RING OF HONOR DEBUT THOUGHTS
by Mike Johnson
I attended the debut of RF Video's Ring of Honor promotion on Saturday 2/23 in Philadelphia at the Murphy Recreation Center, which was as fine an independent presentation as you will find anywhere.
From the moment one walked into the show, you could see that RF had put time and money into the look and presentation of the show as they had purchased a ring and guard rails (which are different than the standard ones everyone uses these days), had a black and red color scheme in mind, and had ROH banners around the ring and building. They weren't running a show just to run, they had a battle plan in mind.
The show had an entirely different feel to it than most wrestling shows in the area, having been built around the concept of respect in the ring and the honor of being victorious. There were no chairshots, no guys being tossed into guard rails, and no ref bumps at all on the show, which is apparently going to be the modus operandi for the promotion.
All of the matches concluded with showings of mutual respect, which got over with the audience to the point that when Scoot Andrews teased not shaking hands with Xavier, the crowd turned on him until he did it. When Chris Daniels actually walked out of the main event after not showing respect to Low Ki and American Dragon, it got him over as a heel, despite the fact the audience loved his work in the ring.
The idea here is to build around wins and losses with the storylines revolving around what goes on in the ring, similar to All Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1980s. Now that RF has a direction they want to go in, it's going to be interesting to see how they can build a following for it and how they can expand it past a monthly event, although they are in no rush to do so.
Ring of Honor was booked and put together by several members of the RF Video staff. Gabe Sapolsky, who was Paul Heyman's top assistant in ECW days, handled much of the booking and laying out of the matches. Doug Gentry was running around like mad filming promos and interviews for the show's eventual video release. Rob Feinstein was overseeing everything, but at the same time, not overstepping the boundaries. At one point in the show, the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission's Frank Talent took to the ring (on his own) to sing the praises of how well the show was run and presented and asked Feinstein to come to the ring. Feinstein refused as he doesn't want an "on camera role" so to speak. When most would have taken the moment to mark out for themselves and be the center of attention, Feinstein was being smart enough to let the workers be the ones in the spotlight. Many of the RF staffers you wouldn't normally hear about were at the show working. It must have been the best staffed independent show I can recall.
THOUGHTS ON THE MATCHES
At 7:30 on the dot, ring announcer Stephen DeAngelis came to the ring to open the show, but out came the Christopher Street Connection who do an effeminate gimmick, with valet Alison Danger. CSC announced tonight wasn't the Ring of Honor but the Ring of homosexuality (hey, they said it) and began kissing. The Hit Squad hit the ring and destroyed them, with Mafia pinning one of CSC with a brutal looking burning hammer. Hit Squad did mic work afterwards saying that tonight the fans could "kiss sports-entertainment's ass goodbye." They superbombed Danger through a table with the CSC on it. The idea here was to bury gimmicks, outside interference, and tables, etc. as the promotion is going to build around athletic wrestling. The angle worked. The Squad was over huge.
The Amazing Red defeated Jay Briscoe in a strong second match. Red is simply phenomenal as a flyer. Briscoe has grown in a long goatee and actually showed more charisma and presence here than I can recall seeing before. His brother Mark was at ringside during the match, but didn't get involved. After several minutes of back and forth fast paced action, red hit a twisting splash off the top followed by a standing moonsault for the clean pin. Crowd loved the match.
Xavier pinned Scoot Andrews in a good ground based match, which saw Andrews blow several chances to defeat Xavier after arguing with the official, only to lose. Andrews was upset and didn't want to shake Xavier's hand but eventually did. Very solid.
The Boogie Knights defeated the Natural Born Sinners, Homicide and Boogalou via Disqualification. The story here was that the Sinners were absolutely out to hurt someone and the Knights were their victims. Homicide began beating them with a rubber chicken, which caused ref H.C. Loc to disqualify the Sinners in the only non-clean finish of the night. Homicide and Boogalou attacked Loc and bloodied him while the victorious Knights ran off to fight another day. The idea here was to get the Sinners over as monsters and it worked. The Knights are very green but there is talent there waiting to be molded. Homicide is easily the most underrated performer in the independents on the Northeastern seaboard.
In the Ultimate Aerial Challenge Elimination match, Quiet Storm emerged victorious from a group of competitors trained by Mikey Whipwreck, who worked as guest referee. Whipwreck's other students in the match were the SAT (Joel and Jose Maximo sporting new outfits) and Chris Devine. The lone non-Mikey trainee was Brian XL, who Whipwreck ribbed on the mic with series of Little Bow Wow comments. It was especially funny when Whipwreck began doing Bow Wow's rap from the Twix commercial, which was actually cast by ring announcer Stephen DeAngelis in his real life job as casting director. Whipwreck demanded Red joined the match and the crowd loved the surprise. This was a lot like a Lucha match with a ton of highspots and guys in and out of the ring so fast it was numbing trying to keep track. This was the one match on the show that probably went too long and lost a little steam. There was an angle where one of the Maximos eliminated Red, which caused dissension to set up a bout for the next show. Quiet Storm was the final winner.
After a ten minute intermission (which only lasted 10 minutes), Prince Nana pinned Towel Boy Eric Tuttle. Tuttle set up his appearance earlier in the show doing his old ECW gimmick of running around the ring with the towel in between one of the matches. When he came out to wrestle, DeAngelis the ring announcer sold it like he was shocked this was happening. Nana quickly pinned Tuttle, which I was told will set up a storyline between the two for the next show where Tuttle becomes Nana's servant to break into the business. This was perfect for where it was on the show, a short match to allow the crowd a chance to get back into the matches after they had taken a break.
Steve Corino cut a promo to announce that he was going to be the promotion's color commentator along with Eric Gargiulo, who does CZW's announcing. Gargiulo is a decent announcer and will probably get even better working here. Corino brought up that he wanted to retire in October last year (remember that?) and the response from the fans told him to wait because something better will come along now that ECW is done. That was his Zero-One deal. No, he didn't say that. He said that it was Ring of Honor and he was absolutely impressed with the performers who had worked and put over the double main event still to come. The crowd gave Corino a nice reaction and Gargiulo got a small pop and a "CZW" chant when he was introduced. I'm looking forward to seeing how they work as Corino is a tremendous talker and will mesh well with Gargiulo.
In the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy Challenge, Spanky and Ikaika Loa defeated Michael Shane and Oz. Spanky got the pinfall and the storyline was he earned a contract with ROH. He'll be in as a regular. Spanky showed a ton of charisma in the ring, almost like Trent Acid but on a more major league level and was great in the ring. Michael Shane hit a hell of a top rope elbow. Other than Spanky, no one else seemed to break out as a star, but the fans all appreciated the hard work. After the match a number of Michaels/Texas Wrestling Academy students and trainer Rudy Boy Gonzales got in the ring to congratulate everyone. There is talk of using more of Gonzales' students down the line, which is great as they are all well trained and solid workers. The Texas crew drove 30 hours each way to attend the show. That's dedication.
Super Crazy defeated Eddy Guerrero in their first ever meeting in the United States to become the first IWA Puerto Rico Intercontinental champion. Crazy got a huge pop coming out as it was his first match in Philly in a year. Guerrero played heel here. This was an awesome Lucha match with tons of American psychology tossed in as well. Nothing I write could do this justice.
Before the main event, Stephen DeAngelis ran down the scheduled matches and performers for the next event in the same vein that Howard Finkel would for WWF events in the 1980s. Nice touch.
In the main event, Low Ki defeated Christopher Daniels and American Dragon in a spectacular Three-Way Dance that was easily the best match I've seen in Philly in some time. There was a great sequence where Ki and Dragon took turns "showing each other" how to properly kick Daniels in the back before he finally had enough and begged off. There was another sequence where they were kicking him in stereo and Daniels finally had the sense to move, leaving them to kick each other in the foot, neutralizing the other. Ki pinned Daniels with the Ki Crusher. They did mic work (the only mic work of the night) where Daniels complained he could defeat each man in singles matches while Dragon challenged Ki to see who the better man was. Ki finalyl dared them both to compete in a round robin tournament on the next show, which the live crowd ate up. It ended with Daniels walking out on a mutual show of respect and Dragon finally leaving, with the victor, Low Ki, basking in victory.
ROH NOTES: For the debut of an independent promotion, one probably couldn't have asked for a better show. By the end of the night, Ring of Honor had brought a very adult, hard-hitting version of professional wrestling that was edgy without being X-rated or full of expletives on the mic, yet at the same time, got the classy idea of honor over inside the ring to the fans....The event started directly on time at 7:30 PM and was over at 10:30 PM. That's perfect considering how many shows I've been to that have run forever and ever....The makeup of the crowd was a very respectful, hardcore audience that wanted to see hard-hitting, stiff athletic wrestling. There were no disrespectful chants nor problems with any fans. While CZW has a handle on that "skater-esque" audience, RF Video is providing a forum for an older, hardcore audience to get the wrestling fix they have been missing since the days of ECW...The crowd chanted "Ring of Honor" after the main event concluded....For $5 you could purchase a program and a poster for the show....As you would expect, RF Video had their largest merchandise tables to date and made a killing selling books, videos, and action figures....The lighting and sound was done by New York based DJ Legacy, who can be reached at ECWLegacy@aol.com. They provide DJ services, light shows, an entrance, and professional sound for wrestling shows and parties. They are looking to expand to more Northeastern independent shows.
ROH Era of Honor Begins is available on VHS and DVD at ROHWrestling.com.