While their disgruntled former employee Gabe Sapolsky was busy offering up in excess of half a dozen shows via his World Wrestling Network, Ring of Honor was taking a more conservative approach with WrestleMania Weekend. While they have the name value and roster to be able to put together two, possibly even three, shows on the biggest wrestling weekend of the wrestling year they decided to go for one. Less is more, and all that.
Looking at the line-up they had announced beforehand this is probably a good thing. Despite ROH's name value and roster Supercard of Honor IX looked like anything but a supercard before the fact. Of the six matches announced days before the event only the Jay Briscoe versus Samoa Joe main event and Jay Lethal's TV title defence against Jushin 'Thunder' Liger sounded like anything special. Daniels and Kazarian being placed in singles matches reeked of padding out a card, the Jimmy Jacobs v BJ Whitmer grudge battle was something that had been seen ten years earlier, and the reDRagon v Kingdom match sounded underwhelming.
In ROH's defence they suffered by losing access to regulars AJ Styles and the Young Bucks, all three of whom were busy in New Japan. But while that was beyond ROH's control it can only be taken so far as a defence. The promotion is still ultimately responsible for finding and building up its own new stars. That ACH was merely confirmed to appear with no match announced shows that the company's not as dedicated as it probably should be to establishing its next batch of headliners. And being in the position it's in (basically the last stop guys make on their way to being signed by WWE) that's something that should always be a priority for Ring of Honor.
This said the show was better than my (admittedly low) expectations had made me think it would be. It kicked off with an enjoyable match between Mark Briscoe and ACH. Recent shows had seen ACH lose to AJ Styles, Alberto El Patron and Samoa Joe. He lost again here, coming close with a bombardment of big moves in the closing moments before Mark sat down on a roll-up during a pin exchange sequence.
I understand that a guy can't just start beating big names as soon as they start getting pushed but the regularity of ACH's losses isn't going to do him any favours. They're probably going somewhere with him not being able to win in one of these matches but it's not anywhere interesting. ACH deserves more than he's currently getting and ROH need to be trying to build him up in case they lose some of their top guys in the near future. If they don't then they'll still have ACH but he'll just be the guy who lost to everyone who left.
Match two saw Michael Elgin take on Frankie Kazarian. It was a slower match than the opener and the pair took a while to find their groove. They were fine by the halfway point though, and the match ended in the typically pacey big move sequence most Elgin matches benefit from. The story of the match was that Elgers was being particularly vicious and was going out of his way to try and injure Kazarian. Kazarian survived a chair attack and all of Elgin's big moves before finally falling to a spinning back fist and the Elgin bomb.
Despite having acted like a nasty heel throughout the match the crowd chanted for Elgin after the finish. They returned to booing him as he sarcastically asked a spent Kazarian for a handshake. Kazarian's Addiction teammate Chris Daniels came out to try and keep Elgin at bay but it didn't work. Elgin initially backed off before returning to the ring with a chair and smacking Daniels in the back with it. H gave him an Elgin bomb and then used the chair on Kazarian. Because, in case you haven't noticed, Michael Elgin is now a renegade who plays by nobody's rules but his own.
Andrew Everett, Caprice Coleman, Cedric Alexander, Tommaso Ciampa (sporting his MF Doom style mask), Moose and Matt Sydal were guys stuffed into the show's six man mayhem offering. That Sydal, Ciampa and Alexander were thrown into a multi-man match was disappointing. A more meaningful match could have happened in its place, or the card could have been reshuffled to put The Addiction in a tag match. It's hardly surprising that Ciampa asked for his release when he went from main eventing shows to being in filler matches. There were clearly no long term ideas for him.
This match was a good use of Moose though. With five men against him he had plenty of guys to throw around and look powerful against. The match was a fun spot-fest, which is all it was intended to be. Sydal won off a shooting star press on Everett. Moose was just a little too slow to break the pin up.
After the match Veda Scott again stopped Moose shaking hands, as she had at the start and in other matches since she turned heel. Cedric also refused to shake hands with people. He just looked angry as Adam Cole (who was working as guest commentator for the evening) and Kevin Kelly discussed how he'd had lots of exciting matches but couldn't win. That story would be more impactful if they weren't also running it with ACH. They may be building to those two confronting one another on their different outlooks on losing but so what? We've seen them wrestle one another before so the prospect of them facing off again isn't particularly interesting, even if Cedric's a heel when it happens.
That was followed by the Epic Grudge Match between BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs. Whitmer had his new young boy Colby Corino with him (which was why Steve Corino wasn't on commentary). They started with a handshake before immediately pummelling each other. They headed outside, fought more, then got back into the ring and had a chair duel. Whitmer whipped Jacobs into chairs set up in the corner. Jacobs fought back with a spear (which brought about a "Better than Reigns!" chant) and smacked Whitmer with chairs before dropping him with Sliced Bread Number Two onto a chair.
Whitmer got a fisherman suplex for two. Jacobs brought out a table. Whitmer tried to exploder Jacobs through it. Jacobs fought him off. Whitmer helpfully rolled onto the table in just the right place for a Jacobs senton. The table didn't break so Jacobs set it up between the ring apron and the crowd barrier. A second senton in that position worked. Whitmer kicked out of a pin attempt and got clamped in a guillotine choke. Whitmer muscled out into a brainbuster then hit a second brainbuster onto a chair. Jacobs kicked out.
Whitmer tried a top rope power bomb (a call-back to one of their more grizzly encounters against one another). Jacobs back dropped him off the top rope and gave him an Ace crusher, holding on to follow up with another Sliced Bread. Whitmer floored Jacobs twice with lariats before giving him an exploder suplex onto a pair of chairs. That was enough to put 'The Zombie Princess' down for three.
A "Thank you, Jimmy!" chant rang in, it being an open secret that this was Jacobs' final match with Ring of Honor before taking a creative job with WWE. Jacobs went for a handshake. Whitmer pulled away then said he only shakes hands with guys who belong. Colby then smacked Jimmy with a water bottle shot from behind and pummelled him before Lacey ran in through the crowd to make the save. They embraced as the Ballad of Lacey played, finally bringing an end to ROH's ancient Jimmy Loves Lacey story which began back in the Gabe Sapolsky days. It was a nice touch and a fitting end to Jimmy Jacobs' time in Ring of Honor.
The love story moment was immediately undercut by Chris Daniels dancing out to the ring to his jaunty entrance music. It would have been nice if ROH had had a video package to play at this point, or a heel promo to schedule to deliberately kill the mood. But they had neither because despite this show being held on WrestleMania weekend it was still just a VOD event. As rule they don't get video packages, and there were no heel promos on the show.
Daniels versus Roderick Strong was predictably sharp but I still think it would have been better to have The Addiction in a tag match and Roddy doing something against someone else. Matt Sydal, for example. Strong won with the Stronghold following a torture rack into a back breaker.
That was followed by The Kingdom team of Matt Taven and Michael Bennett, with Maria Kanellis, challenging reDRagon, with MMA personality Tom Lawler, for the ROH tag team championship. The Kingdom played rock, paper scissors to decide who'd start (Bennett won with rock). I've always been a fan of that in tag matches.
As stated above I hadn't expected a great deal from this match. reDRagon are great and Taven and Bennett are good but it just seemed like an awkward bout waiting to happen. It took a while to get going, the first half being characterised by Taven and Bennett employing cheap heat shenanigans, featured a needless run-in from a lone KRD member, and faltered in the closing moments because of an injury to Kyle O'Reilly, but it ended up better than I'd expected. Fish got the pin for reDRagon with a falcon arrow on Bennett.
Cole returned to commentary (he'd left after Kelly had questioned him about The Kingdom's relationship with the Knights of the Rising Dawn during Whitmer v Jacobs) and promised he hadn't been the masked KRD guy. He probably wasn't, but in storyline he likely was. That's wrestling logic, that is.
Jay Lethal's television title defence against Jushin Liger took the semi-main spot. Lethal has been great as the aggressive heel champion and his reign is doing the championship's credibility a lot of good. He's the sort of guy ROH could elevate to the world title picture should they lose a bunch of their top guys. Liger is Liger. Not as good as he is in 80's and 90's videos but still very reliable and a definite crowd-pleaser.
What I liked about the Liger and Lethal pairing was that a title change wasn't inconceivable, something that can't often be said when a champion defends against an outsider. With ROH promoting shows with New Japan a month and a half after this they could have switched the title to Liger and had him enter those shows as champion. The TV title could have been defended on New Japan shows by Liger in the meantime and a rematch would have been a natural addition to one of the four inter-promotional shows. It wasn't likely but it made suspension of disbelief a bit easier than it had been in Liger's world title match with Cole at War of the Worlds 2015.
The match was very good and had a entertaining finishing sequence. After stopping a Lethal suicide dive Liger dropped the champ with a brainbuster. They made it back into the ring at the nineteen count. Lethal grabbed the TV title belt. The referee took it from him and Liger went for a rollup, which Lethal countered into a pin attempt of his own by grabbing hold of the ropes. The ref noticed and called a halt to the count. Lethal took the belt again and tried lamping Liger with it. Liger ducked and snatched the belt for himself. The referee started a tug-of-war over the belt with the challenger, allowing Lethal to sneak in a super kick and a Lethal Injection for the victory.
The main event saw Samoa Joe challenge Jay Briscoe for the ROH world championship. This was a match with a lot of history behind it. Briscoe and Joe had feuded with one another in the early years of ROH, Briscoe never managing to defeat Joe when it really counted. Joe is the man most readily associated with the championship, thanks to his dominant twenty-one month title reign during the company's formative years, a reign yet to be bettered in length. Briscoe is the dominant champion of the present, not having been pinned in two years and having defeated everyone that's been put in front of him just as Joe did during his reign.
Joe got the best of an early feeling out process. The match gradually got more physical with forearms, chops, jabs, a Jay boot to the face and a Joe enziguri. Jay went for a suplex. Got it on fourth try following a jab. He peppered the big man with more jabs and applied a sleeper. Joe muscled out, tweaked his knee on a bungled spill over the top rope, and rolled to the outside to counter a suicide dive with a high kick as planned.
Back in the ring Joe hit Briscoe with jabs of his own and used a Hogan-esque leg drop in place of his usual knee drop. Joe got the best of an exchange of blows with an uppercut. Briscoe tried climbing to the top rope but Joe booted him to the outside and hit a suicide dive. He went for the Olé kick but Briscoe threw a chair in his face (the lack of a DQ being explained away with talk of referee lenience). The champ threw Joe into the barricade before getting grabbed off of the apron and slung into the barricade himself. A second try for the Olé kick was successful. So was a third.
Joe pulled Briscoe back into the ring and got a two count. He peppered him with jabs and hauled him into position for the Muscle Buster. Briscoe fought out of it and dropped Joe with a neck breaker. Jay got more jabs on Joe and went for a Death Valley driver. Joe and his weight blocked it. Jay took some elbow strikes before firing back with a super kick and a belly-to-back suplex as Joe came off the ropes.
Briscoe got in several uppercuts and finally connected with the DVD. Joe kicked out at two. Briscoe went for the Jay driller. Joe back dropped out of it and sent Jay sprawling with clotheslines, an inverted atomic drop, a yakuza kick and a senton. Jay kicked out and slugged away at Joe before hit ting the ropes. He was met with a power slam. Joe went through the power bomb, Boston crab, STF, crossface sequence to loud cheers. Briscoe managed to make the ropes, forcing a break.
The two returned to their feet and traded forearms, slaps, and jabs, just as they had at the start of the match. Just as he had then Joe won out, this time when he smashed Jay with a kick to the chest. Joe again went for the Muscle Buster. Briscoe again fought out and caught him with a Jay Driller for the three count. Jay Briscoe finally defeated Samoa Joe in an ROH world championship match.
After the match the two shared a handshake and hugged. Joe presented Briscoe with his championship belts and raised his hand to end the show. Everything about Joe's performance, from his post-match actions to the fact that he went down to a single Jay driller, was designed to endorse Jay Briscoe as a great champion, which was a good call. In ROH terms Joe is one of the biggest guys a wrestler can receive a rub from. That said, the match wasn't anything amazing. It was good and a worthwhile main event, but Joe and Briscoe have both done far better and ROH has had more fitting headline bouts.
While this event was better than I'd expected it to be it still didn't feel particularly special. There was nothing bad on it but there also isn't really anything worth revisiting. There's nothing wrong with an enjoyable wrestling show (obviously) but sometimes it's nice to make a show feel a bit special, and that's something ROH can struggle with. Which was all too apparent here.
Results summary:Mark Briscoe defeated ACH
Michael Elgin defeated Frankie Kazarian
Matt Sydal defeated Andrew Everett, Cedric Alexander, Tommaso Ciampa, Caprice Coleman and Moose to win a six man mayhem
BJ Whitmer defeated Jimmy Jacobs
Roderick Strong defeated Christopher Daniels
reDRagon defeated The Kingdom to retain the ROH tag team championship
Jay Lethal defeated Jushin Liger to retain the ROH television championship
Jay Briscoe defeated Samoa Joe to retain the ROH world championship