Sunday 11 August 2013

All Star Extravaganza V review

All Star Extravaganza V was the first Ring of Honor show this year that I would describe as a disappointment. The announced card, which we saw all of, looked very good on paper, boasting several matches that I felt could potentially steal the show. Some of them lived up to expectations. Some didn’t. We’ll come to which matches fall under which header below.

It wasn’t just a few below average matches that disappointed me. The decision to add the three first round tournament matches recorded at the July 27th TV taping to the beginning of the All Star Extravaganza VOD created a very long run time. I like wrestling as much as the next man (in fact I probably like it more than the next man, look at how much I write about it) but a run time that exceeds three and a half hours is ludicrous. Unless it’s a particularly big event (which this wasn’t) no uploaded show should be running for more than three hours.

Don’t mistake this sentiment for ingratitude. I think it was a very nice idea for those three matches to be made available online so that fans could fully follow the unfolding tournament. I just don’t feel there was a need to staple them to this already lengthy event.

The video (available now at ROH’s official website) kicked off with Nigel McGuinness in the ring with Cary Silkin and Joe Koff. Cary, for any of you who somehow don’t know, is the man that founded Ring of Honor and funded its first decade or so of existence. He said a few words about how he feels the ROH world championship is still the most meaningful in wrestling. A few years ago I’d have immediately agreed with that statement. I find it hard to now.

Joe Koff also said a few words. I expected him to get booed, considering the dreadful job ROH’s public relations department has done this year. But he got cheered almost as much as Cary. He said the tournament was happening for the fans. That’s rubbish: if ROH cared about the fans they’d know that they put stock in the ROH title’s lineage, which was harmed when it was vacated as a result of short-sightedness in July. Putting the fans first would have involved having someone without the surname Briscoe leaving Best in the World as champion.

Those first three recorded matches saw Jay Lethal beat Sonjay Dutt, ‘Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson drop ACH, and Adam Cole defeat Mark Briscoe. They were all perfectly satisfactory matches but none of them were amazing. ACH and Anderson were the best of the bunch, having a fun big man versus small man outing. The only relevant piece of information from the three bouts was Cole using the Jay Driller, former champion Jay Briscoe’s finishing manoeuvre, to beat Mark.

The All Star Extravaganza portion of the video kicked off with Adam Page taking on New Japan’s Kushida. Nearly an hour in and we got the first match that stood out as something special. Kushida, the current tag team partner of Alex Shelley, wrestled and carried himself like a star. The match was fast and featured a healthy number of near falls, always good for an opener. Kushida used the buzz saw kick and springboard elbow of his trainer Yoshihiro Tajiri. Touches like that are always nice to see.

Kushida won his ROH debut with the Midnight Express. That’s a twisting corkscrew moonsault as opposed to interference from a 1980s tag team. Or a film.

He may have lost but Adam Page looked very good in this match. The crowd were into him too, which is promising. I was surprised he got the spot of wrestling a foreign star because that’s something guys who have been around for a while usually get to do. It makes a change though, and it shows the company has confidence in him. I’m still expecting ROH to lose a fair chunk of their established names within the next few months so putting Page in this spot is a smart move. He’ll be ready to move up the card if and when bigger names go.

The second ASE match saw Silas Young tangle with Tommaso Ciampa. ‘The Last Real Man’ told people they should be standing up for his entrance. That earned him “You suck!” chants and some rolls of toilet paper aimed at his head when he got into the ring. During his entrance Ciampa was described as one of the most formidable competitors in Ring of Honor history by Nigel. He could earn that status but he’s not there yet.

The highlight of the match was Young suplexing ‘The Sicilian Psychopath’ off of the apron to the floor. It was a pretty cool move that illustrated Ciampa’s resiliency and showed that Young is a man who will do anything in his pursuit of victory.

Eventually it was Ciampa who went over with Project Ciampa. He offered the handshake after the decision but Young, being a sore loser (and a heel), left without accepting it. The match was about what I’d expected, which is to say better than the average WWE TV match but not something that will stand the test of time or act as a shining example of why ROH as a concept works.

Michael ‘Don’t Call Me Mike’ Bennett’s clash with BJ Whitmer ticked similar boxes. It was exactly what I’d expected and isn’t a match anyone would show to someone to convince them to watch ROH.

This match will always be remembered as the one in which BJ Whitmer was injured. When Bennett delivered a piledriver on the apron Whitmer rolled down to the floor below in what at first to be standard selling. In actuality he had suffered a severe stinger that caused him to lose feeling in most of his body. Todd Sinclair immediately called for the bell and a graphic flicked up showing that Bennett was advancing. The way the video was edited made it seem as though it was a planned and worked finish. This is apparently not the case: Whitmer was genuinely injured and got checked out at a Toronto hospital.

There’s a reason piledrivers aren’t commonly used anymore. If they are going to be used it should be in big matches on cards that mean something. A first round tourney match between Bennett and Whitmer does not constitute a special occasion. The move should not have been a part of their match. Hopefully both guys will avoid it from now on.

The next match was TV champion and House of Truth member Matt Taven versus triple crown winner Roderick Strong. Shenanigans started off this match. Nigel McGuinness said that as Scarlet didn’t have a license to be at ringside she would have to go to the back or sit at ringside next to him so he could make sure she didn’t interfere. She chose the latter option and spent several minutes trying to convince Big Nige that they could come to an arrangement regarding her license. He declined her “offer”.

Wondering why Solicia gets to stand at ringside and Scarlet doesn’t? Well luckily Kevin Kelly, the man for whom kayfabe is always a priority, addressed this very issue. It’s because Solicia has a bodyguard license. Yeah, a bodyguard license. So now you know. Thank goodness Kev’s around, eh?

I expected this match to be proficient and it was. Roddy did a backbreaker onto the ring apron and hit a textbook superplex. Truth involved himself and ended up getting accidentally kicked in the face by Taven. Strong got the win after he escaped The Climax (yes, Taven’s tumbling DDT finisher finally has a name!), hit two backbreakers, a sick kick and a third backbreaker.

There was nothing wrong with the match but it didn’t wow me, or anyone else I should think. Strong going over was the right decision. His presence in later rounds adds credibility to the tournament. He’s the sort of name you’d expect to advance considering how long he’s been on the roster.

Taven should be put into matches with other guys relatively new to the roster. The TV championship is a mid-card title. It should be used to highlight guys rising up the card rather than being on a guy who wrestles non-title matches with former world champions. When wrestling guys like Strong we know Taven’s going to lose or, if it’s a title defence, retain via shenanigans or disqualification.

Altering Taven’s opponents allow for two guys to be presented as rising stars and introduce an element of doubt as to who’ll win when. If Taven were to wrestle the likes of ACH, Tadarius Thomas, Silas Young and Adam Page we’d have some genuinely unpredictable matches. They’d benefit Taven more than the current approach. They’d also help others on the roster.

Paul London v Michael Elgin was next. Either this match or the main event was the best of the evening.

The opening minutes saw London trying to use his speed and Elgin trying to use his power. It was sloppy and awkward in places but for the most part it was good. It was certainly the most logical way of approaching the matching.

‘Unbreakable’ hit the first big move of the match, his adored stalling suplex. London came back with a hurricanrana from the apron to the floor and a springboard missile drop kick back in the ring. Elgin ducked a top rope leap and blasted his foe with a bicycle kick. London retaliated with a superkick but got dropped seconds later with a wild sidewalk slam. Elgin nailed a German suplex for two. He failed to connect with a buckle bomb, London escaping and double stomping him in the face.

They had a slugfest. Oddly, London managed to absorb a few blows before resorting to an enziguri. He connected with it but Elgin no sold and elbowed him in the back of the head then drop kicked him out of the ring. When he clambered back up onto the apron London was met with a deadlift suplex from the middle rope, an impressive feat of strength that the audience erupted for. Elgin sold the subsequent kick out beautifully. It was easy to believe he was beginning to wonder what he’d have to do to win.
The raw, unbridled power of Michael Elgin

He decided to try a buckle bomb. London turned the attempted Elgin bomb that followed into a reverse hurricanrana. He scored with the shooting star press that Vince McMahon famously hated but only got a two count. London slumped his foe onto the top rope and attempted a hurricanrana. That would be his downfall. Elgin turned it into a power bomb and followed up with a spinning back fist, a buckle bomb, and an Elgin bomb for the hard earned victory.

Both men deserve credit for introducing doubt into what was one of the most obvious outcomes of the show. There was no way that Elgin was going to lose in the first round but they constructed the match in such a way as to make it seem as though London would defy the odds. Without this match All Star Extravaganza would have been a much poorer show.

I’d expected the Adrenaline RUSH v C&C Wrestle Factory v Young Bucks match to be an action packed spotfest. It was action packed alright, but it was lacking in the high spots department. There was a lot of very slick double team wrestling and a ton of super kicks but… well, that was about it. Considering the reputation of the Bucks and the talent of the four ROH regulars (particularly ACH) I’d thought high flying would be the norm here. I thought wrong.

ACH scored the win for his team when he pinned Cedric Alexander after a 450 splash. Adrenalin RUSH have to get a tag team title match soon, surely? They’ve been a combo for around six months now and have won a fair number of their matches. Maybe once the Wolves, Hooligans and reDRagon scene settles down Adrenalin RUSH will get their time to shine.

The feeling before the show seemed to be that Kevin Steen v Brian Kendrick was going to be a classic, which was unfair. Both men are very popular and talented but they had a lot working against them. Their styles don’t mesh terribly well, they’ve not wrestled one another that often (if at all), and Kendrick appeared to be having an off night.
Kevin Steen, just before his "classic" match with Brian Kendrick

Kendrick ended up playing the bad guy for a lot of the match. That was necessitated when he took a tumble out of the ring that he didn’t need to take. Steen had hit him with a drop kick and was playing to the crowd (presumably because he’s a larger man and was playing up the athleticism), which prompted the former Spanky to stop, drop and roll out of the ring. It looked as though he thought he was expected to sell the move far more than he originally had. It looked sloppy.

The finishing sequence started when Kendrick low blowed Steen behind the referee’s back. ‘Mr Wrestling’ understandably wasn’t happy with this so he choke slammed and cannonballed Kendrick then locked in the Sharpshooter. That got him a submission win. Can you tell this show was held in Canada?

The evening’s penultimate match was the tournament quarter final match between Adam Cole and Jay Lethal. It wasn’t the worst match of the broadcast but it wasn’t the best either. I’ve seen better performances from both men. Cole was booked to kick out of the Lethal Injection (which everyone seems to achieve, maybe Lethal should development himself a more effective finish) and then go over clean with the Florida Key.
Streamers! Streamers everywhere!

After the match Cole continued his lethargic heel turn by proclaiming himself the better man as he shook Lethal’s hand. I’m beginning to think that he’ll cheat to beat Elgin in the finals, finalising the turn.

Speaking of Elgin, Paul London appeared in the show’s lone backstage segment following Cole v Lethal to put ‘Unbreakable’ over. ‘The Intrepid Traveller’ said he thinks Elgin is going to be the next Ring of Honor world champion. That, coupled with the commentary team’s acknowledgement that Elgin is considered the favourite, further makes me think we’ll see Elgin cheated in the finals.
Paul London's pick for next champion

The main event saw ROH world tag team champions the Forever Hooligans defend the gold against the American Wolves. Davey Richards continued his quest to become known as a more charismatic wrestler here. He wound up the crowd and even dropped in some comedy. Some worked, like the terrible Rick rude impression, and some didn’t, like his begging off form Rocky Romero. The latter went from being amusing to creepy when he kissed Rocky’s boots. It was hard to understand why Davey, a good guy, would do this. It became even more puzzling when it became clear there would be no payoff to the peculiarity.

The four delivered an intense match worthy of the main event spot. Memorable moments included Koslov applying a surfboard on Edwards off the apron, stereo submissions from the Wolves beign countered into rollups, the Hooligans hitting a Doomsday Knee, and Richards teasing a double stomp to the apron, significant because he’d concussed Paul London with the move during ROH’s last swing into Canada.

The Wolves secured the victory with a double team back cracker on Romero. I’d suspected the Hooligans would be transitional champions but I’d hoped it wouldn’t be the case. It would have been nice to see them get a month or two with the gold. Still, at least we have the Wolves as two time champions. That’s something that’s been built up for a while so they’ll likely have a lengthy reign.

And that was All Star Extravaganza V. Being the first major show since the cancellation of the live internet pay-per-views it really needed to be a classic. Sadly, it wasn’t. The hefty running time didn’t help. Nor did the abundance of tournament matches, which goes back to the tourney’s rather humdrum line-up. It did have its moments though: the Elgin match, the further emergence of Cole’s dark side, and the main event being chief amongst them.

Hopefully Manhattan Mayhem, the next major show, will feature a more varied card. Needing to include fewer tournament matches should help there. If they can trim the running time, include three or four must-see matches, and upload it with the same sort of speed that show will stand every chance of being a success.

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