Friday, 25 April 2014

ROH Supercard of Honor VIII review

Due to previous, much-discussed issues with their streaming facilities ROH's WrestleMania weekend offering was not available live. It took place on April 4, opposite DG USA's Open the Ultimate Gate 2014, but wasn't uploaded until a week or so later. Which is a pity, because it was a good show (as you'll read below) and deserved to be discussed during wrestling’s biggest weekend of the year.

It's likely that this will be the last time the issues of streaming and uploading affect ROH. From Best in the World onwards their big shows will be broadcast as live pay-per-views. Yeah, full on television PPVs, not those internet streaming things and taped offerings they’ve been doing until now. It's a big thing for ROH which could help them expand (which is the idea, obviously) if they can string together some top notch shows.

The situation’s obviously only come about because the WWE Network has finally reared its head. With WWE moving away from pay-per-view it's created an opening for ROH to build itself up. Basically the pay-per-view companies are going to ROH to try and recoup some of the losses they’ll be suffering losing WWE money. Doesn’t say much for TNA, does it?

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The show at hand is Supercard of Honor VIII. Although it wasn’t available live for anyone who didn’t have a ticket it was still a big and important show for ROH. It paid off months of storylines between the company’s two world champion claimants and offered a number of clashes between top names.

The show kicked off with a very impressive video that recapped the last year of plot. Jay Briscoe's title win, his reign and his loss of the belt via stripping. Adam Cole winning the vacated championship and subsequent heel turn on Jay. Their feud over the legitimacy of Cole's reign and Briscoe's introduction of the so-called real world title. It was a great piece of work that caught people up without being tedious.

The night's first match was Cedric Alexander taking on ROH veteran and proud Decade member Roderick Strong. He had Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer at ringside, along with new member Adam Page. He'd joined as a young boy (a Japanese, and therefore Ring of Honor, concept linked to paying dues and earning a spot) a week or two earlier.

The pair had a very good match that told a good story: Cedric wanted to prove himself to be on the same level as Roddy and worthy of his, and The Decade’s, respect. He kicked out of a bunch of very convincing false finishes, took out the Decade members stationed at ringside before eventually being caught with a drop kick and a suplex into a back breaker for the Strong victory.

Kevin Kelly put over Cedric’s efforts, though he didn’t need to: the match was one of the best of the night and Cedric looked so good during the match that he got over even in defeat. After the match Jacobs told Cedric he should act more like Adam Page and be respectful. Perhaps that will be the next swerve turn, Cedric attacking Caprice Coleman in favour of joining The Decade. Or not. ‘The Zombie Princess’ also referred to ROH as the house that The Decade built. I hope that was intentionally ridiculous.

Andrew Everett and Adrenalin RUSH were called out for their six man scramble tag match. The scramble rule meant that if someone leaves the ring one of their partners could become the match’s legal man without the need for a tag. It’s a good approach that ensures a faster pace, never a bad thing in your second match of the night.

Once again the story centred on respect. Specifically it was about The Decade not respecting their foes and the younger trio doing everything they could to show they were worthy of it. ACH was a highlight during this, taking particular exception to his treatment at the hands of the heels. He shook hands with the fans when the bad guys refused and was booked as the star of his team, getting isolated and hitting the majority of the most impressive flying moves. Making him the star made sense: he was the most charismatic guy in the match and had the crispest delivery.

As with the opener it was a very enjoyable match. The faces, Jacobs and Page were all quick. BJ wasn’t going to keep up, but he offered the match some a power guy instead. Highlights of the match included a Doomsday Device-suicide dive combo on the floor from Whitmer and Jacobs, springboard shooting star presses to the outside and inside of the ring by Everett, an incredible topé from ACH, and The Decade's All Seeing Eye (a move it would be easy to botch and that always looks good). That was enough to earn Whitmer the win for his team.

After the match Jacobs teased caving in Tadarius's skull with his trusty spike. He walked off instead. ACH sat at ringside, exhausted and unable to make the save. My assumption is that there will be a singles match between ACH and Jacobs sometime soon. Probably at Best in the World.

After a reminder of why they don't like one another Truth Martini and Matt Taven went to the ring for a showdown. Instead of introducing his mystery wrestler Truth called Kevin Kelly into the ring and started reading the final chapter of the Book of Truth. Taven snatched it away and started reading his "favourite” chapter. He got about three words in before flames came out of the book which caused a distraction (understandably so) and allowed Truth to kick Taven in the groin and walk off. It was a confusing, disappointing mess of a segment.

Match three saw the "undefeated" RD Evans (he's pulled 82-0 from somewhere) take on Silas Young. Evans was popular with the fans. Young was not. He was, in fact, hated. Partly because he does such a good job of being an unlikeable bully. What could have been a simple comedy bout was actually a pretty lengthy, compelling outing. After narrowly avoiding being counted out (having absorbed an impressive electric chair drop on the apron) Evans caught Young with a small package that was just kicked out of.

Veda Scott then distracted the referee while Ramon, the other member of the RD Evans Comedy Troupe, tossed his belt into the ring. Young intercepted it so Evans pretended he'd been struck with it in an effort to win by DQ. Young escaped another rollup and accidentally battered the ref with the belt. Evans got a hangman's neck breaker but there was nobody to count the three so Evans, needing a ref, checked on the downed official. That allowed Young to grab him for a fireman roll and a moonsault, at which point a fresh official appeared in the ring to make the unpopular count.

However... original official Paul Turner got to his feet and reversed the decision. Silas Young was disqualified, presumably for striking an official. Evans celebrated in typically overblown style, screaming that he'd done it and high fiving and hugging fans at ringside. He’s one of the best things currently going in ROH.

Following that were Michael Bennett and Mark Briscoe in a no disqualification match. Bennett had involved himself in Jay Briscoe's rivalry with Adam Cole, so Mark was looking out for his brother. That was all the build they needed.

The match started with Briscoe launching himself off the apron and battering Bennett around ringside. Bennett turned things around and the two wound up brawling into the bleachers. Noteworthy here was Mark launching himself from one guardrail over another and landing on nothing but Bennett and concrete. Back at ringside 'The Prodigy' smacked Briscoe with a pair of chair shots, spat water in his face and ran him into the crowd barrier.

In the ring Bennett wrapped a chair around Briscoe's leg and smashed a second chair on top. Briscoe shrugged that off (just one of many no-sells he would perform) and came back with an elbow drop to a floored Bennett outside the ring (Cactus Jack style). Briscoe gave Bennett some chair shots of his own and ran him into barriers in the aisle. Up at the entrance Bennett speared Briscoe through a table, which fell over rather than broke in half. Which was somewhat anticlimactic.  

Once again returning to the ring Briscoe pulled out a kendo stick. Bennett took two shots before Maria grabbed the stick out of Mark's grasp. Bennett snuck in a super kick and Maria gave Briscoe a stick shot of her own, allowing Bennett to hit a side effect. A series of chair shots put the former tag champ down. Bennett followed that with a one man Conchairto and an application of the Anaconda Vice. Referee Todd Sinclair awarded the match to Bennett. Briscoe was helped out of the ring but was looking for a fight before he'd reached the aisle. The match was a very satisfying brawl but someone needs to remind Mark to sell.

We were shown Matt Taven searching for Truth Martini backstage. He walked into the gents, there was some shouting, and then Truth wandered out. The cameraman entered the restroom to find Taven clutching his face. I think we were meant to assume he'd been fireballed. Although there were other options that would fit with Truth’s deviant character.

A top notch hype video for ROH's co-promoted shows with New Japan was followed by Cheeseburger giving out T-shirts. The inevitable interruption came from Matt Hardy. After politely asking the burger to give him the ring 'The Icon' talked about ROH setting record numbers in TV ratings, attendance figures, and merch sales, which he took credit for, natch. In fairness he didn't just claim it was because of him, he also said it was because he'd handpicked Adam Cole as the top guy in the company. Channelling both Triple H and Gedo ‘The Sensei of Mattitude’ talked up Adam Cole as being on another level and said he couldn't take anything away from Briscoe being a "pretty good little wrestler". Wrapping up, Hardy said that he, Bennett, Kanellis, and Cole are the best unit in wrestling and that Cole winning the main event would cement him as the greatest ROH champion ever.

Cheeseburger was called back into the ring. Hardy disingenuously apologised for taking his time and then gave him a Twist of Fate. The sequence was good for building up the importance of the main event and establishing the top heel unit in the company but it wasn't unmissable stuff. Nothing involving Matt Hardy is.

Match five was the Forever Hooligans v reDRagon v Hanson and Raymond Rowe in a three-way tag match, with the winners earning a title match with The Young Bucks at Global Wars. Despite Hanson and Rowe being the only guys who were definitely faces it was Fish and O'Reilly who got most of the cheers before the match started.

Things took a while to get going in this. The first several minutes were pretty standard tag fare. Things only really picked up in the final five minutes when the near falls kicked in and guys were rapidly coming and going from the ring. O'Reilly eventually got the win for his team off a rollup, craftily applied after the Hooligans had attempted a double team springboard thwarted by Fish (who, for the record, was sporting a lovely quiff).

Hanson and Rowe looked decent as a team. If they’re together long enough they could development into a useful combo. That said I can’t help but feel this match would have been better without their involvement. But that feels like an unfair complaint to make. The match wasn’t actively bad, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. We’ve had Forever Hooligans versus reDRagon on other shows so all things considered I think I’d rather have had this three-way. It was something different and it gave Hanson and Rowe a good introduction to the tag division.

A video package showed an angry Jay Lethal talking about his two years of history with Tommaso Ciampa and wanting the TV title back. They have indeed had two years of feuding for the TV strap, on and off. Unfortunately none of their interactions are especially memorable. I think it was a result of Lethal's bland face character. I like Ciampa's character and both men's wrestling ability but they've never clicked for me as the great feud they're clearly meant to be.

The match was a two-out-of-three falls affair. Instead of a handshake Ciampa put his knee brace on Lethal's outstretched hand. It was a way of demonstrating that he was not only confident in his knee but keen to pursue a level playing field. The first fall was the length of a regular ROH match and ended with a Lethal Injection attempt countered into a pinning attempt which was countered itself into another pinning attempt. That put Lethal ahead by one fall.

Ciampa was on the defensive for the second fall, having to immediately escape a hurricanrana and a Koji clutch. He countered the latter into a Sicilian Stretch but it wasn't enough to get him his first pin. Minutes later he was on the receiving end of his own Project Ciampa. The second ref bump of the night followed when Ciampa ducked a Lethal Injection attempt and Todd Sinclair took the move instead. Ciampa blasted Lethal with a German suplex series (triggering a Benoit chant) and a lariat.

Truth Martini then rocked up and slid Ciampa's knee brace to Jay Lethal. The challenger used it. Ciampa kicked out but wasn't with it enough to make it back to his feet, so Lethal hit him with the Macho Elbow. Ciampa, channeling Hulk Hogan, immediately kicked out. He no sold a pair of super kicks but buckled after a kick to the knee and fell to a Lethal Injection.

The first ever two time TV champ celebrated with Truth Martini as the fans told him he'd sold out. Taking a microphone Lethal told the fans "There is a house in New Orleans. And it's called the House of Truth." At commentary McGuinness and Kelly talked about how Lethal had turned his back on honour and the teachings of his parents (though they failed to mention it was Truth Martini who cost him the TV title in March 2012 (not that I’d expected them to)). They also made it clear they'd never expected to see a Jay Lethal heel turn in ROH. I have to say I’d never thought we'd get it either. It could work out well though. Lethal's lack of charisma (except for when he's channelling Randy Savage) has always been a problem and he'd done loads as a face and become a little played out doing it. This is something new for him and it gives Martini someone new to interact with.

The evening's penultimate match saw Michael Elgin clash with Kevin Steen in a match that would see the winner challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP world heavyweight championship at Global Wars. They set an electric pace from the opening bell, Steen immediately attempting a package piledriver with Elgin escaping and belting him with a right hand. Within thirty seconds Steen had hit a cannonball and gone for a cover. After that they headed out of the ring for the obligatory ringside rampage.

Several minutes passed before they re-entered the ring, at which point Elgin was in control after using a stalling suplex on the outside to wind 'Mr Wrestling'. Elgin hit a drop kick before Steen came back with a version of the draping DDT. Elgin took a senton and shoulder blocks in the corner then blasted Steen with an enziguri and a dead lift German suplex. Steen got a two count from a fisherman neck breaker then hit a second cannonball into the corner.

It would prove ill-advised as 'Unbreakable' kept hold of him and powered up to his feet to give him a power bomb. He went for a second but Steen turned it into an F5. Elgin kicked out and an exchange of big punches followed. Elgin got the better of that and dropped Steen with a bicycle kick and a back fist for two. Back on the outside Steen apron bombed Elgin and then took a power bomb into the turnbuckle. In the ring Steen survived a tombstone piledriver and responded with a pop up power bomb and a package piledriver for an ultra-convincing two count. Steen attempted a Swanton bomb but was met with knees.

Both men dragged themselves back to their feet. Elgin walloped Steen with a back fist, a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb for another strong convincer. Elgin tried for something on the top rope but Steen countered with a version of the fisherman suplex for another two count. Steen once again tried the package piledriver but found it reversed into triple power bomb, followed by a buckle bomb. The Elgin bomb attempt that followed was countered with a sleeper suplex, but Elgin shrugged it off and belted Steen with a lariat, another buckle bomb and Steen's own package piledriver for the hard fought victory.

The match was phenomenal. Elgin and Steen are two of ROH’s best and this was proof of it. I thought it was significantly better than their last effort opposite one another.

The ladder match main event was excellent, which was to be expected. Jay Briscoe is one of the most experienced ladder guys ROH has while Cole is just generally awesome and capable of doing anything asked of him. The history behind the match helped too, creating a reason for the two to clash under ladder rules and continuing the tradition of ladder matches only occurring under very special circumstances in Ring of Honor.

In the end it was Cole who “unified the titles” and left New Orleans as Ring of Honor’s undisputed world champion. This, I’m sure, will be credited to the training from self-proclaimed ladder match whizz Matt Hardy. In actuality it was more down to interference from Hardy and Bennett. That made sense though: the heels are a confirmed faction and there was always going to be interference in the match.

Supercard of Honor VIII was a good show, all told. It paid off various long-running plots, provided some high quality matches, and provided a few changes to keep the promotion feeling fresh. It will almost certainly not end up being Ring of Honor’s best show of the year (especially when you consider what they’ve got coming up at Global Wars) but it was a satisfying show at a time when ROH needed to deliver a satisfying show. If they can give us more events like that when they hit pay-per-view they’ll be doing okay.

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