By Jason Powell
-The Ring of Honor event that was held on Saturday night in Hopkins, Minnesota left me more encouraged about the company's national viability than ever. I pulled into the parking lot roughly 30 minutes before bell time and was pleasantly surprised to see how many cars were already there. I even speculated that there was another event being held in the complex until I noticed how many ROH and pro wrestling related t-shirts that many of the attendees were wearing.
I was out of the town the last time ROH was in Hopkins, but I have attended past ROH events in Minnesota and the past crowds seemed to consist mostly of the the familiar faces of diehard fans who can be seen at most independent pro wrestling events. Once I figured out that everyone in the parking lot was there for the ROH show, I wondered how many of them were ROH regulars and how many were casual fans who just decided to go to the community center because there was a pro wrestling event held close to home.
Once the show got underway, it was very cool to see how passionate and knowledgeable the overwhelming majority of the fans were. The bulk of these fans follow the product, know the storylines, and view the ROH wrestlers as stars. Minnesota has never been an ROH hotbed, but the growth in this market over the years is very impressive and encouraging.
-Kyle O'Reilly is going to be a player in this industry for years to come. It's been fun to watch his development over the years. He was such a scrawny guy who looked like a throwback jobber when he started, but he's slowly but surely added muscle mass to the point that he looks the part. His in-ring work is excellent, he has really come into his own on the mic, and he has as much natural charisma as anyone in the company. If he's not on the WWE developmental radar then there's a real flaw in the scouting department.
-Wasn't Bobby Fish once known as a guy who lacked personality and mic skills? I was apprehensive when I heard that Fish was going to host a regular talk show segment because of that reputation, but he was great in his role as the antagonist with the fun Cheeseburger on Saturday night. The Red Dragon tag team is special. They are excellent in the ring that they probably would have been able to get by on that alone for a while. I assumed they would be placed with a manager who could do the talking for them, but instead they stepped up and created strong individual personas. They are more than just a good in-ring duo, they are a great overall act.
-Cedric Alexander is another young ROH wrestler to keep an eye on. He and Caprice Coleman were a solid team, but Cedric is starting to come into his own as a singles performer. His confidence has noticeably grown and it shows in the way he is able to play to the crowd during his matches in a much more believable manner. He and O'Reilly had a good match that was marred only by Alexander slipping off the top rope. It looked ugly, but fortunately he was able to get up and keep going moments later as if nothing had happened.
-New ROH Champion Michael Elgin had a good night. The in-ring aspect is rarely a problem, but he showed something when he held up his end of the verbal segment that set up his main event match against Matt Hardy. He seemed more poised on the mic than I've heard him in the past. The bad news is that one ROH casual fan friend and another friend who was new to ROH both commented afterward that Elgin didn't do much for them. The good news is that the live crowd seemed into him and there were no signs of the fans turning on him now that he's won the title.
-Matt Hardy was a pro. This was expected to be his final match with the company. There was no boo-boo facing or going through the motions. Rather, Hardy worked really hard in the main event and seemed to work even more aggressively than he normally does. The passionate promo in which he presented his Iconic Title to Maria was laugh out loud funny. If this was his final night in the company, then he went out on a high note.
-The only disappointments were that Adam Cole, Michael Bennett, and Roderick Strong were involved in tag matches and didn't get a chance to shine. All three were simply role players on this night. It made sense for the sake of the card so I totally understand it, but it was still disappointing on a personal level because I was hoping to see all three men work more meaningful matches in person. Maybe next time.
-Does anyone know why booker Hunter Johnston wears his Delirious mask when he watches the shows? I know he's an old school guy and he protects his gimmick, but I honestly don't know if I or anyone else would have recognized him without the mask.
-The first of Kevin Steen's farewell matches was a lot of fun. The comedy early in the match was a riot and the fans were with him for all of the funny rope break bits. His post match promo was endearing and it was cool to see him put over the lively crowd the way he did. For all I know he would have said the same thing even if there had been half the turnout and the crowd wasn't nearly as enthused, but the important thing is that he seemed sincere and the praise seemed genuine and appropriate given how lively the crowd was throughout the night.
-I found the ROH live event experience very enjoyable. The show moved at a good pace and I overheard comments from some ROH fan newcomers talking about how impressed they were by the event.
-It will be very interesting to see how Steel Domain Wrestling draws when they run their annual show at the Hopkins Pavilion on Saturday night with Colt Cabana vs. Adam Pearce in a cage match main event. I don't expect them to draw as many fans as the nationally televised promotion did in the same town a week earlier, but hopefully ROH's show won't hurt the attendance for the SDW show. I have attended the last two SDW events in Hopkins and will be there again on Saturday night. If you live in the area then I definitely recommend that you do the same. It's a family friendly show and is part of the town festival in Hopkins, so there will be live music and a cool fireworks display in the park across the field from the complex. For more information on the show, visit SteelDomainWrestling.com.