By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Ring of Honor Wrestling TV (Episode 467)
Taped in Baltimore, Maryland
Aired September 12, 2020 in syndication and on SBG regional sports networks
Powell’s POV: ROH is back in business and this marks the return of my weekly reviews of their television show. So if someone is seeing this years from now and wondering why there was a gap in coverage, it’s because ROH didn’t air first-run matches during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are reading this in 2030, hopefully you are looking back in amazement over how poorly we handled the pandemic, yet are thankful that we made it through and the world is a much better place now. Do we have flying cars? Is President Dwayne Johnson doing a good job? Have the Vikings won a Super Bowl yet? Probably not on that last one. Sigh. Okay, on with the show.
A video package opened the show and touted the Pure Title tournament entrants while showing clips of past Pure Title wrestlers… Quinn McKay checked in and spoke about AJ Styles beating CM Punk to become the first Pure Title Champion. She noted that Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, and Nigel McGuinness are among the former champions. She also recalled Bryan Danielson beating McGuinness to unify the ROH Pure Title with the ROH World Title. McKay spoke about the safety protocols used during the pandemic.
McKay listed the tournament entrants: Jay Lethal, Matt Sydal, Jonathan Gresham, Tracy Williams, PJ Black, David Finlay, Silas Young, Josh Woods, Kenny King, Rocky Romero, Delirious, Dalton Castle, Tony Deppen, Wheeler Yuta, Rust Taylor, Fred Yehi. She listed Dak Draper and Brian Johnson as the alternates. The brackets for the single elimination tournament were shown.
The time limits are 15-minute time limits for round one, 20 minutes for the block semifinals, 30 minutes for the block finals, and a one-hour time limit for the final match. Three judges will score the matches to determine the winners in the event of a time limit draw.
Every match begins and ends with a Code of Honor handshake. The wrestlers get three rope breaks for submissions and pinfalls, and once those have been used then pins and submissions on or under the ropes will be considered legal.
Closed fist punches to the face are not permitted. Open-hand slaps or chops to the face are allowed. Punches to other parts of the body are allowed aside from low blows. The first use of a closed fist results in a warning, and the second use results in a disqualification. There is a 20-count when wrestlers are at ringside. Interference from any wrestler will result in automatic termination for the interfering wrestler…
McKay hyped Lethal vs. Castle as coming up… [C]
Powell’s POV: I liked everything about the opening presentation aside from McKay’s attire. I like her work and I get the nerdy vibe that she goes for, but everything else about the Pure Title presentation felt professional and gave off a prestigious vibe, whereas she looked like she was dressed for Hawaiian Shirt Day on casual Friday at the office. On the plus side, I can’t give ROH enough credit for the safety measures that they adhered to for these tapings. And while they were simply complying with the Maryland State Athletic Commission’s requirements, it’s not like the company couldn’t have taken the show to a different state that would have let them cut corners. Good for ROH.
A video package featured Jay Lethal in a sit-down interview with highlights airing from early in his career. He said Samoa Joe taught him through tough love and he wouldn’t be the athlete that he is today without Joe. Lethal said no one has held the Pure Title more than once, so he has a chance to make history. He recalled holding the title at age 19 and defending it against Spanky (Brian Kendrick) and Joe.
Lethal said he doesn’t need to change anything about his in-ring style for the tournament because it’s brought him to where he is. He said his strength is experience. He also spoke about his in-ring history with Dalton Castle and losing to him in an ROH Title match in Las Vegas. Lethal said he’s promised himself that history would not repeat itself.
Lethal predicted that he would face Jonathan Gresham in the tournament finals. He said it’s not that he’s not overlooking anyone, it’s that he knows what he and Gresham bring to the table. Lethal looked into the camera and told Gresham that he looks forward to facing him in the finals, and said he’s vowed to become the first two-time ROH Pure Champion…
A Dalton Castle feature aired. He spoke about his amateur wrestling background with clips and photos shown from those days. He said he represented Team USA at the World Championships and became the ROH World Champion. Castle spoke about how the Pure Title format works for him. He mentioned having a long layoff and said it’s not a question of whether he can turn it on, it’s whether he can turn it off in the ring.
Castle said he respects Lethal. He said Lethal has the experience of being a Pure Champion. Castle said he wants to remind people that there’s a lot more to him than they think. Castle said he wrestled for over a year with a broken back and he didn’t let it slow him down from reaching the main event or pinning Cody at Final Battle. Castle said he looks sparkly and entertaining, but questioned why people have forgotten how dangerous he is… [C]
Powell’s POV: Very good promos from both men. ROH is doing a terrific job of creating a true sports-like vibe for the tournament. While the pandemic layoff has obviously sucked, here’s hoping that it provided Castle with the rest that he needed to recover from his back injury. One concern is that I hope ROH didn’t have Lethal go overboard in foreshadowing the finals of the tournament by talking about facing Gresham in the finals. It would be a heck of a match, but I’d prefer they leave it alone rather than go that heavy with the foreshadowing if that’s actually the plan.
Ring entrances for the opening match took place. The broadcast team of Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman checked in from the empty venue…
1. Jay Lethal vs. Dalton Castle in a first-round Pure Title Tournament match. Shaggy-haired Todd Sinclair was the referee (pandemic hair or a new look?). Lethal wore a black armband with X written on it (for the late Xavier?). Castle wore the usual back brace under his tights. The onscreen graphic showed the names of the wrestlers, the match time, and three checks for each rope break.
Castle took Lethal down and they rolled to the ropes, so Lethal lost a rope break. Castle performed a couple of nice suplexes a few minutes into the match. Riccaboni said the Romero vs. Finlay match will air next week. Castle caught Lethal and suplexed him into the corner, then covered him for a two count heading into a break four minutes into the match. [C]
Highlights aired of Lethal taking offensive control during the break. They were approaching the seven-minute mark of the match coming out of the break. Lethal targeted the knee of Castle and went for a figure four, but Castle kicked him away to avoid it a few times. The broadcast team noted that the fans would likely be firing up under normal circumstances. Coleman said you would normally see Castle’s eyes light up when the fans fire up, but that’s not there in the empty venue.
Castle hit the Bangarang finisher and had the pin, but Lethal put his foot on the bottom rope to use his second rope break. Castle went for a Tiger Driver, but Lethal slipped out and superkicked him. Lethal followed up moments later with a Lethal Injection and scored the clean pin. Lethal and Castle adhered to the Code of Honor after the match. Lethal will face the winner of the Rocky Romero vs. David Finlay match in round two…
Jay Lethal defeated Dalton Castle in 13:10 to advance to the second-round of the Pure Title Tournament.
Powell’s POV: An enjoyable match. Castle appeared to have dropped some weight during the pandemic layoff. I know I’m not alone in feeling jealous. The venue looks good with the hard camera facing the stage. It drove me nuts when ROH would take that approach and fail to show off some of their better crowds, but it’s certainly the right move in an empty venue setting. Perhaps I’ve seen enough empty venue shows that it’s become fairly normal, but the lack of crowd noise isn’t really bothering me. I like the way the broadcast team spoke about the fans not being present and the effect that it could have on the wrestlers not being able to feed off them.
A Wheeler Yuta showcase video aired. He said he turned pro at age 16 and has travelled the world to learn as many styles as possible. He talked about his amateur sports exploits, which included amateur wrestling. He said he discovered wrestling at age four when a cousin turned it on television and he’s been hooked ever since. He said he went to college at Villanova.
Yuta spoke about training under Drew Gulak and Tracy Williams. He said it was a tough love situation and they train wrestlers for every situation. He recalled training in Japan and living on a mountain. He said he prides himself on traveling the world to better himself like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Colt Cabana did. He put over Jonathan Gresham as the best technical wrestler in the world and said he appreciates what Gresham has done for pure wrestling as a whole.
Yuta said he’s been focused on discovering Gresham’s tendencies and the holes in his game so that he can exploit them. He said he can also use the pure match rules to draw Gresham into breaking those rules. Yuta said he would beat Gresham. He said Gresham is focused on going all the way and winning the tournament, but that will be his downfall…
The Jonathan Gresham spotlight video aired. He said he fell in love with ROH in 2004. He said he became an amateur wrestler with the goal of becoming a pro wrestler. He enjoyed that there was a collection of styles in ROH and emphasized that there is a difference between those styles. He said he did everything he could to become just as good as those early wrestlers. He said he knew in 2005 that he wanted to be in ROH. He said the road hasn’t been easy and he’s had to prove himself over and over again.
Gresham said a promoter once told him that he would never be known as one of the best technical wrestlers. He said it lit a fire under him to prove the promoter wrong. He recalled losing to Kyle O’Reilly in his first ROH match in 2011. He said it showed him what he needed to do to become one of the best. He said he traveled the world in search of becoming the best pro wrestler in the world.
Gresham noted that he and Jay Lethal are ROH Tag Champions, but he thinks Lethal understands that this is bigger than their friendship. Gresham said he thinks highly of Yuta and praised his coaches. Gresham said he has perfected his Octopus Stretch finisher. He added that pure wrestling was the foundation of ROH and said the pure wrestlers have the opportunity to reshape the company the way they see fit… [C]
Powell’s POV: Wheeler Yuta has also wrestled as Jimmy Yuta. He had a promising start in the early stretch of the MLW revival with a feud against Jason Cade, but MLW seemed to sour on Yuta and stopped booking him. He was really good in this sit-down interview setting when it came to establishing who he is, his training background, and delivering a sport-like breakdown of what he would do in attempt to defeat his heavily favored opponent. Gresham was also good, though the additional foreshadowing of a Lethal vs. Gresham final does concern me that they are making this too predictable. I hope they are a step ahead of me and it’s actually a swerve. It would be a very good final and there’s a lot of history between the two, but I don’t want to watch a 16-man tournament feeling like I knew what the final match would be from the very start.
2. Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta in a first-round Pure Title Tournament match. The broadcast team noted that Lethal brought an ROH Tag Title belt to the ring with him, whereas Gresham did not and chalked it up to him being laser focused on the tournament. Riccaboni said Yuta holds wins over Matt Riddle, MJF, Chuck Taylor, and beat Gresham outside ROH. A graphic listed Gray Juster, Will Ferrara, and Sumie Sakai as the judges for the tournament matches. Gresham was in offensive control heading into a break at at 3:33. [C]
The match resumed at 4:25 coming out of the break. Gresham jumped into the air and Yuta covered up. Gresham pointed at Yuta in a taunting manner, then went for a kick that Yuta blocked. Gresham expressed surprise by pointing at Yuta, who dropkicked him. Coleman said Yuta clearly studied Gresham. Yuta went for a cross body block off the top rope, but Gresham avoided it. Gresham quickly applied an Indian Death Lock. Yuta grabbed the bottom rope to use his first rope break.
Yuta got to his feet and punched Gresham’s head. The ring announcer noted that Yuta had received his first warning for using a closed fist. Gresha and Yuga exchanged open-hand slaps. Yuta picked up a couple of near falls. Gresham dropkicked Yuta’s knee. Yuta rallied with a springboard cross body block for a near fall. Yuta followed up with another cross body block from the ropes for a good near fall.
Riccaboni spoke of the pressure Gresham was under because he called his shot and wanted the pure style to return. Yuga avoided Gresham’s attempt to dropkick his knee. Yuta threw a kick at Gresham, who caught his leg and performed a dragon screw leg whip style move. Gresham applied a figure four leg lock.
Yuta rolled over and both men went under the ropes and fell to ringside while the hold was still applied. No rope break was assigned to either man since they both went to the ropes simultaneously. Both men came up selling knee pain while Riccaboni spoke of the possibility of using one of the alternate wrestlers.
Back inside the ring, there was a really nice sequence of pin attempts and counters. Gresham went for a huracanrana that Yuta rolled through. Gresham got to his feet and stomped the knee of Yuta. Gresham fired up and slammed the knee of Yuta into the mat repeatedly until Yuta tapped out. The wrestlers shook hands afterward. Gresham will face the winner of Delirious vs. Matt Sydal in the second round…
Jonathan Gresham defeated Wheeler Yuta in 10:25 to advance to the second-round of the Pure Title Tournament.
Riccaboni hyped Rocky Romero vs. David Finlay and Delirious vs. Matt Sydal for next week, and the screen with the updated bracket board was shown before Riccaboni closed out the episode…
Powell’s POV: An entertaining match that was laid out in a way that allowed Yuta to make good on his pre-match talk of studying Gresham and trying to exploit his tendencies. Gresham ultimately went over, which was no surprise, but Yuta looked good in defeat. I loved the way Gresham found the extra gear when he exploded at the end of the match.
Overall, ROH did a terrific job with the first week of the tournament. The sit-down interviews were strong, the matches were entertaining, and the presentation made this feel like an important, sports-like event. I had some concerns that the pure wrestling format might be a little dry for some viewers, but they did such a good job with the presentation that this stood out as something truly unique compared to what the other American promotions are doing during the pandemic. I highly recommend catching a replay of the first show of what will be an eight-week television run for the tournament.
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