Wrestling Night in America Reunion: PWTorch columnist Greg Parks is joined by former PWTorch columnist Pat McNeill for a full match-by-match preview of WrestleMania 36
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The last time ROH ran a pay-per-view all by themselves was on March 15 for the 17th Anniversary Show. That was followed by the G1 Supercard event co-presented with NJPW at the beginning of April and Crockett Cup co-presented with NWA at the end of April. This time around it’s just Ring Of Honor left standing on their own two feet to show us where we stand at the halfway point of 2019.
Things have been grim. The recent set of TV tapings in Chicago were universally panned by those in attendance as well as those of us watching at home. Distraction finishes, low blows, and rambling promos that overstayed their welcome marred what little quality wrestling actually took place. On top of that, name attractions like Marty Scurll, Brody King, Bandido, and Jonathan Gresham were away in Japan on extended leave and our tag team champions have yet to appear on a single episode of ROH television since winning the titles almost three months ago. Oh, and don’t get me started on Women Of Honor…
Matt Taven is entering his first pay-per-view as defending ROH World Champion. His challenger is Jeff Cobb, the former TV champion and a man who has yet to be pinned or submitted in ROH since debuting last August. With no gimmicks attached to this one and no multi-man format to provide cloaking the main event will be a true test for Taven as champion and Cobb as a top babyface.
At Best In The World 2018 Taven teamed with his Kingdom partners in a trios match in the opening contest. The main event saw Dalton Castle retain his world title over Cody and Scurll in a three-way. The rest of the card was filled with people like The Young Bucks, Adam Page, Damian Priest, Kushida, Mayu Iwatani, Kagetsu, Hazuki, Hana Kimura, Austin Aries, Tenille Dashwood, Sanada, Evil, and Bushi. A lot can change in one year.
1. Flip Gordon vs. Rush (pre-show)
2. Dalton Castle vs. Dragon Lee
One feud, two matches. Dalton Castle has progressed to stage three of the typical “What do we do with the former babyface world champion now that he’s no longer champion?” story. He went on a losing streak. He turned heel. Now he’s establishing himself as a heel. For some reason that newfound personality shift is being sketched out against fellow heel Rush. Castle challenged the undefeated Rush to a singles match at G1 Supercard on April 6 in Madison Square Garden only to lose in sixteen seconds, partly due to a distraction from his Boys at ringside. As a result he attacked them both. On May 5 TV he pretended to forgive them but beat them up again. They then returned on June 2 TV in an attempt to seek some vengeance of their own and got beat up a third time. Let’s call it a monthly tradition. But there’s plenty of blame to spare. Castle’s also harbored a grudge against Rush over the embarrassing loss. As a result he’s decided to go after Rush’s brother Dragon Lee, vowing to break every bone in Lee’s body.
Flip Gordon, not yet booked for the pay-per-view and not wanting to risk another All In situation, said that he’d fight Rush if Gordon was too much of a coward. Gordon was also invited to join Lifeblood back on May 8 at War Of The Worlds: Buffalo but he’s never mentioned that again since. Real cold, Flip.
Prediction: Rush vs. Gordon has been announced as the free pre-show match available on YouTube and various other outlets. This shouldn’t be seen as a slight against them. If anything it’s a symbolic gesture that ROH views these two as big name stars that may get people to tune in early and stick around for the rest of the show. Castle vs. Rush in a legitimate rematch is clearly the end destination here. The best way to make us invest in that one is to have both guys look strong as we head there. Rush wins clean with The Bull’s Horns; Castle gets the tainted victory after pulling Lee’s mask askew to disorient him and connecting with the Bang-a-rang.
3. WOH World Champion Kelly Klein & Jenny Rose vs. The Allure
Women Of Honor stalwart Kelly Klein captured the world title at Final Battle in December by defeating Sumie Sakai, Madison Rayne, and Karen Q in a four-way match. She held the title for two months before losing it to Stardom superstar Mayu Iwatani at Bound By Honor in February and winning it back at G1 Supercard in April. It was after that match in Madison Square Garden that the landscape of WOH changed when TNA’s former Beautiful People, Angelina Love and Velvet Sky, made their debut. ROH mainstay Mandy Leon immediately turned heel, siding with them, and the trio beat down Klein, Jenny Rose, and Stella Grey. They call themselves The Allure.
Nearly three months after debuting, The Allure have yet to wrestle a single match. Instead they spent the spring spraying people with hairspray, hitting them with shoes, and drawing on their faces with lipstick. I guess everybody handles a midlife crisis in their own way. If this were but one of many stories currently being told in the women’s division it might be excusable. Unfortunately it has become the be-all and end-all of WOH. Everything revolves around The Allure.
Prediction: Exhibit A – during the past two and a half months of ROH television there has been a sum total of one women’s match. It went four minutes. Four minutes of women’s wrestling in ten episodes! Is it any wonder why Rayne, Dashwood, and Britt Baker all packed their bags and took off? Since there are only three babyfaces left in the entire division two of them are teaming up here to take on the team of Love and Leon. Love has been positioned as the leader of The Allure and will obviously be Klein’s next challenger. If this match actually happens, it will be short and she’ll pin Rose with a pump-kick.
4. Jonathan Gresham vs. Silas Young (Pure Rules match)
The ROH Pure Championship existed from February 2004 to April 2006 and was held by the likes of AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness, and Jay Lethal. The rules are somewhat simple. Each wrestler has three rope breaks to prevent submissions and pinfalls. After those three are used up, any submissions or pinfalls in the ropes will be considered legal. Closed fists to the body are also allowed, save for the face and the groin.
Jonathan Gresham and Silas Young were booked to face off in a clash of styles at 17th Anniversary but the match was called off after an encounter with The Kingdom left Gresham unable to compete. Young proceeded to insult Gresham and kick his knee out backstage. The match was rescheduled for April 7 TV and Young stole the victory via a low blow. Gresham was irate and declared Young couldn’t beat him in a fair fight. A rematch came on April 28 TV and Young again stole the victory, hitting Gresham with a hammer behind the referee’s back.
Prediction: For the past two months Young found himself in a one-sided rivalry as Gresham had been in Japan competing in NJPW’s Best Of Super Juniors tournament. To try to raise the ire of “The Octopus” he’s held an exhibition showing off various ways you can get disqualified in a wrestling match and beat up two guys in squid masks. With any luck this match will be the end of all that. Both men use up all their rope breaks. Gresham locks in the octopus. Young makes it to the ropes but it doesn’t matter. Young taps while hanging halfway out of the ring.
5. Jay Lethal vs. Kenny King (match 3 of a Best Of 3 series)
It’s a battle of two ROH veterans and two men who are both due future world title matches. Jay Lethal’s title challenge is owed to him as a result of losing the world title without being pinned, in a ladder match at G1 Supercard. He’ll get his shot to reclaim that gold at the TV tapings on July 20. Kenny King is owed a title match as a result of winning the Honor Rumble at G1 Supercard. He could have probably had that match already if he weren’t so obsessed with Lethal. You see, King challenged Lethal for the world title back in November at Global Wars: Toronto and lost. It hasn’t set well with him.
In the Honor Rumble King hid at ringside, feigning elimination, only to sneak in at the end and dump out both Jushin Thunder Liger and The Great Muta to win the match. Muta spit mist in his face afterward and this led to two months of King pretending to be blind. Everywhere he went he wore dark sunglasses and carried a cane, while still insisting on attempting to call commentary during Lethal’s matches. Finally the ruse was dropped on May 19 TV when King jumped Lethal from behind on stage and beat him up. Frankly, it seems like it was a lot of legwork on his part for very little pay-off.
Whoever’s kayfabe in charge of booking ROH these days decided a best of three series between the two was the solution. The first match came on May 26 TV and King again stole the match, this time via a low blow and his own Lethal Injection. Their second match came one month later on June 23 TV and Lethal won that one on a technicality, being awarded the match on a disqualification after King clubbed him with a microphone. King declared afterward that he intended to win the series on the big PPV stage.
Prediction: To be clear, there’s nothing actually on the line here outside of bragging rights. Win or lose, both men are still guaranteed future world title matches. Lethal, being the ace of ROH, will most assuredly remain near the top of the card in a prominent position. King, though, has been struggling to climb to the top of the ROH hierarchy and stay there. A win over the franchise here may finally be what propels him to the upper echelon for good. Mind you the heel King being owed a world title match against the heel Taven doesn’t seem to add up so it will likely be a case of finding another top babyface to occupy him on the sidelines while he waits out Taven’s title reign. Cobb or Gordon seem like strong candidates.
6. The Briscoes vs. NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis & a mystery partner
The Briscoes have become very strong utility players for ROH over the last few years. Sometimes that’s great, like how they can be booked against nearly anyone and we can be assured the match will be captivating. Sometimes it spreads them a little too thin, like when they’re caught in the middle of three stories simultaneously.
Story 1 – At the end of 2018 The Briscoes aligned with Bully Ray, Silas Young, and Shane Taylor to form a new heel faction. Together they drove The Elite out of ROH and also ended the tenures of Best Friends and Tenille Dashwood. Though the group was never totally official and never branded (I had been calling them The Plague) they appeared together in different formations many times through the first half of 2019. Then the Briscoes slowly went off on their own. They since appear to have been replaced in the faction by new tag team Soldiers Of Savagery.
Story 2 – At G1 Supercard NJPW tag team Guerrillas Of Destiny defeated the Briscoes, L.I.J., and Villain Enterprises in a four-way to both retain the IWGP tag titles and capture the ROH tag titles. G.O.D. would then call the ROH belts worthless pieces of garbage while throwing them across the room. This upset the Briscoes, who have been with ROH since the very first show in 2002. The pairs of brothers clashed with the titles on the line on May 12 for an Honor Club-exclusive match. G.O.D. stole the victory (I feel like I’ve typed that phrase a lot in this column) after Tama Tonga clubbed Jay Briscoe with a title belt and grabbed a handful of tights. The Briscoes, clearly the babyfaces in this feud, demanded satisfaction. They’ll get it on July 20 for another Honor Club-exclusive match, this time a street fight with the titles on the line.
Story 3 – On April 14 TV the Briscoes defeated the team of Jeff Cobb and NWA National Champion Willie Mack to qualify for the NWA’s Crockett Cup tag team tournament. That tournament took place on April 27 and the Briscoes beat The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express in the first round only to be eliminated from the tournament via disqualification in the second round. At that time both Briscoes as well as their opponents, PCO and Brody King, were wielding chairs, yet it was only Mark and Jay who were punished for it. Outraged, they declared war on the NWA and have since accosted both NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis and new NWA National Champion Colt Cabana (who won the title from Mack at the same Crockett Cup).
Prediction: So this night the Briscoes are the heels, spurned outlaws lashing out at a promotion they feel disrespected them. Their vengeance was targeted at NWA champions Aldis and Cabana but a leg injury has resulted in Cabana being forced to bow out of the event. Instead Aldis has teased that his replacement partner is a brand new NWA signee. (So no, it won’t be the other NWA champion, NWA Women’s Champion Allysin Kay). There have been no further hints dropped at the identity of the mystery partner so I honestly have no ideas. Could it be NWA president Billy Corgan’s former tag partner, James Iha? Sure, let’s go with that. In the end Iha tries for his finishing move, Cherub Rock, but instead falls to a Jay Driller and froggy-bow combo. The Briscoes earn themselves another shot at the NWA tag titles currently held by Villain Enterprises.
7. Villain Enterprises vs. Lifeblood (ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Championship)
There’s a dark cloud hanging over this match and his name is Bully Ray. Lifeblood have had issues with Ray and his cronies for months. When the babyface faction formed in February there were six of them. Since then David Finlay got injured, Juice Robinson returned to Japan, and Ray put Tenille Dashwood through a table backstage, ending her ROH career. Bandido also skipped off to Japan for Best Of Super Juniors and, honestly, hasn’t shown much enthusiasm about being a Lifer even while in America. For the past significant while it’s been Mark Haskins and Tracy Williams holding down the fort. They invited Flip Gordon to join their group back at the start of May but it’s been almost two months without an answer so he seems less than eager at the prospect. Enter PJ Black.
Black arrived in ROH back in November and flitted with a heel attitude, likely due to the influence of Johnny Mundo and Worldwide Underground during his tenure in Lucha Underground. A series of losses and a skydiving accident made him question his decisions, though, and Black turned himself around. On June 2 TV he approached Haskins and Williams and expressed interest in joining Lifeblood. His overenthusiasm seemed to scare them off in the same way that Gordon’s distant aloofness has made him so desirable. However, one week later on June 9 TV, Black attempted to save the two Lifers from a four-on-two beat down and got put through a table for his troubles. If anything, that showed his commitment. A trios victory with Black, Haskins, & Williams defeating Shinobi Shadow Squad on June 16 TV was enough to earn them a shot at the six-man titles.
Where Lifeblood have been struggling to add new members to their dwindling crew Bully Ray has been succeeding. Ray, Shane Taylor, and Silas Young lost to the team of Haskins, Robinson, & Gordon in an impromptu street fight at G1 Supercard. Ray has since told Lifeblood to go to hell, implied that he’s slept with Haskins’ wife, pulled a fan backstage to threaten him, lost to Tracy Williams in a no DQ match at State Of The Art on June 2, and willingly thrown away a TV main event to take a 27-second DQ loss. That last one came due to Soldiers Of Savagery, the newest tag team in ROH. S.O.S. debuted on May 12 TV, attacking Lifeblood while a confused Ray and Taylor looked on, wondering who these new men were. They made their second appearance on June 9 TV, again attacking Lifeblood, though this time Taylor appeared to be directing traffic with the Soldiers following his lead.
But none of those guys are in this match. This is Lifeblood vs. Villain Enterprises. The villains won the six-man titles from The Kingdom back in March. They defended them a couple times, then Marty Scurll and Brody King both went off to Japan, leaving PCO to wrestle a bunch of singles matches. Now they’re back and will defend their titles here, walking right into the middle of a feud that doesn’t concern them. Or does it?
Prediction: The big story surrounding Villain Enterprises right now is that they will be debuting a new, fourth member either this Friday at the pay-per-view or the following night at the TV tapings. As far as I see it there are three likely candidates.
Flip Gordon has a long history with Marty Scurll through their friendships with The Elite. Gordon has evaded answering Lifeblood’s invitation for months. Could that be because he intends to align with his old Marty & Flip Take Japan partner in an attempt to lure back to ROH some of the former fans who left for AEW? Gordon being slotted on the pre-show could be a hint that they have something else of significance for him on the main card later in the night.
PJ Black started his time in ROH with a bit of a villainous edge to him. He claims he’s found the light but is he perhaps a little too eager to join Lifeblood? Could it all be an elaborate ruse orchestrated to ensure that the six-man titles stay with VE?
My third candidate is, unfortunately, still a question mark. In a recent column for ROHwrestling.com Kevin Eck wrote that a former ROH tag champion is looking to make his return this weekend. Based on the list of former tag champions the top candidate seems to be Matt Sydal but he’s not an obvious fit for Villain Enterprises. Eck also wrote that “an international star who competed in ROH in the past” will be returning to the company full-time in the future. The idea of adding a fourth member to VE was first discussed by Scurll and King while they were away in Japan. My best theory is that the new member is a Japanese wrestler they befriended while overseas. If you’ve got any good guesses on who that could be, tweet them at me.
As for the actual title match, it could go either way as we could see any combination of Gordon, Ray, Soldiers Of Savagery, or another new VE member get involved. But let’s keep things simple and just say that Ray screws Lifeblood out of the titles. Lifeblood look to a match against Ray & S.O.S. for revenge while Shinobi Shadow Squad finally get a shot at the six-man titles they’ve been chasing. The one silver lining is that sharing a defeat here leads Williams and Haskins to officially accept Black into their group.
8. Shane Taylor vs. Bandido (ROH World Television Championship)
Shane Taylor slowly built himself up throughout 2018, raising himself assuredly from the lower midcard depths to being positioned as a serious threat, and it earned him a TV title match against Jeff Cobb on November 11 TV. Taylor lost in seven minutes but looked maybe the best he ever had and vowed that they weren’t done with one another. The rematch came at 17th Anniversary on March 15 and Cobb won out again, though it took him nearly twice as long to put away Taylor the second time. Taylor was getting better but Cobb was just too good. If he wanted to take the gold it would require some extenuating circumstances.
Those circumstances came to be at War Of The Worlds: Toronto on May 9 when Taylor and Cobb were booked alongside Brody King and Hirooki Goto in a four-way with the TV title on the line. After Cobb planted King with a Tour Of The Islands the title retention seemed in his grasp, only for Taylor to dump Cobb to the floor and hit his own Greetings From 216 on King for the pin. Luckily for Taylor, two weeks later Cobb would declare that he had no interest in a rematch or trying to reclaim his TV title. He had bigger things in mind…
In Taylor’s first match after winning the title he lost clean to Bandido on May 12 TV. It was an inauspicious start to his title reign but it set up this match here.
Prediction: This is Taylor’s first defense. Bandido lost at 17th Anniversary to Rush and lost at G1 Supercard to Dragon Lee in a three-way also involving Taiji Ishimori. Will a star of his magnitude really lose at his third pay-per-view in a row? Apparently. Taylor just won the belt and has vowed to hold it for a long time, promising to shatter Lethal’s record of most days and most defenses. That starts here but it will take an appearance from his new buddies, The Soldiers Of Savagery, to put away the luchador.
9. Matt Taven vs. Jeff Cobb (ROH World Championship)
It took over eight years but Matt Taven finally captured the one title that eluded him at G1 Supercard when he climbed the ladder before Lethal or Scurll could and pulled down the ROH world title. Taven became only the second grand slam champion in ROH history after Christopher Daniels and remains one of just a handful of people to have held gold in ROH, NJPW, and CMLL. Since then he’s been using every trick in the heel handbook to hang onto his title.
Taven retained against PCO at War Of The Worlds: Toronto on May 9 but that took the combined efforts of TK O’Ryan, Vinny Marseglia, an ax, a railroad spike, and a referee who’s terrible at his job counting three even though PCO kicked out. In response O’Ryan and Marseglia were banned from ringside for all future title defenses. Two nights later on May 11 at War Of The Worlds: Grand Rapids Taven retained against Mark Haskins via a low blow. (I feel like I’ve typed that phrase a lot in this column.) Then on May 19 TV Taven retained against Flip Gordon thanks to Gordon getting distracted by Marseglia’s red balloons. He finally faced all three of those men one more time in Defy Or Deny at State Of The Art on June 2 and defeated them all once again (PCO via disqualification, Haskins via a handful of tights, and Gordon clean for once). As a result Gordon can never challenge for the world title again so long as Taven holds it.
Jeff Cobb has been undefeated in singles matches in ROH since debuting for the company last August. In fact he has only lost once and that was being pinned by Will Ospreay in a tag match at Honor Rising on February 23. He also holds the best record of anyone in ROH this year at 11-0. After losing the TV title without actually losing, Cobb addressed his future on May 26 TV. He made it clear that he was putting the TV title behind him and setting his sights on the top prize in the promotion. A pinfall over former world champion Jay Lethal in a four-way on June 16 TV was the punctuation mark.
Prediction: As far as spoilers go, Cobb heading to Japan eight days after this event and staying there until mid-August to compete in NJPW’s G1 Climax seems like a good indicator of who leaves this one with the gold. Yes, it takes all the mystery out of the result and leaves us with another predictable ROH PPV main event, just like when Cody challenged back at Final Battle. We can only take solace in the fact that, while Cobb might not be winning the ROH title here, you will get to see him wrestle premier singles matches against people like Tetsuya Naito, Toru Yano, Jay White, and Jon Moxley. Whew.
The only reason to give Cobb his first title match here instead of delaying it until sometime in the fall is to give Taven something else to brag about. Cobb is going to lose at least a couple times in the G1 Climax so let’s pre-empt that by having Taven take that first victory, ending the undefeated streak and sending Cobb away for a month and a half. Since it’s ROH in 2019, though, there will be shenanigans galore. Cobb hits a Tour Of The Islands but accidentally takes out referee Todd Sinclair in the process. O’Ryan and Marseglia show up, Cobb fights them off, and Taven wins via a low blow.
Up next it’s Mass Hysteria on July 21 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Let’s go with Soldiers Of Savagery vs. Black & Williams, Jonathan Gresham vs. Rhett Titus, and Sumie Sakai vs. Tasha Steelz.
Find Harley on Twitter @talkinghonor and listen to he and Emily Fear discuss all things ROH every Wednesday on the PWTorch livecast “Talking Honor.”