The revival of Ring of Honor is underway as the second round of the Pure Championship Tournament closes on this episode. Jay Lethal and Jonathan Gresham were victorious in their respective block semi finals and tonight we see the likes of underdog Fred Yehi, Josh Woods, Tracy Williams and (a guy that thinks COVID-19 is a hoax) PJ Black. Twitter sure has been informative in recent months, but I won’t spend any time on PJ Black being an idiot, because…well…he is an idiot. My primary focus for this episode will be on “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams and Fred Yehi. Tracy Williams looks and wrestles like a slightly more aggressive American version of ZSJ, which means he is absolutely awesome. Once again, if you are coming back to ROH after a significant hiatus as I have, you may not know that Tracy is a guy to keep your eye on…but he is.
Fred Yehi garners an even closer look from the fan yearning for substance in their wrestling. It is absurdly difficult to stand out as a wrestler in 2020 because it seems as though every move, every sequence, every style has been perfected by someone of days passed. If a wrestler is able to forge a particular style that is immediately novel and distinctive, that is someone to keep your eye on. Yehi’s superb natural ability was front and center in his match against Silas Young, to the point that I would say he was the stand out competitor through the entire first round. I know what to expect from guys like Gresham and Lethal; I did not know what to expect from Yehi. I have learned to always maintain measured expectations in wrestling; while that is usually in order to avoid disappointment, in other cases it allows for shock and awe. While I don’t expect Yehi to make it all the way to the block titles, I do see an ROH Television Title match in his future, at the very least.
While I just spoke about maintaining a level-headed approach to watching wrestling, that was in the first round of the tournament. At this point my expectations are through the roof, and deservedly so. Every single step has been in the right direction, including the re-introduction of television angles outside of the Pure Championship Tournament. I am excited about watching this show every week, and I can’t remember the last time I felt that about Ring of Honor consistently. Give. Me. More.
Fred Yehi vs. Tracy Williams
I was under the impression Yehi was facing PJ Black. I feel even LESS confident that Yehi will be moving into the block finals, which is unfortunate, but I think pairing him with Williams could be an absolutely phenomenal choice in terms of the style clash. Along with Gresham, Williams is the definition of a “pure” wrestler and a man that I would imagine is many people’s pick to win the actual Pure Championship. While I don’t find Williams quite as transcendent as Jon Gresham, I have never seen him have a bad match and I expect his work with Yehi to be something different from what we have been seeing on this show recently.
A pretty spectacular story beat that I was not previously aware of centers on both Williams’ and Yehi’s previous membership in the faction Catch Point. Catch Point was a faction in Evolve that formed in the mid-2010s. Members included Drew Gulak, Matt Riddle, Chris Dickinson, Dominic Garrini and other “legitimate” competitors that lay claim to being a group of PURE wrestlers. The faction had a significant degree of legitimacy and most, if not all, of the former members have been making their way to more prominent stages over the course of the last five years. Catch Point gets referenced across all of the major wrestling companies in the United States and its members are some of my most beloved favorites. Point being: my WWE Network subscription will remain in place if we start getting Evolve shows from 2017 because I am starting to feel like I really need to learn more about this now legendary group of guys. Williams and Yehi give each other a Catch Point handshake of honor…I’m sure there were a handful of viewers that popped VERY hard in that moment.
Beyond Williams immediately showing his deceptively significant strength, the first few minutes created some serious drama surrounding the Pure Championship rules. Fred Yehi has never beat Tracy Williams outside of ROH, and Williams looks to be the “veteran” in this exchange. Less than three minutes into the match, Yehi accidentally uses two of his three rope breaks. Obviously this puts Yehi in hot water and he will have to overcome this adversity using his brute strength; it doesn’t look like he will be able to out-wrestle Tracy.
After ten minutes I am reminded of precisely why I was so impressed with Yehi. He is a large man and you would expect him to be more of a bruiser; yet his explosive movement is something to behold. While Williams is explosive in his own right, you almost expect it from a man his size. Yehi is even faster than Williams when creating violent bursts of energy. “Violent bursts” is honestly how I would characterize the entire match through the first twelve minutes. The strikes, submissions and pinfalls are “blink and you’ll miss it” levels of quick. Before I even realized that Tracy had used two of his rope breaks in quick succession, I see that Tracy has used ALL of his rope breaks. While Yehi is the less experienced competitor and his early rope breaks were lapses in judgement, Tracy used his out of necessity. Yehi is no joke.
The final stretch of this match felt like it was being worked by two guys that know each other extraordinarily well. This match could have easily gone either way. Neither man made a mistake down the stretch, but it just so happened that Williams was better than Yehi on this particular day. While I find it unfortunate that Yehi is out of the tournament, he has a new believer. Not exactly a surprise at this point in the tournament, but this match was absolutely tremendous. Williams is more of a striker than many of the other competitors in the tournament and Yehi did not shy away from trading blows with his old adversary. Catch Point is very much alive in 2020 and both of these men continue to carry the torch. I expect a rematch in the near-future.
EC3’s Freedom of Self
Last week, EC3 made his Ring of Honor debut and on this episode he decided to make his voice heard. I am genuinely intrigued by EC3’s career and where it is going. For him to essentially be in Impact and ROH simultaneously is NOT something I would have ever thought possible one year ago. 2020 has led to a couple of necessary developments in the wrestling business: first, the brave women and men that made their voices heard throughout #SpeakingOut and attempted to remove the malignancy that was still running rampant throughout the business; and second, promotional cooperation. WWE tried to create a monopoly because their owner is a toxic individualist… other companies have no need to follow suit. Freedom is precisely what EC3 is talking about while in the ring. Freedom of choice and freedom of self. While you should be watching this entire show, definitely watch this promo if you are an EC3 fan. While I initially found the content a bit goofy, I couldn’t help but be pulled in by it because it looks as though he truly believes in what he is saying. Not to mention, a backstage confrontation with Shane Taylor leads to a potential six man tag between Shane Taylor Promotions and The Briscoes with EC3… um… yes, please.
Josh Woods vs. PJ Black
While PJ Black and Tony Deppen had a more impressive match than I initially anticipated they would, Josh Woods and Kenny King had one of the best matches of the first round. The only match to go to a judge’s decision, King and Woods had a very straight forward wrestling match. When I say “straight forward”, some people may take that as “boring” and that could not be further from the truth. Josh Woods had always rubbed me the wrong way as a performer before that match, and on this day I found myself actually getting a bit excited about him destroying PJ Black. Black is obviously going to get in some offense by being a spectacular athlete, but this is the Pure Tournament and Woods is the better Pure wrestler.
While Black is initially keeping up with Woods on the mat, Caprice Coleman expresses my feelings perfectly on commentary—Black is only able to neutralize Woods on the mat, he is not able to actually control him. Silas Young and Brian Johnson are in the respective corners of Woods and Black. I REALLY do not want to see any outside interference in this match (or in any Pure matches for that matter), but I am definitely ok with a bit of ringside banter. This is actually the first time we have heard any voices aside from commentary in this tournament, and it says a lot that I have not recognized the absence of a crowd even once in the last few weeks. Just another example of how magnificent this tournament has been.
Josh Woods has been dominating the entirety of the first ten minutes of this match. I feel very confident in my initial prediction: Black has looked great in short bursts, but Woods is controlling the entire canvas with his veritable Greco Roman wrestling skills. Even when PJ starts to get the upper hand, it feels like his dominance is not long for this world. Woods is in his element; while Black is not necessarily out of his depth in this environment, it is not nearly as conducive to his style. The moment I am typing “conducive to his style”, Black taps out and Woods gets the submission victory I anticipated he would.
Definitely not the most exciting match of the tournament, but still a very good wrestling match. I said it during the first week of the tournament: from the very beginning, this has felt like a legitimate sport. I feel as though I can analyze these matchups and contests as true competition. ROH has set out to do something very specific with this tournament and they are STILL successful at every single turn.
The block finals now consist of the men that I would presume to be the number one seeds in each of their brackets: Josh Woods, Tracy Williams, Jay Lethal and Jonathan Gresham. From week one, this tournament has felt like a finals showdown between ROH Tag Team Champions Jonathan Gresham and Jay Lethal was inevitable. Some might say that is “predictable”, but I say sometimes the best outcome may also be the most predictable. ROH competitors are officially filming television in their new COVID bubble, and while I am definitely excited to see the brand start anew, I will be genuinely disappointed when this tournament is over. However, the four men moving into the finals are the best possible options for what ROH is looking to deliver. Wrestling is better than the thing you like.