wrestling / Video Reviews

Reviews From The Cheap Seats: A Prologue & Introduction To ROH

September 11, 2004 | Posted by Matt Nute

Greetings, and welcome to Reviews From the Cheap Seats. Why the title? Because most of the time, these tapes and DVDs I’ll be reviewing for you are less expensive than going to the live show and trying to piece together a review from there. While nothing can quite match the intensity of a live wrestling event, I’ll try and give you guys as close an approximation as I can.

A quick introduction – I’m Matt Nute, you may recognize me from such fine columns as The Finish Line and Raw in Sixty Seconds (over on thewrestlingblog.com). In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be reviewing recent releases from Ring of Honor, the top independent wrestling company in North America. If you think the shows are interesting, go see one live! Or if you can’t, order the tapes or DVDs.

What you won’t see in these reviews will be the time-tested “star” rating system. Instead, matches will be graded in five areas: Technique, which is basically “how well did the wrestlers pull off their moves? Did things look botched or fake? Was there a lot of repetition?”; Pacing, which takes into account the length of the match versus the actual amount of wrestling done. Too many speedy spots without proper timing can result in a low grade, while a nicely-done buildup may be graded higher; Storytelling, not only inside the ring but in relation to any greater plotline or character development. If two guys you don’t know are just thrown into a ring, chances are they won’t tell as good a story as two wrestlers who’ve been involved in a long-running feud or rivalry; and Excitement, which is quite simply a general category of how thrilling the match was to me as a wrestling fan. Categories will be rated A to F, like those grades most of us North Americans got in school. There won’t be any “total” rating of a match because I don’t believe that you can look at two matches and quantitatively say “This is better than that” without looking at different aspects of the two.

So before I get going, let me give you some background on Ring of Honor and its wrestlers, so you’re not thrown into the next review blindly.

Ring of Honor: a brief history

Started in early 2002 in Philadelphia, Ring of Honor was the brainchild of Rob Feinstein, owner and operator of RFVideo, and Gabe Sapolsky, former assistant to Paul Heyman in the days of ECW. The company got off to a running start with their first show, which featured Eddie Guerrero (during his time away from the WWF) and a triple threat between Low Ki, American Dragon, and Christopher Daniels – three men who would help put Ring of Honor on the map.

Over the next year, Ring of Honor would grow from a simple side project of a video company to the unquestioned top independent wrestling federation in the country. The best independent workers in the industry would come to wrestle for Ring of Honor, and help support the image the company maintained. As for the product itself, RoH made a name on representing the best in professional wrestling, as opposed to the spectacle of “sports entertainment”. Details like the Code of Honor, and the importance of a handshake as a show of respect between wrestlers before and after a match; these things set Ring of Honor apart as something unique.

Many independent wrestlers springboarded from Ring of Honor into full-time employment with larger federations – both Brian “Spanky” Kendrick and Paul London wound up with WWE contracts (although Spanky asked for his release early in 2004 and proceeded to work regularly in Japan), while NWATNA picked up Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, and the Amazing Red, giving them a chance to demonstrate their skills to a national audience.

At the height of its popularity, however, Ring of Honor was struck with a devastating blow. Accusations of attempted pedophilia were leveled at owner Rob Feinstein by a vigilante website, PervertedJustice. Combined with a TV news “sting”, the accusations had far-reaching consequences for Ring of Honor. Wrestlers that were contracted with NWATNA were forbidden from working Ring of Honor shows, including the newly-crowned Pure Wrestling Champion, AJ Styles. As part of the damage control, it was announced that Feinstein had surrendered all control and interest in both RFVideo and Ring of Honor, and had stepped down as president of both companies.

With some of their name wrestlers gone, Ring of Honor decided to press on with head booker Gabe Sapolsky at the helm. Coming up with the “RoH Reborn” concept, the company was able to continue on, bringing new faces to the fore and re-establishing themselves as the pre-eminent independent wrestling federation in the industry.

Recently, amidst continuing allegations that Rob Feinstein had not in fact stepped down as the head of both RFVideo and Ring of Honor, investor Cary Silkin, along with Sapolsky, took a bold step and acquired all rights to the Ring of Honor company, making a publicized split from RFVideo. This drastic move could have been a death blow to Ring of Honor, but instead revitalized the company, leading them to a better and brighter future.

Current Storylines:

Coming into the “RoH Reborn” era, there were a number of storylines playing out. Chief among them is the title reign of Samoa Joe. Holding the RoH World Title for over a year, Joe not only made the belt a world title by defending it overseas, he has managed to hold onto the belt in an unprecedented reign. In recent months, Joe had established a feud with Jay and Mark Briscoe, the RoH tag team champions and mainstays of the company since the early days. Both Jay and Mark had made significant challenges to the World Title, while Joe took his shot at the tag belts on multiple occasions with partners such as “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson and Jerry Lynn. Their feud culminated with a vicious cage match between Joe and Jay at the “At Our Best” show in March of 2003, after which Joe finally emerged victorious. The feud resulted in a show of respect between the champ and the Briscoes, and a face turn for RoH’s tag team champions.

While the Joe/Briscoes feud was built on challenges and respect, the other main feud in Ring of Honor was anything but. Early on, Christopher Daniels had established The Prophecy, a stable geared towards tearing down the Code of Honor and all that Ring of Honor represented. While the Prophecy went through many incarnations, the one that would survive consisted of Daniels, Alison Danger, their “hired assassin” Danny Maff, and their newest addition, the powerhouse BJ Whitmer. Enter the Second City Saints of CM Punk, Colt Cabana, Ace Steel, and their valet Lucy (formerly Daffney of WCW). In 2002, Lucy was attacked backstage and “grievously injured”, forcing her to leave RoH (in reality, Shannon Ward had garnered an OVW contract). CM Punk, at the time in the feud of the year with Raven, spent months searching for her attacker. When it was revealed at Final Battle 2003 to be the doing of the Prophecy, all-out war erupted between the two groups. At the very next show, Battle Lines Are Drawn, the Second City Saints destroyed Christopher Daniels, forcing him to leave the company (again, with NWATNA pulling its workers off of RoH shows, this dovetailed in perfectly). Since then, Alison Danger has led the quarreling duo of Maff and Whitmer on their mission of revenge.

In a more “working class” feud, the Carnage Crew had always been among the hardest workers in RoH. Former ECW “extreme referee” HC Loc and his partner Devito made a name as a vicious tag team who pushed harder than anyone else, fueled by their dissatisfaction with their lower-class jobs, their whining families, and their general crappy lives. Along with Justin Credible and the young Masada, the Carnage Crew had only recently emerged from a violent feud with the young “rich kid ravers” of Special K. At what would be their highest moment in Ring of Honor, Loc and Devito returned to the locker room to find that someone had, in the bluntest terms, crapped in their bags. This show of utter disrespect has sent Loc and Devito on a maniacal tear to find the culprits, and they have sworn to show no mercy to anyone in their way.

In a coup for Ring of Honor, wrestling legend Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was brought in to referee some high-profile matches and attempt to bring a semblance of order to the Prophecy/Second City Saints feud. This has brought Steamboat into direct conflict with CM Punk, who feels he was cheated out of the Pure Wrestling Title in a match that Steamboat refereed at “At Our Best”.

Lower on down the card, you have wrestlers like Alex Shelley and Jimmy Rave. While Rave has put on technically sound matches, his stock with the fans is incredibly low, to the point that the RoH officials have told him that his future with the company is at risk. As such, Rave cannot afford to lose a match by pinfall or submission with his job on the line. In contrast, Alex Shelley is on a tear in RoH, quickly becoming one of their most dominating technical wrestlers. His “talent on loan from God” is becoming quickly apparent, and most expect his star to rise swiftly in RoH.

Also of note is the Notorious 187, Homicide. Long a fan-favorite and mainstay of RoH, Homicide is one of the few wrestlers to hold a victory over Samoa Joe in a non-title match, and is the man many say could unseat Joe as champion. However, after the “Last Stand” show in Baltimore in January 2004, Homicide walked out of the arena with a cryptic statement implying that he may be done with RoH for a long while. At “At Our Best”, Homicide’s manager, Julius Smokes, made a challenge on Homicide’s behalf to Samoa Joe, demanding a World Title match. Joe’s response was to lay a severe beatdown on Smokes, to which no one is certain how Homicide will respond.

All these intertwining storylines come into play as we head into “RoH Reborn: Stage One”, the first part of a two-day show bringing Ring of Honor into a new era.

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Matt Nute

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