I don’t know that I could necessarily be any higher on Ring of Honor at this point. It isn’t the absolute best wrestling television show in the world, and it doesn’t have “five-star matches” you may be seeing elsewhere…but it is really goddamn good. There will always be a particular type of ceiling in an empty arena; I’ve been getting into NOAH and Dragon Gate over the past month or so and AEW’s television show is arguably the best wrestling television ever produced; all have fans in attendance and are producing genuine classics. But it needs to be said, ROH has overcome the setting in every way. The main event scene is not only novel in terms of those involved, but the matches have been outstanding. With a maximum of three matches on each episode (two more often than not), each really needs to deliver in order for the show to keep its momentum rolling
Last week was probably the best episode since Ring of Honor’s return—Josh Woods and Jay Lethal had an outstanding Pure Rules match that nearly went the distance; Brody King and Shane Taylor absolutely obliterated each other for a chance to take on Rush at Final Battle on December 18th, and I am wiping the drool from my keyboard. There has been a certain lack of public confidence in the roster of ROH since the AEW exodus, and that isn’t necessarily misplaced based on the output since the departure. There looked to be a light at the end of the tunnel once Scurll took the book, but once they came out of the tunnel, they fell into a pit…with none of that really being on the company itself. Being on the other side of that (for now), I am feeling genuine excitement for what awaits us at Final Battle this year. Once this bastard of a year finally comes to a close and fans are allowed back into the 1500 seat arenas for ROH television, I am predicting a groundswell of support. I’m sure it couldn’t possibly rival the rise of 2016-2017, but anyone could watch this show and immediately surmise what the most important aspect of it is—wrestling.
Mike Bennett vs. Vincent
I have to imagine that Vincent’s schlocky B-movie persona isn’t for everyone, and to the uninformed, they would probably guess he is ripping off the original Bray Wyatt character. Obviously, this is not the case, and considering I enjoy schlock, I enjoy Vincent. Bennett is the more interesting proposition in the future of ROH. The work he has been doing with the United Wrestling Network has been nothing short of outstanding. The build for the NWA Heavyweight Title match against Nick Aldis was phenomenal, and even though the match was cut short for time, it was nonetheless very gripping. Mike is in the best shape of his life and has a newfound motivation that we haven’t seen since he was signed to WWE. Reuniting the original Kingdom is a perfect method of return and creates an immediate feud with Vincent and his gaggle of bastards. While I am surprised they are doing this match so soon after Bennett’s surprise return, I predict shenanigans. My guess is a no-holds-barred Final Battle tag team match, but we shall see.
Playing off of the obvious history between the two, this starts off being extremely physical… to the extent that it actually surprised me. I don’t know if I am going into some of these matches with lower expectations than I should, but I don’t feel like I am; I have been gushing over many of these matches, yet I am constantly pleasantly surprised…I guess all that means is that ROH is a really good wrestling show. Bennett has become a must-watch performer in recent months specifically because he hasn’t been holding anything back between the ropes. Vincent is of a similar ilk, probably because he feels he has something to prove considering he has spent most of his career in ROH as a “sidekick”. There isn’t very much technical mastery on display, but that is to the match’s benefit when Bennett starts chucking Vincent across the ring and when Vincent surprises Bennett with a counter submission.
While it wasn’t really “shenanigans”, as I expected, there was not a clean finish. While one may assume this would be an annoyance, this isn’t Monday Night Raw… it actually made sense. Vincent looked as good as he ever has in this match; maniacal in a way that suits his character and doesn’t come anywhere close to farce. Bennett looked REALLY good, and the match ended in a disqualification only because Vincent refused to stop pounding Bennett in the corner—the official had no choice but to call the match. In a straight match, Bennett looked as though he would have probably secured the win with his actual wrestling ability. Vincent looks strong even though it is a loss for all intents and purposes—this feud continues, as it should.
The Foundation is obviously going to be a wildly important part of ROH going forward. This week’s video package focused on Rhett Titus and his reasons for joining the group. Rhett is literally the PERFECT addition to this group of technical wrestlers. While the guy is very talented, I can’t recall seeing much in the way of character in recent history. He is a guy that, without a purpose such as this, could easily have been lost in the lower mid-card during this return. Being a part of The Foundation alongside Jon Gresham, Tracy Williams and Jay Lethal immediately grants him a legitimacy that he has not had in some time. I am SO excited to see what this stable has in store
Once again, any time Mark Briscoe pops up on my screen, I get an immediate rush of dopamine and serotonin. So, with Jay being wrapped up in a feud with EC3 going into Final Battle, Mark was looking to find a tag team partner in order to go for the gold…well, he found one. Mark asked Santa Claus for a monster…Mark removes a blanket covered in red and green tinsel to reveal the return of PCO! I popped oh, so hard for the reveal of this tag team. I. Can’t. Wait. For. That.
Tracy Williams vs. John Walters
This match encapsulates exactly how ROH intends to shift its focus toward what made it a company that people fell in love with. I know absolutely nothing of John Walters other than the fact he was a one-time Pure Champion in Ring of Honor. Walters was never a superstar in any other company or on any other continent, but the way Tracy Williams builds Walters as one of the pioneers of the company, I am immediately invested. Side note: the pre-match video packages are still really good…go figure. I am a bit perplexed as to why I have not heard Walters’ name, especially when he mentions that he has the second-longest reign in the history of the Pure Championship. Nonetheless, the main events of these programs have been exceeding expectations for weeks, and considering I don’t know what to expect… that can only be a positive.
Flip Gordon is at commentary because he is going to face Gresham at Final Battle for the Pure Championship. Essentially, he is getting a shot because he already has a guaranteed shot at the ROH World Title and he is automatically able to challenge for the Pure Championship because of that? A bit weird, but I don’t really care because if Brody King beats Rush on the 18th, the history between King and Flip could lead to some interesting things.
Even if Walters has been out of the game for quite some time, he certainly doesn’t look like it. The man is chiselled out of granite. However, brute strength is not going to be the deciding factor against a guy like Tracy Williams. Two minutes in and this match is obviously going to be about the nuance. This match is not going to be flashy, but it IS going to be extremely competitive. There aren’t any power moves or exaggerated exchanges; this struggle is going to be one defined by inches. Each man is on a constant search for the slightest advantage; this is exemplified by Walters shoving his fingers up Tracy’s nose in order for Tracy to loosen the submission Walters found himself in.
This is going to come off as incredibly pretentious, but this match is for people that have an elevated understanding of the sport, or mostly an understanding of just how difficult it is to make every moment seem seamless. While there are some absolutely gnarly strikes, submissions and suplexes, I could see the casual fan describing this match as “boring”… but in the immortal words of ZSJ, performing technical wrestling for American fans is like attempting to perform Shakespeare to an audience of dogs. In reality, this match is an absolute banger. Eleven minutes of truly non-stop action where every single moment tells a story. I can’t even necessarily extrapolate specific “moments” to highlight because no moment stands out among the rest. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It is an absolute barrage of physicality that oozes legitimacy in every single second. If you aren’t familiar with Walters, I would say seek this out. It certainly made me want to dig a bit deeper into his enigmatic career. The streak of brilliant television main events continues as Tracy Williams re-establishes himself in the Pure Division.
There is a very particular aura surrounding this show every week that I find difficult to articulate. Everyone just seems so incredibly hungry… hungry to prove themselves to the world that ROH is something special and if you aren’t paying attention, it is your loss. I say it every week, but Ring of Honor is one of the best things going in American wrestling…I want so badly for them to achieve some level of genuine success after everything they have done in the last three months. If you are sleeping on Ring of Honor, for the love of God, wake up.