Tuesday, 23 June 2015

ROH Best in the World 2015 review

ROH's Best in the World 2015 show started with a video package focusing on the main event, one of the most interesting matches they've presented in a long time, Jay Briscoe versus Jay Lethal. The chief reason this was an interesting match was that it was a champion versus champion scenario, Briscoe being the world champion and Lethal being the television champion, with both titles on the line. There was also the fact that Lethal had held the TV title for well over a year and Briscoe hadn't been pinned since March 2 2013. It felt like a big match because of how well the two wrestlers were presented and the video that kicked off the show only added to that. Everything from the promos the two men cut to the simple touch of listing the bigger names each man had made successful defences against drove home that the match was a big deal.

It was the main event I was most interested in. Whenever that's the case going into a wrestling show something's been done right. ROH did a great job promoting Lethal v Briscoe. Having said that the rest of the card did seen slightly underwhelming. Aside from the number one contender shop three-way nothing really stood out, and the three-way was mostly interesting because I wanted to see how a winner would be booked in a match involving guys who rarely lose in ROH.

The Addiction v reDRagon was a match I'd seen before and which had failed to grab me. The Bullet Club v Kingdom six man was a rematch. While the first encounter had been good I felt it had been slightly overhyped and so I wasn't as excited about this match as others may have been. Castle v Young sounded good mostly because I like the characters of both guys. And everything else looked like standard ROH fare: good but not necessarily the easiest stuff to engage with emotionally.

That last sentence perfectly summed up the first match, Mark Briscoe versus top prospect tournament winner and proud House of Truth member Donovan Dijak. It was a solid opener which didn't drag and saw both men get a turn in control but it didn't draw me in because I'm not the biggest fan of either guy and they did nothing to change that. Briscoe won after blocking Feast Your Eyes (a Burning Hammer into a knee strike) and hitting the Froggy Bow.

Pretty much the same thing can be said about match number two. It saw BJ Whitmer and Adam Page face off with ACH and Matt Sydal. Page and Whitmer had their Decade young boy Colby Corino with them. Colby's dad Steve (now inexplicably going exclusively by the title of King Corino) was on commentary for this match, as he is for all ROH shows, but he seemed reluctant to place any emphasis on his own personal feelings about Whitmer recruiting Colby to further their longstanding grudge. It's possible he doesn't feel comparable with the angle or, more likely, doesn't want to make it all about himself, preferring to keep The Decade in the spotlight. But if that's the case why bother doing it at all? Steve Corino's continued reaction to his son making a poor life choice is the entire story here and if he doesn't want to tell it, for whatever reason, it's not going to work. Which is a shame because there's a lot that could be done with it.

The match was entertaining enough. I like ACH a lot and couldn't help but feel he was a tad wasted here, especially considering how bland much of the rest of the card was (at least in terms of pairings). Page got the victory for his team after Colby pulled Sydal off a pin attempt from the Shooting Star press, distracting him long enough for Page to get the win with his Right of Passage finisher.

Young v Castle was a fun match that was surprising in how hard-hitting and back-and-forth it was. Although the approach they took made sense in terms of story: the match had come about because Castle had been the latest person to find himself accused of being "not a real man" by Silas. The two packed a lot in, including a Silas spear off the apron and a Castle deadlift German. Castle won off a rollup as Young was berating Todd Sinclair for not counting a pinfall, which Sinclair had refused because 'The Last Real Man' had shoved him into the ropes, crotching Castle, to get it. After the match Young hit his Misery TKO on one of Castle's lads. Castle was understandably distraught by this.

That was followed by the reformed C&C Wrestle Factory taking on War Machine. Alexander and Coleman got a nice welcome from the NYC crowd when they entered. Hanson and Rowe did not. They were mostly met with indifference, a worrying sign considering they've been in ROH for over a year.

This match was short and more about story than action. The story it was specifically concerned with was Cedric's continued edging towards the dark side. He tried using a wrench, the same weapon he'd used to hammer Moose and end his undefeated streak, but Caprice saw it in his hand and refused to tag him in. That allowed War Machine to grab Caprice and hit Fallout for the win. After the match Cedric teased using the wrench on Caprice but didn't. He did make it clear that their team was over though.

The first above average bout of the night was the number one contenders match. Michael Elgin, Moose and Roderick Strong had all been put in the match based on the strength of their performances and their win-loss records in 2015. It would be nice to think they were also selected because they're amongst the best guys Ring of Honor has. Elgin and Strong have both had their share of classic matches (and I'll say again that Elgin is a particularly fine finish man) and Moose has been constantly improving since I first saw him in EVOLVE. He understands how to work the role of the big man and doesn't go overboard on the bigger spots he's capable of.

There were plenty of highlights in this match. Amongst my favourites were: Elgin hitting a somersault tope on Moose, bowing afterwards and being jeered by the crowd; Roddy superplexing Elgin then Moose; Roddy performing another feat of strength by giving Moose a double knee gut buster; Elgin buckle bombing on Moose only to be immediately hit with a spear; Moose running across the ring, leaping to the top rope, and hitting a cross body to the outside on both guys; and the finish, which saw Elgin double power bomb Moose and being sick kicked as he tried for a third, with Strong pulling Moose to his feet to hot him with two jumping knees and a sick kick to put him down for three.

There was a handshake between Strong and Moose after the match. We were told Elgin shook Strong's hand but we weren't shown it. Veda Scott slapped Moose twice for daring to follow the Code of Honor, something she'd done before. This time it looked like she'd pushed Moose too far. He hunched down looking like he was setting up to spear Veda but before he could make a move Cedric Alexander ran out and smacked him and Stokeley Hathaway with the wrench. Veda smiled at him then Cedric screamed about how he should have been in the number one contenders match.

I liked this as a development. It creates a reason for Moose to not be in the title picture and freshens up Cedric's act by realigning him and giving him a manager. He and Veda seem promising together, and it neatly covers up his weakness on promos. Maybe caprice will go heel too and RD Evans will return to tag with Moose in a grudge match. Then again maybe not.

The Bullet Club trio of AJ Styles and the Young Bucks versus the Kingdom trio of Matt Taven, Michael Bennett and Adam Cole followed that. As pointed out earlier this was a rematch from the ROH and New Japan War of the Worlds show, one I felt was very enjoyable but mildly overhyped in the grand scheme of things. They did pretty much the same thing here, producing another spot-heavy match with way too many highlights to mention and too fast a pace to do a full write-up.

We got the opposite result to the original encounter. The Kingdom had won at War of the Worlds so it was Bullet Club's turn to go over here. They did so in memorable fashion, wiping out Maria with two super kicks and a Pele kick from Styles (what a southern gent he is) before isolating Cole as Bennett checked on his wife and Taven sold a beating at ringside. Cole fought back valiantly, going for a Destroyer only to be caught by AJ and hit with a buckle bomb-enziguri triple team and then 'The Phenomenal One's' Bloody Sunday, kicking out and fighting back again, but eventually it was too much for him. 'The One' was finally put down with an Indytaker followed by the Styles Clash.

After the match The Kingdom looked upset with Cole. This didn't really make sense. Taven had been lying at ringside for a while when the loss happened and could probably have mustered the strength to get back in the ring. Bennett had a right to look ticked off, yeah, but why would he when his wife had just been knocked unconscious by three pro wrestlers? Logic flaws aside the prospect of Cole splitting from The Kingdom is interesting. A face turn could work well for both him and ROH.

The Addiction's no disqualification match with reDRagon was not as enjoyable as the usual reDRagon effort. Their strength is having exciting strong style matches with plenty of tag work mixed in, not crowd brawling. The stip made sense, of course, because of the personal nature of the feud and because the two teams have already met under regular rules. This meeting needed something extra to give it a bit of variety and set it apart from previous meetings. But it was never going to be as good as a regular match.

They at least made full use of the stipulation. There was plenty of ringside brawling and chairs were used liberally. A table and a ladder were introduced after things had hotted up. The table was there because in 2015 these sorts of matches require a table to satisfy the punters. The use of a ladder was interesting though. It's possible it was done to tease Ladder War VI. Then again, it's possible it wasn't.

The finish saw reDRagon hit Chasing the Dragon on Daniels on for former TNA world champion Chris Sabin to appear and pull the referee from the ring. The Addiction then recovered, Frankie took out O'Reilly by shoving him off the apron and into the crowd barricade, and hit Fish with Celebrity Rehab. The champions retained. Hopefully another team will be added to this rivalry if it continues. Addiction v reDRagon matches haven't wowed me so far.

Then came the Lethal versus Briscoe main event. It's worth sopping for a moment here to point out that the two men both have a lot of history in Ring of Honor. Briscoe has never been shy about reminding people that he was on the promotion's very first show. He's been a two time world champion and a record setting eight times. Over the last few years he's become one of ROH's most reliable headliners, working pay-per-view main events, being involved in heavily featured stories, and being well protected in terms of booking.

Lethal's pedigree is less celebrated but still impressive. He joined ROH a month shy of the company's first anniversary as Hydro, a member of Special K, and went through stints as Samoa Joe's protégé and pure champion before leaving to work for the promising-at-the-time TNA. It was easy to overlook how much he'd improved when he rejoined ROH full time in 2011 but improve he had. In the four years since he's won the television championship twice and, like Briscoe, become one of the company's most reliable wrestlers. The last eighteen months have probably been the greatest stretch of his career as he's been given the TV championship and tasked with making it mean something, which he has, been pitted against leading outside talent, and gradually been positioned as ROH's lead heel.

Briscoe versus Lethal is a match that's been brewing for a long time. Both guys have been built up so well. The atmosphere at the start of this match demonstrated what a great job both men, as well as booker Delirious, have done and how established they are as top names.

Before the first lock-up had even taken place Diesel and Dijak were sent backstage before the after Dijak had swiped his hand at Briscoe's legs. A suspenseful feeling out process, during which the combatants were bombarded by duelling chants from the crowd, was followed by a fight around ringside. Briscoe yakuza kicked Lethal. Lethal suplexed Briscoe. They threw one another into the barricade a bit.

Back in the ring Truth grabbed Briscoe's foot, distracting him and letting Lethal knock Briscoe down. Briscoe recovered and they traded uppercuts. Lethal got the better of the exchange by switching to clotheslines to knock the world heavyweight champion down. Back on their feet they traded jabs before Briscoe hit a neckbreaker.

A Lethal Injection was countered into a full nelson slam. Briscoe went for a Jay Driller but Lethal escaped into the Lethal Combination. Lethal went to the top rope but got cut off by Briscoe, who went for a superplex. Lethal fought him off but Briscoe fired back with a drop kick and went for his superplex again. Lethal fought him off again, this time pushing him down to the mat and hitting the Macho Elbow. Briscoe kicked out and immediately got put in the Koji clutch by the TV champ.

Briscoe made the ropes and rolled onto the apron. Lethal followed him out only to be set up for a Jay Driller. He escaped as Truth leapt onto the opposite apron to distract the referee. Nigel got up and sent Truth backstage as Briscoe recovered and Jay Drillered Lethal through the timekeepers table. Both men sold for a while before making it back into the ring just shy of the twenty count.

Briscoe was first to his feet and lobbed jabs at Lethal. Lethal surprised him with a super kick and went for the Lethal Injection again. Briscoe dashed forward and floored him with a rolling elbow as he rebounded off the ropes, getting himself a two count. Briscoe went for the Jay Driller. Lethal escaped it but got hit with a lariat for another two count.

Only the second double champion in ROH history.
The pair dragged themselves back up again. This time it was Lethal who struck first with a springboard cutter. He connected with another Lethal Injection but Briscoe kicked out. The crowd erupted at that as 'The Greatest First Generation Wrestler' clutched at his head in disbelief. He recovered and tried to hit Briscoe with his own Jay Driller. Briscoe escaped and tried for the move himself. Lethal escaped too, hit the move and then hit another Lethal Injection for the victory, a successful title defence and the ROH world championship.

The crowd gave him a "You deserve it!" chant. After a bit of celebrating from the new champion Briscoe came out of the corner and offered a handshake. In a nice moment Lethal accepted it with gusto before he continued celebrating. It was a touching way to close the show, watching a man who first worked for the company twelve years ago celebrate his first world title win. He'd earned it and it was lovely to see.


Results summary:
Mark Briscoe defeated Donovan Dijak
The Decade defeated Matt Sydal and ACH
Dalton Castle defeated Silas Young
War Machine defeated C&C Wrestle Factory
Roderick Strong defeated Moose and Michael Elgin to earn an ROH world championship match
AJ Styles and the Young Bucks defeated The Kingdom
The Addiction defeated reDRagon to retain the ROH tag team championship
Jay Lethal defeated Jay Briscoe to retain the ROH TV championship and win the ROH world championship

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