FINAL BATTLE 2002 LIVE REPORT
by Mike Johnson
I attended the 12/28 Ring of Honor event in Philadelphia, PA at the Murphy Recreation Center. The show saw the building filled to capacity with 500 fans, many of whom followed CZW's the Backseat Boyz from that promotion's matinee to the event. The show was set up to prepare the group for their 2003 angles, particular putting Steve Corino in the role of the top heel for the promotion. Full results and thoughts on the show:
The show opened with a mini-TV taping, in the vein of the old NWA Studio tapings with squashes followed by a "marquee bout." with Samoa Joe defeating the Outcast Killahs in a Handicap match....Homicide beating Jay Lethal (JAPW)....ROH Tag Team champions Christopher Daniels & Donovan Morgan beat Dunn & Marcos (who are now working under the hysterical ring name of the Ring Crew Express)....Jay Briscoe defeated Ace Steel, who has worked for NWA TNA in the past.
The main ROH event opened with CM Punk defeating Colt Cabana to win a "ROH contract." I don't know what it is about these two, as I always read raves about them, and the building was into the match but I find myself unable to get into these two and see what it so special behind the hype they get. This was OK.
In an interview segment, Gary Michael Cappetta brought out Christopher Daniels and Simply Luscious. Daniels brought up Alexis Laree attacking Luscious on the last show (running her off to help babyface AJ Styles against Xavier) which brought out Laree. Laree had been offered an XPW spot last week but turned it down. Laree challenged Luscious for a match right there, which went all of 45 seconds when Daniels hit her with Last Rites and Luscious got the pin. It sort of reminded me of Beulah McGuillicuty defeating Luna Vachon after Raven intefered in ECW. After Laree was removed from the ring, Steve Corino came out dressed in a suit, which is the start of positioning Corino in the top heel spot. Corino told Daniels that he was being "put on notice" as Corino was going to form a group in 2003 to take over Ring of Honor (Extreme Horsemen?) starting with all the promotion's championships, which Daniels' stable owns. He told him it wasn't personal, just business and proceeded to "dump" Luscious, his storyline girlfriend since she was working with Daniels. They teased a brawl but Daniels backed out. Corino cut a long promo putting himself over as a huge International star with Zero-One and that he was better than all the fans. He said that after ECW closed, he was so poor he had to dress like the fans but this year he made more money than Paul Heyman ever owed him. Wow. Corino then called out Homicide to start their feud, which has been building over the last several ROH events, and they brawled for a brief moment before Corino headed for the locker room. You can see already that Daniels is going to be turning face as the crowd loves him and there's no way he's going to be booed over Corino. It's actually a testament to Corino that he can get a crowd made up of smart fans who live off tapes and the Internet to give him heel heat.
Special K of Deranged & Angel Dust defeated Da Hit Squad and The Backseat Boyz in a Tag Team Scramble Match. The Scramble is going to become the trademark of the promotion, much like breaking tables became an ECW trademark. This was just a super, off the charts, amazing match with tons of fast spots and aerial moves. The Backseats were way over thanks to the CZW contingent in the crowd. It ended with Deranged getting the pin on Mafia of the Squad and he acted like he had just won the Olympics. The Ring Crew Express of Dunn & Marcos came to the ring and told The Backseat Boyz that they were the top tag team in ROH (Their catch phrase, despite the fact they have yet to get one win). The Backseats laid them out to get a pop, shook hands with Da Hit Squad and teased a match between the two teams down the line.
Konnan defeated Chris Divine, but lost to Quiet Storm in a Lucha Libre Gauntlet Match. Konnan was 25 minutes late for a Question and Answer Session with the bus trip from New York City, saying he had to work out in the ring. Whatever was worked out, it didn't work out in execution as despite coming out in one of his old AAA outfits, the Konnan of 1993 didn't show up in 2002. It was even worse since the promotion had hyped that Konnan was coming to reinvent himself and that simply didn't even come close to happening unless he wanted to be a Lucha Libre Shockmaster. Konnan looked really poor and the crowd immediately gave up on the match. Once he lost to Storm, the crowd chanted "Don't come back." At least they have footage of Quiet Storm going over a huge International star for their TV. I don't expect Konnan will be back after his booking on the promotion's Pittsburgh area event on 1/11.
ROH Tag Team champions Christopher Daniels & Donovan Morgan defeated The SAT in a 2/3 fall tag team title match. This was fine, but way too long. I've been hard on the SATs in the past but one can see a noticeable improvement in Joel since the earlier events of the promotion.
The New Christopher Street Connection debuted made up of Mace and Manager Alison Danger along with Eddie Guapo of the LIWF Doghouse school in New York and Thomas Rodman of the BWO fame. The New CSC defeated The Carnage Crew Loc & Devito by DQ when the Crew just killed everyone including the referee with hubcaps. The Crew is actually a really underrated team.
In the bout that nearly killed off the crowd for much of the second half of the show, Jody Fleisch from Great Britain defeated The Amazing Red in about 7 minutes. Fleisch got the pin after Special K, who had just come to ringside, pulled him out of the way of The Infrared. The match itself was fine, but below expectations for reasons listed below.
First the angle, Special K began beating on Red. Fleisch stopped them, and then to the shock of no one, joined in. The Maximos hit the ring and were laid out. Divine Storm and Trinity hit the ring. Ditto. Da Hit Squad and JT Smith hit the ring and Special K backed off. The large African American guy who has been hitting the ring chokeslamming people (and saved JT Smith from Special K 2 shows back) came into the ring from the crowd to back up Smith, but chokeslammed him. Smith still takes a hell of a bump. Da Squad got laid out as well. It ended with a challenge for a 7 vs 7 Tag Team Scramble at the promotion's New York City debut on 2/8 at the Elks Lodge. Uh, I think I want to see that.
Now, the aforementioned crowd reaction. The crowd hated it because the match was so short, which ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky noted was supposed to go in the area of 12 minutes but they went home early. The angle itself was fine but turned the crowd off as they didn't get what they wanted from a promotion that always gives them what they want, so when they didn't get what brought ROH to the race, an over the top match with tons of aerial moves and false finishes, they turned on it. When you consider this was the match that was announced from the start for this show, it ended up being a double negative for the promotion. There were actually some fans chanting "F You Gabe" after the angle.
On his coming out party as champion, ROH champion Xavier defeated Paul London. This was the match Xavier needed to have as the crowd hasn't bought him in the role of champion yet, something he even acknowledged on the mic before the bout. Since Paul London is a great worker, a fiery babyface and will go beyond the call of sanity with highspots, he's one of the top guys in the audiences' eyes and they were hot to see him win the belt. The crowd was popping back and forth for all the near falls. London got a standing ovation after the bout. This was the direction Xavier needed to go in. I liken him to the Dudley Boyz in ECW, in that the fans did not want to even see him in the role of champion, but like the Dudleys did, he's starting to break down the wall with his work.
The main event was scheduled to be a Four Way match to determine the top contender to the ROH championship. Ironic it's placed after the title match. Steve Corino was back out, this time in his Zero-One tights saying he was a big international superstar and he was going to be in the main event because of it. The crowd hated Corino and was catcalling him for the rest of the 50 minute segment. Homicide came out and was laid out by Corino, taking him out of the equation for the Four Way. Corino slipped into his spot in the match. The 4 way with Low Ki, American Dragon, and Samoa Joe delivered on what ROH has built itself on- stiff, hard hitting wrestling. They went to a 45 minute legitimate draw which only served to leave things open for the promotion storyline wise, but at the same time, didn't give the fans the send off home happy. In fact, that may have been the point. This was easily the strongest performance of Steve Corino's career between his mic work, turning a crowd that wants to like him, and an excellent showing in the ring. Ki, Dragon, and Joe were all likewise on their game. Tremendous match. It ended with all four spent but ready to go, setting up the future of ROH.
Many commented to me that it was the oddest booked show in ROH history. If you are a fan of ROH for strictly wrestling only, you likely would have been left feeling "eh" at best from the show compared to previous efforts. I say that despite a solid 45 minute draw in the main event that, considering the players involved, hadn't even scratched the surface of what they could accomplish nor did it give you closure to the bout. If you wanted storylines, they gave you that on this show in a big way, setting the stage for future storylines.
The promotion lost the crowd in a big way after an angle involving the post-match of Amazing Red and Jodie Fleisch but the crowd came back for the ROH title match. The length of the show again was a killer, as it seemed that the crowd was burnt out by the time they got to the main event. I know that I was, and I wasn't among the large percentage that had attended CZW earlier the same day.
The aftermath of the show was interesting to me. When I walked out, I easily felt this was among the worst of the promotion's efforts that I had seen. That said, there were several who attended the show for the first time who told me the show was great. I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. I think if anyone else booked the same show, it would be a resounding thumbs but for an ROH event, I didn't hate the show, but I was far from loving it. It was an "eh" event sitting in the middle of the ROH scale.
Do not think I am trying to be negative just to be negative: There was still a lot of good that I enjoyed. As I noted, I think the Tag Scramble will become the promotion's trademark, much like breaking tables was the trademark for ECW. The Special K gimmick is really starting to take shape. The Backseat Boyz added a fresh sizzle to the ROH roster. London-Xavier was easily Xavier's coming out party in terms of getting over. Anytime JT Smith is on a show, it's a great thing as far as I'm concerned. The 45 minute match is worth getting a tape of, as are Xavier-London and the Tag Scramble.
The show was OK, but in ROH, OK is nowhere near the norm. This was a show to set up for the future and ROH has shown that the future pays off in terms of ring work, but tonight the booking preceeded that payoff and it held down the show as a stand alone entity. That's not to say the show wasn't something I enjoyed, it just wasn't the blow away I walk into expecting for ROH events.
That said, looking over what was on the show and saying it was only OK, is not just a testament to the ROH locker room, but how incredibly competitive the Northeastern wrestling scene has gotten over the last year and how lucky anyone living in that area are as fans.
ROH Final Battle 2002 can be ordered at ROHWrestling.com.