Ring of Honor: Year One
Ring of Honor
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Ten years ago, ROH hit the ground running.
It was a year that put the promotion on the map: great wrestling, great talent and one of the best guest stars in ROH history. Ten years is a long time in this business, and some of the faces are surprisingly young, and surprisingly in places undreamed of, but for anyone wondering how it all began, here it is, and there’s nothing lost in terms of the expectations of today versus the matches of yesteryear.
Sure, the venues are a lot more “indy-riffic” and the announce crew (even though Steve Corino on color is a lot better than I would have thought, but the ROH is prominent, the Code of Honor plays a big part in the feel, and most importantly, Disc 1 is all about a guy who got lost in the industry for a few years, but has come back strong to the indy scene: Low Ki.
Low Ki is clearly the star of the first half of this set – so much so that there’s little use encompassing the full set and diluting just how impactful his performances are. Of the seven matches on Disc 1, Low Ki plays a major part in five of them: three singles matches, a three-way, and a four-way.
The other two matches?
One features the late, great Eddie Guerrero brining The Amazing Red and The SAT to mainstream attention in a great tag match, and the other pits Jay Briscoe against his brother Mark.
More about Eddie in a bit. For now, let’s look at Low Ki, the man who has a clear talent, look and undeniable talent, even if he couldn’t get very far in Vince’s Universe.
When ROH began, the names at the top were already earning reputations in the indy scene. Low Ki vs Bryan Danielson vs Christopher Daniels feature the heads of the class in the opening match of this set. One of the things that ROH has always been built around, but more so then than now, was the Code of Honor, and it’s interesting to watch the respect in action. And the lack of respect by Daniels. The Code wasn’t completely heel or face, as much as it was respect for the rules of ROH. In that sense, Low Ki comes across as a natural heel, but also as a guy that follows the Code – shaking hands before and after matches. There is more depth to it than this, but it is important.
Daniels plays out the disrespectful veteran, unwilling to cede that respect, unwilling to play along. It’s an interesting approach, and one that provides a depth to the face/heel approach. (Problem today is that a guy like Roderick Strong is touted as not following the “Code of Honor”, but Roderick Strong is no Kevin Steen. That’s a level of difference that seems a little off).
In 2002, Danielson was pretty much a babyface, but he wouldn’t stay that way for long.
The three way sets the stage for Year One: top notch talents putting on high levels of action, mixing in high-flying, technical efforts and also submissions. Ten years later and it’s frightening how the mainstream product never followed suit.
Stranger still is how ROH is using Ken Shamrock as a guest referee for Low Ki vs. Bryan Danielson, and all the while making full use of one of the other guys who main evented both Pro Wrestling and MMA events. There are many times when guest referees add to the match in terms of mainstream spotlight, and then again times when the more famous person only ends up being in the way or indifferent to the action. This match was an awesome use of Shamrock. He played his part perfectly, was never a distraction, and by having him in the ring with two guys who go all out, use various submissions throughout the match, and who definitely could use the rub of having Shamrock raise the winner’s hand, it definitely played out to perfection.
Because Shamrock wasn’t just eyeballing the match, he was a part of it as referee, and his appreciation shines at the end, where he congratulates both men, and raises the hand of the winner.
40 minutes of top notch action, and this is the second match on the set!
Low Ki vs. AJ Styles can be a dream match today, and in many ways was one in 2002.
And just when Low Ki might have shown you everything, he takes on the Phenomenal AJ Styles, and we’re about to see the high-flying battle of the era. After a three-way that raised the bar for that kind of match, and a submissions focused match that got the attention of Ken Shamrock.
Here, take a watch and see how impressive both guys were, years before they got mainstream recognition.
And then we take a break from Low Ki, as Eddie Guerrero takes center stage.
The announce crew did a great job setting the stage for why Eddie’s appearance was so special, even though the constant references to “demons” is now painful to hear. At the time, Guerrero was under suspension, and was cleaning his life up, and also getting a chance to mix it up with The Amazing Red, in taking on Jose and Joel Maximo – The SAT.
Eddie Guerrero & The Amazing Red vs The SAT was definitely a lucha style match, but the locker room was out watching from the doors, and you could definitely tell that this was a dream for Eddie’s both partner and their opponents. There’s always going to be a huge pop for a mainstream guy working on the indy scene, but that’s not how to describe the reaction of this crowd and this man.
Eddie’s definitely a unique talent and the industry sorely misses his knowledge and talent.
After being blown away by nostalgia, I was then blown away by what Low KI vs The Amazing Red showed in the opening minute and a half. These are two guys that were watching the movies of the era – Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon and The Matrix series – and instead of repeating bad lines from third rate movies, they actually stole the fast, frenetic action, kicks and concepts of the fight scenes of those mainstream flicks.
Wow, what a concept!
But wow, how they pulled it off. There’s a hundred talented wrestlers who couldn’t, nor shouldn’t try to reprise those types of scenes, but Low Ki’s intense, dangerous attitude and striking skills mixed in with The Amazing Red’s undersized babyface with speed skills set definitely were the two who can do it.
One wonders why Low Ki was never matched with Rey Mysterio, but hey, there are worse miscarriages of profit the WWE ignored in the world.
The minute or so of Low Ki driving, pressing, striking at and stomping at The Amazing Red, who deftly dodged, blocked, ducked under and rolled away from the hits …. that’s just priceless.
And it wasn’t all of the match, just the opening.
There were creative spots, dangerous dives, missed dives and several vicious falls taken by The Amazing Red along the way.
Too bad these guys were just too much for the mainstream to handle, but this match is one great glimpse at potentials sadly never realized, but not for the lack of trying as much as for the ignorance and small mindedness of modern mainstream promoters.
Then we have a four-way match with four strong wrestlers – Christopher Daniels vs Low Ki vs Spanky Vs Doug Williams. Angels Wings, Ki-Krusher, Sliced Bread #2 and The Chaos Theory Suplex. Wily Veteran, dangerous striker, high flyer extraordinaire, and British trained mat technician.
There’s an interesting points system here to change up the often illogical dynamics of a multiple person match, and I was really pulled into the chase for points rather than fall to the finish mentality.
Wow, does Low Ki do a dangerous dive or what?
Steve Corino calls this one of the greatest matches he’s ever called. That’s saying something. This match also finishes well, and crowns the first ROH Champion….. Low Ki.
Jay Briscoe vs Mark Briscoe might appear to be a way to show just how long the brothers have been competing, just how hard-headed they are in their unique ring psychology type of style, and that the two could be very, very good at singles.
But it’s all that and more, just like the two disc set.
Actually, it’s a match that shows just how vicious, technically skilled and frenetic these two can be.
All that already and so Disc 2 is more than just icing on the cake…. Ten more matches, including Samoa Joe vs Low Ki, Bryan Danielson vs AJ Styles, Low Ki & Steve Corino vs Shinjiro Ohtani & Masato Tanaka, Special K!, and various matches with Paul London, and various matches with ROH’s most inexplicable Champion, Xavier.
ROH: Year One is one more compilation by the promotion that is far more than what is initially advertised, featuring top notch guests, top notch wrestling and a sense of excitement about the product that cannot be conveyed in words.