, the rest of the card wasn’t very strong, and in general the show was a massive step down from Man Up (one can only imagine how memorable this same match would have been on that PPV). McGuinness ended one of the best reigns in ROH history, but even his victory had little buzz, attracting half-hearted negativity that ROH has since tried to mock. People were ready for him at Fighting Spirit, but months later the rivalry had cooled in the public eye and fans wanted Danielson or Castagnoli to dethrone the Japanese monster.

There is also the unconventional argument that McGuinness didn’t begin his title reign until 2008. He began as the heroic underdog, but injuries and commitments to Pro Wrestling NOAH hindered his reign. He was reborn at the Sixth Anniversary Show, finally turning into a loathsome bastard. His match with Danielson that night is a favorite, and may be the secondary starting point for his current reign. He had a blow-away match with Austin Aries in a similar bastardly role at Rising Above in December 2007, but it wasn’t released until March 2008, so it gets linked up with the Sixth Anniversary in people’s minds. Also in March he had a second blow-away with Aries, and on the next PPV show he played a villain so dominant he turned Tyler Black around. These are the memorable aspects of his reign, and why it’s so surprising for people to learn he’s passed Morishima in reign-length. It doesn’t feel like he’s been champion for that long because, in a sense, this Nigel McGuinness hasn’t. His smug, detestable persona is one of the best assets in the company, more than making up for questionable timing on his title win.

Ring of Honor has a different business model than televised wrestling companies. It has to book important matches on every show or expect people not to buy them. In the rush to sustain hype and remain profitable, some outcomes are forgotten. This is a flaw, but far from a fatal one. Just as they praise Ring of Honor’s many strengths, it would serve its fans to acknowledge its mistakes. Denying them and bottling up frustration is the probable cause for why so many fans flip out over stupid and trivial issues, like Gabe Sapolsky mistakenly saying something is a first-time match. If we’re a little more honest and forgiving, maybe we can laugh over these things. Anyone who saw Jay Lethal beat Curry Man knows it’s the right thing to do.

Also on Pulse Wrestling this week:
-Pulse Glazer responds to Bryan Danielson’s WWE tryout and rumors of a departure
-Mark Buckeldee gives us live impressions from Pro Wrestling NOAH’s first show in England, featuring Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, Jay Briscoe, Eddie Edwards and Doug Willaims
-David Wells sums up IWA: Mid South in his Independent Rundown
-And Vinny Truncellito takes his first look at Full Impact Pro, the Florida indy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,