ROH ROAD TO THE TITLE IN PHILADELPHIA, PA LIVE REPORT
by Mike Johnson
Last weekend, I attended the fourth effort by RF Video's Ring of Honor event. As a promotion, I cannot think of any independent which was this far along in terms of workrate by their fourth show. ROH is actively seeking to please that older contingent of hardcore wrestling fans who yearn and miss the hard-hitting athletics of the NWA (or for the younger fans, ECW) while at the same time trying to put a new spin on professional wrestling.
Philadelphia as a market is a hard sell these days. There are a ton of promotions scrambling to either be the next ECW or to try and scoop up what's left of that ECW fanbase, which isn't much as they all scattered in different directions. For a promotion to break 400 is a cause for celebration really, as there is an insane amount of competition.
However, through word of mouth, bus trips from New York City and Boston, and a heavy sell on the Internet and from their offices (including owner Rob Feinstein personally calling those who had ordered tickets in the past to invite them back and thank them for their support), the promotion was able to draw their largest crowd to date for the opening rounds of their championship tournament. I was guessing the crowd was in the 475 area, but no one from the promotion would comment on record. I can personally attest that there were more chairs set up than ever before by the promotion in the corners of the building, and it was full.
The amount of people in the building actually helped to add up to the largest negative of the night, which was the hot and humid atmosphere of the building. Although the crowd was heavily into the wrestling on the show, which was all well worked and athletic, one has to wonder how much louder and more into the show they could have been if they weren't spending as much time and interest trying to remain cool during the show. The promotion plans on bringin industrial size fans into the building for their return on 7/27 to try and offset the problem, so they are recognizing that they need to try and maintain a comfortable atmosphere for the fans. Either that or they, like me, were having unpleasant flashbacks to the ECW Arena shows in the mid-90s that led to everyone nearly passing out from heat stroke! The heat was enough to tire me out to the point that the next day, it was hard to recall what happened in which match, because there was so much good, it all seemed to meld together into an endless procession of wrestling.
The show opened with American Dragon defeating Bio-Hazard via submission with Dragon's Cattle Mutilation finisher. Biohazard is from Rudy Boy Gonzalez's Texas Wrestling Academy and while the match was too short to be anything other than a collection of good spots and moves, Hazard looked decent. Crowd liked the opener.
Spanky who is now being called "The Show Stopper" based on winning the Texas Wrestling Academy gauntlet the show before (and playing off his "training" under Shawn Michaels) beat Paul London with Sliced Bread #2 (Acid Drop-esque move off the ropes). London finally got a chance to really show the fans in Philly how good he is. Spanky, like Dragon, Low Ki and Daniels, is already over as a star to the ROH fanbase. This was a really fast match and well worked.
Doug Williams from Great Britain defeated Jay Briscoe with a rolling German suplex. Williams came out to zero reaction to the fans, who for the most part had heard of but never seen him and won them over by the end of his match. Briscoe continues his losing streak here, so I suspect when he finally gets that big win, you'll hear a huge reaction out of the ROH fans. Williams was a guest on the bus trip from New York after the show and got really over with the NYC fans for being humble and straightforward talking about his career. He cited being influenced by 1980s British workers like Dave Finley and the Dynamite Kid and that he always wanted to work with Finley, but Finley had left for America as he was breaking into the business so they have yet to cross paths.
Jodie Fleisch defeated Jonny Storm in the latest installment of their American battles together. This was a totally different feel than anything else on the show, but my least favorite match. It's not that either of them are poor athletes, but this was more like watching a choeregraphed fight scene in a Broadway show than a wrestling match as if you were paying attention, you could see spots where worker A was waiting too long in position to catch worker B. The crowd loved it however, as the Michinoku Pro-esque style, was a total change in pace from what ROH usually presents. If you love aerial stuff, this is for you.
Low Ki, who came out to a monstrous reaction, won his first round tournament match after knocking out Prince Nana with a stiff kick to the back of the head. Although this may have been the planned finish (no one will give me a straight answer), Nana was legitimately dazed and had to be helped to the back. It was just one of those things that happen. Nana was OK in the back afterwards.
The Amazing Red beat Xavier in a very good back-and-forth match. They are calling Xavier "The All Around Best" here. Very solid match.
Christopher Daniels pinned Scoot Andrews with a double jump moonsault. They set up the start of Daniels forming a faction within the promotion, saying he had foreseen a "Prophecy" that will destroy Ring of Honor. Daniels then introduced Simply Luscious as the first member of his group. The crowd didn't seem to buy Luscious in the role, but with her charisma, that shouldn't be a problem. Donovan Morgan is also expected to be part of Daniels' faction. After the match, Luscious got under Scoot's skin so he announced she had a match tonight, and would be taking on Sumie Sakai from the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œjd promotion in Japan.
Sakai came out to a big reaction (I guess being a Japanese worker in front of hardcore fans will cement that reaction) and defeated Luscious with a moonsault in a short match. This was easily the worst match on the show as they lost the crowd early with a missed spot and never seemed to gain them back. The idea here was that the Prophecy had been screwed by Luscious being forced to wrestle. I thought that came off a little contrived, but it's a start for Daniels vs. ROH. This was really short, and came off more like a break between matches to let the crowd cool down than anything else, so if that was the intention, it worked, although by this point, I was dying for an intermission.
In the final match of the first round of the tourney, AJ Styles beat Jerry Lynn with the Styles Clash. These guys just work so well together, you would think they have been working 5 years against each other, instead of the last 6 months. Lynn got a huge reaction from the fans, who remember his hard work in ECW and recognize that he was screwed with a lack of push in the WWE. At this point, this was the match of the night, which was saying something as other than Luscious-Sakai, everything was a good athletic bout.
By this point, the promotion made the one cardinal mistake of the evening in my opinion. The crowd was hot, tired, and needed a break. They teased intermission but instead the tag team of Dunn and Marcos (trainees of HC Loc) hit the ring and declared they were the best tag team in ROH. Everyone knew what was going to happen next as Da Hit Squad showed up and beat the living hell out of the two youngsters. The Squad claimed to be the top tag team in ROH, which brought out Divine Storm (Chris Divine & Quiet Storm). Storm cut one awesome promo on the Squad, asking how they could make that claim when they haven't wrestled an official match yet. The visual of the smaller Storm confronting and cursing out the larger Squad was a great one and Storm, who is very mellow and quiet by nature, shocked me with his promo. I didn't have a clue he had it in him. This brought out the SATs and it degenerated into a brawl with everyone doing dives.
Once everyone was on the floor battling, the Christopher Street Connection came out and began fondling and kisssing each other. The Natural Born Sinners came charging out and destroyed them, even spanking their valent Alison Danger. At this point, the brawl was going on way too long for me personally and likely the crowd. The Carnage Crew (HC Loc and Tony DeVito) hit the ring. The crowd totally gave up on them, as for whatever reason, they have no respect for the Crew whatsoever. The crowd's reaction reminds me of the earlier days of the Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley team in ECW, as the crowd just wanted to see them die and not much else.
It ended up with The Squad and the Sinners cleaning house but the Sinners getting upset when the Squad again declared themselves the top tag team. As a segment, this probably would have been fine if it hadn't run almost 20 minutes this late into the show and the crowd (and myself) hadn't so desperately needed a break. It was something totally different from the usual ROH events, as it was an ECW-esque out of control brawl around ringside and in the ring, which went on and on. I joked that I was waiting for New Jack's music to hit while I watched the events unfold.
After a well deserved intermission, and some cool air outside the Rec Center, it was back to the show as Spanky defeated Jodie Fleisch in a very good match. I enjoyed this Fleisch match much better as it didn't have that pre-ordained feel of the spotfest with Jonny Storm. Fleisch nearly destoryed himself with a springboard moonsault to the floor as his shins destroyed a piece of guardrail. It was especially scary as it was the exact same spot where Chris Marvel shattered his ankle wrestling Paul London. Spanky scored the pin with Sliced Bread #2.
In a move that shocked the crowd, Doug Williams pinned American Dragon. The crowd didn't expect this at all, seeing Dragon as one of the cornerstones of the promotion. In two matches though, the ROH audience had taken to Williams.
In a match that looked like it had taken the Matrix and meshed it with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Low Ki pinned Red in the damndest display of aerial action one has ever seen. At the same time, with the speed and timing they possesed, it didn't come off feeling sterilized like the Fleisch-Storm bout in the earlier round. They ended with a great sequence where Low Ki was on the top rope but Red kicked him. Ki fell backwards with his leg trapped in the ropes. Red went to the top rope to do a move, but Ki caught him and turned him around, hitting his Ki Krusher finisher off the top for the pin. The crowd absolutely loved this match. Brian XL (who is starting to remind me of ECW's Stevie Richards with his self-absorbed promos and whininess, as well as his ability to weasel into scenarios) came out and badmouthed Red, then attacked him. The Maximos made the save and his the Spanish Fly on him.
In the final match of the evening, Christopher Daniels defeated a bloody AJ Styles. Styles had the only blood of the night. Daniels and Styles went back and forth in a great match, with Daniels finally hitting the last rites for the pin.
Donnie B, who is the new color commentator for the promotion's videotapes was introduced. He got booed out of the building. I guess the Philly fans are huge supporters of his column here on the site. Actually, I bet Donnie's opinionated comments on different indys caused that reaction, but that's Donnie. He tried several times to make ROH's "big announcement" that was going to change the "landscape of wrestling." but Christopher Daniels kept taking the mic and calling the promotion a farce and a joke. Spanky came out and insulted Daniels, then put himself over. Donnie finally got the mic and announced the promotion had a TV clearance on channel 48 in Philly Tuesday nights at midnight starting in September. The crowd popped huge for that.
The idea was that they were going to unveil the ROH championship belt, but once Low Ki and Doug Williams came back out, a brawl broke out and the referees left with the belt, which was never taken out of the bag it was in. So, ROH bait and switched the title belt, which has to be a first for pro wrestling. There were some complaints by fans afterward, and I don't argue that they didn't get what they were promised, but after that show, I don't think anyone was unhappy with the end result.
I believe the idea was ROH wanted to give the fans something to come back for. By this point though, the heat in the building had finally taken a toll on me, and I walked out during the brawl so I couldn't tell you how it ended, but one couldn't fault the work of the workers or the promotion tonight. If they had ran the exact same show the month before, when it was way cooler in the building I suspect it would have been proclaimed the best show in some time in Philly. The ending of the show did come off flat, but when you think about it, if they give instant gratification every time they promoted a show, there would be no reason for the fans to want to return.
A very good showing for the promotion, as they are putting on strong wrestling matches in order to sell them through ROHWrestling.com. The videotape background is actually the strongest proponent the promotion has for long-term survival, as unlike other indy groups which rely strictly on attendance figures for profit, if ROH can move videos to ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ of the audience that comes to their shows, it's almost as if they have doubled their attendance gate. Then factor in those who order online or through a catalog, and there's more money to be made and they are in a more secure position than most independent groups start out in.
That said, it will be interesting to see how the promotion changes once it begins airing on television in the Philadelphia market. Angles and characters have always been what has drawn in wrestling, as opposed to workrate and athletics. If the promotion intends to continue to grow, they will need to book some really interesting angles. That said, they have been slowly building very good storylines and characters over the first quartet of shows, but have been unable to use the angles they run backstage to draw for the next event, as the videotapes aren't out in time. Now, with television, they will be able to tap that asset. It should be an interesting time for the promotion come September.
ROH Road To The Title can be ordered at ROHWrestling.com.