*cue best Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Commando impression*
“Hey fans of Wrestling’s Last Hope, remember when I said I wouldn’t write another article here until 2012? I lied.”
That’s right folks, it’s Christmas Eve and I’m still slightly drunk from last night. I know I should be wrapping presents or stuffing something into the cavity of something else. But I just couldn’t leave you guys for the year without a look at the wrestling show I’ve been eagerly anticipating for the last six months – Ring of Honor’s Final Battle 2011 IPPV.
The show took place last night, 23rd December, from the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Centre in New York. The first ROH IPPV under the ownership of the Sinclair Broadcast Group and the first ROH IPPV show to benefit from 3 months of really good weekly TV build. The final show of what has been the biggest year in ROH history.
If you’re reading this then you already know the two main selling points of the show, namely the main event ROH World Title match between Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards and the match between Steve Corino and Kevin Steen where a victory for the insane Steen would see him return to ROH after a year in exile.
To say I was hyped for this show would be an understatement. It’d be like saying ROH wrestlers only occasionally slam each other off the ring apron. I was ready and hyped plus I was amped and while most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps - I had a couple of packs of Peroni lager to keep me company and no work the next day! So I, along with thousands of other ROH fans, sat down in front of my computer and knew that the next four hours of wrestling action was going to be the perfect sign off for the year in ROH.
But if life has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is perfect. You guys should know - I’m a self confessed ROH addict but I’m also not just here to write fluff pieces about them. Despite my hilarious demeanour and fun loving attitude to all things pro wrestling, I know what I like and there were some aspects of the show last night that, in the cold light of day, I just didn’t like.
That’s not to say I hated anything or didn’t enjoy the show – far from it. It was still an awesome wrestling show with some incredible moments and the kind of state of the art in-ring action we’ve come to know and love from ROH. I just felt that they missed some steps with the booking of a few matches and the crowd seemed to burn out early. Plus, and this is the major down side for me, there was FAR TOO MANY unprotected chair shots to the head throughout the show.
Then again, how can you complain about a show with KEVIN STEEN on it? He grabbed ROH by the throat last night and confirmed he is THE man to watch in the promotion in 2012. If ever a show served as an absolute star making vehicle for one wrestler, then it was Final Battle 2011 and Kevin Steen. But more on that later.
So after less than 5 hours sleep (the show didn’t finish for us hardcore UK ROH fans until 5am) and with the smell of Christmas dinner being prepared floating through the house, it’s time for Duckman to take a look at ROH’s Final Battle 2011 IPPV!
First things first, I’m not going to use this review to bitch about audio glitches or other technical issues, although the early abortive attempts to get replays of the action to work were painful to watch and pretty bush league from a production point of view. That aside the picture and audio quality were perfectly fine for watching the show on a laptop. Although I don’t think it would have transferred as well to a bigger screen – at least not with my prehistoric Scottish broadband connection. There’s no way the haggis that runs around in the big wheel to power the connection would have gone fast enough for HD! As is the case with IPPV the stream did need restarted a couple of times but nothing that would force me to give up watching the show and go cry in the corner.
The Hammerstein always looks great. It’s such an interesting venue to hold wrestling in and you always get a big event feel when ROH runs that part of the Manhattan Centre. They could have done a better job miking the crowd but then again so could UFC – it’s not an easy thing to capture that amazing live atmosphere you get at events like this. Then again the NYC crowd don’t usually need amplification to get their point across and they proved that again at during the show!
The show opening with Kevin Kelly, Nigel McGuiness, Cary Silkin, Jim Cornette and Joe Koff in the ring was well done. The announcement of the record breaking gate and possible biggest IPPV audience in ROH history was the perfect way to kick off the show. The benefit of having TV to promote this show should pay off when the official numbers are released. I don’t expect triple of double the buys of previous IPPVs but a definite bump in the buy rate would be the best Christmas gift for ROH and Sinclair.
Speaking of Sinclair, holy crap can Joe Koff cut a promo or what!? That was the perfect way for the new boss of ROH to connect with the fans. You could tell he was hyped to be there and he cut a babyface promo that was better than 99% of what you see in WWE these days! Well done Joe, I’m officially welcoming you into the ROH fan association. Here’s your pack of streamers, your phrase book of comedy chants and your signed certification that you knew CM Punk was the best in the world before everyone else. Welcome to the club.
One of the highlights of the show from the off was the excellent commentary team of Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuiness. Some people weren’t sold on Nigel as a commentator on the early TV shows but last night the former ROH World Champion knocked it out the park. Kelly was great on play by play, putting over the angles and getting you drawn into the story of the match. But it was Nigel’s insight, his quick wit, funny as hell one liners and use of cockney rhyming slang throughout that made the show even more entertaining. You see that WWE? That’s what a fucking COLOUR commentator does. He adds COLOUR to the broadcast and doesn’t just talk shit (Booker T) or put himself over (Michael Cole) or crack jokes older than his latest girlfriend (Jerry Lawler). Sure you’ll agree that’s a discussion best left for another day...back to the show!
Unbreakable’ Michael Elgin w/ Truth Martini def. T.J Perkins.
A great opening match that was paced perfectly and did the job of getting the crowd up for the rest of the show without over shadowing anything else to come. Elgin is the monster heel that ROH are building really effectively and his impressive power display in this match only reinforced the good work that he’s done throughout the year. Perkins was one of the best guys on the roster to work this match with Elgin. He worked hard, bumping big and also using his size to allow Elgin to show off his power. Plus he had a great near fall towards the end of a reverse hurricanrana that popped the crowd and had me fooled that it was the finish. In the end Elgin took the win with a powerbomb into the turnbuckles and then a spinning powerbomb for the three count. Expect to see a lot more of Michael Elgin in prominent matches and angles in 2012. Perkins is a real talent too and should be pushed by ROH in 2012. Great start to the show.
Tommaso Ciampa w/The Embassy def. Jimmy Rave
Snore fest for me here I’m afraid. I’ve never liked Jimmy Rave apart from his hot run as a heel five years ago. He’s just not that interesting in the ring or on the mic anymore. Plus I couldn’t give two craps about the Embassy. Prince Nana is boring but at least RD Evans cut an entertaining promo before the match. There’s much more potential in that guy leading the Embassy than the tired Nana character. Ciampa is green and he’s got a lot of potential but there’s no connection yet with the ROH fan base. The crowd were pretty dead for this although they did react for Rave going for his old heel hook submission finisher – so people do remember him. The outcome of this match was never in doubt and Ciampa finished Rave off with the Project Ciampa (powerbomb/lung blower combo) which I still think is one of the sickest looking finishers in ROH today. ROH needs to get Ciampa into a real feud and quick because right now people just don’t have enough of a reason to care about the guy and boo him. I hope Rave is one and done but I could see them bringing him back to put younger talent over as he did here.
ROH World TV Championship – elimination match
Jay Lethal def. El Generico and “The Prodigy” Mike Bennett w/ Brutal Bob & Maria Kanellis
Ok, now this was more like it. A great match with some excellent moments and the crowd were brought back to life by their undying hatred of all things Mike Bennett. Adding such a hot piece of ass like Maria (Bennett’s real life girlfriend) to the act is a brilliant move by ROH. They need a few more females in the company and Maria is one of the hottest and highest profile female performers in wrestling over the last 5 years. She adds SO much to Bennett’s act. All they need to do now is get rid of that pointless Brutal Bob character – talk about a weight pulling a good heel act down! Dude is such a cartoon and doesn’t fit AT ALL with Bennett the Sports Entertainer and his hot Playboy cover girl arm candy.
I did cringe a lot as the classy NYC fans let Bennett and Maria have it with chants of ‘CM Punk’ (Maria’s famous ex) and ‘sloppy seconds’ after Bennett kissed her to try and shut the crowd up. To his credit Bennett owned his promo and the fans were ready to see him get his ass kicked. They hate Bennett and they’re proud of it. Just imagine if Bennett had Vickie Guerrero as his manager! They’d generate enough heat to power NYC for a year.
El Generico was on top form here tonight, hitting all his big signature offense including that crazy dive through the turnbuckles on the outside into a tornado DDT! Lethal still seems to be regaining his confidence in ROH after serving his sentence in wrestling purgatory...or Impact Wrestling as the kids call it. He’s good, but he’s not as over as you’d expect for the TV Champion. Bennett played the heel role really well here and his elimination of El Generico with the roll up and handful of tights was great. The crowd were furious! Then Lethal hit a sweet looking hand spring ace cutter (RKO) for the win right after Generico was eliminated. A really fun match with Nigel McGuiness bringing some proper laughs with his comments about Maria. I expect Bennett to take the TV title in 2012 and really establish himself as a top line heel that people will boo (as opposed to some of the other ‘heels’ in ROH that get major cheers – Steen, Briscoes etc).
Kevin Steen def Steve Corino – Steen reinstated to ROH
This match was THE major selling point of this show for me. A story that began at Final Battle 2009 (when Steen and Generico split) ran through to Final Battle 2010 (where Steen lost to Generico and was exiled from ROH) and now came to a brutal conclusion at Final Battle 2011. The art of the long term story in professional wrestling is alive and well in ROH and we should all be thankful for that!
Nigel McGuiness said it best, as soon as Jimmy Jacobs (special ref) and Cornette came out the crowd all stood and the buzz in the arena was overwhelming. The people were fired up to see this and to see Kevin Steen back in ROH. Surprisingly Corino got a really positive reaction. I did fear the NYC fans would turn on him completely. That’s just evidence of how good Corino is, even up against the guy who is basically ROH’s version of Stone Cold Steve Austin, he remained a babyface. When Steen came out through the crowd the roof came off the place and for good reason. Steen has been the most interesting story in all of pro wrestling this year and this match was make or break for him.
As for the match? Sick. Just utterly sick. Both guys took insane risks with big bumps onto chairs, guard rails and through tables. I just couldn’t stand seeing so many unprotected chair shots to the head. I know ROH will use the ‘both men have been fined’ line to cover this but in 2011 there’s no place for unprotected chair shots to the head. No matter how big the feud or heated the match.
Those unnecessary risks aside, one of the true highlights was the interaction between Steen and Cornette throughout the match. Those two guys are fantastic in their roles and they play them to perfection. Steen is just the kind of guy you know Cornette can’t stand and visa versa. Cornette is awesome when it comes to full on freak outs and he was in hyper freak out mode the second Steen flipped him off in the early going.
This match was intense, violent, well paced and the crowd were with it. The finish with Steen hitting his package piledriver through four chairs for the win was just nasty but a fitting way to end the fight given how much punishment each guy had done to the other in the match.
Steen’s post match promo and then attack on Jacobs (package piledriver) got the crowd going but when he looked like he would give Cornette the package piledriver, only to be stopped by his ultimate nemesis EL Generico, I thought Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Low-Ki had all just walked into the arena and resigned for life with ROH! WHAT A POP! Steen got the last laugh though, hitting the package piledriver on Generico from the ring apron through the time keeper’s table. In the words of one of the most important people in ROH history – “DANGEROUS!!!!!”
And that was intermission time as Generico did the full stretcher job and Steen left a trail of chaos in his wake. Thank GOD we got a break! I felt as exhausted as Steen and Corino must have been and I was just watching the damn show! It was time for another beer and some more frantic tweets about Steen before the 2nd half of the show got underway.
The Young Bucks def The All Night Express, Future Shock, The Bravado Brothers & Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander – tag team gauntlet match for future ROH Tag Title shot
It’s weird. I was all fired up for this match but it just didn’t seem to click for me. I thought Coleman and Alexander looked great in the early going. The Bravado Brothers are the perfect team for ROH because they bring some campy comedy and good heel heat that no one else in the division does. Future Shock are the kind of team ROH fans love. They’ve got a great look, excellent double team moves and their offense is hard hitting while still being flashy. Expect a run at the Tag Titles for them in 2012. When they were in there with the Bucks the match really kicked into a higher gear.
Still, this match was lacking something. It came down to ANX and The Bucks and the deal was Rhett Titus had a knee injury (legit) thanks to an attack by the Bucks earlier in the month. Titus was really hurt here and could hardly walk, let alone do any of his usual offence. This killed the match because while the story was good, this match should’ve been about crazy tag team action – that’s what people paid to see. Titus hopping around with a bad wheel and then the Bucks winning thanks to that didn’t seem to hit with the crowd which brought the match down a level.
Credit to Titus for going out there but it really dragged the match down and the finish didn’t feel very exciting. Maybe an attack by the Bucks early in the show and then change it to an elimination tag would’ve worked better and given the fans the match and hot finish they expected going in. It was still better than most tag matches you’ll see anywhere else, but it wasn’t as good as everyone expected. The Bucks winning is great because those little heelish bastards with the Tag Titles would make for great TV. Just watch The Bucks in PWG – they’re heel perfection and they need to bring that to ROH at the top of the cards. A slightly disappointing start to the second half of the show.
Roderick Strong w/Truth Martini def Chris Hero
The first major shock of the night saw Chris Hero return to ROH and answer Roderick Strong’s open challenge. The crowd went nuts and rightfully so as the Kings of Wrestling carried ROH a lot during their Tag Title reign. Hero is one of those guys that’s getting to the stage of his career, like The Briscoes, were people refuse to boo him because he’s so respected. Hero returning was a great moment and as I’d avoided any spoilers, I popped big when Hero’s music hit and he came out. I don’t know what’s happening with him and WWE but if he’s back in ROH even in the short term that’s great for him and the company.
The match was solid but not spectacular. The crowd were hyped for Hero and Strong is just tremendous in his role but this was the match where the energy of the crowd started to dip quite a bit. They really came back into it when Hero brought out the crazy spinning elbow strikes and big kicks. Strong got the win with Martini providing distraction and then a brutal ‘sick kick’ to the face of Hero. As a one off moment seeing Hero come back so unexpectedly was great but the match wasn’t the best from either guy. Good but not great.
ROH World Tag Team Title Match
The Briscoes def Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Hass/Shelton Benjamin)
I’m just going to come out and say it. This match sucked a cock. It was a complete mess. From the shitty booking of the opening ‘brawl’ before the official start. To the NYC crowd once again doing a complete 180 in their attitude to The Briscoes. To WGTT getting booed out the building and looking really butt hurt about it. To the fucking ridiculous amount of unprotected shots to the head The Briscoes took. It was just not what anyone wanted to see or expected out of the semi main event match.
First off, NYC, make up your fucking minds will you? Jesus, ROH turned The Briscoes cause you booed them, then the first major match back and you’re all jumping around for them like 12 year olds girls who just had their first ‘funny feeling’ at a Bieber concert and booing the hell out of WGTT who you loved last time out! I just don’t get it. I don’t think the fans even get it. ROH certainly don’t as the booking of this match showed.
The chair shots and the wooden board shots to the heads that The Briscoes took were completely fucking ridiculous and Nigel McGuiness shouting, “get your bloody hands up,” sounded more like a concerned colleague who has had a history of concussions, than a colour commentator trying to get something over. Sick, pointless, scary and given all the brutality in the Steen/Corino match earlier in the night it just sucked the life out of the crowd. They just didn’t want to see this kind of match between these two teams. No one wants to stand there watching a dude get smashed in the head for no reason. No sane person anyway.
So the Briscoes won the Tag Titles for the 7th time and the finish was well done (Benjamin with bad ribs taken to the back, Hass left alone, Benjamin came back, they tried to use the Briscoes own finish but it was blocked and Briscoes hit it to win)but to be honest it was such a flat win and the match was so horribly booked up to this point that the crowd seemed more confused about what they’d seen than happy for the Briscoes.
I hope the Briscoes move on to a lengthy feud with the Young Bucks because those four will tear the house down. Where Hass and Benjamin go from here I’m not sure. A heel turn I think is a must because they did not look happy getting booed when they should have been cheered. It was a bad night for WGTT although I thought Charlie Hass was brilliant in giving the crowd back as much abuse as he was getting. Still, for the 3rd biggest match on the card, this was over booked in TNA like fashion and I never expect to see that in ROH. A real pre Christmas let down.
ROH World Title Match
ROH World Champion Davey Richards w/Team Richards defeated Eddie Edwards w/Dan “The Beast” Severn
I think the Tag Title fall out was still being felt because after the introductions the big fight atmosphere for this match died away. The crowd didn’t seem into the match at all for the first twenty minutes. I could sympathise. By this point it was well past 4am, I was wearing sunglasses and chatting to my sleeping dog about the match, just to stay sane and awake. Thankfully though Richards and Edwards were building to something and after the first 20 minutes the match kicked into life.
They couldn’t hit the heights of their first World Title match in June but they really worked hard and tried to get there. The crowd wasn’t as hot as back in June either which probably took away some of the feel for the match. There were some really hard strikes in this one, big suplexes and a lot of forearms, chops and elbows. It reminded me of the big matches from All Japan in the early to mid 90s when guys like Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi were in their primes and blowing people’s minds with their stiff and intense style of wrestling. I’m not sure it worked here as the ‘no sell fighting spirit’ spots after big head drops were greeted with mild indifference, instead of the crazy pop you’d hope for.
The crowd actually came back into it when things got more sports entertainment. The House of Truth and Roderick Strong came out to interfere but Dan Severn (still sporting that wicked Magnum PI ‘tache) ran them off. Edwards showed great heart in continuing to kick out of big moves and also survive an ankle lock submission. In the end Richards got the win thanks to a half nelson suplex off the top, one on the apron and then some hard kicks to the head.
Personally I don’t like the finishes that Richards is working these days. The psychology of the knock out kicks is weird. They don’t get much of a reaction and so his matches do end a bit flat when he does them. People seem much more into his submission stuff and the big suplexes than a KO kick. Probably because they’ve seen so many kick outs of big moves and kicks in the match that the final kick doesn’t really seem that devastating.
It was a great match though and both guys really did leave it all in the ring. Edwards looked strong in defeat and Richards solidified his place at the top of the food chain. I rolled my eyes when Richards got on the mic to do his ‘Edwards is such a tough s.o.b’ promo because we’ve heard it all before. Thankfully Kevin Steen then decided to make his presence known much to the delight of the crowd. He cut a blistering promo on Richards and declared he was coming for the ROH World Title in 2012 and then he’d have the whole of ROH held hostage. He finished off declaring himself the Anti-Christ of professional wrestling and left Richards fuming in the ring being held back by his training partners.
So that set the scene for 2012. It’s got to be all about Kevin Steen’s pursuit of Richards and the World Title. I’d imagine he’ll have to go through Jimmy Jacobs and El Generico before that match and Richards looks like he might be caught up with Roderick Strong for a while. I think every ROH fan will agree that Richards vs. Steen for the ROH World Title, either on the 10th anniversary show or Final Battle 2012 would be huge and the perfect time for Steen to make his final steps to the very top of ROH.
Final Battle 2011. I thought the show overall was great. Not perfect by a long shot but not terrible either. That needs to be the last show with that many unprotected chair shots though, seriously ROH, you’re better than that. I thought apart from the Tag Title match all the matches delivered and were the usually high standard you’d expect from the ROH roster. Steen and Corino was my personal highlight just because of the story building to it and then the sheer scary brutality that both men went through. It’s not something I want to see in ROH every month but as the final match in a heated feud it was pitch perfect. The World Title match would be a close second and I really loved Elgin vs. Perkins in the opener.
The show is certainly value for money and some small production snafus aside it’s a great watch, especially for Kelly and McGuiness on commentary who are so far ahead of all other wrestling commentary teams they’re going to lap them for the 3rd time. This was ROH signing off on the year in style but also showing that they are not the perfect company or finished article. That’s one of the reasons I love ROH so much – they always look to improve and grow and I hope they’ll learn a lesson about unprotected shots and match length. Cut them both down guys.
So that’s my look at ROH’s Final Battle 2011 on IPPV. I hope you guys enjoyed the show and that you will continue to support ROH into 2012. It’s an exciting time and with the TV show now really into full swing and Kevin Steen chasing the World Title, I’m looking forward to the new year in ROH!
Thanks for reading and continuing to support Wrestling’s Last Hope. Remember you can find and like the page on Facebook, it’ll make Stu a happy man and you should all want to make someone happy at Christmas! You can also follow me on Twitter @WLHDuckman and hear all my thoughts on wrestling every week over at the Marks for Xcellence podcast (mfxpodcast.com).
I’m now off to get some sleep and then set about watching the two new PWG DVD’s that arrived today from the States. Main event of the first show I’m watching? Steen vs. Richards for the PWG World Title – a sign of great things to come no doubt!
Again, thanks for reading and I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a kick ass New Year!
Until next time...