ROH Escalation (11/21/2008)- Dayton, OH
I’m going to try something slightly different with this review. Don’t worry; the usual ratings and thoughts will still be there, but this show… well… it has a reputation. And that reputation is as one of ROH’s worst (and especially of the pre-Sinclair Era, when the promotion was wholly focused on the DVD/live show product, though I’d even extend the period of when DVDs/live shows were the main focus out until sometime early in Jay Lethal’s world title reign, so let’s say mid 2016… and even with those five years tacked on, this show still has a reputation for being bottom of the barrel). I’ve encountered other shows that had this reputation, though, and found that I have liked them more than most. Not necessarily much more, but I’ve definitely liked them more.
A lot of the shows in which I seem to diverge from the majority opinion seem to have come in 2008, and specifically in the second “slump” from about June 2008 through this very show. Although unlike the fall 2006 slump, this one did have a lot of excellent shows during that period as well, there were a lot of shows that also under-performed, and this time it felt like a lot of that fell on the booking. Gabe wasn’t blind to this, and has said that even at the time he would realize he had booked himself into a corner or done something he shouldn’t have just after it was too late to correct it, and did make some effort to change things up, both in terms of the presentation of the product and the talents being used, but before much of this could be implemented he was fired.
Gabe’s firing left ROH and its fans in a very uncomfortable place. Whatever his personal faults and whatever your feelings on him as a booker, the fact remains that as far as ROH was concerned Gabe wasn’t a booker; he was THE booker. He was the only one the promotion had ever had, and it was his vision of wrestling- a product with clean, satisfying finishes, strong storytelling, and matches so good that even if had read the results of the show online you would still feel like you had to buy the DVD and see them for yourself-that had shaped what the words “Ring of Honor” came to mean for indy fans. It was his eye that determined which wrestlers were to be brought in to help do this, and his mind that put them into the positions in which their talents could be best utilized. All they had to do was go out there and deliver.
Being without Gabe meant uncertainty. You didn’t know what you were going to get, and that went doubly so with the announcement that Adam Pearce- a man who had never booked before- was going to be the one to take up the pencil. While Gabe was fired after the October double-shot, most of the card for the first weekend of shows in November had been announced already, so this show was going to be our first true taste of Adam Pearce’s Ring of Honor... and the overwhelming consensus was that this show totally bombed. What I am going to try to do here is to watch the show with those factors and that reputation in mind, and see if this show truly deserves that reputation or if, like the previous Dayton show, Battle For Supremacy I think its problems have been exaggerated.
BRENT ALBRIGHT vs. DAVEY RICHARDS (w/Sweet N’ Sour Inc.)- 6/10
While this was perfectly decent for a ten-minute match, it had a few factors that I think really worked against it. First of all… this is ROH, so “perfectly fine” tends to feel underwhelming, and especially in an opener. In addition, I just recently watched the opener to Wrestling at the Gateway just two weeks after this, and the opener was a slightly longer (and slightly better) match between Kenny Omega and Kenny King. The difference is that while King and Omega were newcomers and seen as guys who would be the future of the company several years down the line, these two had been around since 2006, and Davey was seen as the future of the company as in “I’d be shocked if he’s not the world champion by the end of next year,” and Albright was a guy who had been pushed as a strong upper-midcarder. Having these guys only guy ten minutes in an opener in ROH is pretty disappointing.
The other thing that I think hurt things here was some of the overbooking. While the fans live did pop big for the finish, there were audible groans when Sweeney caused the ref to miss clear pin of well more than three seconds as well as when Bobby Dempsey got into the ring to interfere. While it might have worked in the building (and I think the fact that Albright still did get the win so it’s not like it felt like overbooking just to protect Davey), these sorts of finishes were the kind of thing that ROH had built its reputation on avoiding, so to see it here in the opener of Pearce’s first show probably put a bad taste in people’s mouths right away.
There was one other spot where which I want to talk about which was Albright going for a dive but referee Paul Turner getting in his way. Albright responded by pulling Turner out of his way and threatening to give him a Half-Nelson Suplex, then went for his dive anyway, only to be cut off by Davey and we despite being teased with one, we wound up not getting a dive.
KYLE DURDEN INTERVIEWS NIGEL MCGUINNESS- This quickly turned into Nigel making fun of Durden, arguing with the crowd, and making an announcement. That announcement was that his scheduled ROH World Title defense against Tyler Black and Austin Aries in tonight’s main event will no longer be a title match. Basically is argument is that fans want to see him defend the title against Dragon in their much-anticipated PPV title match tomorrow night and that couldn’t happen if he lost the title tonight, which could happen even through no fault of his own if Aries pins Tyler or vice-versa. Plus, he says, he’s beaten them both before so neither of them really deserve a title shot anyway. Rather than simply making the match now an elimination match so that Nigel lose the belt without being pinned or submitted himself management apparently agreed with him that Aries and Tyler are both unworthy, so the match was changed to be a non-title match.
This was an utterly baffling booking decision. The fans had bought tickets expecting to see a world title match and now they were getting told they wouldn’t be getting that world title match. Gabe often tried to avoid bait-and-switches like this due to the obvious bad taste it left in fans’ mouths… and now that Pearce is in control, he is screwing the fans out of a title match they paid to see. Making matters worse is that the last time ROH was in Dayton the main event was an ROH World Title vs. NWA World Heavyweight Title match that ended in a Dusty Finish which had fans very upset… and you’d think Adam Pearce would have remembered this because he was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion in that match, but apparently he forgot, and booked something that resulted in the fans in Dayton being screwed with a main event world title match for the second show in a row.
I can see that Pearce might have thought that having Nigel be presented as the one being responsible for the change to the card would have gotten the fans to fully turn on him (Nigel was already a full heel, but many of the Dayton fans had continued to support him because he broke into the business in the area), and they did like him a lot less after this, but I think that doesn’t justify the legitimate damage done with this card change, both to the Dayton fanbase and to the larger fanbase’s confidence that could continue to trust the company to deliver on their promises the way Gabe had always strived to do.
FOUR CORNER SURVIVAL: Sami Callihan vs. Rhett Titus vs. Grizzly Redwood vs. Go Shiozaki (w/Sweet N’ Sour Inc.)- 4.75/10
IRISH AIRBORNE vs. THE BRISCOES- 6.5/10
The Briscoes are coming off of a loss in a tag title match so I can understand them being aggressive and wanting to get a win as quickly and as forcefully as possible, but jumping the Crists from behind was a total heel move. The match was very good for the time it got. These two teams have an odd sort of sloppy chemistry with each other, where things don’t go smoothly and their timing is a little off, but the physicality they bring and the rawness of it make it feel more real.
LIGHTS OUT MATCH: Roderick Strong vs. Chris Hero (w/Sweet N’ Sour Inc.)- 5.75/10
A Lights Out Match is ROH’s version of Last Man Standing, but with DQs, so you really are trying to knock the other guy out (or at least win via technical knockout). I usually don’t like such matches because I find that it’s hard to get the drama of that key split-second’s worth of difference that you have in a pinfall, submission or count-out with the act of getting back to your feet. This lack of drama from its false finishes hurt the match, but not as much as the finish did.
The finish saw all of Sweet N’ Sour Inc. run in and attack Roddy after Roddy had nailed Hero with Hero’s own loaded elbow pad. Instead of immediately calling for the bell, ROH Senor Referee Tod Sinclair (soon joined by some other referees) tried to pull the heels off of Roddy. Brent Albright eventually came out to make the save, armed with a steel chair, and we got a tease of Bobby Dempsey getting hit with the chair but Albright didn’t do it, and before Bobby could repay this kindness, Shane Hagadorn grabbed him by the hair and pulled him out of the ring. Then and only then did we get an announcement that the finish was a no-contest, which is a sh*tty finish in any big gimmick match, but the way Bobby Cruise announced it made it even worse. He said that “because neither man was down for a ten-count” the match was ruled a no-contest… which is basically saying that “no one lost, and thus it’s a no contest.” Well no one had yet lost before the interference happened, either! If they had just announced it as SnS Inc. getting DQed it wouldn’t have been quite as bad, but the way Bobby said it made it sound like the match was about to be restarted (especially because of the lack of bell). A DQ in the company that avoids them at all costs- and in a big gimmick match, no less, was a REALLY sh*tty idea from Pearce, and especially on one of his first shows.
ROH WORLD TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: Kevin Steen & El Generico(c) vs. The Age of the Fall (Jimmy Jacobs & Delirious) (w/Allison Wonderland)- 6.75/10
This was your standard “cut the ring off, babyface in peril” tag team match. Just as it really felt like it was starting to get going, it ended, via Rhett Titus coming out to distract Delirious, allowing Steen to kick the ropes into Delirious’… let’s say “stomach” because Steen clearly kicked the rope up, but neither Delirious, the announcers, nor the referee treated it as if it was a low blow, then hit that cool pumphandle neckbreaker he does for the pin.
After the match, Jimmy Jacobs yelled at Delirious for losing. Specifically, he yelled for Delirious to “end this sh*t with Rhett Titus tomorrow!” at the PPV. Delirious wanted a hug from Allison Wonderland but Jimmy kept them apart. Speaking of Ms. Wonderland, she was wearing a skirt short enough that it didn’t even cover the entirety of her butt. Jimmy started to take Allison to the back, but then turned around and headed back for the ring. Delirious cowered in fear, but Jimmy was nice to him this time.
BRYAN DANIELSON vs. CLAUDIO CASTAGNOLI- 7.5/10
This was Dragon’s first real chance for revenge on Claudio for stomping his head in with a chair at Death Before Dishonor VI (Claudio managed to avoid him in their tag match at Night of the Butcher II and Dragon was happy to square off against the other guy he’s in the middle of a feud with, Nigel McGuinness, and Claudio got himself DQed in an elimination three-way with Dragon and Go Shiozaki at Driven 2008, so he started off by charging right at Claudio.
Dragon was the strong, full of fire babyface until Claudio cut him off by working over his knee. This knee would prove a major weakness for Dragon for the rest of the match, both as a target for Claudio’s offense and failing to support Bryan’s weight for some of his own. Bryan got the win with a small package but Claudio attacked him right afterwards and destroyed his knee with a chair, so Bryan will be going into his PV main event world title match tomorrow night with an injury.
AUSTIN ARIES vs. NIGEL MCGUINNESS vs. TYLER BLACK (w/Allison Wonderland)- 7.25/10
The story of this match started off as Nigel doing his best to avoid doing anything, and he was surprisingly successful at it. He sat back and picked his spots, and whenever he needed to bail Aries and Tyler were usually too focused on each other to go after Nigel. Once Nigel got more involved the story shifted to everyone working over everyone else’s head.
At one point Aries had a dive lined up on Tyler but Allison Wonderland put herself in the way so Aries stopped himself, grabbed her, and kissed instead. Obviously a babyface shouldn’t be doing this, but I’ll give it a pass in this instance because there is the argument to be made that this is him playing mind games with Jimmy Jacobs heading into their big brutal I Quit blow-off match tomorrow night at the PPV. He stole Jimmy’s previous gal, and now here he is kissing Jimmy’s replacement-Lacey as well. (Also, there is an interesting argument I’ve seen made that Aries really ever wasn’t a babyface during this feud and it was actually heel vs. heel the whole time. He stole Jimmy’s girl and has now made it his mission to try to tear the rest of Jimmy’s “family” apart, having already started with Necro Butcher, and he was trending in a heelish direction before the Jacobs feud began [which was done to make the idea of him joining the heel AOTF seem plausible when they tried to recruit him over the winter]).
So… does this show deserve its reputation as one of ROH’s worst? Yes, I think so, but I think that of the bottom of the barrel shows, it’s definitely towards the top of the bottom section. For another company it might have been acceptable, but for ROH it was definitely very bad, but I do think that the feeling that it was one THE WORST was a bit overblown due to the emotions created by the uncertainty of the booking change, and the poor decisions Pearce made that contributed to that. But at least ROH management also recognized soon after the fact that the show was very bad, because in order to get people to buy it they stuck on a much anticipated match that actually happened the next night: the ROH return of Samoa Joe. You can find it in the…
SAMOA JOE vs. TYLER BLACK (from 11/22/2008)- 7.75/10
The story of this match was basically the resilience of Tyler Black, as Joe dominated most of the match but Tyler kept fighting on. This was a good choice as it allowed the fans to see what they really wanted, which was Joe doing all of his old spots again and being the ROH Samoa Joe again. The goal here was to use Joe to get Tyler over, but I think there were two things here that hurt this. The first is that Tyler cut Joe off the first time via a distraction by Allison Wonderland rather than fighting back by himself.
The second issue with this match was the fact that Tyler lost here. It’s not that the type of story they were trying to tell can’t work with the guy losing, but in Tyler’s case he already had that match with Nigel back at Take No Prisoners 2008 in March. Losing here to Joe in a match where he took A LOT less punishment than that one feels like a step backwards for a guy who is theoretically in the hunt for the ROH World Title, not a step forward like a big win over Samoa Joe- who almost NEVER lost singles matches in ROH, even on his way out the door- would have been.
“WELCOME BACK” SAMOA JOE PROMO- Awesome. Samoa Joe is everything you want in a main eventer in a professional wrestling company!
GRIZZLY REDWOOD FEATURE- meh. It was just Grizzly doing lumberjack stuff. It wasn’t very entertaining.
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