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ROH YEAR THREE ARCHIVE: LOOKING BACK AT RING OF HONOR'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL YEAR

By Mike Johnson on 2004-12-28 20:40:00


ROH MIDNIGHT EXPRESS REUNION

RING OF HONOR IN PHILADELPHIA, PA LIVE REPORT: LOW KI VS. JAY LETHAL HIGHLIGHTS MIDNIGHT EXPRESS REUNION
By Mike Johnson

I had the chance to attend Ring of Honor's latest live event in the Philadelphia, PA area on Saturday 10/2 based around the reunion of the Midnight Express. One thing I will say right now is you should go out of your way to see Low Ki vs. Jay Lethal and Samoa Joe vs. American Dragon. Lethal is going to be a great star one day, as he’s channeling the spirit of the best parts of Ricky Steamboat, Dynamite Kid and JT Smith. Low Ki’s new heel persona is my favorite ROH character right now. He’s totally believable and you really want to see someone kick the crap out of him, but he’s such a badass that you doubt it can happen. Danielson vs. Joe, especially the last 5-10 minutes was great. Ricky Morton popped up during the Midnight Express tribute, which in itself was an awesome segment and one of those moments that makes me remember why I love this business. There’s a possibility Morton may be back down the line. Jim Cornette is in for future appearances down the line as well with the company. Without any further adieu, my thoughts on ROH's events on 10/2:

Afternoon Event

Ring of Honor drew about 200 fans for their afternoon event, made up mostly of students from the ROH Academy having their debut matches followed by the Midnight Express Q & A Session. As irony would have it, the student who stood out the most turned out to be Ricky Landell, a Steve Corino trainee who looks as if he stepped out of 1985, down to the George South satin jacket and Ronnie Garvin towel. Landell looks as if he's been studying his 1980s NWA tapes as every move meant something to the point one might believe he was watching a rookie Barry Windham.

*Rockin Rebel and Greg Matthews beat Scott Cardinal and Jerk Jackson in 4:11. As short as this was, this was pretty entertaining and not a bad opener at all. It seems like it was a million years ago that Matthews was such a sympathetic babyface during the first Tough Enough.

*Ricky Landell and Alex Law (Corino's students) beat Anthony Franco and Evan Starsmore (CM Punk's students) in 4:28. Another solid match.

*The Carnage Crew (Loc and Devito) beat Shane Hagadorn, Jesse Robinson and Matt Turner (students) in 6:52 of a handicap match. The students must have had every friend they ever met in attendance as one side of the building gave them a huge pop and chanted for them endlessly. Either that or ROH hired USA Pro's Frank Goodman and he brought the ticket sellers with him. I expected an all out beatdown of the students initiation style, but the Crew pretty much worked them over with some stiff shots to the back and some hard tosses into the guard rail while working with them in the ring. Afterwards, the Crew told them they were proud of them.

*CM Punk defeated Davey Andrews in 5:19. Andrews was said to have been the best student of the lot. He seemed to have more of a look than some of the younger students.

*Dunn and Marcos beat Special K's Deranged and Cloudy (subbing for Dixie, who was there later in the night) in 8:40. This was a decent back and forth bout.

*ROH Pure champion John Walters defeated Alex Shelley in 14:31 when Shelley tapped out, after using all his ropebreaks. They made it clear to announce the rules and the rope breaks over the house mic, which added greatly to the match.

The crowd was shifted over to the bleachers for the Midnight Express Reunion with Jim Cornette, Stan Lane, Bobby Eaton, and Dennis Condrey. Condrey looks like a Southern Baptist preacher now. Lane still looks like he can go and beat up anyone on the roster. Cornette and Lane, as expected, dominated the Q & A Session. There were two negatives to the convention - one of which was the sound system, which absolutely sucked to the point ROH may not be able to release the video. The other was that due to the magnitude of the building, it wasn't an intimate atmosphere at all, which led to a lot of people milling around and talking to themselves as it was harder to keep attention. Some of the fans seemed as if they were more impressed with putting themselves over as well, although I did think it was cool there were fans from California, Japan, and Australia there. For $15, one can't really complain though. ROH was happy with the turnout as they actually expected less for the afternoon, which admittedly was their own fault for overshadowing the Midnights with the Mick Foley and Jushin Liger announcements.

EVENING EVENT

The crowd for the evening show looked to be in the 600-700 range. Prior to the show, the entire Midnight Express was signing photos with $10 being the cover for all four signatures. Cornette was also selling a six tape set of the Express that he put together himself for $100 which is now available at www.Ovwrestling.com as well.

ROH Tag Team champions The Havana Pitbulls defeated Special K’s Izzy and Angeldust in 11:29 of an OK opener. It seemed as if the match was just a backdrop to tease dissension within Special K as Becky Bayless and Lacey nearly got into a catfight after the match. Special K, which has been in a slump since March, is now coming out without their techno music until they win a match. One thing that should be noted is the importance of Julius Smokes, who adds a ton of pizzazz to the Pitbulls and Homicide as their mouth piece while interacting with the fans. Smokes is a huge throwback to the day when managers would be used to get over talent that otherwise might have a weakness connecting to the fans. He’s the latest in the line of early Lou Albano or The Grand Wizard.

In a really entertaining Four Corner Survival match, Jimmy Rave defeated Trent Acid, Josh Daniels and BJ Whitmer when Rave pinned Trent Acid with the Styles Clash in 11:38. This ended Acid’s reign as the best performer in the multi-man matches, which had been an undercard storyline for him. Six months ago, ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky told me Rave would be over and a hot character for the company. I thought (as I have many times) that he had lost his mind. Well, Rave isn’t one of the hottest characters in the company, but with the addition of Prince Nana, a storyline where the “fans” cost him his spot in the company, one of Nana’s robes, and a pretty smug heel persona, Rave has made worlds of improvement. I’m waiting for Matt Stryker to pop up as Nana’s new charge any moment. This was a really good match in that you had some cool offense and some good drama with the other competitors breaking up the falls. Acid really works hard and Whitmer is highly underrated. In many ways, he’s lucky that he ended up in the Prophecy as the fallout of the Field of Honor, which cemented Matt Stryker’s downward spiral to the fans at least right now, passed Whitmer by.

In the match of the night, Low Ki defeated Jay Lethal in 14:25. Low Ki’s new persona is awesome. In many ways, there is a huge parallel between Ki/Sapolsky and Sabu/Paul Heyman. Like Sabu, Ki was a major asset to the indy scene but ROH cemented him and gave him that one home promotion that made him the centerpiece of the company with his zen master martial arts persona. Like Sabu/Heyman, Ki and Sapolsky have butted heads (and I am sure will again down the line), which led to Ki leaving the company. When he returned, it really was the deciding moment in whether the company would surpass some of the negative shadows that had been cast upon it by events earlier this year. His return in many ways cemented that the company would be OK in the eyes of the fans. Better yet, his heel turn completely freshened him up in many different ways. Now, when he beats the living hell out of someone, it’s completely admissible because he’s supposed to be doing that as a thug heel. It’s often said that the best persona for someone in the ring is their personality turned up 10 notches and that’s what we have here with Low Ki and it works to an awesome extent. Jay Lethal, who basically was a walk on, winning a contest held by Jersey All Pro Wrestling and training for free several years back, is a prodigy and as I said earlier, seems to mesh together the best parts of some tremendous workers. His loud and boisterous family adds another dash of realism and intensity to his matches because they seem to (or sure as hell are working everyone into believing) that it’s a life and death situation for Lethal. In some cases, that would turn him heel (see Ricky Steamboat in 1989) but it works here because it’s never shoved down the fan’s throats. The match itself was just brilliant and hard hitting as Ki would beat down Lethal in a humiliating manner, only to be shocked when he would make a comeback. Julius Smokes did a tremendous job in harassing Lethal’s family at ringside as well. Ki tried to menace Lethal’s mom, which led to an awesome spot where Lethal slugged him and he spun around on the floor, only to be slapped by Mama Lethal. The finish of the match saw Lethal prone with his mouth on the ring ropes. Ki, who once demanded honor in the company, stomped on his neck. With Lethal grasping at his chin, Ki sunk in a Dragon Sleeper until Lethal could fight the inevitable no more and tapped. Just brilliant stuff. Ki kicked him in the fact afterwards, which ROH has played up as Lethal having a concussion. Low Ki’s path of rage continues.

Nigel McGuinness defeated Homicide in 20:03. Nigel worked on Homicide's arm the whole match and Homicide did a great job selling. Homicide went nuts after losing, as he does a great job of channeling Terry Funk. This was a bout that ROH’s hardest core fans will love to sit and pick apart while rewinding their DVD.

Generation Next (Alex Shelley & Roderick Strong & Austin Aries & Jack Evans) defeated Ricky Steamboat's team of CM Punk & Ace Steele (new haircut thanks to WWE) & John Walters & Jimmy Jacobs in an elimination match when Aries and Shelley were the sole survivors in 41:11. Shelley pinned Jacobs at 20:57, Ace pinned Jack at 27:15, followed by Walters pinning Ace at 27:50. Punk wound up disqualified for using a chair that Gen Next brought into the ring at 31:50, leaving Walters alone with 3 members of Gen Next. John Walters beat Roderick at about 35:20. Finally Aries pinned Walters to win the match with the 450 splash. This went waaaaaaay too long, and they actually ended up seven minutes beyond what was booked. The first elimination came much later than planned as well. This was one of those matches where the work wasn’t bad but they seemed to take forever to get where they were going. There wasn’t as much of intensity from the crowd as I expected given that this was basically a rematch of an eight man tag that the live crowd went ballistic for when ROH had the outdoor tent show here. I loved the sight of Steamboat leading his team to the ring before the match. Nice old school touch there. Steamboat did a good job working outside the ring as a coach as well. Jacobs’ work has improved as well. Afterwards, Aries and Shelley both issued challenges to ROH champion Samoa Joe while Shelley warned Aries to remember where his loyalties lie.

Stephen DeAngelis introduced Gary Michael Cappetta (who was there) but instead out came Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. As jaded as I can be sometimes about the business, this was one of those moments that makes me remember why I feel in love with wrestling, as the entire crowd gave them a huge standing ovation. Cornette introduced his teams as “The Human highlight reels of professional wrestling, triplicate sons of different mothers, the Midnight Express” followed by Lane doing his old school introduction of Cornette. Each member of the Express including “Silent but Deadly” Bobby Eaton took turns thanking everyone for coming out and supporting the team. Lane actually said that Philadelphia was the first town to begin to appreciate what the heels did in the ring and cheered them, making it harder for them to work as heels. They also paid tribute to Ray Traylor and asked the fans to make noise in his honor. Cornette signed off thanking everyone for honoring them as Prince Nana came out. Nana said that like Cornette, he was a respected manager in ROH. HAHAHAHA. That’s a great line, and the crowd ate it up. He then said that the ceremony was a sham as he found someone to be a member of his Embassy who knew the Express better than anyone and was going to tell the truth about them.

Out comes Ricky Morton to “Old Time Rock N’ Roll” and the place just came apart. I’ve got chills even now days later as I type this. Morton came out with Jimmy Rave and the Outcast Killaz (decent undercard team who are cast as the charges Nana overlooks in favor of Rave for an eventual babyface turn, which knowing ROH, will happen in 18 months as they like to slowly burn the build). Morton said that this was a disgrace to see the fans paying tribute to the MX when they should be paying tribute to the Rock N’ Roll Express. He blamed the fans for giving Jimmy Rave no choice but to turn to Prince Nana. He said that it was disgusting to see the fans honoring the MX as they had only won the World Tag Team championships twice, while the Rock N’ Rolls won them five times. Cornette said that maybe the fans would honor Morton if he had the “Good Goddamn sense to retire in the first place” which set off a brawl with The Midnights hitting the flapjack and the double goozle on the Embassy as Morton headed for the hills faster than you can say Mama Cornette. It ended up with Nana taking a rocket launcher that led to Eaton hitting a top rope kneedrop. The place erupted and the Midnights left to their theme song. One of those moments that I’m looking forward to going back and watching on DVD.

The main event of the show was a great ROH championship match with champion Samoa Joe defeating American Dragon Bryan Danielson in 39:16 with chokeout. Danielson came out with his cool purple Jedi-esque robe. They did a cool twist on Joe’s Ole Ole kicks outside the ring, with Danielson getting the fans to sing the song and then hitting dropkicks in the corner. The last five minutes of this was as good as any wrestling match you could think off the top of your head. Joe is literally the 2004 version of Big Van Vader, looking monstrous and evil and hard hitting, but showing chinks in the armor as time and offense wear him down. He does an awesome job of selling as time goes on as well. Danielson may be the best thing that Shawn Michaels has left for the wrestling world as Michaels and Rudy Boy Gonzales did the wrestling world a favor by training him. His work is just tremendous and in a niche promotion like ROH where fans worship such a style, he’s a superstar. Great match and worth checking out when the DVD is released on www.ROHWrestling.com.

After the match, Joe and Danielson shook hands. CM Punk came to the ring and said that he took Joe farther than anyone else (their 6/12 one hour draw in Dayton, Ohio) and wanted his rematch. Danielson took offense and said he had just taken Joe father than anyone else. It led to the two of them staring down until Generation Next hit the ring and attacked Punk. Joe and Danielson watched the attack. Nice babyfaces! They finally saved Punk. Homicide’s music hit and he hit the ring. This led to a huge brawl with a ton of dives outside the ring and Joe and Ki facing off and beating the crap out of each other. It totally reminded me of some of the cool building brawls that ended ECW’s Arena shows in 1995. They sure set up a ton of stuff for the future here.

Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.

RING OF HONOR IN PHILADELPHIA, PA LIVE REPORT
by Paul Sosnsowski

ROH afternoon show before about 200

1. Rockin Rebel and Greg Tough Enough Matthews beat Scott Cardinal and Jerk Jackson (students?) in 4:11.

2. Ricky Landell and Alex Law (Corino's students) beat Anthony Franco and Evan Starsmore(CM Punk students) in 4:28.

3. The Carnage Crew (Loc and Devito) beat Shane Hagadorn, Jesse Robinson and Matt Turner (students) in 6:52 of a handicap match.

4. CM Punk defeated the individual chosen as "the best ROH student", Davey Andrews in 5:19.

5. Dunn and Marcos beat the Special K team of Deranged and Cloudy (subbing for Dixie) in approx 8:40.

6. In the Pure Title Match, champion John Walters successfully retained over Alex Shelley in 14:31 when Shelley tapped out, after using all his ropebreaks.

This was followed by an amazing Q&A Session with Jim Cornette and all 3 members of the Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, which lasted nearly 2 hours.

EVENING SHOW, before a crowd of approximately 600

1. ROH Tag Team Titles-- The Havana Pitbulls, (members of the Rottweilers, led to the ring by Julius Smokes)--- Ricky Reyes and Rocky Romero successfully defended their titles against the Special K team of Izzy and Angeldust (Azrael) in 11:29

2. In a Four Corner Survival match--- Jimmy Rave defeated Trent Acid, Josh Daniels and BJ Whitmer by pinning Trent Acid with the Styles Clash in 11:38.

3. Low Ki defeated Jay Lethal in 14:25. Low Ki and Julius taunted Lethal's parents who were at ringside during the match, taking pleasure in beating and humiliating him in front of his family. Low Ki also called out Samoa Joe, who has assumed the role of Lethal's mentor, but Joe did not respond.

4. In the upset of the night, Nigel McGuinness defeated Homicide in 20:03. Nigel worked on Homicide's arm the whole match. This match may have been to determine a top contender to the Pure Title, but I'm not positive about that.

33:00 Intermission

5. Generation Next (Alex Shelley, Roderick Strong, Austin Aries and Jack Evans) defeated Ricky Steamboat's team of CM Punk, Ace Steele, John Walters and Jimmy Jacobs in an elimination match when Aries and Shelley were the sole survivors in 41:11. Shelley pinned Jacobs at 20:57, Ace pinned Jack at 27:15, followed by Walters pinning Ace at 27:50. Punk wound up disqualified for using a chair that Gen Next brought into the ring at approx 31:50, leaving Walters alone with 3 members of Gen Next. John Walters beat Roderick at about 35:20. Finally Aries pinned Walters to win the match with the 450 splash.

As the ring announcer prepared to introduce the main event, JIM CORNETTE and the MIDNIGHT EXPRESS come out to the ring. They talk a bit about their history as a team, spending time in Philly in the past, the first town to cheer on the heels for their work in the ring. All four spoke a bit, including some personal tributes to Big Bossman, Ray Traylor (Big Bubba Rogers). The crowd started a "BUBBA" chant in salute. Then Prince Nana came to the ring with the Embassy (Jimmy Rave and the Outcast Killaz). Nana then brought out a real member of an Express team--- RICKY MORTON. Morton as a heel, talked about how the Rock N Roll Express should have been brought in and honored instead. Then Nana and the Embassy attacked the Midnights, but were soundly defeated and run off, hitting all the classic Midnight moves, and Nana getting a helluva beating with a certain tennis racket.

6. In the main event, and the BEST WORLD TITLE MATCH IN RING OF HONOR HISTORY--- SAMOA JOE successfully retained his title, now entering his 19th MONTH as CHAMPION--- over AMERICAN DRAGON BRYAN DANIELSON in 39:16 via chokeout submission. I have been in attendance for many great matches in ROH history but I have not been this emotionally invested in a match since London-Dragon 4/12/03 the 2/3 falls match. The crowd heat was insane, rooting with all their hearts for both men. Simply a fantastic match, I would rate it at 4 1/2 ****. This was Dragon's first ever title match in the existence of Ring of Honor, and he was also the last man to beat Joe on 2/8/03, before Joe won the championship.

You can order ROH Midnight Express Reunion at ROHWrestling.com.


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