Last night, I drove to Philadelphia for my second anniversary independent wrestling show of the month. This time, I drove to the Ring of Honor 12th Anniversary show for my thirty-seventh Ring of Honor live show. At one point in my life, I was a huge Ring of Honor fan starting with the Battle of the Icons back in 2007, but over the years my interest in the product waned, starting with the removal of Gabe Sapolsky as the booker and with the move from a local to national promotion. Oh, and Killer Instinct in 2012 actually swore me off going to a Ring of Honor show ever again after serving up a 35 minute, no contest between Kevin Steen and Jay Lethal, where the live audience did not know what was happening or if there was a finish, which followed a lackluster show. It took the knowledge that Adam Cole, Kevin Steen and Michael Elgin were going to be wrestling three matches in one night to get me to go back and watch anything ROH.
But with Adam Cole defending the title against Chris Hero and having seen their match in PWG from two months ago, I convinced myself to give a live Ring of Honor show another go. Arriving at the Armory in Philadelphia, I was surprised by the turnout, as there was no parking left at 7:40, requiring those who arrived timely to find their own place to park outside the safety of the arena. I don't think anyone thought it would be a super no vacancy house of 1,200, but AJ Styles return tour is putting fans in the seats.
I finally get to the building, where ROH COO Joe Koff was handling the will call window and hands me my ticket. Having worked in a small business, I always appreciate the wearing of many hats and the need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty for the sake of the job, regardless of your job title and power. Arriving just ahead of the dark match, I saw Amasis in ROH for the second time, since the Osirian Portal wrestled Steen and Generico in 2008, which I was there for. Amasis was good, but Caprice Coleman did little for me in this match.
The first half of the main show was, to be polite, rough. I thought the Tomasso Ciampa and Hanson match was very good, with Hanson showing the potential to be a star with a great mix of surprising athleticism, a good look and some real wrestling hoss skills. Other highlights include the Decade of Roderick Strong, Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer using jazz hands as their team signal and Silas Young's mustache and 80s vibe, though I don't get why everyone loves Generic Indy Guy 2, Matt Taven or why anyone thinks Jimmy Jacobs should throw an effective spear against anyone larger than a toddler. Sadly, Matt Hardy didn't make the show, forcing Michael Elgin to "wrestle" Raymond Rowe, who was clearly not ready for such a match, looking green and almost fighting Elgin to entertain. Elgin did cut a really good old school promo trying to get Rowe over before the match and was surprised to find myself excited before watching Rowe sandbag without intent for about 10 minutes.
With intermission, I went over to the lackluster ROH merchandise table. CZW does it right with a selection of vendors, but ROH has their own table, which consisted of a selection of mediocre T-Shirts (number of Michael Bennett shirts in the audience: 2, number of Decade shirts in the audience: 1) and a limited selection of DVDs. Amazingly, I only made one purchase, which is the Hell Rising Kevin Steen shoot, where I cannot wait to watch him tear apart Jim Cornette for 45 minutes, though I plan to pass on the Jay Lethal match from Killer Instinct.
After intermission, the show really picked up with three great matches and an enjoyable squash of Cliff Compton by Kevin Steen, though the match did take about 18 minutes and was the shortest match of the second half. Honestly, the biggest weakness in almost any ROH show is the length. The Anniversary show went about 4 hours and would not be surprised if you timed the matches and found there were at least 5 and possibly 6 twenty minute matches. Ring of Honor has a hard time giving us a great 12 minute match, for the thought we were missing something. In fact, most of the matches, aside from Cole/Hero and Styles/Lethal could have stood to be a little shorter.
The tag team match between ReDragon and Adrenaline Rush was very good. Watching it, I thought, if ACH learns to strike better, he could be a star. Kyle O'Reilly has grown on me over the years, but I'm still not a fan of his MMA striking based offense. Otherwise, it was a good, not great tag team match.
Having seen and hated AJ Styles two weeks ago and not thinking much of Jay Lethal's work on the whole, I was a little surprised by how well their match worked. It was a slow affair, but Jay Lethal understood how to work with AJ Styles to put on a Southern-style wrestling match. The spots were much crisper than with Gulak two weeks beforehand and both wrestlers used the pace to their advantage, especially Styles whose offense was far more convincing in the match. The finish was rushed, but for the first time I understand why Lethal/Styles would have been a great main event in 2004.
Finally, there was the Chris Hero and Adam Cole main event ROH Title match, which was my primary motivation for going to the show. I saw their clash in at PWG's All-Star Weekend X, Night 1 and thought the match was excellent, but a little short. Their match tonight was actually better. Here, they played the roles of Hero as the returning conqueror and Cole as the cowardly heel to perfection. With Hero being in my book, the best storyteller in the ring working today, the match flowed. Cole's work was excellent as well, making the small mannerisms work, rolling out of the ring as a heel with great gusto and to loud applause. Both men worked the crowd well and closed with a ref bump finish, allowing Hero to get Cole to tap out without a ref, but allowing Cole to retain the title after three straight jacket German Suplexes.
In sum, the second half of the show was worth the price of admission, with Cole and Hero being my match of the night. It didn't reignite my love affair with Ring of Honor, but will at least force me to look at their cards when in the area to see if there is a match I want to see in person.