Saturday 28 June 2014

ROH Best in the World 2014 review

For the last few years Ring of Honor has produced a June show called Best in the World. While no event produced under the name has ever been the best card of the year they have generally been very enjoyable affairs with worthwhile main events and compelling undercards. This show was amongst the best BITW instalments. The main event was a satisfying exchange that paid off over two years of build-up (although that build-up should ideally have paid off last year). It was supported by one of the better undercards of an ROH show this year, and they’ve been doing a pretty good job in that area.

Here’s how things went down.

The opening video was designed to put over the significance and history of ROH, as well as the fact that it produces the world of wrestling's superior names. It included old footage of Punk, Danielson, Joe and the like before switching to current roster members, all of whom said the words "the best", except for last man shown Adam Cole, who got to say " the world." It was vaguely embarrassing.

Kevin Kelly welcomed us to the show from ringside. The first shot of the arena in Nashville showed that ROH had pushed the boat out on production. The picture quality was better than both ROH's TV show and the internet broadcasts they'd been doing. The setup featured a big screen which switched between showing the Best in the World logo and match graphics. These things are ultimately kind of pointless but it added to overall look of the thing.

Kelly said he felt the stars were aligned (he actually used that phrase) for Michael Elgin to win the ROH championship. Steve Corino, decked out in a snazzy yellow jacket, disagreed. He felt that Elgin had had enough chances to win the title and was destined to be a perennial runner-up.

After the top bouts had been sufficiently talked it the opener got underway. ACH, Watanabe, Caprice Coleman, BJ Whitmer, Tadarius Thomas and Tommaso Ciampa faced one another in a six man mayhem match, the winner of which would get an ROH television title shot. For those wondering a mayhem match is ROH's way of denoting lucha rules: when someone's thrown out of the ring they are no longer legal and another participant waiting on the apron can take their place in the ring.

Watanabe played heel. He really gave it some wellie and obviously had a watch of some standard US heel tactics on YouTube, but there was something about it that didn't quite work. But then that's why he's spending time in Ring of Honor: to gone his craft. The match saw Caprice do his jumping northern lights, including an impressive double northern lights, ACH pump kick Tadarius over the top rope, and a spot on Project Ciampas to Caprice and ACH (broken up by The Decade). ACH won after a dive onto everyone at ringside and a 450 splash on Thomas back in the ring. Ciampa and ACH shook hands after the match but Ciampa spat in his hand first. Then Corino and Whitmer had a heated row outside the ring, just because.

That was followed by a recap video of the feud between Jay Lethal and Matt Taven. Or, more accurately, Taven and Truth Martini. This included recaps of MTV posing as The Romantic Touch to beat Lethal in a non-title match to earn a championship shot and the fire burning incident at Supercard of Honor VIII. That Taven was competing just a couple of months after that incident is probably one of the most ridiculous instances of no-selling in ROH this year. If you're going to introduce fire into a wrestling storyline it should be done to write someone off TV or explain the need for a mask or other clothing change. I've no idea why the fireball was included as there was clearly no long-term intention to pay it off.

The bout would see Truth handcuffed to a ring post. Because, y'know, he interferes in matches and nobody wanted him to here. Banning him from ringside was apparently not an option. Taven didn't get much a reaction then he entered. Nothing new there. Lethal was met mostly with indifference. He had Seleziya with him in addition to Martini. That was fine with me: I'm a fan of her work. Truth did some tiresome stalling before getting cuffed to the post.

The match was wrestled well and at a brisk pace. They avoided any major missteps, took impressive bumps and ensured their offence was crisp. But despite this the match never really seemed to get going. I think it was hurt by the audience taking a while to get invested. It's disappointing but understandable. I think the problem is that Taven as a good guy is hard to warm to. Beyond his issue with established heel Martini there's no real reason to cheer the guy.

The finish saw Truth pay off the head of security to keep Taven at bay, giving Seleziya the chance to break Truth's cuffs (apparently she tore them apart) and flee with her boss. Taven gave up on chasing them almost immediately, even though he definitely would've caught them with ease and we'd been told he wanted to get his hands on Martini more than regain the title. Instead he went back to the ring and attempted a frog splash on a downed Lethal. He was met with knees and a Lethal Injection for the loss.

Roderick Strong was accompanied to the ring by Adam Page and Tadarius Thomas for his submissions match against Cedric Alexander. If you're new then Strong is a member of The Decade, a group who feel they should be given respect based on their length of time with the company, and he's taken particular issue with Cedric Alexander because he's feels Cedric is disrespectful to the business.

The story of the match was that Strong had the experience advantage and was a far better submission artist than Cedric, who was presented as a high-flyer who's not known for submission proficiency. It was a logical story effectively told, both by the wrestlers and the commentary team.

Cedric tried gaining the win with various holds. He first used a guillotine choke, then a dragon sleeper, then a butterfly lock. None got him the submission but it was noticeable that he was going for more submissions than Strong. In fact Strong didn't go for any throughout the match, and ended up being forced to submit to his own Stronghold, after a back breaker onto the top rope and a lumbar check.

It was the right decision and it had the right finish. Cedric using Strong's own hold to defeat him will allow the rivalry to stay alive as part of Roddy's problem has been Cedric "stealing" moves. As well done as the finish was it was strange that Strong went the entire match without applying a single hold. Had he worked over Cedric's back and gone for the submission a few times Cedric's victory would have seemed like a bigger achievement: he'd have weathered the storm in addition to getting Strong to tap.

After the match Cedric offered a handshake. The fans chanted for Strong to shake but he walked out. The poor sport gimmick continues. The feud pretty much has to end with a handshake at this point.

That was followed by the tag team grudge match pitting the Briscoe brothers against Michael Bennett and Matt Hardy. The pre-match video saw the Briscoes talking about being dangerous men, showed Matt Hardy being awarded the "real" world title and turning it into the Iconic championship, and covered the trio of Hardy, Cole and Bennett forming The Kingdom. An actor called Nick Searcy accompanied Hardy. I've never heard of him before this show and I probably won't after. When it comes to outside guest stars ROH never quite manages to fully impress.

The match went for about five minutes before the heels got disqualified for smacking Jay with the Iconic championship. Jay took a mic and called the decision into question and asked Nigel McGuinness to make things right. Nigel did so, walking out into the arena to announce the match would continue under no DQ rules. Then he joined commentary because why not?

What followed was a brawl featuring chairs, tables, ladders and Maria interference. There was also some amusing pro-Hardy Corino commentary, the highlight of which was "Turner just Hebnered him!" after Jay kicked out after a Twist of Fate. Jay got the win after suplexing Matt off a ladder and through a table, following up with a Jay Driller for good measure. It was a fulfilling brawl. Which is what should be expected of the Briscoes at this point.

Footage of Elgin's mullet being cut off by Cole at a "live event" was shown. Elgin's wife MsChif ran out and begged Cole and Bennett to stop. She got slapped in the devastating figure four for daring to question the mighty ROH champ.

In the aisle Larry Mercer and Mandy Leon were with new ROH signee Moose. Sadly, the Bravado brothers weren't around. I still think ROH made a mistake not keeping them around. Moose cut an awkward babyface promo about wanting to earn his way to the top and not be handed anything based on his NFL accomplishments. He exhibited very little personality. Gabe knew what he was doing when he cast him as a minder. The Moose-centric festivities were interrupted by Veda Scott. She offered him her managerial services, citing the success of RD Evans as a reason to join her. Moose said he'd discuss it later and just wanted to enjoy the show. Veda and Ramone stormed to the back. It could hint at an Evans versus Moose feud but I doubt it. It looks as though they want to use Moose as a face and that won't happen if he's pitted against the ├╝ber-popular 'Papa Bear'.

Kevin Steen and Silas Young were up after that. Both men got heavy streamer treatment, which was surprising in the case of Young. Steen was as popular as ever. Young showed a great deal of aptitude and skill interacting with the crowd and drawing them into the match. They were always going to react to Steen's offence because he's so popular, but it was a pleasant surprise from 'The Last Real Man'. Steen won after a top rope fisherman suplex and a package piledriver.

After the match ‘Mr Wrestling’ cut a promo about respecting Silas for trying to make a name for himself on the top guy (making a point of saying that he is the top guy) and getting to wrestle him on a big show before his contract expires. He offered a handshake and had it accepted. Steen acknowledged some signs thanking him before Silas gave him a sly chop block. So it looks as though Steen’s final ROH match will take place opposite Silas Young. Based on their match here I think that’ll provide a good way for the most popular ROH star of the last four years to bow out.

The tag team title match was preceded by a Fish Tank skit. Basically it was Fish and O'Reilly sitting in armchairs talking about redefining tag team wrestling (and possibly the laws of physics, that bit was a little unclear) and having things in common with Bad Influence (the metrosexual gimmick, specifically). The returning Daniels got a loud reaction and a predictable "Welcome back!" chant. Plus streamers. Lots and lots of streamers.

reDRagon isolated Kazarian early on, working over his arm with kicks and submission holds. Kaz made a comeback, wiping out the champs and escaping a guillotine choke before tagging in Daniels, who immediately tore through Fish and O’Reilly. ‘The Ring General’ tried a BME but O'Reilly avoided it. ReDRagon took turns charging Daniels in the corner then hit a back breaker and knee drop combo on him. Bad Influence managed to fight back, Kazarian downing Fish with an ace crusher and Daniels again going for the BME. It was Fish’s turn to avoid it, rolling out of the way and catching CD with a Samoan drop. He tried a moonsault of his own but that was also avoided. A pin attempt after Angels Wings was broken by O'Reilly. Daniels missed a sitdown moonsault to the outside and got run into the apron by Fish. Yeah, there were a lot of missed moonsaults in this match.

Back in the ring Kazarian gave O'Reilly a Flux Capacitor but landed on his own elbow, causing him to pause for a few valuable seconds before making the cover. When he did go for it Fish pulled the referee out of the ring. O'Reilly tried a schoolboy with a handful of tights but only got two. Kazarian got tripped by Fish, allowing O’Reilly to knee him in the head and reDRagon to connect with Chasing the Dragon. Kazarian stunned the crowd by kicking out. Undaunted O'Reilly slipped smoothly into an armbar as Fish leapt on Daniels to stop him making the save. Kaz tapped to end a satisfying tag title match.

These are two of the best teams in wrestling and this match demonstrated why. TNA’s stupid decision to release Bad Influence is definitely ROH’s gain. I’m looking forward to more meetings between the teams. Bad Influence interacting with the rest of the roster should be fun too.

The pre-match video for the main event focused on the importance of the ROH championship and Cole and Elgin both being spoken of for years as the future of the promotion. Both spoke about their history and what the title means to them. Elgin said he doesn't want to just be a guy who's wrestled for ROH, he wants to join the list of ROH champions. Cole did a more generic heel bit about being the best in the world. It was a strong verbal performance from the usually limited Elgin.

The early going worked in ringside brawling, featuring an Oklahoma stampede on the entrance ramp. The story was that Elgin was focused and not letting Cole get into his head, ignoring his mind games and powering him around like a boss. Elgin debuted a new move: a stomach blower from a concrete slam position. It's the sort of thing that I can imagine him using frequently. He’s good at slotting his repertoire into interesting sequences.

Cole kneed his way out of Elgin’s stalling suplex and hit a brain buster onto his knee. Elgin came back with a Crippler crossface and then drop kicked Cole as he tried a springboard to the top rope (having escaped the crossface, natch). That led to the deadlift second rope suplex, but he modified it into a falcon arrow. Cole gave Elgin a top rope hurricanrana, a reverse-rana and a Florida Key. All for a delicious two count.

Cole leapt off the second rope and was met with a pump kick from Elgin. The champ struggled back up to his feet and missed a super kick, belting the ref and knocking him out. Elgin did a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb but there was no one to count. This kicked off a sequence that played on the history of so many Elgin title challenges and Cole title defences featuring outside interference and ref bumps.

Cole’s Kingdom buddies Bennett and Hardy ran in and kicked away at Elgin. He shrugged it off, escaping a Twist of Fate and dropping both interfering heels with the fall away slam-Samoan drop combo. Next he elbowed Cole in the back of the head and then Awesome bombed him on to Bennett and Hardy. Maria slapped Elgin, causing him to chase her around ringside. That led to him getting walloped with the title belt and dropped with a Florida Key.

At that point Hanson and Rowe arrived to even the odd, brawling backstage with Bennett and Hardy. Maria tossed the title belt to Cole and distracted the ref. MsChif ran out and gave her a green mist as Elgin ducked the title shot and blasted Cole with a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb. Cole stunned the crowd, who had started throwing streamers, so convinced were they that the match was over, by kicking out. The audience chastised themselves with a chant of “We fucked up!”

Cole gave Elgin a drop kick to the knee and then smacked his knee into a ring post. He even applied the Bret Hart hanging figure four for good measure. He went to apply the figure four in the ring but got rolled into a pinning position. That only got two, but Elgin immediately applied a crossface. Cole refused to quit and then Elgin’s knee gave out as he ran towards Cole for a clothesline. Cole capitalised on the situation by giving him a super kick and a Canadian destroyer.

Naturally Elgin kicked out. The champ went for a sunset flip but Elgin powered out and pounded Cole with a trio of power bombs to earn himself the three count, the victory and the championship. The final couple of minutes of the broadcast were given over to Carey Silkin presenting Elgin with the title and Elgin celebrating. Kelly and Corino talked Elgin up as 'The Best in the World' and a worthy champion.

It was a year too late but hey, at least he finally got it.

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