Any of you who may have followed along on twitter (@sbfantom) last Sunday night will have seen most of what I’m about to tell you, as I attended Best in the World 2012 live at the Hammerstein Ballroom. For those who didn’t, or may have only read results, here’s a firsthand look at how some of the night went down.
First and foremost, the crowd itself: A sea of YES YES YES shirts and YES YES YES chants. Now, I love the gimmick as much as anyone, hell I was in a Yes Army t-shirt courtesy of www.barbershopwindow.com, but the entire night, people just randomly break out into YES chants for no good reason. It boggles my mind. Wrestling fans tend to get tired of things way too quickly, and in the case of chants and gimmicks like this, I think they bring it upon themselves.
Opening match of the night is The Briscoes against Truth Martini’s Guardians of Truth. Ever since they announced this match, I’ve been eager to find out who the mystery team was. It was two guys in masks, and when unmasked, they had more masks. Now if these were guys that were obviously somebody in particular under the mask (tattoos, signature moves, etc), that’d be a fine build. This was two sloppy goofs that blew spots the entire match, couldn’t handle rope running combinations and eventually messed up a victory roll to counter the Doomsday Device, leading to the Briscoes getting a lame roll up victory. Highlight of this one had to be the looseness of the ropes, which were definitely not tested before go-live time. They were too loose for anyone to even stand on, so Mark Briscoe had to use the ringpost for Froggy Bow, which the crowd went nuts for. ROH actually had someone tightening the ropes mid-match. Normally, a Briscoes match would be the perfect way to fire up a crowd, but the sloppiness of the opponents and the abruptness of the rollup finish killed the energy in the room.
Match 2 sees Eddie Edwards taking on Homicide as Edwards continues his self-imposed Die Hard Challenge of facing former ROH Champions. The match opened hard, with a backdrop driver and a suicide dive from Edwards, but Homicide settled into working the arm. Edwards has been successful in his Die Hard Challenges thus far, but for some reason, it was decided to have Homicide go over him clean with a Gringo Killer. This strikes me odd; Homicide is a part-timer at best for ROH and Eddie Edwards is one of their biggest names. Homicide doesn’t gain anything from a win on a random PPV and Edwards certainly loses out. Good match with strong action and a clean finish, but I don’t agree with the result in terms of long-term thinking. At the least, the crowd popped for a Gringo Killer and they always seem happy to see Homicide win, at least in the moment.
Match 3 is Hybrid Fighting rules with Kyle O’Reilly taking on Adam Cole. This one damn near lost the crowd. It was extremely methodical, which isn’t a bad thing, but a modern wrestling crowd needs to be stimulated. Each guy went after a body part- Cole after O’Reilly’s leg and O’Reilly after Cole’s arm. A lot of close taps with Cross Armbreakers by O’Reilly, but the end of this one brought the crowd to their feet (literally – I watched the whole floor section leap to their feet). O’Reilly and Cole shifted into high gear and began a back and forth flurry of wild strikes, culminating in 4 or so teeth getting knocked out of Cole’s mouth. Cole fought back, bloodied and beaten and finally put O’Reilly down with a figure four and the crowd lost it. This match has given Cole some elevation, beyond the shadow of a doubt. He should be chasing at least the TV title by year’s end. O’Reilly ignored a handshake after the match and slapped Cole, then bailed. O’Reilly is well on the path to being the whiny heel.
Match 4 pits Michael Elgin against Fit Finley. I went into this expecting knockdown, drag out fighting. We got every Finley match ever, with the requisite single leg takedowns, leg locks, etc. I enjoy good mat wrestling, but with a future star like Elgin in the ring, they should have let him shine. Elgin spent 90% of this match being absolutely dominated, including taking the Celtic Cross and a Tombstone, until a sudden surge at the end and a buckle bomb followed by the Spinning Sitout Powerbomb for a win. Elgin over was the right call, but this was booked very poorly and made Elgin look weak, coming off his match with Davey Richards – a match of the year contender. Truth Martini came out to congratulate Elgin, and did so by doing a spinarooni, which the crowd popped for (go figure). Martini wanted Elgin to snub Finley, but Elgin pushed him away and shook Finley’s hand. This is a slow build to Elgin turning on Martini and possibly going face, but it’s too slow. Elgin just looks like he’s along for the ride.
This one lost the crowd even with Elgin going over, and I heard a lot of talk in the balcony around me about how bad the show was turning out. Can’t say I disagreed, either. I was confident, however, that after intermission, the title matches would put everyone in a better mood.
Back from intermission, they needed a strong re-start. Instead we got a Prodigy Service Announcement. Crowd’s happy to see Maria, but this was another bad call as far as scheduling. Bennett trash talked NY, being a Bostonite, and of all people, Mike Mondo comes down to put him in his place. Mondo says Bennett was allowed any match tonight, and he took the night off because it wasn’t a title match. Mondo takes offense to this, says he always wanted to perform at Hammerstein, etc etc. He threatens Bennett and Maria, then a fight breaks out. Mondo beats up Bennett, but whiffs a diving headbutt (good call in the middle of a brawl, guy). At some point, a ref slides in, Mondo rolls up Bennett and the ref counts three. The bell rings and Mondo is announced the winner. The entire crowd sat silent, because that made no sense. I’m a staunch supporter of ROH through most of what they do, but this entire segment screamed “indy fed”. More crowd rumblings around me of “I’m never coming to an ROH show again”. Maybe a bit premature, but nothing at this point in the show would really make someone think any different. Which is a shame.
Match 5 proved me right – Tomasso Ciampa, Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong fought for the TV title in an elimination three way dance. They didn’t announce it was elimination though, and that tends to confuse new fans. Ciampa is still playing the wild and crazy man, which fits his look and size. As soon as Lethal comes out, Ciampa is all over him and Roddy spends the first half of the match hanging back and picking scraps. That’s fine; smart move by the champ. Lethal takes over in the latter part of the match and puts Strong in a figure four, then reaches over to Ciampa, who is on the mat near him and puts him in a crossface. This brought the crowd to their feet – they absolutely loved it. Lethal is a star who hasn’t gotten the break he should have at this point. The men end up back on their feet and Prince Nana ends up on the run from the outside. He slides into the ring for his own safety as Ciampa has Strong up for Project Ciampa, and Nana ends up log rolling into his own man’s legs, knocking him down and allowing a quick pin. In the confusion, Roddy hooks Lethal up for the vertical suplex to double knees and it’s good to retain. This is the action, the skill, the crispness that keeps fans of ROH singing their praises. ROH needs to focus on the first half of their shows, because they can’t consistently lose people and then deliver three title matches. Crowd was real happy with this one; any one of the three men could have won and gotten an ovation, and that makes for a fun match for everybody.
The next-to-last match is for the Tag Titles, with the All Night Express challenging Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, who get heat no matter where they are. Haas and Benjamin are two of the best, but crowds love to tell them how much they suck, especially Haas, who is amazing and pissing off a crowd. Announced is the fact that if WGTT gets disqualified, they will lose the titles tonight. Match starts off solid, with a lot of focus on Kenny King and Shelton Benjamin. A bit of miscommunication between the two on some positioning, but they always seem to make up for it. King has a bit of the Kofi Kingston-syndrome in that he moves too damn fast for his own good and it throws off some opponents. Sometimes it’s better to slow it down and be a bit more methodical and crisp. Not to take anything away from him; King is great. The crowd is strongly behind ANX throughout this one. At one point, Benjamin takes King up for what everyone thought was going to be a Glamslam, but brings him down on his knees instead of the mat, bending him in half, which looked awesome. Titus “got opened up” on the outside, as he does in pretty much every title match. There was barely even a reason for this one, except to prompt Haas to grab a mic mid-match and tell the ref if he didn’t stop the match, he was going to kill Titus. Now that’s grounds for a reprimanding, sir. Much to Haas’ chagrin, Titus isn’t dead and thanks to a quick roll up, ROH has new Tag Team Champions in the ANX. The crowd was more than happy to celebrate with the boys, but WGTT had another idea. A brawl breaks out, but is quickly stopped and the new champs go back to celebrating. Great match to see live, as the crowd was so hungry to see ANX pull out the win.
Your main event is Davey Richards challenging Kevin Steen for the ROH World Title, in a no-dq match. O’Reilly surfaces to tell Davey ahead of time that he doesn’t care about Davey, he’s done with Team Ambition and that Kevin Steen can screw himself. I guess that was just to establish that nobody would be coming to Richards’ aid tonight, even though Jimmy Jacobs was out for Steen. The match gets off to a “Holy S#!t” start with Richards booting Steen off the apron through the timekeeper’s table. Steen takes control and puts Richards under some of the barriers and gives him a frog splash from the apron and whips him with a chain. The match keeps up in this fashion, with a surprisingly minimal amount of interference from Jacobs until the end. Steen gets double stomped through a table, Richards takes a superplex/falcon arrow through another one. Richards gets an incredibly close two count and spin kicks the ref in the gut in protest. A second ref appears and eventually takes a Package Piledriver. That’s it; ROH only has two refs. My assumption at this point was Cornette, who was seated at ringside, would be ‘forced’ to make the count for Steen, but I was wrong.
Richards gave Steen the kiwada kicks with a chain around the boot, which had to hurt like hell. With both refs down, Richards nailed a DR driver onto the ladder and pinned Steen, and the crowd counted to 20 for him, but with no ref, there’s no win. That visual victory usually spells the end for a wrestler, and after Cornette takes a low blow for stopping Jacobs from using the spike on Richards, Steen uses it for a low blow (which is the same ending as his match with Jacbos a year ago) and a Package Piledriver for a slow three count from the recovering ref. Crowd was perfectly content with Steen winning, and he grabs a microphone: He says he hates hypocrites and he admittedly has been one for 18 months. He says Richards was a deserving champion and that he is truly the best in the world. That doesn’t matter though, because Steen is the champion, and he plans on being the last ROH champion; he wants to bring the company down. Steen says he used the fans and everyone else he could to get what he wanted and now the fans can go screw themselves. Bit of an unexpected turn, but it loses some steam when the crowd still cheers a guy who’s telling them that they’re hypocrites for turning on Richards before he lost the title and that they should go eff themselves. It is true though; the crowds have gotten very harsh towards Richards, because they wanted to see Steen grab the title. Now that he has, it seems ROH wants to cement him as a heel so a babyface can chase him and the title for the (no pun intended here) honor of the company. This won’t work with the ROH crowd, though, since they tend to boo and cheer whoever they damn well please. Hopefully they have something planned for this moving forward.
The live show is always a different experience than seeing the show on TV; they show you what they want to, whereas the live crowd sees everything that happens. The first half of this show was basically a wash, which on paper doesn’t make sense. A Briscoes match should always be good, but we got a dud; Elgin was made to look weaker than any up and coming star should; Eddie Edwards was booked in a backwards manner. Cole and O’Reilly did a bit of saving, but only once the match got brutal and bloody. The second half of the show was a marked improvement – We got a title change for the fighting baby faces, we got a build toward Ciampa turning on the Embassy, thanks to Nana being a nincompoop and we got a heel champion doing his damnedest to be a heel. For ‘immediate’ reactions to the goings on of the show, check my twitter feed @sbfantom, and be sure to get your ROH TV fix courtesy of me, here at Pulse Wrestling on a weekly basis moving forward! Consider this my introduction to you, Pulse Wrestling fans.