DVD Review: ROH Southern Navigation, May 9, 2008

ROH visited Virginia for the first time with a card of promising matches. They pitted Aries against Stevens and Danielson against Black in rematches of two of the company’s best singles contests of the first quarteryear. They flew in three guys from Pro Wrestling NOAH: Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji, and then-GHC Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Morishima. Team NOAH would square off in a trios tag main event against the No Remorse Corps. With the issue continuing between the Age of the Fall and the Briscoes, Jack Evans making a (sadly) rare appearance in ROH and local guys getting chances to make an impression, this looked almost better than the first Hammerstein show on paper. As for the execution? Spoiler-free reviews of each match follow below, but skip down to “Results/Spoilers” if you just want the outcomes. Please let me know what you think of this review style in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.

Chris Hero Vs. Pelle Primeau
Is Hero still wrestling for yucks? He’s not funny, but his new music (a combination of Holding Out for a Hero and the anthem from Requiem for a Dream) is atrocious and he still dresses like an utter moron in bright colors, camouflage, his patented rip-off of the Superman logo and what looks like a sash on his left boot. Between all that, his bit of a gut and the long hair, he may be the least imposing 6’6” “bad ass” who can knock out anyone at any time I’ve ever seen. He didn’t work the chop like Strong could, the boot like Generico could, elbows like Danielson could – nothing felt serious in this rather drawn-out short beating. And I can’t blame it on Primeau, even though literally all his offense was some kind of springboard, headscissors or bodyscissors. We’ve seen Primeau in quality short underdog matches against Steen, Strong, Edwards and even getting the crap beaten out of him by Albright on Pay Per View. He knows how to get beaten up and make the other guy look like a force. Hero managed to make something that went seven minutes feel too long. He has talents, but being a bruiser isn’t one of them. Top this match off with the crowd chanting for the big mean guy, and I’m wishing something else would open this show.

Rhett Titus & Rex Sterling Vs. Mitch Franklin & Sean Denny
Titus has surprisingly good pacing for taking and delivering offense, a strength made more apparent by his ability to pause in the middle do something inane without breaking the flow of the action. That was the only striking feature of another short match where Sterling and Denny showed a couple of good moves, but didn’t really have the option to display more. Denny does look like a bad create-a-wrestler version of WWE’s CM Punk, complete with the hair, trunks, kickpads and tattoos in the right general areas, but it’s more amusing than anything, especially when he kicks.

Video from the Age of the Fall
We see a disturbing handcam video of Jimmy Jacobs stalking Lacey to her gym, confronting her and pulling a knife. The other members of the Age of the Fall freaking out and rushing to cut the camera when things turned dangerous really worked. This is messed up, but in an interesting way. Chances are you’ve already seen it in ROH’s videowires.

Nigel McGuinness Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Brent Albright Vs. Damian Wayne
They still call these Four Corner Survival matches despite being one-fall contests. They’re scrambles. Own up, ROH.

In all seriousness, this was a fun fourway and a very different one than normal as everybody was big and pretty grounded. Albright showed impressive technical ability as well as power, McGuinness was an insufferable prick, and Castagnoli expressed his exasperation with the champion really well. The highpoint was Castagnoli embarrassing McGuinness by countering a Jawbreaker Lariat into a Giant Swing, exactly the kind of stuff a semi-humorous wrestler should use against someone who derides him as not serious enough to win. It’s sad to hear Castagnoli underwhelmed in this role at A New Level, because based on this it should have been fine. It was a bad tryout for Wayne, though, as he was a punching bag for most of the match, while Albright and McGuinness worked together, often on him. Only Albright really recognized this was a one-fall match, attacking all opponents, looking for reasonable openings teaming up where it made sense. For their part on the show as the first longer match, it was passable part of the show.

Austin Aries Vs. Erick Stevens
Aries didn’t want the match, coming out to the ring in street clothes to demand a confrontation with Jacobs after what happened to Lacey. What happened? We don’t know, but it was obviously bad. When Stevens refused to leave, Aries struck him and the match was on.

It was pretty plain that if Aries was going to have to fight he was going to take out his frustrations on Stevens. He displayed it at every turn, attacking fiercely at openings, once taking a serious swing at a fan that antagonized him, and early on looking like he’d walk out on the match to go hunt Jacobs instead. Aries was great for this role, but Stevens outweighed him considerably so he wasn’t going to get his way. Stevens’s power style and Aries’s aggression made this more of a fight than the semi-respectable semi-scientific contest at Proving Ground. They tried to express that at every turn, taking spills hard to add emphasis to impact, keeping up the audible element with loud grunts and stomps that wouldn’t normally mean anything but went into the atmosphere they wanted. It wasn’t nearly as hot or complex as their first match, but from the opening promo you knew it wasn’t going to be a sequel. At 10-15 minutes, however, it was a heck of a lot better than live reports led me to think it would be.

No DQ Match: Necro Butcher Vs. Jack Evans
Shockingly the Necro Butcher was in a match where weapons were legal. Seriously, if he’s so bad at fundamental wrestling that you have to hide him in a gimmick match on every show, just cut him.

And what’s sad is the best part of the match had no weapons in it, with Butcher tossing Evans around and Evans trying to open up an advantage. It actually worked. But then Butcher fetched some plunder and it became the same garbage match he’s been having on so many 2008 DVD’s. The only major difference was Butcher kicking out of something that no one should ever kick out of in any kind of match, and doing so at 1. But then it was back to business as usual, with him shrugging off damage from weapons and high impact moves only for his opponents to pretend punches that don’t look very convincing to start with are killing them.

I can’t possibly be the only one who’s tired of this, but as I haven’t seen anybody else write it: these matches aren’t exciting. They make me sad. I don’t want to see this poor man fall on his head anymore. I don’t want to see good athletic wrestlers drop at disgusting angles on chairs for no issue. I get that it’s titillating to a live audience that doesn’t see it as often as I do, but from a DVD continuity perspective, this has become generic, is hazardous to health, and has further hurt gimmick matches as resolutions to feuds.

Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Jay Briscoe
Jacobs stabbed Mark Briscoe at Return Engagement and put him out for 3-6 months, so his brother Jay was out for revenge. Ironically this wasn’t a No DQ match. More ironically these guys took a while to get in the ring, Jacobs sailed over a table, Jay rang the bell in his ear, and they proceeded to beat the crap out of each other with chairs. So, maybe the Necro Butcher is just the only guy in official No DQ contests?

That said, their early-match shenanigans got the live crowd as into the show as anything in any match up to that point. Jacobs played a great victim, having already earned vitriol and now getting a beating for it. At the same time he was a quality opportunist, playing off his opponent. Jay Briscoe was in his element with an obvious physical charisma, getting a lot behind all of his offense with an unusual sense of importance. While this wasn’t necessarily a better match than his title challenges against Morishima and McGuinness last year, he was clearly a better performer in his role this time. This felt like a real fight with purpose behind their actions and pacing to the use of weapons. This would have fit better directly after Stevens/Aries, as it was in that aggressive vein but was another level up with their violence and the time they got. There is one moment where they did a nasty chairshot, but whiffed multiple times to set up anticipation for the one that hit. If only more hardcore in ROH worked that way. Not to excuse the parts of the match where someone took an obligatory disgusting fall, but these two should be commended for putting more thought into this sort of thing than usual.

Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black
At Breakout we were impressed that Black could hang in there and occasionally show up Danielson. This time we’re struck by his ability to take it to Danielson and actually dominate. His confidence was much more evident this time, and with his unquestionable execution and athleticism, he looked even better than he did at in January.

Not that the upstart nature of Breakout wasn’t evident. He still showboated, and this time even stole some of Danielson’s holds. But that got Danielson mad, and in 2008 there’s nothing Bryan Danielson likes more than getting mad, coming back and making you regret what you just did. He tortured Black with simple things, with strikes like kicks to the torso and holds like the Surfboard. As usual, he worked splendidly with that disgruntled technician character, but also made Black’s phenomenal offense that much more impressive just by contrast. He’s so cemented into ROH that he could sit back in a hold and laugh at the enthusiasm of the fans without damaging the match; it merely made a connection to the crowd, while simultaneously forming his own way of disrespecting Black, ignoring the rookie as he screamed in a hold. And it really does require pointing out that a modified Dragon Sleeper here got a louder ovation than chair-based offense in previous matches.

This wasn’t a low-octane match, even when Danielson was dictating things on the match. Black brought plenty of flash, and even tempted Danielson into a dive I can’t remember ever seeing him try before. And Black was able to trade some shot and come out with some nice counters to a few of Danielson’s mat attacks. Generally, it’s a more even contest between two guys who have very different approaches to offense. If you liked Breakout, you owe it to yourself to see this.

Takeshi Morishima, Naomichi Marufuji & Go Shiozaki Vs. Roderick Strong, Davey Richards & Rocky Romero
For a night the No Remorse Corps went from jocks to chickens. Richards cringed in terror of Go chopping him, Romero had to bail out against Morishima, and even Strong couldn’t stand up to the brute force of Team NOAH. For three guys who normally enjoy abusing people, this was an amusing turn, and a fitting one given how outweighed they were. Richards was king of the whipping boys, switching between humor and being a mere target for flying dropkicks and asses. And for the record, Richards will take a mean flying ass.

I love wrestling.

These antics didn’t last the whole match, but they were an essential pallet-cleanser after the action of Black/Danielson, and gave the crowd some laughs that helped the overall feel of the show. Eventually Go succumbed to team tactics, and Marufuji was small enough to abuse so long as he was slowed down. The NRC even took down Morishima for a while, which marked where the near-half-hour match really took off. Then Richards could really fight back and Strong could properly manhandle his opponents, seeming to adjust and gain confidence as the defense of Team NOAH opened up. Everything fit together with the fluidness of Marufuji and Romero, the gleeful brutality of Go, the power of Strong and Morishima, and Richards filling in whatever was necessary. In many ways this was an upgraded version of the Dragon Gate Challenge 2 tag and made a heck of an ending to the show by merging fun antics and the athletic sprints ROH fans demand.

Closing: Buy it now? Wait for a sale? Borrow it from a friend? Skip entirely?
If you’re a smart consumer then you probably wait for percent-off of Buy 3, Get 1 Free sales. This should make a good fourth DVD for that stack of four. A really good double main event sits atop Stevens Vs. Aries 2 and Jay Briscoe Vs. Jacobs, giving you four really good matches of different stripes. It’s a show low on flying and high on physicality. There’s hardcore wrestling, grudge wrestling, a great technical contest between the upstart Black and established Danielson, and the blast that is the trios tag main event. You’ve also got advancement in storylines, particularly with Jacobs’s implied attack on Lacey. This is a particularly good-buy for anyone who loved Black Vs. Danielson from Breakout or enjoys the visits by NOAH wrestlers.

Results/Spoilers
-Chris Hero beat the crap out of Pelle Primeau and finally pinned him after a Roaring Elbow and a Yakuza Kick at about seven minutes.
-Rhett Titus & Rex Sterling beat Mitch Franklin & Sean Denny
-Brent Albright won the fourway against Damien Wayne, Claudio Castagnoli and Nigel McGuinness when he trapped Wayne’s arm and kneed him in the head until the ref stopped the match. Albright looked great until he used his finisher, which is unquestionably one of the worst-looking pieces of offense in ROH.
-Austin Aries beat Erick Stevens with the End Times Guillotine Choke in an obvious reference to Jimmy Jacobs.
-The Necro Butcher pinned Jack Evans with a Backbreaker across two chairs, after kicking out of the 630 Splash. I think I blew an artery.
-Jimmy Jacobs choked out Jay Briscoe in the End Times after DDTing him through a chair with help from the Necro Butcher.
-Bryan Danielson forced Tyler Black to submit to a Single Leg Crab Heel Hook after a great match.
-Team NOAH beat the No Remorse Corps when Naomichi Marufuji pinned Rocky Romero with a Shiranui to end one of the best trios tags ROH has done in a long time. They really should do more of them.

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