Showdown in the Sun (Day 2)
Ring of Honor
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
“Match of the Year” is a label that should not be thrown about lightly.
This is an age where matches elicit a “This is Awesome!” chant after a dozen high spots, and spot monkeys go crazy when they see something, begin to feel something, realize that what they are watching is something more special than seen on Cable TV.
When a match involve back-and-forth action, some semblance of fan interaction, a veritable story being told in the ring, and more than just a hint of the tradition/craft/ability of wrestling talent – that match should get fans talking.
In the emotions of the arena, that location where professional wrestling was meant to be experienced, chants and gut reactions and fans leaping out of their seats should be an expectation of greatness.
It’s kind of hard to get that pumped up in the comfort of your own home.
But in the arena, professional wrestling was meant to engage, entertain and impress.
Engagement went away a long time ago, when the size of the venues, video packages and merchandising potential trumped the need to interact with the fans. T-shirt sales became more important than getting fans in the seats. Putting the right bodies in the ring became more important than the charisma (that “It” factor that makes people want to see you). Telling a story in the ring was killed because high level decisions were more important.
We live in an era where fans chanting for the underdog, fans who go out of their way to support a talent unwanted by the creative deciders, fans who don’t act like sheep – these fans, the ones that should be driving the interests of the business, are thrown away, ignored, abused.
Entertainment has shifted from passion and athleticism and creativity in the ring, and now supposedly surrounds Celebrity appearances, being satisfied with illogical offerings, pretending to agree with what gets shoved down our throats.
Fans have bailed this industry like in no other historical age, and yet the criticisms and cynicisms of the most hard core fans are dismissed as hate, as some pining for nostalgia, as some newly defined use of the word “bitterness”.
Impressions these days come from guys who wrestle a few times a year. Impressions come from contrived acts of violence, from long winded promos that build over weeks, and from holding off big matches.
As if any of these avenues couldn’t be well crafted, honed, made more a part of professional wrestling, as it once was.
And so, I approached The Showdown in the Sun, Day # 2, with a sense that the “Match of the Year” label I’ve heard must mean something, that it must have engaged, entertained and impressed.
This whole “Blind Destiny” concept is clever. While I’m not so sure about the last minute granting of a TV Title match because the guy who stole the belt wanted to one-up the current Champion, just to help the challenger get the win, it does side-step a complaint I’ve had about Ring of Honor – that too many matches seem to be put together haphazardly. Blind Destiny and Proving Ground challenges are providing better reasons, and spreading out matches.
The setups here were a great way to give importance to matches, and to give importance to a three-way match for the ROH World Championship.
That there were three potential, different World Championship matches on Day #2 may not fall into a more Mixed Martial Arts sense of sports logic, it did create storyline potential, and ROH didn’t fail to strike up the discussion of the potential of Kevin Steen getting a backdoor shot at the World Title, or provide for a possible Title vs. Title showdown, or perhaps give a little bit of uncertainty about whether the Champion on Day #1 would still be the Champion on Day #2, making that match Michael Elgin was looking at a potential sour grapes situation.
Not that I want to see it overused, which is one more annoyance of modern booking, but there are avenues being explored by ROH that are actually enhancing the product.
What ROH has always brought to the product was a world class level of wrestling.
Sure, sometimes it was built on long matches, talent that worked well, reputations and the fact that the company took pride in letting wrestlers wrestle.
But more often than not, it was that ROH took wrestling to a higher level than could be expected.
Davey Richards vs. Michael Elgin was all that and more.
In simplest terms it was the “Immovable Object and the Irresistible Force”. In wrestling historical terms, it was the Strong Man taking on the accomplished Champion. In any era, it was the making of a man, in the eyes of the fan, to a level one day earlier that was not considered.
It was also one more example that Davey Richards is something special in this business, someone who knows the sport, understands the dynamics and can execute in (and out of) the ring.
One thing ROH has done these days is very impressive. It has taken a roster of guys that may not be well known to the mainstream, and has built up a number of credible talents with a lot of potential:
Tomasso Ciampa – his match with Cedric Alexander was the best kind of squash, and while his storyline with Lethal was a bit contrived, he’s definitely a player in the promotion.
Michael Bennett – “The Prodigy” is riding several waves of potential, and the “CM Punk thing” is being used well. (Hey, no matter what the chant is, this guy has his hands all over Maria Kanellis, and any guy watching that knows who won).
Jay Lethal – This guy has talent beyond description, and while the TV Title seems like too little for him, he’s now going to either enhance that belt, or rise up on the card.
Kevin Steen –“ Wrestling’s Greatest Nightmare” has the tweener double-edge sword going for him, and the biggest concern here is how this could bury Richards. Well, that’s not so big of a worry, now.
A second group of potential talents: Eddie Edwards, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole. (Setting aside the Tag Team potential of ROH.)
On Day #1, Michael Elgin would have been slotted with the second group. After Day #2, he’s definitely in the top mix, someone who has been marked with future success, someone who has distinguished himself, someone whom the current Champion has labeled a “future Champion”.
Just not now.
There are many ways to recap this match, and I’ve taken a few approaches. For one, this match breaks the mold of modern expectations. For another, it accomplished the unique goal of making a wrestler vastly more marketable, interesting and capable with one match.
And at another level, there is the match itself.
This match is too good, my words would never do it justice, and the translation of this artform into description will lose far too much of the layers of excellence involved. To touch upon what elevated this match to higher status, let’s look at the following:
Story: Elgin is called “Unbreakable”, but they didn’t confuse this match, nor play it out like “Die Hard” Eddie Edwards. Elgin here was the Strong Man, who had power over a more experienced Champion. The question of the story – could Richards overcome this monster?
Crowd Interaction: This wasn’t like other matches, and it wasn’t about the nonsensical close-calls. The pinfall attempts here were well built, and played into the story. They slowed things down when it mattered and they let the crowd get involved.
Building to a spot: Far too many matches build to the finish. This match really built up to a superplex spot, where Elgin landed dangerously on his head. At that point, it woke the crowd up. And from that point, there was a sense that this could go either way, because the Champion gave his best, most destructive effort and it didn’t work, and the Challenger took it, and kept going.
Emotions: Whether it was the selling, the facial expressions or the right responses at the right times, the impression from these guys was that they were giving it all, and that was appreciated. And not just after the match, but during the match.
Post-match Promo: One thing Davey Richards has, more than anyone else of the modern era, is the ability to cut a promo after a bruising battle, and hit the points, and get over the match above and beyond the execution in the ring. Sure, there’s no expectations of this in other promotions, but that cannot be considered a knock, it’s just the expansion of the professional wrestling product to places, and a level of talent that allows it.
But was Showdown in the Sun, Day #2 just a one match DVD?
Not at all.
Jay Lethal vs. Roderick Strong (with Truth Martini, the same manager of Michael Elgin) was a strong match and a strong storyline. I like the shaking up of the TV Title, in a sense where Lethal now has different directions. It plays up Ciampa as a distinctive heel, and it gives Roderick Strong a slot that he can work with.
Eddie Edwards vs Kevin Steen was a dangerous type of position for either of these guys. It was rather obvious who wins, who loses going in. In this sense, they played it out well.
ROH World Tag Team Championship: Briscoes vs Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin shows that other aspect of Ring of Honor that should elevate – Tag Team wrestling. The Briscoes remain one of the most unique tag teams around, and deserving Champions.
At this point, this feud is a good one for ROH and for the World’s Greatest Tag Team, who go all Old School heel after the decision.
One comment I want to add – I heard Kevin Kelly utter a religious name which also was replayed out on TV yesterday… the excitement level was fine, but there are those who find that sort of exclamation problematic.
Appearance by Michael Bennett & Maria Kanellis
What I love here is the build-up of Bennett, playing up to the crowd, and playing off the Lance Storm situation, and doing it without a match.
There’s something I’m trying to say about Donald Trump, but I can’t quite fit it in, nor am I sure why Trump would mean anything to a professional wrestling show, other than Maria once was on a season of The Apprentice.
The Young Bucks vs. The All Night Express shows the depth of the Tag Team division, although I have some concern about how that division plays out. Cole & O’Reilly have been broken up. Not quite sure who moves on from this feud to challenge the Briscoes, or what long term potential exists for whatever team gets the losing end.
Although either Titus or King could be singles players, now is not the time for that.
Speaking of breakups, Kyle O’Reilly vs Adam Cole was a strong match, well built up.
TJ Perkins vs. Fire Ant showcases what CHIKARA vs. ROH may be, with some unique CHIKARA characters rising to the level of ROH wrestling. I think ROH learns more from the CHIKARA marketing of wrestling than CHIKARA wrestlers gain from the wrestling end, but hopefully both get a good rub from working with each other.
Except for Dragon Gate, no one does high flying like CHIKARA, and Fire Ant shows a lot here.
Tommaso Ciampa squashed Cedric Alexander. I have no problem with the squash, but there comes a time when ROH should be squashing talented jobbers or unknown locals, not a roster regular. Just saying.
But I loved the facials of The Embassy’s Barrister watching the finish and the knee and kick that lead to the easy pin.
Jimmy Jacobs vs El Generico was very odd as an opener, and more of a way to get El Generico out there and out of there. I think Jacobs as part of the Steen faction is brilliant, and wow, what would the Age of the Fall have been if Steen was the driving force, not Jacobs or Tyler Black?
Is Necro Butcher coming back?
Showdown in the Sun was a two day event over a particularly important weekend for the industry, and the DVD for Day #2 is a great opportunity for mainstream fans to learn more about what ROH has to offer. In terms of quality of wrestling, a product that has drastically improved since Sinclair Broadcasting took over, and a modern day set of storylines, this DVD shows that Ring of Honor is now gearing up to its potential as the top Indy wrestling company in the world, and possibly a contender for the number two wrestling company in the United States.