TORONTO – On Sunday night’s Ring of Honor show in Toronto, I saw a lot of similarities between Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. It’s a closer comparison than you might see at first glance.
For one, all have grown older, and the added wisdom has only made them better performers.
There was a time when Green Day’s Armstrong, the lead vocalist and guitarist, and his buddies bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool, were just out for attention. Sure their music was great, but the news they generated came away from the radio.
While Armstrong’s stint in rehab and various family members battling cancer helped the band come to the realization that life has a little more meaning than crazy stunts, it also gave them a firmer ground to stand on. I really enjoy every song on their latest release, Revolution Radio. My son and I got to see them perform at Hamilton, Ontario’s First Energy Centre back in March, and I was truly blown away by the show.
It was tight, professional and utterly joyful. I went away seeing parallels between Armstrong and the conductor of an orchestra. He was on stage, singing, playing his guitar, and directing the audience in countless ways — sing-a-longs, chants, raging over politics, cheering. Sure he was more like Bugs Bunny in Long-Haired Hare than a staid, composed conductor we all associate with an orchestra, but so what? It was awesome.
Sunday night at the Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto’s east end, for the first show of Ring of Honor’s War of the Worlds tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling stars mixed in, it was much the same.
Some have called Omega nasty names over the years for his comedic stylings, especially for wrestling a nine-year-old girl — a big attention getter back in 2011. But he’s grown too, and it wasn’t a ridiculous statement post-match when he bragged, “I will continue to be the highest-rated singles performer of all-time.” He is probably the top North American-based performer in the world at the moment.
Fans in Toronto were treated to Omega, originally from Winnipeg, while the rest of the War of the Worlds tour, in Dearborn, Mich., Philadelphia and New York City will go on without him. He was in the main event, teaming with “The Elite” portion of Bullet Club, Matt and Nick Jackson, a.k.a. The Young Bucks, against Hiroshi Tanahashi & The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian).
Post-match, Omega talked to the crowd. “We were specifically told, ‘Do not speak on the microphone unless instructed to you beforehand,'” he said, pausing as the boos cascaded in. “But fortunately that rule only applies to ROH contracted wrestlers.” He thanked the fans “for filling this place tonight” and assured the 1,800 or so in attendance that “Canadian fans are just as crazy as any other type of fan on this planet.”
“The Cleaner” reveled in the attention, and was especially sought out by the media in a number of backstage interviews (including this writer) prior to the show. Omega is thoughtful and introspective about professional wrestling and his role in it; not sure anyone would have said that about him a decade ago.
Which brings us to The Young Bucks, whom Omega called “greatest tag team on the planet.”
They too faced a lot of criticism through the years, much of it warranted, for their highspots at the expense of storytelling, their goofiness in a sport based upon beating up the opponent.
On Sunday night, they weren’t young and they weren’t deserving of criticism, at least not from the adoring crowd that ate it all up.
The fun chants pogoed from “That was too sweet” to “The Elite The The Elite” to “two boots,” “four boots,” and more.
In short, they had the crowd eating out of their hands, like Armstrong at the Green Day show, like any true master of one’s craft.
I’ve seen the Bucks before, and Omega, in more competitive and thrilling matches, but there’s something to be said for their live magic, even if they pared down the usual plugging of websites and merch out of respect for ROH’s rules (perhaps?).
If it mattered, the Bucks and Omega prevailed over the Addiction and Tanahashi in the six-man nuttiness. There were plenty of unique spots, including a simultaneous six-man dropkick, and enough of the tension between Omega and Tanahashi to have fans clamouring for more — like at Friday’s ROH War of the Worlds pay-per-view from the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom. That main event will have ROH World champion Christopher Daniels defending his title (assuming he keeps it in his match with Matt Taven in Dearborn) against Cody and former champ Jay Lethal. And, since Cody interfered in the main event on Sunday, there was thought-out booking involved in the match too, even if it was hard to follow at times.
Though that may be the main event on the pay-per-view, I’d hazard a guess that the Young Bucks, defending their ROH tag titles against Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito and Bushi), will get the biggest reactions of the night. They are that over, and deservedly so.
Young! Bucks! CLAP CLAP Young! Bucks!
RESULTS FROM ROH WAR OF THE WORLDS – Sunday, May 7, 2017, Ted Reeve Arena, Toronto
- In a pre-show bout, Cheeseburger and Will Ferrara defeated The Fraternity (Channing Decker and Trent Gibson), who had Alexia Nicole in their corner. In the past, local Toronto talent gets a good pop, but I’d say The Fraternity got some reaction, but hardly revolutionary. Plus everyone is making their way to their seats, not an easy process at the Ted Reeve Arena, with only two ways to get onto the floor. The lineup for merchadise and autographs — especially the Young Bucks — might be the longest I’ve ever seen at a Toronto show.
- The Rebellion (Caprice Coleman and Rhett Titus) defeated The Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin). The Guns, being Detroit boys, have been to Toronto a ton and it showed by their reaction.
- Hirooki Goto defeated Shane Taylor. This was pretty good, an interesting contrast. Watch for my interview with Shane Taylor, a star on the rise, later this week.
- Dalton Castle and The Boys defeated Chaos (Beretta, Gedo and Rocky Romero), when Castle pinned Gedo. I’d guess that at least a third of this one was comedy.
- Bully Ray defeated Hangman Page and Punishment Martinez, in a three-way bout. It had its moments. Post-match, Bully Ray picked up a kid and brought him to the ring.
- Cody defeated Will Ospreay. Talk about a clash of styles, but it was endlessly intriguing and exciting. Rhodes (if I can call him that!) seems to be having way too much fun these days. No idea how he managed to work a cage match against Joey Ryan in San Francisco’s Cow Palace Saturday night and make it to Toronto and put on a match like that — and then interfere in the main event. Kudos.
- Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi and Tetsuya Naito) defeated The Kingdom (Matt Taven and Vinny Marseglia). It’s hard to describe, but it felt like the New Japan talent, in general, were not asked to do a ton on the first show of the tour, which, I suppose, is fine.
- The Briscoes (Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe) defeated Beer City Bruiser and Silas Young and Los Ingobernables de Japon (Evil and Sanada). This three-way was kind of a mess, and, again, I wanted more Evil and Sanada and less of Bruiser’s belly.
- Kushida defeated Jay Lethal. This was by far the match of the night wrestling-wise. Kushida is almost a hometown boy since he spent so long training with Scott D’Amore down in Windsor, Ontario, and worked many Ontario shows through the years.
- The Elite (Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) defeated The Addiction (Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian) and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Wildly entertaining.