With only two weeks before Ring of Honor’s 19th Anniversary Show, we have just passed the one year anniversary of the world shutting down. I had never written articles about wrestling prior to my extended time off as a teacher and I felt if nothing else, it was a fairly productive way to use my time and that I could build myself a bit of a portfolio. Ring of Honor was running what were essentially spotlight episodes on individual wrestlers, and while there were definitely some excellent matches I was able to watch and review, I was able to emotionally invest in characters I hadn’t been paying attention to for quite some time. I made monumental discoveries in my wrestling fandom with the likes of Jonathan Gresham and Shane Taylor; I was excited to see what Ring of Honor had in store when they made their return to the ring.
I am not sure what I was expecting, or if I was really expecting anything at all. With the amount of time I spent watching the wrestlers at home and talking about their favorite matches they have produced within the sphere of ROH, I think I was open to just about anything. What I definitely did NOT expect is for ROH to be perhaps the most underrated wrestling program on earth.
There has not been a single week where I thought to myself: “eh, that was ok”. NOBODY has produced empty arena wrestling like ROH has. WWE, Impact, New Japan, UWN, NOAH, Dragon Gate and MLW have all produced content in a completely empty arena to varying degrees of success. With every other promotion stated above, I feel/felt myself clamoring for SOME kind of external energy because there was definitely something missing. In ROH, the ring is the cornucopia of all energy.
For one hour every week, I am enthralled by just how much effort the wrestlers are putting into each and every performance. Every week there is at least one match that exceeds my expectations in one way or another, and every week I look forward to sharing my thoughts and feelings on a company that has attempted to rebuild itself three times in the course of eighteen months. It has already been successful, and that is due to the effort of the wrestlers. Slowly but surely, fans are beginning to regain their trust in a company that seemed to lose itself. There is no better time to solidify that trust than the 19th Anniversary of ROH. That being said, there are still matches to be booked! I imagine this week’s episode intends to move that along.
Fred Yehi vs. Dak Draper—Pure Rules Match
Dak Draper is definitely above Fred Yehi in the ROH pecking order, but even though Dak is fairly new to the company, Yehi is even newer. Draper is definitely more old school in his presence and style than Yehi, and while power and size is a classic deciding factor in professional wrestling, Yehi is unlike anyone else in the Pure Division. Fred Yehi has only had a handful of matches since his debut appearance in the original Pure Championship Tournament, but every single time I see him, I am impressed. Yehi’s dynamic combination of new-age catch and a purely athletic snap to his movement guarantees your eyes won’t be leaving the screen any time he is featured.
While Fred does have a couple of wins on his record, this singles contest against a VERY hungry Dak Draper may be one of his toughest challenges to date. One has to imagine this match will have far-reaching implications in terms of who Jon Gresham will be defending his Pure Championship against in just under two weeks. While Yehi and Gresham is an almost guaranteed banger (especially considering he seems like an unofficial member of The Foundation judging from the post-match segment following The Foundation’s exhibition multi-man tag a number of weeks ago), I am a big fan of “dynamics”… and Draper versus Gresham is one hell of an interesting dynamic.
Fred Yehi is far from what I would describe as small, but Draper towers over him to a certain extent. Draper is not SO large that he is dominant to an embarrassing degree, but he does get the upper hand early. As Yehi begins to go to his utility belt of athleticism, the size discrepancy becomes far less important. Yehi does things I have never seen before…or perhaps I see them so rarely that I happened to forget, but I think he is just very much himself. Even when Yehi is simply throwing knees into Draper while stuck in the corner, he does so with a flare and decisiveness that, if nothing else, brings the illusion of novelty.
Speaking of novelty, I am pretty sure this was the first Pure Rules match to not have a single rope break from either man. There is only one instance of the rules coming into play and it centers on Draper bending them. Draper takes advantage of his one free closed fist punch to the face, ploughs Yehi into the mat and proceeds to get the pin and the win. This match was a really fun ten minutes that showcased the best of what both Draper and Yehi have to offer…well, probably not the best they can offer, but certainly what they can offer on a regular basis, and it is at a high level. I would love to see these two square off again sooner than later. I can guarantee one thing; if it is in front of a crowd, Yehi will be ooooverrrrr.
Kenny King vs. Tony Deppen
While our first match had Pure Championship implications, this one centers on the Television Championship division. Kenny King has been a pretty huge jerk as of late. While Kenny was firmly planted in the hierarchy of La Faccion Ingobernables, he still had some personal connections to other members of the ROH roster. All former friendships have been completely abandoned and replaced with LFI. Speaking of LFI, Amy Rose, La Bestia and Dragon Lee (the current ROH World Television Champion) are all accompanying King to the ring, and considering the history of LFI and match interference, Tony Deppen already has a steep road ahead.
I absolutely adore Tony Deppen being involved with Ring of Honor. Of all the larger American wrestling companies, I think this one suits him perfectly, especially in the age of the refurbished Pure Division. His matches in Beyond and GCW always lean toward the catch style which allows him to stand out among the crowd.
While one may think being “the catch guy” in Ring of Honor is reductive, Deppen still wrestles in a style that is very much his own. This is illustrated not only in his work but in his attitude. It is difficult to put your finger on, especially because so much of Deppen’s disposition depends on the day. He does have a very young child at home right now, so I suppose we can’t blame him for being a bit callous from time to time. The only thing more exhausting than a baby at home is a two-hour Ironman Match…and Deppen did that as well. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get screwed over today.
Unsurprisingly, King has no respect for the initial “Code of Honor” handshake, using the opportunity to hit a ripcord forearm on Deppen. There is no doubt Kenny King is more physically imposing than Deppen, but Deppen is the definition of wily. Tony can pop up out of absolutely nowhere with a knee or a springboard cutter and balance the scales before his opponent even realizes what happened. King is obviously going to take this lightly, but if he doesn’t maintain a certain level of focus, Deppen could take the match in a flash.
I must be a soothsayer of sorts because Deppen does exactly what I assumed he may do. King is obviously a powerful striker, but Deppen is an underrated striker; not to mention, incredibly smart. Deppen’s utilization of ring space is partially what has made him on the independent scene. The culmination of all Deppen’s efforts is his reward because, after a series of counters, Deppen is able to get the flash pin on King in order to pick up the victory! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?! This was not a fluke win by Deppen, Kenny was simply outclassed by someone who wanted it more. Deppen versus Dragon Lee at Final Battle was one of my favorite matches of the night, but Deppen had already wrestled only an hour previous, so it wasn’t exactly wrestled with equity. It looks as though the rematch may be happening at the 19th Anniversary, and very much hope that to be the case.
Flip Gordon vs. Flamita
Flamita became a lot of people’s favorite wrestler after he perpetually illustrated his love for pizza and penguins on multiple media platforms throughout the summer. These guys have a bit of history, dating back to the early portions of 2020 when the faction who shall not be named lost their Six-Man Championships to the Mexisquad. Flip is in limbo after losing to Jon Gresham at Final Battle and subsequently was removed from the Pure Division after consistently being a dirty, rotten scoundrel.
While Flip does still have an ROH World Championship opportunity, the company doesn’t seem too keen on giving that to him just yet either, and we already know Jay Lethal is challenging Rush for the title at the 19th Anniversary show. I am not completely sure why this match is happening, but it will probably be pretty good so I am not complaining. Not to mention, we don’t usually get three matches on an episode, so that is a win.
Unsurprisingly, this match is pure Lucha Libre goodness. Even though Flip doesn’t go to the air like he used to, he certainly knows how to work around that style. While Flamita has no qualms about flying from the top rope, Flip is going to do everything he can to ground his opponent in the most brutal way possible. Both men have blood blisters on their chest and neck from the surplus of chops each man has delivered to the other.
Honestly, there isn’t much to say about this match aside from it is excellent and you should go out of your way to watch it. Flip is really beginning to find his lane as a genuine heavyweight and I honestly had no idea Flamita was such a spectacular singles wrestler. This was definitely a notebook match for me. It doesn’t go Flip’s way, however. Mark Briscoe sneaks down to ringside and bonks Flip with a chair, which allows Flamita to get the roll-up pin.
With Mark getting screwed over by Flip after EC3 paid The Mercenary to do so, and with Jay being booked in a Grudge Match with EC3 at the anniversary show, I have to imagine we are getting Mark versus Flip in a singles match…and if so, that will be absolutely BONKERS (get it?.. because he bonked him? And the match will also be crazy? Eh? EH??).
After ALL of that, Flip gets pissy and rips the mask off of Flamita as he did over a year ago and begins to beat Flamita mercilessly until the rest of the Mexisquad make their way down to save their buddy. Multiple feuds being birthed from multiple angles is a new development on this version of Ring of Honor television. Shared universe storytelling, or the lack thereof, could have definitely been a criticism up to this point, but everything else has been so great I didn’t feel as though I was missing it. If this is the direction we are moving in, lead the way Mark Briscoe… lead the way.
O’ Captain, My Captain.