ROH Reborn: Stage Two 4/24/04 Chicago Ridge, IL
1. x-Ace Steel vs o-B.J. Whitmer (6:10) pinfall (wrist-clutch Exploder)
Before the match can start, both Briscoes jump Ace from behind and give him a spike piledriver. Punk & Cabana run out in street clothes and clear the ring. After Punk takes the mic and evokes WWE events that have taken place in Chicago, the Saints and Briscoes brawl into the back. When the match finally starts after about six minutes, Whitmer preys upon Ace's Briscoe-damaged head and neck before winning with the wrist-clutch Exploder. Ace got a stretch of momentum off a countering sunset bomb but the result was never in doubt. B.J. continues to thrash the little guy after the match so as to further the Saints-Prophecy feud. The match had no purpose or identity beyond that, in fact. *
2. Justin Credible & o-MASADA vs x-Delirious & Shawn Daivari (8:08) pinfall (Ushi-Koroshi)
Credible works at an excruciating pace that suggests he still believes he's on Sunday Night Heat while Daivari seems desperately eager to get there himself. MASADA and Delirious appear to have the most talent, so of course they're the ones who get cut off so the weak links can carry the inaction. In the end, Daivari does a diving body press with a Muslim prayer rug so Sapolsky can show off his racism. Daivari then eats That's Incredible and MASADA breaks Delirious' neck for the win. A child's introduction to entry-level American tag team wrestling that was as pointless as it was bad and as boring as it was offensive. ½*
3. x-John Walters vs o-Chad Collyer (12:39) cradle
Because Walters beat Collyer under "pure wrestling" rules on 1/29, Collyer wanted a rematch, claiming Walters could never beat him with unlimited rope breaks. So, what's this match predicated on? You guessed it: lots of rope breaks! The opening couple minutes are devoted to nifty Euro-tinted chain wrestling smoothly executed especially by Dean Malenko trained (and cloned) Collyer. His strategy to is to beat the hell out of Walters' legs (his finisher is of course the Texas Cloverleaf) in an all business technical approach while Walters was a little more willing to cut corners and bring out hard strikes. Their good foundation at the outset began to crumble and meander as the match wore on. They had no logical transitional material between the largely abandoned chain wrestling and Eddy & Dean cosplay that ended up amounting to 75% of the contest. Collyer's roll-up finish was supposed to involve Walters' damaged legs, but in reality it didn't look like the leg arrangement added anything to the pin. Instead of Collyer earning an ultra-technical, intelligently executed victory, then, the match just looked like it screeched to an abrupt halt. This was watchable for what it was, but what it was wasn't as interesting as ROH wanted you to believe. **½
4. Four Corner Survival: Austin Aries vs Rocky Romero vs x-Jimmy Rave vs o-Nigel McGuinness (16:40) London Dungeon
"Any one of these guys can be the next Colt Cabana" --C.M. Punk
As Mr. Sapolsky remembers to casually (that is, emphatically) mention (cram down your throat) two or three (thousand) times this show, the name of the show and the concept itself is ROH being reborn. And these four fellows are the future. He neglects to mention that ROH needs new stars because many of the old ones were banned from the company by TNA because ROH has now become associated with predatory pedophilia. But nevermind that.
This match progressed through two phases. The first was not so much a match as a demonstration of the styles and capabilities of each wrestler in a rotation where professional, Japanese-trained Rocky Romero could carry them. First, McGuinness and Romero give us a fluffy but fun hybrid duel between Johnny Saint-worship and New Japan shooter junior styles. Next comes Rave, who doesn't really distinguish himself, followed by the debuting Aries, who injects fast, flashy UDG-esque offense. This pairing featured the best moment of the match: Rocky effortlessly rolls a Lady in the Lake directly into a LeBell Lock. Just a fantastic spot so elegant and so interesting it's unbelievable no one has ripped it off.
Phase two is the attempt at an actual match, which goes far less smoothly. Everyone wants to keep going back to the British stuff that was in irritating vogue - especially in the Midwest indies - during the mid-00s. Nigel, in fact, brings the crowd screaming in ecstasy to their feet by walking through Johnny Saint's "Artful Dodger" sequence - apparently dvd trading had yet to reach Chicago in 2004. Well and good though this all may be, they couldn't really flip into a high gear due to the silly match concept. A four-way match that requires tags of course will naturally collapse into a normal two on two tag, and so this does, with Rave getting isolated by Aries and Romero, leading to a hot tag to Nigel. Eventually - and with the referee's silent acquiesence - they abandon the tag concept entirely for a poorly positioned and chaotic yet entertaining finish where Romero's and Aries' brawling with each other precluded either from breaking up Nigel's London Dungeon arm & neck submission on Rave. Romero looked the best and ready for primetime (or a Black Tiger mask), Rave lacked an interesting style and performance and Aries and McGuinness both showed great potential. This was a fun exhibition of almost four young talents, but didn't hold together well as an actual competitive wrestling match. **
5. o-Homicide vs x-Bryan Danielson (29:47) pinfall (Western Lariat)
The dvd opened with a pre-taped segment where Homicide and Danielson had a little confrontation where each proclaimed and demonstrated the superiority of their style - Danielson's grappling and Homicide's striking. When the bell rang, however, instead of this promised spirited clash of styles, we get jawing with the fans, stalling, and directionless ground work designed not to further a strategy or story but eat up time. Of course, both looked good chain wrestling, but it is was so slow, so torpid, so completely absent of forward momentum that the only thing missing is Joe Rogan shouting at us on commentary about how hard it all is to do. After a couple minutes of this Homicide gets frustrated and throws a chair in the ring, but this teasing of him snapping as he did a day ago against Joe amounts to nothing more than further time-shaving. So inactive and vacuous in fact is the first ten minutes that it seems a time limit draw is guaranteed.
With thirty minutes successfully cut to twenty, the real match can begin: a poorly disguised spot called in the corner leads to a training-session momentum shift off a blocked corner charge from Danielson. Homicide follows with a maneuver of unclear nature from the top rope - either a bulldog, knee drop, elbow drop or some of all of the above - that attacks the back of Danielson's head. Homicide focuses exclusively on this damaged part and ups the brutality with chair attacks outside the ring. With Danielson slumped against the barricade, Homicide charges in for a right hook but Danielson dodges and the punch cracks the metal. Ferociously pissed off, Danielson furiously focuses on the hand, even going so far as to smash it with the ring bell. Back in the ring, Homicide begs off and seems to even offer fellatio, but Danielson will have none of it (at least, not after shaving more time by slowly walking around the ring and polling the fans). At the twenty minute mark, we see that brutality can in fact be boring. Stupidly, Homicide tries chopping with his battered hand, but gets momentum back on his patented tope con giro.
From the body part targeting came a significant, amateur flaw far less forgiveable than earlier meandering padding. With the targeted body parts established and damaged, neither man can fully lock their favorite submissions: Danielson's neck prevents him from holding the Cattle Mutilation's bridge and Homicide's hand prevents him from clasping the crossface in his STF. Both guys know what the other is doing to those body parts. Both guys are supposed to be savvy ring technicians. So, why are they attempting these maneouvers in the first place? Sure, the attention to detail was nice and both did a good job of selling and remembering what has been going on over the whole course of the match, but the submission spots came off less as desperate attempts to defeat an opponent giving his all and more "Hey, look at what we can do! See our awesome psychology and selling!" In other words, there was no genuine realism, just self-aggrandisement akin to an opera soprano deliberately drowning out everyone else on stage. The skill and technique is there, but the logical integration is lacking. Typical of ROH construction, the conclusion is faster and reciprocating, though there's far too much space (that is, contrived selling) around the sequences. In rather an anticlimax, Homicide wins with a crunching Western Lariat after escaping a Dragon suplex attempt with a back kick low blow. So, after all the alleged "storytelling," the match still came down to nothing other than the first to decisively connect with a finisher.
Over the entire half hour, Sapolsky insisted that Homicide had "changed" and was a completely different person and wrestler after his dastardly fireball the previous show, but neither Sapolsky's commentary partner C.M. Punk nor anyone watching could be convinced this was the case.
This was a promising effort by two minor leaguers, but the effort they succeeded at was showing themselves, not forging a realistic, intelligent professional wrestling match. The pieces are all there, they just need to put them together in the right way. For whatever it's worth, though, the fans in attendance ate this up. ***
6. o-Ricky Reyes vs x-Danny Daniels Shawn Capture
ROH sent a pretty clear message with this one: you're not supposed to care. You're not supposed to care about this training session match to such a level that they cut away from it - on a dvd released several weeks after the event took place - so a guy can tell you that Samoa Joe has arrived. What utter nonsense. They return to the match in time to show Reyes rip off Hidaka's Shawn Capture leg submission. He had kind of sort of worked on Daniels' leg, so fine, whatever.
7. Tag Team Scramble: H.C. Loc & Tony DeVito vs o-Jack Evans & Matt Sydal vs Alex Shelley & x-Jimmy Jacobs vs Kevin Dunn & Kirby Marcos (12:50) pinfall (630°)
Anyone who claims you need insubstantial matches like these between the featured ones is flat-out wrong. Nothing kills a show's momentum more than slamming the card into reverse after a big match and forcing us to watch crap that should've been on the pre-show. Everyone was there just to do their stuff: Jacobs did his Berserker comedy routine, Evans his acrobatics, Shelley his Euro-lucha, the Carnage Crew were stiff and dominating with power moves, the Ring Crew Express got their asses kicked and blew spots. Everyone did dives. Some of the spots were creative, but let's be honest: the only story this had was eight indy guys getting work. The marks actually gave this nonsense a roaring standing ovation and an "ROH" chant. *
8. ROH Title (3rd,16): o-© Samoa Joe vs x-Matt Stryker (18:56) tobi-tsuki sankaku-jime
Simply put, this was a very lackadaisical attempt to disguise a jobber squash as a championship bout. Joe walked through the submissions he sort of knows how to do, utilised his full arsenal of crowd pleasing power moves that make no contact with the opponent, made angry faces to show how badass he is, then somehow hauled his ass up into a flying triangle choke for his 16th title defense. Somewhere in the middle, Stryker was allowed a stretch of offense that was 80% chopping and 10% working on Joe's leg while utterly ignoring the noticable burn on the guy's face, courtesy of Homicide. The time of possession was about 95:5 Joe, yet he couldn't be bothered to sell even the 5% Stryker was deigned. Just an awful excuse for a title match and a pathetically selfish performance by Joe. It would've been a more exciting and respectful defense had he just knocked out or submitted Stryker in 2-3 minutes! *
9. ROH Tag Title (5th,7): x-© Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe vs o-C.M. Punk & Colt Cabana (19:47) pinfall (Pepsi Plunge)
The thought process behind this was pretty clear. Sadly, it's a very typical one: the hometown guys are going to be really over, the fans are going to cheer anything they do, so don't sweat the details. Just fingerpaint by number, get the win and the simpletons in the crowd will go home happy. And that is just what they did, and with gusto. The first seven minutes were, in fact, Punk and Cabana just goofing around. Cabana did his usual strutting, preening, grinning comedy routine, Punk winked at fans and said "Yeah, I'm a huge babyface!" They were just damned happy to be wrestling in their hometown. The next phase was of course the Briscoes using heel tactics to isolate Punk for several lazy minutes before - to the very letter of the ROH script - it all breaks down, rules are abandoned, and everyone is extra stiff. Punk and Cabana win their first ROH title in front of their people (who even go so far as to chant "Chicago" afterwards!) and that's that. If you only care about seeing a quality wrestling match and are neutral or worse towards The Second City Saints and the city of Chicago, then this match will be revealed to you as the severe waste of time it truly was. These four were right for the match, but the match wasn't right for them. **
This was Ring of Honor's debut in Chicago, which would immediately become the western boundary of the territory and an important stop, drawing significant crowds due to the lack of indy saturation - on the east coast, numerous groups compete with each other in the same small area, while Chicago had virtually no higher-level independent presence. The fans showed up, they had a great - albeit naïve - time, the Frontier Fieldhouse would immediately become an ROH fixture...
...But let's be honest. This wasn't a good show. Professional wrestling, especially in North America, forces the fan to struggle with the following question:
Does good booking make up for bad wrestling, and does good wrestling make up for bad booking?"
In ROH, though, the two halves of this quandry tend to cancel each other out. Whatever good wrestling could be accomplished by actual and potential talent gets bogged down by micromanaged booking - on this show, this concept was fully exemplified in the Danielson-Homicide clash - while the same micromanagement deliberately constructs matches to be bad or pointless on purpose so as to further a larger scheme. A scheme which is bad unto itself! Gabriel Sapolsky, who doesn't even have the guts to use his real name as he gushes egomania on commentary (during this show he actually unsubtly burst out with "I want to point out just how interesting ROH's booking is"!) does not just demand "suspension of disbelief" he orders the fan to see what isn't there. Simply put, Sapolsky and his ROH is a fraud. Now, usually, seeing a nobody piloting a log raft through a puddle while insisting to passers-by that the lashed pile of sticks is a man-o-war and he's an Admiral in his majesty's fleet is good for some amusing derision, but Cap'n Gabe's crew almost to a man (Ring Crew Express notwithstanding) have tremendous upside. But potential talent can only be brought forth by letting the wrestling breathe. If that doesn't happen, a show like this gets produced: the work is either a lazy training session, a pointless squash, or a brainless exhibition of spots. Gabe will tell you this is a "variety of styles" but a real mind for pro-wrestling sees it for what it really is.