Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – Fight of the Century…

Last week I discussed the qualities an individual wrestler must possess in order to be considered the “total package”, and in contrast this week I’ll explore the factors that constitute a good show from the opening bell to the top of the card. For the purposes of this exercise I’ve chosen to examine Ring of Honor’s Fight of the Century event from Edison, New Jersey on 5 August 2006. This was during ROH’s glory days, when most of what they offered delivered in spades and their dedicated following was rarely dissatisfied with their product.

TODAY’S ISSUE: The total card – ROH presents Fight of the Century.

Keep in mind that for the purposes of this column, I’m discussing the DVD; I can’t consider dark matches or segments that happened live but weren’t included on the disc because I wasn’t in Edison that night. However what I’m really looking at is how to create a good show, and since ROH records all their events for commercial release anyway, the live event is only one part of the equation. After editing, voice-overs and packaging, the version of Fight of the Century formerly available at the ROH online store (it’s sold out there now – kudos to the ROHFemBot for tracking down the copy I watched) constitutes the complete “show”, so that’s what we’ll base this examination upon. That being said, exactly how can a promotion build a solid show? What combination of matches and segments constitutes a balanced event? Let’s take a look…

Phase I: The hot opener. A wrestling crowd pays money and travels to the event in anticipation of being entertained, but the host promotion still must do something right off the bat to convert the audience from a group of regular folks who parked their cars and filed into the arena in an orderly fashion, to a powerful force – a unified army of energy that cheers, chants, stomps and screams for three hours. The only way to do that is with an entertaining opening contest. Throughout the years, there have been many notable curtain-jerking matches, and while Fight of the Century didn’t produce a mat classic, they went with a beloved member of the roster, the often-comedic Colt Cabana, against a member of a hated heel faction, the Embassy’s Sal Rinauro.

Accompanied by the Crown Jewel, Jimmy Rave, and the leader of the Embassy, Prince Nana, Rinauro’s entrance into the arena immediately got the crowd’s attention. They pelted Rave with toilet paper after he used Rinauro as a footstool to climb up to the ring apron, which gave them an opportunity to get actively involved in the show right away, and get up off their chairs. The Crown Jewel has the smug arrogance to lather up the fans, and they love to hate him. Rave, Rinauro, and Prince Nana attempted to fight off the furious flood of two-ply, and even threw some rolls back into the crowd, but of course they were overwhelmed by the exuberant fans, and performed pratfalls and other appropriate reactions to the storm of white tissue paper. They showed ass for the crowd, making the fans feel like they scored a minor victory over the hated stable.

Cabana’s entrance, complete with a remix of Barry Manilow’s classic “Copa Cabana”, cranked up the crowd in a more positive way as they sang along with the chorus, clapped and stomped in time with the disco groove and then chanted his name in very indy-crowd fashion. Throughout the match, Cabana frustrated Rinauro by outwrestling him and working in comedy spots all over the place. Rinauro got slapped around by his own stable-mates each time Cabana forced him out of the ring, and Cabana’s enjoyment of the diminutive Italian’s misfortune incensed Rinauro. The important thing to note here is that Cabana successfully walked a line between comedy and good wrestling; if this match wasn’t as technically sound it would have been nothing more than a joke. But the foursome involved struck the proper balance between heel numbers game, the lone wolf outwitting his gang of attackers, comedy, and good wrestling. Cabana forced Rinauro to submit to his incredible inverted-Boston crab hold known as the Billie Goat’s Curse for the satisfying win, and the show was off to a good start.

Phase II: Angle-advancement. Next up was a Top of the Class trophy match between Bobby Dempsey and Shane Hagadorn, and since I had absolutely no desire to watch this match, ROH managed to deliver by NOT delivering. After full ring entrances for both men, Hagadorn pulled a chain out of his tights behind the ref’s back and clocked Dempsey before the opening bell, bloodying his face and knocking him out cold. Hagadorn then had the nerve to apply a bridging hold for the “submission” mere seconds into the match. This immediately led to a segment in which “Lieutenant Commissioner” Adam Pearce and Steve Corino beat down BJ Whitmer due to events that transpired during the CZW invasion angle, and this all resulted in a tag match for later in the evening in which the tandem of Pearce and Corino challenged Homicide and a partner of his choice, who would obviously turn out to be Whitmer.

The crowd chanted several indy classics during Pearce’s and Hagadorn’s promos, and were appalled by Whitmer’s treatment at the hands of Pearce and Corino. This took mere moments to execute, but added a lot of heat to the match that would go down between the four. Since this segment did positive things for the later match and prevented me from watching what would have been a disappointing contest between Hagadorn and Dempsey, while also giving Hagadorn some legit heel heat and again working up the fans, it was a win-win portion of the show.

Phase III: A hot match. We saw the comedy-style opener followed by a storyline-heavy segment, and now it was time for ROH to deliver a great wrestling contest. They did just that with a Four Corner Survival match between Pure Champion Nigel McGuinness, Christopher Daniels, Jay Lethal and Claudio Castagnoli.

The advantage to having so many talented workers in one match is that they never need rest-hold spots and can keep things moving quickly from bell to bell. Each man got a chance to showcase at least one of his “greatest hits” as they went balls-to-the-wall for 12 minutes. At one point late in the contest, Daniels ruled the ring and hit his classic moves but Claudio avoided the BME and they went into the finish. Nigel was gearing up for his big title unification showdown against ROH world champion Bryan Danielson just one week later in Liverpool at Unified, so ROH kept him strong here and gave him momentum with a decisive victory over Double C thanks to a vicious jawbreaker lariat for the pinfall. This match was exactly the in-ring action the show needed at that point and each man worked hard to produce an exciting contest, kicking this event up a notch.

After the match they did a quick backstage promo between Davey Richards and KENTA, hyping their mentor-versus-protégé encounter that would precede the main event. Then instead of shifting gears the show went right into another outstanding wrestling contest, an Ultimate Endurance match for the world tag team titles. Four teams were involved: the defending champions Austin Aries & Roderick Strong, the Briscoe Brothers, Jack Evans & Matt Sydal, and the Irish Airborne of Jake & Dave Crist. Ultimate Endurance is an elimination match with three separate falls. In this case the first was scramble rules, the second was submissions only, and once they were down to two teams remaining it was be a standard tag team match for the gold.

The contest was loaded with intensity, exciting double-team maneuvers, high impact attacks and fast-paced action. With a surprise early elimination of the Briscoes via the Air Raid Crash, Irish Airborne had overachieved for the night, upsetting one of the most prolific teams in ROH history and surprising the crowd (they weren’t alone; I was shocked to see the Briscoes bow out first too). Not surprisingly, after a several more minutes of action Strong forced Jake Crist to tap out in the Strong Hold to win the second fall, making the final match an explosion of former Generation Next stable-mates. This was a fun pairing of teams that I wish got a little more time alone against each other, but the overall match was a blast either way. The champs retained when Strong planted Sydal with the half-nelson backbreaker and Aries drilled him with the 450 splash for the pinfall. The only thing better than one hot match at this point in the card was two, and this is why Ring of Honor was on top of the indy world in 2006. Each card could be counted on for several three-star or better matches, and for $15-$20 a fan can’t ask for much more than that.

Phase IV: The blood feud. The vendetta between Pearce/Corino and Whitmer/Homicide was set to explode, and the heat was on. Corino taunted the crowd on the mic before Whitmer and ‘Cide entered the arena, which made them pop huge for Homicide’s arrival. ‘Cide valiantly attempted to take on the heels by himself, which didn’t work out so well. But to nobody’s surprise, Whitmer came to the rescue and joined the fray as the partner of the Notorious 187. The match quickly degenerated into a raucous brawl through the crowd, and when they finally returned to the ring, Pearce and Corino exhibited sound heel tag team strategy, working well together to maintain the advantage and pummel Whitmer.

The crowd was all over Corino, taunting him with chants about his haircut and dubbing him a modern day Adrian Adonis. Whitmer eventually got out of trouble and made the hot tag to ‘Cide, who dominated Corino and Pearce and exacted his revenge on them both. After hitting a super-Ace Crusher on Corino, Homicide pulled him up by the head before Paul Turner could count to three, wishing to continue the beating. Before ‘Cide could finish his night’s work, the Briscoe Brothers attacked Homicide on behalf of evil authority figure Jim Cornette and “broke his arm” Austin/Pillman style before Julius Smokes made the save with a chair. If you’ve got to include a wild brawl to round out the card (and many think you do) you might as well have an intense, fun, wild one like this. There was lots of storyline room to work with in the aftermath, and it’s never a bad thing to leave the crowd wanting to see another battle in an ongoing war.

Phase V: Back to wrestling. Davey Richards versus KENTA. Teacher versus student, two hard-hitting, tough, quick, agile competitors squaring off in combat; it doesn’t get much better than that. While they worked a face-versus-face dynamic, the strikes were incredibly stiff and precise. Sharp impact was the name of the game in this one, as several maneuvers took my breath away even though I was sitting comfortably on my couch watching the match. Late in the contest, both men were down on the mat and selling the exhausting, brutal pounding they’d both absorbed to this point. As the crowd chanted “ROH!” Richards and KENTA rose to their feet and went into the finish.

Richards almost put away his mentor via the running Liger bomb, but KENTA kicked out. He used a shooting star press, which I had no idea was in the American Wolf’s repertoire, but KENTA got his knees up and changed his defensive position to an offensive maneuver. Richards nearly won again when he reversed the Go 2 Sleep into a crucifix pin cover that got two-and-nine-tenths, but KENTA managed to deliver the G2S for the victory. This was an amazing battle, and while tempers flared from time to time, the two worked a solid babyface match and kept the action intense but above-board, and built a match that could have main-evented any show anywhere. Richards became a made man thanks to this match, and a promotion can’t do more in having a new guy lose than to give him credibility in the eyes of the fans through his performance. That’s like writing yourself a blank check, folks. The fans vocally recognized their efforts as the two hugged and gave each other props, which is something I’ve always appreciated about ROH; nine times out of ten, the wrestlers openly show respect for one another, and act more like pro athletes than stereotypical gimmicks. If the show ended right there it would have easily been worth the selling price, but there was still one more match to go.

Phase VI: The big finish. Few matches could top that KENTA/Richards encounter, but a title match between reigning ROH world champion Bryan Danielson and Samoa Joe certainly had a shot. I’ve written before that these two men are incapable of having a bad match against each other, but could they deliver a true “fight of the century” as the name of the show suggests?

American Dragon played the cocky heel champ, with Joe the righteous challenger looking to dethrone the arrogant Danielson. They started off with a cautious, “feeling-out” period early on until Joe’s hot temper flared and he started delivering stiff strikes to the ROH champ. Rather than trade shots with Joe, the shrewd Dragon powdered out when the going got rough, but it was all part of his ploy to get the aggressive Samoan off his game plan via mind games. After absorbing plenty of Joe’s pummeling offense and playing cat-and-mouse, Dragon finally found his opening and went to work.

Danielson slowed the pace to one more favorable to his methodical offensive style, but for every hold and heel taunt he offered, Joe responded with wicked strikes, bone-jarring slams, and an unmatched will to win. Near the halfway point, Joe folded Dragon backward almost completely in half via a unique variation of a Boston crab, but Danielson eventually escaped and the battle raged on. They each threw haymakers, seeking not only to win but to knock out their opponent in order to secure the most dominating victory possible.

After escaping an attempted Muscle Buster, Dragon clipped Joe’s leg and singled out the knee with all manner of attacks, no matter how legal or ethical they might have been. Danielson punished Joe’s leg for several minutes before applying a figure four (on the correct leg, I might add) that made my knees ache, and the prospect of Joe putting any weight on his leg for the rest of the match seemed unlikely at best. Joe escaped that particular predicament but the champ was in control, dominating his bigger, stronger challenger thanks to wrestling skill and psychological prowess. The match certainly was a classic in the making at this point.

They threw everything but the kitchen sink at each other, and on top of all the other cool stuff in this match they even worked in the Austin/Hart (or Piper/Hart, depending upon how long your memory is) sleeper-turnbuckle-reversal spot, just for kicks. Nice. Late in the match they rightfully earned the coveted “this is awesome!” chant from the appreciative crowd as they landed bombs on each other’s face until they were both lying on their back for the mandatory 10-count. Of course the war continued, and Dragon got caught in Joe’s STF in the middle of the ring, which the Samoan then chained into a crossface. It looked bleak for the champ as the crowd implored him to continue with the “please don’t tap!” chant. Danielson escaped, and they continued pounding each other as the clock ticked down and Joe started to run out of time in his quest for the gold, at least on this night.

With less than three minutes to go, Joe finally landed the Muscle Buster that Dragon had been countering and escaping all night, but Danielson was too close to the ropes to be pinned. The champion responded with a superplex and delivered his famous barrage of knock-out elbows, but Joe had one more trick up his sleeve, countering into the Choke (known in TNA as the Coquina Clutch) and Dragon remained in the hold until the time limit expired without tapping out, resulting in a draw. Joe was unable to secure the victory although he likely only needed about 30 more seconds on the clock to force the champ to tap out. But the American Dragon took everything Joe could dish out and didn’t lose, so the championship advantage paid off for Danielson on that night.

It was an absolutely brilliant match, worthy of the legend these two had created in previous matches together. They know exactly how to use psychology, intensity, emotion and grappling skill to build a phenomenal contest, and that’s precisely what they did here, making the main event the best match on the card just as it always should be. In the aftermath, the Briscoes, Homicide and Joe had a mini-brawl and Joe cut a promo once again referencing the CZW invasion angle, to which Homicide responded by challenging the Briscoes to face himself and Joe in New York City at an upcoming event. So the final segment on the DVD set up a future show, reminding the viewer of good things to come and “hooking” them with a reason to want to purchase yet another DVD. What better way to end a great show then with some great advertising?

This show was entertaining from top to bottom and was worth every penny. I’m not saying it defines greatness or that other shows would have to match this exact pacing and format in order to be enjoyable. I’m not even saying that this was one of the best wrestling shows I’ve ever seen. But the way they packaged this live event for DVD sales was fantastic with a good pace, a nice mixture of styles and match types, a large amount of outstanding in-ring action, and no dull moments or unsatisfying segments. Fight of the Century was a great show, and it left me wanting for nothing except some more Ring of Honor DVDs from that era. I certainly am glad I have plenty left in my wrestling library.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “ Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance.” – James Bryant Conant

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Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…

Charlie Reneke writes another “Way Too Long Review”, this one on WWE’s Judgment Day 2009.

Jake Ziegler reviews Ring of Honor’s Eliminating the Competition DVD.

Straight from the UK comes Michael Fitzgerald with a look back at WWE’s Unforgiven 2005.

John Wiswell fantasy-books a Best of Jimmy Jacobs compilation DVD in this week’s Cult of ROH.

Pulse Glazer returns with yet another Modest Blog, this one regarding MVP in the main event scene.

Jon Bandit has 10 Thoughts on TNA iMPACT! every week. It’s convenient that regardless of the show, he’s always got exactly ten thoughts about it…

Here’s the boss’ Weekend Wrestling Wrap Up Podcast.

Finally this week, Pulse Wrestling reveals our official rankings for WWE and ROH.

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