Cult of ROH: Gabe’s Secrets & Proving Ground Preview

Weekend Preview for ROH’s “Proving Ground” Florida Doubleshot

ROH hits Florida this weekend for a doubleshot of top-heavy shows. Rumor reports that the upcoming TV tapings will have weak undercards with a more “classic” ROH main event, and these may be prototypes. The most ironic bit of news of the week is the rumor that HDNet wants ROH be very match-based and potentially less story-based than Pearce has been writing it, so this may be a weekend of experimentation before they head to Philadelphia for TV.

Friday has two promising matches, and the first is Nigel McGuinness Vs. Brent Albright. It’s non-title and Albright is one of the last guys on the roster who hasn’t had a run at McGuinness. He was pushed under the Sapolsky regime, picking up the NWA belt briefly, and most recently made ROH booker Adam Pearce tap out in the main event of a PPV, in a rare appearance by Pearce. All signs point to Albright being formidable here. Winning would set up a title match. They’ve gelled well in the past, with McGuinness always being willing to give Albright a lot of his offense to counter, and Albright excelling when he can take advantage of an opponent. The only thing holding this back is ROH’s recent string of disappointing big matches that get bogged down in interference, gimmicks and general attempts to make both guys keep their “heat.” That could quell the positive elements here.

The second is a match many of us (including Gabe Sapolsky) hoped would be built up more: Davey Richards Vs. Tyler Black. They are great up-and-coming athletes waiting to establish themselves in the main event scene. Some day they could be a big rivalry in the company. Right now we’re looking at a good setup for the eternal underdog Black to get distracted, picked apart and abused by the stiff technician, only to fight back with fantastic offense. If they let them go, this might sell DVD’s. Black ought to win to carry momentum to whenever he uses his ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Money in the Bank’ titleshot (and don’t be surprised if he tries to on Friday only to get jumped again). Still, there are approximately eighty guys on this show who would enjoy costing him this match – impressive, as fewer than thirty guys are booked.

Saturday has an even stronger double main event. The first match is one we’ve been begging ROH to steal from PWG: El Generico Vs. Bryan Danielson. Generico is probably the best underdog in the company with unparalleled bumping, selling, timing and comeback offense. Nobody rips into an underdog like Danielson, whose simplified but believable offense not only looks great, but makes anything flashy his opponent does look better. See his series against Tyler Black for evidence. They are as promising a pairing as you can get, and their two Pro Wrestling Guerilla matches verify how good they can be.

Not that the forecast for screwy endings is clear. Bison Smith recently jumped Danielson and might ruin things for him here. Danielson is also concussed in storyline, so they may pull an angle with that. But hopefully ROH management is wise enough to let the match stand.

On Saturday Nigel McGuinness also defends his ROH World Title against D-Lo Brown. This will be a rare case of McGuinness defending against someone taller (Brown is 6’3” to McGuinness’s 6’1”), bigger (Brown is in the 250-range to McGuinness’s 220), with much more experience and greater versatility. Brown can fly as well as do all the striking McGuinness enjoys. Another thing is that Brown’s experience in TNA, the Attitude Era WWF, the kid-friendly WWE era and Japan ought to give him the know-how necessary to make a match shine in the new, less reliable ROH, especially in a main event against one of their most pushed guys. The clash of charisma alone could make for a show-selling match, besides the starpower Brown brings. On WWE’s stage they need celebrities to give them a sense of starpower; on ROH’s stage, Brown is big. As he showed in his run in NOAH, he’s also extremely talented despite years of wear on his body. Unless the new ROH has gone insane the title’s not changing hands here, but it doesn’t need to. This could be the McGuinness reign’s answer to Danielson’s Lance Storm defense in 2006.

Aside from big matches, this will also be the first weekend Bison Smith officially wrestles for Ring of Honor. This follows his series of inexplicable run-ins on students, which apparently got him a job. I will personally hand Cary Silkin fifty dollars if this is booked a rouse and Smith is arrested for assault and battery the second he walks down the aisle. Expect his matches to be enhancements, things that set him up even more as a monster before some kind of confrontation with Danielson. Ignore that ROH already has the giant “Knock Out Kid” Chris Hero, the angry Swiss Claudio Castagnoli, Age of the Fall’s enforcer Brodie Lee, big suplex-and-armbar machine Brent Albright, and the Necro Butcher. Make way for ROH’s next beefy guy that hits small people hard. The big hope here is that his mystery ghostwriter will be revealed as Prince Nana, because Nana with a monster client would be gold.

The other matches of the weekend are essentially filler with no promise of anything but brief bell times, roll-ups and screwjobs. Austin Aries and the Age of the Fall will wrestle a plethora of faces they have some distaste for. Florida locals will get a chance against regulars, and boy are they screwed. The new ROH is clearly betting on main events these days, so while some may shine briefly on undercards, it will be up to the four big matches and whatever angles they try to pull to decide the value of the weekend.

Like the column? Check out John’s blog at www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com

Gabe’s Book of ROH Secrets Recap

Kayfabe Commentaries recently released Gabe’s Book of ROH Secrets for $20. You can get it here.

Shoot interviews are seldom something people feel they need to own, displayed by how poorly ROH’s own Straight Shootin’ series did. This one, like almost every one, is just two guys sitting at a table for a few hours, so it’s not much to look at it. It doesn’t feel like it’s worth as much as a DVD of wrestling matches and would be much better suited to a $10 MP3 download in something like iTunes. The appeal is hearing how the guy most of us trusted would have booked the company that most of us feel went in a very poor direction without him. Frankly, that’s worth a DVD to a lot of wrestling fans. His detailed plan for Tyler Black’s title win at Final Battle 2008 and the reign that would ensue leaves you wishing you could have seen it.

We all figured Black would win at Final Battle. Few of us realized how well his reign was being set up. Black would follow a more optimistic path, separating him from the general Age of the Fall message and seeing him ousted around the time of his title victory, turning Jacobs into a jealous challenger. Austin Aries’s slow and bitter turn would also break that weekend with him attacking Black during his victory celebration. Both Jacobs and Aries would independently chase, while McGuinness would demande his just re-matches, so you would have three top heels all chasing the babyface. On the side, Black had never beaten Bryan Danielson in singles, so that defense would be imminent.

While Black rotated through those four challengers, Sweet & Sour Inc. was supposed to build up. Prince Nana would join as a toady, but eventually steal wrestlers from Sweeney and feud against him in a kind of agency warfare. Around the end of that faction issue you’d have some of Sweeney’s boys ready to challenge Black in the main event. Sapolsky particularly hoped that Davey Richards Vs. Tyler Black would be a big main event for the company some time in 2009.

That was your 2009 title scene. It’s alright if you cry a little.

To go over all of his booking plans would be wrong. If the sort of insight I glossed over above appeals to you, then this is your wet dream shoot DVD. He went into the turn of the Briscoes, the rise of Kenny King and Brodie Lee, and sundry other plotlines.

Sapolsky makes frequent tangents on the difficulty of booking things, like the simultaneous continuity on DVD’s and PPV’s. These tangents are often more interesting than his outline for the shows, as they give our first substantive insight into the writing process that created this beloved company. For gossip’s sake, he admits to always thinking he was right and insisting on it, though he defends against accusations that he was a bully or locker room dictator.

Some of his opinions are refreshing simply by virtue of being voiced at all. He goes to bat for Roderick Strong, first calling his feud with Erick Stevens underrated, then going over how overlooked his entire career has been: his series with Danielson, his series with Gibson, his run with the tag titles, up to his present importance in the Sweeney feud. Sapolsky wanted to remind ROH fans of what a career Strong had, ultimately returning him to the tag division with Erick Stevens. Much of the Sweet & Sour feud would be about their unwillingness to work together (as opposed to their quick acquiescence in Pearce’s ROH), culminating in restored respect and recognition that Strong had been his teacher. It’s bittersweet to hear it all now, with the feeling that Pearce’s ROH may dump him altogether.

You’re inclined to compare what happened and would have happened. In Pearce’s ROH we saw Sweet & Sour Inc. attack Strong and Stevens individually for a few shows. Then one ran out to help the other, really to run off the bad guys. After two nights of this they nodded in respect and began working together.

In Sapolsky’s ROH, Brent Albright would have helped both out individually and recruited them for an anti-Sweeney stable. When they realized they were on the same team, they would refuse to work together with Albright playing mediator. The storyline would culminate in them having to rely on each other and making explicit amends.

Sapolsky’s is a much more detailed story that would have run for a couple more months. It sounds better. A virtue of the shoot interview is that everything Sapolsky planned gets to sound great, whether or not it would have come off well. I miss the “Gabe days,” but it’s worth noting that Strong went from dickhead bully to gullible babyface overnight when he entered the Sweeney feud in the first place, and that was on Sapolsky’s watch.

He steps up to some criticisms. He admits his ending for the Aries/Jacobs feud would have angered fans. While he doesn’t detail what went wrong with Erick Stevens’s ROH career, Sapolsky claims all the blame for it. Even when the interviewer tries to give him an escape, Sapolsky says he wouldn’t book someone he didn’t think could succeed, and that Stevens is giving and driven enough to do it.

It’s kind of funny to hear him say that, and then exclaim that he should be allowed to book two Steel Cage Warfare matches in a short period of time. While he owns up to some shortcomings in his booking tenure, Sapolsky is unyielding on almost every decision he wanted to make for the future. He even claims he had other ways to book shows and could have handled television. But for better or for worse, all we have is the new ROH headed to television, and this DVD.

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