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A Beginners-Friendly Review of ROH Respect is Earned

Posted in In My Head by Jack at 10:19, Aug 08 2007

This review comes in two sections. The first section explains the basics of each match. The second is an in-depth review that is mostly spoiler-free (two outcomes are mentioned, one because it was a squash match, one because of the pertinent angle that was shot after the match). I?ve tried to make both accessible to beginners who are considering trying out the ROH product for $10 on PPV.

The Basics: What You?ll See
BJ Whitmer Vs. World Champion Takeshi Morishima: Whitmer, a hungry up-and-comer, throws down an open challenge to anyone to be in the first match on the first ROH PPV. The world champion answers the call.

Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Rocky Romero: Great athletes from different countries try to one-up each other in a match that goes from technical to high-flying.

Tag Team Champions Jay and Mark Briscoe Vs. Matt Sydal and Claudio Castagnoli: After defeating Jay Briscoe in singles competition, Castagnoli was allowed to pick his own partner to challenge for the tag titles. He picked former Wrestling Society X star Matt Sydal to create a team of size and power to challenge the balanced champions team.

Roderick Strong Vs. Delirious: Delirious, a babbling, insane masked man, finally gets a revenge match against the man who concussed him months back.

World Champion Takeshi Morishima & Bryan Danielson Vs. Nigel McGuinness & KENTA: Morishima pulls double-duty this night, teaming with former world champion Bryan Danielson to fight two of the main challengers for his title, McGuinness and KENTA, two of the best strikers in the world. But Danielson also has his eyes on Morishima?s title.

The Complex: What I Saw
One great thing about the show was the diversity on the roster. It felt like a world wrestling company. They showcased three Japanese wrestlers, a Hispanic wrestler with history in Mexico and Japan, a Swiss wrestler with lucha training, and a British bruiser in addition to their very talented American wrestlers, who went across the spectrum from old school heels to an insane, coloreful babyface. The "foreigners" weren't all superstar good guys or evil invaders. Some were good, some were cruel, but first and foremost they were athletes.

Another interesting feature was the cut-away for certain wrestlers. When someone entered the ring, they received a three-second video montage of highlights from their offence. In addition to the narrative of the commentators, these introduced us to most of the wrestlers, and clued us into each man's signature moves. They might have been more effective at 5-8 seconds long, so the individual clips wouldn't be so short and confused, and so we could get a better sense of their signature moves. Romero in particular would have benefited from having his kicks and Tiger Suplex properly featured. For their match, Matt Sydal and Claudio Castagnoli didn't get an entrance and their cut-away videos played after the Briscoes entered the ring, cluttering everything up needlessly. I know ROH is working on condensing and cutting three-hour events into two-hour programs, making every minute of screen time very important, but hopefully they can deal with time issues better in upcoming shows.

BJ Whitmer Vs. Takeshi Morishima opened the show with a squash match. Yeah, Whitmer hit an Exploder and a beautiful Frog Splash, but it was a squash. As my friend put it, "That Japanese guy killed him to death." However, it was the most entertaining squash I've seen all year from any promotion.

As a regular viewer I recognized everyone who came to the ring afterwards, setting up the main event. I was very excited for Bryan Danielson's return, but I wonder if newcomers could appreciate the gravity of Danielson's comeback without a backstage promo or something beyond the commentators mentioning his 15-month reign as champ. It's a very impressive feat, but doesn't seem as impressive when it's a throwaway line in the middle of an angle. The only guy in all of this who was really poorly introduced was KENTA, who really came off as just another guy who should be important. Their whole second in-ring segment was so rushed that it was sure to lose some people.

Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Rocky Romero got everything onto the right track. It started out with a good feeling out process, cool-looking holds and a sweet Mexican standoff where it really looked like Romero was trying to take Marufuji's head off. They built to some really cool spots and moments (which I won't spoil), while using limb work and technical wrestling to keep the pace reasonable until it was time to hit high gear. Marufuji showed the shades of Great Muta he's been adding to his act in the last two years, which was very nice, even though it probably will go over almost everyone's heads. Romero is quite charismatic and fresh. The Diablo Armbar will probably always be cool to me, and Marufuji does the best Superkicks in wrestling today. All in all, it was a great introduction to the modern Juniors style. It left me feeling like I was in for a great evening of wrestling.

The backstage skit with Sweeney, Toland, Del Ray and Dempsey came off as indy-gimmicky as ****. It's out-there and wacky in a way that's almost exclusively seen in amateurish wrestling skits, and this certainly had its total amateur moments. You're either going to like this or you won't. I laughed, especially at Toland getting into a squat-off with Del Ray.

Then we had a Tag Team Title match between the champions, Mark and Jay Briscoe, and the challengers, Matt Sydal and Claudio Castagnoli. I don't know why Castagnoli cut his hair or wore those tights, but darn did he look homely, and not homely in a distinct way, but homely in a "veteran who was only told he was wrestling this morning" way. I suspect Mark and Jay Briscoe are going to very hard for many people to tell apart. They really ought to wear different trunks so it could just be "Mark in the black, Jay in the red." As it is, it's, "Mark with the really short buzz cut, Jay completely bald and with more tattoos."

My negative criticisms are cosmetic because I don't have complaints about the wrestling. Castagnoli may have worn tights suited to the 1930?s, but he wrestled a stiff and cool modern style, with a little flying and a lot of smart maneuvering. There are flaws if you want to find them, but any miscommunications from the beginning of the match are forgotten after the blitz they go through in the end. One team was two very agile brothers with good striking games and amazing tandem work, while the other was a big man with great technical ability and a little guy with unparalleled agility. Essentially, Sydal was faster and Castagnoli was stronger than both of the champions, so the champs had to use timing and team work to combat them. This was a very simple story that the four men exploited into an outrageous match, full of the kinds of highspots the indies are famous for. This breakneck style will turn some people off, particularly curmudgeons who demand slow psychology. However anyone who was excited by the potential of the X-Division in TNA should love this.

Two things stuck in my head during the tag title match. The first was about the look of the product: far too many guys wear black and red. The barricades and logos are black and red, the ropes are black, the turnbuckle pads are red, and the canvas is black and red. The big portions of shadow in the Manhattan Center fill the screen with even more black. Sure, ROH has company colors, but then Danielson, Morishima, Whitmer, McGuinness, Strong, Romero, Pearce, Hagadorn, Steen, both commentators, both Briscoes, Sydal and Castagnoli all wore black, red or both. You can forgive camera work being inferior to WWE?s, but this color scheme gets cloying very quickly. I cheered Delirious and Marufuji just for wearing green and gold. The homogeneous colors will only make it harder for new viewers to tell everyone apart. Visual variety like that is a little thing, but somebody wearing silver, blue, purple or even white as the primary color of their gear would instantly make them stand out. It's especially annoying when you know at last half of those guys own better-looking tights in different colors. Perhaps ROH requested the roster to wear the company colors as a show of unity, but if so, they ought not do it again.

The other thing is the use of certain moves. Big WWE fans may be angry to see the Superkick, Stonecold Stunner and Rock Bottom all used as transition moves. The use of other company?s finishers is a little more noticeable here than in any other match on the card. Personally, I loved it. The Powerbomb is still a big and important move, but not a killer like it is on Smackdown. These new wrestlers have their own moves that they build to and have to make important, and frankly some of the most popular WWE moves, removed from the hype of the superstars they?re attached to, have never been physically impressive, nor did they ever look that much more damaging than comparable strikes and throws. This isn?t problematic if you?re like me and were wondering why certain moves were so devastating even in your pre-teen kayfabe years. The ROH style mostly puts moves in context of their physicality. It?s also indicative of something else in the ROH style: there are an awful lot of nearfalls, and so there are a lot of moves wrestlers throw at their opponents to get them. These wrestlers are so prone to fight out of a move or to reverse it midway that the really successful grapplers are the ones who know yet another move to catch their opponent in, both for reversals and for reversing reversals. It results in some frantic action, and a staggering variety in the kinds of offense you?ll see in the ring. The ensuing blitz can be dizzying and awesome, and particularly in the Briscoes Vs. Sydal & Castagnoli match, can create a ride like nothing any other company offers on PPV.

After the tag title match, two more challengers appeared, in the husky Kevin Steen and the masked El Generico (who was in street clothes, but still wore his lucha mask). They demanded a match with the Briscoes, gave us a great sense of their rivalry, and initiated one of the best brawls in any wrestling company in ages. It was at least as exciting as the first brawl between Umaga and Bobby Lashley leading up to the Billionaires Match at Wrestlemania 23. Just like that brawl, this one summoned referees and ring crew to try and stop them, and just like that brawl, these men would not be deterred, leaping off of the ropes and attacking officials just to get at each other. And they didn?t just fight with punches and kicks. Oh no. They destroyed the ring crew with running boots, piledrivers and suplexes, before flying at each other again. There?s a crazy wrestling charm to all of this, and it sets up future PPV matches better than anything else on the show.

Roderick Strong Vs. Delirious had the unenviable task of following the fast-paced tag title match and the intense brawl between the Briscoes and Steen & Generico. Delirious chopping and kicking Strong just couldn?t match up to Steen knocking out Mark Briscoe with a chairshot. This is a world better than the last time these two wrestled, but they don?t have the physical chemistry necessary for an intense feud (unlike other pairings like Delirious and Sydal, Aries and Strong or Danielson and Strong). Not everyone can adapt to Delirious? zany babyface role, and Strong comes off particularly amateurish trying to be the big mean heel against him. After ten minutes the guys hit a higher gear, shaking off the problems they had earlier on by hitting quicker reversals and sicker moves. They keep picking up the pace until it?s hard to look away. The ending actually feels like a competitive grudge match, but it would have been nice if more of it felt that way. Despite a good ending and a post-match angle that sowed the seeds for future PPV storylines, it?s unsurprising that the night after this taping on Wrestling Observer Live Gabe Sapolsky would only say this ?might? be on the PPV.

?Scrap Iron? Adam Pearce had a monologue to cool us down before the main event. For this, Pearce used a calm tone with underlying intensity. If he improvised this, he?s a genius. He carried himself with great poise and spoke like every sentence has profound meaning. He also took us on the history of certain wrestlers, setting up a potential storyline down the road in addition to establishing himself as someone to watch. I?ve never thought much of him in the ring, but this is proof that he?d make a great manager.

Takeshi Morishima & Bryan Danielson Vs. Nigel McGuinness and KENTA was ROH?s first ever PPV main event. It showed fans one of ROH?s favorite tricks borrowed from Japan: put a lot of singles stars in a tag match, setting up automatic singles grudge matches for whoever loses, while the losers don?t look too bad since they aren?t tag guys to begin with. This match, like most ROH tag matches featuring a bunch of top guys, is ridiculously fun, because most of ROH?s top guys are ridiculously good. It?s a grab-bag of Danielson?s personality and grappling, KENTA?s highspots and McGuinness? stiffness as everyone races to prove they?re the most worthy challenger for Morishima?s title. It books itself, which belies ROH?s core philosophy: sports are simple, entertainment is interesting, pro wrestling is entertainment that imitates a sport, so keep it simple and interesting.

This time Danielson when out of his way to show personality, posing energetically and getting in people?s faces, making up for the calmer, professional-athlete approach of KENTA and Morishima. Every tag match needs variety in its competitors, and most indy wrestlers provide their variety by applying different sets of big moves (high-flying spots, crazy tandem stuff, power moves, etc.). Danielson?s contribution is more elementary. If the match needs a straight man, he?s your guy. If the match needs a jerk, he?s your guy. He?s a brilliant foil. He?s also a damn good wrestler, so he adapted to grappling, chain-wrestling and striking as his opponents brought it.

Some people are going to be really disappointed with Morishima in this match. His participation largely consisted of no-selling (here?s a tip: he?s a hundred pounds heavier than the guy punching him) and doing Yokozuna and Andre the Giant offense (see the previous tip). That wasn?t very impressive or entertaining after you saw Naomichi Marufuji and Mark Briscoe fly across the ring on the undercard. And Danielson is a much better character and, even though he?s a minimalist, has a more impressive offense (some of Danielson?s holds look disgustingly painful). Morishima?s few truly impressive moves don?t get proper recognition in this match (for instance, Nigel McGuinness counters the cartwheel attack and chooses to no-sell a 320-pound man?s missile dropkick), so even that aspect of the big man may be totally overlooked. He doesn?t hit as hard as KENTA, he doesn?t try as hard as McGuinness, and he isn?t as big a jerk as Danielson. He?s just bigger. This is particularly saddening since he?s had great matches with Samoa Joe (FYF: NY), Austin Aries (Battle of St. Paul) and Shingo Takagi (Good Times, Great Memories). If his first impression is of a lazy, fat guy in a company of smaller guys who bust their asses, smark fans will hate him. That bias could detract from his better performances on later shows.

The real star of the show shines through in this match. Yes, Danielson is great and KENTA is fun, but the star is the crowd. They?re not 80,000-strong, but they have the passion of a giant arena squeezed down into the Manhattan Center (site of this show, and the original home of Monday Night Raw). Their excitement for big stars, big moves and big showdowns translates magnificently to television. They let you know who and what?s important better than any video package just by how they pop. For a true wrestling fan, it?s hard not to get carried away and join them in their rabid enthusiasm for the product. And if pro wrestling is judged by how the live crowd reacts, then Ring of Honor definitely does something right.

There isn?t a clear best match of the night. The tag title match was great for its breakneck pace, but the main event had an undeniable aura. Marufuji Vs. Romero was excellent singles undercard wrestling, with smooth grappling and great highspots. All three of these matches present something great for the fan disenchanted with TNA?s neutering of the X-Division and WWE?s overkill on storylines. And it?s about ten bucks. If you miss in-ring action, Respect is Earned deserves two hours of your time.

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