Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Guest Review: Ring of Honor All-Star Extravaganza

The Young Bucks were part of an insane main event for the latest ROH PPV
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
@LUTang_Secret is a twitter maven who dispenses with wisdom about graps and other things and is here to dispense about the latest Ring of Honor pay-per-view, All-Star Extravaganza.

All Star Extravaganza was a Ring Of Honor pay-per-view event with some of the most buzz around it since the Jay Lethal/Jay Briscoe Title Unification match. And because I am a sucker for any Friday PPV, I bought it, knowing that I was in for a cold dip into a product that I have only barely kept in my orbit.

Despite the purchase at 5:30 PM, the first match wasn’t until 6 PM; instead, I was treated to the syncopated assault that is Kevin Kelly. Kevin Kelly is the verbal equivalent of a bad basement show funk band. Every single member is playing off-beat in order to be heard better by their friends.

However, I should not forget to mention that we are treated to one of the feature promos of this year by the "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels. Sitting in a dark room, a fuzzy unfocused halo centered only half on him, and entirely on the ROH Tag Team Title draped across the chair beside him, Daniels delivers a promo that plays on two levels. On the first level, the title is a final patch of dry land that Daniels struggles to save from the erosion of time. On the second, the reality of wrestling is that the only person that is “safe”, as a worker, from an industry that sees you not as an individual, is to hold something that makes you too important to be cantered off to the glue factory.

This was no curse-filled preening bloviation where an over-pushed ethnic draw lies into a microphone to an adoring crowd that wants to believe their lies, because it represents a bravado’s disregard to facts and common decency. This was a man presenting a match as a window to the moral truth of a larger issue; a use of reality and falsehood that pro wrestling has forever traded in since the Irish whip and the five-count rope break.

And of course, there would be blood.

Bobby Fish © vs. Donovan Dijak for the Television Title.

Strangely, this match opened the PPV, which is uncommon for a regular ROH card. There have been rumors that there has been a creative change in the company since I last paid attention, and certainly, this along with the new placement of the commentary desk high in the rafters are new features for the company.

Donovan Dijak came out to cheers, looking like a hybrid of Ivan Drago and Macklemore. Hopefully, he injects himself with fewer needles than either. Bobby Fish was the traveling champion against the local hero. Puckishly, he climbed to the second rope in order to shake hands with the looming Dijak without having to look up.

Early, Bobby Fish loudly projected a smarmy joke to the back rows, something that in old ROH wouldn’t have been picked up easily by the mics. In the new ROH, it came across as a high school drama instructor. The new mics in ROH are very interesting, seeing as the last joke I heard about the company was that you would often see an apathetic crowd lead themselves into barricade-rattling chants without lifting a finger or opening a mouth. I assume it is much harder to add in second-hand audio if you mic the original crowd.

The match was fine. Dijak moved from spot to spot well enough, buoyed by a Boston-area crowd excited to see an obvious title change. Fish did his part by chopping down the Mr. Six-Seven tree and taking advantage of a sell into a Rear Naked Choke.

Bobby Fish is a clinician and his MMA-inspired work does well with a looming plodder like Dijak. Dijak is much improved and motivated as of late. I give this the D+. You’ll find better matches but there are worse openers in a card that features Luchadors and a ladder spotfest.

The Cabinet (Rhett Titus and Kenny King) vs. The Pretty Boy Killers (Keith Lee and Shane Taylor) vs. War Machine (Raymond Rowe and "War Beard" Hanson) vs. Dalton Castle and Colt Cabana, Four Corner, Tag Anyone Match for Number One Tag Team Title Contendership

Look, there is no worse times to be a wrestling fan than during election season. A wrestling company cannot help but use something on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Typically, this is done badly, because we already are seeing wonkish policy takes drawn down to the lowest common denominator by the political machine, and that lump of clay is folded into a more simplistic drivel by an industry that thinks of a Civic Center as a synonym for Bingo Hall.

The Cabinet, openly calling out Colin Kaepernick’s act of political defiance within a near trillion-dollar sports industry, presented their kneeling as protected by a letter from... Okay, look, Caprice Coleman isn’t very good at being anything but obviously fake. Did the letter sanctifying the kneeling protest come from the Senate or the House? If you’re going to lie, pick one and stick to it. Either way, at least Steve Corino was used as the heel commentator to verify, off-camera, of course, that the letter was real. The only thing more insulting would be if the act of the Cabinet was presented as fake to everyone. Already, the crowd is patiently checking their phones at them.

But hey, let us instead talk about “Limitless” Keith Lee. He is a star. At over six feet and 300 pounds, his charisma, strength, and lightness of foot will take him places, and his humility as both a worker and an individual shines. A former Central Texas Indie star, he is proof that the indies will never die as long as the big leagues have big-money spots to offer.

On the other side of “person who is a star”, Dalton Castle plays everything well. Colt Cabana is a nice, mawkish wrestler who works better as a set-up to a funnier person. Dalton and Cabana immediately play to the obvious flaw of the four-corner tag rules by getting tagged against each-other to “lose” and/or “win”, and immediately after the joke of a match is disregarded into an all-out scrum.

In the scrum, the lighter Dalton Castle suplexes Keith Lee with no struggle. The crowd roars with approval. Immediately, Kenny King pulls into the ring to hit his own move on Castle. No one gives a fuck about Kenny King in 2016.

The winners of the match were the thrown-together team of Cabana and Castle, giving one of the most over acts something to do that isn’t in the title scene, and leaving the hot feud of War Machine and Pretty Boy Killers to occupy their own universe.

I’d give this match a D-. You’ll see better matches than a strung-together collection of nice spots. Remember where you were when you heard the name Keith Lee. (Ed. Note: Fans of TWB should at least recognize Lee's name from Inspire Pro Wrestling reviews. We were ahead of the curve! - TH)

Kamaitachi vs. Dragon Lee

Good lord, this crowd didn’t deserve what they got. Quiet for most of the match, Kamaitachi and Dragon Lee transported their 2015 Feud of the Year into a New England farmhouse and pulled everything into it. Sloppy at spots, overall struggling to get a reaction, Dragon Lee, without speaking a lick of English, played the crowd like it was a Tl├íhuac alleyway show. He was going to impress them and demand their cheers in response if they wanted to see more. There are few better at walking and working like the audience owes them applause than top-bill luchadores. Not even lucha-inflected Puro stars like Kamaitachi can own a crowd by the end of a match.

There have been better matches between these two, with better flow and more on the line emotionally for the audience (saving the infamous Kamaitachi Fan, a Japanese expat Spanish-speaker living in Mexico who was in attendance both here and during Battle of Los Angeles. She called it a “hot match.”) Even so, they did moves and with a style that ROH simply isn’t capable of delivering. In the Anglosphere, we’re setting up dives with the sacred reverence of a renaissance master’s Madonna that are treated like bootleg Madonna albums in Mexico.

Ultimately, it was a showcase to the burgeoning CMLL-ROH relationship, something that can prove to be just as fruitful to wrestling in 2016 and beyond as any AAA stars being featured on El Rey Network. Dragon Lee won, as is usual and expected in this feud, to set up a match later for the Television Title against Bobby Fish the next day. I give this a B-; you’re going to find better matches between the two but move-for-move nothing else on this show could top it before the main event.

Kyle O’Reilly vs. Hangman Page

Bullet Club-inflected Adam Page is certainly grown up compared to a year ago. Kyle O’Reilly is merely coasting between all-world matches here. Both guys consider Japan their money-maker and it shows. They couldn’t compare to the previous match, so they didn’t. This was a story-building and credibility-building match for both men. Page continues going toe-to-toe with future and past champions, and Kylo continues being pushed as the best technical grappler and most sympathetic kitten-faced hero in the company. My grade is a D+ if only to see the closing stretch where a honest-to-gosh armbar submission gets worked. If Kylo can require others to work up to his perfectionist level before being allowed to face him, he’ll make the whole company better.

After the match, Hangman Page Pillmanized Kylo! Bobby Fish came out to interrupt! What would happen next? We’ll see later, on TV, I guess!

Silas Young did an interview. He’s been drifting around since losing his stride while the tag division has flourished. He wants a title shot. That’s nice.

ACH, KUSHIDA, and Jay White vs. Toru Yano and the Briscoe Bros., Opening Match of the ROH Trios Championship Tournament

KUSHIDA, fresh off losing his Jr title, came over to replace Lio Rush. ACH, the Lio Rush of three years ago, was another “Surprisingly Motivated Recently” star, while KUSHIDA is content with NJ-Coasting. Toru Yano is suited to pop up when necessary, and his play with the ref and the turnbuckle gave the match a Revival-esque rise and fall, while The Briscoe Brothers did their best to confuse me once again by swapping pants and going shorn up top. Jay Briscoe should go through a mysterious superego-id conflict a la Pentagon Dark to be renamed Briscoe Grey. Jay White was fine but his haircut is horrible, and he did little other than pretend to be hit with a bungled dive/move off the apron.

Surprisingly, the thrown-together team (inasmuch as any team in the trios tournament can be said to be not thrown together) won the match to advance after an always-hilarious KUSHIDA fakeout senton bomb over the post. C- because you’ll see better ~two star matches but ACH going ham is worth a watch.

Tetsuya Naito vs. Jay Lethal

Tetsuya Naito is a creature all his own. He has all the obsession with promotion-driven novelties as the infamous CM Punk pipebomb, but plays as an iconoclast rather than a self-defeating revolutionary. Naito wins by taking you to his Ingobernable base level, rather than by appealing to an unreachable ideal to hope that everyone else follows him. Newly-bald Jay Lethal walks like a man with something to prove of late, despite his endless (and defining) title-reign. He is the good guy without his Book of Truth to guide him, and he rises, rather than falls, to the occasion.

The match was hot and smartly worked, with the far-away commentary a feature as the “matchmaker” frustratedly pleaded for an end to EVILs interference to be ended. Naito took basement dropkicks and nearly got spiked to his head at one point, worryingly taking the near full ten count and delay to get back into the swing of things. Destino or no, the IWGP Intercontinental Champion could not put Lethal away, and instead Lethal pinned Naito.

What does this mean for the future? No one knows, but Japan typically plays up wins and losses as future booking decisions, meaning that one could expect Naito and Lethal to face each other in Tokyo, and maybe even relatively soon? My Grade: B-

Adam Cole © vs. Michael Elgin for the ROH World Heavyweight Championship

Both men are wasted here, physically for Adam Cole, who is still rail-thin after an apparent bout of pneumonia, and emotionally for Michael Elgin, still carrying the ghosts of an ROH run more frustrating than the wrench-wielding Cedric Alexander. Anyone who cheered for “paper-thin-boxing robe” #BigMike during the G1 Climax can attest to how NJPW has changed this man, especially with his own flashy "puro coat" that makes him look like a star. Confidence does things to a man. Adam Cole came out as “Faux Rock N Rolla” Fergal Devitt. BAYBAY. I wasn’t born yesterday.

Elgin got a shine before the Cole went to the leg that Naito used to win the Intercontinental Belt from him, promotion-to-promotion storytelling for a relationship that saw an awkward triple threat promised for the top title when Lethal fought against Satoshi Kojima in Japan. Perhaps there was a change at the top, and good matches were the fruit of that labor.

Cole won with a flurry after Elgin’s finishing sequence was interrupted. Humorously, Cole’s look of shock is being used on twitter, and in a year it’ll be a fine before and after image. I give this a solid D; the crowd wasn’t into it but the wrestling was fine. Neither man looked improved after the match, but on a story-level the match contributed to a degree. One star crowd, two star work, three star booking.

Ladder War 6: Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs. Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley) vs The Addiciton (Frankie Kazarian and Christopher Daniels)

I’m not going to tell you this was better than any other ladder match. Christopher Daniels bled his heart out, and the Young Bucks delivered madness. Chris Sabin and (dark haired) Alex Shelly contributed but ultimately, words fail to explain the spectacle of men decided when and where they will risk their health for a pop.

I will instead leave you images that I remember:
  • The ROH barricade set up as if it were a table, eventually Daniels being thrown to it, sliding off and down to the floor after a sickening clank.
  • A three-ladder spot with all teams punching away after a springboard leap from the ropes, deftly secured by the two men standing beside the middle ladder while they worked punches.
  • Daniels’s worried feet before being busted open by a ladder.
  • Kazarian, doubting himself after taking a tailbone-first table bump directly to the floor.
  • Daniels, doing a Best Moonsault Ever, but first wiping off his mask of blood.
  • Daniels threatening to kill Young Buck Bald with the Angels Wings from the top rung- completely fucking impossible.
  • Young Buck Bald being thrown from a ladder being lifted from the two other tag teams.
  • Christopher Daniels, being put into an Iron Maiden of Ladder and tortured by the MCMG.
  • Christopher Daniels holding the ladder with his hand after being murdered to secure it for the next move.
  • The referee, telling the Young Bucks to finish the match.
I’m not going to tell you to watch this if you want sensible wrestling. Spotty, brutal, bloody, it is a solid B if only to encourage you to see Chrisopher Daniels having one the matches of his life.

Who is booking ROH now? ROH acts like a company that pays attention to its own history and its future. The title scene is due for a change-over, and nothing is certain in the new, body-hungry WWE. However, stars abound to be found at the regional level (see Lee, Keith and Castle, Dalton) and, hilariously enough, the promise of more million-dollar jobs only going to people outside of the Performance Center makes more wrestlers want to prove themselves a draw outside the company a la the former CJ Parker.

ROH is in a better spot than it was before Jay Lethal won the title. Feuds build and mingle throughout the show, and there is a sense that everything exists in a larger world rather than each match living in its own universe. ROH is a company that puts on good top-to-bottom shows again. ROH is a place where stars deliver in the ring rather than on the poster. BJ Whitmer never graced the screen.