Final Battle (Manhattan, NYC, 12.19.09)
By Michael Campbell
Final Battle is traditionally amongst ROH’s biggest annual events, and in recent times, has become arguably the biggest. Playing host to the conclusion to some of the promotion’s hottest feuds (Bryan Danielson versus Homicide, and Takeshi Morishima spring to mind), world title changes (Aries and Homicide both won gold at Final Battle in 04 and 06), it’s proved to be something of a turning point, and a highlight of the calendar year.
This year was more hyped than ever, given that the company announced the event would be streamed live online, as a Pay-Per View. Needless to say, those of us unable to make it to New York were thrilled. Promising what looked set to be the long-awaited world title win for Tyler Black, a potential career turner for Kevin Steen, some guest stars from AAA, and a brace of big tag outings, on paper it looked a no-brainer. But would the company be able to surprise us for the better?
-The Card was about 5-10 minutes late kicking off and the stream appeared to be suffering audio issues for the first 10 mins or so- no surprise given the weather conditions in this part of the States.
Larry Sweeney returned to Ring of Honor, to kick off the broadcast, and join the commentary team, live at ringside. Great pop for Sweeney, and a real feel-good factor having him return to the company.
Pick 6 Four Corner Survival Match Claudio Castagnoli vs. Kenny Omega vs. Colt Cabana vs. Rhett Titus
Fast-paced opener that went about ten minutes. This was just fun action from start to finish, with the Babyfaces, Cabana and Omega, pulling out some goofy comedy, and all four getting involved in some big dives, but nothing too crazy. At one point, Castagnoli did the Airplane spin on Omega, with no hands! Towards the end, Titus hit an impressive Top-rope Sit-out Facebuster. However, he was caught in German Suplex by Castagnoli, who picked up the win.
-They cut to Tyler Black backstage, who was attempting to cut a promo about past world champions, and his “dream”. The sound was abysmal though, because the crowd mic was still far louder than what we could hear from Black. Disappointing, because it sounded as if it may have been on of Black’s better speeches.
Pelle Primeau & Delirious vs. Erick Stevens & Bison Smith
They had announced beforehand that Necro Butcher had been unable to make it to the show. After a quick Prince Nana promo, that made fun of Necro, being unable to make it to NYC, Delirious ran in and started the match on his own. Needless to say, he got crushed. Pelle suddenly ran in to help, but his assistance lasted all of a minute before Bison Gorilla Pressed him to the outside. Then Bobby Dempsey bolted in, to a massive reaction from the New Yorkers. His attempts were slightly more successful, as it took several minutes before he was defeated by a Running Powerbomb.
There was an ugly spot that had Bison do the Claw, into a Backbreaker, across Stevens’ knee on Dempsey. It looked like it broke Stevens leg.
Fun for the most part, but it lost it’s way during the beat-down on Dempsey, largely because he’s not the most sympathetic to watch selling in a full-blown bout.
Fight Without Honor
Chris Hero vs. Eddie Kingston
Both men wore Jeans, and brawled around the ring to start, with a chain being quickly introduced. Crowd seemed to be on the side of Hero, the heel, who had Sara Del Rey in his corner. They weren’t as into this in the early going as is typical with a Fight without Honor though, which I’d put down to a lot of fans not buying Eddie Kingston at all (though admittedly, some absolutely love the guy). He wasn’t done any favours by Hero ripping his shirt off, to expose his massive gut. This was slow to start, with Hero beating down the Babyface for some time, and the two occasionally engaging in stiff striking exchanges. The stream went down during this match for me, while Hero was retrieving part of the ringside barrier, dragging it into the ring. When I got it back, the fans were going absolutely mental. Hero nearly had Kingston, but he made a comeback, hitting a Strait-jacket suplex, and a Lariat with the chain. Del Rey got involved, and was also suplexed for her troubles. They did a number of false finishes, revolving around Hero’s elbow-strikes, before he fell victim to a loaded one himself, that lead to the three-count.
Good, intense last few minutes made this, though the finish didn’t seem especially over with the live crowd. Kingston winning is a bit of surprise to me, although it should put closure on their rivalry, and allow Hero to move on.
Kevin Steen & El Generico vs. The Young Bucks
Streamers for Steen and Generico, for whom many suspected this would be their last outing as a tag combo. Fans were really into him and Steen, with the smart money on some sort of turn or angle occurring, to accommodate Steen taking time out.
After a neat exchange, Matt Jackson offered Steen a hand to his feet. Offended, Steen slapped him, to which Matt responded by spitting his gum in his face. In response, Steen picked up the gum, and stared chewing it! He then spat it at Nick! Nasty stuff. The Bucks isolated Generico, while Steen rallied the crowd behind in to great effect, leading to a hot-tag. The action broke down briefly, with Steen taking down both opponents, and Generico hitting a wild dive to the outside. Best material on the card so far, by a mile. Towards the end, Steen and Generico attempted to finish their opponents, but Steen’s knee gave out as he utilised his Sharpshooter submission.
Steen kicked out of the More Bang for Your Buck combo (a 450 and Moonsault) to a massive pop in a great moment but fell to a series of kicks shortly after.
Really superb tag effort, with the big man/sympathetic smaller guy dynamic of Steenerico being the real star. Steen put in an outstanding shift here but all four were great. They combined innovative, exciting sequences, with a solid sense of story- that being that the veterans were desperate to win, but Steen’s knee was a big handicap. Exciting bout that harks back to the earlier ROH appearances of Steenerico. Afterwards, Steen got on the mic, and tore into a couple of hecklers in the crowd, to a big pop. He then cut a really emotional, good-natured an likeable promo that appeared to be a retirement speech. He thanked various people then embraced Generico, as both appeared to be close to tears. Then, he low-blowed his partner, and nailed him over the head with ( a really dangerous) Chairshot. The NY crowd seemed to fall into a stunned silence following this- offering more of a shocked response, than genuine heat. Though in general, they’ve been rather oddly unresponsive throughout.
CM Punk vs. Spanky
During the break, they showed this bout, from ROH’s Third Anniversary, for the internet audience. Strange seeing footage of Punk with blonde hair again, after all this time. This took place during the period in early 2005, when Punk had recently turned Babyface, but was still awkwardly tweaking his character and wasn’t accepted as a good guy by all of the areas he worked. Methodical effort, with some nice mat-based storytelling, and a surprise finish- but not especially memorable or exciting.
They also should have showed a longer match, or had more pre-taped stuff good to go, because there was dead air for some time before the end of intermission.
Roderick Strong vs. Kenny King
Fans were behind Roddy at the outset, while King showed some heel charisma in the opening stages, before eventually managing to achieve the advantage. And then… the fans died completely. Worst NYC crowd I can recall seeing at a Ring of Honor show. They were silent at times during what was a decent, athletic piece of business that featured one guy who fans typically go nuts for. They’ve been pretty rubbish all night, but hit rock bottom here. King won with a Roll-up and a handful of tights. Disappointing finish, and it probably would have helped the fans get back into things to see Roddy take the victory.
Rocky Romero vs. Alex Koslov
No Jack Evans or Teddy Hart, who were stranded by the weather supposedly. The fans chanted “we want Teddy” and “Jack”, while these two got underway. Hardly the fault of the two guys stuck attempting to compensate. Prazak covered on commentary during the chants and explained how the Awol crowd favourites were stuck having had to travel from Mexico City.
This was a cocktail of technical grappling, with Lucha trimmings but broke down into a strike battle, following a big Romero Dive onto Koslov. Some good stuff here, but while the fans liked both guys, they didn’t really want to see them in a singles clash. Worse still, the finish was screw up, when Romero had Koslov trapped in n Armbar, but he reached the ropes. The bell rang, but the ref ignored it momentarily, before raising Romero’s hand as winner. They tried to cover for it, but it looked ridiculously amateurish.
ROH World Tag Team Title Match
The American Wolves(C) vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe
The fans finally woke up when they heard the Briscoes’ music then. Big props given to Eddie Edwards, who competed in a Ladder match here last time round, despite his arm injury. They started this slow, but with the sense that both teams were familiar with each other, enough to be cautious. Everyone on commentary seemed to be having problems with their mics during this. Jesus.
In the ring though, this was pretty good, with all four getting in their trademark moves. After about ten minutes, Edwards went down holding his arm. They sold it like it was legit, but of course, it was just a swerve. Despite the shenanigans, the Wolves couldn’t put the Briscoes away. Crowd were popping for big high-spots, and not much else, was had to frustrating for these guys. It picked up towards the twenty minute mark, when sustained chants were almost heard as the Wolves applied stereo submissions, and the Briscoes threatened to lose. Edwards really looked like a star, kicking out of a Jay Driller, before being pinned at the end after a Doomsday Device. Crowd popped in surprise for the title change.
Good action, but it really could have done with proper heat throughout, and the audio was pretty infuriating. The foursome all pulled out the crisp, at times cutting edge duos sequences that fans expect to see from them. After the match, Chris Hero, and Claudio Castagnoli attacked the Briscoes, laying them out, and reforming The Kings of Wrestling tag team. This got over really well.
-Jack Evans and Teddy Hart came to the ring with Julius Smokes and cut promos that led to an impromptu match between the two. No referee though,…so Smokes just did it instead.
Jack Evans vs. Teddy Hart
They wasted no time in delivering the high-spots. There’s no point listing them here, but needless to say, some of the ways in which they spiked each other were absolutely disgusting. Evans did the majority of the flipping, while Teddy would come back and completely crush him with assorted Piledriver variations. Evans picked up the win in about ten minutes. Not really a match, just a bunch of moves that popped the crowd.
Afterwards, both guys took to the mics, and did their absolute utmost to drag an atmosphere out of the audience, in time for the main event. Like pulling teeth.
ROH World Title Match
Austin Aries (C) vs. Tyler Black
Mostly favourable reaction to Black. Duelling chants at the start, even though Aries cut a heel promo. Sadly, the show was still without commentary, during the early stages of the Main Evwent, though every so often Prazak’s voice would creep in momentarily.
They shot for the epic feel to this, going long. Both hit some of their big spots, and Black built momentum off his standing Moonsault and other high-flying manoeuvres. Just before we hit thirty minutes, Black put Aries through a table by kicking him off the top rope. The champ appeared to genuinely injure his shoulder on it. Although not the noisiest bunch- the crowd were on their feet from here out, and paying attention- though many hated this match. After selling the arm for about five minutes of stalling , Aries’ revealed the shoulder problem was a trick. Surprised to see that twice on one ROH show. Aries took control and tried to get Black counted out. Repeatedly. Fans chanted “This is Bullshit”, and booed Black as he tried to make his comeback.
They brawled around the arena, and into the crowd, before Aries tried to escape backstage. Fans actually chanted “don’t come back”, when Tyler pursued him. This was just embarrassing at this point. Both guys were working their asses off, and telling a great story, however the bookers could not have picked a worse show in order to have them do this.
Eventually, Black was hit with a Brainbuster on the ramp, but got back to the ring before being counted out. Both men bleeding at this point. After the 45 minute point, Aries got increasingly desperate and kept trying to cheat and get disqualified. Fans actually cheered for this, wanting to see Aries retain asap. The two stood and traded punches in the middle of the ring, but the audio dropped out of the stream, and I couldn’t hear the silence of the crowd. Fans seemed to pop for Tyler when used Bryan Danielson’s Cattle Mutilation but then booed when he stole his elbows. Fans were clearly seen leaving at this point. Black hit God’s last gift but Aries kicked out, and it went to a time-limit draw.
After the match, they continued scrapping, including knocking down several referees. The Kings of Wrestling brawled through the crowd with the Briscoes, and eventually the heels were ran off. And that was that.
A disappointment in many respects. There’s no point pretending that the audio issues, and the lacklustre crowd did not detract from the show as whole. These sort of technical aspects had to be expected to some degree, but they were not properly dealt with, and given that ROH has supposedly been involving people to do exactly that, it comes off as very unprofessional.
If ever there was a case of bad luck, where the company needed circumstances to come together positively, this was it, and yet… they didn’t.
However, given how they booked the Main Event, a Broadway, that followed a show that already ran three hours, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy.
The Main Event was too long. This was not the time or place to book such a lengthy title bout, especially in front of a crowd that were generally underwhelmed, and with empty seats due to the weather. The story they told, which was very deliberately designed to generate crowd support for Black, would have been fine if the crowd were into it. However, as NY was completely crapping all over the match, it completely sank. It needed that aspect in order to work. Plus, it was on a show that was intended to play before any number of new fans. Did they really think newcomers would be interested in an hour-long title match?
The Hart/Evans thing was weird. Fair enough if they did only just arrive before they came out in front of the crowd, however, if they were there earlier, ROH could have done with re-jigging the layout of the second half slightly to avoid hurting the Briscoes/Wolves collision. Instead of two singles matches following intermission, we should have been given another four-way which would have better picked the fans up.
Despite all the criticism, there was a lot to like about Final Battle. The Young Bucks match was excellent, and in general, the undercard was Strong. We saw a title change in a worthy effort, and a hard-hitting Fight Without Honor. It was also newsworthy, with the reformation of the Kings of Wrestling, and the heel turn of Kevin Steen. And the Main Event itself? It’ll probably play better back on DVD because their was a lot in it that was good, and the story both guys told (and told very well indeed) was great. But will anyone care? Has it done more damage than good?
This was definitely a show that asked more questions than it answered.