It’s funny… last week I explicitly stated that I wasn’t necessarily a fan of Shane Taylor’s work. In the two months that I have been writing articles for Sports Obsessive, it has become a running theme that I eventually eat my words respective to any prior negativity. Even if it wasn’t explicitly stated, there have been a few episodes of this current Ring of Honor series that I wasn’t incredibly high on as I was coming into them. Every single time, I have been pleasantly surprised. All that being said, last week I stated I was not a fan of Shane Taylor’s work, BUT that is based on the limited amount of matches I have seen him in. Also, it’s more of a stylistic issue than an issue of work. I am well aware he is good at what he does, it just happens to not necessarily be my cup of tea. However, have I simply not seen enough of his matches? Is it an issue of who he is paired with? All external variables aside, as I said, I have been known to eat my words. I would unabashedly enjoy doing that today.
Speaking of “unabashed”, Shane Taylor is the personification of “unabashed”. When doing a bit of research on Taylor, there were a few things that stuck out to me. Taylor grew up primarily in Cleveland during a time when poverty, crime and drugs were running rampant. There are almost always two possible outcomes when coming of age in such an environment: you either form an iron will and a sense of resolve, or you are absorbed into it. Taylor himself said he had probably been to one hundred funerals by the time he was fifteen years old. Taylor’s outcome is the former of the two possibilities. The second bit that stuck out was from a quote in the Orlando Sentinel from 2018. Taylor had a match with Jay Briscoe, who might be the most “Ring of Honor” wrestler in Ring of Honor, Jay pulled Shane aside after their match and said, “A lot of people don’t know how good you really are, but they will”. In the article, Taylor said, “That’s something I carry with me – to hear that from a locker-room leader who’s not known for blowing smoke up people’s asses meant a lot to me.” (I am readying my spoon for this Andy’s Words soup I am about to ingest.)
As far as Taylor’s run in Ring of Honor, he has been around for quite a few years at this point. First getting in the door around the middle of the 2010s, he was able to make an impact facing wrestlers such as Keith Lee, The Addiction, War Machine, and The Briscoes. It wasn’t until his championship pursuits began in 2018 that he truly made his mark. He challenged for the Six-Man Tag Team Championship and the World Television Championship on multiple occasions, but always came up short. 2019 was Shane Taylor’s year. After signing an exclusive contract with Ring of Honor, Taylor defeated Jeff Cobb, Brody King and Hirooki Goto to become the new World Television Champion. What followed was the run of his life; forming the stable ‘Shane Taylor Promotions’ and going on an absolute tear with the tile for the better part of a year. It wasn’t until Final Battle in December of 2019 that he finally lost his title to Dragon (Ryu) Lee. That is what this episode of Ring of Honor is highlighting, Shane Taylor’s dominant Television Title run. It just so happens that his first title defence was against Bandido… and we all know how I feel about Bandido… so, let’s see just how wrong I have been about Shane Taylor.
Shane Taylor (c) vs. Bandido – World Television Championship Match (June 28, 2019 – Baltimore, MD)
I am fond of Television Titles in a general sense. I believe it is potentially a perfect upper mid-card showcase event. Specifically, when the fifteen or twenty minute time limits are enforced. There are interesting stories that can be told with any type of wrestler facing off against the other. While weight limits aren’t strictly enforced in 2020, the Television Title has always been a fantastic opportunity to showcase openweight bouts. Bandido vs. Taylor is a perfect example of the matchup you should see in a Television Title match: a fast and agile cruiserweight facing off against a super heavyweight. Although, Taylor is not your average super heavyweight. Taylor shows he is well above average in the opening moments of the match. One would think that Bandido would be able to immediately use his speed to get in some offence on Taylor, but he is able to avoid Bandido’s speedy strikes… at first.
There are only a couple of moments in the opening exchanges where Taylor violently overpowers Bandido. However, Bandido ups the ante pretty quickly. One issue you may see in high flying cruiserweights, they lack the ability to land their offence with great impact. While moves that require finesse are fun to look at, I tend to get tired of them fairly quickly when they are also LANDING with finesse. This is evident in young high flyers on the independent scene and is always a source of contention on social media. What makes Bandido so good is his ability to look impactful when he is hitting moves that would normally seem superfluous in an actual fight. It doesn’t feel contrived when Bandido is able to take down Taylor with high flying offence, and take him down he does.
Bandido is flying all over the place until Taylor is finally able to snatch him out of the air. It is much safer for Taylor on the ground. All the while, Taylor is verbally berating Bandido… as he does in every situation. Shane doesn’t get in a whole lot of offense on Bandido, only finding openings when Bandido finds that he cannot lift the super heavyweight for his most impactful moves. When Bandido attempts his finish, Taylor catches him in a package piledriver that Bandido kicks out of at 2.9. Just as I’m saying Bandido can’t lift Taylor, he CATCHES TAYLOR as he is attempting a cross body from the top rope and proceeds to powerslam him. When Taylor kicks out of a shooting star press and Bandido is reeling, Taylor is able to surprise him with ‘Greetings from 216’ and retains his title
Nom nom nom – just chomping on my words over here! While Bandido provided most of the highlights in this match, Taylor is able to work around those highlights perfectly. It is in no way a showcase match for Shane Tayor, but it certainly shows that he is intelligent in the ring and knows when to go for his most debilitating offensive moves. Taylor looks more opportunistic than powerful, but I would say that adds to the match in an interesting way. While Taylor certainly DOES look powerful, his mind is his most useful tool. Nom nom nom.
Shane Taylor (c) vs. Eli Isom – World Television Championship Match (Lowell, Ma – July 21, 2019)
I have neither seen nor heard of Eli Isom before the previous one hundred-twenty seconds. This match was set to prove that Shane Taylor was not a fluke. By putting him up against the youngest and hungriest competitor they could find, Taylor intended to prove that no amount of persistence would be able to take him down. If I am not mistaken, Eli has only been wrestling professionally for a few years and came out of the ROH Dojo system. As young babyfaces are want to do, he attempts to shake Taylor’s hand before the match, and Taylor of course declines… because he is a jerk. I’m immediately taken aback by Isom, not because of his skill, but because he is quite the handsome lad! As far as offence, Eli is able to hit a few dropkicks, which forces Taylor to the outside, but his inexperience proves to be to his detriment when he takes too much time setting up a dive and Taylor hits him with an elevated DDT from ringside. I audibly yelped when Taylor threw Eli into the guardrail because Isom took an absolutely WICKED bump, promptly followed by a knee straight to the face.
Taylor is simply taking care of business when we hit the commercial break. Once again, Taylor didn’t immediately use his powerful offense to get the upper hand on his opponent. He patiently waited until they made a fatal mistake. While Shane shows an elevated degree of intelligence, he is still a heel. He gets carried away from time to time and he lets his cockiness get the best of him. However, when Eli attempts to give a receipt, it is returned ten-fold by Shane. For instance, when Isom is able to block a piledriver on the hardest part of the ring, Taylor literally THROWS Isom the length of the ring on the outside.
The striking in this match is absolutely brutal, that is the one attribute Isom possesses where he looks to be on a similar level to Taylor. Where he actually outpaces Taylor is the tope rope (no surprise there), hitting a moonsault to the outside and a frog splash, neither of which can put Taylor away. At this point, both I and the crowd are totally invested. After a spectacular false finish, Taylor hits Isom with a forearm shot that you would have been able to hear one hundred yards away… once again… I audibly yelped. When Isom kicks out of the package piledriver, the crowd is literally on its feet. Unfortunately for Eli, he then gets a ‘Greeting from 216’.
Ok, I’m legitimately starting to get it. When Taylor is working against fast competitors, he shows his ability to hang with their elevated speed. It’s interesting because when Taylor makes mistakes, he corrects them immediately. It’s almost as though he is self-aware when it comes to pulling back on his ego and getting straight to business. He isn’t just some monster heel that overpowers people, he legitimately wrestles with a personality. That’s not something you see every day. Nom nom nom.
Shane Taylor (c) vs. Tracy Williams vs. Flip Gordon vs. Dragon Lee – World Television Championship Match (Las Vegas, NV – September 27, 2019)
Well, ROH is putting Taylor up against smaller athletes once again. However, they have turned all of the knobs up to eleven. The three challengers are some of the best at what they do, with Dragon Lee arguably being the best Junior Heavyweight on the Planet now that Will Ospreay has moved into the Heavyweight division. The one man I would say could challenge Lee for that title would be Hiromu Takahashi, and if you aren’t familiar with that long standing rivalry, PLEASE learn everything you can. Takahashi and Dragon Lee have a series that is easily one of the sport’s greatest. Enough about the juniors, I want to see how they fare against a SUPER heavyweight.
Even as I am watching the entrances, I already know I won’t be able to keep up with any sort of play by play. I have a very strong suspicion that this will be a “blink and you miss it” sort of matchup. I would have totally lost it if I was in this crowd because Dragon Lee was actually a surprise entry just before the match began. Talk about getting your money’s worth. It seems to make sense based on storyline because Tracy Williams and Flip Gordon are in the middle of a rivalry of their own. It would have been a bit silly to have those two focusing on each other for 75% of the match, and it also wouldn’t make much sense if they gave that up to simply have a competitive three-way.
Obviously there is a lot going on right off the bat, but Dragon Lee is the first to get the upper hand. In the vein of Bandido, Lee is one that possesses finesse but delivers all of his moves with impact. While Tracy Williams may look as though he is more focused on finesse-based offence because of his size, he is actually focused on agile and efficient striking. His colorless façade gives the impression of a shoot fighter.
Does anyone hit a suicide dive better than Dragon Lee? I would have to say no. I am legitimately worried for his safety every time he barrels through those ropes. Juxtaposed to the high flyer, Tracy Williams looks like a straight up ass kicker. Every single strike suspends my disbelief. Tracy doesn’t hold back one bit. BUT, once again, Taylor is able to wait for the opportune moment to hit Flip Gordon with Greetings from 216 while he is preoccupied with his rival Tracy Williams. This match also set up the Dragon Lee match perfectly. Lee was on his way back inside the ring to break up the pin when the referee counted to three. After this episode, I definitely want to make it a point to go watch the Dragon Lee and Shane Taylor championship match, because everything I saw today would lead me to believe it is pretty damn good. I feel like I didn’t give much of a description for this match, but what can I say? It is really fun. All four men are building stories together, it is fast paced and it is high impact. The matchups between competitors last for about thirty seconds before someone else is brought into the mix. I could have watched these four go at it for another twenty five minutes. Ten minutes were not enough for this one. Still, a great little match. Tranquilo.
I LOVE when my preconceived notions are proven to be false. I had only seen three Shane Taylor matches up to this point, two of them being simple television matches. I obviously did not have the full scope of what he was able to do in the ring. Taylor may look like your run of the mill powerhouse, but he isn’t. Most big men are simply destroyers that don’t possess any character other than a desire to eat the other competitors for lunch. Shane Taylor is a character. A character where you can see his thought processes throughout the course of the match. He doesn’t just throw his character at you through exposition and then proceed to wrestle a basic match. He tells you who he is and then he shows you who he is. I. HAVE. EATEN. MY. WORDS… and they were absolutely delicious. Fin.