Kenny King is by no means a household name, although when you dive further into the subculture of the already niche fandom of pro wrestling, you will find more familiarity with him. Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling go hand in hand for immediately obvious reasons. They are the wrestling fan’s wrestling promotions, and their working relationship has been a portal to a completely different wrestling world that many casual fans didn’t know existed. TNA’s X-Division also served as a similar eye-opener to many throughout the 2000s. If you were on the search for something different than WWE in the last twenty years, you have almost certainly come across Kenny King. King’s most recent run in ROH has seen him gain the Television Title on multiple occasions, and most recently joining brothers Dragon Lee and Rush in an American contingent of Los Ingobernables (La Faccion Ingobernables). While La Faccion does not yet have the same name recognition as Los Ingobernables de Japon, there are certainly exciting things ahead for King and his Mexican muscle boys. Tranquilo.
Kenny King vs. Jay Lethal (c) – ROH World Championship (Toronto, CA – November 11, 2018)
Kenny King starts this match off HOT, surprising Lethal with the shotgun knees. The theme of this encounter centers on King reaching the next level and proving he deserves a spot in the main event. However, King has come into this opportunity not for showing Lethal respect, but by forcing himself into the position. Both true heavyweight contenders, this match is a true blend of old school and new. Heavy striking offense is the name of the game, only bringing out the flashy moves when absolutely necessary.
Sometimes I will watch wrestling matches and think to myself, “This looks like fun, I kind of want to learn how to wrestle!” This is not one of those times. King hits an exploder suplex on Lethal that sends the top of Lethal’s head into the middle turnbuckle. Neither man is holding anything back; everything looks like it hurts, which is exactly what I hope to see in a main event World Championship match.
I have been watching New Japan from 2016 recently, so it is slightly jarring to see Jay Lethal working as the babyface here. That being said, Kenny King is excellent as the old school disrespectful heel. Kenny spits on Lethal, attempts to use the belt on Lethal, and his promo work must have been believable on the road to this match because the crowd is entirely on the side of Lethal. That being said, the crowd is surprisingly reserved throughout this match, even with shocking kick outs of each competitor’s finisher. We get a “this is awesome” chant in the late stages of the match, but it seems to come from about two thirds of the crowd. I’m assuming this is due to the predictable nature of the match itself. It is difficult to believe that King is going to come out on top on this particular night. People only begin leaving their seats when it looks as though King steals Lethal’s belt away by pinning Lethal with his feet on the ropes. The official counts to three, reverses the decision, Lethal Injection, Jay Lethal retains.
This match is not spectacular, but it is very good. Both men showed great fire, high impact moves, and had particularly excellent pacing. While it isn’t a Match of the Year candidate, I would certainly say that a match such as this would be a perfect introduction to the work of Jay Lethal and Kenny King. A solid twenty-five minutes with veterans who know exactly what they are supposed to do and do it well.
Kenny King vs. Kushida (c) – ROH Television Title (Las Vegas, NV – September 22, 2017)
The word “legend” gets thrown around nonchalantly in 2020, especially in respect to active wrestlers. Kushida is an actual living legend. If you haven’t seen any of Kushida’s work outside of NXT, you need to make it a point to find the highlights of his run in New Japan (on a personal note, I have been in love with NXT for several years now, but… WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH KUSHIDA??)
In any case, Kushida is the ROH Television Champion as well as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion going into this match.
The men immediately share a moment of mutual respect and it seems as though this match will maintain an aura of pure competition. The opening moments illustrate both King and Kushida’s technical mat skills, attempting to best each other with grappling, holds, and counters. King’s daughter is sitting ringside, as is Kushida’s mother. Both men powder out and share a moment with their family members. Normally I would find this superfluous and cheesy, however, Kushida sweeps King into the barricade in front of his daughter and slams him face first. Kushida bows in apology, King’s daughter bows back, I laughed out loud.
Kushida begins taking Kenny apart piece by piece. Somehow I always tend to forget just how intense Kushida can be. He has an unmistakably original arsenal that focuses on mat technique, but he also has a rather frightening mean streak that rears its head in the most important moments of a match. King is able to overcome this onslaught with his obvious advantage in size and power. When Kushida realizes he can’t overpower King, he begins working on the left arm in the hopes of taking down King with the famous Hoverboard Lock. It is the classic battle of strength versus technique, with strength eventually winning the day.
These guys have incredibly entertaining chemistry with each other. It is not a lengthy affair, but the action is absolutely non-stop. Kushida is such a master of the art and King understands how to work with that perfectly. Once again, not a Match of the Year contender, but certainly worth enjoying with a cup of coffee on a Tuesday morning in Lockdown 2020… Side note: Does Impact still do Lockdown? If not, it seems like they would be missing an opportunity right now…
My favorite aspect of the Day by Day series is the chance for Ring of Honor to highlight some of the mid-card and upper mid-card talent they have. It is not the same locker room they had in 2017-2018, but it would be silly to think the promotion lacks depth. Kenny King doesn’t have the internet fandom that his stable mates Dragon Lee and Rush do. I believe that is something that will change hastily once ROH, and the rest of the wrestling world, are able to get back to a sense of normalcy.