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ROH YEAR TWO ARCHIVE: AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT RING OF HONOR'S SOPHOMORE EFFORT

By Mike Johnson on 2004-12-24 00:31:00


ROH FINAL BATTLE 2003

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE

Ring of Honor shattered the promotion's attendance record with over 1,500 fans at their "Final Battle 2003" event at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory on Saturday 12/27. The show was actually split into thirds, with the first being the fan convention and show, the second being the ROH portion of the evening event, and the final piece of the pie being the All Japan vs. ROH showdown.

There was been a lot of talk about the success of the promotion lately, both among fans I spoke to at the show yesterday and via email today. Yesterday, ROH did their best attendance and highest merchandise numbers ever, but like any other business, it's a work in progress. They have had their good shows and their bad shows at the gate (actually only a few bad) over the last year, but the key has been and always will be their merchandise sales. ROH was created to fill a void RF Video lost when ECW went under and they failed to find another promotion to partner with. Due to that fact, to me, the promotion will always be an Island unto itself. It has a self-created synergy because it's a video company as much as it is a wrestling promotion, similar to how Turner ran and owned WCW. It's on a much, much, much smaller scale, but it's the same concept and at this point, no other promotion can match that in-house synergy and fan base.

That fan base gives them the chance to work with companies like All Japan and create a unique event like last night. I can’t see NWA: TNA having the same workers and getting the same interest level from their live crowd in Nashville on a given Wednesday night. I don’t think many of the other independent companies that try to appeal to a similar fan base would have had the same success. The difference is ROH’s fans were already fans who have been “educated” for lack of a better word from buying tapes all these years of all the different styles, stars and promotions that RF Video sells, so they are more likely to hit a show as opposed to another independent company, which is trying to find it’s own niche and survive out of the gate. ROH had its niche waiting for it, that being fans who want to watch workrate wrestling, in part thanks to RF Video.

Several times this year, the promotion has hit over 1,000 fans. Just 1,500 fans attending a show within the first two years of their birth is an incredible accomplishment, but as one ROH staffer told me, they aren’t anywhere near being ready to fill something like the ECW Arena on a monthly basis, so comparisons to ECW are completely not fair to ROH. That statement was pretty telling in a world where independent promoters who draw 50 people think they are Vince McMahon. The promotion is trying to grow and make money without getting ahead of itself.

For all the negative stigma surrounding owner Rob Feinstein (deserved and otherwise) from his silliness of the past, he has had a lot of mature growth since the ROH project started, because without that, ROH would have been like every other company with grandiose plans that went away within a year. Instead they keep slowly moving along, thanks to that unique synergy I noted above, and the hard work of their performers and staffers, who go above and beyond the call of duty trying to make their own name as much as they are trying to build a company. Still, the promotion is very similar to the lesser known Jim Kettner ECWA in Delaware in that despite their success and failures over the last year, their goal is to survive and continue, not take over the world. As long as they stay on that path, ROH will be fine. If television or PPV is in the future, it can’t be rushed or the balance of the company will be thrown off and that will eventually lead them to ruin.

Enough about the future. The fact of the matter is from a money standpoint, last night was an absolute success. This was easily the biggest night in the history of the promotion, from an attendance and merchandise standpoint. As you can imagine there was a lot of excitement among the workers and the management yesterday. As far as the show itself, I think the draw was two-sided: the chance to see a number of Japanese workers under one roof in an environment where they would work and shine as opposed to just be there. However, with everyone at the show was familiar with the storylines and the promotion's characters for the most part, they were there to see a "major" ROH show. I think the key for ROH's big houses this year has proven to be when an interesting outside entity (All Japan, Jeff Hardy) is interjected into the ROH stew, it creates something different for fans that normally just follow online and buy DVDs to actually want to come to the live event. Considering there were over 130 fans who traveled via bus trips to the show and many, many others who drove from all over the Northeast (as well as fans from Japan), that formula brought the people.

From a booking standpoint, the show was good in that the fans went home happy. All of the All Japan vs. ROH matches delivered and were about as entertaining as one would expect them to be on paper. There were two segments of the evening show that just did not get over, which the promotion didn’t make excuses for, but at the same time, were disappointed about because they had high hopes with using them to set up their early 2004 storylines. There were several good ROH matches in the evening show and a tremendous convention show (especially when you factor in the price for that was the cheapest ticket in the history of Philadelphia wrestling), so to me, at the end of the day, the show can’t be seen as anything but a success.

CONVENTION SHOW

The show itself opened with a convention where all of the All Japan roster were taking photos and signing pictures at $10 and many of the ROH regulars including Samoa Joe and AJ Styles were signing as well. I’d guess the crowd for the convention show at 800 fans paying $5 a head to come and watch the show and attend the convention.

The convention show opened with Sumie Sakai defeating Alison Danger, who has come a long way as a character but works better in my opinion as a manager. OK opener.

They followed that up with Josh Daniels pinning the debuting Puma from New Japan in a solid wrestling bout. Both looked good.

Next up was the returning Christopher Street Connection with Ariel facing Dunn and Marcos. The crowd was into this one bigtime as all the characters are over with the audience. CM Punk hit the ring and broke up the match, declaring that he was going to ruin the show later on unless he learned who took out his girlfriend Lucy, which has been an ongoing storyline since August. Punk said that no matter who was in the ring, including Great Muta, he would ruin the show. Muta was signing and got up when he heard his name and the place went nuts for him. That was a cool moment. Dunn and Marcos confronted Punk and got laid out. This lead to Punk wrestling Mace of the CSC, which was a decent match which ended with Punk hitting the Pepsi Plunge, his top rope pedigree.

The Carnage Crew & Justin Credible went to a no contest with Special K when the PA State Athletic Commission legitimately stopped the match when a bleeding Credible ended up bumping into the crowd. The Commission has been adamant in the last year that no bleeding wrestlers go into the crowd for health reasons, but Credible was caught up in the moment and forgot. He was pretty upset the match was stopped, but the finish actually made the heated brawl (which was awesome) much better and made the segment better than any planned finish could have. Slugger saved Carnage Crew from a Special K beatdown after the match.

Hydro of Special K won a Four-Way over Oman Turtuga, Slyk Wagner Brown and the debuting Nick Gage of CZW. This was a really good Four Way with lots of dives and fast action. Everyone looked good and it was nice to see Hydro get the win here as he’s going to be a player down the line.

There was another decent bout with Trent Acid pinning Sonjay Dutt with a Yakuza Kick. Dutt is a great performer but he hasn’t really shined thus far in his ROH work. It’s almost similar to Paul London last year where he was wearing down the house in ROH, but when he worked NWA: TNA, he wasn’t as impressive out of the gate.

The convention show ended with ROH Tag Team champions The Briscoe Brothers defeating the SAT in a good match. The SAT have really been trying to get their work together as of late and I hope they continue. Good match. Mark seemed to bang up his right knee during the match, but still gutted it out and finished the match as well as working later that night against Samoa Joe. ROH champion Samoa Joe hit the ring to confront the Briscoes. They teased they were going to doubleteam him until Bryan Danielson hit the ring. They faced off and the Briscoes left. Danielson told Joe that he didn’t have to like him and he wasn’t going to shake his hand until they were in the ring facing each other for the belt, but they would team against the Briscoes.

Convention Notes: Johnny Kashmere of The Backseat Boyz missed the afternoon convention show presented by ROH as he was bedridden with the flu. His absence tossed off the booking of the convention show somewhat….Deranged of Special K, who was scheduled for this match, is done with the company. He was booked for convention show and didn’t make it, so they’ve opted to no longer book him, as it was an issue in the past. At one point, he was planned to break away from Special K and be part of Julius Smokes’ faction but he missed a show in Baltimore without contacting the promotion and hadn’t been used since. They were going to bring him back in January, but opted to use him on 12/27, which would have been his official return. It’s a shame as he has a lot of talent, but as of right now, the promotion felt their hands were tied….The promotion will be releasing this show on DVD along with a number of moments that were edited off older shows, such as the ill-fated Konnan debut, the Teddy Hart goofiness from several months back, ICP’s one time appearance, and more. For more information, visit www.ROHWrestling.com.

ROH VS. ALL JAPAN

The Ring of Honor Final Battle 2003 event opened up with a great opener where Bryan Danielson forced Jay Briscoe to tap out to Cattle Mutilation at 13:36. This was just a great back and forth wrestling match with great moves and back and forth spots that had the crowd just exploding. Great opener.

John Walters pinned Xavier in a "Fight Without Honor" that saw Ladders used in 18:46. This was a match that wasn’t pretty to watch at times, but at the same time you couldn’t believe how insane some of the spots were. After a chair shot, Xavier was bleeding heavily to the point you would see the blood just fly off his face every time he took a bump. Prince Nana came out during the match. Xavier did a springboard 450 splash off the ropes thru a table outside of the ring. They demolished one ladder and then used another one. The finish of the match saw Walters hit a sunset flip powerbomb on Xavier off the top of one ladder onto a ladder that was propped on turnbuckles in the corner. The crowd loved the match and Walters moved up a notch here. Nana announced he was Xavier’s manager after the match, saying he was forming a group called The Embassy. Walters wanted to shake Xavier’s hand. Nana told him that Xavier would see him in the future and beat him and told Xavier to shake his hand. Xavier told Walters that he earned his respect and shook it. I guess that moves Xavier out of the Prophecy without a feud.

In the finals of the promotion's Field of Honor, Matt Stryker pinned BJ Whitmer in 28:04 of a bout that did not get over with the crowd live. Whitmer was suffering from the flu and I was told that Stryker was working hurt, but in any event, the match never got out of the blocks. They went to the floor several times but it never got a rise out of the crowd. Stryker actually worked almost as a heel here as he ripped off Whitmer’s knee brace and earlier on, had walked around the ring to break the momentum of the match. The finish to the match was actually really good with Stryker locking on an Indian Death Match and Whitmer desperately trying to make it to the ropes before tapping out. The problem was by then the crowd had given up on the match. A lot of the babyfaces in the company came out to congratulate Stryker as Whitmer walked off. Stryker gave a speech about the importance of the victory, but the crowd just didn’t want to hear it. This would also come back to hurt them later in the night. I was actually surprised the promotion didn’t have something to give the winner of the Field of Honor, especially since they have a number one contenders trophy. The match left the Field of Honor off on a really flat note, which was a shame since Stryker vs. Whitmer has produced so many really good wrestling matches over the last year.

Bill Apter came out and presented ROH owner Rob Feinstein the “Classiest Promotion” Award from Total Wrestling Magazine. Isn’t that Award an oxymoron in the wrestling business? CM Punk came out and ripped on the crowd and took the Award for himself because since he was straight edge, he was better than everyone and therefore was the Classiest Wrestler. Punk ripped on the crowd and argued with Feinstein. They actually tossed this together on the fly to stall for time as Christopher Daniels was late to the show because of flight problems. I’m not sure this will make the video release of the show. The entire roster took a huge group photo backstage holding the “Classiest Wrestling Promotion” award.

ROH champion Samoa Joe defeated Mark Briscoe with a choke sleeper in 14:48. It was amazing to see the size difference here but Mark Briscoe worked his butt off. Joe killed him with some high impact moves. They teased the spot where Joe puts him in a chair in the corner and does a running kick twice before doing it. The match was decent. I’m looking forward to those Joe & Danielson vs. Briscoes bouts. After the match, CM Punk came out and faced off with Joe, then demanded Christopher Daniels face him as Punk declared again that that Daniels was responsible for the attack on his girlfriend Lucy, which The Prophecy had denied.

Daniels and Danny Maff came out. Maff ended up brawling to the back with Joe. Daniels and Punk brawled. Colt Cabana became involved and Punk began choking Daniels' valet Alison Danger declaring he would "kill her" if Daniels didn't confess as he wanted an “Eye for an Eye.” Daniels confessed that the Prophecy did it, but it wasn’t anyone Punk thought it was. BJ Whitmer hit the ring and hit Cabana with a chair and rescued Danger. Cabana held Punk back as they announced Whitmer was responsible and was the new member of the Prophecy. Since the crowd was dead to Whitmer from the match earlier, the crowd met this with indifference and disappointment. Whitmer did make logical storyline sense as Punk had injured him several months back and had been mocking him on ROH video commentary. Maff returned and was upset that he wasn't told of Whitmer's involvement as he had swore on his father's grave that The Prophecy wasn't involved. Daniels tried to tell Maff that it was all in the plans, just as Maff joining the faction was. Maff sold he was angry. The crowd was into Maff’s mic work and it helped save the segment. My feeling is that Whitmer in the Prophecy was fine and will be accepted and the cold way it kicked off will end up being forgotten by the fans down the line, but last night after sitting through 30 minutes of Whitmer vs. Stryker not clicking, live the fans didn’t want to see him.

After intermission, it was time for the four All Japan vs. Ring of Honor bouts. They opened up with an absolutely excellent tag match as CM Punk and Colt Cabana defeated Tomaoki Honma and Kazushi Miyamoto in at 16:36 when Punk hit the Pepsi Plunge on Honma. Punk held up a ZERO-ONE towel to get heat. That was genius. They worked this match in total back and forth Japanese style with lots of matwork to start, building to a series of near falls and high spots. This was a pleasure to watch and was probably my favorite match of the night. The crowd was completely respectful of the Japanese talent for the most part all night, which added to the atmosphere.

AJ Styles pinned Kaz Hayashi with the Styles Clash in 14:49 of a very good match. There were a few morons catcalling Hayashi but they were shouted down by the rest of the crowd, which was nice to see. This was another good back and forth match and by this point, no matter what didn’t click on the first half of the evening show, this was a thumbs up show in my book just based on the last two matches. Hayashi teased he was mad he was pinned and asked for a return bout down the line.

*Satoshi Kojima pinned Homicide with a pair of lariats at 13:11. This started off really good but Homicide hit his head on the floor during a belly to belly overhead suplex and was out on his feet. He still went through with the match but it wasn’t anywhere near I am sure he wanted it to be in his mind. Kojima was really charismatic with the crowd and was obviously having fun, playing off the crowd, the referee, and Julius Smokes. I could see why MLW wanted to make him champion. Kojima pinned Homicide with a pair of lariats. This was still good but didn’t follow the last two matches. Homicide was glassy-eyed in the locker room afterwards but was alert and OK. Low Ki and Monsta Mack worked as Homicide's cornermen. The All Japan workers changed and returned to ringside to second for the last two matches as well. There was nothing to Ki and Mack being at ringside beyond them being at ringside for Homicide as he trained them and they were there to support him. ROH had no problems with it at all, but there are no current plans for Ki and Mack in the company. There was no real reaction from the crowd when they came out with Homicide, which was somewhat surprising.

All Japan Tag Team champions The Great Muta and Arashi defeated Christopher Daniels and Dan Maff in 16:07 when Muta pinned Daniels with the shining wizard he ever performed in the United States. The fans tossed streamers when everyone entered the ring. It looked awesome. Arashi didn’t do much so Danny Maff bumped off of him and used his charisma and facials to build things and it worked as Maff is awesome in that regard. Muta teased a moonsault but didn’t hit it. He did hit his power elbow. The place was unglued for Muta the entire time. Daniels worked hard, as he always does, to make everyone look good. Alison Danger was her usual great self at ringside and got involved, which led to Muta spraying Danny Maff in the face with the red mist. This was more of a spectacle than anything else but it was what the fans who came to see The Great Muta wanted to see and the proper way to end the show. Actually it wasn't a show when you look back on it. It was an event.

ROH Notes: All Japan was happy with the show and there are already discussions to return down the line as well as bring ROH talent for a joint show in Tokyo's Korakuen Hall, but there is no timetable set From talking to a number of the ROH workers, the All Japan stars saw the show as a vacation but once they saw the size of the crowd and the reactions, they put on their working boots....Alexis Laree, who is under a WWE developmental deal, was backstage.…The promotion’s website did record hits the day after the show. They have tons of photos from the show up already at www.ROHWrestling.com....The promotion upgraded their lighting and sound system with this show, using a computerized system and lighting effects....With a crowd of 1,500, the promotion has now drawn a bigger paid attendance than NWA:TNA has in their own short history.

ROH Final Battle 2003 can be ordered at ROHWrestling.com.


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