Matt Taven and Silas young kicked the evening off. The crowd was really into MTV and Young was accepted as a heel, both of which helped add something to hat could otherwise have been a pedestrian opener. Taven won with a rolling pump kick and a frog splash after Young knocked himself silly (in storyline terms) attempting a springboard moonsault.
After the match 'The Last Real Man' accepted the winner's handshake before assaulting him. He was egged on by Truth Martini. It was left ambiguous as to whether Truth and Silas are united. I like Silas Young a lot. I think he's got everything that's needed to be a top antagonist in ROH. Placing him with the House of Truth wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
Match two saw The Decade take on Cedric Alexander, Mark Briscoe and Adam Page. The Decade is comprised of BJ Whitmer, Jimmy Jacobs (former tag champions together, fact fans!) and Roderick Strong. Their gimmick or, more accurately, unifying factor, is that they've all been with the company for at least ten years. It's the sort of idea that works well in a company like Ring of Honor. It fits with the more realistic, sports-based approach. I also think it's the best use of all three members. Jacobs and Whitmer are guys that work best in units while Strong adds some credibility as a former ROH world champion and gets something to do. He'd been left aimless several times under Delirious.
The match was very good and had a surprising amount going on. Page was intimidated by his more experienced opponents, Alexander wanted to demonstrate that he’s just as good as anyone else on the roster , and The Decade were portrayed as veterans wanting respect from the younger men opposing them, with Strong having a particular problem with the C&C man for using back breakers in previous matches. The Decade won after Whitmer and Jacobs hit The All Seeing Eye on Page.
2014 Top Prospect tournament winner Hanson got his TV championship match against Tommaso Ciampa next. 'The Sicilian Psychopath' strikes me as the kind of man who ROH fans will turn on. They haven't yet, but I suspect they will sooner or later. There’s not enough depth to his character as it is at the moment to sustain fan interest in the long term, and I can’t imagine any significant changes being made.
There was a handshake to start after the two had had gone nose-to-nose. The size difference between them made me think that Hanson had been selected as the tournament winner because he was noticeably larger than Ciampa and could be presented as a tough, imposing challenge for the him to overcome. They went all around ringside and traded power moves and shots in the ring. Hanson even busted out a cartwheel and a moonsault. Ciampa successfully retained after walking Hanson out of the corner as he stood on the second rope into a Project Ciampa. They made the most of the time they had to put on an energetic show.
That match was followed by a Michael Elgin promo. He said he had wanted to send Matt Hardy out of Philadelphia in a body bag but he was being denied his wish because Matt’s flight had been cancelled (whether this was real, part of the storyline, or cover for legal issues stemming from troubles between Matt and his wife I’m not sure). Elgin then put over ROH giving unknown wrestlers the chance to impress and called out Raymond Rowe for a match. With Hardy unavailable this was one of the best matches available to ROH. Rowe isn't a big name, but he got closer to becoming one by being pitted against, and talked up by, a man like Elgin.
The match was a hard hitter, obvs. Rowe weathered a long stalling suplex, the suplex from the apron into the ring, the multiple clotheslines spot, stiff lariats, a German suplex from the apron, and the crossface. Rowe had various spurts of offence, including a very nice pop-up power bomb. It was a match designed to elevate Rowe in defeat by showing that he could survive Elgin’s signature moves and remain in the fight. 'Unbreakable' won after power bombing Rowe into a barrier outside the ring and then hitting an Elgin bomb in the ring. Elgin v Rowe was better than anything Matt Hardy would have been a part of.
After the match ROH champion Adam Cole tried to attack Elgin from behind. Rowe made the save. Before Cole could be given his comeuppance Michael Bennett slid into the ring and low blowed the babyfaces. The stomp sesh that followed brought out Jay Briscoe, sending Cole scampering to the back. Briscoe took the mic and said he wanted Bennett in a match then and there. Even though ROH went out of their way to show Nigel McGuinness at ringside he wasn't used to make the match official. So what was the point of showing him at ringside? Only ROH knows.
The match, which was for Jay Briscoe's "real" world championship, featured a lot of ringside brawling. The atmosphere carried over to the ring. That's to be expected from Jay by now, surely? While I'm not the biggest Briscoes fan and really don't like the "real" world title shtick I did enjoy this match for what it was. Jay retained his belt after a low blow (something he'd taken and kicked out of moments before after Cole had returned to ringside to cause a distraction) and a Jay Driller. He then had a staredown with the real ROH world champ Adam Cole. That feud's still not over.
reDRagon got cheers and the streamer treatment before they defend their tag team titles against Adrenaline RUSH. This is even though they're very clearly intended to be heels. With Bobby Fish being one of the best guys in ROH for crowd interaction cheers were always going to come his way. Shouting down a cocky ACH probably helped too: ACH came across as irritating while talking smack from the apron. Even telling the fans no when they started a "Yes!" chant earned Fish laughter and applause.
The match took a while to get going and never quite met my (admittedly lofty) expectations. I'd thought the teams would click better than they did and produce a modern company classic. It wasn't a bad match it just didn’t get into gear until the closing moments, by which point it was too late. reDRagon retained after Kyle O'Reilly countered a top rope splash into a triangle choke.
A spot towards the finish saw ACH get a three count on Fish while Fish's foot was on the rope. That prompted premature celebrating from the challengers, and will possibly become the kayfabe reason they failed to win. It seemed designed to set up a rematch. If so it was a good way of doing it, but a strange show to do it on: the 12th Anniversary doesn’t feel like it should be a setup show.
AJ Styles outdid Bobby Fish on the streamer front. He outdid him in the ring too, producing a highly enjoyable, competitive match with Jay Lethal. The early moments saw both men equally matched. Lethal gained the upper hand several minutes in with a modified inverted figure four, slowing the pace for a breather but in a far more interesting way than simply using a headlock (take note Randy Orton). Styles came back with a suplex on the ring apron and an Indian deathlock-STF combination. An exchange of chops soured the mood between the competitors before Lethal struck with a Lethal Combination and a neck breaker for two counts.
Styles regained the upper hand when he yanked Lethal from the top rope and belted him with a springboard forearm. Lethal escaped a Styles Clash attempt and buckled Styles with a super kick. Styles nailed a Pele kick. Lethal came back with a dragon suplex and a Macho Elbow for a close two. Duelling chants filled the air as Lethal went for the Lethal Injection, turning to pro-Styles cheers as he countered, pulling his opponent into a power bomb and then a match winning Styles Clash.
They shook hands after the match, natch. AJ was then left to pose in the ring as Lethal looked dejected in the aisle. That could lead to something significant for Lethal, or it could just be ROH having him sell the loss. You can't tell with this company. Which is good, I suppose.
The ever unpopular Outlawz Inc made an allegedly unscheduled appearance before the next match. Eddie Kingston cut a rambling promo about people who work for Sinclair Broadcasting making him sick. He also said he and Homicide had spent the evening recruiting. There's nobody currently on the roster I'd be interested in seeing added to the Outlawz. I can't think of anyone they could bring in that would make me care either. They're a poor act that don't gel with the current roster and company direction. Severing ties would be the sensible decision at this point.
Nigel McGuinness announced that he'd sent Jay Briscoe, Michael Bennett, Maria Kanellis and Michael Elgin back to the hotel before the main event. That, he assured us, would guarantee a clear, undisputed winner and loser.
ROH champion Adam Cole and challenger Chris Hero had a very good match, though they didn’t quite manage to better Styles v Lethal. There were a lot of elbows and a lot of boots. Because it was a Chris Hero match. You always get plenty of both in his matches. Something new was the crowd jeering Cole whenever he screamed and shouted at Hero or shouted his own name. The champ was smart enough to play to that. That becoming a regular part of his matches could actually help him. It would set him apart and give his bouts a different vibe. It’s real heat too, which is rare in wrestling these days.
Unusually for ROH, especially at a major show, there was a ref bump in the main event. Hero elbowed Todd Sinclair as he countered the Florida Key. Moments later Cole was tapping while locked in a submission hold. There was no new champion of course, because Sinclair was sprawled at ringside being tenderly tended to by Nigel McG. Hero hauled the champ up and went for a death blow but Cole got in first with an enziguri. They traded boots before Cole connected with three Florida Keys for the pin.
McGuinness was shown a replay after he rejoined Kevin Kelly. Instead of simply overturning the decision based on the submission McGuinness let the decision stand. As Cole celebrated he was joined in the ring by Kevin Steen. Cole flipped him off and left to loud jeers. Nobody should have been surprised by him leaving. He's the bad guy!
Steen told everyone at ringside to leave before his "unsanctioned" match with Cliff Compton. The former Domino wandered in through the crowd, dressed like a cross between Trent Acid and Raven circa 1996. The match featured a duelling canes spot; liberal use of a "trash" can (or a dustbin, if you're British); a chair assisted top rope dive; bumps from the top rope to ringside through tables; a Michinoku driver through chairs; power bombs onto a ladder; the Terry Funk spinning ladder spot; a match winning package piledriver onto a ladder; and, surprisingly, a single straight chair shot. Basically it was an ECW match, fought thirteen years after ECW went under in a company that emphasises the athletic aspects of pro wrestling. But it was fun and it ended the show with a result that fans wanted. That counts for a lot.
After the match Steen said he wanted to be ROH champion again and that he’d live up to the legacy of the title during his second reign. Outlawz Inc watched from the entrance, applauding. Looks like that's the next programme for Steen, eh? It’s not one I’m interested in. I’d much rather see Steen in the title picture against the likes of Hardy, Cole and Bennett.
As a complete package the 12th Anniversary worked. There were some matches better than other but none that I’d consider bad. Styles v Lethal, Hero’s title challenge, and Briscoe v Bennett were all very good wrestling matches and the “unsanctioned” main event was great, for those who like that sort of thing and miss the good ol’ days of ECW. Hopefully this is the new standard from ROH after some spotty cards last year.