Nearing the end of what has been a pretty great month of professional wrestling across the United States and Japan, ROH made their way into my notebook last week. The ROH World Television Title match between Dragon Lee and Rey Horus was an absolute ripper that garnered some genuine praise from the online community; something ROH has struggled to do since their return. The roster is beginning to feel like its old self since Final Battle and the company doesn’t seem to be pulling back from the high gear they shifted into late last year.
I’m in a state of isolated struggle because I feel as though I want to shout Ring of Honor’s name from the rooftops, but the sound of traffic is stifling my calls at every corner. Companies like MLW, who have also made a recent return, have been getting SO MUCH more buzz than Ring of Honor has and I find it incredibly frustrating. Nothing against MLW, it is a good little show and some of their stars feel like stars, but the undercard is just about as mid as can be and some episodes have delivered more than others. Ring of Honor has been on a ROLL, especially considering the circumstances. People online that have been supposedly clamoring for something with a “real sports feel” (even though I feel that opinion is given in bad faith more often than not) are letting ROH’s product slip right through their fingers. Nothing about Ring of Honor is contrived, hokey, over the top (aside from Danhausen) or seemingly ill-fated. The care and attention the workers are bringing to the fold is something we haven’t seen coming out of this promotion in an astoundingly long time.
I have recently started going back through ROH and New Japan from 2016 because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to either product at the time and I have a desire to watch the ascent of The Elite from that time period. Hardcore fans adored Ring of Honor from that period, and while the shows were mostly entertaining and some of the wrestling was genuinely spectacular, as a complete presentation, Ring of Honor in 2021 has it beat. All else being equal, if these tapings were in front of the usual east coast crowds, they would be losing their minds on a regular basis.
Well, here I sit… a crowd of one, cheering into a void that is hopefully manifesting into a positive universal energy that finds its way into the pineal gland of every Ring of Honor performer…except Flip Gordon…Quinn McKay can have Flip Gordon’s pineal positivity.
Dalton Castle vs. Josh Woods – Pure Rules
Dalton and Josh have had almost polar opposite experiences since the return of ROH. While Dalton has had good matches with guys like Rey Horus, I thought his match with Brody King was completely awesome. The problem for Dalton is that he has been coming up short ever since his first-round loss in the Pure Tournament.
Woods, on the other hand, has looked better than he ever has up to this point. Woods’ Pure Tournament run proved that he was far more than Silas Young’s goofy sidekick; his amateur skills were used to their full potential and he quietly became one of the most improved talents of the year by the time Final Battle rolled around. While Woods lost his shot at a Television Title opportunity at Final Battle, it almost feels like a sure thing that he will be able to take out Dalton Castle. While Dalton feels more legitimate than he has in quite a while, Josh has reached a crucial point in his career where he could genuinely find himself in title contention. No matter what, this match has Pure Championship implications.
Both of these guys have extensive amateur backgrounds, so I predict and/or hope much of the match will be informed by that mutual history. I don’t think that I fully “got” Dalton Castle until this recent run in the Pure division and after revisiting just how over he was with crowds in 2016. In an age where the Bullet Club was on its way to reaching its pop culture zenith, Castle was still garnering more crowd enthusiasm than any other act in ROH. Obviously, a lot of what makes him great as an in-ring performer is lost without a crowd to work off, but Dalton has been doing his best to keep up the witty banter when at all possible (i.e. rocking a turtleneck to the Christmas ten-man).
NOTE: more creepy foreshadowing—Caprice makes reference to the potential necessity of Dalton wrestling with a crowd…I’m a genius…someone give me an indie to run.
I always forget how large Dalton Castle actually is; I don’t know why, but Josh Woods LOOKS big…maybe it has something to do with his limbs…I don’t know…but Dalton Castle is a beefier boy than people give him credit for. Speaking of beef-boi wrasslin’, this match starts exactly the way you assume it would, with groundwork being the thread that runs throughout. But as with most of these Pure matches, they pick up once you get about five minutes deep. Obviously, it isn’t going to be quite as dynamic as the Pure matches from the likes of Tracy Williams, but if anyone can pull off old school southern wrestling, it is Castle. It is safe to say that Castle has slowed down a hair or two since his almost career-ending back injury, but it takes a pretty special performer to be able to work around something that could theoretically be so debilitating. The man wrestles in a back brace; I am not expecting moonsaults to the outside.
This wasn’t the “spectacular” work from Josh Woods against the likes of Jay Lethal or Flip Gordon, but I think that had far more to do with the dynamic of the match than Josh’s performance. Someone may watch this match and say “well, that wasn’t as good”, and I would disagree. If anything, it proves he possesses a level of diversity that could serve him well against a variety of opponents. This match was a solid “gentleman’s three”, establishes Josh Woods as a top contender in the Pure Division and might have been the magnum opus of Dalton Castle based on contract rumors.
The Foundation vs. Shane Taylor Promotions
While I was looking forward to this match on the basis of work-rate, there wasn’t REALLY a story backing it up to gain heat as a genuine feud between factions. That was remedied almost immediately with a pair of pre-match promos, with Tracy Williams calling back to his physical history with SOS and showing respect to Shane Taylor Promotions for refusing to accept the relinquished Six-Man titles. Shane has used some very specific language in relation to The Foundation; Taylor has been more of a ‘tweener than a flat out heel, so to say The Foundation isn’t restoring honor because they are attempting to gentrify the company and mold it in their image is actually pretty brilliant stuff. Especially considering that Shane will be playing the role of babyface against Rush. They brought out the history, they expressed purpose and they are both looking like main event factions at the moment.
I was not a Shane Taylor guy the last time I was watching Ring of Honor television on a regular basis, and as I said in my article on the Taylor-focused pandemic episode, I hadn’t actually seen all that much of him…I had an open mind, and I am very happy that I did. Watching not only highlights from his Television Championship run, but the work he has been doing on his current run proves he is the real deal. While The Foundation is objectively the most successful faction in ROH at the moment, I would not be surprised one bit if Shane Taylor Promotions gets the shock win. Khan and Moses are the only mysterious variables, which should lead to some interesting match-ups throughout…and speak of the devil, Khan starts the match across the way from Jay Lethal.
The physical chemistry in this match is absolutely off the charts. I ventured a guess that Williams and Gresham would have to be creative considering the sheer size of the team standing across from them, but Moses and Khan looked absolutely spectacular throughout. Surprisingly, Shane Taylor wasn’t even the most physically active member of his team; however, he was guiding the two Soldiers of Savagery in terms of ring position and timing.
Jay Lethal looked genuinely overwhelmed at times, which I felt was a potentially beautifully nuanced story beat. Lethal is the old guy in The Foundation; while I am sure he won’t be leaving that faction any time soon, he is really great at playing the despicable heel. It would be interesting if he is the one that will be taking the majority of pins in these types of multi-man matches. Speaking of Lethal being overwhelmed, the finish to this match led to an indistinguishable noise somehow making its way out of my face. The way Taylor snatches Lethal out of the air when he attempts a Lethal Injection and proceeds to destroy him with the piledriver…wrestling is better than the other thing you like.
It has been a month since Final Battle and one might assume that ROH may be spinning their wheels at this point in the television cycle, but it is the exact opposite. Everything matters in one way or another, and I know there are really only two angles per show, but those angles get the care and attention these wrestlers deserve. Mark my words, by the end of 2021 (especially if we are able to have small crowds by the summer), Ring of Honor will have made its way back into the collective consciousness…it is too good for that not to happen.