NEW YORK, NY — Over the past few years, Ring of Honor has developed a large cult following among wrestling fans. On Saturday night, I experienced ROH live for the first time at the company’s debut in the Manhattan Center in New York. All I can say is: pass the Kool-Aid because I’m joining.
The night’s two main event title matches showcased some of the best pure wrestling that this reporter has ever seen. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a full play-by-play report, because at times I was so stunned by the amazing action that unfolded in my ring, that I forgot to take down notes.
The first of the two saw Nigel McGuinness attempt to wrest the GHC Heavyweight Title from champion Naomichi Marufuji. This was Marufuji’s first title defense, and the first time the belt had ever been defended outside of Japan (the championship is that of Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH). The match started off slowly, with strong matwork by Nigel, countered by Marafuji who delivered stiff kicks to the Briton’s leg. The match built both in both intensity and pace, with some unbelievable sequences and huge spots. For example, the one that saw Marafuji block the Tower of London and then nail Nigel with a beautiful Shiranui DDT onto the apron. By the end of the match, the audience was on their feet cheering for every chop, slap, kick, and power move. In the end, Marafuji hit a corner-to-corner dropkick into Nigel’s face, delivered another Shiranui, and got the pinfall to end this veritable poem of a match.
As stellar as that match was, arguably the one pitting American Dragon Brian Danielson against KENTA may have been even better. This one saw some great psychology employed, as KENTA worked over Danielson’s injured right shoulder (he separated it a few weeks ago), hitting it with solid kicks repeatedly. The match built to a thrilling crescendo as well, with KENTA pounding away, and Dragon refusing to let the pain cost him the match. At one point, KENTA got knocked into the third row of the stands, and then Dragon flew onto him, and the surrounding chairs, with a huge springboard dive. KENTA recovered and scored some thunderous kicks, one of them so loud that it sounded like it did when my taxi, running a red light on the way to the show, hit a bunch of pedestrians including one girl whose leg must have broken from the impact (hope she’s okay – but at least I got to the show in time). The end saw a series of reversals and teased submissions, with Danielson ultimately getting the tap-out victory, as the crowd, nearly exhausted by the roller coaster ride the two took us on, cheered respectfully and excitedly for the five-star performance.
Also featured on the card was a ROH Tag Team Championship match in which the Kings of Wrestling, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, defeated Austin Aries and Roderick Strong to win the belts. The crowd was split for this one, with the CZW villains receiving more than their fair share of chants. They used a combination of creative double-team maneuvers to capture the gold.
Homicide earned a title shot at the company’s December 23rd return show when he and Samoa Joe beat the Briscoe Brothers. Before the match, this stipulation was put in by Jim Cornette, who cut a brilliant promo on New York and the NYC crowd. This was unlike anything he’s done in TNA during his time there -– this was intense, emotional, and really got the crowd hot. God love Corny, he’s still one of the best talkers in the business, and his rant was proof of that.
Earlier in the night, Bruno Sammartino made an emotional return that had the crowd, and the ROH roster who had gathered around the ring, on their feet. The Living Legend said that while he is generally displeased with the state of wrestling today, he considers ROH a true bright spot, and put over the talent and the fans. Afterwards, as the wrestlers made their way back to the ring, Samoa Joe and NOAH’s Takeshi Morishima got into a confrontation and had to be separated by everyone else – they’ll likely tangle in December.
Other results: Davey Richards submitted Jack Evans; Adam Pearce beat Delirious with the help of his new man-servant Shane Hagedorn; Jimmy Jacobs took out his frustrations on Colt Cabana, who’s sleeping with Jacobs’ manager Lacey, by hitting him with a low-blow and his Contra Code finisher before pinning him in a three-way match that also featured Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels – Lacey was angry with the lovelorn Jacobs afterwards.
Overall, this was an awesome night of wrestling, with the two main event bouts emerging as possible Match of the Year candidates. From what I’ve seen on ROH DVDs, this is the norm for the company as opposed to the exception. With that in mind, while this was my first live ROH experience, I can guarantee this won’t be my last.