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The last time ROH was on pay-per-view was for Final Battle 2018 on December 14. In the three months since then the roster went through a total upheaval and overhaul. Names like The Young Bucks, Cody, Brandi Rhodes, Adam Page, SoCal Uncensored, Karen Q, and Madison Rayne departed the promotion. People like Flip Gordon and Chris Sabin have been sidelined with injuries. The members of Villain Enterprises and Lifeblood made their ROH debuts alongside others like Rush and PJ Black. Of the 24 wrestlers who competed at Final Battle only 9 of those names are on tonight’s lineup.
Matt Taven’s ROH career has been on a consistent upward path ever since winning the second Top Prospect Tournament in 2013, beating out names like Silas Young, ACH, and Adam Page. He has held both sets of tag titles and the television title but the grand prize has always eluded him. For months he paraded around with a fake world title belt he had made for himself until the ire of real world champion Jay Lethal reached a fever pitch and Lethal destroyed Taven’s purple title in a fit of rage. Three weeks from tomorrow ROH and NJPW walk into a sold out Madison Square Garden for the biggest show in ROH’s seventeen years of existence. The fallout from this show will lay the foundation.
At the 16th Anniversary pay-per-view Dalton Castle defeated Lethal in the main event to retain the ROH world title. Elsewhere on the card The Briscoes retained the tag titles over Motor City Machine Guns and Marty Scurll beat Punishment Martinez to earn a future world title match. A lot of people may have come and gone since then but the core players remain the same.
1. The Kingdom vs. Lifeblood
TK O’Ryan and Vinny Marseglia debuted as Matt Taven’s new Kingdom in October 2016. Since then they have held the six-man titles three times. Their current reign began on November 4 when they defeated Cody & The Young Bucks for the gold. As a trio they are 3-1 this year; as a duo O’Ryan & Marseglia are 0-3. They have been feuding with Villain Enterprises since the latter’s inception on January 13 TV while simultaneously ducking any responsibility to give them a shot at their titles. That bill will finally come due the night after this show at the next set of TV tapings.
The team of Mark Haskins and Tracy Williams entered the Tag Wars tournament on January 24 and were promptly eliminated in the first round by Jay Lethal & Jonathan Gresham. They have had better success when teaming with the other members of their Lifeblood stable in eight-man and ten-man tags. Lifeblood as a unit officially formed on February 10 TV with Haskins, Williams, Bandido, David Finlay, and Tenille Dashwood uniting under the leadership of Juice Robinson. Dashwood and Finlay are both currently injured while Robinson is currently in Japan for NJPW so backup here will be slim.
Prediction: Taven’s henchmen continue their losing ways with Marseglia and O’Ryan simultaneously tapping out to a sharpshooter and a crossface.
2. Jonathan Gresham vs. Silas Young
Jonathan Gresham lost to Zack Sabre Jr. at Final Battle on December 14 and hasn’t done much since then besides be Jay Lethal’s little buddy. Silas Young formed a partnership with Bully Ray this past fall which prompted Young to dump his cohorts in The Bouncers. The night after Final Battle Young and Ray joined forces with Shane Taylor and The Briscoes in what appeared to be a premeditated attack on The Elite, ruining their farewell party and sending them out of ROH. The formation of that plague-like group has been stuck on pause for a while. More on that later. Young defeated his former friend Beer City Bruiser in a no disqualification match on January 20 TV and Eli Isom on February 3 TV to earn a shot at Jeff Cobb’s TV title. He came up short in that challenge on March 3 TV.
Prediction: Young is somewhat Teflon with his losses and the next development in the story of The Plague will erase their members’ singles losses earlier in the night. Gresham catches Young with a crucifix pin for the win.
3. Bandido vs. Rush
Two of the biggest stars of lucha libre face off north of the border. Both men are undefeated in singles matches in ROH, though Bandido is at 4 matches to Rush’s 2. Both of Rush’s wins come over the Kingdom goons while Bandido has defeated PJ Black, Silas Young, Rocky Romero, and Mark Haskins. On March 10 TV Rush was cutting a backstage promo when Bandido showed up and they exchanged words.
Prediction: With no storyline in play here expect this to simply be a wrestling classic with both men showing the ROH viewers how good they are and how good they can be. Bandido has been treated like the bigger star of the two thus far with significant wins on big stages while Rush has struggled to beat two midcard tag wrestlers. He has also been strangely miscast as a babyface. Bandido picks up the clean win here with a 21plex to give him some momentum heading into his IWGP junior heavyweight match in Madison Square Garden. Rush’s honeymoon period in ROH is over and the milk starts to curdle.
4. Marty Scurll vs. Kenny King
Since turning heel last fall Kenny King has been insistent that he is a future world champion. He got a one-on-one shot against Jay Lethal at Global Wars: Toronto on November 11 but failed to capture the gold. Earlier this year he set his sights on humiliating Flip Gordon but an untimely injury to Gordon robbed King of his reward.
Marty Scurll won the annual Survival Of The Fittest tournament on November 4 to earn a future world title shot. He defended this title shot successfully against Christopher Daniels at Final Battle and said goodbye to his friends in The Elite the next night. Looking to take advantage of Scurll’s lack of backup, The Kingdom accosted him on January 13 TV only for the lights to go out and Brody King and PCO to debut as Scurll’s new stable mates in Villain Enterprises. Since then Scurll’s been mostly fixated on Villain activities in the tag divisions, only picking up singles victories over Rhett Titus and Mark Haskins on the Road To G1 Supercard tour.
At the Lethal-Taven contract signing for this show’s main event Scurll made it official that he will challenge the winner for the ROH world title in Madison Square Garden. King already has a pinfall over Scurll in a four-way match at Bound By Honor on February 10, though the asterisk lists the use of a low blow and a handful of tights. If he can do it again here that might warrant his inclusion in the forthcoming title match.
Prediction: But he won’t. Scurll makes King tap to the chicken-wing and advances to the G1 Supercard.
5. Jeff Cobb vs. Shane Taylor (ROH World Television Championship)
Jeff Cobb made his first appearance in an ROH ring on August 19 TV. Seven months later he remains undefeated. He also has the best singles record in ROH in 2019 at 6-0. Shane Taylor, on the other hand, had a middling 2018 record of 5-13-1. That all began to change over the winter, though. The night after Final Battle Taylor joined forces with The Briscoes, Silas Young, and Bully Ray to send The Elite packing to Jacksonville. On January 6 TV Taylor also ruined Christopher Daniels’ retirement speech, attacking him and tearing up a new contract offered to Daniels by ROH COO Joe Koff.
Cobb and Taylor first crossed paths on November 11 TV. Cobb won with a Tour Of The Islands in seven minutes but it was the best Taylor had looked in a long time. Evidently he hasn’t forgotten. On January 13 at Honor Reigns Supreme Taylor laid out Cobb thanks to a distraction from Young. Can the new, refocused Shane Taylor be the first person to pin Jeff Cobb in an ROH ring and become the 18th ROH television champion?
Prediction: Perhaps someday but not tonight. Cobb gives Taylor another Tour but Taylor looks terrific in defeat. This match should be something of a coming out party for Taylor, elevating him out of enhancement territory and into the upper midcard for good.
6. Mayu Iwatani vs. Kelly Klein (Women Of Honor World Championship)
Kelly Klein made her pro wrestling debut in June 2007 and debuted for ROH in October 2015. She was undefeated for nearly two years and made it to the finals of the tournament to crown the first Women Of Honor champion last year before losing to Sumie Sakai. Klein finally captured the gold that eluded her at Final Battle when she pinned Karen Q, Madison Rayne, and Sakai in succession in a four-way elimination match. Vowing to be a fighting champion she then announced that every singles match she had going forward would have the title on the line. For two months she defeated women like Sakai, Jenny Rose, and Britt Baker. Then she ran into trouble.
Mayu Iwatani made her pro wrestling debut in January 2011 for World Wonder Ring Stardom. Over the following eight years she would go from being a winless rookie considered the weakest wrestler in the promotion to “the ace of Stardom”, capturing every championship available and winning a number of notable tournaments as well.
Klein arrived in Stardom in October 2017, teaming with Bea Priestley for the Goddesses Of Stardom tag tournament. Iwatani made her ROH debut last year on April 1 TV as part of the WOH championship tournament. She defeated Hazuki and Deonna Purrazzo but lost to Klein on April 22 TV when she passed out in Klein’s submission move, End Of The Match. Klein and Iwatani faced off a second time on August 18 in Stardom as part of their 5Star Grand Prix tournament with Klein picking up a victory again. Their third encounter occurred on February 10 at Bound By Honor with Klein’s WOH world title on the line. Sumie Sakai was in Iwatani’s corner and Klein had her Camp Klein trainees in hers. None of the outside parties would get involved, however, and Iwatani picked up the surprise win after two top-rope moonsaults.
Prediction: Iwatani capturing the gold couldn’t have come at a better time. Things are bleak in Women Of Honor. Britt Baker jumped ship to AEW and Madison Rayne returned to Impact Wrestling. Tenille Dashwood has been out with injuries for months and there’s been no indication she’ll be back any time soon. Besides Klein and Sakai the only other regular competitor in the division is Jenny Rose. Klein was a strong champion and face for the division and could be again but she has literally beaten every woman in the division, and recently. Iwatani provides some fresh match-ups and some star power that WOH desperately needs. She’s already defended the title in Stardom against Konami and more of that will only help the prestige of the championship. True, she may not be available to ROH as often as Klein but if anything that gives them the opportunity to build up credible challengers in her absence. Tonight Camp Klein gets involved, Sakai takes them out with a high crossbody, and Iwatani retains. Maybe we get a three-way in Madison Square Garden?
7. The Briscoes vs. Villain Enterprises (no disqualifications for the ROH World Tag Team Championship)
At Final Battle The Briscoes won a ladder war over SCU and The Young Bucks to become ten-time ROH tag team champions. The next night they joined forces with Bully Ray, Silas Young, and Shane Taylor to run The Elite out of ROH. They then defeated SCU in a rematch for the titles on January 13 TV, sending Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky packing for Florida as well. But they weren’t done yet. On February 17 TV they also defeated Colt Cabana & Chuckie T in a tag match and put Chuck Taylor through a table in what would be his last appearance for ROH as well.
Marty Scurll introduced PCO and Brody King as his new allies in Villain Enterprises on January 13 TV. Since then the villains have racked up the best record of any act in ROH in 2019 at 8-0 in tag team and trios matches. PCO & King entered the Tag Wars tournament on January 24 and defeated The Kingdom, The Bouncers, Beat Down Clan, and Lifeblood to win the tournament. As a result they earned an entry in the Crockett Cup and this title match. Following their January 26 victory over Finjuice in the finals of Tag Wars the villains brawled around the ringside area with The Briscoes, prompting ROH to make this one no disqualifications.
You know who we’ve barely seen this year? Bully Ray. You know what storyline has been on pause for nearly three months? The formation of the heel Plague stable. You know who a no DQ stipulation favors? Well, in this situation…
Prediction: Chaos. PCO takes some big bumps and no-sells them all. Lots of senseless, unnecessary unprotected chair shots to the head. King appears to have the match won following a Gonzo Bomb to Mark but Bully Ray pulls Todd Sinclair out of the ring and punches him out. Taylor and Young join the festivities and lay waste to the villains. The Briscoes retain and head toward an epic brothers vs. brothers showdown against Guerrillas Of Destiny in Madison Square Garden with both the ROH and IWGP tag titles on the line. Villain Enterprises soothe their wounds by taking the six-man titles from The Kingdom tomorrow night.
8. Jay Lethal vs. Matt Taven (ROH World Championship)
Jay Lethal and Matt Taven have been wrestling each other for ROH gold as far back as June 2013 when Taven defended his TV title against Lethal and Jimmy Jacobs in a three-way. On July 22 TV both men joined Cody in challenging Dalton Castle in a four-way with Castle’s world title on the line. At one point, with the referee distracted, Taven had a visual pin on Castle for over eight seconds. But in the end it was Lethal pinning Castle to capture the world title. Following the “robbery” Taven declared himself the uncrowned world champion and went so far as to have his own purple-strapped “real world title” created. Taven defeated former world champion Castle at Final Battle on December 14 while Lethal defeated former former world champion Cody.
Since Final Battle Lethal has surpassed Samoa Joe for most days as ROH World Champion and Daniel Bryan and Nigel McGuinness for most defenses. He has talked at length in interviews and on the YouTube series The Pinnacle about how much it means to him to defend the title in Madison Square Garden. Lethal is the face of ROH, the epitome of honor, and one of the best babyfaces in wrestling today.
Taven meanwhile has done his best to be the most despicable sociopath he can be. On January 6 TV he spat on the ROH world title. On February 10 at Bound By Honor The Kingdom defeated Lethal, Gresham, and Rush in a trios match with Taven pinning Lethal off of a Climax. On March 3 TV he issued another open challenge defense of his fake title to anyone but Lethal. Lethal’s best friend Jonathan Gresham responded and won by DQ a minute and a half later when The Kingdom gang-attacked him. This was the final straw. With the aid of Lifeblood Lethal spirited Taven’s fake world title away from him and Lethal proceeded to destroy the belt with the aid of TK O’Ryan’s baseball bat and Vinny Marseglia’s ax. The Kingdom gained a measure of revenge the following week, attacking Lethal and Gresham again and putting Lethal through a table, but was it enough to gain him the momentum he needs?
Prediction: Taven is spiralling. Losing his hair in Mexico, the constant insults and overlooking from ROH management, Lethal destroying his beloved purple title belt… Another loss here will only fuel that. Then losing the six-man titles the same weekend? I’m looking forward to see how broken and deranged he can get. Taven will be world champion one day (maybe even this year) but Lethal has a date with Scurll in New York City.
Up next it’s our final Road To G1 Supercard show on March 31 in Baltimore, Maryland. Let’s go with Villain Enterprises vs. Lethal, Gresham, & Cobb, Rush vs. Tracy Williams, and Shane Taylor vs. Dalton Castle.
Find Harley on Twitter @talkinghonor and listen to he and Emily Fear discuss all things ROH every Wednesday on the PWTorch livecast “Talking Honor.”