Best In The World 2021, which took place on July 11th, was set to be a big deal for ROH. Not only was it the first show since the relaunch last year to have fans in attendance, but it would also sport a massive title change as RUSH found himself dethroned as the ROH World Heavyweight Champion. The bigger surprise was that the company put the gold on Bandito instead. It was definitely not something I saw coming, but is it a chess move in a much longer game? It remains to be seen.
Was Best In The World a success though? Read on and find out…
The Big Match: Bandito Wins The Big One—But How Long Will He Keep It?
The fact of Bandito being the main event challenger at Best In The World and the way the match was built confirmed a bigger issue currently in ROH. While there is plenty, and I do mean plenty, of great talent in the company, there are not many wrestlers I would call out as having legitimate main event gravitas. That’s problematic in that, theoretically, it’s those top-line matches that are going to draw the people and money in. While I can see Jonathan Gresham being the figurehead of ROH in the future, something he is going to absolutely excel at, who else is worthy of holding the gold now or in the near future? Jay Lethal has already had his run. Mike Bennett, with more time, could get there, certainly. Ditto Chris Dickinson. Dragon Lee, maybe. But really, right now, there’s only Brody King that I could realistically see as the one to defeat RUSH and be the figurehead at the top of ROH.
This brings us to Bandito. There’s no doubting Bandito’s talent, but he doesn’t have that feel of a main eventer. It doesn’t help that ROH really didn’t do much to make Bandito seem like a legit main eventer either. He won his opportunity to challenge for the title two weeks or so before Best In The World and that was seen as a surprise. Since then, there had been no confrontation between the two and nothing to really amp you up or make you care about the match. That was to the match’s detriment and the eventual Bandito title victory. It feels unearned, ultimately. We haven’t been given reason to care about Bandito as a World Champion.
The match itself wasn’t bad but it followed the typical RUSH formula; he cracked Bandito with a dropkick ambush on the bell and took Bandito to the outside where he beat the challenger all around the ringside area before Bandito made a couple of comebacks, only for RUSH to keep cutting him off. Bandito did have one incredible moment, cracking the Champ with a big dive that knocked both men off the apron and through two tables. A moonsault fallaway slam from the top turnbuckle and a 21-Plex kept the pressure on the champ, so the champ retaliated by trying to pull Bandito’s mask off. In an anti-climatic finish, as the ref told RUSH off, Bandito rolled the champ up to get the 1-2-3!
Not the most confident way of putting over your new champ.
Having said this, I’m wondering if Bandito is set to only have a short reign and will drop the title back to RUSH down the line. The reason for this thought? Well, LFI beat down Bandito after and didn’t let him celebrate, which suggests this will lead to at least another match between the pair. Not only that, but Dragon Lee chose not to join in, looking uncomfortable with the beat down. Is this the start of teasing dissension between RUSH and Dragon Lee and could we see Lee dethrone RUSH if the big man regains the gold?
Time will tell..
The Big Segment: Chelsea Green Reveals She Has Honor
Before the main event, Maria Kenellis-Bennett came out to reveal the brackets for the upcoming ROH Women’s Championship tournament. But Vita has been removed from the bracket due to breaking the rules, apparently. But Maria had the perfect person to fill that spot; someone who isn’t cleared to wrestle yet but has a lot to say.
On the big screen, a strange video aired of a bridal march before switching to black goo running down over the scene and the words ‘Hot Mess’ appearing on the screen. Now this was an interesting reveal—Chelsea Green is definitely a name to add to your division!
Opening with a pointed “so this is what freedom looks like,” Chelsea went on to complain how she had spent the last two and a half years being deemed “unworthy” and being denied opportunities. So this time she is coming for every single thing she was told she couldn’t have, and she’s going to prove to everyone that she is enough.
Ok, I’m not the biggest fan of WWE’s business practices and talent relations. But it is getting a little dull from a spectating point of view to keep having ex-WWE wrestlers debut and complain about how they were held back. In some cases, I’m sure they were held back, absolutely, but if you were so fed up with it, why use that as your character? Don’t just tell me you were used badly. Show me why you were used badly by being everything you can be now. As they say, living well is the best revenge.
Still, it’s definitely a good, solid addition to ROH’s Women’s Division and shows ROH are committed to making it more than a token gesture, considering their recent history with women’s wrestling. Well played.
- The Briscoes beat Brian Johnson & PJ Black in a fun brawl after Mark hit Black with the Froggy Bow.
- EC3 defeated Flip Gordon in a mediocre match up that was strangely heatless after locking in the Perspective choke. Flip refused to shake hands afterwards, slapping EC3 twice across the face before spitting on him.
- ROH Six-Man Tag Champions Shane Taylor Promotions beat Dalton Castle, Dak Draper and Eli Isom in a decent match after Taylor dropped Draped with the Welcome To The Land. Dalton Castle was simultaneously the best and worst thing about this match, was an interesting trick if you can pull it off.
- Josh Woods beat Silas Young in a really good, hard-hitting Last Man Standing match after Woods German suplexed Young from the apron through a table in the floor.
- Brody King destroyed Jay Lethal in a big-bumping affair which was good, but perhaps didn’t live up to expectations. It was certainly a surprise to see Lethal battered so dominantly.
- ROH Pure Champion Jonathan Gresham beat Mike Bennett by tap out in a great match that saw Bennett finally earn Gresham’s respect by the end.
- Dragon Lee beat ROH TV Champion Tony Deppen cleanly in a wild, exciting match to claim the title after hitting him with the Incinerator running knee. Chris Dickinson and Homicide came out afterwards to make sure Deppen wasn’t attacked. Which in turn brought out The Foundation…
- Chris Dickinson and Homicide beat ROH Tag Champions The Foundation (Jonathan Gresham & Rhett Titus) in a decent but patchy Fight Without Honor when Homicide dropped the exhausted Gresham with the Cop Killa. This has, though, made me want to see a Pure match between Gresham and Dickinson more than ever.
- Bandito pinned RUSH in a mediocre main event to lift the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. LFI destroyed Bandito, save for Dragon Lee, who seemed uncomfortable with the whole situation.
Best In The World 2021 was a pretty fair summation of the situation ROH finds itself in at the present. While not a bad show by any stretch of the imagination, it also didn’t fully live up to to the true range of talent that it had on offer. While a lot of excitement upon ROH’s return came thanks to the relaunch of the Pure Division, it was perhaps inevitable that to service the rest of its roster and it’s fandom too, that other styles would nudge their way in to share the ring with the Purists.
Best In The World showed that the Pure Division is still the best thing about modern ROH, with a great match between Jonathan Gresham and Mike Bennett. While Bennett is no Gresham, he legitimately showed that he can take it to the mat and make it count. I hope we see more of Bennett in the Pure Division because he’s proved he can go in that area and be entertaining to watch with it too.
Meanwhile, ROH proved that it can indeed go hardcore and still make it feel like a legit fight. The Josh Woods-Silas Young Last Man Standing war is a case in point, with both men looking like legit fighters but using the hardcore to raise the intensity and heat of their conflict. Because of that, their match was one of the best of the evening for me. The tag team Fight without Honor, on the other hand, while not a bad match at all, saw its quality come more in fits and starts as it fell victim to linking a series of spots rather than telling a story.
That kind of sums up ROH’s dilemma to me: they excel when they focus on storytelling in their matches, but when things descend to spot fests, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad but never quite as engaging. Not that I’m against spot fests when they’re good, but ROH has the potential to really do something unique and that stands out in the market by focussing on the Pure Division and matches that tell stories. Not that telling a story is a guarantee of success; EC3 and Flip Gordon told a story but the telling was so slow and heatless that by the end, I just didn’t care.
But let’s not focus on the negatives. There was a lot to enjoy. The Briscoes made the opener fun and Brian Johnson is a star in the making; Dalton Castle was fabulously flamboyant; Chelsea Green made her debut; the Last Man Standing match was stellar and so was the Pure title match.
Best in the world? Not quite. Not yet. But the potential really is there…