ROH's traditional biggest show of the year takes place tonight as the UMBC Event Center in Baltimore, Maryland hosts Final Battle 2019.
The pay-per-view will be headlined by Rush defending the ROH World Championship against PCO. Rush won the title from Matt Taven at Death Before Dishonor this September, while PCO was the winner of ROH's Final Battle number one contender's tournament. He defeated his Villain Enterprises stablemate Marty Scurll in the tournament finals.
Two other title matches are set for tonight. The Briscoes will defend their Tag Team titles against Jay Lethal & Jonathan Gresham, while Television Champion Shane Taylor will defend his title against Dragon Lee.
Tonight's show will also feature Taven vs. Vincent Marseglia, Mark Haskins vs. Bully Ray in a street fight, Jeff Cobb vs. Dan Maff, Maria Manic vs. Angelina Love, Scurll & Flip Gordon vs. Bandido & Flamita, Dalton Castle & Joe Hendry vs. Silas Young & Josh Woods, and Kenny King vs. Rhett Titus.
The PPV will be four hours long. The first hour airs for free and will begin at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
Pre-show: Josh Woods and Silas Young defeated Dalton Castle and Joe Hendry
ROH's final major event of the year was called by Ian Riccaboni, Colt Cabana and Caprice Coleman. The crowd was sparse early on but enthusiastic. The production and lighting came across as slick on screen.
Castle came to the ring with new Boys. This was mostly comedy but the crowd was into it. Woods and Castle had a nice Greco-Roman style exchange once the match got more serious. Whenever Woods would goof around in the ring, like when he'd try and mock Castle, Silas Young would tag himself in. You could hear the production team say something about a back-up cable that we could clearly hear on the broadcast, so much so that Cabana even mentioned something about it. At one point, Hendry did a double fall-away slam to both Young and Wood, but in the end it was Woods and Young who picked up the win after Young launched Woods into Castle with a slingshot, then Woods caught Castle with a flying knee. This wasn't bad.
-Next, Brian Zane interviewed Angelina Love and Mandy Leone in a backstage segment. Zane asked Love if she was afraid of Maria Manic, whom she'd face later on the card. Love said she'd been asked that question 1,001 times recently. She implied she wasn't afraid and mentioned that she's been in the business for 20 years. She called Zane sweaty and patted him on the brow and the two then walked away.
-Alex Shelley made an appearance back in the venue. He said Baltimore has been one of the most important cities in ROH history and thanked the fans in attendance. Shelley claimed that Ring of Honor is "pro wrestling's greatest classroom," based on the idea that so many great wrestlers in the past have come through the company and learned something important about their craft before becoming bigger stars elsewhere. He insisted on not naming anyone, though he did insist on naming certain wrestlers who left ROH for a time and came back to share knowledge with new generations; he named Jay Lethal and the Briscoe Brothers, specifically. He then went on to challenge Colt Cabana, who Shelley described as one of the greatest technical wrestlers in the world, to a singles match. He said he never had a chance to wrestle him in his career so he wanted a match with Cabana tonight at Final Battle. Cabana, who was on commentary while this was happening, turned around and accepted, and even mentioned his NWA National title and recent tour in NJPW while he was on the mic. Shelley said "see ya later" and both wrestlers went to the back. They'll have a match later on in the show.
Kenny King (w/ Amy Rose) defeated Rhett Titus
Titus played super-babyface in this one. His wife and baby were even at ringside, Ricky Steamboat-style. Kenny King and Amy Rose walked out to the All Night Express theme song, Titus and King's old tag entrance, and King and Rose did their old handshake. Midway through the match, when King was down by ringside, he started talking trash with Titus' wife and even said "I'm the real dad!" about the Titus' baby. Just seconds later, Titus landed onto King with a tope con giro, then used a nice snap front suplex on King to the floor. Later, King returned with a modified exploder suplex to Titus and planted him into the corner turnbuckles. Titus landed a flying cross-body attack for two. King went for Lethal Injection but Titus blocked it with a dropkick, then landed King's Royal Flush for two. He took King's headoff with a huge yakuza kick in the corner, but right before Titus could keep the momentum up, Amy Rose grabbed his ankle, distracting Titus long enough for King to sneak in and land the Royal Flush for the win. I understand this might not be the most exciting match on paper, but these two worked their asses off for a dead crowd and came out with a solid match. Titus' new babyface roll works so much better than the oily bodybuilder thing he was doing before.
-Brian Zane interviewed the Bouncers who were sitting in the crowd near ringside. Zane throws good questions to talent and allows for everyone he interviews to sound authentic. They had a disagreement about who'd win the heavyweight title match tonight; Brawler Milonas argued Rush would win because he drinks beer with the Bouncers. "Cerveza, baby!"
Jeff Cobb defeated Dan Maff
This was fun. Maff did a tope suicida not even a minute into the match. Cobb launched Maff out of the corner and over his head with a suplex minutes later. This was cool to watch because these two are roughly the same height and weight, and both are highly, highly agile. It was an advanced hoss fight. Cobb clotheslined Maff so hard that he slid under the bottom rope and onto the floor, like he did in his match with Shane Taylor earlier this year. Maff no-sold tons of Cobb's offense in this, which gave much of this a Japanese "fighting spirit" flavor. Maff is so charismatic. At points he made it look like he was ragdolling Cobb, first with a pounce and later with a huge spear. Riccaboni and Coleman did a nice job on commentary getting over Maff's Burning Hammer finisher throughout this. Cobb made a killer comeback and used two Tour of the Islands on Maff for the win. It looked crazy and the crowd went nuts for it. The two shook hands and chopped each other before leaving the ring. That match was so butch that every male kid in attendance just went through an expedited version of puberty just now. Maff felt like a serious player immediately after this one.
Bandido and Flamita defeated Marty Scurll and Flip Gordon (w/ Brody King)
ROH aired a pre-show promo for Final Battle that looked great. It looked more in line with something you'd see on AEW Dynamite than their typical segments. Gordon and Flamita were the first in for their teams. Gordon and Flamita had a really fast exchange. Flamita is ridiculously fast. Brody King joined Riccaboni and Coleman on commentary during this. Flamita stood on Bandido's shoulders and did a falling splash for two. Later in the match, Flamita tried to jump from Bandido's shoulders to do some sort of plancha but he lost his balance, he slipped, but he was gripping Bandido's hands and was able to catch his balance and, somehow, springboard his way onto Gordon and Scurll on the floor. This turned into chaos from around this point, move for crazy move, all of it pretty innovative, and all at 110 MPH. It sounded like the crowd had a hard time even keeping up with them. Brody King couldn't help but put over Bandido and Flamita during this. Bandido did his moonsault fall-away slam (and looked to almost botch it), and when he stood back up, Scurll was waiting for him and applied the chicken wing submission. From here we got another sequence of wild 5–7 spots in under a minute, and finished with Bandido doing a 42-plex--meaning he suplexed both Scurll and Gordon simultaneously--while Flamita conked Gordon in the face with 619 right beforehand. Everyone looked spectacular here, but the match itself was a sprint, which some fans will love and other fans might not.
Vincent defeated Matt Taven in a grudge match
Taven jumped Vincent, formerly Vinny Marseglia, as he ran down to the ring. He threw Vincent over the barricades and did a big dive onto him into the crowd and got an "R-O-H" chant. The Baltimore crowd was loud behind Taven for all of this. Vincent used a disgusting suplex to Taven where they landed flush against the concrete. It sounded brutal. The crowd would dip in and out of the match when Vincent was on offense. Late in the match Taven spiked Vincent with the Climax for just two and commentary put it over like crazy. Taven tried bringing an axe into the ring but Vincent knocked it out of his hands and landed Sliced Bread for the surprise win. The pro-Taven crowd was bummed.
After the match, the recently signed Bateman attacked Taven from behind and put him down with a tombstone piledriver. Vincent slid a block into the ring and set Taven's ankle on it, then smashed it with a chair. They sold it like a Pillmanizer spot with security carrying Taven out. It looks like Vincent and Bateman are going to be a new spooky heel tag team going forward.
Mark Haskins (w/ Vicki Haskins) defeated Bully Ray in a streetfight
This was not good. Bully Ray jumped Haskins with a barbed wire board during Haskins' entrance. He smashed Haskins in the back, then into Vicki Haskins' face which looked especially violent. The referee shouted "What are you doing?! She's a woman!" at Bully Ray. Well, then. Ray berated a staff member for touching him. "She don't belong near a ring!" Ray shouted before the actual bell sounded. In the ring, Bully Ray scolded Haskins for making fun of him on Twitter. Ray grabbed a mic late in the match and screamed "God bless New York City!" and taunted him inside the ring with a kendo stick. He reminded Haskins about how Ray called his family trash. He mentioned "the Twitter machine" again and was angry about being talked trash at via that platform. He called Haskins a "low life, bottom-feeding jobber." Haskins slapped the mic away and enticed Ray to hit him, then called him a p**sy flipped him the double bird. Ray went to power bomb Haskins onto a chair but Haskins reversed it into a drop toehold onto the chair. In theory, people are supposed to go crazy for Haskins, but they didn't because it's Final Battle 2019, not Final Battle 1988, unfortunately. People reacted more to Haskins pulling out a ladder than for Haskins getting his comeuppance, and understanding that is a key to realizing what year you're booking in. The next big reaction was for when Ray pulled a table from under the apron. He threw that table and the barbed wire board into the ring. They both ended up on the top rope at one point, the barbed wire board set up in one corner, and when Haskins went for a super frankensteiner Ray reversed it into a super power bomb onto the table--not through it. Since the table didn't break, Ray hopped onto the second rope, then hopped off with a messed up looking flip to quickly put Haskins through the table, then did the Great Muta mist taunt to the delight of the crowd. Who is supposed to be the one getting over tonight? Vicki Haskins came back from her assault earlier on and took a cheesegrater to Ray's testicles. "My baaaalllllls!" he screamed. You could hear one male voice loudly booing all of this. Vicki Haskins then kissed Mark, then double press-slammed him through a table. After a diving double foot stomp, Haskins picked up the win. If this was supposed to get Haskins over, it didn't. Bully Ray was the focal point of the match; the Haskins were players in his segment. This was bad, which is depressing because Mark Haskins is one of the top three pure wrestlers in the company right now.
Alex Shelley defeated Colt Cabana
This was very interesting. This match was as Shelley described it would be earlier on the pre-show, an expo of technical pro wrestling. Shelley's matwork is still evolving and always looks like he's updating his submission vocabulary. Cabana showcased his clever defense, and whatever whacky lock Shelley threw at him, Cabana had an equally unique response. By the time the two started to speed up, Shelley pinned Cabana out of nowhere with a modified cradle and splay pin for the surprise three-count. This couldn't have been more than three minutes. Riccaboni mentioned on commentary and wished him good luck if this happens to be the last time we see Cabana in ROH in 2019. It should be noted that Cabana is the sitting NWA National champion and Shelley now has a clean pinfall victory over him.
Maria Manic defeated Angelina Love (w/ Mandy Leone)
Manic decked Love with a lariat before the bell rang. She raggdollded Love around the ring with slams. Mandy Leone tried interfering but Manic took her out, too, press slamming her off the top rope. She looked like she murdered Love with a low dropkick on the apron. She had a total superstar monster vibe, like a Brock Lesnar type. So much charisma. When Leone tried spraying her with a bottle of perfume she jump-kicked the bottle into the crowd. Later, she press slammed Love face-first onto the timekeeper's table. The crowd started chanting "this is awesome." Manic took a fan's MJF-inspired scarf and wore it around her neck while she strutted around the ring as Love recovered. Manic threw Love back into the ring and tapped Love out with a torture rack.
Dragon Lee defeated Shane Taylor (w/ Shane Taylor Promotions) to win the ROH World Television championship
Taylor spit in Lee's hand when Lee offered a handshake before the match. Lee blasted Taylor with a shotgun dropkick once things got underway. Only moments into the match and Taylor caught Lee and planted him onto the edge of the apron. He chopped Lee so hard it evoked the wonderful "ohhhhhhh my god!" trademark call from Caprice Coleman. He crushed Lee against the barricade with a running knee strike. So much of the first part of this was just Taylor tormenting Lee. Ron Hunt, a part of Shane Taylor promotions, was shown sitting at ringside a few times and was mentioned by commentary, so it's fair to expect more out of that guy in the future. Lee shifted the tempo of the match with two huge, high-speed dives onto Taylor, first a tope suicida through the ropes, then a Great Sasuke-esque swandive senton over the top. Later, Lee landed on Taylor with a diving double stomp from the top rope to Taylor who was laid atop the apron. He stuck another diving stomp into the ring but only a two-count here. They later got into a chop battle and Lee looked like he had just as much power as Taylor had behind his strikes. The crowd really started to quiet down later on in this, though I think it might just have been show fatigue. Lee kicked out of Greeetings from 215, the Fire-Thunder driver Taylor has been using that has been pretty protected as a finish this year, and the crowd sort of picked up on how far they were going at this point. Lee and Taylor somehow pulled off a Canadian Destroyer, but then Ron Hunt interfered and distracted ref Todd Sinclair. Lee rocked Taylor with a sharp running knee strike with a chain wrapped around his knee, one Hunt tried passing to Taylor for him to use, but since Sinclair was distracted he didn't immediately make the count. By the time Sinclair was in position to count, Taylor kicked out at one. Lee did a version of Des Duca Dora to Taylor, another impressive feat of strength from Dragon, but again it was only for a two-count. Hunt tried getting involved again but Lee took him out with a dropkick. The crowd sensed something special was about to happen, and after Lee smashed Taylor with another kneestrike, this one exposed, that was it: Dragon Lee is your new Ring of Honor World Television champion.
Jay Lethal and Jonathan Gresham defeated The Briscoes (Mark & Jay Briscoe) to win the ROH World Tag Team championship
Good match. PJ Black joined Riccaboni and Coleman on commentary for this. The Briscoes had family members down near the front row and were on camera before the match. Gresham and Lethal are playing heels now, for those not keeping track lately. Midway through the teams started brawling around the ring. Mark Briscoe used a flying Cactus Jack elbow off the apron. Later on, the Briscoes decapitated Gresham with a Doomsday Device that turned Gresham inside out. He and Lethal came back later on with a Lethal Injection followed by shooting star press from Gresham for a two-count that Jay Briscoe broke. The crowd peaked here and then came down for the next few minutes, then came back up again when Jay Briscoe was finally tagged in. When Lethal and Gresham went for the Cornette Cutter, the slingshot into a cutter double team finish the two have used for a while, but Jay Briscoe caught Gresham mid-air and planted him with a Death Valley Driver. He almost pinned Lethal for three until Gresham, who was outside of the ring, pulled referee Steven Dumeng to the floor to break up that pin. Lethal locked Jay in a figure-four leglock but Briscoe made it to his brother in time and crashed down into Lethal with a top rope Froggy 'bow. When the Briscoes went for a Doomsday Device on Lethal, Gresham broke it up and Lethal schoolboy'd Jay and pinned him--with a handful of tights--for three. Lethal and Gresham are the new ROH World Tag Team champions.
PCO defeated Rush to become the new ROH World Heavyweight champion
This was something else. Rush got a megastar entrance with a huge pyro show, but PCO was the crowd's choice for babyface. He got lots of "P-C-O" chants beforehand. They jaw-jacked early on but began smashing into each other with shoulderblocks only a few seconds after the bell. The match spilled to the floor early on. Rush hit PCO over the head with a chair and tossed him into the barricade on the floor. He shouted "They say PCO's not human, but I'm human!" and continued to thrash PCO. Although there were a few pockets of the crowd were chanting for Rush, this was mostly a pro-PCO crowd tonight. Rush leaned into the role of heel like a natural. He went into the crowd and found a mini ladder that he tried setting up in the corner but it kept falling out of place. PCO finally returned Rush's offense with an avalanche into the corner followed by a tope con giro through the second rope. He went on to miss the somersault senton onto the corner of the ring when Rush moved out of the way. That man's poor tailbone. Rush dragged PCO out into the crowd and near the foggy hearse that PCO arrived at the arena in. Oh, right, there was a hearse with fog coming out of it still parked near the entrance. Rush went on to stack a few steel guardrails on top of each other, then curse the crowd in Spanish, and finally through PCO onto the aforementioned pile of steel guardrails. He was willing heel heat from this crowd. As Rush strutted back to the ring, PCO's guru, Destro, the guy from the Monday Night PCO videos and from PCO's MSG entrance at G1 Supercard, he arrived on the scene, cracked open the hood of the hearse, took jumper cables and electrocuted PCO back to life. It was like one of the stunts PCO does in his videos. Recharged, he chokeslammed Rush onto the hood of the hearse. A few young men nearby started chanting "shock this bitch!" over and over and I couldn't help but crack up. PCO legdropped Rush while he was on the hood of the car, but moments later Rush was somehow able to do what looked like a tomoe nage judo throw onto the windshield of the car. Destro kept growling "you're a monster!" at PCO, who later went after Rush with a crowbar. He missed Rush once and crashed the crowbar through the hearse window. This crowd really wanted PCO to win. Rush unveiled three doors, knobless doors, from under the ring. Doors are the new flavor of the month when it comes to hardcore matches. When Rush landed a diving senton from the top and went for the pin, PCO was up at one. Rush then started ramming one of the doors into PCO's head, then suplexed him through another one that was set up in one corner of the ring. The crowd chanted "one more door!" before PCO used a spinebuster to put Rush through the last door set up in the ring. He then stuck a PCOsault for a two-and-three-quarters-count. Rush rolled out of the ring and beat up Destro and threw him into the crowd, but in the meantime, PCO had set up a table, then got a hold of Rush and put him through said table with a knees-first PCOsault through a table for three. PCO is the new ROH World Heavyweight champion. Riccaboni made a hell of a call for the win and did his damndest to make it feel huge. It wasn't the prettiest match of all time, but the crowd wanted three things here: They wanted violence, they wanted PCO to win, and they wanted to boo whomever was in PCO's way at winning. In terms of that criteria then this match was a total success. Rush worked his ass off for heat and would adjust to the mood and feel of the crowd with no effort, while the nearly 52-year-old PCO once again risked his body on a big ROH show, again going to extreme lengths to impress fans. Give the man a bonus and an icepack, or whatever you'd give Not-Humans.
Despite the tornado of bad publicity and reported backstage mishandling over the course of 2019, ROH delivered an above average show tonight. Aside from gratuitous Bully Ray vs. Mark Haskins streetfight, each match tonight was either good or very good. The pre-show didn't drag, and actually ended with one of the best matches of the night (Jeff Cobb vs. Dan Maff), and matches that on paper you'd think be ill-fated, Kenny King vs. Rhett Titus, for example, turned out to be fine matches at worst, solid modern pro wrestling at best. Maria Manic's segment got over very well with tonight's crowd and she came across like a star on televison. Dan Maff also felt like a player after his match with Cobb tonight. The quick match between Alex Shelley and Colt Cabana was great for what it was, a nice surprise that didn't overstay its welcome and served a purpose, seemingly to send Cabana off ROH television, at least based on what Ian Riccaboni mentioned after the match on the broadcast. Both the TV and tag matches were very good, and I don't think the crowd seemed to expect those plus the ROH Heavyweight title to all change tonight. What this signified was that ROH is looking to relaunch or rebrand after the post-G1 Supercard spiral into mismanagement and publicity hell they experienced late this year. It sounded to satisfy the fans in attendance, and it wasn't the most difficult card to watch for the viewer at home. Nothing felt like it dragged much despite this being a four-hour show in an already oversaturated wrestling market landscape. I think that speaks volumes about ROH's locker room talent. If tonight was anything else, it was a start.