I don’t know if it is due to the fact that I have been absolutely aching to see this roster wrestle again, or if last week’s show, featuring the opening matches of the Pure title tournament, was genuinely brilliant. I am leaning toward the latter because there was barely anything to criticize, much less dislike. While the Pure Tournament was planned prior to the global pandemic, it feels like divine intervention that it is the method with which Ring of Honor is making its return. It feels like a reboot and a continuation all at once, which is a bit of a triumph. Any potential weak spots, such as “characters” not exactly making sense as “Pure contenders”, are made strong by the video packages leading up to the matches immediately legitimizing guys such as Dalton Castle. That is not to say Dalton Castle can’t wrestle, because he always could, but the legitimacy was turned up to eleven
In this week’s episode, there is a similar situation to the one stated above. I don’t know that I have ever seen Delirious wrestle. In fact, I don’t know much about him at all considering his entire role in Week by Week was characterized by Delirious holding an Ultimate Warrior action figure up to the camera… literally every week. His match was one I wasn’t exactly looking forward to in the context of this tournament, but the fact that Castle’s character was pulled back a bit, and that Delirious is wrestling Matt Sydal, I am nothing but excited. Night one of Round One delivered in a big way, and if ROH keeps this up, they will find themselves back on top of the zeitgeist in no time.
David Finlay vs. Rocky Romero
A New Japan Pro Wrestling battle is exactly the type of thing I want to see in this Pure Tournament. While David and Rocky are stuck in the United States, for the time being, they have both been a part of New Japan Strong. But this is the first instance of both of them being in Ring of Honor in quite some time. Not exactly shocking, but once again, if you knew absolutely nothing about either of these wrestlers going into the bout, after these packages you will know every piece of necessary information.
The primary thread running through this match is that Romero was/is the mentor of Finlay. David Finlay was a member of the New Japan Dojo in the middle of the 2010s and Romero was already a mainstay in the ROH and NJPW systems. While Finlay has improved in the years leading up to this tournament, Romero has the experience that will serve him better than any amount of training done by Finlay could possibly equate to.
While neither of these guys is exactly slow, they aren’t the fastest men you will see in the ring. Both boasting a more technical style, this will be a battle of brains more so than brawn. One of the first things that jumped out at me as the wrestlers were making their way down the ring was being absolutely mind-blown that Rocky debuted in 1998—he’s an ageless wonder to be sure
I haven’t seen very much of Rocky as a singles competitor. Recently, I have been going back to watch NJPW from 2016 and Rocky was still firmly in the junior tag division as a member of RPG Vice with Trent Berretta. Point being, this match starts out as an even better “wrasslin’” match than I expected. Rocky hits Finlay with what looked like the beginnings of a hurricanrana but turned it into a head scissors DDT. It was sweet. They aren’t going for power moves or the types of submissions that would end a match; they are attempting to prove to one another that they are the better WRESTLER.
This match is so smooth and without an ounce of contrivance. It is obvious that these guys have wrestled each other dozens, if not hundreds of times. One of my absolute favorite things, when I am watching a wrestling show, is when a wrestler pulls off a move that I don’t even know how to describe. Rocky does that on several occasions. It is difficult to make top rope moves look devastating because it is so important to protect both of the wrestlers, but Rocky pulls it off in some really inventive ways. However, Finlay turning Sliced Bread into a backbreaker was my absolute favorite moment. Taking that reversal and utilizing it before hitting the Last Shot was a perfect way for Finlay to get the win.
I loved that Finlay was running out of rope breaks in the final moments of the match because, even though I assumed Finlay would win, I began to doubt what I thought was an irrefutable prediction. While Rocky Romero always looks phenomenal putting people over, I wish he didn’t do it as often as he does. I know he has had championship success in the past, but I am of the opinion that he could have a six-month IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship run that would rival any in the previous ten years. An absolute master of his craft, I can’t wait for Rocky to make it back to Japan.
Matt Sydal vs. Delirious
I haven’t ever heard Delirious speak, so I am pretty excited for his forthcoming video package. What I am not excited about is typing out “Delirious” multiple times because it isn’t exactly an intuitive sequence on a keyboard. You win some, you lose some. Funny enough, the first video package is with Matt Sydal, a man that went back and forth with Rocky Romero and Berretta for the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships in 2016 with his partner, Ricochet (remember Ricochet? He was really good at wrestling). Matt Sydal is a guy that randomly pops up everywhere. It is always fun to see him wrestle and he seems to be a guy that has fun doing it. Even his reaction to the debacle that was his debut at All Out was chilled, and seemed to roll right off his back.
Dude… these video packages (and this booking) are absolutely fantastic. Whether it is true or not, I don’t know, but the history between Matt and Delirious gives this match meaning that I had no idea was there. Once again, I was thinking to myself: “well this match will probably be good”, but now I am invested on an emotional level. That is what good wrestling produces; an emotional reaction. Go to YouTube and search “Hardy Boyz return at Wrestlemania: reactions” or “Edge returns: reactions” and you will know exactly what I mean. I was at the Royal Rumble when Edge returned… I have never seen so many adult men cry at one time (yes, I was one of those adult men). Those reactions are earned, and ROH is earning my emotional investment in this tournament. Also, that fact that this is happening alongside the G1 Climax 30 just makes my little nerd brain happy.
Delirious speaks!… gibberish? I don’t know what is happening here, but I am all about it. I laughed really hard a few times. Long story short… or long gibberish short, Delirious has been wrestling for a long time and, needless to say, he isn’t like other wrestlers. Matt Sydal said that he would not even be wrestling today if it weren’t for Delirious, and vice versa, so while one of these guys is absolutely absurd, there is actually a lot of substance here. Regardless of whether or not someone, somehow, actually translated what Delirious was saying… what stuck out to me when Delirious was speaking: “no fun and games”.
Sydal has next-level athleticism and I am interested to see how he uses that to his advantage against a man that seems as though he wrestlers more like an animal than a man. The first minute or so is ugly but in a pretty way…if that makes sense? Delirious has a level of intensity that Sydal does not have and that makes for an intriguing dynamic. I don’t even want to look down at my computer screen as I am typing because I am worried that I will miss the mastery in the space between the moves. Speaking of “moves between the moves”, all four of these Pure matches I have watched so far have excelled in this. Not only does it fit the Pure style, but (for me) that is what helps allow suspension of disbelief more than anything else. I appreciate the necessity of running the ropes in certain instances—Sydal and Delirious actually have a pretty awesome little sequence where they are running them at the same time—but I do think it is over-utilized and can very quickly take me out of a match if the wrestlers aren’t moving even close to top speed.
The first five minutes of this match is the stalemate you would expect to see from wrestlers that, in storyline, know each other better than they know anyone else. I am really enjoying the style of Delirious because he is technically very proficient, but delivers holds and submissions in an ugly way.
I always forget just how great Sydal is until I actually see him wrestle. I’m sure a portion of that is due to his character in WWE being “good wrestler guy”, but his jumping knee strike looks brutal, and a STANDING TWISTING SENTON! Good lord! Insane athleticism is taken for granted in wrestling these days when guys like Hangman Page can hit a running Shooting Star Press and guys like Luchasaurus can hit standing moonsaults…but what Sydal did right there…my goodness.
I wasn’t a HUGE fan of the finish: Delirious had Sydal in the Cobra Clutch and, as Sydal was working out of it, Delirious turned it into a suplex that looked absolutely gnarly. Sydal then reverses out of another Clutch into his own and Delirious immediately taps. It wasn’t a bad finish by any means, but it just fell a bit flat relative to the rest of the match, which I thought was quite good. Not my favorite of the Pure matches, but it told an interesting story in the ring.
I am so into this Pure title tournament. I feel like I know what to expect at this point, so I don’t imagine I will continue to be blown away by video packages in the same fashion I have been up to this point, but this is appointment television for me. I don’t know if I would have watched the empty arena Pure Championship Tournament if I wasn’t writing about it, considering the G1 has thousands of fans and a full roster, but I sure am glad that I took this writing gig. I’m not sure how many people will be coming back to ROH, if they are a lapsed fan, because of this tournament. I will say, if you are a lapsed fan of ROH… watch this tournament. You won’t regret it.