Friday, May 15, 2015

The King of Sport Indeed: ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds Night 2 Review

The match of the night ended with a show of respect
Photo Credit: @BeeOhBeeRT_R
In the TH Style. Cop this show as soon as Ring of Honor gets around to releasing it on DVD/VOD.

  • Veda Scott opened the show demanding a title shot for her client Moose.
  • Jay Diesel defeated the Romantic Touch with a Death Valley driver.
  • Thanks to some help from his young boy Colby Corino, Adam Page was able to defeat Takaaki Watanabe with the Beach Break.
  • Michael Elgin took down KUSHIDA with his power bomb combo.
  • Tetsuya Naito battled Kyle O'Reilly in one of the funner matches of the night, taking the win with a Phoenix splash.
  • In a four way match that also featured Mark Briscoe and Jay Lethal, Shinksuke Nakamura took home the victory with the Boma Ye on Jushin "Thunder" Liger.
  • Roderick Strong got busted open hardway, and he could not overcome Hiroshi Tanahashi, who won with the High Fly Flow frogsplash.
  • Frankie Kazarian interrupted a Rainmaker attempt by Kazuchika Okada on Christopher Daniels, and then the ROH Tag Champions hit a flipping DDT combo on Gedo to get the victory.
  • Jay Briscoe successfully defended the ROH World Championship against Bobby Fish with a Death Valley driver on the apron and a second Jay Driller.
  • After the match, Moose came out, confronted, and attacked Briscoe.
  • In the main event, the Kingdom used mass confusion to get the opportunity for Michael Bennett to hit Matt Jackson with a belt shot, allowing Adam Cole to get the win.

General Observations:
  • I got excited when Veda Scott came out during the preliminary/dark match between Jay Diesel and The Romantic Touch because I thought she was heralding Moose, who was scheduled to appear. Sadly, his arrival was only for a post-match confrontation later on in the show. Boo.
  • The Touch seemed like a good idea for a character, but the execution came off so half-baked. For example, he played air guitar on his long fake rose, and I could feel the struggle permeating the building. But his gyrating and dancing during the match were decent. But I could see why he's relegated to the dark match.
  • On paper, the Adam Page/Takaaki Watanabe match didn't seem like it had a lot of heat behind it. A great way to rectify that and inject some sass into the affair would be to spit in the other guy's face during the Code of Honor, which is what Page done did.
  • I'm used to Page being the sort of plucky, fun redneck stereotype, and this was my first exposure to him as a member of the Decade. He played off the bitter asshole character well though, especially through his interactions with the group's "young boy," Colby Corino.
  • Corino's interference was all over the match, and it set up one of my least favorite tropes in wrestling, a clearly physically outmatched second on the outside of the ring being set up to be pretty much bullied by the match's babyface. Yeah, Corino "had it coming" taking the German suplex on the outside and then getting murked at the end by Watanabe, but the dude is clearly not on the same plane as a formed wrestling character as even Diesel and Touch were in the dark match. It would've worked better with BJ Whitmer or another Decade member taking the abuse.
  • Watanabe's reflexes were top notch here, as he had to react quickly every time Page came down on him with his relentless assault. Overall, I'd say the two had great chemistry.
  • It was around this time I noticed some dude vaping in the third row in front of me at the show. The worst thing was security didn't say a goddamn thing to him until right before the main event. I don't care that it's water vapor and not smoke. I don't want you essentially spitting on me in atomized format while I'm trying to enjoy a wrestling show just because you can't get your fucking nicotine fix. Take it outside.
  • If I expected anyone to muck with the Code of  Honor in the KUSHIDA/Michael Elgin match, I figured it'd be the silly Canadian dude, but it was KUSHIDA who flipped Elgin off. The bird would be revisited a bunch of times during the match, and the healthy display of disrespect may have been my favorite thing during the match.
  • KUSHIDA busted out a cartwheel dropkick near the beginning of the match that had me all heart-eyes. The dexterity involved had to have been incredible. Even better, he went all old school Southern babyface moments later winding up the arm before throwing the haymaker. Dude has such electric offense.
  • Elgin impressed me tons for three-quarters of the match. He works so much better in singles matches as a grumpy rudo HOSS than as the "Davey Richards with 50 extra pounds" he masqueraded as pre-visa expiration. His best display of "don't give a fuck" bully might came when KUSHIDA tried to cross-armbreaker him and he just lifted him up into a behemoth Bob Backlund short-arm scissor lift.
  • KUSHIDA did a senton atomico from the top rope to the floor, and visuals like those will never cease to be utterly amazing.
  • The wheels fell completely off the match around the time Elgin first attempted to finish KUSHIDA with the buckle bomb/spiral bomb combo. The in-tuned ROH crowd may disagree with me, but all those false finishes and strike trades in the last few minutes or so just felt so hollow. If Elgin was going to win, he should have finished KUSHIDA off there, maybe with a little more urgency or something with finality to set it up.
  • Kyle O'Reilly always plays better when he's more whimsically sleazy than when he has to play the straight man. He started hulking up when the crowd chanted his name and shrinking when they switched to lauding Tetsuya Naito. That's the Kyle O'Reilly I want to see all the time.
  • Naito was surprisingly adept at playing the crowd, especially with his ridiculous facial expressions. Between the crowd stuff and his airtight grappling, he made himself a new fan on Wednesday.
  • Naito's best offering in the match was his adoption of some tasty Southern-style brawling at different points, which suited him especially well since he looks like a Japanese lovechild of Ricky Morton, both facially and with his hair metal mullet.
  • O'Reilly and Naito started throwing bombs at each other at the end, but unlike the Elgin/KUSHIDA match, the sequences felt earned and it was built more on rope breaks and counters rather than blatant false finishes. Plus, Naito's Phoenix splash is darn pretty.
  • Mark Briscoe entering the arena and immediately finding a steel support beam to climb was my spirit animal, and it was the second best use of the Arena's beams after Fire Ant climbing it to splash the BDK at King of Trios '10. Damn you, Derek Sabato. DAMN YOU.
  • Shinsuke Nakamura did not disappoint from his entrance all the way up to his initial feeling out process in the match. He is such a peacock, man. He didn't need to throw a single strike or do any kind of moves to get the crowd primed, but for the rest of the match, his involvement seemed muted, lackadaisical even. He didn't need to earn the crowd's love, and I'm not sure if he wasn't feeling it or if the layout of the match intentionally nerfed him to attempt to get Jay Lethal over, but it was the most baffling thing I'd ever seen from a company in ROH that does baffling things on the reg.
  • It's not even that Lethal was bad in his role, but he just wasn't the right foil for Nakamura or Briscoe. Maybe if the two companies had split the match into Briscoe/Nakamura and Lethal/Jushin Liger, those parts might have surpassed the whole that this match ultimately was.
  • In fact, the only guy who really came off like a star here was Briscoe. Meh.
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi resorting to air guitaring every time he had a free moment might have felt dorky against any other opponent, but against dry-as-shit Roderick Strong, it was amusing.
  • Strong got busted open early on in the match, and it looked hardway, since referee Tiger Hattori checked on him (without putting on gloves which is both kinda dumb and SUPER HARDCORE) and since he and Tanahashi continued to work the match as if it was the feeling-out phase of a Jerry Flynn vs. Dave Taylor WCW Saturday Night match. I understand wanting to adhere to a formula, but Christ, sometimes, you just have to improvise to make the blood mean something more than a health hazard or a nuisance.
  • The match got really good towards the middle, but then it went completely off the rails and sloppy by the end. It really just had the weirdest vibe of any match I've seen in the last few years, and not in a good way.
  • Hiroyuki "Red Shoes" Unno, one of the New Japan refs who came over for the visit, was so over that he got streamers. Before the Addiction/CHAOS tag match, he picked up one of the streamers that hadn't been completely unfurled yet and placed it in his breast pocket. I had a good giggle at that moment.
  • The Addiction decided they wanted to be announced as the ROH World Tag Team Champions of the World. Have I mentioned how glad I am they're in ROH to give the damn place some color? On the other side of the coin, since the Arena didn't really have the capabilities to have dollars drop from the ceiling, so fans around the ring made it rain for Kazuchika Okada as he entered. Honestly, it was an improvement.
  • A large "FUCK TNA" chant erupted before the match, seeing as three of the four competitors worked for and were fucked by the dying wrestling company at some point in their careers. Frankie Kazarian reacted with wide-eyed, horrified, prudish shock, while Christopher Daniels chided the crowd.
  • My favorite performer in the match may have been Gedo, however, with his gratuitous eye poke-based offense. That old man was amazing in his dickery.
  • I thought Okada was great here, but the smaller ring and the shorter opponents seemed to give him fits with owning his lankiness. He's a tall guy who's still on the skinny side, so it was noticeable seeing him bend and flex awkwardly at points.
  • However, he owned the hot tag, and his dropkick that sent Daniels off the top to the floor was jaw-dropping.
  • Jay Briscoe and Bobby Fish worked a tight yet gutty brawl in the first part of their match, which was surprising to see from Fish, who normally either works super mega heel or plays the finesse game. He really showed an extra dimension of versatility.
  • Briscoe got a lot of heel heat from the crowd, and to his credit, he took over as the rudo in the match and really amped up the stiffness and brutality. It was a smart move.
  • The gap in visual brutality between the normal application and the avalanche variant seems to be greatest in the Dragon screw leg whip. Fish did one to Briscoe off the top, and it looked like it hurt more than anything else in the match outside of the apron Death Valley driver Briscoe used to help finish Fish off.
  • After the match, Moose came out and attacked Briscoe to presumably set up a future title match. It would have played a lot better if Briscoe hadn't told the fans to suck it after recovering from the beating or if he had that reaction promo BEFORE Moose came out. It undercut Moose.
  • The Kingdom reunited in the main event officially, even though Adam Cole returned the night before. All four members had a group hug, and it was almost touching until you realized that they were one heel faction that may have only been babyfaced because of their opponents.
  • The Bullet Club's entrance them had a distorted voice saying "Bullet Club for life" as a preface, which is totally normal for a group that isn't trying to bite off the nWo. OR are they? I forget.
  • I'm pretty sure the Young Bucks threw more "SUCK IT" taunts in the first five minutes of the match than Degeneration-X did in all of 1997, but I could be wrong.
  • I didn't expect the cross-promotional synergy (as former members of Mount Rushmore in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla) to play into the match between Adam Cole and the Bucks, but it added a nice element for Cole to use against the Bullet Club team.
  • The Kingdom as a whole, but Mike Bennett especially, got really good at being an agitating group. It just goes to show that Jim Cornette's vision for anything, especially a dude who seemed to have this awesome streak in him, is probably bullshit.
  • Matt Jackson bumped on the Panama City Destroyer like he was a pogo stick thrown into the ground at high velocity, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.
  • Okay, I had the initial reaction that Maria Kanellis taking the triple superkick at the end was gross because of unresolved issues towards women that pervade ROH, but to be completely fair, she is a wrestler who has taken great pride to improve herself and immerse herself into being an active competitor. And given that Corino took the same sort of fall spot earlier on in the night, if the Kingdom were managed by him or by, say, Truth Martini, the reaction would have been similar. If women are to be taken seriously in wrestling as equals, then things like should happen. But ROH isn't a company that operates in a vacuum, and neither is NJPW. The fact that Kanellis has been a competitor in both companies' solitary singles match featuring two women speaks more loudly than the actual spot or the fans' reaction to it. Additionally, Kanellis is a wrestler, so maybe she could have, I don't know, tried to do more than be a human shield? Let her throw a goddamn punch at least.

Match of the Night: Jay Briscoe (c) vs. Bobby Fish, ROH World Heavyweight Championship Match: - On a night where the stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling were set to take the stage, the best match on the show was between two Ring of Honor stalwarts who had a reason to want to beat the shit out of each other. Even though one might tend to think of Fish as a dude whose kicks are more graceful than gutty, he certainly delved down to Briscoe's grimy bar fight level and the results were magnificent. It was the kind of brawl that would have fit in perfectly at the Mid-South Coliseum, and yet it retained a modern flair, especially with the huge apron spots and teases that helped elevate the gravitas and brutality of a contest that deserved main event billing.

But the best part of the match was definitely following up on the story going in. While reDRagon has straddled lines between face and heel alignments, Fish was perhaps more over with the crowd than Briscoe was, and the story going in was that Fish was the last guy to pin the current World Champion in nearly two years. Fish's big offensive flourishes, especially towards the end, were magnified by both, and he attacked with confidence and stiffness requisite for a guy in the process of convincing an audience that yes, he could be the next World Champion. He went through a sequence close to the end where he dragon screwed Briscoe off the top, went right into a Falcon Arrow, and then locked in a kneebar after Briscoe kicked out of the pin attempt where he sold me on winning the match, and that's the kind of thing that a great challenger, no matter where he is on the card, needs to do.

But Briscoe came roaring back with authority and ended the match with the kind of authority that your dominant World Champion should have without totally killing Fish's performance before it. It was refreshing to see the first Jay Driller kickout not lead into a bunch of shenanigans that extended the match for five more minutes (looking at you, Elgin), and that it saw Briscoe hit the apron Death Valley driver and the second Driller with emphasis to get the win. It's not just about the journey to get to the finish, or how many times you can fake the crowd out with kickouts and counters, but where you take the match to its end. Sure, Fish and Briscoe were able to work in a superior counter game all through the match without losing the rough edges, but all that may not have meant anything without the definitive finish. All in all, it was a tremendous main event, especially since it was one of the only matches on the show that didn't already feature a visiting NJPW regular.

Overall Thoughts: While I thought some of the booking decisions were a bit weird, the second night of War of the Worlds was a fantastic display not only of the visiting New Japan wrestlers, but of the Ring of Honor guys against whom they were placed as foils. But while several ROH superstars got a chance to have their time in the sun, the show hammered home that NJPW has a strong claim to its self-given King of Sport nickname. The wrestlers to whom I was looking forward all had at least good performances, and the ones who didn't give me the butterflies I had for the other ones vastly surpassed their expectations and then some. I went into the show unsure about guys like Tetsuya Naito and Gedo and came out of it as huge fans of both.

That being said, the show wasn't without its flaws. Sure, I'm not sure anyone could have done anything about the end of the Michael Elgin/KUSHIDA match, but at the same time, that was very much a product of design and probably seen as a positive by not only fans but by reps from both ROH and NJPW. I'll chalk that up to a matter of taste that may never be resolved. But I don't understand laying out a match featuring Shinsuke Nakamura where his presence was absolutely muted. That match was basically a showcase for Jay Lethal, who did his part well, but it totally nerfed the presence of the most charismatic wrestler on the planet. Additionally, Nakamura himself didn't even seem too enthused to be in that contest. His entrance was still entertaining, and he had moments in the match, but his involvement was definitely the most disappointing thing about the show.

Additionally, the Hiroshi Tanahashi/Roderick Strong match felt like it was laid out by an agent high on mescaline the way the beats fell and the action rose and ebbed. Granted, some of that could have been from the clearly hardway blood from Strong, but you would think they would have improvised around the blood instead of working it like it was the first portion of a marquee but completely sterilized match one might find on Superstars in the mid-'90s. But then for a stretch in the middle, the contest felt like it could have been the best match on the show before completely going off the rails at the end. I wouldn't call it bad per se, but it certainly was one of the most perplexing matches to watch ever.

But still, even with those missteps, the show was properly kicked off with a hot opener featuring guys who had a lot to prove, and it drove on until the end when it ended with three outstanding matches that all had their own personalities and yet kept the crowd involved with equal efficacy. The main event featured two groups that were hard to root for (for kayfabe reasons, obviously), and yet the performances were so soulful and animated to go along with the breakneck action that I understood why it was chosen to close the show instead of the World Title match. If you wanted bang for your buck from two of the finest wrestling companies in the world at presenting a singular live experience, then you had to be at The ECW Arena on Wednesday. Luckily, for those who weren't able to be there, the DVD or VOD experience should still present some kind of facsimile of said atmosphere. This show is a must-watch for anyone who loves great wrestling.