Thursday 22 December 2011

Final Battle 2011 preview

Final Battle is always one of the biggest ROH shows of the year. As the first pay-per-view offering since the launch of the SBG TV show the 2011 instalment should be particularly noteworthy. Two returning names plus the second world title contest between American Wolves partners Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards should provide the highlights.
The first of the returnees is Kevin Steen, who was forced to leave ROH after a loss to El Generico in the main event of last year's Final Battle. 'Mr Wrestling's' journey back to the company has taken place over the intervening twelve months. You can catch up on the story here and here.
The match itself will probably be decent but nothing especially memorable. This is more about characters and storylines than it is about wrestling. That it's one of the hottest feuds in wrestling right now should tell ROH something about their approach: namely that sometimes fans do want more storylines and less wrestling.
I'll be very surprised if Steen loses this one. He's massively popular with fans (despite technically being a heel) and not someone ROH can afford not to use. He's returning for good. A swerve turn by Cornette, who will be at ringside, or Jimmy Jacobs, who'll be the special guest referee for the match, seems likely. How else is Steen going to win? Jacobs is probably the likelier to turn because it would allow ROH to book Corino alongside mid-card babyfaces against the dastardly "invading" heels. It would make sense from a storyline point of view.
The second man making his ROH return is Jimmy Rave. After several years away (a substantial amount of that time was spent in TNA doing not very much) Rave will return to Ring of Honor in a match against 'The Dominant Male' Tommasso Ciampa. I have mixed feelings about this match. I've been a huge fan of Rave since I first watched ROH, but his best work has always come as a heel associated with Prince Nana. Ciampa v Rave should be enjoyable but I'm not convinced fans will rally behind the former 'Crown Jewel'. Fans used to chant "Die, Jimmy, die" at him so I'll believe Rave can get over as a face when I see it.
I imagine Ciampa's undefeated streak will continue into 2012 to build him up as an opponent for the world champion, which necessitates a Rave loss. I'd love to see this match become some sort of angle with Rave returning to the Embassy but I doubt that’s going to happen.

Speaking of returns, Roderick Strong has an open challenge to be accepted at Final Battle. I think it will be answered by ‘That Young Knockout Kid’ Chris Hero. Hero last appeared for ROH back in August at the inaugural SBG TV tapings, losing a tag team match to Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team alongside Claudio Castagnoli (now Antonio Cesaro in FCW). Hero was originally rumoured to be heading to WWE but medical checks revealed a problem that led to them not signing him. Hero would make a great addition to the ROH main event scene, ideally as a babyface.

Hero v Strong would be my ideal match for the open challenge. It’s not confirmed and it’s entirely possible somebody else will be facing the House of Truth member but if it does go ahead I’ll pick Hero to win, hopefully setting him up as a major title contender for 2012. Nothing against Strong, but he’s faced Richards and Edwards multiple times. I’d like a change.
The rest of the undercard looks enjoyable for the most part. Michael Elgin v TJ Perkins will likely be a short and sweet showcase designed to further the Elgin push and give TJP some exposure. The tag team gauntlet match involving the Young Bucks, Future Shock, the Bravado Brothers, the All-Night Express and Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander should be a fun, fast-paced affair, and it will be nice to see Alexander, Coleman and the Bravados get a chance to wrestle on internet pay-per-view. It’s a match that could go to anybody, but I’ll pick Future Shock as they’re clearly seen as the future (no pun intended) of the tag division.

Haas and Benjamin defending the ROH world tag team championship against the Briscoes has the potential to be good, though the teams have wrestled quite a few times this year and I prefer the Briscoes’ characters to their wrestling. New champions? I doubt it. I think Haas and Benjamin are going to have the titles for a while yet.

The three-way match for the TV title should provide a culmination to several months of seemingly on-and-off storyline between Mike Bennett, El Generico and defending champion Jay Lethal. Lethal and Generico could have a great singles match but Bennett’s involvement will inevitably slow the pace and put a sports entertainment spin on proceedings. I have a feeling ‘The Prodigy’ will walk out as the new ROH world television champion: he’s been built up as a hot young prospect all year and I think the company will want to follow through on the hype fairly soon. What better way than by putting the mid-card championship on him?

The main event will see Davey Richards face off against his American Wolves tag team partner for only the third time in ROH history. This time it’s Richards who will be the defending champion, having dethroned Edwards in their first clash at Best in the World in June. This will be a match of the year contender, as was their BITW encounter, and should provide a fitting end to the year (something ROH takes more seriously than some companies I could mention).

 Look at the intensity!

Edwards has been trained by Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn for this match, which means we’re going to see more submission holds from ‘Die Hard’ than would normally be the case. Severn will apparently be at ringside, as will Team Richards members Kozina and O’Reilly. That should add a big match feel to the fight, similar to what you’d see in boxing, MMA or Japanese wrestling. This being ROH it’s not a guarantee that all the seconds will end up brawling around ringside. I’d say we’ll either see nothing much from them until after the match or Severn will take out Team Richards and allow Edwards to win back the title by either interfering or providing a distraction for Edwards to capitalise on.

I’m not actually predicting an Edwards victory. I think that if he does win it will be in the nature described above but I think it’s more likely Richards will retain the gold and hold onto it well into 2012. I’m still upset Edwards’ reign only lasted three months because he made a great babyface champion and is a far better all-rounder than Richards. The switch was made for a reason though, and that reason is that ROH wants to build the promotion around ‘The American Wolf’. They traditionally keep titles on guys for lengthy periods of time and as Richards has only been champion for six months (not a huge amount compared with some previous title reigns) I think he’ll retain. Of course ROH could now be heading in a new direction with the booking of their champions and Eddie Edwards becoming a two time champion could be a part of that, which would make my reasoning wrong. So be it. I’m still picking Richards.

I also think a heel turn is on the cards. Edwards could easily be booked to lose and then turn on Richards in a fit of anger after the match. The storyline so far has been that Edwards wanted to prove he was better than Richards and couldn’t, which cost him the title. That one-upmanship has carried over into the American Wolves’ tag team matches resulted in several high profile losses for the former tag team champions. Edwards turning heel would be a natural progression to the story and create some fresh feuds for 2012. Babyface Chris Hero versus heel Eddie Edwards, anyone?

ROH shows are rarely disappointing, even the ones that don’t have amazing line-ups on paper. As this one has several matches confirmed for it I think it ought to be a highlight of 2011 wrestling. The return of Kevin Steen and Jimmy Rave, as well as the second meeting between the American Wolves, have put ROH in a very good position to end 2011, and begin 2012, with a bang.

Predictions summary:
Davey Richards to defeat Eddie Edwards
Kevin Steen to defeat Steve Corino
Chris Hero to answer and win Roderick Strong’s open challenge
Tommasso Ciampa to defeat Jimmy Rave
Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team to defeat the Briscoes
Mike Bennett to defeat El Generico and Jay Lethal to become the new TV champion
Future Shock to win the tag team gauntlet
Michael Elgin to defeat TJ Perkins

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