Tuesday 20 May 2014

ROH and New Japan War of the Worlds review

We start, as always, with a video package. This one was little more than a hype video showing the best of both companies. In the arena the crowd kicked off with a loud chant for New Japan. Steve Corino and 'Cool as a Cucumber' Kevin Kelly welcomed us to the show before AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and the Young Bucks walked out to the ring. They too got loud chants. Anderson introed 'The Phenomenal One'. There was a "Fuck TNA!" chant before he could speak. When he did it was to say he's not the leader. Because all Bullet Club members lead.

Kazuchika Okada and Gedo interrupted him. Gedo, as translated by Anderson, said Okada could beat Styles. Styles disagreed, and did Corino's aside-to-the-comedy-sidekick shtick (which I enjoyed even if no one else did). He also said he had his hands full with Elgin and that Okada would have to wait for his title rematch.

Then Michael Elgin wandered out. He asked for Nigel McGuinness to come out and make a three-way title match (odd as he was stood in the ring with one of New Japan's bookers). After checking with the NJPW chairman Nigel said the match would happen if all three wrestlers agreed. They all did, giving us a changed, and much more desirable, main event.

Takaaki Watanabe teamed Forever Hooligans to take on ACH, Matt Taven, and Tommaso Ciampa in the solid enough opener. Everyone did what you'd expect. That basically meant it was enjoyable but there were no surprises. There was a buzz of finishers followed by a dive onto the Hooligans by ACH before Taven got the win for his team with the tumbling DDT. I was surprised at that result. I thought the hooligans would win, being the regular combo who've held tag gold in both promotions and all.

Match two saw Roderick Strong and BJ Whitmer of the Decade team to face The World a Class Tag Team. The wrong graphic was displayed when the Decade entered, which was pretty embarrassing. The match was good. There were several exchanges of stiff kicks and chops but many seemed oddly mistimed, probably because the two teams aren't used to working with each other. Strong survived a chair shot from Gedo to hit a gut buster, followed by a Whitmer lariat and a sick kick for the victory. It was another mildly surprising result. Gedo and Jado are an accomplished team and it felt like they should have been the ones to win.

After the match Cedric Alexander ran in and took out every member of the Decade before being restrained by security. The Decade ran off. It was ROH's way of reminding us of that feud. It was effective enough and practically guaranteed a stipulation and-or gimmick match between the two at Best in the World.

Match three saw Marty McKUSHIDA challenge Jay Lethal for the ROH TV championship. The New York City crowd didn't provide the intense heat for Lethal that the Toronto crowd had. That was disappointing. Lethal had looked like a top of the line villain at Global Wars simply because of the crowd heat.

The story of the bout was that KUSHIDA was good enough to beat Lethal (there was a lovely spot where Lethal went for the Lethal Injection and KUSHIDA countered with a drop kick to the face during the handstand portion) so Lethal had Truth distract him to get the advantage and then slowed the pace with stomps, rest holds and other similarly dastardly moves. Eventually KUSHIDA made a comeback and almost had the match won after a DDT but Martini pulled the referee from the ring. That got him ejected from ringside. Lethal survived a wonderful top rope hurricanrana before winning with a super kick and a Lethal Injection. KUSHIDA took the move better than I've ever seen it taken before. It's not easy to make it look natural and as though it's a surprise to see coming. That guy is a talent.

Up next were Mark and Jay Briscoe challenging Bullet Club members Doc Gallows (the artist formerly known as Fake Kane) and Karl Anderson for the IWGP tag team titles. The crowd were pretty evenly split. NYC has a history of not being keen on 'Dem Boys'. Perhaps they're mellowing on them.

This was not a technically sound match, not that that should surprise anyone. They started off with a brawl around the ring which saw a table get destroyed and Jay Briscoe perform a modified plancha. When they got back into the ring the action was rough and ready. After a while Mark was wiped out with a back body drop on the floor, leaving Jay at the mercy of both Bullet members. He withstood some double teaming before Mark managed to return. The Briscoes downed Anderson and got a near fall with Mark's frog elbow drop but the crowd didn't react. Which was a pity.

Jay was wiped out with a double handed choke bomb and Mark was dropped with a shoulder height double team move for the win. The two teams shook hands afterwards. Jay glared at Gallows and refused to let go of his hand for an uncomfortable amount of time. It was a powerfully erotic moment.

Shinsuke Nakamura v Kevin Steen was one of the matches I was most looking forward to on this show. They're interesting characters who generally work pretty intense matches. Beyond that they're among my favourite wrestlers from their respective promotions. Everything pointed to them meshing and having a solid match. Steen got more streamers than Nakamura. I hadn't expected that. It speaks to Steen's popularity.

Everything about the match was great. Nakamura's movements were so fluid. Even when doing something as simple as running the ropes over a dropped down Steen he exuded grace and poise. His mannerisms were perfectly judged and warmly received while his moves were perfectly timed and, as always, looked thoroughly believable. 'Mr Wrestling' was not to he outdone. He worked the crowd expertly and matched Nak when it came to well timed offence.

The closing moments were a triumph. Steen reversed running knee into pop up power bomb. Nakamura rolled through a package piledriver attempt and kneed Steen in the face, then followed up with the Boma Ye. Steen stunned Nakamura by kicking out of that at one. But the adrenalin wouldn't last. He fell to another knee seconds later.

Nakamura left immediately. He didn't hang about to shake hands or tease a rematch or anything. Steen took a mic and joked about his jaw possibly being dislocated (or at least I assume he was joking). He acknowledged he hasn't always been happy in ROH but that he loves the company. For a year he's not felt like he belongs, and losing two big matches in a row reaffirms that. He said he was going to step away for a bit, which got "No!" chants. Then Silas Young interrupted him.

'Wrestling's Last Real Man' said he agreed with the fans regarding Steen leaving. To illustrate how much ROH needs "real" men Silas mentioned that the world champ looks like a ladyboy (which prompted Corino to say "a sexy one"), the tag champs look like kids off a Disney show and the TV champ "runs around with a fruit" (peculiar when you consider a major part of Truth's gimmick is that he likes the ladies). Perhaps they're trying to establish Silas with an overtly homophobic gimmick. Apparently wrestling has not moved beyond such things in 2014. Pity.

Silas felt Steen was the only other man in the locker room. Then he called Steen a pussy for thanking the fans and for walking away. Steen went to leave then Young said his son would grow up to be a quitter too. Because Steen's a fightin' face a brawl erupted. It ended when Steen leapt off the top rope onto security, at which point it was revealed that Silas had wandered off, evading the attack. This was followed by intermission.

It seems clear from this that Kevin Steen is getting ready to move away from Ring of Honor. It's common knowledge that he participated in a WWE tryout in February (alongside ACH and Roderick Strong) and doesn't appear to be working a number of ROH's future shows. The obvious assumption to make is that he's been made and has accepted a developmental offer from WWE. If that's the case I hope Steen can succeed in the WWE system. There's nothing to say he can't. He knows how to develop a character and make it popular and he's been a fan of WWE for years (and has friends in the company) so knows what to expect. It will be a blue for Ring of Honor if he leaves though. With or without the championship he has been ROH's top star since 2011. Hopefully he can give Silas Young a boost on his way out.

The second half opened with Michael Bennett facing Hiroshi Tanahashi. For the record Tanahashi had opened the second half at Global Wars too (not counting RD Evans's win over Bobby Cruise). Also, Bennett was wearing a shirt which read "Eat, Sleep, Beat Tanahashi, Repeat". It was modelled on Lesnar's pre-'Mania Streak-beater T-shirt and his conquer and repeat T-shirts. The thing is combining them doesn't work here, because beating Tanahashi again and again is not something that Bennett's going to get the chance to do.

Anyway, the match followed the basic pattern of a Bennett match but was better than his average outing. He stalled, trolled the audience with deliberately poor wrestling, brawled at ringside, and channelled CM Punk. The match was significantly poorer than the average Tanahashi match. There was once again a miscue between Bennett and Maria, this time Bennett ended up lightly tapping his girlfriend on the cheek. On the subject of Maria, she interfered and got placed in a cloverleaf by Tana. The crowd were into that. Personally I thought it was uncalled for.

Tanahashi overcame Maria interference, a piledriver, and the anaconda vice to win with a High Fly Flow. The reaction to his victory was staid. By this point it was clear that the audience were not as good as the guys in Toronto. The did bust out a "Please come back!" chant though. But that's almost a nicety at this point. Not that I think that was the case with 'The Once in a Century Talent'.

reDRagon were accompanied to the ring by a UFC personality named Tom Lawlor (no relation to Jerry (because it's spelt differently)) for their match with ROH tag champs the Young Bucks. It was the best match of the night, meaning that for the second weekend a row the Jackson brothers and reDRagon stole the show.

Once the action got going it didn't stop. Matt hit a perfectly timed handspring through the ropes into moonsault. Moments later he was at ringside to combat an O'Reilly flying knee from the apron with a super kick. Fish thwarted a springboard double Tombstone. O'Reilly avoided a super kick and countered into a double dragon screw leg whip on the brothers. Fish hit a falcon arrow from the top rope on Matt (he was doing more than his fair share for the Bucks, eh?). Nick hit a leg drop on O'Reilly as he had Matt scissored in a guillotine. The kick out got a great response. The champs went for More Bang For Your Buck on O'Reilly, but Nick was met with knees and Matt a triangle choke. Matt kicked out of Chasing the Dragon. O'Reilly locked in an armbar on Matt. Nick tried to make the save but Fish stopped him. Matt had no choice but to tap in another excellent ROH tag title match. O'Reilly in particular looked great.

The Bucks opted for crotch chops over handshakes. I imagine that's why people love them. Maybe I'm just too old to see the appeal.

Jushin 'Thunder' Liger was met by loud cheers that petered out quickly (because the crowd had become actively bad by this point, only reacting to moments of particular significance) when he entered for his match with ROH world champion Adam Cole. They kept the pace relatively slow for the most part, because of Liger's age (49) although that was by no means a bad thing. His offensive flurries were carefully planned out to gradually build towards a lovely finishing sequence. A better crowd willing to make the appropriate noise for the duration of match would have helped make it come scrims as the accomplishment it was. But we had what we had. Liger survived multiple super kicks and Florida Keys before falling victim to Cole's figure four leg lock. That's not as bad as it sounds. It's being built up as devastating when used by Cole.

Liger offered a handshake after the match. Cole held up the belt and then walked off sniggering. Whadda heel!

The final match was the three-way match for the IWGP championship. It was we were informed by Kevin Kelly, the first three-way IWGP heavyweight title since 8 October 2005 when Brock Lesnar successfully defended against Kazuyuki Fajita and Masa Chono (Styles is in fine company). Something I'd like to note about the main event is that it came close to having the best of three companies in it. Elgin could be considered to be ROH's best. The same goes for Okada in New Japan. While AJ Styles was until recently almost universally acknowledged as TNA's best, and is in the running for the best in NJPW too. Beyond that almost being a meaningless little achievement it's entirely irrelevant, but it demonstrates the calibre of talent involved. Elgin, Styles and Okada really are amongst the world's best.

They paced the early going with the one-on-one stretches that are now standard in three-way dances. When it started the stuff involving all three guys couldn't have been better. Early highlights included a stalling suplex from Elgin to Okada with kicks to the kid-section from Styles, which didn't put Elgin down and 'Unbreakable' also hit a Samoan drop and a fallaway slam on both his foes at the same time.

Elgin's knee got injured as he tried a new move from the turnbuckle (nicely worked into the story by Kevin Kelly) and performed a Tombstone. It was made worse when Styles put him in the Calf Slicer. He managed to perform his deadlift second rope suplex on Okada but was too injured to go for the cover, leaving him open to a 450 splash from Styles. Styles got a Pele kick on Okada and then went for a Styles Clash. 'Rainmaker' fought out of it and floored the champ with a Tombstone. Then he picked him up for the Rainmaker. Elgin made the save when he rocked Okada with a clothesline and a buckle bomb. Seconds later Okada was in control and finally connected with a Rainmaker on Elgin. Styles sent him rolling from the ring with a springboard drop kick before he could attempt a cover then gave Elgin a Styles Clash to win the match.

Afterwards Adam Cole ran out and hit everyone with his ROH championship belt. Then he shouted about being the best in the world as Kevin Kelly signed off to an ad for the next major ROH show, Best in the World.

And then... there was a comic book style "post credits" sequence. An appletini was placed on a bar. Then clips of Chris Daniels matches were played. Back in the bar 'The Ring General' was shown sitting on a stool and said he was coming home and that he wouldn't be alone.

The final two developments involving Cole and Daniels are both good news for ROH fans. It hints at a proper feud between Styles and Cole over the ROH gold in which ‘The Phenomenal One’ will play face. While fans were persuaded to boo him at the joint New Japan shows it’s not something that can be expected all the time. Simply put Styles is too well liked and fresh to the promotion to be getting booed regularly yet. Cole’s actions could also set up future bouts with Elgin. We’ve seen them clash before but not excessively. There’s even the option to have a future joint effort headlined by Cole versus Okada.

The return of ‘The Fallen Angel’ is obviously more good news. He’s a talented, charismatic veteran who’s gone through one of his periodic reinventions since he last left ROH. It’ll be interesting to see how his current character fits into the company. Of course he brings with him plenty of fresh matches (he’d make another fine challenger to Cole for example), particularly if Bad Influence teammate Frankie Kazarian is the man joining him in ROH. Daniels and Kazarian versus reDRagon is a match that could mean a lot if held off for a memorable first encounter.

War of the Worlds as a whole was a very good show. The tag title match was a match of the year contender. KUSHIDA v Lethal was the surprise of the night, being a lively tussle that established Lethal as a rulebreaker and KUSHIDA as a potential singles star (how great would it be if NJPW decided to send him on a sabbatical to Ring of Honor?). Steen versus Nakamura just about lived up to my lofty expectations. The main event was superb and a fitting end to a week of co-promotion. Everything else on the card was at least good and both companies ended up looking better than they had going in. Any future co-productions will be more than welcome if they’re this good.

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