Wednesday 10 December 2014

ROH Final Battle 2014 review

It’s been a good year for Ring of Honor. They may have lost their top star, Kevin Steen, and seen one of their top prospects, Michael Elgin, misfire as a world champ but they’ve co-promoted shows with New Japan Pro Wrestling, made the move from internet streaming to traditional pay-per-view, and put on a number of high quality shows with world class matches. As such the pressure was on to score a hit with Final Battle, their last major show of the year. After such a strong year they didn’t want to go out on a low note.

I’m pleased to say they didn’t. The line-up that was put together looked good on paper, with reDRagon v Time Splitters, Cole v Briscoe, and the Young Bucks and ACH v Addiction and Cedric Alexander six man tag match all leaping out as potential matches of the night. On the night everyone put in their best effort. The show was great from start to finish.

The evening kicked off with a four corner survival match pitting Mark Briscoe, Caprice Coleman, Jimmy Jacobs and Hanson against one another. It was designed to do two things. The first was to start the show with something exciting. The second was to build up Hanson. It achieved both. Everyone got a moment or two to shine and Hanson muscled everyone around at one point or another and ended up with the win after he wiped out Briscoe and Jacobs with a suicide dive before pinning Caprice off a spinning heel kick.

Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer stuck around to introduce Adam Page. ‘The Zombie Princess’ started to give what probably would have been a rousing speech about it being a night for Page to step up in a match with Strong, win, lose or draw. He didn’t get very far though: Whitmer snatched the microphone and introduced Page himself. The idea was that Whitmer was ready to accept Page as an equal while Jacobs wasn’t.

The match was all Roddy to begin with. He outwrestled Page and gave him some of his famously stiff chops. Page only managed to gain control after a distraction from Whitmer. Roddy took a bit of offence then fired back with chops, a Sick kick and a back breaker on the apron (after Page had impressively landed on his feet off a Shooting Star Press). Page got a swinging neck breaker from the second rope. Roddy came back with a pair of knee strikes and a release suplex back breaker before locking in the Stronghold for the victory by referee stoppage.

Whitmer wasn’t happy. He showed his displeasure by grabbing Corino's headset and shouting about how Page was still better than Strong. Corino wasn’t impressed. Any time their apparent real-life animosity bleeds into the show (which, let’s be honest, is frequently) I enjoy it.

Michael Elgin and Tommaso Ciampa went on third. Elgin was met with apathy. Ciampa got some cheers but not as many as you may have expected. Once the bell rang and Elgers gave Ciampa a hammering he was booed. They worked a strong style match which, while good, never seemed to slick into gear, something I also felt with their Death Before Dishonor XII match.

The usual electric finishing sequence of Elgin matches was omitted here. Instead ‘The Sicilian Psycopath’ accidentally clotheslined the ref, prompting Nigel McGuinness to head backstage because he'd introduced a zero tolerance policy with regard to Ciampa attacking officials. This was an accident but the story was that McGuinness may have gone backstage to start filing the paperwork for Ciampa’s dismissal (because he’d totes do that in the middle of a show). Hether he did or not wasn’t revealed but the possibility was enough to distract Ciampa, allowing ‘Unbreakable’ to get in a boot to the face and an elevated double arm DDT to win the match.

To lighten the mood after the shady finish the all-babyface six man tag was up next: Cedric Alexander and The Addiction v ACH and The Young Bucks. It was a crazily fast match packed with great spots. Plus super kicks, obvs. Definitely a match worth watching if you get the opportunity. ACH and the Bucks won after a Meltzer driver from the Bucks and a 450 from ACH on Cedric.

The grudge match between Moose and RD Evans was billed as "The Revenge of The Streak." The story was that Moose, who had been rescued from his gig as a bodyguard for the Bravado brothers in EVOLVE and introduced as RD Evans’ tag partner, had turned on Evans and cost him his entirely fictitious 173-0 winning streak. Ramone had also turned on RD, changing his name to Stokely Hathaway and revealing that he was working for Prince Nana, who Evans had stolen some storyline dosh from several years earlier.

The important thing to note from that is Nana’s return. Because he’s always excellent entertainment.

Moose destroyed RD for a lot of the match, but not as much as you might think. Veda rocked up after a few minutes and the camera immediately started treating us to lingering shots of her looking concerned. RD managed to turn things around after a while, hitting a reverse DDT and slapping on a sharpshooter. Nana and Hathaway tried to interfere with a chair, which promoted the referee to get out of the ring and argue with them in the aisle. That was Veda’s cue to get in the ring and betray RD with a low blow. Moose then speared him for the win. It was a fun little match. Exactly how guys like Moose and Evans should be used.

Match six saw House of Truth centrepiece and TV champ Jay Lethal defend his belt against Matt Sydal. They had an enjoyable match. I could have done without the Truth Martini interference but at least it was included for a reason and they didn’t go overboard with it. It took the form of him pulling Todd Sinclair from the ring after Sydal hit a Shooting Star Press that was framed as a definite finish. So basically Trith definitely cost Sydal the TV championship. He was chased around the ring before finally being caught and laid out for an SSP. Sydal went for it and got it... but Lethal connected with an Ace crusher as he hit it. A Lethal Injection later and Sydal was a beaten man.

reDRagon's defence of the ROH tag team championship against Time Splitters took the semi-main event spot. Both teams were greeted passionately by the New York crowd. At this point I think ROH is doing the right thing with O’Reilly and Fish and basically using them as tweeners.

The match started out as a competent display of tag wrestling by both teams. O’Reilly was isolated by the challengers before turning the tide to eliminate Shelley, working over his arm in preparation for an armbar submission. Fish got in on the action there too, giving Shelley a well-executed arm wringer out on the apron.

Tags became less frequent as all four guys moved into the ring to begin running through double team spots. Kushida performed an Okana roll and German suplex on both members of reDRagon. Time Splitters hit a power bomb-Sliced Bread supermove. O’Reilly took a moonsault and before applying a triangle choke. Kushida lamped O’Reilly with a Pele kick and O’Reilly came back with the McGuinness lariat. The match ended with Kushida kicking out of Chasing the Dragon before tapping out to the armbar. It was a well laid out tag match and probably the best wrestled offering of the evening.

The video package that preceded the Cole v Briscoe Fight Without Honor world title match was very good. It recapped their feud from its start in September 2013 and provided a good recap of the characters and motivations of both guys. I thought that was particularly impressive considering how long they've been linked to one another and the fact that their rivalry felt concluded with Ladder War V at Supercard of Honor VIII. It could have been overly complex and laborious.

There were scattered chants of "Next world champ!" when Cole stepped into the ring. Briscoe's entrance elicited chants of "Man up!" The audience would be split for the pair throughout the match.

Cole kicked things off with middle fingers and a super kick. Briscoe responded with an elbow and a Jay Driller for two. They left the ring for the requisite brawling, making use of chairs, tables and a staple gun, which Cole used to staple a “Reversed for Mrs Briscoe” sign to Jay’s head. Back in the ring Cole sat on a chair to pull at Briscoe's face. He ended up getting booted off it by the champ. Seconds later he was thrown head-first into it.

Jay grabbed a table, an additional chair, and a Singapore cane from under the ring (because, y'know, people have expectations for these sorts of stipulation matches). Cole grabbed the chairs and set them up but ended up taking a Falcon Arrow onto and through them. He had more luck using the cane, smashing Briscoe repeatedly in the head with it.

Cole took a tumble to ringside and bladed under the ring. Briscoe, being Briscoe, immediately began head butting him. He didn't get to do much though, the state athletic commission (who are always booked as heels on wrestling shows) pulled Cole from the ring to give him medical attention. Briscoe attacked the security accompanying the doctor, pushed Cole back into the ring, and gave him a neck breaker. He tried to suplex him through a table at ringside but Cole escaped and super kicked Briscoe off the top rope through it instead.

That barely phased Briscoe. He staggered back into the ring a minute or so later to be met with a title belt shot, a super kick to the back of the head (a call-back to the night Cole won the title after Briscoe had vacated it) and a Florida Key. Briscoe fired back with a Death Valley driver through the table propped up in the corner then sprinkled some thumbtacks (with heads a variety of colours) in the ring. Before he could use them himself Cole grabbed a handful, stuffed them in Briscoe's mouth, and super kicked him. Naturally such an extreme move had to be kicked out of. Two yakuza kicks and a back body drop sent Cole into the tacks. A Jay Driller, not on the tacks followed immediately.

Cole kicked out. Briscoe sold exasperation for a second or two before grabbing Cole for another Jay Driller, the third of the match, on to the championship belt. That put Cole down for the three and ended a satisfying main event.

Final Battle was amongst ROH’s best shows of 2014, and considering the quality of their major events this year I think that says a great deal. No match disappointed, the title matches delivered on the (high) expectations for them, and Page v Strong and the opener were better than could have been reasonably expected. A strong end to a strong year from Ring of Honor.


Results summary:
Hanson def Mark Briscoe, Jimmy Jacobs and Caprice Coleman
Roderick Strong def Adam Page
Michael Elgin def Tommaso Ciampa
The Young Bucks and ACH def The Addiction and Cedric Alexander
Moose def RD Evans
Jay Lethal def Matt Sydal
reDRagon def Time Splitters
Jay Briscoe def Adam Cole

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