Looking at this card earlier this week with my fellow Cagesiders in TMadeBurner's weekly ROH TV viewing party, I knew it was going to be something else, if only for how much they're stuffing into it - nine (nine!) matches - including all of their titles on the line. Sitting down to go through each of them, though...this show is kind of ridiculous, y'all.
And the events of the past few weeks have made it so there are three New Japan belts represented, and some Samoan dude that seems to be a pretty big deal to Ring of Honor (ROH) fans involved, too.
So, without further ado, let's dive into the bouts you'll get if you plunk down your hard earned money at 7:30PM Eastern on Sunday, March 1st for ROH's first pay-per-view (PPV) of 2015 - 13th Anniversary from Las Vegas, Nevada!
B.J. Whitmer vs. Roderick Strong
We're working our way up to the many main event caliber matches, so don't bail on me when you see this one and say, "but Sean, you said this card was going to be good?"
In all seriousness and fairness, this should be a hard-hitting affair between two veterans. And while your interest will probably depend on your level of connection to the two participants, both long-time ROH roster members that have attracted and repelled the audience at various points throughout their careers, there is a lengthy program that merits the "grudge match" subtitle to this one.
At Final Battle 2013, Strong and Whitmer joined with Jimmy Jacobs to form The Decade, a faction of guys with tenure in ROH who would decide which newcomers were worthy of working for the venerable independent. They bullied their way around the mid-card, until Roddy slowly began to turn face during his feud with Cedric Alexander. Largely driven by BJ's favortism toward the group's "young boy" (a concept from puroresu that is a cross between a fraternity pledge and professional apprentice), Adam Page, Strong distanced himself until Whitmer and Page attacked him on an episode of ROH TV.
Matchmaker Nigel McGuinness booked the Messiah of the Backbreaker against Page at Final Battle 2014, and Strong was victorious and now gets his shot at his former partner. They've been taking very 'Reality' Era shots at each other on social media, and will now brawl in Vegas.
Maria Kanellis vs. O.D.B.
Ah, the rare and elusive "Women of Honor" match. Also, one of several bouts featuring folks who walked away from TNA, and one of at least two stemming from a larger issue between The Briscoes and the faction whose most successful affiliate is former ROH champ Adam Cole (on the shelf with a shoulder injury), but that is most notable for the fact that its most powerful member is female - former WWE Diva Maria Kanellis.
Throughout the battles between Dem Boys and The Kingdom, the Queen has used the Delaware natives' redneck chivalry against them - putting herself between Jay or Mark and her men to stem their violence and allow either Cole, her husband Mike Bennett or Matt Taven to strike. While they may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, Papa Briscoes boys are no dummies, so they went and got the toughest gal they know to remove Maria's excuse for not getting hit.
One Dirty Briscoe, as she's now referring to herself, will look to take out her friend's frustrations on Kanellis. Maria has been angling for a way out of this since it was announced, claiming that she's a manager, not a wrestler. And The Kingdom don't share the multi-time tag champs' reticence to strike a woman, having Superkicked O.D.B. to stave off defeat in six-person intergender tag at a TV taping.
We'll see if the former TNA Knockouts champ can end Maria's reign in Sin City. Hopefully, Kanellis is bluffing a little when she says she can't wrestle, as it would be nice to see these two set a precedent for good women's wrestling in ROH. With Veda Scott and MsChif also involved in the promotion, they could at least occasionally provide a brighter spotlight for some indy workers as they used to do with Sara Del Rey, Allison Danger and Daizee Haze.
Mark Briscoe vs. Moose
Moose is former NFL player Quinn Ojinnaka. He was brought into ROH amid mild fanfare last year after attending a couple of WWE camps and playing a bodyguard in Dragon Gate USA. He was "signed" by R.D. Evans, and turned on him along with Veda Scott to join Stokely Hathaway in Prince Nana's latest Embassy group. They attacked the Briscoes at a house show, and Moose speared Mark on a TV broadcast shortly thereafter.
Voila...feud. At least it's given my favorite Briscoe a chance to cut a few promos about hunting Moose. I'm not sure what to expect here, except for some Redneck Kung Fu! And, really, what else do you need?
Cedric Alexander vs. Matt Sydal
Sydal is WWE cast-off Evan Bourne, who re-upped with ROH as soon as his non-compete expired and has vowed to climb the mountain in the company he started with years ago. Alexander is a show-stealing worker in the mold of a man he feuded with much of last year, Roderick Strong, in that his verbal weakness is the only thing keeping him from major stardom.
The two were recently partners with ACH on a much-buzzed about six-man tag against The Bullet Club on ROH TV. And there was no animosity between them then, nor is there any now. This is a means to get two exciting workers on the show, in a match that can be positioned as needed to stir the crowd. In kayfabe, it'll be spun that the winner is better positioned to challenge for the TV title.
The Addiction vs. The Kingdom vs. The Bullet Club
While it's not heavy on backstory, the talent and charisma on display here should more than make up for it. In terms of workrate, this is a fascinating clash of styles between the power game of NJPW's Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows, the sports entertaining of Michael Bennett & Matt Taven and indy legends Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian. Character-wise, you have cool heels from The Bullet Club, true douchebags in The Kingdom and a pair capable of playing anywhere on the alignment spectrum with The Addiction.
Machine Gun and his partner reclaimed the IWGP Heavyweight tag straps shortly before being placed in this match, and Bennett & Taven are rumored for a big push, along with Maria, in New Japan after a successful tour there late last year, so this could have ramifications across the Pacific, both on NJPW shows and the upcoming co-promoted War of the Worlds and Global Wars events.
And it will almost certainly be used as the impetus for some ROH tag title matches against whichever team emerges from the championship was between reDRagon and the Bucks. Tag threeways can be a mess, but these guys have the skill and experience to make it work for them. This match could main event some shows; in Vegas it's not even the top half of the card.
ACH vs. AJ Styles
Just a dream match between what are essentially two versions of the same performer at different stages of their career got more interesting when Styles became a two-time IWGP Heavyweight champ. AJ has stated that one of his goals for 2015 is to finally claim the top prize in Ring of Honor. To do that, he has to keep rolling through a talented young competitor in ACH.
The young Texan is looking to climb the ranks in ROH himself, but so far hasn't been able to break through into the upper ranks. He's fueded on and off with Jay Lethal for the TV title, and was one of the first matches for former WWE champ Alberto El Patrón (Del Rio) when he signed with the Sinclair Broadcasting owned promotion. But all of those have ended in defeat, as did the recent six-man with Sydal & Alexander against Styles and his Bullet Club cohorts, Matt & Nick Jackson.
Will he break through at 13th Anniversary, or just help steal the show again?
reDRagon (c) vs. The Young Bucks - ROH Tag Team Championship match
These two teams are operating at a ridiculously high level right now, and their feud could one day be talked about as one of the all-time best.
It's a very 21st century program, as well, since both teams are ostensibly rudos, but are beloved by fans because they're so good at being jerks - and because they're among the best pro wrestlers working today. They have traded both the belts they'll be fighting for in Vegas and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship that the Bucks just reclaimed from Fish & O'Reilly in Osaka.
Their last dance on (i)PPV was a mindblowing affair at 2014's War of the Worlds. Can they do it again? And will the Jackson take another set of tag straps from reDRragon, ending their third tour with the ROH belts just as they did their inaugural run as IWGP Jr. Heavyweight kings?
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Alberto El Patrón - ROH Television Championship match
The success of Alberto Del Rio - now El Patrón - since leaving WWE must have guys like Kofi Kingston wondering if they should punch social media marketers. Alberto will be gunning for his third title since leaving Vince McMahon's employ. More impressively, he has connected with crowds all over North America, including during his brief run with ROH.
The long-reigning TV champ has similarly been recharged by exiting a nationally televised promotion. Lethal in ROH has been focused and, since aligning himself with Truth Martini, as successful as he is arrogant. Both in the ring and on the microphone, Jay has made the case that the Television Championship is the most legitimate and prestigious title in the company - and he has a point. Facing off with the AAA and WWL World champ in his first ROH PPV appearance only strengthens his argument.
Set-up by El Patrón's very first promo in the company, where Jay felt Alberto disresepcted him by overlooking his championship by targeting the ROH title, this has quickly become a very hot program. These two matching up at this time feels like capturing lightning in a bottle, and this is probably the match on the card to which I'm most looking forward.
Jay Briscoe (c) vs. Tommaso Ciampa vs. Michael Elgin vs. Hanson - Four corner Survival Match for the ROH World Championship
ROH Champ Jay Briscoe is a crazy person.
Not in the Dean Ambrose wacky lunatic way. But in the, "screw it, I'll fight everybody" kind of way (and the homophobic bigot kind of way, but we'll stick mostly to kayfabe here). When three men with legtimate claims to #1 contender status couldn't fight their way to a clear picking order, the champ told McGuinness he was "all in" for the PPV.
Now, one of only two men to ever hold the company's top prize twice will face the man he defeated for the title, "Unbreakable" Michael Elgin, a competitor so unhinged he was almost kicked out of ROH for attacking officials, The Sicilian Psycopath Tommaso Ciampa, and a hoss who has torn through the company over the past year, the "War Beard" Hanson - all in the same match.
"Four corners survival" matches in Ring of Honor are typically non-elimination matches fought under tag rules. Each man has a corner, and has to be tagged in (or more often, tag themselves in) to be the legal man. They can, however, drop to the floor to kick the crap out of anyone who finds themself there.
All four men as capable of impressive acts of violence, so this will probably be the proverbial slobberknocker. Suspense about the outcome mostly comes down to whether the booking team deems Briscoe the best man to lead the company while Cole is rehabbing his shoulder, or if Ciampa is ready for a shot. Elgin lost the belt under a cloud of rumor that management was pissed at him for a variety of professional missteps, and while Hanson has his value, creatively speaking, its doubtful that he needs or merits the top prize to be of use.
And there you have it, Cagesiders. If you're a newcomer to ROH, does this card entice you to buy? If you're a regular follower of the biggest indy, is this a good representation of the promotion?
Tell us what you're looking forward to, who you're picking or how you'd book it below. And join us in a live open thread tomorrow night where we'll post results and pop or boo along with the crowd in Vegas!