June wound up being a stacked month for pro wrestling PPVs. We began the month with a stellar NXT Takeover card. Then there was TNA Slammiversary, which all but the most stubborn and dedicated TNA fans that remain even bothered watching; I skipped it because life is too short to waste any more time on clueless co-owner Dixie Carter’s vanity vehicle. WWE Money in the Bank proved to be a disappointing show in execution.
And now the month comes to a close with Ring of Honor presenting their third annual Best in the World PPV. Despite the disadvantages of being held on a Friday night with a relatively late 9 PM Eastern start time, ROH wound up blowing away Money in the Bank and slightly edging out Takeover for the best wrestling PPV of the month. The wrestling inside the ring was at such a high level that it made Money in the Bank look like crap by comparison. All but one match was perfectly booked. The announcing by Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness took care to make the wrestling itself the top focus, not kowtowing to sponsors and social media.
On the negative side, it soon became crystal clear that Sinclair Broadcasting, the owners of Ring of Honor, did nothing to address the technical problems that plagued their previous live PPV, Global Wars, last month. The live crowd was poorly micced, making it come across on television as if this show was taking place in the Tokyo Egg Dome in Japan, where fans remain quiet and don’t react much to the matches out of respect, rather than the Cabarrus Arena in Concord, North Carolina, where American wrestling fans react with passion and emotion towards what they’re seeing. There were also video issues as the image went black several times in the opening match.
If Sinclair wants ROH to become a major player in the wrestling PPV business, they need to start investing more in the technical department. It’s one thing for a house show to use second-grade sound and video equipment. It’s another to use the same for a major PPV seen worldwide at $50 a pop.
Kyle O’Reilly Vs. Kamaitachi: For those wondering, Kamaitachi is a former New Japan and CMLL wrestler who has relocated to the United States and is now a regular for ROH. This was his PPV debut. O’Reilly is getting a World title shot against the winner of Jay Lethal/Jay Briscoe at the TV tapings the following night, as the commentary made constant reference to it. It wound up tipping off the finish since there was no chance that O’Reilly was going to lose the eve before having the biggest match of his ROH singles career. On a technical level, the wrestling was superb. There were a few sloppy moments on Kamaitachi’s part, but that could be chalked up to him still getting used to an American style and ring. O’Reilly scored the win, making Kamaitachi tap out to the Fujiwara armbar. O’Reilly went to shake Kamaitachi’s hand as a sign of respect for their face-vs-face match, but Kamaitachi refused to shake hands, beginning a heel turn that could be completed later in the evening. A solid opener. ****1/2
ACH Vs. Silas Young: 2016 is proving to be the year ACH broke free from the midcard. With the departures of several key talent, I think ROH would be wise to take the opportunity and elevate ACH to the main event field. He had the best match of the year so far last month when he took then-IWGP World Champion Tetsuya Naito to the limit in a masterpiece of a title match at the NY leg of the War of the Worlds tour. Now he follows that up with another masterpiece. Considering that his opponent Silas Young is widely considered a good but not great worker, it proved that ACH can carry talent or in Young’s case, help a solid talent reach an exciting new plateau. This was a hell of an incredible match. ACH was simply incredible, once again taking an opponent to the limit with splendid results. To his credit, Young showed that he could hang with a lighter, faster opponent and even attempted some daring moves off the ropes himself. The finish came when ACH rolled out of the way of a Young springboard moonsault and finished off his quarry with the double jumping knees, followed by a brainbuster and the 450 Splash off the top rope for the win. ******+++
Battle For Respect: Mark Briscoe Vs. Roderick Strong: This marks the final ROH PPV appearance for Strong, as he appears to be NXT bound. This put the outcome in about as little doubt as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump becoming the top two presidential candidates despite being about as popular as anal warts. To his credit, unlike others who would be in the same position, Strong didn’t phone in his performance as he was determined to go out with a bang. This was a hell of match, with strong psychology and exciting action. It may be Mark Briscoe’s finest singles performance to date, proving that he can hang tough in a great match just like his brother Jay proved time and time again last year. There was a neat bit of psychology early on when Mark pulled off his hair, revealing a freshly shaved head. Since this is the same look his brother Jay has, it added a little extra dimension to the match- there may have been doubt as to whether this was truly Mark or if it was Jay doing a bit of Twin Switching. Just about the only negative I can think of is that since this was Strong’s last match, it became obvious that he wasn’t winning. I imagine those not in the know about Strong’s departure will probably rank this higher. The hits were hard and fast. Strong seemingly finished off Briscoe with the Gutbuster but Mark kicked out. Briscoe finally won the match, leveling off Strong with a vicious kick to the head for the pin. Fans chanted Thank You Roddy in acknowledgement that this was the end, at least for now, of Strong in ROH. Most expect him to sign with NXT soon, especially since with Vince McMahon planning to gut the NXT roster potentially of as many as 12 major names, Strong would be a perfect fit. ****3/4
Texas Tornado Match: Moose & War Machine Vs. The Bullet Club (Young Bucks & Adam Cole): Speaking of ROH stars becoming potential NXT signees, this is likely the final ROH PPV appearance of Moose, who is expected to report to the WWE Performance Center by September. It will be a serious loss for ROH and a great gain for NXT since Moose is an incredible natural wrestling talent considering this marks only his second year in professional wrestling. For a man of his size and experience, he is just awesome in the ring. Even though this was his potential swan song, you’d never know it based on his performance here. He went all out to give a strong in-ring performance and was simply fabulous. This was yet another chapter of the ongoing interpromotional feud between ROH and New Japan’s Bullet Club. ROH incredibly outbid WWE for the rights to license the name Bullet Club from New Japan for use in the US, so for those wondering why the AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows tandem are only referred to as The Club in WWE, that’s why. This match was off-the-charts and served as a textbook example of how to stage a Texas Tornado Rules match on a wrestling show, unlike the decidedly soft boiled and way too short Tornado match between The Usos and Anderson/Gallows on WWE Extreme Rules last month. Speaking of last month’s PPVs, you may recall that I criticized the Young Bucks match at Global Wars for being too predictable and reminiscent of earlier matches. To their credit, this match focused more on unpredictable action. Unfortunately, they still overuse the superkick, but at least it made logical sense to use multiple superkicks in this match since their opponents were such large men that it would take repeated superkicks just to knock them down. Moose did an incredible moonsault off the top rope and onto the Bullet Club that has to be seen to be believed. War Machine did their usual unique blend of solid wrestling and stiff brawling. What was a surprise was that the Young Bucks and Adam Cole retaliated as stiff and intensely as they received. It seemed as if Moose and War Machine were going to destroy the Bullet Club once and for all, but the Bucks and Cole had other ideas. They eliminated the threat of Rowe and Hanson with low blows and then finished off Moose with triple superkicks and the Meltzer Driver for the pin. All three kissed to celebrate, making me wonder if they are supposed to be gay in this storyline. If not, it made for a strange conclusion to a stellar match. ******+++