Saturday Night at Center Stage in Atlanta, GA, Ring of Honor's first Honor Club broadcast of 2020, kicked off with Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman running down the night's card, with PCO vs. Rush for ROH World Heavyweight championship in the main event.
Dragon Lee defeated Andrew Everett to retain the ROH World TV championship
Good match that might've been great with a larger crowd. Lee won the TV title from Shane Taylor last month at Final Battle in Baltimore; tonight was his first title defense. Everrett hasn't wrestled for ROH since last year, so we are not clear as to why he is challenging for the belt tonight. Caprice Coleman mentioned he knew Everett from North Carolina, and that his father was the promoter for CWF Mid-Atlantic. Center Stage isn't the largest venue but those in attendance for this show were hot for Dragon Lee. Production caught clusters of Lee fans, cheering him on before the match, most clad in masks, or some holding a Mexican flag.
Riccaboni mentioned Everett had been out of action for five months because of an injury. He looked fine tonight. The two opened their match with a few quick exchanges that finished in a stalemate until Everett took Lee out with a big tope con giro to the floor and followed it up with some showboating into the camera.
Back in the ring, Lee blasted Everett with Dragon's Breath, his version of his brother Rush's Bull's Horns basement dropkick in the corner. Later, Lee went for a jumping hurricanrana over the top rope to the outside but Everett countered by cartwheeling himself across the apron and out of harm's way. This was very impressive. Everett is very agile for his size and fluid in the ring. He landed an awesome "touch-toe" moonsault, as Coleman called it, which looked more like a reverse gainer you'd see from a diver. He got a two-count. They then went blow for blow for a few moments until Lee spit in Everett's face. Loud boos for this; an "honorable" crowd, perhaps.
They exchanged a lot of spectacular-looking moves and counters toward the end of this one. Everett caught Lee with a stunner out of Desnucadora. They traded poison ranas. People in the crowd were chanting for Dragon Lee and blasting air horns, but the audience died down while both sold for a minute. Since the crowd wasn't huge, it was clear when people were reacting and when were sitting on their hands waiting for the next big spot.
They reappeared when the two fought on the top rope, where Lee eventually landed a diving double-stomp to Everett hanging in a Tree of Woe from the turnbuckle, then followed with an Incinerator knee strike, but only for a one-count. Lee sold this well. He really tried getting the crowd to buy into him being in disbelief over the shock kick-out.
Everett whiffed on a Pele Kick and it killed the crowd for a moment. Some guy shouted "you f**ked up!" and another sounded like he yelled at Everett to "get a scrunchy," presumably for Everett's long hair. They saved it quickly, and in about a minute they went to the finish. Everett kicked out of Desnucadora, but Lee put him down for three with Incineration, a running knee-strike off the ropes, for his first win as ROH TV champion. Lee stood over Everett after the match and did some trash-talking. Commentary explained he was taking after his brother, Rush, and throughout the match tried building up the brothers' new stable with Kenny King and Amy Rose, La Facion.
Bully Ray came out next, unannounced. He walked out to this milquetoast instrumental thrash tune that not even Riccaboni or Coleman seemed to have had heard before. Ray walked over to the ringside announce booth and began bullying (get it?) Coleman for shaking his head in Ray's direction. Ray walked over and put Coleman on blast, claiming he was a bad announcer; Ray shouted, "You suck!" to which Coleman responded, "You swallow!" Before getting into the ring, Ray went to high-five an enthusiastic fan in the front row but faked the kid out and went into the ring. Tons of boos. Well done.
In the ring, Ray ordered ring announcer Bobby Cruise to bring him the microphone. He took it from Cruise and then pushed him to the mat, hard. Ray challenged anyone in the building to get into the ring with him if they had a problem with him or had something they wanted to say to his face. There were a couple of fans shown on camera that looked pretty happy to participate in such an event. Since ROH was in Atlanta tonight, Ray pulled the "I'm better than you because I'm from the North/We won the war" bit out of the closet and it got a lot of heat with this crowd. When they started giving him the "What?!" treatment, Ray leaned into it for a second, then called everyone puppets and explained how he'd just manipulated them to do what he wanted.
This was all a drawn-out setup for Ray to call out Maria Manic, which is what ROH had been pushing before the Atlanta show, that Manic was going to confront Bully Ray in Atlanta. When Ray finally called her out, Center Stage went black for a moment, then Manic entered from the back of the crowd behind the fans. She carries herself like a megastar already.
Bully Ray kept challenging her and threatening her, first to come down to ringside, then to face him on the apron, then to get inside the ring with him. The crowd was loud in their support of Manic, and when she got in the ring she took Ray out with a spear. Bobby Cruise then passed Manic a steel chair and laid in about five or six shots to Ray. Manic went back to the floor and grabbed a table but Ray took her down before she could put him through it. She hulked up a few seconds later and was about to powerbomb Ray through the table in the ring until the Allure came out and took Manic out. Angelina Love smashed her with a high heel shoe, then her and Mandy Leon held Manic on top of the table so Ray could put her through it with a splash from the second turnbuckle.
Before exiting, Ray yelled at Coleman and Riccaboni for being cowards for not doing anything. Some of the crowd were chanting "An-ge-lina!" before production cut to a promo for upcoming ROH events.
The Allure (Angelina Love and Mandy Leon) defeated Sumie Sakai and Nicole Savoy
The teams brawled around the ring at the start. Savoy tied Love up in a few interesting submission holds before Love escaped to tag out to Mandy Leon, who also got caught in a couple of Savoy's submissions. She mainly worked over both Love and Leon's neck and shoulders. Later, Leone passed Love a tassel of some sort and Love used it to choke Sakai with it.
When Savoy made her way back into the match she laid both of the Allure out with suplexes, and then both Savoy and Sakai locked on dual submission holds. Sakai landed a nice missile dropkick from the top rope that the crowd enjoyed. The finish saw Savoy accidentally take Sakai out with a big high roundhouse kick, which allowed for Leon to pin Sakai with a modified victory roll for the win.
Savoy got on her knees and apologized for kicking Sakai and took the blame for the loss. Sakai responded with a kick to the gut, then planted Savoy face-first with Smash Mouth. Before leaving, Sakai spit on Savoy.
This worked because for as long as I can remember, no matter what Sakai was doing in ROH in the past few years, I'll always remember Riccaboni, Coleman and Colt Cabana talking about how nice of a person she is outside the ring, and not in a storyline way either. I'm not sure what this means in the context of ROH's Women of Honor division, but it looks as though creative has a plan for her.
Next was a short exposition video package that went over a new angle ROH is working on with PJ Black and ROH Dojo wrestler Brian Johnson. The basic story is that, recently, Black got into an argument with Silas Young and Josh Woods, and Young basically challenged Black to a tag match: He and Woods--Young's student--vs. Black and a student of his. If Black could find a student, they could have a match.
The video then followed Black as he chased Johnson around, offering to train him and help him get on TV. Johnson's a hyper-intense lone wolf who doesn't want help from anyone, but by the end of the package, it showed that Black had arranged for a tag team match with Johnson as his partner. They did a good job with this, especially considering that neither had much going on in terms of storylines.
Dak Draper defeated Jason Cade
Draper is another ROH Dojo guy, a big one billed at 6'6". Cade, a Norman Smiley trainee, has been growing his name on the American indies over the past few years, most recently has wrestling for Impact and GCW, among others.
Early on, Cade slung himself over the top rope to the floor and attempted a frankensteiner, but Draper looked to have lost his balance and they both crashed to the floor in the form of what looked to be a powerbomb. Draper followed with power bombing Cade onto the apron. Cade landed some nice-looking dives and aerial spots, but Draper won with the Magnum KO slam. This was fine. It looks like they're planning to build Draper up to be more of a player in 2020.
Jonathan Gresham (w/ Jay Lethal) defeated Josh Woods (w/ Silas Young) via countout
For those out of the loop, Gresham and Lethal are heel tag team champions right now, having won the titles from the Briscoes last month at Final Battle. Also, Young and Woods' official tag team name is now 2 Guys 1 Tag and I'm still nonplussed about it.
These two broke into a great round of grappling at the top of this, though this Atlanta crowd didn't seem to like it much at first. There were scattered chants about the match being boring early on, which speaks volumes about the type of audiences ROH brings in now compared to, say, ten years ago, where pure pro wrestling was the product's selling point. I'm not quite sure what it is in 2020. Lethal and Young got into it with each other from across the ring and defused the naysayers' taunting. When Gresham and Woods went back to the mat, it sounded like people were already more invested in the match from then on.
Gresham might be in the best physical shape of his life right now, and his transition to the heel roll in ROH has felt seamless. He and Woods looked very good in this, and Woods should be working with more guys like Gresham who understand Woods' martial arts and grappling background and are able to blend it into the match and disguising the fact that he's still a rookie. Woods landed an inverted TKO type of move on Gresham where he kneed Gresham in the face. Riccaboni called it a "TK-GTS," which would be accurate.
Gresham worked over Woods knee over the last half of the match, and later on, he locked in the Figure Four leg lock until Woods got a rope break. Woods, still selling his knee, went for a high kick but sold it like he couldn't fully extend his leg and kneeled to the mat, so Gresham went to lock on the Figure Four again, which Woods countered into a cradle. The two then rolled around the ring reversing each other's inside cradles until they both broke the hold. Gresham landed a quebrada inside the ring next and the crowd loved that. When Gresham went for some sort of aerial attack, Woods caught him with a big gamengiri knee-strike that was timed perfectly, which led to "this is awesome!" chants from the crowd, the same crowd who jeered the two for being boring a few minutes earlier.
Woods went to suplex Gresham over the ropes to the floor but both crash-landed to the mats. Lethal and Young walked over to them and both illegally interfere by assisting their respective partners back into the ring, which resulted in both being ejected from ringside. As Young bickered with the referee of the decision, Lethal unbuttoned his ROH tag title belt and smashed Woods' knee with it before rushing to the back. Gresham locked the Figure Four back on, this time on the floor; at the ref's count of 16, Gresham unlocked the hold and went back into the ring. Woods wasn't able to make it back into the ring in time and thus his countout loss here. This was really good, and arguably made better considering how they were able to win over tonight's fickle Atlanta crowd.
They aired a vignette for Australian star Slex for his debut at ROH: Free Enterprise on February 9th. His gimmick is supposed to be cocky rich guy and his catchphrase is "Business is Boomin'," which is ironic in so many ways. Slex garnered clout with international wrestling fans when he had a well-received match in Australia with NJPW's Kazuchika Okada.
LifeBlood (Mark Haskins and Tracy Williams) Dan Maff and Jeff Cobb The Briscoes (Jay and Mark Briscoe)
This was all action. The Bouncers joined Coleman and Riccaboni on commentary for this one. All teams shook hands before the bout. Haskins and Cobb started things off but Mark Briscoe tagged Haskins in early on. The Briscoes were very popular with this crowd.
Cobb ragdolled Haskins around a bit, but Haskins and partner Tracy Williams used some quick tandem offense on Cobb to wear him down. Haskins and Jay Briscoe jaw-jacked at each other. Later on, Mark Briscoe chopped Haskins hard on the chest while Haskins was on the apron, so it counted as a tag. The crowd loved that. Haskins then "tagged" Briscoe back, and from here is when things spilled out of the ring and into madness, tons of dives to the floor from the ropes, from the apron, and finally with Maff taking most everyone out with a huge tope suicida. He looked very good in this and seems to have been a nice recent pickup for ROH.
LifeBlood wore Maff out later with more fast double-teaming, with Williams trying to tap Maff out with various foot- and knee locks. Mark Briscoe broke the submission with a Froggy Bow from the top. The Briscoes landed Redneck Boogie on Williams, who kicked out at two to the surprise of most. The crowd hated this. Moments later, Jay took Williams out with a Jaydriller to win the match.
The, uh, enigmatic Danhausen joined Riccaboni and Coleman on commentary afterwards. Riccaboni and then Coleman kept mouthing "Help me!" into the camera as Danhausen did his quirky onomatopoeia schtick.
Shane Taylor came out next with the Sons of Savagery. He talked about how three years ago at Center Stage he put the Briscoes through a table, and now he was in the ring and everyone was waiting to hear what he had to say. Taylor said he didn't want to settle this on social media or anything like that so he called out Joe Koff, who came to ringside. He thanked Koff and explained how the last year and a half had been the best run of his career.
He said he had read Koff's emails and offers for a new contract, and that he is the best homegrown ROH talent with the company today (which is arguably true), but if Koff still wanted him there, he would need a guaranteed ROH six-man tag title shot for the Sons of Savagery and himself, as well as a shot at the ROH World Heavyweight title at a time and place of his choosing. Taylor also demanded to be on every poster for every ROH show this year and for the maximum salary he's allowed on his new contract, all while telling off hecklers in the crowd. Koff listened and walked to the back, to which Taylor responded "That was like your sex life: pretty short."
Bandido, Flamita & Rey Horus defeated Villain Enterprises (Marty Scurll, Brody King & Flip Gordon) to win the ROH World Six-Man championship
This was really good. Fans were very loud in their support of the Mexican team beforehand. People were blowing their vuvuzelas and interrupting Scurll, which he relished. Finally, the Villain allowed to function as a villain. He announced that they'd defend their ROH six-man titles with Flip Gordon subbing in for PCO, the other champion member of the team scheduled who'd been planned to face Rush in the main event.
Brody King and Flamita started off. King really stands out when he's in the ring with good lucha-style wrestlers because of both his size and ability to keep pace with faster guys in the ring. All six of these guys were natural together, but it helped to have such a hot crowd for this match. Bandido landed a perfect tornillo on King when he tagged into the match, and later stuck an Orihara moonsault from the top while Flamita and Horus did stereo tope con hiros to the floor. It almost looked like Bandido was about to lose his footing, but somehow all three timed it perfectly. Pretty amazing.
Flamita used a 450 splash on Gordon for a two-count. Bandido then took Flamita and wheelbarrow suplexed him onto Gordon while Horus used a legdrop on Gordon. Horus landed a flying, swinging DDT on King, then Scurll landed a tornado DDT of his own on Bandido. From here, everyone began trading fast high spots, maybe seven or eight in total, all at what felt to be 100 mph; Horus wrapped the sequence after spiking King on his head with a tilt-a-whirl DDT, and it saw everyone laid out in the mat or outside the ring by the end of it. The crowd peaked to the highest point the highest they'd been all night, and when production cut to the announce table, Riccaboni wore a look of genuine exhaustion on his face, and somehow Coleman had been cloaked in a fan's Mexican flag.
Towards the end, Gordon and King used stereo topes of their own, and at the end of the match saw Scurll take a long while to set up the Chicken Wing facelock, but Bandio rolled him up before he Scurll lock it in--for three. The crowd erupted when Bandido scored the surprise victory. Your new ROH World six-man champions are Bandido, Flamita and Rey Horus.
Fans threw lots of money into the ring after this and Coleman mentioned on commentary that some "jive turkey" near ringside was trying to some snag loose change for himself. Again, this was very good.
PCO defeated Rush via disqualification to retain the ROH World Heavyweight title
Both Rush and PCO got loud reactions from the relatively small crowd at Center Stage. It sounded to be about 50/50, and both let the crowd chant their hearts out before they even got started. Rush hit a snap German suplex off the ropes early on. PCO landed a pop-up powerbomb and later a tope suicida, taking both Rush and himself into the barricades. Riccaboni mentioned that it was last year at Center Stage when PCO did a dive and got a gash on his head that required 20+ stitches; moments later, PCO missed a somersault senton from the top onto the edge of the apron.
When referee Todd Sinclair was giving Rush a hard time about a rope break, Rush started choking Sinclair. With both men distracted, PCO got back up from and chokeslammed Rush. While climbing to the top to go for the the PCOsault, Rush rolled a prone Sinclair in harm's way, and PCO ended up moonsaulting Sinclair instead.
This turned into a big schmozz when the rest of La Faccion de Ingernobles (Dragon Lee and Kenny King) came out and attacked PCO. Villain Enterprises, in turn, came out and attacked La Faccion, which led to both teams brawling to the back. In the ring, Rush laid PCO out with a chair shot, then landed a diving senton onto PCO, but since Sinclair was still out, no ref around to count. Joe Mandack, another ROH official, rushed to the ring and was able to count to two before PCO kicked out.
Rush was displeased with this apparently and took this referee out too, even blasting Mandack in the face with the Bull's Horns. Sinclair was up by this time in the match and called for the bell. PCO wins via DQ.
After the fall, a policeman came into the ring and whipped Gordon into the ringpost. The man then took off his blue police shirt to reveal a t-shirt underneath, one that read NWA POWERRR. This policeman turned out to be current NWA World Heavyweight champion, Nick Aldis. He has a match with Marty Scurll coming up at the next NWA pay-per-view, and based on ROH's past relationship with Billy Corgan and Dave Lagana's revamped NWA, it looks like the two companies will cross-promote again in the next few weeks, at least. La Faccion put PCO through a table in the ring, then did the Ingernobles pose, standing over the champion, as the show cut to black.
There wasn't anything worrisome on tonight's card, so if you're looking for more ROH schadenfreude content, you're out of luck here. This was a fine show. It wasn't great, and at times it felt like a major slog to get through, but there were a few higher-quality matches, and the fans in attendance were hotter than most ROH crowds in 2019. The caveat with tonight's crowd, though, was that it sounded like it was made up of casual fans, and primarily fans of the six Mexican superstars on the show, and not the hardcore pro wrestling fanatics that Ring of Honor built their company on, ironically enough.
Check back tomorrow for a recap of ROH's next Honor Club broadcast from Concord, NC.