1. Chris Hero vs. Ruckus - 3
This was a decent opener that I enjoyed for the most part. Things I liked were the Toronto crowd, ROH's first Canadian audience, who seemed to (at least at this point) be really enthusiastic about everything, Ruckus' eating of, and selling, of Hero's barrage of strikes near the end, and Hero's finishing big boot that looked gruesome. Ruckus isn't well received by most, and while technically limited, I'm not as down on him as a lot of people, feeling he provides a bit of a unique presence in an otherwise relatively bland roster, and can be key in mid-card filler like this. Things I did not like, well, for starters out on the floor Ruckus was down and Hero came over to stomp him, yet missed completely, hitting the metal guardrail covering instead--this looked extraordinarily bush league. Later, Hero got knocked from the ring, only to stand in the aisle for literally a half-minute playing dazed, waiting, as Ruckus finally got it together enough to do a somersault out onto him, only for all of that build to be wasted on a really unimpressive flip that barely cleared the ropes and didn't have much impact.
2. Delirious vs. Kenny Omega - 4
Listen closely, as Omega enters from the back, an obnoxious drunk guy screams, "who the fuck is this guy?" Well, had the disgruntled loud mouth surfed YouTube, he'd be familiar with everyone's favorite "24/7 championship" Internet celebrity, as Omega's antics wrestling in lakes, sand dunes, and patios are that of legend. He also busts out a ridiculous Ryu pose in the aisle--reason enough to give him some sympathy feigned interest. Delirious works best in environments like this, new areas where the locals aren't extremely disinterested with his tired, insultingly one-dimensional routine. In most ROH towns, people have long since grown tired of his lame character and audible gibberish. Omega's selling is a bit over the top, and it's hard to get emotionally invested in a Delirious performance, but those things aside, they put together a fairly fun little match, with a few reversals (Delirious' block of Kenny's Ryu-inspired thrust with a crossface submission was tits) and spots that didn't feel as contrived or forced as you might think.
3. Sara Del Ray vs. Jennifer Blake - 3
This was Blake's ROH debut and she didn't look how I'd expected, coming out dressed like a Miami Dolphins cheerleader and looking like Jessica Simpson in that lackluster Dukes of Hazard movie. Sara, on the other hand, looked dumpy per usual, and was giving a pretty flat performance. This gets most its points from Blake's spirited performance, as it saw her doing Kobashi's patented "Machine Gun Chops" in the corner, a dangerous suicide dive to the floor, and eating Del Ray's brutal axe kick right on the top of her pretty little blonde head.
4. Erick Stevens vs. Go Shiozaki - 5
This was a nice change of pace, a real physical, hard-hitting match. Go finding a personality, having aligned himself with Sweat & Sour Inc., has done him well. Shiozaki refusing to shake Stevens' hand to start was a nice touch and helped set the tone. As I've said, this was about the intensity, and they found a nice groove and just brought it for our pleasure. My favorite moment happened when Stevens was on the other side of the barricade, out in the crowd, and he and Shiozaki exchanged strikes to the delight of the rabid ringside fans. Another highlight saw Go standing on the apron, and Erick, on the floor, clotheslines Shiozaki's legs out from underneath him, then when Go landed on his ass, Stevens drilled him with another lariat. It was nice to see FIP getting an opportunity to shine (by the way, if anyone wants to burn me any of Shiozaki's run as FIP champion, I'll gladly in return send a mystery envelope of discs from the NHO offices) as I'm a big supporter.
The match did go to a time-limit draw, kind of a disappointment, but led to a surprise appearance by Lance Storm, as he and Stevens fought off Sweat & Sour Inc. in a fun, little skirmish.
5. Bryan Danielson vs. Claudio Castagnoli - 8
Wow, this is just a fantastic match, so that being stated upfront, don't expect a lot of details in terms of play-by-play or the complexities of the spots, I deter reading those types of reviews personally, and believe that aspect of the sweet science deserves to be observed visually and not read about. What I can try to convey is the ethos and pathos on display, the appeals to the human condition, and emotional resonance. I watch wrestler's performances in the same way I'd watch those of experienced actors on stage. I could care less, give a flying fuck in fact, about the latest storyline development on WWE's newest episode of TV, or fantasy booking future hypotheticals, give me human connection or get the hell off my TV so I can watch some more Top Cat.
Danielson seems genuinely happy to be there, the Toronto crowd is very receptive, and Bryan's all smiles pre-match. Claudio also comes out to a face response, and while never crossing the line (at this point) into full-blown heel, as the match progresses we see the facade start slipping away on Castagnoli's good guy persona. For as much as Claudio is cheered, the crowd just loves Bryan that much more, and try as he might, for all his attempts to get leverage, Danielson is always capable of finding a way of countering Castagnoli's momentum and getting the advantage back. The match isn't strictly technicality, there's appeals to the crowd and humor, including each guy mocking the other's patented taunts, so don't assume it's just a vapid collection of moves, trust me, there's personality by the truckload if you just look for it. I have some personal favorite moments, mostly small touches, like a desperation dropkick by Danielson at one point, or Claudio's giant swing making me feel like I was watching wrestling in 3-D, but overall this match is more valuable as a whole than worth dissecting into its parts. A testament, and a reminder, to me of how wrestling done well can be marvelously enjoyable in its simplicity.
6. Roderick Strong vs. Naomichi Marufuji - 5
I enjoy watching both of these guys' work, for the most part, but the issue with this particular match is it came off feeling too much like an exhibition, so accordingly, I never felt like I got emotionally invested in it. Surely, there's plenty of neat moments, Marufuji's "coast to coast" dropkick has never looked better, tons of blistering chops and crisp kicks, so it's got all of that going for it. But, outside of the spectacle, this feels borderline soulless, so while I'm totally behind the physicality, the lack of anything else of substance hurts its overall grade. I enjoyed Roderick a touch more, his selling was better, as Naomichi, while fantastic offensively, does little to get over Strong's stuff, plus Roderick broke a submission by sticking his nose over the bottom rope, something I've never seen before. The ending section, full of "fighting spirit"-type bullshit, is fun to watch, save for the logical flaw of way too many kickouts. I came up with a rhyme inspired by Naomichi's trademark finishing maneuver, "Can a man pee while doing the Shiranui?"
7. Nigel McGuinness vs. Kevin Steen - 7
This is a sick, sideshow act of watching Steen get decimated and I loved every minute of it. This match has the most noticeable heel versus face structure, as Canadian Steen is loudly applauded as the North's great, white, doughy hope, while Nigel is booed heavily for being an arrogant British prick. Staying with the theme of physicality, this knocks it up to a whole other level, as the intensity on display is jaw-dropping. Early on, Steen takes one of the most disgusting bumps of 2008, as he gets grabbed by Nigel while standing on top of the ringside barricade, and bodyslammed onto the frame of ring, bouncing off nastily and landing on his head on the floor. It's such a surreal moment, as its not something you'd ever anticipate seeing. I must have watched it back twenty times. Then, they go to a wide shot on a replay, so I then watched it another half-dozen times, now observing the fans' reactions more than the bump itself, and hell, it looks like one guy even fell of the back of the bleachers in disbelief!
From that point on, Kevin is the prey, and Nigel is the calculating hunter, who takes great pleasure and riling up the crowd and putting Steen through huge amounts of discomfort. Most of the match goes that way, with Steen being the sympathetic hero, while Nigel dishes out all kinds of pain his way. But, when Steen does make strides to come back, they're explosive as all hell, including absolutely crushing McGuinness' fucking face with his cannonball-like sommersault into the corner while Nigel's seated, and later, a sommersault from the top turnbuckle out onto Nigel on the floor, one of the rare occasions when this highspot actually looks incredibly dangerous, opposed to some small dude just trying to get his weak flying spots off per usual. Nigel uses the "Sharpshooter" which is a great stab at the Canadian fans, a good example at how dastardly Nigel was here, in just great form. Steen eats all kinds of lariats before finally succumbing to McGuinness in one hell of a title match.
8. Austin Aries and Jay Briscoe vs. Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black - 4
Necro Butcher and Mark Briscoe get involved later on, so, in a manner of speaking you can sort of call this a six-man tag. I'm not a big fan of crowd brawls, it seems like an easy route, unless there's enough preexisting hatred among the competitors to propel the brawling. This, though, actually started innocuously enough, not getting too over the top, but just straddling that line close enough to still feel like a meaningful fight. It stated to deteriorate at an alarming rate, though. Granted, a big, wild brawl is kind of a nice ending to this show, seeing as how the bulk of it was made up of such good, in-ring wrestling, so I didn't detest it outright. But the gassed crowd, my own fatigue (from watching innumerable hours of wrestling in one day), and the lack of direction all added together to pull this match down to the doldrums. It served to further along Necro's eventual desertion of Age of the Fall, and keep an eye on Black who eats a lot of gnarly stuff throughout, but overall you shouldn't go out of your way to see this. This was like a piece in the bigger puzzle, as actions here had ramifications down the road, leading to much better stuff, namely Aries and Jacobs' series of singles matches that shit all over this messy malfeasance.
I borrowed this show from Adam, and kind sir, I know you generally detest watching ROH shows in their entirety by yourself, but I must insist that when I put this back in your possession, please put away your beloved WWE commercial releases and watch this immediately. To steal one of Adam's lines (he used it in connection with McMahon's incarnation of ECW, oddly enough), "this is wrestling", and I'm glad I got the privilege of seeing it.