Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – Every eye has it’s storm…

As my loyal readers will recall, I love a tournament. There is no more effective way to transform a series of random matches on a card into a tight, show-long storytelling device building to a big finish. Every wrestler in the tourney has a great deal on the line, and gets to play a little more desperate for the victory, leading to more risky offense and an automatic increase of intensity. On February 22nd of this year, Ring of Honor was forced to juggle a Deer Park, NY card due to weather issues, and they produced a very good tournament in the face of booking adversity.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Ring of Honor presents Eye of the Storm.

As the Ace himself, Pulse Glazer, will attest, I am a completist. I like to do things in chronological order, and never take the plastic wrap off a wrestling DVD unless I plan to watch the entire show, plus extras. So since I literally have 13 Ring of Honor DVDs of shows that occurred prior to Eye of the Storm, I had no intention of watching this one for quite a while. But since I read my colleague Big Andy Mac’s very good review of the show on Pulse Wrestling, and as I stated, since I do love tournaments, I jumped the time chart and cracked open this hidden gem.

It was February in the North East, and bad weather had prevented several advertised stars from making the trek to the Long Island hamlet of Deer Park. Shuffling the talent on hand into an eight-man, single-elimination tournament with the winner receiving a shot at ROH World Champion Nigel McGuinness was the best option ROH management had, and they took advantage of the opportunity to tell some good stories within the framework of one bigger saga. Allow me to break down the list of tournament players and what I thought about each one’s chances before I clicked “play”.

Austin Aries – One of my very favorite wrestlers in the world today, this former Ring of Honor World Champion is always able to convincingly slip into the main event slot. I thought he’d have a great chance of winning the tournament and challenging McGuinness again, especially after he wrestled in such a terrific outing against the champ in a surefire Match of the Year contender at the Rising Above ppv, which would air exactly two weeks after Eye of the Storm.

Go Shiozaki – Pro-Wrestling NOAH’s latest gift to American fans made his US debut here, and with the ROH heritage of former world champ Takeshi Morishima, it was certainly possible that he’d go all the way here, making a huge splash and announcing his presence to the ROH roster. A victory in this tournament and a good showing against McGuinness would fast-track Go to the limelight.

Delirious – My favorite guilty pleasure in ROH, Delerious is always entertaining, and better in the ring than his outlandish gimmick sometimes allows people to recognize. Still, while I’d cheer him on, I knew going in that he didn’t have much chance of bringing home a title shot on this night.

“American Dragon” Bryan Danielson – Like Aries, Dragon is always a convincing challenger to any champion, and as the only other former ROH World Champion in the field I felt he stood a better than average chance at winning here. In fact, I thought the tournament final might have been a great opportunity to revisit the amazing best of three series between Aries and Danielson which concluded in November of 2007.

When Dave Prazak revealed Dragon already possessed a future title shot, I imagined him perhaps losing in the first shot, then immediately cashing in his Eye of the Storm opportunity against Nigel in a Money In The Bank-style gambit.

Rocky “Azucar” Romero – Representing the No Remorse Corps, Rocky didn’t stand too much of a chance in my mind, but the beauty of ROH is that stranger things have happened. Other than the very obvious jobber-types, there are no mid-carders who never win matches or never get any offense. Romero does have some wicked stiff kicks and a brutal arm-submission in his arsenal, so you never know…

Necro Butcher – No chance. The one-dimensional, psychotic mauler does not have the skill, stamina, or wrestling ability to get past such an impressive field of foes. He was on the card to provide one wild brawl through the crowd and go home.

El Generico – Now this is interesting. With both Generico and his tag team partner Kevin Steen in the tourney (and in opposite brackets), I thought I immediately saw where this was going: a showdown between partners and friends, whose dynamic has always been one of the big bully protecting his little buddy from others, while still kind of abusing him. What better way to salvage an evening that had been turned upside down by the weather than by presenting a tournament final of partner-versus-partner?

“Mr. Wrestling” Kevin Steen – As I stated, Steen and Generico meeting in the finals would be a wonderful way to shine some light on this thrown-together card and get people talking about how even when things go wrong for ROH, they respond with greatness. Knowing the details of how this tourney came to be, the second I saw these two in opposite brackets, I predicted my first look at El Generico versus Kevin Steen, with a world title shot on the line.

They came roaring out of the gate with Bryan Danielson in the opening match. The announcers and the match itself got over two important points in this contest: 1) Danielson had a leg injury before the night began, and was concerned about protecting it because; 2) he’d be facing McGuinness for the gold the following night, so he didn’t need to take too many crazy chances or absorb a ton of punishment in this one.

Romero was commissioned by Nigel to injure Dragon at this show, even before the weather forced the card to change. In fact, this was the only match on the card that remained from what was originally planned. Although Romero lost via submission, he was able to significantly damage Dragon’s injured leg, and he felt he’d done Nigel enough of a favor to merit a world title shot down the line. Good storytelling there.

You might say Kevin Steen had an easier time with his first round opponent, as he drew Delirious in the bracket. Steen pinned the man from the edge of sanity after a swanton bomb, lining himself up for a shot at a vulnerable Bryan Danielson with little on the line since he was already set to go against McGuinness anyway. Were the fates smiling on Mr. Wrestling this night?

The next first-round matchup was Austin Aries against El Generico, and something about this contest just didn’t click. It seemed the two were never on the same sheet of music, and Aries appeared to break his nose hard way. While the broken nose made his sudden pinfall loss via roll-up seem more credible, it came across as odd that they booked Generico to defeat a guy like Aries in that fashion. Looking at the field, Generico could have beaten Delirious in a semi-comedy match while Steen got by Romero, allowing Danielson to get his win back on Aries since he lost the best-of-three series. Danielson defeating Aries would have been far more believable, and a much better match to boot.

My version of the brackets would still advance Generico, Danielson, and Steen to the semi-finals but would have done so in a more logical way. I had sort of a flat feeling seeing Aries lose that match, but in the context of what was happening to him storyline-wise at that time, I could believe him having an “off” night, I suppose.

The final match of the opening round saw Go Shiozaki, who is touted for his impressive wrestling skills, facing the hillbilly psycho himself, the Necro Butcher. Go brutalized the Age of the Fall member here, to my delight. You might have guessed I don’t care much for the Butcher. Shiozaki absorbed Necro’s crappy offense and lit up his chest with some awe-inspiring chops, as they gave us the expected wild brawl. Thankfully, Go did get to showcase one of his nice aerial moves, defeating Necro after his beautiful moonsault from the top rope. The semi-final matches were now set: Dragon versus Steen, and El Generico versus Shiozaki.

I like that they gave us all the first-round matches up front before the equivalent of an intermission in the “Larry Sweeney Show Starring Larry Sweeney”. As with many things in entertainment, if you enjoy Sweeney’s heelish routine, you’ll like a segment of him acting like an idiot. If you don’t, they you’ll be happy DVDs are able to be fast-forwarded. I happen to think he’s one of the best mic-men today, and will usually welcome his brand of antics on any given show. Plus, each and every time he demeans and embarrasses Bobby Dempsey is building to that glorious moment when the rotund grappler goes berserk and tears apart Sweet & Sour, Incorporated.

The second round began with Steen facing Danielson, and Mr. Wrestling had just one chance against his vastly superior opponent; he needed to exploit the leg injury and force Dragon to think about the following night. Danielson wanted to have enough in his tank against the world champ on the next evening, and couldn’t risk facing Nigel with a serious leg injury. This was a fantastic bit of tournament-long psychology. It’s unlikely Steen could have defeated Dragon on any “normal” night, but with the amount of work he did on the leg compounding Romero’s damage to Dragon’s previously wounded wheel in the first round, and with the impending title shot looming large on Dragon’s horizon, Steen forced Danielson to submit in the Sharpshooter. That’s always a nice homage to a wrestler’s Canadian roots.

I thought for sure that Steen’s surprising victory over Danielson would guarantee victory for Generico in his semi-final match, leading to the explosion of Steenerico, but Go Shiozaki had other plans. After Generico gave a valiant effort, he fell victim to Shiozaki’s “Go Flasher” finisher, a Jackhammer-like modified suplex. Give Generico credit, nobody takes a beating and garners crowd sympathy like the generic luchador. So while ROH wasn’t willing to give away the big showdown between tag team partners on this night, they did skyrocket Go to the finals and allow Steen a big win over Dragon, who had him outclassed every step of the way. The Shiozaki/Steen tournament finale would prove interesting to say the least.

With the main event now set there were two non-tournament matches on the card. The first was a four-corner survival between the Human Tornado who made his ROH East Coast debut here, one half of the FIP World Tag Team Champions, the YRR’s Jason Blade, and ROH Wrestling Academy standouts Pelle Primeau and Mitch Franklin. Nothing more than a cool-down for the crowd here, and the match had the usual amount of comedy often seen in ROH four-man matches. Think back to Colt Cabana and the pre-serious Chris Hero, and you can imagine how this one went down. There’s nothing wrong with taking the focus off the tourney a bit before the finals, and these guys all did their thing. Fair enough.

The last match before the tournament final was the Vulture Squad, represented by Ruckus and a still-masked Jigsaw (with Julius Smokes and Mercedes Martinez) facing an unusual Age of the Fall team comprised of Jimmy Jacobs and the one-legged wonder, Zack Gowen. Gowen’s life, according to Jacobs, should have been one of inspiration but it turned to tragedy. Gowen doesn’t do heel very well, and without Necro along for the ride, AOTF fall was something less than impressive or intimidating here. This match, like the Aries/Generico contest, just never quite “got there”. However they were able to advance a major ROH storyline with AOTF and their message, so no harm, no foul. All anyone cared about at that point was the tournament anyway.

Kevin Steen and Go Shiozaki faced off with a shot at ROH World Heavyweight Champion Nigel McGuinness hanging in the balance. Since the Steenerico option was not how ROH was taking the tournament, I assumed newcomer Shiozaki would win the big one here and go on to face Nigel at a later date. But Mr. Wrestling had a life-long dream to achieve, and he would not go down quietly to his Japanese opponent.

This was more than a battle of the bulls, although Steen and Shiozaki both like to overpower their opponents. However, they both possess an impressive mat-wrestling repertoire and can fly when the situation calls for aerial attacks. Go did a great job working Steen’s leg, and the fatigue of two previous matches was showing on both men. Again, that’s good tourney-long psychology and selling.

Steen was determined to endure Go’s torture of his lower extremity and earn the title shot, and although he was forced to deliver not one but two of his tight package piledrivers to do so, Mr. Wresting emerged victorious, completing a terrific night for the Canadian. As Big Andy Mac correctly noted, there was not one “great” match on this card, but as an overall show it flowed nicely, and watching Go make a great big footprint on ROH in his first opportunity was great. Watching Steen run the gauntlet and take a giant step up to the next level was even better, as he has all the tools required to be a solid occasional main-event player, and very good wrestling knowledge to call upon in those bigger matches.

Incidentally, Steen cashed in his title shot at Injustice in Edison, the one and only ROH show I’ve been able to attend live (being stationed in South Korea makes that sort of thing tricky), and he did not disappoint. Of course you know he didn’t win the title, but he made a fine accounting of himself and proved he had Nigel’s number. McGuinness was forced to run, hide, and cheat to avoid dropping the strap to Steen, who looked at home in the main event. Who knows? Mr. Wrestling might wear ROH World Championship gold one day.

If you love tournaments, I encourage you to add Eye of the Storm to your collection. ROH runs a lot of sales, so pick it up here the next time you need one more DVD to get you to a higher savings on your total order, or when you just have a jones for a solid tourney.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.” – Sir Winston Churchill

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