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Review of ROH: Reckless Abandon

Posted in In My Head by Jack at 04:36, Jan 19 2008

by John Wiswell

Opening promo: Age of the Fall at the Hospital
A very interesting promo set outside the local hospital, where Necro Butcher is refused treatment because he doesn?t have health insurance. Outside of letting Mike Quackenbush rant against ?the system,? it introduces several novel character traits: Necro Butcher?s wrestling style takes a serious toll on his body that he can?t afford to pay; Mike Quackenbush is the son of a judge who looks down on his ideals; and Tyler Black is free with his step-father?s money. Everyone has met spoiled rich kids on a moralistic kick (I know ? I went to a liberal arts college), and both Quackenbush and Black hint that their behavior is at least partially just this sort of thing. Even if this is just an undertone, it provides another trait that helps anger people at the Age of the Fall. The segment also introduced Allison Wonderland, the second female wrestler in the Age of the Fall (and the owner of one of the best pun names in recent history).

Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Seth Skyfire
Much like Christopher Daniels and Nigel McGuinness, Claudio Castagnoli carries himself as a main-eventer, even at the bottom of the card. He has a certain aura of self-importance that isn?t forced or annoying, and that draws eyes to him. He took advantage of that attention to set up a pretty good exhibition match with former OVW star Seth Skyfire. This is the typical match where a trusted ROH star tests a newcomer to see if they can fit into the ROH ringstyle. The outcome was less important than how well Skyfire could perform.

In under ten minutes Skyfire looked crisp enough, agile enough and generally competent, except for one serious flub during a big comeback that will probably stand out in most people?s first impressions of him. One big flub wasn?t as concerning to me as Skyfire?s frequently goofy facial expressions, which didn?t fit his serious performance. At a few points both men looked like they were waiting for cues from each another, which shouldn?t be held against Skyfire; both guys were new to each other, and new to each other?s styles. It turned into a perfectly passable rookie exhibition match, and I?d be fine with Skyfire getting another chance to prove himself on the undercard. However, I would much rather see Silas Young or Human Tornado, newcomers who were more impressive later on in the show.

Promo: Bryan Danielson in the Back
Danielson gives an angry, take-charge rant on his road to revenge against Morishima. The most interesting point is that he requested the match with Necro Butcher tonight expecting him to go full-bore to prepare for Morishima?s brutality, seemingly ignorant that Necro Butcher was injured.

Falls Count Anywhere: Adam Pearce w/ Shane Hagadorn Vs. Delirious
There is something inherently great about a hero being half the size of the villain and still playing the monster. Delirious and Pearce don?t play it entirely goofy, approaching Delirious? offense segments with equal parts fun and logical thinking. For instance, Delirious gets a running headstart before jumping on Pearce to help take the bigger man off his feet, or waits to reverse Pearce?s momentum on an Irish Whip. These are fundamental things that are easy to overlook amidst a crazy brawl with chairshots and catapults into support beams, but they make matters more meaningful in the longrun. Pearce has such a fondness for the old school heels that lived to mug in the defeat for the crowd, and it manifests here in several tactics that are done just to be reversed, which adds to the fun of a match that could have just been punches and chairs to the head. Things are timed beautifully, not for aesthetics, but to get the crowd as hot as possible. You have to check a certain degree of your disbelief to enjoy it, but once you do this match is a blast.

Promo: Erick Stevens in the Back
Channeling the generic intensity and generic anger of a thousand indy wrestlers, Stevens cuts a generic promo. Inoffensive, uninspiring, he won?t let Human Tornado make a name off of him or forget that Davey Richards injured him. There was nothing in this promo that we didn?t get a feel for in the match later that night, and this comes off as ROH giving one of its guys a chance to practice promos. That?s admirable; everyone should practice them. Not all of them need to be on the DVD, though.

Chris Hero w/ Larry Sweeney, Tank Toland, Sara Del Ray & Bobby Dempsey Vs. Jigsaw
Strange that Jigsaw would come off as combative and uneasy around Hero when they tagged together and Jigsaw blended into his entourage at Death Before Dishonor 5. Also strange that the Vulture Squad stable wouldn?t send anybody out to have Jigsaw?s back when Chris Hero had four people who were likely to interfere from his corner. Hmm?

Thankfully, any jaggies in the booking didn?t get in the way of a fun opening. Where Seth Skyfire was competent in the opening match, Jigsaw is inspiringly fluid, so much so that a couple of his chains are completely unpredictable until he?s pinning Hero. Hero plays the sound base and brings his antics to create an entertaining atmosphere in the first half, all the while [laying into any impressive offense Jigsaw pulls out. It?s hilarious to see Chris Hero kick a standing opponent in the chest with the same speed and force as a slap, making the move look casual. Hero has a great sense of character moment-to-moment, able to give personal touches to pinfall attempts and the lulls between strikes.

However, like Hero?s matches at Manhattan Mayhem II and Honor Nation, the sense of fun gives way to the sense of time. I found myself waiting for it to end rather than anticipating the ending, a trouble in building drama that Hero has had for a long time. His antics and constant attempts to throw his opponent off his game can damage the pace of the match to the point where it can?t reach the drama you can feel that it should. It ends as a good match that didn?t pack the satisfaction it should have.

Promo: Austin Aries in the Back
A somber message to Aries? former partner, bitter rival and opponent tonight: Roderick Strong. Very short without feeling rushed, Aries gets across both the points that he wants revenge on Strong and that he wants to be the first two-time champion.

Relaxed Rules Match: Necro Butcher Vs. Bryan Danielson
I won?t both asking why a Relaxed Rules Match is higher on the card than a Falls Count Anywhere match that seemingly had no rules at all. Instead I?ll ask why Delirious and Adam Pearce had a better brawl than Bryan Danielson and Necro Butcher. When this match was announced most people expected an insane brawl. Danielson improved as a brawler throughout 2007, and these things are Necro Butcher?s bread and butter. This should have been wild.

Both of these men usually have a great aura around them, an aura of importance that is particularly handy in wild brawls. It gives them a sense of importance (see Danielson?s amazing ten-minute match with El Generico on PWG: Giant Size Annual #4 for recent evidence). But here both men don?t seem as special. They fight a little too slowly and are a little too awkward with each other, the awkwardness of guys being careful that is antithetical to a big brawl. Fans of the Butcher shouldn?t even bother to defend him for this performance, where more than half his punches don?t even come close to landing while Danielson curls up in the corner without attempted retribution.

But it isn?t just Butcher. It?s almost as though there?s something about Necro Butcher that causes normally sound wrestlers to do idiotic things. I?ve seen Kevin Steen and Low Ki have similar baffling actions around him that they don?t normally pull out. For instance in this match, they peel back the mats outside the ring, but go onto suplex each other onto the mats. Yes, this is safer for the real human being, but why on earth would an opponent drop him on a safer place?

Even the referee is ridiculous, giving the men 5-counts in the corners until Danielson screamed at him that it is, in fact, ?relaxed rules!? Slapping the referee is more entertaining than anything Danielson and Butcher do to each other, which is a shame because they suffered some bad punishment here. I?m not accusing them of lazyness; they try and do fairly, but underwhelm expectations on a match that could have helped a weak DVD.

There is something missing, the thing that should have lent their actions gravity. Without gravity, they just float around and hit each other. And similar to hitting the referee being more entertaining than anything in the match, Necro Butcher selling the pain of his arm after the match utterly dwarfed any expressions in the match. With ROH?s fondness for rematches and the booking of an arm injury effecting Butcher?s performance, hopefully these guys will lock up again later on with better results.

Promo: Dave Prazak interviews the Human Tornado
Even though Prazak serves as a human prop, his presence lends this promo a little variety in contrast to Stevens and Aries just looking into the camera and talking. Variety is essential if ROH insists on putting promos in-between every match. The interview accomplishes nothing more than establishing Human Tornado as a wacky bastard who likes large women and backhanding people. Fans of Human Tornado should be just fine with that.

Silas Young Vs. ROH Champion Nigel McGuinness
Given the five promos on this show before this match, I would have appreciated one explaining why McGuinness, with a torn bicep, was wrestling a rookie with a 0-1 record in a match that had no longterm ramifications. If he was able to wrestle, I?m sure there were plenty of more worthy challengers who would have appreciated the chance to beat the champ in a non-title match. It?s not like he was coming back from a long layoff with an injury and needed to test his arm; he defended his title two shows earlier and was supposed to be off resting his arm, unable to wrestle.

The above paragraph is no reflection on the wrestlers. One of ROH?s strengths is that even if the booking is questionable, the talent in the ring can usually make it worth watching. Had Young not signed a WWE developmental deal I would have been happy to see him stick around in Ring of Honor. He is technically capable, bumps and sells very well, has some slick reversals and a good energy that would have gotten over with live crowds once they got used to him. He is also very good at expressing pain, seeming in far worse agony with his arm than McGuinness. McGuinness played the stoic main-eventer, picking Young apart with experience and roughness.

Post-Match Promo: Nigel McGuinness, with unexpected visitors
McGuinness shakes off the fatigue of his match to thank the fans, compliment Young, and generally come across as a humble class act of a champion. The more he speaks this way the more genuine it seems. Early on I wondered if he was poorly delivering scripted material, but now I?m convinced that whether or not McGuinness plays a badguy later on, this is very close to how he is in everyday life.

Sweet & Sour Incorporated walked out to interrupt and lay the seeds for another title match with Hero down the line. Not particularly exciting like the Glory By Honor 6 confrontation, but it served its purpose.

Triple Threat Match: Human Tornado Vs. Erick Stevens Vs. Davey Richards
A quirky, fun dynamic. Davey Richards wasn?t even supposed to be in this match but came out for the chance of shutting up Erick Stevens, and when that proved a hard task, beating Tornado or just getting out of there. Erick Stevens was the force of the match, such that the other two guys had to find ways to dispose of him or handle him together. Human Tornado was the hilarious third wheel, trying to form unions with his opponents and pulling out stuff like pretending to be blind in order to avoid getting his ass kicked. What these three guys did that most don?t was emphasize different aspects of their roles at different times to keep things entertaining from start to finish. This would have made a great breather match between a stronger first half and the main events, but even on a weaker show it shined as a good threeway between up-and-comers, setting up at least one rematch down the line, though I?d be happy to see all three guys wrestle each other in singles in 2008.

30-Minute Iron Man Match: FIP Heavyweight Champion Roderick Strong Vs. Austin Aries
Very little like their heated Supercard of Honor 2 match where Aries had counters for all of Strong?s trademark tricks, this is a much more straight-laced wrestling match with less hatred and more technical ability. Roderick Strong isn?t Bryan Danielson on the mat, so this isn?t quite as deep as the Aries/Danielson I and III, though it picks up in the second half with more aggression and the guys showing weakness as falls begin to rack up. If you didn?t like the Best of Three Series, this probably isn?t for you, but for ROH fans that are tired of violent gimmick matches and everything being a bloodfeud, this is a refreshing approach.

Aries and Strong make kicks and backbreakers as meaningful as huge falls and chairs to the head in other people?s matches. The second half of this match also uses more nods to their earlier bouts, an odd touch since usually wrestlers will build that kind of thing or throw out references in the feeling-out portion. By the twenty-minute mark they need to rely on any familiar openings, as they?re both so hurt and exhausted. It?s a smart, physical match that doesn?t shortchange on anything and tries to keep a grasp on physical damage having lasting effects. I prefer iron-men matches at 60 minutes since a lot of one-fall main-event-quality matches go in the vicinity of a half an hour anyway, but Aries and Strong tell a sound story that made the wear on them believable and earned the thirty-minute limit. It only truly lacks a good ending, instead feeling rushed (the announcer even had to clarify the winner for the crowd), a strange position to end up in a half-hour match.

At this point in their careers Aries was booked much stronger, so it was good to see the longer story make them closer to equals without bringing Aries down. At ROH: Domination, ROH fans saw a babyface Roderick Strong who was a totally believable force, but he has impressive outings recently as a bad guy. Performances like this could revitalize him in the bad guy character. This match is absolutely worth seeing, though not worth buying the DVD for.

One Fall Scramble Match: The Vulture Squad of Jack Evans and Ruckus Vs. BJ Whitmer & Brent Albright Vs. The Age of the Fall of Mike Quackenbush & Tyler Black Vs. ROH Tag Team Champions Jay & Mark Briscoe
This match earns the show its title. Ten minutes of ?Holy Crap, Moves!? Jack Evans is a little crisper than usual, pulling off a Space Flying Tiger Drop into a Hurricanrana better than I can remember him ever doing before. Ruckus hasn?t shown much more than the ability to flip in Ring of Honor, but cripes his acrobatics are impressive. Quackenbush picks his spots well, and Black busts out a surprising amount of innovation to get some much-needed stage time. Whitmer and Albright play perfectly passable muscle men, assisting each other on a few variations of their singles moves. It?s funny, really, that the Briscoes are almost an afterthought when mixed in with faction warfare ? the factions bring the overkill before the Briscoes can think of doing so. Finishers show up five minutes in, and you know it can?t last much longer. It?s a self-accelerating style of match where everybody has to one-up each other and pull out the big offense soon so that they can win the fall. It reaches a point where multiple guys are chaining moves in truly beautiful fashion that made me drop my jaw twice.

Like most scramble matches, it has its moments where somebody has to act stupid and release a hold or stand still so that somebody else can club, but you forgive them for this because? well, Hell, you bought a DVD with a scramble on it. You knew what you were getting into. There are few nice touches, like Quackenbush and Black refusing to align with the Hangmen 3, remaining a totally outsider group. However, those things are worked in-between the breakneck style of wrestling that defines this match. It following up a thirty-minute technical marvel is less ironic and more ROH saying, ?If you wanted one or the other, here you go.?

Afterthoughts: Skippable? Borrower? Wait for a sale? Buy it now?
The first half of the show feels uncharacteristically weak, with three (or possibly four depending how much you hate Necro Butcher) matches between top stars and rookies where the outcomes are almost completely certain going in. Those matches would be fine for free on television, but making up half a DVD is pushing it, especially when none of those matches delivers an amazing breakout performance.

Danielson Vs. Necro Butcher in a Relaxed Rules brawl does not deliver the dream outing their fans might hope for. Delirious Vs. Pearce is a gem that a lot of people will sleep on or miss altogether because of the rap this show will pick up. Their match, and Tornado/Stevens/Richards near the end, are really good performances from guys who are usually overlooked in favor of Castagnoli, Hero and McGuinness. It is good to see some people step up, even if the opportunity to shine only lasts ten minutes. If you want to see lowercard guys shine, though, this doesn?t come close to the Race to the Top tournament.

The first main event, Aries Vs. Strong, would make a better show a must-buy. Unfortunately, there is nothing near its quality on the rest of this DVD. Only big fans of Roderick Strong (who haven?t had much to cheer over in recent releases) need to get this show.

The scramble main event just doesn?t cut it for the money. If you want crazy flying wrestling, the trios tag from Honor Nation is more cohesive, and there is a whole library of Briscoes Vs. Steen & Generico out there that does it better with four guys instead of eight. The main event was fun and would make a great music video, but it is not worth the same money you spent on Good Times, Great Memories or Glory By Honor 6.

The recent show, Honor Nation, features a better long technical match in Danielson Vs. Aries, and a better aerial match in the No Remorse Corps Vs. Vulture Squad tag. With a stronger card around those matches and a better Necro Butcher brawl, that is a safer bet for your cash.

The only matches I?m probably ever going to re-watch are Delirious Vs. Pearce and Aries Vs. Strong. With a few more gems on the undercard this might have been worth it, but as it is you can wait for one of ROH?s many sales to pick up this show or skip it entirely. There is nothing significant in continuity to miss, and it doesn?t deliver anything other ROH shows won?t deliver better. Completists should wait for a sale, and social fans should borrow.

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