The first round of the Pure Championship Tournament is in the books, and I could not be more invested. Pre-lockdown, Ring of Honor generally left a lot to be desired, which is understandable considering the seismic shift in their personnel from 2018 to now, but all things in wrestling are cyclical; what is old is new again and where you are weak, you may become strong. To put it bluntly, I wasn’t going to spend an extra hour of my week on Ring of Honor. I am a psychopath and watch about as much wrestling as time can possibly permit. While I have recently taken WWE television out of my weekly diet, it was still a significant portion of my schedule in March. It wasn’t worth the hour that I could have spent watching New Japan from 2016. Those days are officially over and ROH will become appointment television for me.
Everything about this tournament has been successful up to this point. There is not a single moment that I would label as “bad”. Obviously, some moments are better than others, but I can only think of one instance where I could find an ounce of criticism (the finish of Sydal vs. Delirious). Also, that criticism was essentially: “eh, that wasn’t my favorite thing”, so I have not disliked one single second. With the individuals involved going into the second round, I feel as though things can only get better from here. I assumed that I would be able to call all of those moving into the second round, but as far as semi-finals and finals, I have no clue. I want to go into the following episodes without a single shred of expectation. I want this tournament to simply wash over me.
David Finlay vs. Jay Lethal
All of the second-round matchups are intriguing in one way or another, but I find this one the most difficult to predict. It seems like the obvious choice for Lethal to square off against his tag team partner, Jonathan Gresham, but maybe that is too obvious. I think there is a strong possibility that David Finlay could remain in ROH for the time being as New Japan is being selective with the gaijin competitors they are bringing back to Japan. That being said, World Tag League has officially been announced, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Finlay reform his team with Juice Robinson. Point being, I think this outcome is very much up in the air. For it only being the Block A semi-finals, there is still a lot of fantasy booking to be done.
I guess there is one more criticism I can make if I am nitpicking: I wish we would see the judges introduced on television over a video meeting. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense for them to physically be in the building, but Josh Woods actually won by judge’s decision and we didn’t see or hear from the judges in that time. Obviously, the judges would be watching live, so how exactly are they doing that? Once again, that is a total nitpick. Other than that, the show has done a fantastic job of explaining the rules and nuances of Pure matches.
Given that these second-round matches are twenty minutes as opposed to fifteen, the opening sequences have a bit more time to breathe. While my favorite wrestling generally has a high pace, I also appreciate when the wrestlers are able to build to a higher pace. While I don’t expect Lethal and Finlay to move at lightning speed, I do imagine that this match will build in intensity. The first ten minutes are very much a “traditional” wrestling match in as much Lethal and Finlay are traditional wrestlers. Both men are working body parts with laser focus; Finlay’s previously injured shoulder and Lethal’s lower back and knee.
While I wouldn’t describe David Finlay as “explosive”, he definitely has explosive moments. It is fair to say that David Finlay is in control for the first fourteen minutes. Once again, Lethal may have been a bit over-confident going into this match. Only a fool would take Jay Lethal lightly, so Finlay was on his game as much as he could be. While Finlay was dishing out the explosive moments, Lethal ended up with the MOST explosive moment: a Lethal Injection seemingly out of nowhere.
Not my favorite match of the tournament, but it was definitely good. I was genuinely unsure of the outcome throughout the entire contest. With Jay Lethal moving on, he faces the winner of the match between Fred Yehi and Tracy Williams. While I already know that a match between Williams and Lethal would be good, I am definitely more interested in seeing Lethal match up with Yehi.
It seems as though ROH may be transitioning back to their regular television show, because we pause the tournament for an in-ring promo by Vincent. It makes sense that they would need to start doing this because the tournament itself is on the threshold of winding down. Beyond that, I actually enjoy Vincent, but viewed through the lens of a B-movie. If you were to take Vincent seriously as a character, I could see where someone would find it to be a bit much, but as a homage to an 80s horror franchise, I am here for it. Matt Taven and Vincent have had quite the rivalry throughout this year, with Vincent getting the best of Taven more often than not. That is not the case here. Taven tears apart the ring and plants Vincent’s face into the exposed planks under the padding of the ring canvas. This was a phenomenal beat-down that immediately had me invested in this feud. Without a crowd, things like this need to look extremely violent, and it absolutely did.
Another development that I found absolutely shocking—EC3 seems to be making his way to Ring of Honor. While this is not inherently shocking by itself, I assumed he had signed with Impact. While Impact does allow its wrestlers to work across the independent scene, I don’t remember seeing ROH crossover with Impact. 2020 is a year that has seen unprecedented cooperation between wrestling companies. While it has been due to necessity in some cases, this is what the wrestling business should be. Cooperation is good for everyone… except WWE.
Jonathan Gresham vs. Matt Sydal
Gresham is one of my favorite wrestlers on the planet right now and is still my ultimate favorite to win the Pure Championship and become a double champion. With Sydal being an insanely incredible athlete, I have to imagine these two are about to make some magic together. I don’t expect much of the acrobatics that others may expect from Sydal, but I do expect some god-tier mat work. Once again, with room to breathe, we will be able to see the ART that both of these men are capable of. Unsurprisingly, Gresham is immediately using his superior mat technique to take Sydal’s legs and limit his quickness. While this is going to slow down Sydal in moments, it is something that Gresham will be dealing with throughout.
The first five minutes of this match are essentially a stalemate, but a stalemate of epic proportions. Every time I watch Jonathan Gresham, I see something completely different. I tend to think that I have seen just about every iteration of limb work in a wrestling match, but I am obviously wrong about that. Not only is working the ankle an intelligent decision for Gresham to make in the context of the match, but the way in which he does it is so interesting to watch. While I understand why catch wrestling is not every fan’s favorite style to watch, if you don’t enjoy it coming from Gresham, you might not actually enjoy wrestling very much. Gresham and Sydal are exemplifying the idea that wrestling is performance art. They are making this look like art.
Halfway through the time limit, neither man looks to be pulling away from the other. I don’t usually think of Matt Sydal as a “striker”, but he definitely looks like one in this match. His kicks look like they hurt…a lot. Just as I thought Sydal might start getting in some more of this intense offence, Gresham puts Sydal in a surfboard. To be fair, this is usually a submission move that is used as a transition more so than a finisher, but the way Gresham uses it as a transition is absolutely masterful. While Sydal is locked in the surfboard, Gresham drops the right half of Sydal’s body which put an incredible amount of torque on the left knee of Sydal, which led to Matt Sydal tapping out after about fourteen minutes. I absolutely loved that finish. Gresham still looks like the favorite to win.
Look… If you STILL aren’t watching this tournament, you are making a mistake…plain and simple. There is something to LOVE every single week. Also, Gresham = God.