I have been a Ring of Honor fan for four of their five-year history. Having been the primary Ring of Honor correspondent for SLAM! Wrestling I’ve interviewed talent, previewed shows and reviewed DVDs. Unfortunately, living in Calgary makes it hard to attend live.
The first live Ring of Honor show I saw was March 13, 2004 at the Rexplex in Elizabeth, NJ. Since then I have survived solely on DVD releases. Finally, the weekend of Wrestlemania, I once again attended Ring of Honor. With co-SLAM! Wrestling contributor Mike Mastrandrea handling the photography duties on Friday, March 30th, I was free to sit back and enjoy the show as a fan, chanting and clapping and being part of the crowd. With Mike covering the WWE Hall of Fame the next night, I jumped at the opportunity to join members of the international media in shooting the show from ringside. Here is a look at the Saturday, March 31st “Supercard of Honor” as I saw it from ringside.
I arrived at the venue early and once again spoke to several people from the office as well as wrestlers. I was joined by SLAM! Wrestling’s “Bloodthirsty” Bob Kapur, who was attending as a fan, and we chatted until I headed backstage shortly before bell time. You could sense the anticipation both from the crowd and in the back as it came closer and closer to showtime. I introduced myself to longtime ROH photographer Mary Kate Grosso, who is responsible for many of the photos included in any Ring of Honor material. We chatted for a few minutes and I asked for some advice. She clued me in to a few important things — mainly avoid the side of the ring with the hard camera — and wished me luck.
I’ve shot ringside before, but I was still nervous. The nerves quickly disappeared as the lights went out and the crowd roared from the other side of the curtain. ROH owner Cary Silkin gives us the go ahead and leads us out the ring entrance to theme music! I walked through the curtain to the cheer of the crowd and chants of “ROH” and got a rush of adrenaline. We headed down the aisle and I took a spot by the cornerpost. Ring announcer Bobby Cruise welcomes Jay Briscoe to the ring and that kicks off the next four hours.
It’s not as easy as you would think. I spent a lot of time crouching or kneeling at ringside to keep low and not block fans’ views for too long. You have to watch where you are so you don’t get hit with an errant boot or a flying body. You shoot literally hundreds of pictures in hopes of getting a few stellar ones. It makes me thankful that we live in the digital age where you can delete photos that don’t turn out. While shooting the steel cage match between BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs, a blow by Jacobs sent a spray of BJ’s blood flying out of the ring and onto my face and arms, which is closer to the action then I expected. Fortunately for me it was just a light splattering and didn’t mess up my camera or my clothes.
Things go rather smoothly. I follow the two other rules of ringside photography — I watch my back and try to stay the hell out of the way. This almost doesn’t go so well when a brawl breaks out during the match between Colt Cabana and Homicide against Adam Pearce and Brent Albright. Suddenly bodies are hitting barricades and I am trying not to get hit. They brawl through the audience and my photo taking time is done for a few moments. Things return to the ring and I am in the corner and look next to me and there is Jim Cornette, just inches away. He’d joined the match to be in the corner of Pearce and Albright and was acting like typical Cornette in the corner. All I could think was “Jim freakin Cornette is at ringside with me — this is so cool!”
During intermission I headed backstage and was formally introduced to Jim Cornette. We spoke for a few minutes and those moments are one of the highlights of the weekend for me. I mentioned being from Calgary and he actually remembered talking to me during a TNA conference call several months ago. I took advantage of the intermission to grab a drink and rest a bit. Soon enough it was almost showtime again and I headed back through the curtain to a pop from the kids standing along the entranceway. They even wanted their hands slapped and while I felt like a goof I figured what the hell and did so as I headed to where the steel cage was set up.
When I saw Samoa Joe bloody up Jay Briscoe in a cage three years ago, I thought it was the most violent thing I had ever seen live. Whitmer and Jacobs added to the gore and even those of us at ringside couldn’t help but cringe not only from the blood but from the toll that the metal spikes, barbed wire baseball bats and dives off the cage that both men were enduring. I was taking a picture against the cage when I found myself caught between Daizee Haze and Lacey in the early stages of their catfight. I quickly got the hell out of the way as they tore into each other and Lacey slammed Haze hard into the railing.
The match I was most nervous about was the Dragon Gate six-man tag featuring Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito and Masaaki Mochizuki against CIMA, Shingo and Susumu Yokosuka. Having seen the DVD of the Dragon Gate match last year, I knew two things: 1) These guys move insanely fast. 2) They fly a lot. As the match unfolded I spent as much time just staring in awe as I did snapping pictures. I didn’t get hit with any flying Japanese people but it was pretty crazy at ringside as everyone tried to get the best shots and keep out of the way.
At the end of the night I was a little sore from kneeling and crouching so much over four hours and being under the ring lights. Standing at ringside and seeing ROH from a whole different perspective — the crowd as it appears from the ring, the chanting and cheers, the energy from the audience washing over into the ring — was a goosebump-inducing moment. Being so close to the action that you can feel every impact from the moves, see the sweat and blood fly, and hear each grunt and groan is something that few people ever get to experience.
Far too soon the show was over, as was my career as an ROH photographer. All I could do afterwards was give genuine thanks to Cary for the opportunity to be at ringside. Throughout the night when he was out with me, he’d smile at me as if he could read my mind. It wouldn’t be hard, my grin is still breaking out on my face from the memories.
In a business where it seems like the bad can outshadow the good it can be difficult to be a wrestling journalist. Each of us does this because of our passion and love for the business, which matches that of those who step between the ropes themselves. From this day forward, when I feel frustrated or question why I continue to do this, I will look back at this night and remember why. My faith has been, for a little while at least, restored. There is a future in wrestling, there are still people who are just as passionate about it as I am. For one night I got to be part of that, and I have the pictures to remind me.