The weekend of August 19-21, 2016 marked an event that the most avid pro wrestling fan eagerly looked forward to for weeks: three straight nights of major pro wrestling PPVs featuring some of the best talent worldwide. Although WWE’s annual SummerSlam PPV received the most publicity on a mainstream basis and NXT’s latest Takeover event drew a lot of buzz, Ring of Honor’s latest live PPV, Death Before Dishonor XIV, managed to easily top the former and come within a hair of matching the latter.
A major plus was that after months of subpar sound hurting their PPVs, Sinclair Broadcasting finally upgraded their sound equipment and technical set up. So we could finally hear the live crowd at full throttle instead of a muted whisper. The poor sound made ROH’s previous PPVs look bush league when compared to the considerable resources WWE has at its’ disposal. The camerawork was also sharper and more professional, with no major technical screw-ups.
Now they are properly competitive with WWE and TNA production wise.
The show did boast the first terrible match on a live ROH PPV since their first in June 2014: a six-man grudge match that devolved into silly comedy instead of being the ass kicking contest it should have been. The tag team title triple threat match was also a disappointment. However, every other match was **** or better and several were just extraordinary. The booking of New Japan talent was more evenly doled out between losses and wins, no doubt a reaction to the defection of several high-profile ROH talent to NXT/WWE and Billy Corgan’s TNA and the increasing problem of fans believing that homegrown ROH talent has no chance of beating the Japanese stars.
1. #1 Contender’s Match: Kamaitachi Vs. Donovan Dijak Vs. Lio Rush Vs. Jay White: The winner of this match will receive a future TV title shot against the winner of Bobby Fish/Mark Briscoe, most likely at ROH’s next live PPV in September. This was a red-hot opener, as it seems to be a tradition to start off an ROH PPV with a sizzling Fatal 4-Way match. Rush was just incredible as this match was a star-making performance. He was simply great, risking his body and mind to provide one thrill after another. Despite the size difference of over a foot, Rush managed to nail a reverse hurricarana/Frankensteiner on Dijak outside the ring that has to be seen to be believed. Everybody had an opportunity to shine and despite towering over everyone else, Dijak managed to work well with his smaller opponents. I was kind of hoping Rush would win since he was the clear-cut standout, but Dijak scored the pin after finishing off Rush with the Feast Your Eyes, which is a reverse GTS, during which a wrestler slams his opponent into his knee rather than lifting the knee up into your opponent midswing. It looked great and completely devastating. ****1/2
Backstage, Silas Young cut a scathing anti-New Japan promo, echoing real life sentiments about the rising frustration over how New Japan and ROH talent has been booked as of late. There has been a loud contingent of wrestlers who left ROH in recent months, specifically Moose, Roderick Strong and Cedric Alexander, that complained about ROH’s booking of New Japan wrestlers consistently going over in matches featuring full-time ROH talent. It was an eerily effective promo that cut very close to the bone, I imagine.
2. Silas Young Vs. Katsuyori Shibata: Shibata is the current NEVER Openweight champion in New Japan, but the title was not at stake in this match. What WAS at stake was a TV title shot against the winner of Bobby Fish/Mark Briscoe at the TV tapings the following night. So two straight matches with a TV title shot at stake. It’s interesting to say the least. Shibata received a thundering reaction from the Las Vegas crowd. Young continues to improve greatly in the ring as this was one of his better matches, especially since it was heavy on pure mat wrestling for once. It was ultra-stiff and at times, brutally intense. With the exception of one sloppy bungle (which the live crowd heckled Young about for an eternity), Young’s in-ring work was super. The only problem- and it’s a major one that needs to be addressed soon- was that the fans clearly didn’t believe Young would score the pin and they were right: Shibata scored the pin after a penalty kick. So once again, instead of giving a TV title shot to a homegrown ROH wrestler who has been steadily improving with each match and has earned a title shot, ROH Creative went with the Japanese star, one who is not a big star that would provide a major rub for Fish or Briscoe even in defeat. This is a major issue that is bound to get worse as ROH keeps adding PPVs to their yearly schedule. Fans are starting to catch on that ROH talent will rarely ever score a victory over Japanese talent. It’s not going to help ROH’s talent one bit staying in this direction for much longer. Luckily some of the later matches would address this growing problem. Let’s hope it’s not too late. ****1/4
3. Grudge Match: Bullet Club (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa & Yujiro Takahashi) Vs. Chaos (Rocky Romero & Trent Barreta & Toru Yano): For some strange reason, this grudge match was played completely for laughs. It was especially jarring considering that these two teams are at each other’s throats in New Japan. Although some of the comedy spots were clever and genuinely funny, after a while the exclusive focus on comedy became tiresome and stopped the match dead in its tracks. It was all the more galling considering the talent involved. Some of Yano’s facial expressions were hilarious, especially during a humorous moment when he shrugged his shoulders after accidentally clocking his own partners with a turnbuckle pad. I guess the match was No DQ since ref Tiger Hattori never called for the bell despite a weapon being used. A poor match at best that turned into a rotten shame at worst. Lucky for ROH, it wouldn’t be the worst match of the entire weekend thanks to a few badly booked and executed SummerSlam stinkers. *
The Bullet Club decided to continue beating on Yano after the match and Hangman Page (Adam Page, having reinvented himself from goofy hanger-on to threatening madman since turning heel and joining the Bullet Club last May) hit the ring to lynch Yano with his noose. Jay Briscoe came to the rescue, wielding a steel chair as a weapon and cleaned house until all that was left standing was himself and Page, leading to…
4. No Holds Barred, Anything Goes Grudge Match: Jay Briscoe Vs. Hangman Page: Now THIS is how you do a grudge match. This had to be the most violent match I’ve seen on a major PPV since the heyday of old school ECW. I thought it was the best match of the card, on par with the BJ Whitmer/Steve Corino bloodbath on ROH’s last PPV Best in the World. The match had the courage of some truly sicko convictions as Briscoe and Page truly took Anything Goes to a new extreme, including some novel uses for a hangman’s use, including a modified Stone Cold Stunner while holding it. This was Page’s arrival as a top-tier talent to look out for. Never has he looked so confident and impressive in the ring. For the second time in ROH’s recent product, I saw a homegrown star in the making. (The first was Dalton Castle, for those wondering.) Turning him from a goofball heel lackey of BJ Whitmer to the stone-cold executioner of the Bullet Club has done wonders for young Page. Briscoe deserves credit for helping elevate Page by being selfless enough to let him look strong and dominant. It worked wonders in establishing Page as a top player, especially after the company has lost several top stars to greener pastures. Wild match took the fight all over the place with enough tables and chairs busted to help fatten the bottom line of any supply house. Page was totally dominant towards the end, putting Briscoe through a table with the Rite of Passage. Briscoe was a bloody, sweaty mess. Rather than go for the pin right away, Page grabbed the noose and strangled Briscoe with it until he completely passed out. Page promptly nailed a second Rite of Passage and scored the biggest pinfall victory of his career to date. You’ll never see this kind of match on a WWE PPV any time soon. ******+++