wrestling / Columns

Column of Honor: 01.29.11: Redemption Song

January 29, 2011 | Posted by Ari Berenstein

Welcome to the Column. It’s rare, but this was the kind of week that made me want to move to the West Coast, maybe even Los Angeles. Given yet another round of large snowfall over here in NYC and WrestleReunion V taking place over there, L.A. is the place to be this week.

BREAKING: Full results from ROH’s show at WrestleReunion 5 are available here. Roddy retained the ROH World Title and Haas & Benjamin upended The Kings of Wrestling in non-title action. For more, click the link.

=Redemption Song: Can Steve Corino Change?=

Steve Corino wants you to know that he’s an evil man, but that he wants to change.

The long-time veteran of professional wrestling (seventeen years in the business) has worked for countless promotions both in North America and abroad, has won dozens of championships and has wrestled under many different monikers: “The King of Old School”; “The Extreme Horseman”; “Mr. Wrestling III”; “Trouble King” and “Legend” among others. Yet, chiefly among those names has been one other constant association-heel.

With rare exception, Steve Corino has been a rule-breaker for much of his career. He has been the antagonist, the man who pushed the boundaries of civility and good taste in the wrestling ring. If there was an insult to be made or a cheap shot to take, chances were Steve Corino was the one to be doing those dirty deeds.

Over the last year in Ring of Honor, Steve Corino has played the role of the puppet-master behind the brutal and provocative feud between Kevin Steen and El Generico. Corino was the master manipulator behind Kevin Steen’s change of heart against his former tag team partner. He burrowed into Steen’s head and twisted it enough to convince him to betray El Generico at Final Battle 2009 with a low-blow and a massively damaging chair shot to the head. Things would never be civil again between the two sides and the next year was fraught with many different matches between Steen and Corino on one side and Generico and Colt Cabana on the other.

Now that the war between Steen and Generico has concluded, all that is left for Corino is the empty feeling of bitterness and loss. He realizes that he was wrong to push and to provoke Kevin Steen over the past year and has stated as such through blog posts, promos on videowires and during recent ROH shows. Corino thought that he would be able to control Steen’s rage and direct it in a way that would be beneficial for the both of them. Corino would guide Steen to the top of the singles division, the ROH World Championship being the endgame. Instead, both men became muddled in the year-long struggle against Generico and Cabana. It was a war of attrition and a true vicious cycle of violence and hatred. As the months wore on, Corino increasingly lost control of Steen, who slipped further and further, first into the bloodlust of violence and then ultimately into the senseless abyss of insanity.

The feud had changed everyone involved in this ongoing conflict, but apparently it changed Steve Corino more than even he expected. He was shaken to the core. The situation forced him to take a cold, hard look at himself and his actions. In doing so, he realized all that he had done, not just to El Generico and Colt Cabana, but also to Kevin Steen. Apparently, he did not like the answers as to who he had become that he found through this self-reflection.

It was at Survival of the Fittest 2010 that one could see the beginning of the changes within Steve Corino’s psyche, even if he wasn’t conscious of them at the time. Kevin Steen had just finished defeating rookie prodigy Kyle O’Reilly, having to resort to the extra level of using his former partner El Generico’s finishing move, the brainbuster. However, one could tell that Steen had not been satisfied with the win. He was thirsting for more violence. He paced back and forth in the ring, and became increasingly hostile to fans in the crowd, some of whom wore El Generico masks in honor of their favored wrestler. Other fans chanted “Ole!” as a sign of support for El Generico. It also served as an intentional provocation of Steen’s fragile temperament.

Earlier, Steve Corino visibly bristled in body-language when Steen used El Generico’s mask as a snot-rag. Now he saw that Steen was increasingly agitated, and tried his best to talk Steen “down off the ledge”, so-to-speak. Corino did not want Steen attacking the crowd or causing some sort of riot. Yet, his words did not break through to Steen…who snapped, spitting on and pushing the fans who wore the Generico masks. It took referees, ROH students and staff to settle Steen down, but even then it was difficult.

It was clear that Kevin Steen continued to demonstrate the signs of nervous breakdown and that Corino was beginning to feel something akin to guilt or remorse. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have even attempted to calm Steen’s rage. However, Corino still had to attend to his own needs and his own career. Soon enough he was engaged in a Survival of the Fittest qualifier against O’Reilly’s partner Adam Cole. He forgot about his earlier actions (that at the least could be described as having some sort of valor or honor to them) and instead took many opportunities to cheat and play dirty. Adam Cole eventually won the match on a fluke roll-up, leading to both Corino and Steen taking out their frustrations on him after the match, until El Generico emerged from backstage to continue the physical battle against his rivals.

Despite knowing that the situation had hit a “point of no return”, Corino was still a heel and he continued to throw his support behind his man. Sure, there were plaintiff cries that he had lost control of Steen and that he was not responsible for what Steen would do to Generico at Final Battle 2010, but his comments during this time indicated a lack of responsibility and a lack of fault. He had wiped his hands clean of the situation at this time. Still, in his own way, he tried to talk Generico out of the fight. He asked Generico to give up the mask before it was too late on an episode of HDNet, only for Generico to refuse and attack Corino, dishing out revenge for a solid year of suffering through his antagonism. Corino had made his bed and now he was made to lie in it.

Then the “Final Battle at Final Battle” occurred and Generico roared his way back from record-levels of violence and excruciating pain in order to defeat Kevin Steen. Generico had not only won the final battle and the war against his former partner, but the victory assured that Steen was now forced to leave Ring of Honor (conditions he himself created). It was at this point that the light-bulb turned on for Steve Corino, as he realized the severity of what he and Steen had done the past year. Even further, Corino realized that he cost a man a job in a wrestling promotion, because he had allowed and encouraged a personal vendetta.

Perhaps for the first time in his entire career, Steve Corino had realized the error of his ways. He claims that he wants to change and to redeem himself. He wants the support of fans and the Ring of Honor locker room, the rookies and newcomers as well as the established veterans. Corino claims that he is on the road to professional wrestling recovery and that while it is a long journey, he is ready to make that commitment, one step at a time. He doesn’t want to be evil any more, but rather, he wants to be known from this point onward as a positive role model for the younger wrestlers such as Kyle O’Reilly, Andy Ridge and Bobby Dempsey. He also wants to command the respect of fellow peers such as Christopher Daniels.

Whether or not Corino is successful in this pursuit remains to be seen. In fact, there are many questions lingering this recent attitude change, first and foremost, can Steve Corino be trusted? In recent blogs and interviews, even Corino admits it is asking a lot for others to trust his word and his intentions. Corino has spent not just the past year, but much of his career using trickery, manipulation and underhanded tactics to gain his way and achieve his goals. Who is to say that this isn’t a further manipulation, another trick—and that those who are caught in this potential web of deceit are only setting themselves up for disaster if they were to trust Corino?

This isn’t just about one year in the life either. This is about almost an entire career of misdeeds and bad behavior, which has certainly conditioned so much about Corino pattern of actions during a professional wrestling event. Corino has said countless outrageous remarks throughout his career that are far removed from politically correct. He has insulted everyone and anyone who he had a problem with. He used to have Bobby Cruise as his personal ring announcer for ROH matches, who infamously recited incredibly long lists just to get under the skin of the ROH fan base. Just this year he called El Generico a “masked retard” and someone who was worse than AIDS. Over the years, Corino’s mouth has written many checks which have bounced, mostly by his opponents’ fists into his face.

If Corino’s words weren’t inflammatory enough to sow seeds of mistrust; how about his actions? This is a man who antagonized Taz and called out Dusty Rhodes in ECW, a man who bloodied and brutalized Homicide during many wars in ROH, who formed The Group and The Extreme Horsemen as rebel units without any regard for authority. He was the root cause of the infamous “riot” at the One Year Anniversary Show back in 2003. He made countless wrestlers bleed, from Jerry Lynn to Terry Funk to Colt Cabana and everyone in-between. He manipulated his own child to help him against El Generico and Kevin Steen. This isn’t just about being pardoned from one set of actions, but an entire career’s worth of deprave, near-sociopathic violent actions with criminal intent.

How can the fans possibly be expected to put their trust in Steve Corino?

There is an example in ROH history that Steve Corino, the ROH locker room and the ROH fan base could learn from as it regards to this new turn in the plot and whether or not trust and ultimately redemption is either possible or realistic. Several years ago in Ring of Honor, there was a man who spent much of his early career victimizing and antagonizing the entire ROH locker room, forming a powerful stable that was shamelessly bent on taking over the top spots in the promotion. Then, one day he was kicked out of the very group he founded, left for dead in the ring. That man was Alex Shelley.

Shelley had formed Generation Next with Austin Aries, Roderick Strong and Jack Evans with a mission of mercilessness and cruelty. Then Shelley found himself alone when the tables were turned on him and Aries and Strong booted him out at Final Battle 2004. Humbled, he began to undertake a path of redemption. He apologized frequently to the fans and to the wrestlers, in fact to anyone who would listen. He recognized that he had done wrong-that he had built up a monster and that he had lost control of it. He vowed to do his best to right the wrongs he had created and prove to everyone that he was worthy of their generosity of heart and of their support.

However, Shelley’s redemption road was troubled almost from the start. He was a man in exile. The wrestlers wanted nothing to do with him. He could find little support or allies to fight against Generation Next. The likes of Delirious, Brian Kendrick, James Gibson and even CM Punk were still angry at what he had done as a part of that group. No one could trust him enough to fight alongside him, because they had been burned by him in the past. As a result, Shelley was often a victim of many attacks by Aries, Strong and Evans. He gave as good as could against his former partners, but oftentimes that was not enough. It was a losing battle.

As far as fan support, Shelley actually did generate a good amount of positive favor with the fans in the early months of 2005. Fans knew how great of a wrestler he was and they wanted him to succeed in the ring. The problem was that they also knew how great the rest of Generation Next was and they were coming around to their act. Austin Aries was a cool, cocky guy that the ROH male fan base could idealize them as being—not to mention, he was the champ. Roderick Strong was a bad-ass backbreaking machine, and Jack Evans was just so incredible with the things he could do in the air. Shelley was cool, but man, Generation Next was that much cooler. So it was no surprise that there was a split crowd during the one-on-one face-off between Aries and Shelley at Manhattan Mayhem I in New York City-with just as many fans cheering for Aries as there were for Shelley.

Shelley must have seen the writing on the wall. He had done everything he could to supplicate the masses—he apologized, he tried to right his wrongs, but for the locker room and the fans it just wasn’t good enough. Just a few months later, Shelley hooked up with the unpopular, hated ensemble of Prince Nana’s Embassy. He sold out his redemption for money, power and opportunity, just like that. Anyone who had trusted him, who had rallied behind him in support of his attempt to be a fan favorite, was now snake-bitten.

At the same time, CM Punk had just gone from popular fan-favorite to public enemy number one through a sell-out act of his own—signing with WWE, winning the ROH World Title and then threatening to take the belt with him to his new promotion. It was a huge betrayal of the support from fans that had rooted for him all this time, going all the way back to mid-2004 when he chose to save his then-enemy Ricky Steamboat from Generation Next.

There is ingrained within the psyche of ROH fans a lack of trust to those men who so loudly claim to want to change themselves for the better, thanks to examples such as Shelley and Punk’s heel turns. It is difficult to trust the heel wrestler who is attempting to go straight. It goes back to CM Punk’s story at Death Before Dishonor III of “The Old Man and the Snake”. Just how many times do ROH wrestlers expect the ROH fans to be that old man who trusts the snake, only to be bitten for its troubles?

The questions continue to pile up—what is in this for Corino? He claims that he wants to help the future of the promotion, the rookies such as Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole. However, is he stockpiling up this “good behavior” in an attempt to further stick it to the fans and the locker room later down the line? Is building up this cache of goodwill just a decoy so that when the time is right he can bring back Kevin Steen and inflict even more torture on the locker room? No one really knows the answers to those questions, which again makes it that much more of a roadblock in getting behind Corino.

Perhaps Steve Corino is earnest in his intentions to change, but past history indicates otherwise and that makes it even more difficult for Corino to prove himself. Then that becomes a vicious cycle because in effect, that lack of trust from the fans is more likely to rankle Corino and have him give up the good fight if, like Alex Shelley, he begins to believe that his redemption is a zero-sum proposition.

Regardless, for now, Corino is on the straight-and-narrow. Not only is the idea of professional wrestling rehabilitation in his words, but they are in his actions as well. Corino has begun to change the way he wrestles his matches. He doesn’t want to wrestle as a rule-breaker anymore. He wants to stop his cheating ways, and even wants to reduce the temptations to take the low road. To that end, Corino has asked ROH referees repeatedly to watch his matches carefully and be very stringent in upholding the rules. He has even asked for help from the fans in that he wants them to discourage him from recidivist activities such as cheating. He wants them to call him on it when they see him slipping. These are encouraging actions which seem to indicate that Corino is willing to work on what is needed in order to change from being known as “evil” to being respected as a decent and good man.

The recent HDNet tapings seems to be good evidence to the willingness he has to change his ways. He was incredibly vocal and positive in his support for many of the young wrestlers who participated in the 2011 “Top Prospect Tournament” (which will air in the upcoming months on HDNet). Many of those wrestlers seemed agreeable to accepting the positive support and advice from Corino. The lone hold-out was “The Prodigy” Mike Bennett, who seemed to be insulted and even outraged by Corino’s presence during the tournament. Corino made it known that he saw a lot of himself in Bennett, but that he was taking the wrong road to success. Corino asserted that confidence was fine, but that if Bennett became too cocky and overconfident that his career would end up down and out, just like he had been at the end of 2010. Bennett did not like that warning and inevitably the two not only exchanged words, but became physically involved. A future showdown between the two is inevitable. In that respect, though Bennett may be superior in terms of physical stature and fitness, it would be like looking at a mirror in regards to the psychological and emotional contexts: the new and improved Steve Corino against someone who mirrored the Corino of the past.

Another plus for Corino is that he has show to be able to rehabilitate in the past (albeit only for brief moments of time). Corino had a short-lived face run in ECW where he tried to act honorably and be the kind of man he seems to want to be right now. He also was on the side of angels for a brief time in ROH in late 2004 / early 2005, when he had a sort of “frenemy” relationship with CM Punk, as (along with Colt Cabana) they fought against Generation Next. These few and brief examples indicate that Steve Corino does have the capacity in him to change and to be a “good guy”.

Ultimately, it will be up to Steve Corino himself to redeem his past actions. Will he follow the path and outcome of Alex Shelley, who wanted to change but gave up? Will he be just another CM Punk, whose claims of change and redemption was just the ultimate front for self-preservation and the achievement of his own selfish goals? Or will he forge his own path and truly rehabilitate himself, both for his own good and for the positive support of the fans and the ROH locker room?

Steve Corino can change if that is what he wants to do. Corino has to want to change badly enough. He has to work and put as much effort as he can into effecting that change. He has to be able to resist the temptations to go back to who he was and instead focus on moving forward and being a better person. Every day has to be his toughest effort and his best effort towards achieving that change.

Change is slowly but surely possible if one choose to work hard in accomplishing it. Steve Corino’s redemption song begins with that work, one step at a time.

As of 01/28/10

=ROH World Champion=

Roderick Strong

Champion since 09/11/2010 | 3 successful defenses

Glory By Honor IX defeated Tyler Black in New York, NY to win the championship.

Next Defense vs. El Generico in Los Angeles, CA on 01/28/11.

-Roderick Strong defeated Christopher Daniels in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada on 11/13/10.
-Roderick Strong defeated Davey Richards in New York, NY on 12/18/10.
– Roderick Strong defeated Jay Briscoe in Charlotte, NC on 01/15/11.

=ROH World Tag Team Champions=

The Kings of Wrestling: Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli

Champions since 04/03/2010 | 8 successful defenses

The Big Bang defeated Jay & Mark Briscoe in Charlotte, NC to win the championship.

Next Defense vs. The All-Night Express (Kenny King & Rhett Titus) in Chicago, IL on 02/26/11.

–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin by DQ after The Briscoes interfered in New York, NY on 5/8/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated Jay & Mark Briscoe in a No DQ Match in Toronto, Ontario on 6/19/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated Jay & Mark Briscoe in Philadelphia, PA on 8/21/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated Jay & Mark Briscoe, The All-Night Express and Dark City Fight Club in Ultimate Endurance in Charlotte, NC on 08/28/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated El Generico & Colt Cabana in Plymouth, MA on 09/10/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated Christopher Daniels & Davey Richards in Dayton, OH on 10/15/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated Kevin Steen & Steven Corino in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada on 11/13/10
–Chris Hero & Claudio Castagnoli defeated The American Wolves (Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards) in Plymouth, MA on 12/17/10

=ROH Television Champion=

Christopher Daniels

Champion since 12/10/2010 | 2 successful defenses

ROH on HDNet defeated Eddie Edwards in Louisville, KY to win the championship.

Next Defense vs. TBA in Los Angeles, CA on 01/28/11.

–Christopher Daniels defeated Claudio Castagnoli in Charlotte, NC on 01/15/11.
–Christopher Daniels defeated Devon Storm in Philadelphia, PA on 01/21/11.

Roderick Strong once again follows the “Keep it Simple, Strong” philosophy, which is solid but unspectacular. I wish I could say that I was feeling his promos as champion, but I’m not. The Kings (and specifically Chris Hero) and Steve Corino knock it out of the park with their promos. The Kings sufficiently knocked Haas and Benjamin enough to create some more intrigue about their WrestleReunion match, while Corino continued to advance his redemption storyline well (seemingly while battling some hoarse-throat issues). I’m sorry Kenny King and Rhett Titus, but you’re going to have to speak up. Awful mic’ing up for that promo and once again, Titus is back to being goofy. Two months ago he was talking about how he was going to be more serious, but the key to making that claim is consistency. Titus and ANX can get over either way, but it’s frustrating to see him switch the mood on and off like that. The Survival of the Fittest promo was so excellent and looked to be a great new facet of his character, but there has been nothing like that since. El Generico being able to do a promo for himself is appreciated. At this point, short promos such as this one, spoken in simple Spanish could really help to add even more to a character that has come so far without ever really having to speak. He’s done it all with his body language, but now, expressing himself even in these simplistic but strong phrases could take it to the next level.

Brilliance. Utter brilliance. “Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team…from eight years ago…” Nearly spit out my water when I first saw this one. The Bravados as Southern Mama’s boys has so much potential and they are already on-point in their characterizations.

-Results from this final ROH on HDNet tapings which took place last weekend in Philadelphia, PA are available here.

-Starting on a sad note, sorry to report the death of “The Bad Seed ” Shawn Osbourne, who died this week as a result of a suicide from self-inflicted gunshot wound. His real name was Shawn McGrath. He had been under WWE developmental contract from 2006 through 2008 and notably as it relates to ROH, wrestled on the Proving Ground 2009 Nights One and Two shows that took place in Coral Springs, Florida. According to a note from former WWE wrestler Rory McSlister, Osbourne’s organs were donated per his request and have helped 30 people. Condolences to family and friends on the loss.

-Lots of new names for the Class of 2011 debuted at the final ROH on HDNet tapings last weekend:

Devon Storm, a.k.a. Crowbar, made a surprise return to professional wrestling. He was some of the under-looked mid-carders from the late days of WCW, but developed a bit of a cult following based on those performances and his previous run on the independents. Crowbar worked against fellow veterans Steve Corino and Christopher Daniels during the tapings. According to PWinsider.com, “Devon “Crowbar” Storm being brought in was a Jim Cornette idea. Storm has a family an a successful physical therapy business, and while he enjoys wrestling, could never go back to TNA or WWE. He is hoping to work regularly with ROH, on shows in his area, working an undercard role. He hopes to have good matches while putting over the ROH talents. As of this time, there is no word on if he will be back.”Other veterans of the independent circuit making appearances (on the pre-show anyway) included Christian York and Slyk Wagner Brown.

The New and Improved Uncanny Embassy formed with the “Professor X” of the group Prince Nana unveiling a new lineup. The idea of this latest iteration of Nana’s stable is that he wanted to stockade his group with those connected to royalty after the failures of his previous men. He hired “Barrister R.D. Evans” (a.k.a. Robert Evans from the independent scene, so yes there is a second Bob Evans in ROH at the moment) to “scour the world” and find these worthy members of royalty. Supposedly that includes Mia Yim as a Korean princess and “The Project” Tommaso Ciampa as “allegedly of Sicilian royalty” according to the ROH newswire blurb about the situation. Both Yim and Ciampa have worked for many U.S. independents over the last few years. Previously known as Thomas Penmanship among other aliases, Ciampa notably had a run in WWE developmental and a cameo on WWE television as “Thomas Witney”, a spokesman for Mohammed Hassan. He was then tombstoned by The Undertaker. He’s hung around the independents for quite some time including on ROH pre shows, so this is his opportunity to do something on the main cards.

Yim, Nana, Ernesto Osiris and Barrister R.D. Evans

Jonathan Gresham made his first appearance in ROH during the first night of the tapings as the eighth and final participant of the 2011 Top Prospect tournament, wrestling against (and ultimately losing to) Kyle O’Reilly in the opening round. Gresham has wrestled frequently for CZW this past year and also began to turn some heads during late season 9 CHIKARA shows. He recently joined up with The Osirian Portal as some sort of masked Poodle or something, but he apparently wrestled sans mask on this show.

Caleb Konley was also featured in some undercard matches, which I’m all in favor of since he impressed me during the Champions’ Challenge / Tag Wars 2010 weekend. In addition, Michael Elgin and Kyle O’Reilly impressed with their semi-finals face-off in the 2011 Top Prospect Tournament.

-The Briscoe Brothers signed another contract extension to keep them in Ring of Honor, though no time-frame was specified (as is the usual M.O. with ROH’s contract announcements).

-More from PWInsider.com, “The majority of the footage shot at the Friday night tapings will not make TV. HDNet was having generator issues, which caused major lighting issues. On Friday night, ROH was basically just sending people to the ring to keep the crowd happy while they attempted to fix the issues. What was taped on Saturday will be used to finish off the HDNet series.” My guess would be a lot of the undercard and squash matches aren’t used, but the feature attraction bouts such as the ANX vs. KOW singles matches will definitely make the cut.

-Colt Cabana vs. Davey Richards is the latest match confirmed for the 9th Anniversary Show internet Pay Per View on February 26th, 2011 in Chicago, IL. Meanwhile, Tammy “Sunny” Sytch is booked for the ROH Wrestlemania weekend shows, which now seems to be an annual tradition for her in terms of appearing for the company.

-A MsChif vs. Sara Del Rey program was hinted at in the January 25th, 2011 newswire.

-The biggest news coming out of the announcement of Pro Wrestling RESPECT’s sixth student show (2/5 in Easton, PA)? DEREK DEMPSEY is still alive!

=ROH Richards vs. Daniels= DVD Thoughts

This took place October 16th, 2010 in Chicago Ridge, Illinois.

O’Reilly and Cole do it again here with a really good match against All-Night Express, although the Final Battle 2010 bout was far superior. It’s clear to see that both teams took the sequences and psychology that worked during this bout and applied it to the iPPV rematch and turned up the pace and intensity up several notches. Also, the rematch had Cole and O’Reilly wearing matching tights and everyone knows that is the key to success and longevity as a tag team. All due credit to King and Titus though; they are spot-on with their execution here and their heel act sets the tone for the Chicago crowd. King floats into armdrags effortlessly, while later on planting O’Reilly with a spinebuster and seamlessly transitioning into the cover. Also of note, they are wearing matching tights during this bout, which does guarantee their success.

One of the early patterns I am noticing in Cole and O’Reilly’s double teams is the usage of blind spots. For example, O’Reilly will kick an opponent in the chest or stomach, allowing Cole to leap to the second or top turnbuckle for a flying move such as a side kick or crossbody. O’Reilly is also thinking outside the box a bit, with the double dragon legsweep. Cole meanwhile, shows impressive height off of the enziguiri, giving them the opening for bigger impact moves like the springboard DDT from O’Reilly and then a combo suplex / crossbody off the rope. The second half of the match picks up the pace with the ANX also blistering with their tag combinations and ANX win the match with Titus’s spin-out knee breaker thingamajig. Personally, I’m not buying that move as a finish and would have liked a double team finisher used to gain the win.

Despite my resolution not to watch Ricky Reyes matches, I have to break the boycott count at one because of his involvement in Andy Ridge’s second trial series bout. It’s actually a solid enough endeavor, mostly because Reyes just kicks Ridge as hard as he can throughout and it becomes an exercise in watching Ridge suffer through and persevere through the pain. Reyes wins, but Ridge redeems himself by superkicking him after the match when Reyes tries to run him down some more on the mic. I am now a Ridge fan for life.

A fan throws water at Lady JoJo during her entrance for the tag match with her and Nevah against Daizee Haze and Jamilla Craft. She is steamed and well, so am I. I absolutely hate these planted fan spots. They need to stop. The match itself is solid; much like the previous night’s outing. Craft and Haze have some combinations worked out and they pull it out pretty well. Neveah earns a surprise win over Jamilia with a roll-up out of nowhere, which doesn’t make a ton of sense given Haze’s promo from the previous show and that Neveah hasn’t been booked on any ROH show since this win.

Homicide vs. Kevin Steen is just a straight-up fight and a really good one at that. The Chicago crowd is also very into this and their constant chants of “Ole!” to upset Steen not only actively work to frustrate him but they entertain the heck out of me. Both men keep it relatively simple, but its quality wrestling. Steen is completely unhinged and he is just pushed further because of Homicide’s prodding. There is so much dirty fighting, like biting faces, fingers and other body parts, blinding each other with the bandana, eye gouges, closed fists, scratching, chair throwing, spitting, licking blood, guardrail usage, being thrown through a standing table, etc. You name the cheap trick and it probably happened during this one. Kevin Kelly pointing out that Homicide called Steen a “p*to” is flat-out hilarious, especially because It’s Kevin Kelly saying that word. Steen’s endearing response isn’t fit to be printed, but is equally humorous. What can be mentioned is when Steen tries to launch an ROH guardrail sign into the ring and when it doesn’t cooperate, he drops the elbow on it and gives it the bad mouth! Good times. Homicide wins with the BITING top rope Ace Crusher after a hot finishing sequence where the crowd bit on several nearfalls.

The fight doesn’t end with the bell as Steen runs back down to cutoff a welcome back speech as Homicide mentions he is friends with El Generico and both men brawl to the back. The goof troop tries to break it up but both ‘Cide and Steen outmuscle them. Fun stuff—this is Homicide’s strong suit and ROH just needs to make sure they keeping going in this vein with him, whether as a face or as a heel. Again, I can’t agree with the prevailing criticism about Homicide’s new run with ROH being lackluster. This match continues to add to the body of evidence disproving that line of thought.

Mike Mondo vs. The Metal Master…sigh…really no defense for this one, sad to say. A match like this is exactly what detractors of the independent scene would point to in their hyperbolic criticisms of indie wrestlers being McDonald’s workers and whatnot. No offense to either man, but as Prince once said to Kevin Smith, “If the bra fits…” After several appearances as The Metal Master, I’d rather see Chad Collyer as Chad Collyer at this point. He had something with the kooky “Give me the belt” persona back in late 2004-2005. Now he’s just an aluminum foil-covered action figure.

The psychology of the non-title elimination match between The Kings of Wrestling and The Briscoes is fairly simple, but effective: take out one man on the other team and gain a two-on-one advantage. This match plays out like many of the previous Briscoes vs. Kings matches, which is to say excellent action and great exchanges of vitriol between the two sides. The “best when used by” date is starting to get a little bit close though, because it’s easy to call the sequences between the teams (if one has seen enough of their matches) once things settle down after the fun jump-start brawl on the outside. Even Claudio sticking the landing on the double biel, while always impressive to see, has been done in previous bouts. However, I have to give it both teams, the Chicago fans in attendance are very much into the match and they are vocal and supportive of both sides.

The twist of the match comes when Mark Briscoe is eliminated with the loaded elbow pad being used by Hero (on Jay’s shoulders) just as Mark is about to land the doomsday device closeline. That leaves Jay to endure against Hero and Castagnoli and their on him like sharks to chum. They blast him with a double team powerbomb and then a launch into a Hero KO elbow for a close fall. Jay throws in something new when he double stomps onto Claudio off a reversal and then throws Hero onto Castagnoli with the jumping gourdbuster. Jay eliminates Castagnoli with the Jay Driller. Hero and Shane plot to use the loaded elbow pad, however, unlike previous matches he is aware of it and is able to put a stop to it before it is used against him. Jay is able to backslide Hero and keep the leverage for three and a rare example of babyface justice.

Kevin Steen’s promo backstage is one of the craziest but on-point character moments in his ROH career and demonstrates just how far down the rabbit hole he’s fallen. Steen is exceptionally stubborn and belligerent to Colt Cabana, who is looking on as several ROH referees attempt to put the straightjacket on him. He spits at Cabana. He says “You want this on me? Fine put it on me. It doesn’t change a damned thing. You’re going to die tonight in your goddamned hometown in front of your parents. You understand me? And when you do I’m gonna eat your godammed corpse! Come on, put it on me, I’ll sleep in it, I don’t care.” He threatens to dance on Colt Cabana’s grave, but since he doesn’t know how to dance he is going to take classes and learn how to dance just to do that. WOW. Definition of insanity right there. I’m almost half-shocked he didn’t ask Cabana if he ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight. He tells Cabana that Steve Corino is going to kill him during the I-Quit match.

Those friendly words of advice so helpfully transition us into the I-Quit finale between those two wrestlers, which is suitably down and dirty. It’s a match that is heavy on the brawling and even some blood late in the match (as should be expected) but it also uses the I Quit psychology to the fullest, with both men using submissions (the Figure Four, the Billy Goat’s Curse, even a clever shout out to Daniel Bryan with the Cattle Mutilation, etc.) and compromised positions to get the other to a point to ask the question. It’s amazing that Steen is able to get into so much trouble while still in the jacket—following Cabana around ringside to add to the mind games (getting into the ring and stomping on Cabana t one point), mouthing back at the fans and even kissing one full on the mouth. When he gets out he causes even more havoc.

Cabana stabbing Corino in the arm with the broken beer bottle is just sickening (Corino did bring it in the ring to begin with). The blood just pours down like rain on a windshield. Even though Steen is able to escape the straightjacket, Cabana is able to use it against Corino (as the ROH job squad holds Steen back on the outside). Cabana is able to throw down on Corino with a chairshot, a powerbomb through a table (which looked awesome) and then uses a jagged piece of the table right to the eye. Sinclair asks Corino and he responds with “F**K YOU!” That’s declarative. And expletive. It’s all for moot because Corino reapplies the jagged edge and Corino says the magic words. Cabana says this is done (all the while holding a chair as a bargaining chip) and Corino agree, saying it’s over. A great story and I loved the call back to Mangum TA-Tully Blanchard from 1985 with the finish (using a table instead of a spike).

The main event is the six-months-in-the making bout between Christopher Daniels and Davey Richards. It was an excellent enough match to rocket all the way almost to the top twenty of my matches of the year list as a last-minute entry. I’ve written my thoughts about that match during that feature, but I’d like to add that I’ve watched that match three times now in the span of about a month and a half (which is a lot, especially for that timeframe) and each successive viewing the match has held up and been just a good or better than the first go-round. Though the DVD is overall a very solid one, this is the can’t-miss match from this show.

=Survival of the Fittest= DVD Thoughts

This show took place on 11/12/10 in Dearborn, Michigan.

Right away there’s a cringe-worthy moment as the opening menu screen has a picture of Eddie Edwards holding the SoTF trophy. Ewwww, SPOILER ALERT! Come on, ROH! I mean, why even watch the show at that point? Yes, it’s true, many fans will know the results of the show before watching it, but no one wants to have their suspension of disbelief thrown right back in their face. It also does a total disservice to first-time viewers of the product. Plus, Edwards looks very nonplussed about winning. I know he was injured during the show, but a smile wouldn’t hurt, would it? Hmmm, maybe it would.

Rhett Titus looks good wearing the new Armani Exchange take-off A | N | X T-shirt. Yeah, I’m man enough to admit it. This is just after Rhett Titus vowed to become more serious and more focused and that is actually the case in this match. Colt Cabana is his usual comedic self, but Titus is more on the straight and narrow, aside from an early moment where he makes fun of Cabana with a knee swivel. I see that more as a heel mocking tactic rather than a “Wacky Titus Moment”. In fact, Titus takes almost every opening where Cabana is busy goofing off with the crowd to regain the advantage. Cabana does excel at crowd interactions, from his calling out to a fan in the general admission seats who looks somewhat like The Hulkster to encouraging the crowds to chant a naughty phrase via pantomime (here’s a hint: it sounds like “You chucked Ric”). Cabana’s best wrestling moment of the matches comes with a drop down and slide under to get to the sunset flip position. Titus grabs the ring bell from the announcer’s table and uses a referee distraction to drop toehold Cabana onto the bell, then uses the tights for the win.

Claudio Castagnoli vs. Grizzly Redwood is notable mostly for Claudio’s power displays and Grizzly flying through the air with the greatest of ease. I enjoyed Claudio posing as Atlas holding the globe during his entrance. I popped even more for his catch of Grizzly flying off the ropes and converting it into a powerslam. The finish sees Redwood with a slick sleeper counter from the gorilla press position and then an awesome small package counter out of the pop up European. Then Claudio runs him over with the running European and immediately picks him up for the UFO (setting a land speed record for spinning in one place) for the pinfall. This was about what you would have expected after seeing “Claudio vs. Grizzly” on the event sheet.

The Kevin Steen vs. Kyle O’Reilly qualifier is the first standout match of the show and it’s due to both of their effort. At this point it’s quite clear that O’Reilly, though still young In the business, is already really good and will likely continue to improve as the years go on. He has the ring awareness, the cool moves that impress and awe an audience (especially the ROH attendees) and a fiery demeanor gleaned from his mentor Davey Richards. On the other hand, Steen is just sick and disgusting before, during and after the bout. He plays the character as having snapped because of the events that took place during the Generico feud. He spits on the Generico mask repeatedly, blowing snot on it. Even Steve Corino looks away in disgust. He bullies O’Reilly down throughout the match and it is brutal to watch but impossible to look away. O’Reilly roars back with some awesome arm submissions and then later has the highlight of the match, a running dropkick from the apron to the ringside corner barricade. Steen’s arm is damaged by the end of the match such that he can’t complete the package piledriver at first, and then has to go with an impressive one-armed package piledriver. O’Reilly barely kicks out (INCONCIEVABLE!) and so Steen, already frothing at mouth, asks for the Generico mask. He puts it on and blasts O’Reilly with Generico’s finishing move, the brainbuster. O’Reilly’s lights are out and that’s three. Great match, great psychology and even better interaction between the two men than during the tag match from Allied Forces.

Kevin Steen doesn’t want his time at ringside to be over so soon and grabs a chair, looking to inflict more punishment on somebody, anybody. He tries to pull Steen away from O’Reilly’s downed body in an interesting foreshadowing of the mercy and remorse Corino would show only recently. He grabs a microphone to talk sense into Steen about how he needs to stay focused and concentrate on their winning the SOTF tournament, but it is clear that Corino is losing control because Steen keeps pacing back and forth and reacting to fans at ringside. He keeps seeing fans in Generico masks and their chanting of “Ole!” sets him off. Corino’s best line during this segment is when he sees the fan wearing the Generico mask and says: “That’s a fatter version of Generico. Let his heart explode.” GENIUS bit of booking and another example of Steen knowing how to play off the fans at ringside. He truly comes across like a madman.

That leads us to Corino (already in his wrestling gear) versus Adam Cole in the next Survival qualifier. Thank goodness ROH dropped the generic jobber music for O’Reilly and Cole starting with Final Battle 2010 weekend, because that entrance song (clearly taken from the free-use pile) was not only used for other jobbers in previous years but is just plain annoying and uninspired. They deserved better. Their new music may sound too Nu-Metal for my liking but at least it’s better than this one.

The match is mostly Corino as the veteran overwhelming the underdog Cole. Steen gets an awesome zinger during this one: “Todd, you touch him one more time and I’ll rape you”. Wow. Steen has the live microphone for more commentary but all he says is “KILL HIM, KILL HIM” over and over. It almost proves to be a distraction for Corino as Cole dropkicks Steen down and then rolls him up. Cole reverses the thumbs up to another roll up package for the upset win. Steen runs right back into the ring to rip into him, biting him and picking him for Corino to beat on him…they threaten a top rope spike piledriver…that is… until El Generico runs down to make the save! Half-Nelson German Suplex for Corino! Ole Yakuza kick on Steen! Brainbuster is set up but Corino stops it and pulls him off. Michinoku Driver by Steen through the ringside table! SICK! The madness cannot be contained! Steen looks like he’s going to peel off and return to the back, but then he takes one more run at him. Finally a whole googolplex of staff and referees close him off and he goes to the back. The “Steen and Corino Fun Hour” is over for now, alas.

Chris Hero versus Eddie Edwards in the penultimate qualifying match, which is contested under “beat the hell out of each other” stipulations. The chops these guys unleash on each other during the match are at least 0.8 on the Roderick Strong Scale. Even better selling and screams of pain (that may very well not be selling) during their landing. Hagadorn is at his slimy best during this match, provoking Edwards, providing distraction and attacking Eddie when the referee’s back is turned. Also, I hereby dub Hero’s axe kick to the head followed by the elbow strike the “Where’s Waldo?”, because his opponent’s head springs down and then back up and It’s all like “Where’s Waldo? There he is! BAM!” Well, humor me anyway.

Edwards pulls off the subtle babyface tricks well here, with his facial expressions of resolve and endurance coming after hitting big moves like the flying knee strike and the jumping hurricanrana off the top rope. Then he crashes and burns on the tope through the ropes and comes up hurting just like The Final Countdown Tour: Boston. They go right to the finish with Edwards blasting Hagadorn off the ropes and grabbing the Achilles Lock on Hero for the submission. The similarity of the injury to how he got hurt back in 2009 would have made me think “work” if I had seen this live, but the legitimate grimace on Edwards’ face, the concern by Turner and the rushed treatment of the finish all indicate otherwise.

El Generico and Kenny King close the opening round with Generico in all black, including jacket and mask, looking like he just finished being a body double for new NBC show The Cape. King works the taped-up midsection following the Michinoku Driver through the table earlier in the show. This is the first time that a lack of appropriate fan response is noticeable, which is weird since they were into Generico earlier in the night. I wouldn’t attribute it to the emergence of the “Dark Generico” persona, because he still plays to the fans with his body language and encourages their support. In fact, Generico’s more serious demeanor actually helps him here in being more aggressive, catching King off-guard as he was doing the “Primetime” shuffle and turning around right into a massive Yakuza kick. King catches Generico diving off the ropes with a Trouble-in-Paradise kick to the mid-section (SMART PSYCHOLOGY!) and the running double knees to the gut, which sends Generico flying back to the turnbuckles and rebounding right into a small package for three. This was booked as a surprisingly easy win for King there, all-in-all.

Homicide complains that he wanted a title shot against Roderick Strong on this show but that he has to wrestle Andy “Right Leg” Ridge. He blames HDNet Executive Producer Jim Cornette for the situation and threatens to go to Louisville and fry him up like KFC…or maybe it was he was going to buy Cornette a KFC Value Meal and kill him slowly via clogged arteries and quadruple by-pass surgeries. It’s hard to understand Homicide with that accent sometimes, sorry.

So Homicide kills Andy Ridge. Which is to say he actually takes his time and outwrestles him for a bit…and then throws him out of the ring and proceeds to kill him. ‘Cide throws Ridge into the guardrails as if he was planning on going pro in a new competitive sport of Guardrail Tossing Goofs. He misses a flying headbutt that allows Ridge to fight back, demonstrating some pluck and verve even as a relative rookie. Of course, it’s not enough and ‘Cide goes back on control. Ridge actually rolls out of the Cop Killer and sets for the superkick (screaming a lot as well…if only that was his finisher, but he isn’t Melina). The kick is caught and converted to the Ace Crusher, followed by the running lariat for three. The crowd goes “eh, yeah, we knew he was going to win the moment this match began.” Although I don’t necessarily disagree with that reaction (as opposed to being flat in response for the Generico match) because after all, this was very clearly set-up to be and was an extended squash match. Ridge does get some polite applause from the fans afterwards.

Truth Martini smacks his lips a lot as he explains the recent retirement of House of Truth members Josh Raymond and the injury to Christian Able. He mentions he has recruited new members, one man who has overcome adversity and the other who has something to prove. You can see the cameraman in the reflection of Truth’s sunglasses. AMATEUR HOUR.

That leads us to ROH World Champion Roderick Strong, Zack Gowen and Michael Elgin against The Briscoe Brothers and Christopher Daniels in a six-man tag. Michael Elgin continues to look like the love child of Shane Douglas wearing hand-me-downs from both Barry Windham and Rhyno. Truth’s in-ring promo is eons better than the backstage one, covering the same material while hitting some very clever catchphrases. So why include that backstage promo on the DVD in first place? Two pure white silhouettes (yay production) that look like The Briscoes followed by Christopher Daniels come down to the ring.

This is an average match that picks up steam halfway through with Michael Elgin getting much of the ring time to showcase his wares. Best moments are any time one of the faces goes head-to-head against Roderick Strong (who by the way may be skinnier than Jack Evans at this point—any more weight loss and he’ll be two-dimensional). Daniels and Strong have some time on the backstretch to preview their title match that took place the following night in Mississauga (Fate of an Angel II). The crowd gets into the break down and multiple dives sequence, especially when Jay does the tope con hilo and then when Mark back body drops Elgin onto everyone. He follows up with the moonsault on the outside. Mark chases down Truth but Elgin runs through him, leaving Daniels three-on-one against The House. Jay stops the count after a series of finishers. Elgin’s big highlight is stopping the Doomsday Device and somehow picking up both Jay and Mark for a simultaneous Samoan Drop and Fallaway slam. Okay, that was definitely a wow moment. Zack Gowen goes all heel miscommunication by dropkicking Elgin out of the ring and Daniels takes advantage with the uranage and BME combination for the win.

The Survival of the Fittest 2010 six-man elimination final round comes down to Rhett Titus, Claudio Castagnoli, Kevin Steen, Adam Cole, Eddie Edwards and Kenny King. Titus is out singing his theme song and doing lewd things to the SOTF trophy (much like he did to the “Top of the Class” trophy back in the day)…so much for Serious Titus. Cole sells his beating at the hands of Steen and Corino quite well. Edwards came out with a larger black elbow pad and essentially protecting his right arm all the way through his walk to the ring. Steen has Corino and the Bravados as an entourage holding him back from the fans as he enters—he is also in handcuffs. Good lord what a scene. Steen licks the camera for good measure. Love it.

Turner undoes the handcuffs so he can participate in the match…except Generico runs into camera view with an Ole kick on Steen! He takes out Corino and then blasts Steen with a Tornado DDT on the floor…and ANOTHER Yakuza kick! He tosses Steen into the ring before The Bravados and other refs take him to the back. AWESOME. The bell rings and Steen turns around right into the bicycle kick from Claudio for the quickest pinfall in the history of the SOTF tournament and perhaps in the entire nine-year history of the promotion. Steen takes a beat, looks at Corino and then they both run to the back, presumably to attack Generico again. TOUR DE FORCE performance from both men on this show.

Meanwhile, The ANX attack Castagnoli from behind…in bed…and double team him for a few minutes…in bed…okay, okay I’ll stop. Cole impresses with some flash and speed, dropkicking everyone, getting a nice jumping Pele and then a DDT on the apron. Cole counters the Royal Flush with a crucifix but is then turned 360 (TM Gorilla Monsoon) on his head with a closeline. Extended heat segment on Cole follows until he finally knocks Titus with the superkick. Cole crawls for the tag to Claudio, but he drops down off the apron (HEEL!). Then he tags Titus out and runs over Cole for the pin. ANX smartly go back to double teaming Claudio and a pattern is developing. Meanwhile Edwards is on the apron and he hasn’t moved his right arm at all. That’s a frightening sight.

After some not-as-crisp as before double teams Claudio gets the pop-up euro to eliminate Titus. Edwards is in and dishes out to Claudio, but it takes one tug on Edwards’ arm for him to hop out of the ring in pain. Sinclair calls for assistance to take Edwards to the back. That’s a bit lame, but Edwards does make like he wants to return several times so that this doesn’t wind up taking the wind out of his popularity or reputation. Claudio mocking him is humorous and once again leads to an undoing as King is right behind him with the springboard blockbuster for two. Rotation spinebuster gets a close two. Springboard is…CAUGHT by Claudio right into a tilt-a-whirl for two. Gutwrench Suplex for two as the fans chant for “Eddie”. Bicycle kick caught into an exploder with bridge (looked awesome) for a close two. These two are bringing it at the end of this one. UFO but King with his shoulder up in the nick of time. Trouble in Paradise kick is no-sold into the LARIATO! It only gets a two-count and Shane Hagadorn is going apoplectic.

Eddie Edwards makes his return, and it’s enough distraction for King to hit the Royal Flush on Claudio for the pinfall, leaving the final two as Kenny King and the injured Edwards. Crowd pops big for him, chanting and smacking the boards. Slaps, strikes and headbutts and boots, multiple headbutts! Good lord. King counters the running kick into THE ACHILLES LOCK! He pulls Eddie back to the center, but Edwards pushes off. He catches the capoiera kick into a WICKED transition of the Achilles Lock, pulls him back and arches all the way back, falling backwards down to the mat while still clutching the ankle and King has to tap out!

The story of the finals was excellent and while Edwards didn’t have much ring time, he compensated as best as he could for the injury and gave his all in the time he was in there. The final sequence was inspired and innovative.

No doubt the best matches of the show were the finals of the tournament and the O’Reilly vs. Steen qualifying round. The main reason though to watch this show is or Steen and Corino. Their heel act is just killer at this point and they have such a firm grip of their characters and motivations that what they do to generate heat looks so effortless. The rest varies from below average to good. Last year’s tournament was easily better though, both with more consistent quality in the opening round and of course the incredibly heated finals and the Strong-Tyler Black face-off. Still, a decent show to pick up, probably as part of a sale, especially when considering the bonus disc.

The second DVD to the set is “The Best of Nigel McGuinness”, which means that like the other recent Best of discs that are released with new shows, it’s more than worth it to purchase no matter what one thinks about the Survival of the Fittest 2010 show in itself. As with the recent Tyler Black and Joe vs. Punk extra discs, the value of purchase is especially high for newer fans looking to catch up with the history of ROH from a few years ago, in this case McGuinness’s body of work before he departed for TNA. The DVD includes: Takeshi Morishima vs. Nigel McGuinness- Undeniable 10/6/07; Nigel McGuinness vs. Austin Aries- Rising Above 12/29/07; Nigel McGuinness vs. Bryan Danielson- 6th Anniversary Show 2/23/08; Nigel McGuinness vs. Kevin Steen- Northern Navigation 7/25/08; Nigel McGuinness vs. El Generico- Age of Insanity 8/15/06; Nigel McGuinness vs. Roderick Strong- Driven 2008 9/19/08; Nigel McGuinness vs. Naomichi Marufuji- Final Battle 2008 12/27/08.

Head on over to TwitterNation and follow me at: http://twitter.com/AriBerenstein. I provide up-to-date links to my columns, major and breaking ROH news, random comments about WWE Raw and Smackdown and whatever else strikes my fancy.

411 Alumnus, former Cool Kids Table creator and perpetual Jewish badass Brad Garoon has begun a new project entitled The Grapefruit Chronicles. It’s a series of animated YouTube videos with grapefruit protagonist-sounds sweet and sour and awesome. Go check it out and leave some comments while you’re at it.

This week’s 411 Buy or Sell sees 411Mania say farewell to Michael Bauer, long time ECW recapper and ROH stalwart. He matches up with Steve Cook to discuss the week’s issues in independent wrestling. Happy trails Mike, all the best.

Michael Ornelas provides your weekly reviews of ROH on HDNet, this one covering All-Night Express vs. Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team.

Next week, thoughts on Fate of an Angel II on DVD and much more! Thanks for reading.



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