RADICAN’S TAKE: Athena vs. Willow Nightingale knock down barriers at ROH Death Before Dishonor PPV in spectacular fashion

By Sean Radican, PWTorch columnist (Twitter: @SR_Torch)

Athena and Willow Nightingale (photo credit AllEliteWrestling.com)


ROH’s Death Before Dishonor PPV seemed like it was going to be a throwaway PPV, especially if you’re a hardcore fan that follows everything. Depending how much wrestling you watch, there’s a ton of wrestling to digest between WWE and AEW programming. If you take it a step further, there’s Impact and MLW. If you take it a step even further, there’s NJPW on AXS and ROH weekly TV on HonorClub, which is only available to subscribers. Don’t even get me started about all of the indepedendent wrestling available for fans to consume on multiple streaming platforms.

Death Before Dishonor aired on Friday night opposite WWE Smackdown and then AEW Rampage. ROH booker and owner Tony Khan put together the lineup for Death Before Dishonor at the last minute and to his credit, he knows how to build one hell of a card seemingly out of nowhere.

The show was supposed to feature Mark Briscoe challenging Claudio Castagnoli for the ROH World Championship, but Mark had to pull out due to an injury. Khan waited until after Blood & Guts on Dynamite this past Wednesday to announce that Pac, who turned on The B.C.C. during Blood & Guts, would challenge Castagnoli for the ROH World Championship.

Also announced for the card was Athena defending the ROH Women’s World Championship against Willow Nightengale in the rubber match of their series of matches between ROH TV and AEW. They had split their first two matches with Athena beating Willow Nightengale on the March 9 episode of ROH TV and Nightengale beating Athena in the semi-final round of the Owen Hart Tournament on the July 14 edition of Rampage. Their rubber match was announced on July 16 for Death Before Dishonor.

The match was not announced ahead of time for the main event slot although Athena mentioned at the Death Before Dishonor Media Scrum that Khan had told her they were giving her the ball at the PPV. PWInsider reported shortly before the show that Athena vs. Nightengale was set to main event the show. The fact that the match was promoted as the main event doesn’t make what Athena and Nightingale achieved at Death Before Dishonor any less special.

Nightengale and Athena broke down barriers when they main evented Death Before Dishonor. They not only became the first women to main event an ROH PPV, but also the first African American Women to main event an ROH PPV. It was truly a historic night.

Athena was asked at the Death Before Dishonor Media scrum about what it meant to her for two African American women to headline the PPV. Athena mentioned there were times when she was on the independents that she was the only African American woman on the show she was on.

ROH announcer Ian Riccaboni wrote in a threat on Twitter about what the main event meant to him. We had two women of color main event our Ring of Honor Pay Per View,” wrote Riccaboni. “It was the best women’s match @ringofhonor has ever had, period. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of. It was easy to get lost in the moment. I’m so proud of the history made.”

Riccaboni later went on to mention that he has a black brother in law and a black sister in law, which made him appreciate the match even more. “There are a few reasons this is extra-special to me, ” wrote Riccaboni. “Athena and Willow have been absolutely undeniable. To see them rise has been incredible. And… I have a black sister in law and black brother in law. They rule but racism still exists and it sucks. There are still weird looks. Their family is treated different sometimes. I can’t begin to put myself in their shoes. It’s 2023. It makes my heart explode that Ring of Honor and AEW is for everyone. Come as you are and enjoy wrestling. It’s a culture thing.”

In a true shocker, Athena also mentioned at the media scrum that she had never main evented a show in her career. Both women delivered an incredible match in the ring that saw the crowd get hotter and hotter as the match went on. The match featured several “love letters” to women wrestlers from ROH past, as moves from MsChif, Sara del Rey, Alexis Laree (Mickie James), Allison Danger, Daffney, Sumie Sakai, and Daizee Haze were used to pay homage to the big female names from the past. Athena later tweeted about the women that were paid tribut to during the match in a response to a tweet that showed highlights of her match against Willow matched up to clips of the women from ROH’s past hitting the same moves.

You never know when wrestling is going to surprise you and create magic, but ROH Death Before Dishonor did that on Friday night. Nightengale and Athena had to follow a very strong string of matches on the undercard and they managed to put on the best match of the night.

The two key nearfalls late in the match saw Athena kick out of Nightingale’s Babe with the Powerbomb finish and Nightingale subsequently kicked out of Athena’s O-face finisher a short time later. I gasped along with the crowd for each of those kickouts.

The finish of the match was particularly dramatic. Athena hit a second O-face and then applied the crossface right after. Nightengale struggled as the crowd got hotter and hotter. Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman added to the drama perfectly begging for Nightengale not to quit. Nightengale struggled and eventually passed out forcing the ref to call for a stoppage after he checked her arm.

My hope for the future is that women main eventing PPVs becomes the norm in wrestling. I say this not because women deserve to main event because they’ve proven their ability to wrestle and tell stories both in and out of the ring is worthy of the spot. They also deserve the opportunity to show they can draw an audience by being promoted and positioned as the main event ahead of major PPVs in the future.

As for Athena and Nightengale, hopefully they are both showcased even further in AEW in the near future. Athena still has more to do with the ROH Women’s World Championship. She moved to 32-0 in ROH and is awaiting her next challenger.

Nightingale’s time to shine in AEW should be in the near future. She has delivered so many big moments this year. She was the first woman to main event a NJPW Strong PPV against Mercedes Mone at Resurgence on May 21 when she beat Mone in the finals of the NJPW Strong Women’s Championship. She lost that title to Giulia at NJPW Strong Independence Day: Night 2 on July 5.

Nightingale wasn’t supposed to beat Mone, who according to a report from Fightful called an audible in the ring for Nightingale to win after she was injured during the match. Most recently, Nightingale won the Owen Hart Tournament in AEW beating Ruby Soho in the finals.

Nightingale has delivered in every big situation she’s been put in this year. Whether it was main eventing multiple PPVs between NJPW and ROH or winning the Owen Hart Tournament in AEW, she has stepped up to the plate and showed why her combination of having the charisma of the ultimate babyface and the offense of Dr. Death Steve Williams is a great formula for her to ride to the top of the card permanently in the near future.

What Nightingale needs is consistency with her push. It’s understandable why she lost to Giulia, as her win wasn’t planned and that although winning the ROH World Women’s Championship would have been an amazing moment, Nightingale having a run on top on ROH TV would feel like a step down.

Now feels like it is time to begin to position Nightingale for a long reign with the AEW Women’s Championship, so hopefully a feud against Toni Storm is in the cards in the near future. Nightingale still has the momentum of winning the Owen Hart Tournament behind her from a storyline standpoint, but it time for her to have some consistency in winning a championship and establishing herself as a top star afterwards with an impressive title reign.

Friday night was truly historical and for Athena and Nightingale, it should launch them both to bigger and better things in the future as the faces of the AEW Women’s division alongside the likes of Brit Baker, Toni Storm, and Jade Cargill.

Contact Sean at pwtorchsean@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @SR_Torch

RECOMMENDED NEXT: KELLER’S TAKE: Why LA Knight isn’t being pushed to the top already, and why his sustained push is as much in his hands as anyone in power in WWE

OR CHECK OUT THIS REPORT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: AEW Collision results (7/22): Powell’s live review of House of Black vs. The Acclaimed and Billy Gunn for the AEW Trios Titles, Jay White and Juice Robinson vs. Action Andretti and Darius Martin, Skye Blue vs. Taya Valkyrie

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply