Cult of ROH: The 49-Minute Hour

On Saturday in Edison management used the “Card Subject to Change” rule to drastically re-book the show they’d advertised. Aries Vs. McGuinness for the World Title and Jacobs Vs. Black for the first time ever were both thrown out, with the only money match replacing them being a title match between McGuinness and Black. All the guys involved were healthy enough to wrestle, so there was no apparent necessity for the change, but ROH went with it. It was the second time Black and McGuinness had gone at it in two nights and many saw the sudden re-booking as a sign of a possible title switch, something that quieted testier fans. At least for an hour.

The belt did not change hands, and the match has since become incredibly divisive. It began with general wrestling and Nigel McGuinness became frustrated with the challenger. He tried to walk out, but Bryan Danielson blocked him and threatened his life if he didn’t get back in the ring. McGuinness chose life.

As the match swung back into Black’s favor, Jimmy Jacobs ran down the ramp to distract him.

Black still fought back and looked ready to hit a finishing move from the top rope when Austin Aries came through the crowd to push him off.

Jay Briscoe then ran down to the ring and attacked Aries and Jacobs. Though in a feud with the American Wolves for injuring his brother and shortly getting sucked into the Sweet & Sour Inc. mega-feud, he’d had words with Aries and Jacobs earlier in the night. At this point the referee was more concerned with the interlopers and tried to break things up.

Also at this point Jerry Lynn, the veteran who feels McGuinness has disrespected him, snuck in to attack McGuinness. He hit his Cradle Piledriver on the champ.

With Jay Briscoe still at ringside, the American Wolves of Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards came out to attack him.

Brent Albright and Roderick Strong came out to neutralize Edwards and Richards.

With everyone still brawling at ringside in the middle of the World Title match, Bryan Danielson returned to the ring, got on the microphone and told them to cut it out. He then dove into the melee.

The mass of interlopers did dives and spills until everyone was wiped out, and left with the flow.

Finally one-on-one again, Black and McGuinness went through dramatic exchanges. Black hit a stiff Superkick that appeared to knock out the champion. It was the same move that let him pin McGuinness on Friday. Both were down and it seemed that Black could really pull it off. Then the bell rang. They had gone to a time limit draw.

Unfortunately the time was under fifty minutes. According to everyone in attendance I’ve been able to contact, the main event lasted about 49 minutes including all of the run-ins. A change in the time limit was not announced before the match.

So essentially ROH threw out two huge matches in order to book Black Vs. McGuinness yet again, this time with ten run-ins and a head-scratcher of a draw ending. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Here’s the thing: the crowd came alive after the run-ins. They were subdued for the undercard. They were quiet for much of Bryan Danielson Vs. Jerry Lynn. But when all interlopers disappeared, McGuinness and Black seized the moment and the crowd was exuberant. They had chanted “Fire Russo!” and “Bullshit!” during the run-ins, expecting a crap ending. But it when it didn’t come, many were electrified.

The booking played off of the premise that Adam Pearce is ruining Ring of Honor. He baited and switched a title defense at Escalation, and run-ins have been tainting the ends of a lot of high-profile matches (including two Tag Title defenses). This was the first case of seriously playing with the negative expectations of ROH’s “smark” audience. Even the baffling premature time limit draw has begun to be apologized for with a Newswire suggesting the timekeeper was bribed or intimidated before the show. He was sporting a black eye that night, though given that he was sitting next to ROH owner Cary Silkin (who black appealed to after the match) who didn’t seem to notice his company’s main event had ended eleven minutes prematurely, and Nigel McGuinness threatening him to pretend it was a time limit draw if they went long enough, it could become an even bigger insult the intelligence of the viewer. ROH is damned if they do and damned if they don’t in this situation.

That’s not to give ROH a free pass. Some apologists have written that this wasn’t as bad as “TNA crap.” But on paper, it was. It reads remarkably similarly to something off of TNA Impact in 2007. The week after Shawn Michaels and John Cena had their classic on Raw, TNA booked Rhino, Kurt Angle and Christian Cage in a match that went an hour. They had half the damned roster run in to fill time, showing no faith in the attention span of their viewers and the wrestling talent of their main eventers. At the time TNA was panned for their actions. Overbooking is generally obnoxious, and the whole act smacks of exactly the kind of anti-sport attitude many of us turned to ROH to escape.

Management may not want a free pass, either. While all the dives exciting the crowd speaks against the new ROH’s scaling back of high-octane risky wrestling, their swerve got the best reaction of the night. What reads like wrestlecrap may be appealing to the new fans management is counting on, especially if it can be executed well. There were more families than normal at Manassas and Edison, the only bright side to lower than usual attendance. That lower attendence has been blamed on the Pearce Era’s reputation, the weather (it was zero degrees in some parts of the country), and Manassas’s proximity to Washington D.C. just days before the infrastructure-clogging inauguration of Barack Obama. Still, more casual fans seem to have turned out. It’s these people ROH is counting on. Specifically, counting on them to replace some of you.

That leaves you with questions: could enjoy what was described above? Knowing you have a chance to get caught in the moment, be led to think the worst only to be swerved? Will you buy the DVD wanting to see how this worked and knowing you’re going to get over thirty minutes of McGuinness and Black busting their butts? Knowing that ROH now doesn’t mind baiting and switching, will you trust line-ups to hype you for shows the way they used to?

All that in addition to deliberately holding back more than ever on Friday and “B-shows.” The happenings of this match have overshadowed every other topic of discussion. We aren’t discussing that five out of seven matches on Friday didn’t have decisive endings, or that ROH’s brightest student Rhett Titus served as an aimless jobber, or that Austin Aries pulled a new flamboyant character overnight and cut a meta-promo attacking fans, DVD sales and “snowflakes.”

ROH has four shows in the next two weeks, and we’ll preview all of them in the next two Fridays. That’s Detroit, two shows in Florida, and a pay per view in Chicago. One answer to all these questions comes in how many tickets sell to each of those venues. The biggest answer, though, will come the next time ROH his Manassas and Edison, when we see how many fans return.

For this week’s analysis of Pearce Era shows, check out my review of Rising Above, available on pay per view replay for the next several weeks. They’ve got Bryan Danielson challenging for Nigel McGuinness’s world title, Jimmy Jacobs and Austin Aries ending their feud in a bloody I Quit match, and the infamous “six-minute” tag title match between the Briscoes and Kevin Steen & El Generico. It’s the best show they’ve yet released, but that’s only saying so much. Click the link for more. For more indy-centric wrestling in general, check out:

-Norine Stice reviews RXW’s first best-of DVD, featuring Savio Vega, Christy Hemme and… come back, there’s good wrestling!
-Jonathan Kirschner previews the weekend in Chikara with a ladder match and a tag team title defense (Go Portal!).
-David Ditch surveys this week in Japanese wrestling.

And you can always check out my blog at www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com.

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