This tournament has been absolutely phenomenal up to this point, but this is probably the episode I have been looking forward to the least. That is only coming from a place of pure ignorance. I haven’t seen enough of Fred Yehi or Josh Woods to have an educated opinion. While I will be coming into every one of these tournament matches with fairly high expectations, today’s expectations are not on the same level as they were for Romero/Finlay or Castle/Lethal. The matchup between Delirious and Matt Sydal should give me all the confidence I need when I’m not sure how to feel about some of these rivalries. Not to mention, these goddamn video packages will almost definitely give me all the hype I could possibly need.
I have said it before, but I will say it again: this tournament is such an incredible way for people to be re-introduced to Ring of Honor. Beyond the actual matches, the character building that has been done in the last two weeks is probably the most outstanding triumph of the entire tournament thus far. Literally every single piece of information that may be important for me to know going into these matches is given to me. The backstory necessary for emotional investment is bountiful. The Pure Championship is, in itself, something that carries a very specific prestige.
When Ring of Honor films television, they do so by filming at least four episodes at a time. Before the pandemic, I feel as though it may have been difficult for a brand new viewer to become invested in the show specifically because of the nature of filming. You aren’t going to see all of the most important characters on every episode; you would be lucky to see them twice a month. This leads to some ROH episodes feeling rather flat—not because it is of poor quality, but simply because an hour of mid-carders may not grab your attention. That isn’t meant to be a slight, it is just a potential criticism inherent in ROH’s process. For viewers that have followed the promotion for many years, they completely understand the system ROH operates within, but not every episode was appointment television. This Pure Championship Tournament has been appointment television.
Fred Yehi vs. Silas Young
Fred Yehi is coming into this match as the underdog in reality AND storyline. They are building him as the man that had to overcome some serious adversity in order to find himself where he is today. Beyond being sympathetic, he states that his favorite wrestlers were Bryan Danielson and Low Ki specifically because of their elevated physicality… it is fair to say that is a good omen. Silas Young refers to himself as the “Last Real Man” and his work is that of a “manly” old-school wrassler. While what I have previously seen of Young has been solid, it isn’t exactly my favorite style of wrestling to watch. Keeping it “old school” requires significant character work, and I am not familiar enough with Young’s work to be emotionally invested. While Young’s video package was certainly good, I don’t feel as though I know more about who he is as a character than I did before. The only thing I DO know is that I want Yehi to win this match.
Young is known for his technique, but Yehi was apparently a fairly successful amateur wrestler. You can see Yehi’s amateur skills in the way he is able to get the upper hand on Young in the first two minutes. While Young may be able to get the best of Yehi in a lock-up or test of strength, Yehi is significantly quicker than Young and has the ability to use his elevated technique against Young’s more methodical nature. Random observation: I have been able to analyze every one of these matches as if they were being discussed on Sportscenter. While I know that is the entire point of the Pure Title, it is nice to see a concept realized.
Eight minutes in and this match has essentially been a stalemate. Both men are able to match each other stylistically and it takes some rabid physicality for Yehi to finally get a surplus of offense. Yehi throws some knees into the chest of Young while in the corner that looked like they would have shattered at least half of my ribcage. Just when you think Silas can’t keep up with Yehi’s modern style, the man hits a tornado DDT from the second rope. This has felt legitimately competitive throughout.
This is the first tournament match that I actually felt would REALLY benefit from a crowd. While the previous matches were easily able to exist in isolation, this match seemed to have a little bit more open space. There is nothing wrong with open space in a wrestling match, in fact it is necessary, but I found myself wishing a crowd would have been engaged in those moments, because they definitely would have been invested.
This was probably the fifth Silas Young match I have seen, and sweet Jesus does that guy throw out some surprises. He doesn’t look like a phenomenal athlete, he looks like a beefy boy… Yehi has more than flashes of brilliance as Young does, he looks like an absolute natural in the ring. Everything Fred does is as crisp as can be, you can definitely see the Danielson/Low Ki influence in his work. That isn’t to say he isn’t original, because he feels very different from most of the wrestlers I see on a regular basis. This match was absolutely fantastic and I truly wish there were 1500 ROH fans in attendance that would have lost their minds when Fred Yehi pinned Silas Young to move on the next round. That was one of the best promotional debuts I have seen in a long time.
Josh Woods vs. Kenny King
Next is the package from Silas Young’s tag team partner, Josh Woods. Woods looks like such a little t**t. I hate his face and nobody could convince me to stop hating his face. Now that we have that out of the way, I am really interested in seeing where this goes! One thing I have loved about these video packages is how grounded in reality they are and I am concerned that Woods is going to go full-annoying-dick. While he did un-ironically utter the phrase “crushing it”, they fortunately focused on his legitimate background as they have for everyone else. On top of the prior athletic involvement, they touch on Woods being less experienced than Kenny King and the fact that Kenny King has mildly disrespected Woods in the past, potentially doubting his ability. As Kenny is a locker room leader, that doubt sits heavilyy on the chest of Woods.
Kenny King is a legend in Ring of Honor, a champion many times over. He wants the Pure Championship to fully solidify his stature as one of the best. While Woods said King doubted his ability, King says different. However, King gives Woods credit in an almost backhanded way…more like “hey, the kid has got chops”. I wouldn’t say King is over-confident, but he hasn’t seen Josh Woods in action for almost six months at this point. There is no way of knowing what an incredible prospect such as Woods has added to his arsenal throughout quarantine. Once again, the story I need to know is known. These packages are six stars in the Tokyo Dome.
As a member of Los Faccion Ingobernables, King is currently the only member of the faction without a belt. Rush has the ROH World Title and Dragon Lee continues to hold the television title. While King would never say out loud that he has something to prove, you can almost guarantee that he FEELS like he does.
I don’t know if I have ever actually seen a vertical hip toss, but King gave one to Woods about sixty seconds into the match. I don’t know if it was uncharacteristically fast or if it was a totally novel concept to me, but I went “ooo”. While the previous match was more about standing up and squaring off, this match looks to be more about mat technique. This is one of those matches that looks as though both men are just having fun with each other; I don’t think they are calling too many spots out here.
Eight minutes in and there haven’t been many “moments”, but those were some of the fastest eight minutes in the entire tournament. The rules also begin to come into play more so than they did in the previous match. Josh Woods has to pull a punch because closed fists to the face carry significant penalty. This allows King to take advantage of the break because there had been NO break up to this point. Unfortunately, King attempts to take advantage with a closed fist of his own that will result in a disqualification upon a second use. I feel it is important to mention the differences from the “previous match” because one might think that many of these tournament matches would be unfortunately similar. The only thing static across these first round matches: really fantastic wrestling.
I LOVE how the Pure rules can mold a story in a match—earlier, Kenny rolled through the ropes and the referee counted it as a rope break. While you could make the argument either way, I agreed with the decision to count it as a rope break since it was intentional. At about the ten minute mark, Woods hits King with a brutal knee that sends him flying into the ropes and he seems to roll out unintentionally—no rope break. It is a small thing, but I could see how some may find the Pure rules slightly confusing. Even if you hadn’t read the entire list of rules, after watching two of these matches, the wrestlers, referees, and commentators do an excellent job explaining things both orally and physically.
Speaking of rope breaks, Josh Woods would have been done if his arm hadn’t flopped underneath the ropes after a Royal Flush from King. King takes Woods up to the top rope, but somehow Woods is able to muster up the energy to manipulate King’s body into an avalanche twisting neck breaker. With only two minutes remaining, we are about as even as we possibly could be. With time counting down, neither man can land a move significant enough to keep the other down for a pin. With only seconds left, King puts Woods in a half crab…but Woods is able to hold out…the bell rings and we have a draw! In the Pure Championship Tournament, a draw goes to a judge’s decision…once again…I adore how ROH is using these rules…adore it.
Here is what I was hoping for: Woods gets the victory because of King previously using a closed fist—that is precisely what we got. This tournament rules. I don’t have anything else to say. This entire Pure tournament has been masterfully booked, expertly wrestled, and surprisingly original. Appointment viewing.