TORONTO – Ring of Honor made its Canadian debut at the Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto’s east end last night. News wise, it was significant for more than just the rabid crowd; the evening saw the debut of two Canadians with the company, and the return of Mark Briscoe from serious injury.
Established in 2002, Ring of Honor (ROH) is revered for its focus on the wrestling as opposed soap opera storylines. Canucks Jennifer Blake, Kenny Omega, special guest Lance Storm and Kevin Steen ended up impacting the night in various ways, in particular a move from Steen that had to be seen to be believed.
“Toronto has a very rich wrestling history,” said Cary Silkin, President and owner of ROH, to SLAM! Wrestling before the show. “We’ve been on The FIGHT Network for many years. We’ve always wanted to come to Toronto. Just the logistics of doing it, finding the right building, making it a good business decision to do it, we had to have the right components. Those components came together this year and we got a fantastic reaction from the wrestling fans in Toronto. We’re going to have a New York City type of crowd tonight with respect to the numbers. We’re really happy, grateful and appreciative.”
According to ROH officials, attendance was estimated at a healthy 1,500 patrons.
Silkin also confirmed that Toronto will see more of ROH in the future. “We’ll be having Toronto as a regular stop, just like we have Chicago, Boston, Dayton, Philly, and New York as regular stops, so we’re happy to be here.” Tickets went on sale that night for November 8th at the Markham Fairgrounds.
ROH is also known for its passionate fans that constantly cheer and chant for their wrestlers and are quick to collectively acknowledge great moves or sequences.
Things were no different last night. Heels and faces were cheered or booed and even other fan’s heckles were shouted down by the majority. Waves of chanting, broken up only by an overpowering unison of “This is awesome!” anytime a great move was performed, added a certain salt and pepper to the festivities.
Chris Hero kicked things off with a win over crowd favorite Ruckus. Ruckus impressed the crowd with several spin kick moves, but ultimately was done in with a big boot after the timely assistance of Hero’s manager Larry Sweeney.
Former WWE developmental talent and Winnipeg native Kenny Omega took on Delirious which produced some slick sequences. Omega was making his ROH debut and he made the most of it, using his size advantage early and often as the fans gave him a nice pop. Both men got their licks in, including a bulldog from the apron to the floor and a modified Electric Chair into a German suplex by Omega. Delirious hung in there, landing a Cobra Stretch submission, and in a move exhibiting the traditional ROH code, offered a handshake to Omega after the match, giving full marks to the up and comer.
Canuck Jennifer Blake took on the bigger Sara Del Ray in a Shimmer showcase of ladies action. Del Ray attacked Blake from the opening bell and never looked back despite some nice high-flying moments from her opponent. Del Ray put her away with kick to the face. Notable here was Blake’s dive through the ropes onto Del Ray who was on the outside.
Erik Stevens and Go Shiozaki battled back and forth in an entertaining match that had the fans buzzing throughout. With about 10 seconds left in the match, Shiozaki superplexed Stevens from the top rope but could not pin Stevens in time, prompting the fans to chant feverishly “One more minute!” and Stevens to grab the mike and request “5 more minutes” to settle things properly.
Shiozaki manager Larry Sweeney however informed Stevens and the fans that Shiozaki does not work for free and unless the fans ponied up an additional $10 each, they were walking.
Favorite native son Lance Storm hit the ring and told Sweeney to stop “running his mouth” and that ROH is not about dollars, it about honor and competition and to take a hike if he doesn’t like it. Chris Hero ran in and he and Shiozaki attacked Storm and Stevens. The table was turned, however, and Storm and Stevens put their opponents into simultaneous Canadian Maple Leafs in the middle of the ring to the crowd’s delight.
“American Dragon” Bryan Danielson rolled up Claudio Castagnoli in another entertaining match. Several UFC arm bar submission attempts by Claudio and Claudio spun Danielson by the ankles 20 times in a row to put him on Dream Street. In the end, the fans joined in singing along to the victor’s entrance song The Final Countdown. Danielson put over ROH and thanks the fans for coming out and the fans responded by giving Claudio a hand.
Lance Storm and Bushwhacker Luke signed autographs during the intermission.
Naomichi Marufuji capped off a great night for Japanese wrestling with a big win over Roderick Strong. Strong was no doormat, landing several moves including a picturesque mid-air reversal into a backbreaker and a nice superplex. Marufuji however would not be denied, winning over the fans over with his tremendous arsenal of moves including his Shiranui finisher.
In a relatively slower and methodical match, Montreal native Kevin Steen landed the spot of night against ROH World Champion. Nigel McGuiness. With the champ out of the ring, Steen went to the top rope and proceeded with extraordinary elevation to back flip onto McGuiness. It symbolized a valiant effort and yet all this was repelled by the champion who landed several left-handed lariat clotheslines from hell that Stan Hansen would have been proud of. A final one, while Steen was perched on the ropes, put the challenger down for the count with the crowd saluting Steen with a standing ovation.
The final match of the evening was a bloody and chaotic no disqualification tag team match featuring the ROH Champions Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black against Austin Aries and Jay Briscoe. This was a whirlwind of a match, with so much happening so fast and out of the ring. Necro the Butcher and a returning Mark Briscoe ran in and joined the party, which seemed to confuse much of the crowd. Bushwhacker Luke, watching the festivities, smiled when asked about Jay Briscoe and Austin Aries taking the duke with a Jay Briscoe Jay Driller.
When told the match evoked memories of Luke’s Sheepherder days he laughed, “Blood and guts, barb wires and chains.”
According to Silkin, ROH is approaching its 200th live show. Saturday night, the company tapes a future pay-per-view in Detroit, and on Friday, August 1st, the Respect is Earned pay-per-view debuts in rotation. The company is currently planning to return to Japan in September.
“We’re about wrestling; we’re about giving the fans their moneys’ worth,” said Silkin. “I always say, and this is not to downgrade any of the other companies, but you might get more action in 20 minutes of a ROH show than you’ll get in an entire WWE show. WWE also does some great shows as well but no one ever gets cheated coming to ROH. We still remain primarily a DVD company so there’s no such thing as a house show to us. Whether its Dayton, Ohio, or New Jersey, or Hartford, Connecticut, or Toronto, we want to give the fans that are here a great show. We also want to come off with a fantastic DVD. All of us, the wrestlers, the staff, we strive to give the best product possible.”