HEYDORN’S TAKE: ROH’s Pure Championship tournament not just a palette cleanser

BY ZACK HEYDORN, PWTORCH COLUMNIST (@zheydorntorch)


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If you’re able to confine yourself to just a pro wrestling bubble, it would appear to you that the COVID-19 pandemic was over. I’m talking you, in a room, with a television, all the necessary streaming log-ins, and a proper amount of food and drink. If that was your world, then, what pandemic?

As the rest of the world’s entertainment halts and slows to a snail’s pace, the wrestling world is booming. Just in October, we have WWE’s three weekly shows in Raw, Smackdown, and NXT, WWE’s satellite shows 205 Live and Main Event, AEW’s Dynamite and Dark, the New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 tournament, Impact Wrestling’s weekly television, GCW’s The Collective on FiteTV, PPV events that include WWE’s Hell In A Cell and Impact Wrestling’s Bound For Glory, and Ring Of Honor’s Pure Championship tournament. I’m probably forgetting something and I’m also now sweating thinking about all of this content. Plus, again, what pandemic?

If you’ve sacrificed adult responsibilities or parental duties to consume this glorious madness, props to you and expect a call from me seeking time management tips. If you’re picking and choosing, well, pick the ROH Pure Championship tournament. It’s more than just a palette cleanser.

ROH was one of the last companies to the table in terms of putting on a pandemic-era product. The result is not only a responsible product, in which they are instituting health recommendations from the Maryland Athletic Commission, but it’s also an entertaining one that features a drastically different style and presentation than any other company running.

The in-ring action is where it all starts. If you’re looking for flips, dives, or high-risk maneuvers, this tournament will recalibrate that expectation instantly. If you’re looking for pro wrestling that looks and presents like an authentic sporting endeavor, this delivers and then some.

When ROH calls this the Pure Wrestling Tournament, they mean it – so much so that wrestlers aren’t allowed to use close-fisted strikes within their offensive repertoire. The offense is rooted in holds, kicks, pins, and other standard wrestling tropes that send the viewer back to 1950’s wrestling in a time machine. Added excitement and drama are built into each match with usage of time limits as well as an allotted number of rope breaks that allow the participants to use the ropes to break a hold in an effort to stay alive in the match.

Just like in real sports, rules are important here. Not only are they clearly defined, but they are emphasized in an impactful way with visual displays of the time clock along with the available rope breaks per competitor hovering like lingering timeouts in an NFL game. It’s pure competition in the truest sense.

The in-ring action is set up and dramatically framed with in-depth video promos that highlight the competitors in the ring prior to their match. Not only are these wonderfully shot from an artistic perspective, but they give historical perspective on the wrestlers. The “why” is highlighted for each competitor in terms of what makes them tick, the history they may or may not have with an opponent, and why they need to win.

These videos are smart for ROH in that it defines their stars immediately ahead of an important match, but also begins to cultivate long-term audience investment into their characters at a time when wrestling characters are running amuck like the dreaded Ewoks from Star Wars. Most importantly, these videos articulate the goal of each competitor – winning. Jay Lethal and Jonathan Gresham don’t beat around the bush. They want to win. They say their goal out loud, providing clear stakes and a rooting interest for fans out of the gate.

As a company, ROH needed a win like this. Critical acclaim hasn’t come easy for them since Cody and the Elite left to form AEW. This gives them some. It also gives them an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to the wrestling market. They have been showcasing their nuanced differences, but also defining their talent and narrative structure in a way that is believable and fresh.

The Ring Of Honor Pure Championship tournament is drastically different than the other wrestling out there. The “pure” nature plays well without fans, as the focus is on winning a match, not entertaining. The production and vibe mirrors that effort. To that end, because of its uniqueness, it does serve as a palette cleanser in the wild, wild west of pro wrestling’s pandemic era.  It’s not just different, though.

It’s good, too. Really good. Like the title of the tournament, it’s wrestling in its purest form. Stars, stakes, and story – what more do you need?


NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: Don’t hold me to this – WWE Clash Of Champions 2020

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