I feel a bit like a broken record as I continually tout Ring of Honor as the best show nobody is watching, but I find it genuinely frustrating that I don’t have a social wrestling network in which friends of friends will tell each other, “Hey, my buddy said ROH is good again”. While there have been some absolutely transcendent progressions throughout the wrestling business in the first three months of 2021 (Forbidden Door, Kenny Ten-Belts, etc.), Ring of Honor has put all of its efforts into building its own unique universe of characters and ideals. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for there to be a “slow period” like we’ve had in the first few months of Dragon Gate.
Instead, we have World Championship matches galore; be they for the World Title itself, the Tag Team Titles, the Six-Man Championships, or the Pure Championship, along with a smattering of matches with multi-tiered importance in regard to potential title shots. The Women’s division is non-existent, but I have to imagine that stems from a lack of available talent more so than a purposeful exclusion. I wouldn’t mind Quinn McKay getting back at Angelina Love as soon as possible, though…just saying.
AGAIN, there are a pair of interesting matches gracing our television screens on this night. With ALL of the wrestling throughout ALL of the week, ROH has maintained its rightful spot as appointment viewing among the other second-tier North American promotions running empty arena television. MLW is good when it is at its best and downright awful when at its worst (i.e. Jungle/Baklei/Island Brawls). Impact generally has about five minutes every week that I find genuinely interesting, and three of those minutes are populated by the Tonys hurling insults at the promotion from which they have purchased air time. I generally watch those shows because they are on; I watch Ring of Honor because I WANT to. I WANT to see Dalton Castle’s rematch with Josh Woods and I WANT to see who the number one contender for the ROH World Championship will be at the 19th Anniversary Show. I also NEED people to WANT the same thing.
Dalton Castle vs. Josh Woods
While Woods has been mostly thriving in the Pure Division since its relaunch, Castle has had a polar opposite experience. Yes, Josh Woods has bungled it a few times in the big moments, but there were some key wins that solidified his spot as a top-five ranked member of the Pure Division. Dalton Castle, while he has had some of his best matches in the last two years, has come up short on almost every occasion. There is currently a lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding the future of Castle as time continues to tick forward. With rumors spreading of Castle finding a new home or leaving wrestling altogether, this match feels like a necessary victory for Castle. Woods would overcome a loss to the former world champion, and as crazy as it sounds, Castle is in danger of being lost in the shuffle.
The era of Ring of Honor that began in 2015 seems like it was twenty years ago based on the amount of change both in Ring of Honor and the industry as a whole. I say that only because I am well aware Dalton Castle isn’t an ‘old vet’, but he kind of feels like one considering he is one of the few left from the last great hot period of the company. Even though he hasn’t been picking up many wins in the last year, he still feels like a contender and a guy the up and coming talent MUST go through in order to reach the upper echelon. Josh Woods has done just about everything to solidify himself as top tier in Ring of Honor, but a win here would make him the inarguable top contender for Jonathan Gresham’s Pure Championship.
This match was everything you should be expecting from Josh Woods in 2021 and maybe a bit more than you would expect from Castle—if you haven’t been keeping up with his work for the last eight months, that is. I want to say “surprisingly intense”, but that has kind of just what Ring of Honor has become. There has not been a single match, aside from the Christmas Special, that felt like it was worked at ¾ speed. Everything was hard and fast, to the point Woods’ mouth fills up with freshly exhumed blood. As stiff as he was, cunning is what put Castle over the top. Woods previously spoke about being “honorable” in the ring by not immediately going for Castle’s notoriously injured back right off the bat, so when Castle feigns injury, that gives him the opening to roll up Woods in order to get the flash pin.
After a pretty extended absence from ROH, Silas Young makes his way down to the ring to convince Woods that even though he got some wins, he couldn’t pick up the big ones and they should probably start tagging once again. While I have really been enjoying Josh Woods as a singles competitor, in all reality, there probably aren’t enough active tag teams to have as rich a division as every other title division is at the moment.
EC3 vs. Jay Lethal vs. Matt Taven vs. Jay Briscoe—ROH World Championship Number One Contendership
While EC3 is not a former ROH World Champion, he was the Impact World Champion, so if we are adding that accolade to the equation, this seemingly random four-way is actually populated by extremely accomplished world champions. Not to mention the already palpable tension between Jay Briscoe and EC3 that has been a thin capillary running through this company for months and, while seemingly insignificant, is very much still pumping. Lethal will always be near the world title picture, as well he should be, so it is Taven that almost feels like the outlier here. He has been so preoccupied with Vincent that he hasn’t really felt like a recent world champion, but he is only separated by Rush and PCO. Due to his injury issues, Taven never really received his championship rematch, so perhaps this is his road less travelled.
Jay Lethal is honestly kind of adorable in his “Father of The Foundation” role. The way Lethal personified genuine glee when Taven called Lethal his greatest opponent…it just warmed my heart is all. Two men I would never describe as “heartwarming” are Jay and EC3. While Briscoe is overtly menacing, EC3 is almost disturbingly so. I can’t imagine EC3 is TOO concerned with titles, at least not for the inherent prestige; perhaps for the personal accomplishment.
Considering this is a Four Corner Survival match that operates under lucha rules, the match itself is kind of all over the place. All of these men are far from being rookies, so there is strategy within the chaos. Except for EC3 that is…he seems to be the primary agent of chaos. EC3 shouting at Jay Lethal to kick Jay Briscoe in the face, only for Lethal to punch EC3 in the face, which frees up Jay to punch Lethal in the face…it is kind of a perfect illustration of everyone’s motivations. EC3 wants to challenge Briscoe, Lethal is honorable and Jay doesn’t care about any of them.
As one might expect, Jay and EC3 eventually become far too concentrated on each other (an issue that drove a wedge between the Briscoes when Mark felt his brother didn’t have his head in the game) and they essentially exclude themselves from contention in the match. The plot thickens as Lethal and Taven are left to fend for themselves and Vita Von Starr, member of the Righteous and mortal enemy of Matt Taven, appears at ringside. While Vita doesn’t get directly involved in the match, she distracts Taven just enough to allow Lethal to hit the Lethal Injection, get the pin and put his stamp on the main event of the 19th Anniversary show to challenge Rush for the ROH World Championship.
While the match itself was a bit all over the place, it added a new chapter to the feuds between Jay Briscoe and EC3, continued the blood feud between The OGK and The Righteous and set the wheels in motion for a collision of the two most powerful factions in all of Ring of Honor. Final Battle was a resounding success last year; even being in an empty arena, I felt it was one of the stronger pay-per-views from top to bottom in all of 2020. I expect no less from the 19th Anniversary show. One thing ROH has excelled in is its level of focus, and there is LASER focus on kicking off the 2021 pay-per-view season as strong as possible.