Many were calling it the biggest Ring of Honor (ROH) match since 2012, when two guys now making hay in WWE blew off their multi-year program.
It came at a huge time for the company, just weeks away from landing a national cable television deal on Destination America, as a lead-in for a show that a lot of signs indicate is ready to be overtaken as the #2 pro wrestling promotion in the United States.
The Battle of the Belts, as the feud was billed, came at the end of one of ROH's rare televised pay-per-view (PPV) events. After an opening hour that felt a bit like a television taping, the three matches that lead into World champ Jay Briscoe vs. Television champ Jay Lethal were all strong - so the Jays had to keep a crowd that might have been worn out at the end of an exciting night - one that already started late with a 9PM Eastern opening bell.
The champs were up to the task.
From the entrances alone, you knew that engaging the New York fans was not going to be an issue. The audience was split, and they were loud. ROH played it up perfectly by having the two men - who had made this an extremely personal issue during the build - adhere to the Code of Honor by shaking hands before the bell. Camera found Briscoe & Lethal's families in the crowd, adding to the proverbial big fight feel, and helping us to forget that the outcome was predetermined.
Shoot fight atmosphere gave way to pro wrestling shenanigans, but anyone who was concerned that the bookers were going to schmoz the finish were relieved (or, expecting a swerve, became even more concerned) as, one by one, referee Todd Sinclair and on-screen authority figure Nigel McGuinness sent Lethal's cronies in the House of Truth faction to the locker room.
In contrast to some of the bouts they followed, especially a fun, over-the-top Bullet Club vs. Kingdom six-man, Briscoe and Lethal worked a very deliberate pace. Rather than losing fans who'd already seen big spots, the style only served to ramp up the tension. Everything mattered, and when they finally did get to the frenetic third act and ROH-style false finishes, the building was electric.
Lethal survived a Jay Driller through the timekeeper's table, and some ridiculously stiff-looking lariats...among other things. Briscoe kicked out of two Lethal Injections, and was only pinned after taking his own finisher and another of his opponent's.
There's a lot to think, write and talk about as the African-American that Sinclair Broadcasting had doing press on overdrive all week unseats the self-proclaimed redneck who was once embroiled in controversy for his right-wing views as the face of the company at a crucial point in the promotion's history.
For tonight, however, we can celebrate a match that lived up to the hype - a four-plus star affair that capped an epic program, and gives a lifelong wrestling fan his first major title thirteen years after he started working indies in his home state of New Jersey at sixteen years old.
For full results from Best in the World, click here. Look for recaps and photos from the event over the weekend.
And congratulations to Jay Lethal, the Greatest First Generation Wrestler in the World, and new Ring of Honor World champion.