wrestling / Columns

The Independent Mid-Card 09.18.07: Stevens vs. Rinauro

September 18, 2007 | Posted by Samuel Berman

Hello all, and welcome to this week’s edition of The Independent Mid-Card. This past weekend’s Ring of Honor shows featured a pair of star-making singles performances by relative newcomer Erick Stevens. In a pair of losses to ROH World Champion Takeshi Morishima and Roderick Strong, Stevens was able to win over both the Detroit and Chicago Ridge crowds, earning standing ovations on both nights. It’s somewhat fitting that when I asked 411’s FIP guru Brad Garoon a couple of months ago for a good FIP match to feature here in the IMC, he suggested one involving Stevens. What we’re left with is a great two-birds, one-stone situation, as FIP makes a long-overdue second appearance in this column and I’m simultaneously able to focus on one of this weekend’s most important developments. It’s a double-whammy here in this week’s edition of the IMC.

One more quick note before I get into this week’s column. A big thank you to Brad for all of his help this week. He helped with both selecting the match as well as giving me a much-needed overview of the relevant storylines and each competitor’s FIP history. I cannot stress enough how great Brad’s FIP, PWG, SHIMMER and ROH reviews are, and everyone should really take some time to go through his archives.

Erick Stevens vs. Sal Rinauro
Full Impact Pro – Evening The Odds 2006 – Bushnell, FL – November 11, 2006

The Wrestlers:
Erick Stevens – A bruising big man, especially for the Independent scene, Erick Stevens began his Full Impact Pro career as a loser heel until he began teaming with “The Modern Miracle” Steve Madison as The Miracle Violence Connection. Stevens’ career really began to pick up speed when Madison turned on him following a losing effort in the duo’s feud with the face team of Sal Rinauro & “Classic” Colt Cabana, a move that immediately instigated a face turn for Stevens. Madison, who went on to form the YRR (Young, Rich, and Ready for Action) with Chasyn Rance, continued to add members to his stable, intent on maintaining the upper hand on his former partner. Stevens, who had been steadily improving in the ring, would spend the better part of the next year matching up with the YRR in a wide array of matches, including a simple mid-card affair with a recently heel-turned Rinauro

Sal Rinauro – A smaller, plucky babyface, Sal Rinauro started in FIP as one-half of a comedy tag team with Cabana. Eventually, however, Rinauro, like a number of the young, talented performers in Full Impact Pro, would decide that the glitz and glamour of the YRR was too much to pass up. Rinauro officially joined the group by turning on Stevens during a tag team match, helping Rance and Madison to hit their foil with a triple-team spike piledriver. Stevens was obviously livid at this turn of events, leading to a singles contest between the powerhouse and the man who had stabbed him in the back. Rinauro, who seemed downright tiny by comparison to Stevens, appeared to be significantly overmatched heading into this particular contest.

The Match:
Sal Rinauro comes through the curtain first, accompanied by his valet Daffney. He’s announced at 178 pounds and does a cool front flip over the ropes upon entering the ring. Erick Stevens comes out second to a big pop from the crowd, and weighs in at 215 pounds, though he looks MUCH bigger than that. I should note that the setup for this show is different from most wrestling shows, as the crowd is behind a barricade on one side of the ring only, instead of surrounding it as is more traditional. The hard camera is opposite the crowd, so at least on the wide shots it doesn’t look quite as strange, but it certainly is a different setup from what one would be used to in Ring of Honor. As Stevens enters the ring, Rinauro gets a massage from Daffney at ringside. Sal hops into the ring but immediately retreats back to the outside when Stevens charges in. Sal tentatively slides back in and the referee calls for the bell to start things off.

The two men circle and Stevens wants a knucklelock. Sal reaches out for his hand, but immediately rolls to ringside upon making contact. Sal jaws with the crowd and does some stretches while Stevens patiently waits for him in the ring. Stevens calls Rinauro a chicken, which the many kids in the crowd just love. Sal spends a few moments strutting around like a chicken, trying in vain to illustrate that he’s NOT one. Sal again climbs into the ring and ducks under Stevens’ attempt at a lockup, rolling right back out to the floor. I honestly hope they’re going somewhere with all of this stalling. Rinauro yells at the crowd some more and gets consoled by Daffney before slowly climbing back into the ring.

We finally get a lockup in the middle of the ring and Stevens forces Sal into the corner. Erick forces him up until he’s sitting on the top rope, so Rinauro just pie-faces him back to counter. Sal shoves him in the face a couple of times and then ducks a clothesline, but gets too cocky and Stevens grabs his tights by the tassels. They rip off, so Stevens just kicks Sal in the midsection and pounds him down with a clubbing forearm before throwing the tassels at him (which Sal sells like another forearm shot). Stevens stomps on Rinauro and hits a headbutt before following up with a chop and another clubbing forearm. Stevens picks up Sal and hits him with a big backbreaker and then covers for a one count. Sal rolls out to cut off his momentum.

Erick follows him out to ringside, so Sal uses Daffney as a shield. As Stevens approaches, Sal gets in a cheap shot to the face. Sal hops up to the apron to try and capitalize, but when he goes for a hurricanrana to the floor, Stevens catches him and just tosses him into the wall. That spot actually put a hole in the drywall. Stevens goes over to the crowd to celebrate and then whips Sal into the ring apron. Stevens rolls Rinauro back in and stomps away on him before chopping his chest in the corner. Erick hits a headbutt to the back of Sal’s head and then smashes his face into the top turnbuckle before following up with another chop in the corner. Stevens whips Sal cross-corner but misses the blind charge when Sal moves out of the way. Sal comes running and gets catapulted over the top to the apron, but pokes Erick in the eye and smashes his arm against the turnbuckle bracing. Sal grabs the arm again and runs it into the ringpost, landing himself on the floor in the process. Nice spot actually, and a way to hit that move that you don’t see very often.

Stevens crashes to the floor due to the momentum and Sal continues the assault by stomping away out there. Rinauro slams Stevens’ arm into the concrete floor and then just kicks at it when Stevens tries to push him off. Sal gets a clubbing forearm of his own and then just wraps Stevens’ arm around the post again. Sal holds on to that in a would-be submission hold as Stevens grunts in pain. Sal releases eventually and both men roll in of their own accord.

Sal locks in a wristlock (which is great psychology here as opposed to just being a transitional hold) and pounds away on Stevens’ arm. Stevens gets in a straight right to force the break, but Rinauro has clearly done a lot of damage to his other arm. Stevens blocks a charge with a back elbow, but it’s pretty weak compared to what you’d expect from him. Sal gets a standing dropkick to the bad arm and Stevens pretty much crumbles to the canvas. Sal hops onto Stevens and rubs his face with a forearm before wrapping his arm around the middle rope and wrenching on it until the referee prompts a break. Sal goes to argue with the ref, so Daffney takes the opening and chokes away at Stevens. Sal stops arguing long enough to cover Erick for two.

Rinauro stomps on Stevens’ arm and picks up the previously torn tassels. He stuffs them in Erick’s mouth and continues to kick away at the arm. Stevens begins to make a comeback with shots to Sal’s midsection, but when he whips Rinauro off the ropes, Sal is able to counter into a single-arm DDT and covers for two. Sal locks in an overhand wristlock, which in this case works as a legitimate submission attempt. Erick works his way to his feet and elbows out of the hold, but Sal grabs the Mohawk and slams Stevens’ backwards down to the mat when he tries to run the ropes. Sal stomps at the arm again and locks in a sitting reverse armbar. Stevens is literally screaming in pain at this point, but is able to somehow work his way back to his feet. He slugs away at Sal and goes to whip him off the ropes, but Sal reverses, puts on the brakes, and slams Erick’s arm down to the mat. A lateral press gets two.

Sal locks in what amounts to a cobra stretch stranglehold and Stevens uses the energy from the crowd to get the will to elbow out, but Sal kicks him in the arm to stop the rally. Sal keeps on Erick in the corner, twisting his arm around the ropes again. Stevens stumbles out of the corner and Rinauro locks in another wristlock, even kicking Stevens’ arm while holding on. Sal drops a couple of knees onto the arm and then splashes it before covering for two. Sal continues to pound away but Stevens gets a back elbow in again. Again this time there isn’t a lot behind it, and he’s unable to follow up. The two get into an exchange of strikes, with Sal hitting rights to the face and Stevens trying to counter with back elbows. Sal gets the best of it again and follows with a jumping stomp to Stevens’ arm. Erick crawls over to the ropes, but Sal just keeps headbutting him in the arm until he falls to the mat for a two count.

Stevens uses the ropes to climb to his feet, but gets met with another right from Rinauro. Sal chokes away using the top rope, only releasing when prompted by the referee. Stevens tries to block another wristlock by rubbing his forearm in Sal’s face, but Sal hits an over-the-shoulder armbreaker mid-move and is able to lock in the wristlock again. Stevens tries to elbow out, but Rinauro just segues into an armbar and really wrenches it in tight. Stevens lunges forward and grabs the bottom rope to force a break, but Sal holds on for most of the allotted five-count before releasing. Stevens looks to be in a bad way on the mat, but the crowd (mostly the children) are loudly chanting for him at this point.

Sal continues to kick at the arm, but when he goes for the wristlock again, Stevens is able to block it and hits Sal with a hard shot to the face and then a back elbow. Erick gets a Manhattan Drop (inverted atomic drop) and a one-armed body slam. Stevens whips Rinauro off the ropes and presses him into the air on the rebound before catching him and getting an over-the-shoulder powerslam for two. Stevens gets in a clubbing forearm and strikes away at Sal in the corner. A cross-corner whip is reversed into an armscissors from Sal and he gets in a good kick to Stevens’ arm from that position. Nice counter there. Sal hops up to the second rope and hits a Tornado DDT to the arm for two. Sal rolls the kick out right into a Fujiwara Armbar (armbar with the victim facing the mat) and Stevens looks to be out of it, but finally gets his boot on the bottom rope to break the hold. Sal again holds on until the count reaches four.

Sal goes over to argue with the referee, and turns around right into a TKO (fireman’s carry into an ace crusher) from Stevens. Erick hurts his arm on the move, however, and it takes him a moment to crawl over and make the cover. The eventual pin attempt only gets two, though Stevens did make sure to cover so that he could hook the far leg with his good arm. “The Modern Miracle” Steve Madison wanders out to ringside to support Rinauro as Stevens signals that it’s all about to be over. He sets up for a Doctor Bomb (gutwrench into a powerbomb), but can’t get Rinauro up because of his arm. Stevens decides to settle for a clubbing forearm instead and goes to run the ropes, but Madison grabs his leg and Stevens loses focus, choosing to punch Madison rather than keep his attention on Rinauro. Stevens turns around right into a superkick from Sal and Sliced Bread #2 (springboard backflip diving reverse DDT) finishes things off as Rinauro gets the three count at 14:11. Sal rolls out to celebrate with Daffney and Madison while Stevens continues to sell the arm in the ring.

The Analysis:
I have to say that this match featured one of the most realistic approaches to having a small heel dominate a large babyface that I’ve ever seen. Sal pretty much relentlessly targeted Stevens’ arm throughout the match, combining tried-and-true tactics with new and creative ways to cause damage. Literally everything that Rinauro did was focused on working the arm, or leading to a move that would. Unlike so many matches (especially mid-card contests) that see both spotty psychology and on-again-off-again selling, this match was an absolute clinic on both counts, with Stevens in particular being sure to sell everything well.

In a lot of matches, the wrestler being dominated will sell damage only while being attacked, but conveniently forget to sell ten minutes worth of work to an arm or leg or neck when they need to make a comeback. Stevens made a point of selling his arm after hitting nearly every offensive move, and did what I wish more wrestlers would do: have the beating they’ve taken affect their ability to even hit their intended moves. Late in the bout, Stevens went for the Doctor Bomb, but couldn’t hoist up even the diminutive Rinauro, a sign that Sal’s had clearly executed a solid offensive strategy. I want to give a lot of credit to Rinauro, too. In a lot of his Ring of Honor work, he seemed green and unsure in the ring, but here he impressed me both technically and in terms of his character.

The only wrinkle that I could see was that the arm work didn’t lead directly to the finish, but that’s splitting hairs. Sal’s efforts seemed to be as much about preventing Stevens from gaining an advantage as they were about directly winning the match. Being a part of a stable like the YRR affords a wrestler like Rinauro the luxury of outside interference should he ever get into trouble. In this case, as soon as Stevens began to make a serious comeback, Madison came out to ringside, allowing Sal to hit a pair of high impact moves to get the victory. Had Sal not worked the arm as mercilessly as he did, Stevens might have been able to hit the Doctor Bomb or another series of maneuvers before Madison could have made it out to ringside.

The Aftermath:
Sal Rinauro has continued his role as a member of the YRR, and was on a pretty serious roll as 2006 ended and 2007 began. As he and his stablemates continued their issue with Erick Stevens and Seth Delay, Rinauro continued to rack up wins, including a victory over Delay in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match that saw Claudio Castagnoli shock the fans by joining the YRR. Rinauro & Castagnoli then won a match over Black Market, forcing Machete & Murphy out of FIP competition for 90 days. Though Rinauro was unsuccessful in a bid to win the FIP World Heavyweight Title from Roderick Strong in April, he and his fellow YRR members would go on to earn victory after victory against the Heartbreak Express. Now, with former group leader Madison having left the group in May, Rinauro, along with Rance, Kenny King & Jason Blade will face off with both the Heartbreak Express and Black Market in a Wargames Cage of Pain Match at the next FIP event.

Erick Stevens, who settled his issue with Steve Madison with a win in a career-defining Dog Collar Match in January, qualified for the FIP Florida Heritage Title Tournament with a win over Gran Akuma in early February. Stevens, who had to outlast a stacked field to win Full Impact Pro’s newest title, was able to defeat three men in a single night, going through Shingo, Delirious and FIP World Heavyweight Champion Roderick Strong on his way to championship gold. Since winning the belt in early March, Stevens has made successful defenses against the likes of Nigel McGuinness, Delirious, Davey Richards and YRR members Chasyn Rance, Claudio Castagnoli and Sal Rinauro. With momentum on his side, it looks as if Erick Stevens may hold the FIP Florida Heritage Title for a long time to come.

The Final Word:
On a non-wrestling note, please forgive the slight delay in this week’s column, as my DVD player decided to randomly stop working just as I was about to start play-by-play. Next week’s edition should be up at the normal time.

To see this week’s match, you can purchase FIP Evening the Odds 2006 at fullimpactpro.com or at rohwrestling.com. The main event of the show is a 10-Man Elimination Match that sees FIP World Heavyweight Champion Roderick Strong team with FIP Tag Team Champions Jay & Mark Briscoe, Erick Stevens & Pelle Primeau to take on former champion Bryan Danielson, Shingo, Shane Hagadorn, Davey Richards & Steve Madison. Richards’ performance in the main event is one of the great storytelling moments in FIP history and the match ranks as one of the best in the company’s canon as well. Definitely worth checking out. Don’t believe me? Then here’s reason enough: when I asked Brad which one show I should purchase at June’s ROH event, this is the one he picked. I have not been disappointed.

Switching gears for a moment, I was at both ROH shows over the weekend and had a great time at both. I went with 411’s resident ROH reviewers Brad Garoon & Jake Ziegler, and I would pass along the following observations:

-Match of the Night in Detroit was probably Marufuji vs. Generico, though Stevens’ ROH World Title match with Morishima was a really solid affair as well, and one that served to get Stevens very over with the live crowd (who were more than a bit skeptical about him coming out of his Four Corner Survival win early in the show).

-Morishima vs. Danielson in Chicago was excellent, but seemed (at least based on the reports out of New York City) to be a step below their first match. The ending does leave open the likelihood of a third, final match between the two.

-The reports about the Tag Team Title Ladder Match are not an exaggeration, with all four men nearly killing themselves over-and-over throughout the match. It is easily one of the best spotfests (and matches in general) in ROH history and reason enough to order ROH’s third Pay-Per-View.

-This new The Age of the Fall angle and stable are going to be HUGE. Jacobs is a fucking god and having Necro Butcher as a part of the group will keep them almost perpetually over. Seriously, this is going to be awesome.

-Putting on Delirious vs. Sydal last in Chicago was pretty much a death sentence for both guys, as the crowd was completely burnt out after the PPV taping during the first half. In the interest of full disclosure, that observation is made having actually left the show early and having missed the match in question. I had to work early Sunday morning and it was already 11:30pm. Sue me.

All-in-all a great weekend of Ring of Honor action. I hope everyone takes the time to do an ROH doubleshot at some point, as seeing two nights in a row really gives you a new appreciation for the efforts of the competitors.

Before we get to the other plugs, I want to again thank Brad for all of his help with this week’s column. Everyone please make sure to check out his archives for tons of great Independent wrestling coverage.

Other stuff to read this week on 411 include Ari’s Column of Honor (complete with Part II) and Bayani’s Truth B Told. Rob Halden has a great edition of You’re An Idiot And Here’s Why and there’s a new Buy or Sell featuring J.D. Dunn and Jake Ziegler. Check out Matt Short’s Navigation Log and then give a look to one of our new writers as Alex Barcham brings you Hitting Below the Beltway for some more ROH discussion. In terms of reviews, Brad has PWG’s Jason Takes PWG and Guitarmageddon, both of which you should read.

Next week we’re going to start our look at IWA Mid-South’s Ted Petty Invitational in the start of a two-week event. Hopefully this year’s event will live up to the high standards set by the 2006 version.

With all of that out of the way, I’m going to head out of the week. To them that it applies, have an easy fast on Saturday, and happy early birthday, no matter when you’re actually celebrating. Remember that seafood stew cures most things, but witty banter never goes out of style.

Adonai li, v’lo eirah.

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Samuel Berman

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