All that being said, I did enjoy watching the tournament unfold on TV, so let's see how it holds up on a second viewing.
The Opening Round
The qualifying round kicks off with Adam Cole taking on Tadarius Thomas, who has turned a lot of heads with his unique blend of wrestling and South American martial arts. Though he's still in the phase where he's doing a preliminary match here and there, I can see him breaking out in 2013 because of matches like this one. Cole has been on a major roll in 2012 and even pinned the World Champion earlier in the year, but there were a couple of points where Thomas had him on the ropes after connecting with offense that Cole didn't see coming. The fact that Cole really had to work to beat him made Thomas look good for hanging in there, and made Cole look that much better for finding a way to beat Thomas. This is an example of a guy coming out looking stronger even in defeat, something other wrestling companies have a hard time figuring out these days.
Next up was Davey Richards wrestling his first ROH match in months as he faced Mike Bennett in the second opening round match. Bennett was a lot more competitive that I expected him to be, and even though he used interference from Maria and Brutal Bob to get an advantage, he hung right in there with Davey and got in some good shots of his own like a spinebuster on the ring apron and even put Davey in his own anklelock. I wasn't a fan of the finish where Mike Mondo came out to ringside and forced a kiss on Maria, distracting Bennett long enough for Davey to hit an Alarm Clock and then knock Bennett out with a sliding kick for the win, but the match was great up to that point.
The third opening round match was supposed to be Jay Lethal taking on Tommaso Ciampa, but Ciampa had suffered a knee injury wrestling Lethal at Boiling Point and his manager RD Evans insisted that HIS MAN was going to compete in the tournament. That wording would obviously set off red flags and alarm bells with anyone who knows how things work in wrestling, but Ciampa came out on crutches and was obviously in no condition to wrestle despite his apparent willingness to do so. Evans said that Ciampa proved that he's a champion, a gladiator, and a thoroughbred with the way he fought Lethal at Boiling Point, but we all know what you do with a thoroughbred when he breaks his leg: you shoot him. Evans introduces his new client, QT Marshall, who joins Evans in a 2-on-1 beatdown where Marshall attacked Ciampa's leg with his own crutch.
Ciampa is carried out, and Marshall takes his place in the qualifying round against Jay Lethal. Marshall still has yet to show me that he's as good as the hype, and I don't think matches like this do him any favors where he comes in as a last minute substitute, then loses anyway because two managers are fighting. Prince Nana came out to ringside and attacked RD Evans, and Marshall was distracted and didn't see Lethal coming in with a Lethal Injection that punched Lethal's ticket to the finals.
Roderick Strong defeated Homicide in the next first round match, showing how far Homicide has fallen in his most recent ROH run. Homicide's previous run saw him rack up a six month undefeated streak to build to him challenging Roderick for the ROH World Title in early 2011, but this time around he's lost so many matches that Nigel McGuinness was openly questioning on commentary whether Homicide's time has slipped by. I'm always uncomfortable with losing streak angles because they have the potential to hurt guys as bad as they can help them turn it around, but the problem with Homicide's losses is that you don't really get the sense like he even CAN win these matches. It's ridiculous to book him in this way given his history here, and he did manage to kick out after taking the Sick Kick, but Roderick followed that up with the Gibson Driver to advance.
Qualifier #5 sees Mike Mondo taking on Kyle O'Reilly, who was last year's SOTF runner up. Davey Richards, who was at ringside cheering O'Reilly on in last year's finals, is sitting at ringside silently taking in the action this time around as if scouting his former protege. Like nearly every time we've seen him for the last six months, Mondo got the crap kicked out of him by O'Reilly, but refused to give up and told O'Reilly to give him more. Mondo fought back and managed to get O'Reilly in a Kondo Clutch, but they did this funky finish where O'Reilly reached out at the referee and repeatedly slapped his hand on his back, and the referee considered that a tapout and called it a submission win for Mondo. It was a strange finish and I'm not sure who it was supposed to help, but Mondo moves on as last year's runner up doesn't even qualify for the finals this year.
The final qualifying round match is between Michael Elgin and Rhino, two members of the House of Truth. Truth Martini was livid about this pairing and was convinced that ROH officials did not randomely draw this match, but instead were trying to drive a wedge between the members of the HoT. He asked both men to not fight and call the match off, but both men were determined to win Survival of the Fittest and refused to bow out. Roderick Strong came out to ringside to be a pain in Elgin's ass as usual, but Truth Martini also got involved by jumping in front of Rhino as he prepared to hit the Gore on Elgin. Rhino picked Martini up and moved him out of the way, but that gave Elgin a chance to recover and hit Rhino with his own Gore and then the sitout powerbomb to become the final entrant into the finals of Survival of the Fittest 2012.
The Survival Of The Fittest Finals
After the qualifying round, our six finalists are Davey Richards, Roderick Strong, Michael Elgin, Mike Mondo, Adam Cole, and Jay Lethal. This is a pretty strong lineup, and the winner earns a shot at the ROH World Title. Strong stayed far away from Elgin, but was more than happy to pick his spots and get his shots in whenever he can, including blindsiding Mondo with the Sick Kick to eliminate him. Strong then went at it with Cole, who had defeated him for the TV Title a few months ago, but continued taunting Elgin as he stood out on the apron. Strong finally makes the mistake of trying to suckerpunch Elgin, and Elgin came in and nailed Strong with a spinning backfist so Cole could knock him out with a superkick to bring it down to four men. Elgin narrows the field to three less than a minute later when he powerbombed Cole into the corner and followed up with a sitout powerbomb for the elimination.
We're down to Elgin, Lethal, and Richards, but Elgin was almost taken out of the equation as well when Roderick, who was still slinking around ringside after being eliminated, shoved Elgin off the top rope. Richards made Elgin's situation even worse by suplexing him off the apron and through the timekeeper's table before turning his attention back to Lethal. The two of them go at it until Elgin somehow pulls himself back into the ring as Richards and Lethal stop fighting and stare at him in disbelief. Elgin valiantly tries to fight both men and even kicks out of a top rope double stomp/Hail To The King combo, but a flurry of knockout kicks to the skull put Elgin down and end his hopes of repeating as the SOTF winner.
We're down to Richards and Lethal in their fourth meeting of the year now. Richards won the first two, Lethal won the third, and this fourth encounter would earn one or the other a shot at the ROH World Title. The locker room comes out to ringside to show respect and cheer Richards and Lethal on, surrounding the ring and slapping their hands on the ring apron in a scene reminiscent of the end of Rocky V. Davey kicks out of two Lethal Combinations, Lethal gets the Koji Clutch, Richards reverses to an anklelock, Lethal reverses that to a hanging Kondo Clutch, and Davey makes the ropes. Richards suplexes Lethal on the apron then hits a top rope double stomp, but Lethal kicks out at 1, so Davey connects with a series of kicks to the head, Lethal responds with several superkicks of his own, and covers for 2. Kyle O'Reilly stands at the top of the ramp with an intense look on his face as Davey hits the sliding knockout kick and puts Lethal in the anklelock. Lethal catches Davey with the Dragon suplex for 2, then waits for Davey to regain his feet. Davey gets up and spits in Lethal's face, so Lethal superkicks his teeth down his throat and hits the Lethal Injection for the win.
Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin were scheduled to face Fusion DS, a team I've seen a few times in ECWA and were making their ROH TV debut. Instead, Rhett Titus comes out to the ring and asks Fusion DS to leave so he can fight Haas & Benjamin again. Haas tells Titus that he must have something wrong with him if he wants to fight them by himself, but Titus never said he came alone, and BJ Whitmer comes sprinting out of the back to jump start an impromptu tag match. This was half brawl and half wrestling, but the brand new team of Titus and Whitmer got the win after Whitmer pinned Shelton off a schoolboy rollup. WGTT laid Titus and Whitmer out after the match and then pull out one of their favorite spots by wishboning Whitmer on the ringpost. This led to a rematch between the two teams at Glory By Honor, and a third meeting this coming weekend at Final Battle 2012.
Kevin Steen, Jimmy Jacobs, and Steve Corino do an in-ring interview with Kevin Kelly, and SCUM calls Elgin out to the ring. Steen wants to tell Elgin that he'll have Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs watching his back, but the House of Truth is nowhere to be found and Elgin won't be able to count on them to back him up at Glory By Honor. He then said that he wants to steal the show every night, and even though Elgin stole the show against Davey Richards in Florida, that's nothing compared to the six years he fought to become champion. Elgin may have the entire city of Toronto on his side, but Steen will walk out with the title because he's the real Unbreakable one. Elgin, who was silent through all this, said that he just came out to say that actions speak louder than words, and he attacks Steen before winding up on the receiving end of a 3-on-1 beatdown from SCUM. Truth Martini brings the HoT out to help, but Roderick Strong refused to stick his neck out and lets Rhino and the Guardians of Truth run in to make the save without him.
Later that same episode, Cedric Alexander and Caprice Coleman challenge Corino & Jacobs for the ROH World Tag Team Title, and C&C are on the verge of beating Jacobs when Corino knocks Coleman out with a roll of quarters to get himself disqualified and save the title. Elgin runs in and chases SCUM off, then has a tense staredown with C&C before shaking their hands to the dismay of Truth Martini. The dissension continues to build as Elgin finds himself more and more becoming a square peg in the round hole that is the House of Truth.
Before Steen got to Toronto to face Elgin, he defended the ROH World Title here against Rhett Titus at SOTF 2012. Steve Corino joined Kevin and Nigel in the broadcast booth and read a legal letter he got from ROH attorneys banning him from ringside during Steen's matches due to a recent situation where Steen attacked a fan (who was really a plant). Even though Titus has been in bigger matches before, such as Ladder War III against the Briscoes and the night he and Kenny King won the ROH World Tag Team Title, this was his first shot at the ROH World Title and was still a major deal for him. Titus jumped Steen as he came to the ring and proceeded to batter him all around ringside, and Steen continually tried using cheap tactics like eye pokes, only for Titus to shrug it off and continue taking the fight to the champion. I liked this match a lot, Titus had his eye on the prize and came in with the killer instinct it would take to put Steen on the ropes. He had all of Steen's best moves scouted and had counters ready, and eventually it took the involvement of Jimmy Jacobs to distract Titus and allow Steen to blindside him and hit the F5 for the win. This was a great match for Titus and, if he ever gets his own DVD set, this definitely ought to go on it.
The Briscoes defeated the Bravado Brothers in relatively short order before being confronted by the Guardians of Truth, who said that they were done with the House of Truth since Truth Martini hadn't delivered on his promises. They removed the masks to reveal themselves as the Headbangers, and challenged the Briscoes to face them again because they're former WWF Tag Team Champions and have beaten legends. The Briscoes tell them that they haven't proven themselves in an ROH ring, and until they do, their accomplishments don't mean shizzle.
* * *
Well, this year's Survival of the Fittest featured a ton of great wrestling, and I think Lethal was 100% the right guy to win the whole thing. I enjoyed the storyline advancement with the House of Truth, the revelation of the Headbangers, and Tommaso Ciampa's exit from the Embassy. The only problem I saw was that ROH just took the four episodes of TV and slapped them on a DVD without any love. I get that they didn't want to re-edit the episodes into a single show, but at the very least add more video packages, comments from other wrestlers about who they think will win the tournament, and so on. The stuff on this DVD is far from bad, but since it all aired already on TV, there's nothing here I can really say is worth spending money on.
Look at it like this: assuming that ROH fans either watch the TV or pay for the website membership so they can see the TV online, there's nothing on here that they haven't already seen. Asking people to pay money for this DVD doesn't make sense when they can get three months of access to ROH TV online, including the archived videos of all four of these episodes, for roughly the same amount. There were no extras of any kind, so this is going to be the first time I ever recommend against buying a Survival of the Fittest DVD just because there's no real value in it. Buy the website membership instead, you'll get a lot more for your money.
For information on ordering this or any other ROH DVDs, head over to www.rohwrestling.com.