Cult of ROH Vs. The Allure of DGUSA

First, I have a short story in the new Flash 40 Anthology over at Smashwords. It actually involves pro wrestling, so it’s relevant to the Pulse for once. It’s about two boys who grew up on the same street, ran away the same year, but never met. It includes jazz, trampolines, and culminates in an indy match. How? You can read that at Smashwords. You can also check me out on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Wiswell or at my blog, The Bathroom Monologues, but that’s enough plugging. We’ve got three shows to cover.

This weekend both Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA are active. To quell controversy now and forever: no, they are not competing. Dragon Gate will be in Philadelphia and ROH will be in fricking Canada.

There are only two ways in which they could be competing. One is that both companies employ the Young Bucks, and so DGUSA has stolen them for a night from ROH, preventing the company from paying for their cross-country airfare so they can wrestle on the undercard.

The other is that DGUSA is stealing ROH’s coveted base of Pennsylvania fans who would have driven to Canada to see the Saturday show. Surely ROH will perish without those 2-4 big spenders.

Today we’ll run down all three of the weekend’s shows. Dragon Gate USA is the most promising thing to hit the indies in years, and over its first few shows will feature ROH favorites Bryan Danielson, Davey Richards and Mike Quackenbush. The top Japanese faces are recognizable from several Supercard of Honors. And not least, but it’s all managed by Gabe Sapolsky. As far as I’m concerned, DGUSA is part of the Cult.

We’re also covering it because there’s something in DGUSA show that’s lacking from Ring of Honor right now. The big storyline is whoever wins these matches will become regulars in the U.S. branch. You will see the company’s main eventers emerge this weekend, and they’re coming from a pool of great talent. It’s basic storytelling that gets out of the way and lets great matches between great competitors happen. It’s what we once loved in ROH and were spuriously told needed to leave so the company could grow, even though attendance has shrunk in all venues. DGUSA’s infrequent supershow approach allows them to promote to the hardcores like ROH did before supposedly readjusting its aim on the wider and more general wrestling fan audience. This is what people are really getting at when they say the two companies are competing.

Dragon Gate USA is a virgin territory while ROH has had years of heels breaking the rules and stories reshaping the company. It’s an unfair comparison, but one we can’t help making. One is starting at the ground level, with wrestlers who can deliver and that vision of simple B.S.-free wrestling. It’s not just that Joey Ryan promises to sleaze up the company and champs dodge title defenses; for all ROH has gotten right lately, there is something terribly wrong when the company publishes a Newswire where Kenny Omega says he knows Aries’s henchmen will interfere. ROH is now a place where cheating is so common it’s acknowledged by the company, and in kayfabe the company still does nothing about it. ROH was once and still is carried by a great roster. The emergence of Dragon Gate USA raises the question of whether the company is doing that roster justice.

Death Before Dishonor 7 Night 1
Friday in Ontario, Canada

Death Before Dishonor 6 was arguably ROH’s best show of 2008. Neither of the two DBD’s this year look to even contend with the big 2009 shows, like Supercard of Honor 4 or the 7th Anniversary Show. With Edwards out the tag belts won’t be defended, and they’re missing Strong and Danielson. But Night 1 is still very healthy looking, and ROH running two nights in the same venue offers a rare chance for them to tell some two-chapter stories. It’s certainly the hottest wrestling ticket in Ontario this weekend, with Bret Hart appearing Friday for autographs, and Lance Storm making a rare return to the ring. If the World Title match, Generico Vs. Dutt and King Vs. Omega deliver, it will certainly be worth admission.

ROH World Title Match: Austin Aries ( c ) Vs. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Tyler Black Vs. Jerry Lynn
I wish they’d stop calling these Four Corner Survivals when it’s one fall. It’s particularly odd-looking for Aries to politic out of defending his belt two straight nights, but agree to a defense where he can lose the belt when somebody else gets pinned. Odder still when you look at last year’s Death Before Dishonor, where the title was defended amongst four men – but in elimination rules. This match is the ultimate testament to how ROH has moved to courting another imaginary block of fans rather than hardcores. Going in you’ve got Aries looking great, but his challengers? People were sick of Lynn before he lost the belt, Black is now branded a perpetual failure in title matches, and McGuinness’s buzz upon returning is that he’s distinctly less impressive and came back too soon. You can’t even get the old ROH fans to rest on them all being good performers because of the stigma on Lynn and McGuinness, even though, especially in a match timed for one fall, everyone will have their wind and should go nuts trying to steal the belt. McGuinness and Aries have two of the best records for great matches of everyone in ROH history, and the last time Lynn was in a four-way title match it was scintillated HDNet. To me, this shows that ROH is not courting its base the way they used to, and in doing so it’s underselling the talent of its performers. My guess? Canada shows up for a damned good show on Friday, gets hot well before this match, and these guys do something that everyone returns to the board saying you’ve got to see. It’s so easy to envision, the biggest problem in ROH is that the company is not inspiring to feel that way.

Lance Storm & Kevin Steen Vs. Chris Hero & Davey Richards
This is clearly the warm-up for Saturday night’s Storm Vs. Hero singles match, but should still be hot. Steen and Richards have been tearing it up against each other in ROH all year. Steen and Hero have a perfect personality clash waiting to happen, while Storm has praised Richards to the hilt and will likely test him a little. With the setup for the Saturday match, this is a solid entry onto the card.

El Generico Vs. Sonjay Dutt
It happened in PWG, but I’m happy it’s happening again. Dutt is charismatic and an underrated flyer; Generico is killer against flyers and doesn’t get ones this crisp often. They should shoot for a sprint that goes fifteen minutes or less and tears it down like Strong did Wrestlemania weekend with Koslov and Nakajima.

Kenny Omega Vs. Kenny King
In a perfect world, management would book the Kennies as the final match of the first half, give them twenty minutes and tell them to steal the show. As it is, it’s a setup for Saturday’s conflict between Omega and Aries. These two are athletic bluechippers and could be the future of ROH’s main event scene. They showed hints of greatness on HDNet, and now ought to take it to the next level of innovation and countering each other. They have the athleticism to compliment and could elevate one another, like Jacobs and Whitmer did a few years ago. This is a rare feud possibility that deserves the chance to grow.

The Briscoes Vs. Super Smash Brothers
When this was announced I finally turned on the Briscoes. They’ve simply been pushed too hard and for too long as the dominant tag act. They can’t wrestle teams like Uno and Dos; they’ve been guzzling them for years. Up-and-comers need to avoid these sharks. It’s the Briscoes’ big return, and they’re going to kill a team that may never get the proper chance to blossom in this company.

D-Lo Brown Vs. Frankie the Mobster
Brown squashes a local guy. Okay.

Elimination Tag: Jimmy Rave, Claudio Castagnoli, Joey Ryan & Bison Smith Vs. Colt Cabana, Brent Albright, The Necro Butcher & Grizzly Redwood
In a more optimistic time this would look really interesting. ROH doesn’t do many elimination tags and the Embassy is infamous for tactics. Castagnoli and Smith are two titans, while Rave is a lightning rod of a character. But really, Redwood? I know they want to push their students, but to make the unfortunate Dragon Gate comparison – Dragon Gate’s school produced Shingo and YAMATO. The lone student on ROH’s big card should not be a borderline midget lumberjack. And I can’t be the only one who is tired of Necro Butcher’s stale brawling and insertion into multi-man feuds. Hopefully it comes down to Cabana and Albright fighting the odds in some decent Survivor Series action. If the elements are played right, this could do more for the crowd than any match – the sum total of charisma is amazing. It’s simply the redundant guest list on the Good Guys Team that’s wanting.

Death Before Dishonor 7 Night 2
Saturday in Ontario, Canada

Remember last year’s DBD? Go Vs. Marufuji? Steen & Generico Vs. The Motor City Machine Guns? McGuinness Vs. Danielson Vs. Castagnoli Vs. Black? Where Pearce Vs. Albright for the NWA title was an undercard nothing that just turned out to be ridiculously good? The promotion of Night 2 this year is the total opposite. Ric Flair will sign autographs, for the ROH fans who can still care about that after the stunt he pulled in New York, and all the non-ROH fans who will come just to see him. But the card? Well, let’s look.

Something with Austin Aries
ROH has gone the controversial and anti-hype route with this. The normal model is to announce must-see main events. For Night 2, they’ve teases that Aries might defend the belt, or might not wrestle in singles at all. He’s circling Kenny Omega, who pinned him in a multi-man match last time in Canada. Will they wrestle? Will King & Titus interfere? Will the Briscoes back Omega up like he asked? Will it be a trios tag? We can’t know, and it’s not developing the internet buzz management might have hoped. This smells like something with a dirty finish, maybe Aries Vs. Omega that becomes a trio tag due to run-ins.

Tyler Black Vs. Nigel McGuinness
They laid a surprise stinker at the TV tapings, as though the shine wasn’t off this feud a long time ago. At Death Before Dishonor 6, Black challenged McGuinness for the second time, then as part of a four-man elimination. It was one of the best matches of the year. They have wrestled a dozen times since then, in some uninspired and overbooked disappointments. We’re all afraid that McGuinness really did come back too soon and that his less exciting matches now aren’t just a story or style change. As far as I’m concerned, this is his last chance. He does not have to kill himself to belong. He has to tell a great story. This will be his third chance in a high profile singles match against a top ROH wrestler, and damn it, these two used to be great. He’s done interviews about improving psychology and lowering his risks, completely ignoring that he had a ridiculously low risk style before, and that he hurt himself because he hit people too hard with one of the most basic moves in wrestling. He had character and timing that made his main event formula work. Now he’s got an established opponent who can fly for him, and it’s a damned big event. It’s time for McGuinness to steal the show again.

Lance Storm Vs. Chris Hero
With McGuinness still in worrisome condition, the tag titles out of contention and the singles title in limbo, a lot of weight is on Storm and Hero. At this point, Hero straight-up needs great singles matches. He has been here since 2006 and not delivered many memorable encounters. Since hitting NOAH again he’s fully embraced his striker approach. His timing has never been better, and his varies his blows exceptionally well. The man can hustle, and does not loiter in technical wrestling as much as he used to. Meanwhile, Storm has everything to prove and busted his butt a couple years ago in his one big match. With false finishes from Superkicks and Roaring Elbows, they’ll work people into a frenzy, and Hero may finally get that renewal he’s needed in ROH post-Sweeney.

First Annual Toronto Gauntlet: D-Lo Brown Vs. Sonjay Dutt Vs. The Necro Butcher Vs. Jimmy Rave Vs. Jerry Lynn Vs. Davey Richards
Oi. Firstly, ROH has a bad history of gauntlets. The highly competitive style of the company, even post-Pearce, does not lend itself to guys wrestling multiple matches in a row. But then there are all the potentially horrible match-ups this could make. I have so little desire to see Necro Butcher uncharismatically punch Sonjay Dutt out of the air. And then, it’s the First Annual Toronto Gauntlet and there are no Canadians in it! Most importantly of all, how many of these guys do you want to see challenge heel Austin Aries? Brown, Rave and Richards are all bad guys. They’re unlikely to win at all. Butcher has been dreadful for a long time and already had one stinker against Aries this year. That leaves Dutt, who is almost certain not to win, and Lynn to get the rematch no one demanded, even though he deserves it. As it is, I’m praying we get a couple good pairings out of something that is likely to have a couple of garbage finishes and eat up more time on the show than it should. I would happily trade this for a threeway dance between Lynn, Dutt and Richards.

Colt Cabana Vs. Joey Ryan
I’ll say it. Joey Ryan does not belong in an ROH ring. He’s been bad in PWG for years. He’s a killer promo that sucks you in, and then rips off WWE moves in a far inferior way than Jimmy Rave does. He’s best as a comedy character. In Boston I watched as Rave and Castagnoli were more charismatic heels standing on the apron than Ryan was in the ring. It’s ridiculous that Ryan is in ROH doing something so similar to champ Aries while Scott Lost is still sitting in California. This is a rematch of a New Jersey bout that nobody cared about. Cabana deserves better. That all signs point to Ryan winning and beginning momentum saddens me.

Bison Smith Vs. Frankie the Mobster
Smith destroys yet another jobber and we continue to wonder why he’s being flown in to alternately do nothing important and underwhelm in matches against main eventers.

European Rules Match: Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Brent Albright
We don’t know what European Rules are, and that’s the point. Albright will likely get screwed by Castagnoli’s dastardly plan, and be upset once again, leading to some kind of a blow off. They’re quite good together, each capable of tossing the other around in impressive way, and both hustling well. I like that they’re feuding, though nationalities make it less fun. Maybe I’m a sissy liberal, but I don’t want to see a guy who’s the hero just because he’s American. I’d love Albright to say he respects Steen, who is a Canadian, Generico, who is a Mexican, and Morishima, who is Japanese, because they’re all awesome wrestlers, but he doesn’t respect Castagnoli because he’s an ass. It’s not where you’re from, it’s what you brought from there.

Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. The Super Smash Brothers
Just like the Briscoes match the night before, Uno and Dos are screwed. But you know Generico. This time they’ll get a real chance to shine and sprint before Steen eats one of them alive.

Open The Historic Gate
Saturday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As I understand it, this show will debut on PPV on September 4th – my birthday. I look forward to ordering it. It unquestionably looks the best of the three shows this weekend. It is stacked with promising matches, and there’s legitimate intrigue about who will win and become the company’s regulars. That is in stark contrast to ROH’s event, where the spots that should have intrigue are instead objects of certainty. We know Aries will escape with the belt on Friday, and the question of whether he’ll defend it Saturday or if they’ll just do a multi-man match isn’t cutting it.

Open The Dream Gate & Brave Gate Champion Naruki Doi Vs. Shingo
Though this and Kid Vs. Yoshino are both marked as main events, this will probably be the finale. Doi recently unified the equivalents of Dragon Gate’s Cruiserweight and Heavyweight titles, and Shingo became a bonafide main eventer last year. If Shingo wins, he will probably challenge Doi for a belt despite DGUSA not having crossover continuity with Japan. Doi is inconsistent in singles, but had the best match of his 2008 against Shingo. This time they’ll be even more comfortable together, and both have a great sense of pacing sprint strikes. They will knock the crap out of each other until they can’t get up, a fine counterpoint to the high-flying that will dominate the show.

Dragon Kid Vs. Masato Yoshino
Every year Yoshino goes on a hot streak. He’s one of the best in the company, but he’ll pick it up even further. Recently he gave Gamma what might have been the singles match of his life. He’s as fast as he ever was, and here he’s got a great flying opponent in Dragon Kid, who can take absolutely anything Yoshino wants to try. Yoshino will be the bigger man for once, and Kid is always good against a bigger guy who can still hustle. They’ve had great matches in the past and have worked together enough that this could be match of the night. I’ve got a feeling, though, that two others will steal the show.

BxB Hulk Vs. YAMATO
This could be the surprise showstealer that trumps both advertised main events. Killer Hulk (Hulk’s Crow-Sting alter ego) has had awful matches with YAMATO lately, but that’s because he’s plodding and moody. BxB Hulk is energetic and the exact whitemeat babyface a charismatic bastard like YAMATO needs. YAMATO can cheat, tease the Sleeperhold, and give Hulk everything he needs to dance and kick his way to safety. The comebacks will be great, and as YAMATO’s recent standouts against Shingo on Infinity show, he can sprint when necessary.

2 Cold Scorpio Vs. Ken Doane
All eyes are on this. Gabe Sapolsky actually got up on the net to defend booking Doane, namedropping CM Punk as a supporter. Does he have too big an ego? Will he be motivated? He showed great spark in WWE, but he also showed a lot of wasted potential. Now he’ll wrestle one of the best vets on the indies. Scorpio has been having good matches with half-baked young lions for years now. If Doane takes the opportunity, he could do something really good. Otherwise, this will be the match everyone forgets.

CIMA & Susumu Yokosuka Vs. The Young Bucks of Nick & Matt Jackson
This is the Bucks’ year. They’ve gotten wild receptions in ROH and now they have a shot at DGUSA PPV. CIMA is better used in a tag, showing more life lately, but still an injured man. Yokosuka, too, is better as a sprint striker partner than as a lone wolf. They are two guys used to the Bucks’ intricate offense. Expect these four to come up with crazier stuff than all eight Chikara guys. It will get good, then go faster, and faster, and explode. That’s the way a good Bucks tag goes, and will be a blast, especially when it’s not even the finale.

Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Fire Ant & Soldier Ant Vs. Hallowicked, Amasis, Gran Akuma & Icarus
Hallowicked was the last-moment substitution, and he’s a great choice. He’s big, can keep up with smaller opponents, take all the flippy bumps necessary, and his offense has sharpened considerably in two years. Teaming with Delirious has done very well for him. Ophidian will be missed, but his injury sounds severe. In his absence, Quackenbush is golden, Jigsaw follows Quack very well, and Fire Ant deserves a chance to break out. Opposing them, Hallowicked can be a good, big base, Amasis has wicked sense of character, and Akuma can play the minimalist technician on the side of evil. It has the potential to be the craziest match of the show. It’s fortunate that it’s only six matches long; that allows everything to get good time, and should prevent the crowd from dying out for all the blow-aways. I could see this opening, perhaps establishing the guy who gets the submission as a serious face as DGUSA starts up. There are several here who have promise for such a position.

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