After a few weeks of fairly inconsequential matches and a short recap of the year, this week seems to be the debut of ROH in 2021 in earnest. It sounds a bit crazy to say ROH had a cumulatively successful year in 2020 when they weren’t even producing content for half of it, but the juxtaposition of the beginning of the year to the end cannot be overstated. The company have put themselves on a path un-paved in the modern wrestling landscape.
While everything in art is derivative after tens of thousands of years of human history, what is old can be new again. Ring of Honor has badass good guys, badass bad guys, luchadores, character wrestlers, the Pure Division, interesting factions and a veteran presence that leads to a tremendously well-rounded roster. As I stated in my previous article, outlining things to pay attention to in 2021, the women’s division is the last real unknown, but based on the demographic in the ROH Bubble, it is safe to say that is bound to change sooner than later.
ROH had to start over, and the period from the beginning of the Pure Tournament to Final Battle was a successful experiment in my eyes. They have a lot of work to do in terms of regaining a place in the collective consciousness of wrestling fans, and even though there has been a lot of work done already, it takes a year or two for things to seep back into people’s brains.
Tonight’s episode is a perfect example of how ROH have changed their general television presentation. It is safe to say that at least 75% of the television in 2019 was mostly superfluous in the eyes of wrestling fans. There are two matches on this card, one being a Pure Rules match between Foundation member Rhett Titus and Flip Gordon. The other is an ROH Television Championship match between Rey Horus and Dragon Lee. Flip and Gresham for the Pure Title at Final Battle was probably the most critically acclaimed match on the card, while Horus defeated Dalton Castle in a replacement match that led to him receiving this opportunity. The television just needs to matter, and right now (and in the recent past) it matters.
I’m really proud of the accidental foreshadowing I do in my articles from time to time. Once again, I write about these shows as I am watching and this new ranking system ROH has implemented is EXACTLY the thing they need to set themselves apart. The separation of divisions based on multiple factors is smart, but most importantly, it is novel. I am sure this type of division ranking system has been implemented before, but certainly not in recent memory…what is old is new (even if this is completely new and I simply didn’t know it…divisional rankings may have always gone unspoken…I don’t know…but I love this…anyway…)
Flip Gordon vs. Rhett Titus – Pure Rules
While this would have essentially been seen as a special singles exhibition in recent weeks, with the new ranking system, this match feels like it has tangible stakes. Beyond the statistical implications, Rhett Titus (who is not exactly known for his promos) frames the reasoning behind his desire for this match-up phenomenally. Not only is this something Titus wants to pursue for himself, but Flip Gordon disrespected Jonathan Gresham after their match at Final Battle and therefore disrespected The Foundation. Titus also makes fun of Flip thinking the earth is flat, so props to that. According to Ian Riccaboni, Flip is no longer active on social media and has separated himself from the Parler crowd. I would hope that, as a veteran of the United States armed forces, a half-baked coup attempt would lead him toward shifting his thinking into a more productive state. Back to the wrasslin’.
With Flip once again refusing to acknowledge the “Code of Honor”, this match starts off with Rhett taking Flip apart with his ground game. Flip is still finding his repertoire in a world where he has been attempting to separate from the aerial offense that made him popular. Flip may not be up to snuff in the realms of catch wrestling as compared to Rhett Titus, but when things get really physical, they are on equal ground. Rhett very obviously has the upper hand when it comes to grappling, but both he and Flip are on equal footing in the realm of striking.
Coming out of the first commercial break, Rhett shows more fire in two minutes than I have ever seen coming out of him. In all reality, I haven’t seen much of Titus as far as what he has done as a singles competitor, but he sure does seem to have found his footing in this role. As much as my personal worldview stands in the way of my enjoyment of his work, I could say exactly the same for Flip. Flip always felt like more of an independent worker than one that could be a genuine force. Shifting his methods to not only protect his body from re-aggravating previous injuries but to actually move toward the main event has served him well.
However, it has not served him well enough it would seem. Flip resorted to using his single legal closed fist punch to take Titus off-guard, hitting the curb stomp and getting the victory in a very dishonorable fashion. The closing five minutes (and really the majority of the match) were pretty great for a television opener. I genuinely didn’t know which way it was going to go and it came down to the wire.
After the match, Quinn McKay informs Flip that he has officially been suspended from the Pure division due to his lack of adherence to the Code of Honor, among other things. It makes sense and it allows him to finally cash in that World Title shot. Really good match that told a really good story.
Rey Horus vs. Dragon Lee – ROH World Television Championship Match
This has a really strong chance to be a low-key banger. I haven’t seen all that much of Rey Horus in singles action and what I have seen hasn’t exactly stood out among some of my favorite luchadores. That isn’t meant to be a slight, more so that I don’t think I have personally seen everything he is made of…especially considering the amount of ridiculousness I have seen Dragon Lee produce. I guess Rey Horus seems a bit overshadowed in this particular affair, as he should be in all reality. Dragon Lee is the champion and a member of the top heel faction. While I expect Rey to give it his all when faced with adversity, Lee is next level. Not only is Dragon Lee a superstar as a wrestler, but the way he is currently presenting himself as a member of La Faccion de Ingobernables is that of a superstar. I don’t see a way Horus walks out of this match as champion, and that isn’t a knock on Horus…it is illustrative of just how great Dragon Lee really is.
Unsurprisingly, this match starts off incredibly hot. Rey Horus does exactly what he needs to do by attempting to take Dragon Lee by surprise with a tope con hilo. Two minutes pass and both guys hit each other with incredibly devastating maneuvers. So far, this is living up to any and all expectations.
I am having a hard time looking away, and I am not really one for calling a match move by move, but they are doing good lucha things, to say the least. One might expect that a championship match in an empty arena that is also airing on free television may not be to the level one would expect from a guy as prolific as Dragon Lee. That could not be further from the truth. Both Horus and Lee are absolutely LAYING IT IN. This feels more like a Japanese junior heavyweight match than it does Lucha libre. While this match has exciting action one would expect from luchadores, the forearms are straight from Tokyo.
Hot damn…the last five minutes of this one are absolutely awesome. Low-key banger is 100% confirmed…Rey Horus looked like he belonged and Dragon Lee looked like a champion. Take twenty minutes out of your day to go watch that match…in fact, take forty-five minutes out of your day and watch this entire episode of Ring of Honor Television, because they just started 2021 coming out of a cannon. I love this show.