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COMMENT





ROH: Rising Above other PPV offerings
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling


There’s a sad irony to the fact that these days, the American wrestling promotion which most closely exemplifies the traditions of the sport, languishes in popularity far behind those who seem to do their utmost to ignore it.

WWE, and to a much lesser extent, TNA, own today’s wrestling world -- the former with their brand of questionable storylines, and the latter with copycat idiocy.

Ring of Honor, on the other hand, has been quietly -- all too quietly, if you are Canadian resident -- putting on pay-per-view shows to blow away any wrestling product, perhaps the world over. Though great matches have not been limited to the main event players, there’s no doubt that so far in this series, the company’s MVPs have been the likes of Nigel McGuinness, Takeshi Morishima, and Bryan Danielson, all of whom wrestled on the latest pay-per-view, Rising Above.

Taped at the Manhattan Centre in New York on December 29, 2007, but only airing in the United States as of March 7, 2008, ROH’s fifth PPV offering was headlined by an ROH World Title match, as McGuinness defended the World Title against Austin Aries. In the semi-final, Jay & Mark Briscoe defended the Tag Team Titles against the No Remorse Corps, while Danielson and Morishima squared off in the battle of the former World champions.

Match #1: Brent Albright vs Delirious

After an introduction from hosts Dave Prazak and Lenny Leonard, Adam Pearce took the microphone in the ring, and vowed revenge on Delirious for attacking him on a previous show. This led to Pearce’s Hangmen 3 partner, Brent Albright, donning a Delirious-style mask, facing Delirious in a singles match.

Delirious emerged from the locker room with a fury, taking out Pearce by spraying him with a Muta-like mist, and ripping the mask from the face of his much larger opponent. Albright, however, soon countered with a vicious released Dragon suplex, and continued to dominate when he belly-to-bellied Delirious directly into the turnbuckles.

The former Gunner Scott clearly had the power advantage, but not so when he went to the top rope, where he missed a flying headbutt. Delirious then hit the Shadows Over Hell backsplash, and almost squeezed a submission with the Cobra Stretch. Albright powered out, but just as he thought that he had resumed the offence, Delirious countered a simple bodyslam with a cradle, and collected the victory.

Winner: Delirious
Match rating: 6.0 / 10

After the bout, the victor was attacked by Adam Pearce, Shane Hagadorn, and BJ Whitmer, which led to a save by Kevin Steen and El Generico. Then, The Age of the Fall group (Necro Butcher, Jimmy Jacobs, Tyler Black, and Lacey) hit the ring, noting that "Ring of Honor is the platform for our revolution," words in turn that brought The Vulture Squad (Jack Evans, Ruckus, Jigsaw, and Julius Smokes) to the ring, for an impromptu Scramble Tag Team Match (no tags necessary, the contest ends with the first pinfall).

Match #2: Scramble Tag Team Match -- Hangmen 3 (Adam Pearce & B.J. Whitmer) vs Kevin Steen & El Generico vs The Age of the Fall (Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black) vs The Vulture Squad (Jack Evans & Ruckus)

With the brawl continuing at ringside, Jigsaw set a speedy tone for this match -- though he was not an official part of it -- with a cannonball splash over the top rope on Necro Butcher. With a referee finally in the ring, the bout began to take shape, as various combinations of wrestlers began to battle inside the squared circle.

High impact was the order of the day here, with lots of aerial and power manoeuvres from all concerned. Of particular note, Whitmer and Pearce hit a combination rib-breaker/released German suplex, and Evans landed an incredible 630° splash on Whitmer. But it was Steen and Generico who claimed the win over Black, supplementing a top-rope DDT with a cradle piledriver, before hitting a brainbuster for the three-count.

Winners: Kevin Steen and El Generico
Match rating: 7.5 / 10

Match #3: Lacey vs Daizee Haze vs Sara Del Ray

Following a backstage promo in which the Briscoe Brothers unleashed their fury at The Age of the Fall, it was time for this one-fall Women’s Triple Threat match-up.

Haze was the aggressor in the early going, employing Lucha-style armdrags and headscissors on both opponents, as Tammy Sytch looked on from ringside. No doubt the former Sunny was impressed, as everyone was, by one of Haze’s follow-up moves, applying simultaneous abdominal stretches on her opponents, from an elevated position, while Del Ray had Lacey caught in an Indian Deathlock.

It took several minutes before anyone but Haze to take control of the bout, but when Del Ray had the opportunity, she showed she was no submission slouch either, applying a double Royal Butterfly hold on her opponents.

No-one could stop Haze, however, and she took the win over Lacey, with a Mind Trip face-slam.

Winner: Daizee Haze
Match rating: 6.5 / 10

Match #4: Erick Stevens vs Davey Richards

Stevens and Richards wasted no time going for one another in this fourth contest of the evening, billed as a Grudge match, based on an injury sustained by Stevens following an attack by Richards and other members of the No Remorse Corps.

The mohawked Stevens began positively, enforcing his will on his opponent with a belly-to-back suplex, and a pump-handle slam. But Stevens was soon distracted by the presence in the crowd of sometimes MMA fighter Daniel Puder, which partially contributed to Richards -- who looks more and more like the Dynamite Kid as each ROH event passes -- being able to apply an armlock to Stevens’ previously injured limb.

Stevens was able to power out once, but when Puder provided a distraction once again, Richards flew across the ring with a missile dropkick, before locking on the Kimura-style hold once again for the submission.

When he recovered from the hold, Stevens took the mic and challenged Puder to jump the guard rail, and face him in the ring. But this, seemingly, was the cue for Larry Sweeney to appear alongside Puder in the crowd, at which point he invited Puder backstage for a meeting.

Winner: Davey Richards
Match rating: 6.5 / 10

Before departing, Sweeney took the opportunity to lambast the fans, and Claudio Castagnoli, who quickly chased down the "Super Agent." Tank Toland and Bobby Dempsey made the save for Sweeney, but after Castagnoli disposed of them, it was Chris Hero who really did the damage, beginning their bout with a Yakuza kick from behind.

Match #5: Claudio Castagnoli vs Chris Hero

The stipulation for this bout was that if Hero could defeat Castagnoli, the latter’s contract would be owned by Sweeney, who threatened to "sell him down the river." Hero showed off his acrobatics for the crowd in the early going, but it was Castagnoli who put his agility to good use, with a middle-rope tope and a top-rope European uppercut on target.

Hero countered with a Blockbuster neckbreaker, and a cravate suplex, but this match went quickly back and forth, as Castagnoli soon hit a top-rope headscissors and a giant swing. He then went for his patented Ricola bomb, but Hero reversed it, dropping his opponent awkwardly with a huracanrana. Hero tried to finish things with a Cravice submission hold, but Castagnoli countered into the Ricola bomb for the pinfall.

Winner: Claudio Castagnoli
Match rating: 6.5 / 10

Match #6: Takeshi Morishima vs Bryan Danielson

This was a rematch from the Man Up PPV, in which Morishima defeated Danielson, to retain the ROH World Title. On that day, the referee had stopped the match due to Morishima’s attack of Danielson’s injured eye, even though the current NOAH GHC Champion had given his word that he would not do so. The "American Dragon" gained some retribution, in his mind, by attacking Morishima with blatant groin stomps in November at Glory by Honor Night II.

Neither competitor waited for this one to get inside the ring before going at it, as Danielson raced down the aisle to meet Morishima, who was waiting for him. Morishima, clearly the more powerful, used his weight advantage to fling Danielson into the guard rail, and bust him open early with a table.

Danielson was visibly dazed, and it was several minutes before he was able to unload any offence, but even then, he was stopped in his tracks by a brutal lariat. Morishima then quickly hit the Backdrop Driver, and another lariat, but remarkably, Danielson kicked out just before the count of three.

Clearly frustrated at the incredible resilience of his foe, Morishima was warned by the official for a groin stomp, but failed to heed it, eventually being disqualified after shoving the referee to the ground. When further officials ran from the locker room, Morishima struck one with a vicious Backdrop Driver, but was then attacked by Danielson, wielding the timekeeper’s hammer, attempting to do damage to the former champion’s eye.

Winner: Bryan Danielson (by disqualification)
Match rating: 7.0 / 10

Match #7: 2/3 Falls for the ROH Tag Team Championship -- Mark & Jay Briscoe (c) vs Roderick Strong & Rocky Romero

The crowd chanted "Two straight!" as the ROH Tag Team Title match begun, denoting the fact that in four previous 2/3 falls matches, the Briscoes had yet to lose a fall.

That record did not seem to be under threat in the early going, as the Bricoes used a variety of double-team tactics on Strong, including a vicious pair of low Yakuza kicks in the corner.

Strong and Romero did counter, notably with a springboard DDT from Romero to Mark, but when he made a tag to Jay after a moonsault press, the first fall looked to be in the Briscoes’ hands. That was until Romero blocked Mark’s Springboard Doomsday Device dive, and hit his own on Jay from Strong’s shoulders, after which Jay was pinned with a Tiger Bomb.

The action restarted for the second fall almost immediately, with Romero striking Jay with his wide variety of kicks, but when he went once again for the springboard DDT, it was countered with a falcon arrow. Mark then received the hot tag, and after a springboard corkscrew splash on Strong, he pinned the former TNA competitor with a jackknife roll-up.

This left the match as essentially a one-fall contest, which the No Remorse Corps appeared sure to take, as they unloaded on Mark with yet more vicious striking. But when the tag was made, it was The Briscoes who had the head of steam, and they combined to plant Strong with a dangerous spiked J-Driller, to retain the titles.

Winners: Jay & Mark Briscoe
Match rating: 8.0 / 10

Match #8: ROH World Title Match -- Nigel McGuinness (c) vs Austin Aries

McGuinness came into this match sporting tape on his left shoulder, due to a torn bicep suffered in October, and Aries was right onto the injury, trying to grab an armbar on the ground.

But within moments, the focus of the bout was completely altered, as Aries struck McGuinness -- who was berating fans on the outside of the ring -- with a middle-rope tope, which sickeningly sent the Englishman thudding forehead-first into the guard rail. McGuinness appeared out on his feet, with a huge gash now visible above his right eye.

Almost certainly not in control of his faculties, McGuinness attempted to retaliate by himself going to work on Aries’ arm, but it was Aries who gained the upper hand with various submission holds, all of which focused on the torso and shoulder of the champion. That was until Aries went for a second tope, which was caught and turned into a Tower of London on the floor.

McGuinness replicated the move inside the ring, but when he got only a two count, Aries took the bout to the outside, delivering a nasty brainbuster to his opponent, dropping him head-first once again on the guard rail. Aries then hit another two brainbusters inside the ring, and went for the Horns of Aries submission hold, but McGuinness fought to his feet, thundering a lariat to the back of the head of Aries. He then struck another lariat off the ropes, the force of which caused Aries to land on the top of his head, for the deciding pinfall.

Winner: Nigel McGuinness
Match rating: 8.0 / 10

Backstage, the show closed with a brawl between The Briscoes, The Age of the Fall, Hangmen 3, and the Vulture Squad. A bloody ROH champion was also shown being treated by a doctor.

Overall, if the PPV title of "Rising Above" was an ode to the company’s in-ring qualities, as compared to its more illustrious competition, then it is one that is fully justified. Here, there was no backstage buffoonery, nonsensical booking, nor Divas matches -- instead, just good, modern wrestling from top to bottom.

If you are looking for negatives, it could be said that the first six of the eight matches perhaps could have been dealt a little more time to develop, but to say that would be to ignore that each of those matches certainly made excellent use of what they had. Throughout the two-hour broadcast, the action was fast-paced, with nigh on zero in the way of filler.

Clearly, this event was built around the two closing bouts, in Jay & Mark Briscoe vs The No Remorse Corps, and Nigel McGuinness vs Austin Aries. The former was a typical Briscoes bout, fast-paced and high-flying, but it also told an interesting story, with the Briscoes finally losing a fall in a 2/3 falls encounter.

The main event was passionately received by the New York crowd, who were mesmerized by the effort of both men, particularly McGuinness, who battled through a quite horrendous injury to retain his title. Technically, the bout may not have been a classic, but it will likely be memorable for a long time.

One has to wonder how many times you will have thought likewise, after shelling out for the latest WWE, or TNA, offering.

Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports, and soccer. He can be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.