As we march closer to crowning a Pure Championship Tournament winner, I can’t say that I am very surprised in terms of the final four combatants. Jon Gresham, Josh Woods, Jay Lethal, and Tracy Williams remain, and every single one of them makes sense. This will sound like an incredibly boring description, but this entire tournament has made perfect sense. Making sense in wrestling happens to be a fairly rare commodity; that is one reason AEW has been so successful up to this point, almost everything makes sense. When something doesn’t make sense in AEW, they generally seek to remedy that. It doesn’t seem like that particular process should be a novelty, but it is, and that is one reason this tournament has felt so strong.
Beyond objective booking patterns, this whole tournament has felt very much “alive”. That may sound like a second backhanded compliment, but for a completely empty arena, “alive” should come off as an indicator of success. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit wary about what the future will hold for ROH in an empty arena, but this tournament has all but guaranteed that I will be giving it multiple chances if it isn’t an immediate success.
Speaking of success, I have no earthly idea why this tournament doesn’t have more buzz surrounding it. I will see the odd Twitter gif floating around when the show debuts for free of FITE every Monday, but that is just it… it is free on a Monday. How is it that even the hardcore fan isn’t singing the praises of ROH based on this tournament? Even when I look at Reddit, most of the discourse surrounds what is happening with Marty Scurll more so than what is ACTUALLY happening in Ring of Honor. To be fair, would I have watched this tournament if I hadn’t been religiously watching the lockdown episodes of ROH? Perhaps not. It is no secret that ROH was in a bit of a rut when the pandemic actually hit, so that, combined with the fact they didn’t have brand new wrestling content for several months may have taken them out of the collective subconscious. Hopefully, the crowning of a new Pure Champion will be enough to bring ROH back into the zeitgeist. It would be based on merit.
Josh Woods vs. Jonathan Gresham – B Block Final
Both of these men are known for being mat technicians, but I have to say, one of these men is significantly more innovative when it comes to what he is able to pull off from match to match. Jonathan Gresham was a genuine revelation when I discovered what he was capable of during the summer. While Gresham is nursing a chronic leg injury, I just don’t see Woods being inventive enough to take down The Octopus. Gresham transcends professional wrestling in a way that is so incredibly rare. When you hear people talk about a “once in a generation” talent, Gresham is that and then some. Gresham is a once in a lifetime wrestler. Josh Woods is certainly not a pushover, and he will CERTAINLY attempt to work Gresham’s leg injury to its fullest extent, but Gresham is still my favorite to win this match… as well as the entire tournament.
Both men are starting very slowly and that stems from the respect that they obviously have for each other as workers. Woods’ primary advantage is his strength, which he utilizes well into the first ten minutes of the match. So much so that Gresham almost looks outclassed by Woods’ physical domination. With Gresham not being at one hundred percent physically, it looks as though he is having greater difficulty countering offence that would normally be elementary for him. That being said, these block finals have a thirty-minute time limit. This could be a marathon more so than a sprint.
After Gresham uses his second rope break in less than ten minutes, it looks as though he switches gears mentally. While Woods may catch Gresham off guard on occasion, wrestling is a science for The Octopus, and The Octopus is exactly who he needs to be in this moment. After Woods is able to force his way out of a precarious submission, it is now HIS leg that seems to be in bad shape. After forcing Woods to keep up with his wily speed, Gresham is able to catch Woods off guard with a roll-up coming off the ropes in what I would call a shockingly quick victory. With the block finals being set at a thirty-minute time limit, I would have bet money that this was going over fifteen minutes at the very least. While I am not surprised by Gresham getting the win, I was surprised by the fashion in which he was able to do it. I suppose he knew he couldn’t necessarily rely on his regular submission game with Woods being so much more powerful. It was a fun match and Gresham is officially moving into the finals as we all expected he would. That makes me happy.
Matt Taven vs. Vincent
One of the two angles that have been running separate of the tournament, this rivalry has been brewing throughout the lockdown. Vincent has become unhinged since separating from Taven’s Kingdom stable. Both men have been attacking each other regularly and violently thoughout the last six months. This culminated with Taven absolutely destroying Vincent two weeks ago on television. We were meant to have the official in-ring return of Taven on this night, but that was spoiled by Vincent jumping him on the ramp.
Once again, Vincent is out for blood. He never even allows for the bell to ring and absolutely destroys Taven with a senton on to a table from a twenty-foot ladder. I had said previously that a rivalry such as this needs to look incredibly violent in an empty arena in order for it to land. This has had a cumulative ten minutes on ROH television and it has already been insanely engaging. The fight continues.
Jay Lethal vs. Tracy Williams – A Block Final
This is the first match of this tournament that I feel could truly go either way. No matter what, either man is a worthy contender for the Pure Title and each has the potential of giving Gresham the fight of his life. Gresham and Lethal had one of my favorite matches of all time and Tracy is on a similar level to Gresham when it comes to unadulterated technique and style. Lethal had made a promise from day one that it would be he and his best friend Gresham in the finals. These guys are going to give each other absolutely everything.
Out of the gate this match is more competitive than the match between Woods and Gresham. Williams and Lethal do not have the same size and strength disparity we saw in the previous match. People tend to forget just how strong Lethal is on the mat…or I do, at least. Lethal definitely isn’t synonymous with mat technique in the way Williams and Gresham are, and perhaps that begins to rear its head when Lethal uses two of his three rope breaks in the first five minutes. While Tracy is able to get the best of Lethal in moments, he hasn’t been able to assert control in the way he would prefer.
While the raw physicality seems to be taken up a notch ten minutes in, Williams’ prior shoulder injury slows everything down for a moment. As he finds himself on the outside of the ring, he stares at the Pure Title attempting to conjure the “Hot Sauce” that has seen him take control in some of his most memorable moments. Lethal is a veteran, however. He attempts to take Williams out of the match by targeting that injured shoulder.
This match hits another level when both of the exhausted competitors are able to just barely hit their finishing maneuvers only to see the other use their final rope breaks. What commences can only be described as a Japanese Stand-off. These are the types of exchanges I show people when they say “isn’t that stuff fake?” It felt like the first man that made a mistake would be the one to take the loss. That is exactly what happened. Jay Lethal spends far too much time setting up the Lethal Injection and Williams takes advantage of that by putting Lethal in the stiffest of crossfaces. Lethal taps and Williams moves on to the finals. This was one of my favorite tournament matches thus far, and I can’t think of another off the top of my head that I enjoyed more. While it would have been neat to see Gresham and Lethal square off as the Tag Team Champions, Williams may be the more exciting match.
Remember how I was talking about how awesome this tournament was for how much sense it made? Yeah, Gresham and Williams facing each other in the finals is another example of that. While they seem like the most obvious choices for winning their respective blocks, there is a reason they seem like the obvious choices. Both men are genuinely the best “pure” wrestlers in the company and I hope they get an entire episode of television to show off exactly what they can do. That match is going to BANG.