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By Mike Johnson on 2020-09-14 10:15:00

Having shut down in March from producing new, original content due to COVID-19, Ring of Honor officially returned with new material over the weekend on their weekly TV series with the beginning of the return of the ROH Pure Championship Tournament, resurrecting that championship.

The episode also provided ROH with an unspoken reboot of sorts with a different style presentation beyond the obvious, an empty arena presentation.  ROH still presented their TV show with all the usual bells and whistles that existed before - some pyro, digital screens, etc, but also took the opportunity of starting somewhat fresh with a deeper dive into who the athletes involved are, obviously taking a tip of the hat from the type of personality profiles seen in MMA programming like UFC and BELLATOR.

Although Ring of Honor has always been based more around the in-ring professional wrestling product vs. over the top characters traditionally, the return to TV felt more of a step away from even the more garish personalities as even Dalton Castle's pre-match interview material was based around his legitimate athletic prowess prior to his professional wrestling career.  The talents were presented as athletes who happened to fight and wrestle for a living, not as over the top cartoonish characters.  For a show featuring Castle, Jay Lethal, Jonathan Gresham and newcomer Wheeler Yuta, it was a snug, easy fit and an enjoyable viewing experience that made the hour fly by.

In the case of Yuta, the profile piece before his first round bout with Gresham made him immediately accessible to new viewers, showing his passion for pro wrestling, training with Drew Gulak and his background traveling to Japan for Michinoku Pro Wrestling pop before their eyes via photographs narrated by Yuta's sit-down interview.  A viewer could easily go from wondering why they should care at the start to having all the reason in the world to care.  For ROH veterans like Gresham and Lethal, the interviews provided them a chance to refresh the audience of who they were, what their personal history was (and in the case of Lethal, going back to his earliest days as Samoa Joe's protege) and what their goals were while also teasing the idea that the current Tag Team Champions could each be on course to face the other in the tournament final if they are successful.  

ROH also changed up their presentation slightly from a production standpoint to accentuate the importance of the 15 minute time limit for the tournament's opening matches, with a countdown clock sitting at the bottom of the screen in the middle.  To the left and right were the last names of the competitors vying to win in the ring, alongside three boxes signifying how many rope breaks each wrestler had under the Pure Wrestling Rules.  When one was utilized, the box disappeared, allowing the audience to easily know what was going on without announcers Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman having to beat the audience over the head as if they were in math class in order to follow along.  In many ways, the announcers called this like golf, conversationally, as opposed to the usual hyper nature of pro wrestling announcing one might see in WWE.

ROH also smartly used the vastly underrated Quinn McKay to break down the landscape of the tournament at the onset of the broadcast, running down all the rules, regulations and even explaining how ROH was handling production under the COVID-19 umbrella, including potential alternates that were ready to go if someone needed to be pulled from competition.  It was presented, in an unspoken way, as if this was the very first episode of Ring of Honor TV with any needed exposition before they went to the ring laid out for you perfectly.

In a world where every bit of professional wrestling these days has been pushed to the extreme of storytelling or highspots or some attempt to further it into the 21st century, the ROH TV felt a bit like a throwback to the days where the idea of a simulated sport was not just pushed but was the apex.  Mat wrestling, counters and holds being worked were treated as extremely important here, both inside the ring and by the announcers.  You could feel some inspiration, whether done consciously or not, to the UWFi or RINGS in the 1990s.  For ROH's return week, it was a welcome breath of fresh air.  If the company is able to keep the presentation from becoming monotonous, they are on to something, although how such a presentation could intersect with characters like PCO should be interesting to track.

The show opened up with McKay running down the competitors, the history of the Pure Title and the rules of the tournament.  They then went into Jay Lethal's sit-down interview, complete with Lethal discussing a previous loss to Castle, setting up a reason for him to want to avenge that loss, his goal of wanting to be the only two-time Pure Champion and noting that he expects to wrestle his friend Gresham in the finals.  Lethal saying he promises himself, the world and his parents that he's going to win made Lethal someone you could relate to.  They then went to Castle, dressed to show some of his more gaudy nature while boasting that he's great at wrestling while breaking down all of of wrestling accomplishments since he was a child.  Castle then talked about the Pure Wrestling rules and how they suit him, since he believes he's the best pure wrestler in ROH.  Castle mentioning that tonight would be the first time he's in the ring in five months allowed him to again put himself over, scoffing that the idea of being out of the ring wouldn't make him rusty, noting that everyone asks him about turning it back "on" but "how can I turn this off?"  Pointing out that he didn't let a broken back prevent him from winning the ROH title, Castle leaves viewers wondering what he was going to be able to do while healthy.

Jay Lethal vs. Dalton Castle

As you might imagine, lots of really solid back and forth wrestling.  Lethal used a rope break just a minute in, which the announcers wondered he may have done out of instinct.  Castle rode Lethal to the mat and controlled him but Lethal easily slid out and grabbed an armbar.  The pacing was very methodical and measured early, leaning on the "chess game" of two wrestlers trying to out-think and out-wrestle the other.  Castle finally scored the first big move with a variation of the Saito suplex and followed up with an overhead belly to belly suplex into the buckles.   After a commercial break, Lethal was back in control, battering Castle's leg to loosen him up for a figure four leglock.  They battled to the buckles, where Castle battered Lethal across the back.  Castle nailed him with the Bangarang but his knee slipped as he was in the rotation from the earlier attacks.  Lethal grabbed the ropes, leaving himself with one, to break the hold.  Lethal blocked a gutwrench suplex and slipped out with a superkick.  Lethal followed up with an enziguiri.  Lethal followed up with the Lethal Injection and scored the clean pin.  A well worked back and forth bout.  

Your winner, Jay Lethal, who advances. 

Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta

Yuta utilized his height advantage early with a test of strength but Gresham was able to slide out of pinfall attempts every time.  Gresham was caught in a body scissors and was worn down.  Lots of very Dean Malenko-esque matwork and reversals early on.  After a commercial break, Yuta missed a bodypress off the top, leading to Gresham continuing to attack the knee and cinching in an Indian Death Lock.  Given that his own partner was working over Castle's knee earlier on the show, it should be interesting to see if this was some early sprinkles of an idea that Lethal and Gresham, Tag Champions, are mirror images of the other while building to a faceoff in the tournament.  Yuta used the ropes to break the hold and losing his temper, threw a closed fist punch, getting a warning from the referee.  This led to a hit exchange of open-handed blows in the middle of the ring, which changed the entire tempo of the match and made it stand out from everything that had come before on the hour.  This led to a series of back and forth near falls until Gresham took out Yuta's knee with a running dropkick.  Gresham locked on a figure four but they rolled over and ended up crashing through the ropes to the floor, teasing a potential double countout.    They returned to the ring where they battled back and forth, with the action getting a little more vicious including Gresham nailing a double stomp on the knee and then bashing if over and over on the mat until Wheeler finally tapped.  A nice, unique but believable finisher.

Scheduled for next weekend's Ring of Honor TV:

ROH Pure Title Tournament Round One -

*Matt Sydal vs. Delirious.

*David Finlay vs. Rocky Romero.

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