Tuesday, 9 September 2014

ROH All Star Extravaganza VI review

When I heard that ROH were holding All Star Extravaganza VI in Toronto I was pretty pleased. Over the last couple of years the city has gained a reputation as one of the best crowds the promotion attracts. The Toronto fans are enthusiastic, loud and appreciative. You can't really ask for much more from a wrestling audience. Putting them on iPPV for one of ROH's more significant shows of the year (the most significant between June's Best in the World and December's Final Battle) was a good call.

The crowd reacted as usual to the bigger matches on the show but they didn't feel as enthused for aspects of the undercard. They weren't quiet, just not as rambunctious as usual. But they were on form when it counted though, and it counted a few times on this show.

After an opening video package which looked at various members of the roster and (confusingly, I felt) referred to the company as a whole as "legendary" the show got underway with a House of Truth promo. The purpose of this was to announce that ACH hadn't shown up (he'd missed his flight to Toronto, which may have harmed his standing with the group), with Truth Martini announcing that Jay Lethal would have the night off and not have to defend his TV title. Truth also stated that ACH now stands for A Crack Head. Yeah, ACH's spot is definitely in jeopardy.

Cedric Alexander joined the gang and challenged Lethal to a title match in ACH's place. Lethal said no, Cedric commented that Selezia had bigger balls them him and Lethal, like a classic heel, immediately rose to the bait and granted Cedric a match. The segment ended with the men shoving one another and Lethal accidentally super kicking Selezia.

The opening match was Mark Briscoe versus Hanson, a match that stemmed from War Machine and the Briscoe brothers trying to outdo each other in terms toughness had having some pretty intense matches. It was a solid opener that excited the crowd and toured all around the ring. Briscoe won with his top rope frog elbow after avoiding a Hanson moonsault.

The commentary teams discussion of Elgin's desire to have a long title reign and make the most defences in the title's history was interrupted by Tommaso Ciampa. His desperate, unhinged gimmick is not terribly convincing. It could improve over time, but right now I'm sticking with my original belief that Ciampa is not a guy built for this sort of presentation or character. And depression, which we are told Ciampa is suffering from, is not a subject I feel is well suited to what is meant to be an escapist art form.

Match two was a four-way tag bout: Ethan Gabriel Owens and Josh Alexander v BJ Whitmer and Adam page (of The Decade) v Caprice Coleman and 'I've Misplaced My First Name' Watanabe v Moose and RD Evans. It felt a little random but there was a lot to like. Coleman and Watanabe, with similar heights and builds and wearing not entirely dissimilar entrance gear, looked good together, and they're making the effort to act like a unit. Alexander and Owens are a team I'd seen on an EVOLVE show and thought deserved a crack in the larger ROH environment, so it was nice to see them get it. Evans, Moose and their entourage were very over and Moose was (gasp!) showing a bit of personality. And The Decade pairing were there to further the overall gimmick of the group (respect them because they've been around for a while, yeah?) and a story about Page being Whitmer's handpicked young boy.

This was another good match well received by the audience. The large number of guys involved ensured a quick pace, with lots of high spots and pin breakups thrown in to keep us on our toes. Naturally The New Streak continued, Evans stealing the pin off a burning hammer into a power bomb combo manoeuvre by Owens and Alexander on Page. Everyone else stood around looking miffed as RD did his OTT celebration. It was enjoyable. I'm a big fan of RD Evans' shtick in the usually serious ROH.

After Bad Influence, now The Addiction, recapped their issues with The Decade (the heels interfered in a tag title match Daniels and Kazarian had at Field of Honor) the two teams faced off. The former TNA world tag team champions of the world won a slick but perhaps slightly too long match with total elimination and an assisted gut buster on Roddy Strong. The Addiction shook hands with Strong after the match, which led to Page shoving Strong and Whitmer interjecting on his boy's behalf. Whitmer and Strong had words before Jacobs talked them both around. A split is clearly on the way for The Decade. I think there are still things they could do together bit maybe the plan was only for them to remain affiliated for long enough to make a split and rivalry mean something.

A really good Adam Cole video preceded his match with AJ Styles. They started things slow and gradually upped the speed, setting up and attempting to lock in their Calf Killer and figure four leg submission holds. Cole, as the heel, would be the first man to get the advantage for an extended period, super kicking Styles' knee as he attempted a springboard and then applying the ring post figure four. In the ring Styles attempted to flip into a hurricanrana but instead found himself placed in a traditional figure four. There was a story going on: Cole was targeting his foe’s knee.

Styles dropped Cole with what Kevin Kelly described as a suplex (it was more of a brainbuster) on the ring apron, following up with a marvellous 450 splash back into the ring. The pair exchanged punches in the corners before Styles was dropped head first onto Cole's knee for two. Moments later Cole was floored with a Styles Clash. He didn't kick out but he did sling a foot onto the bottom rope to stop the count.

Top rope antics followed, Cole halting an AJ attempt at something or other and German suplexing him down into the ring. An immediate Florida Key earned him a two count. By this point AJ was selling some serious fatigue and Cole was the ruthless aggressor desperate for the kill. A right hand sent AJ down to his knees. So did a second, a third, and a fourth. 'The Phenomenal One' got an adrenalin burst for long enough to enter a spirited punch exchange which escalated to include super and Pele kicks and which, as the face, Styles naturally got the better of.

Once recovered Cole headed to the top rope and got waffled with a second Pele kick. Styles then hauled Cole off the top with a Bloody Sunday (which he’s adopted from former Bullet Club leader Prince Devitt in one of those lovely little touches you don’t get often enough in wrestling outside of Japan), a brutal and believable finishing move. It was a very good match. Cole was protected in defeat by having AJ really have to work to put him down. They avoided going overboard on false endings and finishing moves and had a decidedly old school match that built logically and saw both men show game plans. It could very well have been Cole's best ROH match.

After the match Styles helped Cole to his feet and proffered his hand for the Code of Honor. Cole spat on it and walked backstage. Lucky AJ wears gloves, eh?

After a short intermission during which viewers at home were "treated" to clips from previous Bucks v reDRagon encounters (I've always felt promos and ads for upcoming events are a better use of the time) Michael Bennett and Maria Kanellis headed to the ring to fulfil their promise that they'd reveal what was underneath Maria's red trench coat. Both Steve Corino and Nigel McGuinness (who'd joined commentary for his now traditional second half stint) both put over Maria's looks. As the play-by-play man Kevin Kelly is not permitted to comment on things like this.

Maria announced that Matt Hardy would be returning to Ring of Honor. Then Michael Bennett peeled off Maria's coat to reveal the Iconic championship, originally Jay Briscoe's "real" world title, repurposed to become the Title of Love. It now has pink fur and a picture of Mike and Maria kissing on it. Bennett then suggested the pair "consummate" their marriage early on the title belt. Mark Briscoe, wearing a natty little do-rag around his head, ran out and chased the heels off, telling Bennett that when his brother found out about the disrespectful antics it would "be [his] ass."

The entire thing had a very Attitude Era vibe thanks to the sexual connotations, Bennett's love of cheap heat, and Mark Briscoe's do-rag. The marriage consummating that didn't happen had a tinge of Edge and Lita's 2006 sex celebration too.

Match five saw Jay Lethal defeat Cedric Alexander with his own Lethal Injection and Matt Taven's Climax. Because good lord it's not as though the Lethal versus Taven feud is utterly played out. It was a really good match, although the return Selezia made to get destroyed by more accidental Lethal offence wasn't entirely necessary. Hopefully they're going somewhere good with that and it wasn't just thrown in for the sake of things. If it's a bigger role for Selezia I'm all for it. She's great.

The ROH world championship match was prefaced by an excellent hype video. Both men made it clear they weren't intimidated by their opponent. They also talked about what their foe's claimed strengths. For Briscoe that was two years without a pinfall loss. Elgin said that was because Briscoe hadn't faced him in those two years. For Elgin it was his ascent to the top and a literal interpretation of his 'Unbreakable' moniker. There was also some nice stuff with Briscoe channeling Ric Flair, telling Elgin "to be the man, you've gotta the man." There are few wrestlers more unlike 1980s prime Flair than Jay Briscoe, which I think adds to the appeal of Jay becoming a modern day version of that character. I'd definitely be interested in Jay Briscoe's already lengthy winning streak continuing.

The match was a corker. It was filled, as most featured Elgin bouts are, with stiff offense, a bunch of lariats and some intense ringside brawling. These are, of course, thigns that Jay Briscoe is pretty familiar with too, so it felt like the natural direction for the pair to take the match in. It was great, everything we could have wanted. But the closing were… well, something of a surprise, to say the least.

The sequence began with Elgin being put through a table with a Jay Driller from the apron, raising his shoulder at the last moment to stay in the fight. Exhibiting disbelief Jay clambered back to his feet and belted Elgin with some fists. The champ fired himself up and blasted Briscoe with a spinning back fist as he attempted a clothesline, following up with a buckle bomb. He went for his follow-up of an Elgin bomb after that, only for Briscoe to slip out and spike him with a second Jay Driller for the victory and the championship.

ROH world champion Jay Briscoe there, looking a tiny bit awkward.
The title change was a massive shock. The build-up to the match, focusing on Jay’s two year winning streak, felt like it was intended to emphasise how significant an Elgin win would be. Plus Elgin’s a Canadian, and it seemed safe to assume ROH would want to have him win his first defence in his home country to build him up into a sort of “national treasure” role they could rely on in the future. More than that, ROH had been holding off on putting their world belt onto Elgin for an age (they waited too long in my opinion) and so it was a shock to see him lose the title after less than three months.

It felt like Elgin’s reign was cut short. In the last few days it’s not been hard to see a variety of reasons cited as to why he lost the championship, ranging from visa problems to off remarks he’d made in interviews. It’s a shame he lost the championship so quickly after having to wait so long, but on the plus side it got people talking about Ring of Honor and it could be the beginning of a far ranging storyline (although it probably isn’t). It also made me realise how my attitude towards Jay Briscoe has changed. I’m interested in him as a two time champion now, while last year I hated the idea of him as champion.

The main event as the two-out-of-three falls match for the ROH world tag team championships. reDRagon were defending against The Young Bucks. The two teams have faced off a few times now and the results have never been anything less than sensational. The most notable encounter was their show-stealing performance at the ROH and New Japan War of the Worlds crossover, which is a current frontrunner for match of the year. I mention this to illustrate the sort of level the units had been operating on and the expectations of fans for this match.

It was a great match (with the standard caveat that you have to overlook the lax attitude to selling from the Bucks), edging out Cole versus Styles and the world championship match for best of the night honours. Personally I feel it was slightly less good than their WOTW encounter, but I could fully understand people feeling the opposite. I could wake up tomorrow and feel the opposite myself, the quality of the bouts is that close. It was a fitting end to the evening and yet more proof that these two teams, particularly when working together, are both something special.

Fish and O’Reilly took the first fall with Chasing the Dragon, putting them in the advantageous position traditionally occupied by heels. The Bucks evened things up with a package piledriver-super kick combo before losing the third and deciding fall when Matt tapped out to the Fujiwara arm bar that O’Reilly applied as a counter to More Bang for Your Buck.

A standing ovation for the valiant losers was interrupted by a returning Tommaso Ciampa. He dropped Nick with a German suplex and Matt with a Project Ciampa. The final shot of the broadcast was Nick Jackson taking a neck breaker onto the exposed boards of the ring. I stand by what I said earlier: Ciampa is not a performer particularly well suited to this and the topic of depression (which Corino stated very clearly he was suffering from) is not something that wrestling should be tackling. At least not in this manner.

Even with the mood-killing closing angle I thought All Star Extravaganza VI was a very good show. It was obviously be most remembered as the show on which Michael Elgin lost the ROH championship but there was a lot more going on (and perhaps as a trivia note should it prove to be ACH's last official booking). Every match was watchable and enjoyable, with Cole v Styles and the top two title matches standing out as particularly impressive. That title change will always make this a curiosity but it’s a very watchable show in and of itself. The ROH crew turned out another good effort.

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