Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – A Social Darwin Driver for the 1, 2, 3?

QUESTION: What do you get when you thrust twelve of the best wrestlers in the world into a unique tournament with a twist, in which the winner earns the right to face the reigning world champion at a later date? ANSWER: One hot night of pro wrestling action, otherwise known as Ring of Honor’s Survival of the Fittest tournament.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Ring of Honor presents Survival of the Fittest 2006.

Since I wasn’t too thrilled with ROH’s premier on HDNet, I decided to reach into my considerable library of unwatched Ring of Honor DVDs for a hit of the stuff I crave, my pro wrestling manna, from the time before Gabe Sapolsky was released from his booking duties and all with right with the ROH world.

For four consecutive years, ROH promoted Survival of the Fittest as one of their signature annual shows alongside Death Before Dishonor, Glory By Honor, Supercard of Honor and Final Battle. SoTF consists of two rounds, a qualifying bracket and the final match, with five matches contested to determine who moves on to the do-or-die finals. The final match is an elimination affair, and the ultimate survivor earns a championship match in the near future. There are four singles matches and one tag team contest and only the winners advance (in the tag team match, both members of the victorious tandem advance regardless of who scored the decision). In the case of a double disqualification or time-limit draw in the qualifying round, neither man moves on to the finals and the main event shrinks to a five-man contest, which is exactly what happened in the 2006 edition of the event in Cleveland, Ohio on October 6th. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

With Dave Prazak and Jared David handling the commentary duties for the DVD and a field of phenomenal competitors paired up for the opening round, things were shaping up nicely. The qualifying matches went down as follows:

Matt “Evan Bourne” Sydal vs. Davey Richards. Before the No Remorse Corps or Sweet & Sour, Inc. and the American Wolves, Davey Richards was the American protégé of KENTA, and one tough, solid, hard-hitting, excellent professional wrestler. Sydal, of course, is one of the greatest high-flyer/grappler hybrids you’ll ever see, and I dare say he’s got a little bit of Owen Hart’s spirit in him. These two are genetically incapable of performing anything less than a good match together, and they delivered a hot opener to get this show off on the right foot. Sydal endured Richards’ aggressive strikes and furious offense to deliver an unbelievable inverted driver of some sort, which saw him come crashing down on Richards’ head in a seated position ending in a cradle pinfall that simply must be seen to be believed. Matt Sydal advanced to the Survival of the Fittest finals.

Delirious vs. Jimmy Rave. Delirious is an amazing talent, a technically sound performer who never fails to pull the crowd into the drama of his current issue, or at least entertains them with his unique gimmick and incoherent ramblings. Jimmy Rave is a phenomenal cocky heel, and very good at making you want to see him lose. Rave had Daizee Haze in his corner, but the future love interest of Delirious was unable to help her charge survive the qualifying round. Although Rave scored some devastating offense, the masked Lizard Man forced the Crown Jewel of the Embassy to tap out due to his dreaded Cobra Stretch submission hold. Delirious advanced to the Survival of the Fittest finals.

Austin Aries vs. Christopher Daniels. This was the first time I’d seen these two face off in one-on-one action, and it was indeed their very first singles contest in an ROH ring. If you know your indies, you expect this to be a tremendous contest. Both outstanding wrestlers employed strategic maneuvers and kept the pace up as built an exciting match. Aries utilized the Last Chancery/Horns of Aries before it had a name, and after escaping the hold Daniels came up with a Gucci counter to an attempted neck-breaker into a Death Valley Driver. Daniels worked on Aries’ neck but the future GenNexter and Resilience leader managed to stave off the Fallen Angel and mount a comeback, drilling Daniels with a crucifix bomb and a tight running dropkick into the corner to turn the tide. After blocking an elevated Angel’s Wings attempt, Aries pinned Daniels following his signature 450 splash. The match was every bit as good as it should have been, as they both worked hard and meshed well. Austin Aries advanced to the Survival of the Fittest finals.

The Briscoe Brothers vs. Homicide and Roderick StrongIn the lone tag team qualifying match of the night, Jim Cornette continued his war against Homicide which would eventually lead to Homicide’s emotional ROH World Title victory over Bryan Danielson at Final Battle 2006. Thanks to Cornette’s position of power as commissioner of Ring of Honor, his two enforcers drew each other as partners against ‘Cide and his randomly selected partner, Roderick Strong, although both teams were supposed to have been selected at random. Of course the evil Cornette kayfabe rigged the drawing; the idea was for him to knock Homicide out of ROH competition by throwing as many roadblocks in his path as possible, and he wanted the Briscoes to take care of his dirty work in this match.

You see, Homicide vowed to leave Ring of Honor forever if he couldn’t earn gold in the company by the end of the year, and Cornette hated Homicide so much that he didn’t want the Notorious 187 to ever make it to a title match, ensuring he’d be gone by the time 2007 rolled in. This made ‘Cide a fan-favorite in Steve Austin’s more famous role of the tough bad-ass loner who is forced to go through the Hell created by a vengeful authority figure who wants him eliminated. Keep in mind, this storyline occurred before Austin even worked for the WWF. Did Vince McMahon steal a concept from a small, Pennsylvania-based indy fed? No, that would never happen!

As time began to run out in the match, Homicide looked to finish off Jay Briscoe but Cornette appeared at ringside and slipped his infamous loaded tennis racket to Mark on the outside, and you know the rest. Jay and Mark Briscoe both advanced to the Survival of the Fittest finals.

ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson vs. Samoa Joe. There are certain pairs of performers who will always work very well together regardless of the circumstance, the promotion they’re wrestling for, the stipulations, or what’s on the line in any particular contest, and Joe and Dragon are such a combo. If you’ve never seen Danielson vs. Joe and you like high-quality, hard-hitting, intense wrestling action, do yourself a favor and get a hold of one of their matches, or several of them. You won’t be disappointed. Required by booking logic to keep both men strong, ROH was unwilling to have either man show superiority over the other, especially since they had wrestled to a one-hour Broadway for the title just two months earlier at the Fight of the Century event. Sapolsky needed to keep the champ strong for future title defenses and Joe seeming like a viable, dangerous threat to Dragon’s gold if necessary for another championship program.

Since all the SoTF qualifying matches had a 20-minute time limit, Gabe had his answer for how to escape the booking conundrum; the brilliantly conceived time limit draw, but let’s talk about the match before we get to the finish. Although it was non-title, both men were determined to secure victory and move on to the main event; Dragon wanted to prove he could defeat the Samoan Submission Machine, and Joe looked to earn another shot at Danielson’s gold by defeating him here and then winning the Survival of the Fittest finals. For a long portion of the match, Dragon negated Joe’s overpowering strikes by keeping him grounded on the mat. Danielson slowly, methodically worked holds to wear down Joe’s legs and break him down, until Joe got back to a vertical base and started piling on the damage. Unfortunately for the Samoan warrior, time ran out just before he locked in a submission hold, so the match was a draw. But while it lasted, this was one hot contest and the ending didn’t come across like a backdoor solution, but rather like another chapter in the epic saga between to evenly matched competitors. Neither man advanced to the Survival of the Fittest finals.

The main event was now set, with Matt Sydal, Delirious, Austin Aries, and the Briscoes set to battle for an opportunity at the ROH world title. But before they headed to the finals, the newly crowned ROH tag team champs (and reigning CHIKARA Campeonatos de Parejas), Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero defended against Lacey’s forced-together team of Colt Cabana and Jimmy Jacobs. The Kings of Wrestling won the ROH tag straps in an upset less than a month earlier at the outstanding Glory by Honor V, Night 2 event which was named the best wrestling show of 2006 by the Wrestling Observer newsletter.

The love triangle between Jacobs, Lacey and Cabana is an intriguing chapter in the storyline of Lacey and Jacobs, which ultimately led to the formation of the Age of the Fall and much more, including Austin Aries’ blood feud with the forlorn poet. The Kings were so obnoxious and arrogant, locking all four of their title belts into a steel Halliburton briefcase before the opening bell and shaking only each others hands, not those of their opponents, in direct violation of the code of honor. But Cabana and Jacobs had no chance of getting on the same page long enough to succeed in delivering a comeuppance, considering Jacobs’ depression due to his desire for Lacey and his despair at having found her making out with Cabana in the shower several weeks earlier at Epic Encounter II in St. Paul, Minnesota. Then Lacey continued to humiliate the love-struck emo by forcing him to team with Cabana and ordering him to bring tag team gold to Lacey’s Angels. It’s no wonder the dude snapped and created a counter-culture revolution.

Where solid storytelling and good in-ring action meet you find great professional wrestling, and that’s what this tag team championship match was all about. There was a bit of comedy (after all, it WAS a match involving both Cabana and Hero, so what do you expect?) but at the core of the contest was quality wrestling, and the Kings took care of business via a double-team Hero’s Welcome on Cabana for the win. This was a good change of pace before the finals of the SoTF tournament, and served its purpose well.

Now it was time for the finals. Throughout the event Prazak and David made a point of mentioning several times that Aries had been extremely close to winning the first two SoTF events in 2004 and 2005, and it seemed they were foreshadowing a victory for the future Ace of the company. Without knowing the results of this event before I watched it, my money was certainly on Aries, as he was the most accomplished singles wrestler in the match, and the only former ROH world champion involved.

All five men respected the code of honor and shook hands, and they were off and running. It was an elimination match, so it was truly is a matter of survival, since the winner would have to avoid being pinned or forced to submit with four other men gunning for him. Two men were legal in the ring at one time, and the three men on the ring apron would have to tag a legal man in order to enter the fray. Sydal and Delirious starting the festivities, working straight wrestling holds and escapes for several minutes before the Lizard Man tagged in Aries. Aries shoved Sydal into the Briscoes’ corner, and Jay tagged in, resetting the match to two fresh competitors. Aries and the Briscoes shared a history from the days of Aries and Strong as tag team champs and the boys from Delaware chasing the gold, so there was no love lost there. The rednecks started working together, pressing their advantage over the other three men, even though this contest was destined to eventually come down to every man for himself.

Despite the obvious hype for Aries to win, he was the first man eliminated, falling to the springboard Doomsday Device by the Briscoes. That was something of a shocker, but it immediately eliminated the sense of foregone conclusion, and made the match truly interesting from that point on. The Briscoes took full advantage of their effective teamwork against three men who were not working together. Forced to come up with a game plan to endure the wrath of the Briscoes, Sydal and Delirious formed a makeshift alliance and the contest mutated into a loose version of a traditional tag team match.

After absorbing huge sums of punishment from the Briscoes, Sydal reversed a springboard Doomsday Device attempt into a victory roll and eliminated Jay, ending the brothers’ siege and leveling the playing field for the first time. Delirious, Sydal, and Mark Briscoe were the last three survivors as the match raged on. Sydal and Delirious continued to work together, saving each other from potential pinfalls and tagging in and out, until Sydal hit his incredible version of the SSP (the Sydal Press) to eliminate the younger Briscoe, leaving only Delirious and Sydal to contend for the world title match on the line in what was now a straight singles contest.

Without hesitation, mere seconds after Sydal pined Mark Briscoe, Delirious emphatically ended his partnership with Sydal and made it clear he was in it to win it by launching himself at Sydal and driving them both to the floor outside, where they brawled for several minutes. The future Evan Bourne launched himself from the top rope over the barricade at ringside and into the crowd to flatten Delirious with a crazy moonsault before bringing the action back between the ropes. That was absolutely amazing. Delirious recovered and drilled Sydal with two Panic Attacks, then attempted to employ some irony by nailing Sydal with his own Sydal Driver, but Matt kicked out at two.

Things broke down between the two grapplers at this point, as they resorted to huge strikes and hard kicks, throwing caution to the wind and abandoning traditional wrestling in favor of fighting. After the long night of abuse at the hands of their five previous opponents throughout the evening, their gas tanks were on empty and they needed to find a way to win and call it a night. Sydal fell victim to Delirious’ Shadows Over Hell splash from the top rope, but barely escaped defeat. He landed his standing SSP for two, and the intensity continued to build as the crowd chanted their appreciation for both men’s efforts with a chorus of “this is awesome” chants, truly a show of respect from a Ring of Honor crowd. When Sydal successfully delivered the move he’d used twice before to defeat Delirious, the top rope moonsault belly-to-belly suplex (picture Paul Birchall’s top-rope C-4 and you’ll have an idea about how this insane move looks) and the Lizard Man kicked out, the crowd erupted with the “ROH! ROH!” chant, signaling their approval.

Delirious managed to deliver the Chemical Imbalance II, but it wasn’t enough to take him to the Promised Land. These two guys pulled out all the stops in one hell of an intense, entertaining match. Delirious avoided the Sydal press, and was able to cinch in the Cobra Stretch to force Sydal to tap out for the hard earned victory and a shot at the ROH world championship. Capping things off, the two men shook hands and put each other over on the house mic before exiting the ring. You just don’t see that sort of thing from WWE or TNA, and it’s a wonderful way to end a great show. Both men gave a phenomenal effort and produced an amazing finale on this terrific pro wrestling card.

At just over three hours of nonstop action and excitement, and with a regular list price of only $20 (not to mention the sales going on almost every day at Ring of Honor’s online store), the 2006 edition of Survival of the Fittest is a must-have addition to any wrestling fan’s DVD library. I strongly recommend this show for people who enjoy quality professional wrestling and prefer an emphasis on serious in-ring action, stiff strikes, athletic grappling, excruciating submission holds, and crazy high-flying spots. Don’t look to ROH for “sportz entertainment”, expensive sets, pyro, ridiculously large, lumbering monsters, or a variety show because you’ll be disappointed. But if you want the kind of realistic-looking wrestling you can’t find on free television anymore, Ring of Honor is your source. Give them a shot; you’ll like what you find.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” – Charles Darwin

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Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…

Speaking of ROH, they’ve got a new world champion! Title changes are a big deal in a company with a 7-year history and only 11 world champions total.

Big Andy Mac reviewed the latest episode of Ring of Honor Wrestling on HDNet.

PK has the spoilers for ROH’s latest ppv taping, Take No Prisoners.

Oh, I heard WWE had some little ppv this weekend. Folks say it was pretty bad. Here’s Scott Keith’s Smark Rant for WrestleMania 25, and Paul Marshall’s Real-Time Coverage. Danny Cox was live in Houston, and he provided live coverage from the venue! Rounding out the WM festivities was the Pulse Wrestling Staff’s Roundtable for the big show.

Daniel Douglas reviewed last Thursday’s TNA iMPACT! whilst fast-forwarding to avoid Russofixion, and Norine “Cold As” Stice handled last week’s SmackDown! which happened to be the final regular WWE program before WrestleMania 25.

Finally this week, Scott Keith reviewed Wrestling With Shadows, the documentary of Bret Hart’s fall from WWF grace.

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