The show opened with Michael Elgin taking on "The Prodigy" Mike Bennett, who did an interesting prematch promo in the bonus features talking about how boring the fans and internet critics thought he was when he first came to ROH before eventually being forced to admit how good he is. He says that he didn't change a damn thing and he's always been this good, but as an internet critic, there are three things to mention about that. First, he definitely has improved and it's something he deserves credit for, he now seems to work harder and has noticeably better matches than he did when he first showed up. Two, Maria has added a lot to his act in that she's been the basis of a lot of the feuds he's gotten into over the last year and adds an extra air of elitism to an "I'm better than you" character people didn't really buy into beforehand. Thirdly and most importantly, he was given a huge push as THE guy who would be the ROH World Champion sooner rather than later when he first started in the company, and for as good as he may or may not have been, saying things like that draws instant comparisons to guys like Roderick Strong, Eddie Edwards, Davey Richards, Kevin Steen, El Generico, and Christopher Daniels who were already in that picture and clearly on a different level than Bennett was at that time. It took a good long time for Bennett to get momentum going, but the feud with Lance Storm really seemed to help him kick it up a notch, as did the TV Title feud with Generico and Jay Lethal. If you follow Bennett's progress from his debut in 2010 to today, you can definitely see the progression.
Elgin, in the meantime, was one week away from challenging for the ROH World Title in his hometown of Toronto at the time of this match and was the clear favorite. Far from a lead-in squash, this was a competitive match that Bennett nearly won on a couple of close falls. Elgin's impending split from the House of Truth continued when he was about to hit a dive to the floor onto Bennett at one point, but Truth Martini came in and started putting the boots to Bennett behind the referee's back before he could hit the move. Elgin went on to hit the sitout powerbomb and pick up the win, but this was a strong opener and both guys looked good.
The second match featured the Bravado Brothers taking on 3.0, a team out of the Montreal area who have competed in CHIKARA and now look to make a move into Ring of Honor. 3.0 seemed all right, they didn't really do anything to differentiate themselves from any other indy team I see getting tryouts, and a lot of the stuff they tried came off as chorerographed and a little disjointed. On the other hand, the Bravados have improved a lot since training in the NOAH Dojo, and they seem to improve more each time I see them. I was a little worried that they would put 3.0 over since they aren't really pushed at all, but they ended up getting the win and then suckerpunched 3.0 for good measure after the match.
We move on to Bobby Fish taking on QT Marshall, who comes off as more and more generic every time I see the guy. I'm sure he's a solid worker and all, but his look and wrestling style is nothing to write home about, and he cuts this generic promo before the match making fun of the crowd for being on welfare, then saying he's going to beat Fish and then go to New York City where he'll have sex with someone's wife because he can. It wouldn't be so much of a problem if he was presented as a low level guy, but when he comes in with a name like God's Gift and is the guy RD Evans throws Tommaso Ciampa away for, I feel like he needs to deliver more than he has, especially against a guy of Bobby Fish's caliber. It also doesn't help that he's lost nearly every match he's been in, such as this one where Fish knocks him out with a leaping spinkick to the cranium. Fish went on to team with Kyle O'Reilly against the American Wolves at Final Battle, while Marshall did a run in on a match between two managers.
Next up is a three way elimination match for the ROH World Tag Team Title, as the teams of Rhett Titus & BJ Whitmer and Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team challenge Steve Corino & Jimmy Jacobs of SCUM. Both challenging teams had scored wins over the other leading into the show and the fact that each seemed as hellbent on keeping the other from winning the title as they were with winning the title themselves led to Corino and Jacobs retaining and the other two teams facing off in a streetfight at Final Battle last month. It's interesting to see Jacobs and Whitmer going at it in 2012 given their history together, and just as a cheap plug, the shoot interview on the Jimmy Jacobs DVD set (which I'll be reviewing shortly) gave a lot of interesting background on their 2006-07 feud and Lacey's involvement. I think that if ROH needs ideas for people to do DVD compilations of, BJ Whitmer should be close to the top of the list since he has such an interesting story and so much history in ROH that a set chronicling his ROH career seems like a natural. Whitmer nailed Haas and caused him to be rolled up and eliminated by Titus, but then Haas got revenge by hitting Titus with a chair from the floor mere moments later and allowed Corino to suplex and pin him to retain. WGTT and Titus/Whitmer had an uneasy standoff after the match, but WGTT left before the confrontation became physical.
We're at the halfway mark, and all the rest of the matches on this show look great on paper. We start the second half with Roderick Strong taking on Kyle O'Reilly in what mostly amounted to a stiff brawl. Strong is known for his chops and O'Reilly for his kicks, and they went back and forth trading those until Strong caught O'Reilly in mid-kick and delivered a cradle backbreaker, then began DESTROYING O'Reilly with chops, forearms, and kneestrikes. O'Reilly dumped Strong to the floor and hit the running dropkick off the apron, then went inside where he started taking it to Strong with hard kicks and submission attempts. Finally they just started trading forearms in the middle of the ring until Strong hit a vertical suplex into a backbreaker out of nowhere for the win. Hell of a finish to a great match.
O'Reilly's former mentor Davey Richards is up next as he takes on Mike Mondo in a rematch of their excellent encounter at The Nightmare Begins. That was one of the most important matches in Mondo's rise to respectability in 2012, as he hung in there with the former ROH World Champion and took him to a time limit draw. There is no time limit this time around, so barring anything silly like a DQ or a countout, this match will have a clear winner. They didn't waste any time getting down to business as Davey hit Mondo with an Alarm Clock, clotheslined him to the floor, and hit the running punt across the apron as soon as the bell rang. Davey kept up the pressure, destroying Mondo at ringside and driving him into the crowd with a running Ole Kick. Mondo managed to slow Davey down and ground him once they went back inside, but wound up back on the defensive after making the mistake of going back out to the floor with Davey. Davey started going to work on Mondo's arm, trying to tap him out to a cross armbreaker and then that weird leg hammerlock that Nigel McGuinness used to do. The inside of Mondo's left arm got lacerated at some point, probably when they were fighting on the outside, but he was still able to mount a comeback after planting Davey into the mat with a spinebuster. Davey tried getting an advantage by turning it into a striking contest, Mondo tried to match him with kneestrikes, but Davey impaled Mondo with a double stomp to the chest. Mondo kicked out after taking a knockout kick and reversed a cross armbreaker to an anklelock, Mondo reversed to an anklelock of his own, Mondo reversed a second Alarm Clock attempt to another anklelock and grapevined Davey's leg, Davey reversed to a Sharpshooter, Mondo slipped out of that so Davey stomped his face in like Bryan Danielson used to do to people, and then got Mondo in a Texas Sunrise to finally force Mondo to tap out. Officials came out to check on Mondo as Davey cut a promo saying that there used to be an ROH before Sinclair Broadcasting came along where it didn't matter whether you liked someone or not, if someone came out here and fought their ass off like Mike Mondo did, he earned people's respect. Davey tells Mondo he earned his respect and shakes his hand after saying he deserves to be in Ring of Honor. Awesome match and a great finishing sequence, and a really classy moment at the end there.
We move on to a first time ever tag match between the Briscoes and Eddie Edwards & Adam Cole, who don't have a long history together as a tag team, but did win the main event of the 10th Anniversary Show. An extra dimension to this match is the fact that Edwards would be challenging his protege Cole for the TV Title a week later at Glory By Honor XI, an obvious conflict of interest that you would expect to handicap them against the seven time former ROH World Tag Team Champions. Edwards had been in the ring with the Briscoes many times as a member of the American Wolves, and even though he and Cole have only teamed a few times, they work well together and have good timing with their double teams. The Briscoes worked Cole over until Edwards gets the hot tag...and then the Briscoes quickly dispatch of him and go back to beating Cole up. Edwards finally got back in and turned the tide, putting Mark Briscoe in the Achilles Lock while Cole gets Jay in the figure four. The Briscoes both escaped their predicaments and again disposed of Edwards before finishing Cole with the Doomsday Device.
This brings us to the main event, as Jay Lethal challenges Kevin Steen for the ROH World Title mere miles away from where Lethal grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Lethal, whose parents were sitting in the front row, had changed his approach to the business after ROH Executive Producer Jim Cornette told him that he didn't have enough of a killer instinct to beat someone like Steen. Lethal took that as a challenge and began wrestling more aggressively and also somewhat less compassionately, and now brought his new and harder-edged attitude to the place he got his start in the business in the hopes of finally winning the title that had eluded him for nearly a decade.
Lethal superkicked Steen's teeth down his throat as soon as the bell rang, sending him out to the floor and wiping him out with four dives in a row. Lethal brought Steen back into the ring and kept the pressure up, repeatedly spearing him in the corner as Lethal's parents went nuts at ringside. Steen finally caught Lethal with a baseball slide to the face as Lethal went for the Lethal Injection, then went to the floor and powerbombed him onto the ring apron. Steen turned the match into a brawl on the floor, ramming him into the guardrail and then picking him up and running him jewels-first into the post. Steen exchanged words with Jim Cornette, who was at ringside doing commentary, and allowed it to distract him enough that Lethal hit the Lethal Combination for 2. Steen regained control before too long, but again allowed himself to be distracted by Cornette and missed a running cannonball in the corner. Lethal hit a superkick and a second Lethal Combination, then locked Steen in the Koji Clutch. Steve Corino and Jimmy Jacobs came out to ringside as Steen made the ropes, but he quickly hit a death valley driver and two Hail To The Kings before wiping Corino and Jacobs out with another dive. Lethal hit a dragon suplex for 2 and then tried a superplex, but Steen reversed to a nasty looking top rope fisherman's buster for 2. Lethal got the knees up as Steen went for a Swanton and quickly followed up with the Lethal Injection, but Steen immediately headed to the floor even as Lethal tried to hold onto him.
Now is the point where all hell breaks loose. Steen bit Lethal in the face, causing Lethal's dad to throw a drink in Steen's face and then Steen retaliating by spitting at Lethal's mother. An infuriated Lethal went after Steen, starting a huge brawl as Corino, Jacobs, and several referees tried to pull them apart. Lethal started knocking out referees and flipping tables as he tried to get at Steen, but the champion headed for the back, tearing down the entraceway on his way out. Cornette tried to tell Lethal that Steen didn't know it was his mother, but Lethal was furious and continued to trash the ringside area before telling Cornette, and I quote, "If anyone spits in my mother's face ever again, I'm going to f***ing murder them!" Lethal then chases Cornette to the back and Kevin Kelly, whose broadcast table had been wiped out by this time, gets in front of the camera without a microphone and says he's not sure what's going on or if the match had been stopped. Bobby Cruise gets on the house mic a moment later and apologizes for the incident that just occured and any language the fans may have heard, then informs the crowd that the match has been ruled a no contest and that ROH will see them when they return to Rahway. The fans were VERY unhappy with this finish, and I have to admit it put quite a damper on what was an otherwise excellent show.
I didn't attend the show even though it wasn't too far from my house, but now I wish I did because it kicked ass other than the finish of the main event. Unbeknownst to us at the time (but knownst to us at the time I write this review), Jim Cornette had been relieved of his creative duties in ROH in the weeks prior to this event, so Killer Instinct was actually the first show for ROH back under the creative control of Hunter Johnston. As much respect as I have for Cornette (and the fact that ROH wouldn't still be around without him), ROH decided to go in a different direction and the final chapter was written for his time as an on-screen performer in the bonus features as Jay Lethal, irate at what had happened with Kevin Steen and his family, attacked Jim Cornette backstage after the show and "put him on the shelf" indefinitely. I get why they did the finish they did for the main event, but I personally would have done it in another city and with something else main eventing to send the fans home happy. I think finishing the show with a DQ is the kind of thing that leaves a bad taste in the ROH fanbase's mouth, to the point where I would have even preferred to see them do a screwjob pinfall finish instead. Other than that, the show was great.
Killer Instinct gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me for a great night of wrestling and also historical significance. You can pick up the DVD from the ROH website at www.rohwrestling.com.