By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
Big Time Wrestling “Return Of The Dragon”
Raleigh, North Carolina at J.S. Dorton Arena
Replay available via FITE.TV
Joe Dombrowski and Shane Douglas provided commentary from ringside. This is an attractive room with lots of glass along the walls, and I’ll put the crowd at 2,000-3,000. Lighting and sound are good. I have never thought this before, but on commentary, Douglas sounds like Shawn Michaels. It is eerie and you can’t ‘un-hear’ it.
* The show opened with a video message from Bret Hart, filmed likely from his home. He wished Ricky Steamboat the best of luck in his match.
1. Matt Hardy defeated Crowbar (w/Percival) at 8:36. Dombrowski said this is the first-ever one-on-one match between these “30 year ring legends.” Percival wore a mask, but he’s a big, thick white man. Hardy got the crowd going with his “delete” hand gestures. Basic mat wrestling to open and Percival placed a steel guardrail horizontally along the ring apron. They brawled to the floor and Crowbar suplexed Hardy onto the steel guardrail at 4:00 (one of the softest landings I’ve ever seen.) So, Crowbar hit a plancha onto Hardy as he was lying on the guardrail, and this time, it bent a bit.
In the ring, Hardy hit a second-rope superplex for a nearfall at 6:00. Hardy rammed Crowbar’s head repeatedly into turnbuckles with the crowd chanting “delete!” Crowbar hit a Frankensteiner out of the corner, with Hardy landing awkwardly on his shoulder, with Crowbar getting a nearfall. Hardy nailed the Twist of Fate out of nowhere for the pin. Acceptable opener.
* Nikita Koloff, then Earl Hebner, then Tatanka, then Eric Bischoff, each gave short promos, wishing Ricky Steamboat a victory. Each of these clips clearly were shot at a wrestling convention.
2. Kerry Morton defeated Brian Pillman Jr. to retain the NWA Junior Heavyweight Championship at 7:12. Yes, Morton had his title belt with him, and Dombrowski noted he won it just three weeks earlier. (No doubt with the belt on the line that Morton wins). Standing reversals to open, and Pillman stalled on the floor and is acting heelish. After knocking Morton down in the ring, Pillman did a Flair strut. Pillman got a rollup with a handful of tights for a nearfall at 6:30. Morton hit a running knee to the chest for the pin. Just so-so. Morton offered a handshake after the match; Pillman responded with a punt kick to the groin and left.
* The Briscoes spoke in a vignette outside their chicken farm. Jay said the Rock N’ Roll Express may not make it out of the Dorton Arena, and may never wrestle again.
* Danny Miles hit the ring, and he showed off his title belt. He’s really short, bald, with a goatee; he looks a bit like Cash Wheeler. He made an open challenge. Out came Teddy Long, and he has an opponent in mind. Out came Facade, showing off his multi-colored hair. He’s an indy veteran.
3. Danny Miles defeated Facade (w/Danni Mo) to retain the BTW Title at 12:36. They traded basic reversals, with Facade hitting a dropkick that sent Miles to the floor. Miles grabbed Mo for protection, then he shoved her into Facade. That allowed Miles to take over, and he rammed Facade’s head into the ring post at 4:30. In the ring, Miles maintained control of the offense, hitting a brainbuster at 7:00, drawing boos.
Facade hit a Burning Hammer. He went for a springboard move but Miles caught him with a punch to the gut. Miles hit a double-knees gutbuster. Miles grabbed his title, so Danni Mo hopped in the ring, slapped Miles and hit a Tornado DDT. Facade hit a coast-to-coast springboard dropkick for a nearfall, but Miles got his feet on the ropes at 12:00. Facade now grabbed the title, but the ref took it. Miles hit Facade with a can of spray paint and hit a package piledriver for the pin. Okay action.
* Mr. TA hit the ring in what looks like a bath robe. The crowd booed him. He spoke on the mic but was inaudible. Sgt. Slaughter walked out of the back and confronted Mr. TA. They shoved each other and Slaughter applied the Cobra Clutch.
* A pre-show vignette with Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton inside the building. (It is still light outside. These glass walls are amazing.) They are ready to bring the fight to the Briscoes!
4. “Rock N’ Roll Express” Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton defeated Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe at 6:18. The Briscoes hit the ring first and acted like heels. I personally don’t need to see the RNR Express in the ring in 2022. Gibson and Mark started and of course we have standing switches (we don’t need any RNR bumps). The Briscoes stalled on the floor in frustration. In the ring, the Briscoes began working over Ricky Morton. However, Mark accidentally hit Jay with a chairshot. Ricky immediately hit a Canadian Destroyer to pin Jay. “What the hell just happened?” Douglas asked. At the very, very, very lowest end of expectations.
* Johnny B. Badd, Sean Waltman, Tully Blanchard, Jake Roberts provided more video clips, wishing Ricky Steamboat luck in his match.
5. Sarah Evans defeated Amber Nova at 5:52. Nova wore a tiny red-white-and-blue outfit; we’ve seen her before on AEW Dark. Evans is much larger and dominated early on. Nova got Evans’ back and tried a sleeper at 4:00, but Evans powered out. Evans hit a full nelson slam for the pin, in a dominating, one-sided victory.
6. Ricky Steamboat, Dax Harwood, and Cash Wheeler defeated Nick Aldis, Jay Lethal, and Brock Anderson (w/Arn Anderson) at 16:35. Steamboat is dressed in a full-body outfit. Lethal is fully dressed like Randy Savage at WrestleMania III, and Dombrowski talked up that match. (Fun fact: Mania III was the first time I ever saw pro wrestling and I was hooked.) Lethal and Dax started with quick mat reversals, and Dax grounded him with a headlock. Aldis entered at 2:30 and worked over Dax’ left arm. Cash tagged in and he peppered Lethal with punches. Steamboat got the tag at 4:00, but all six men stood in the ring and the teams glared at each other. Dombrowski said it is 29 years since Steamboat competed in this building. Lethal went to the floor to stall.
Back in the ring, Lethal kept a headlock on Steamboat. Steamboat escaped and hit a deep armdrag, and the crowd POPPED for it at 6:30. Cash tagged back in, and he faced Brock Anderson. Douglas said that Arn has “only allowed Brock to have 18 matches so far.” (Why limit him? Why isn’t he competing every weekend?) Aldis’ team began working over Cash, making quick tags in and out. Lethal hit a cheap shot on Steamboat as Ricky stood on the apron at 10:00 and the crowd booed.
Steamboat made the hot tag at 11:30 and hit his knife-edge chops on everyone, including Arn Anderson. Aldis began hitting punches on Steamboat, and Lethal hit a top-rope ax-handle to Ricky’s head. Lethal applied a sleeperhold, and Steamboat was fading. The ref was about to call for the bell, but Steamboat’s arm came alive at 14:30, showing he still had life. Steamboat hit a backbodydrop on Lethal. Dax made the hot tag and hit punches and a second-rope crossbody block for a nearfall. Aldis made the blind tag and he chop-blocked Dax’s knee. The three babyfaces each applied a Figure Four Leglock, and the heels tapped out.
* The crowd chanted “Ricky!” as he hugged each member of FTR. Steamboat walked over and shook hands with Arn Anderson. Cash got on the mic and said he and Dax are from North Carolina and they grew up idolizing Steamboat.
Final Thoughts: Obviously, the show was built around Steamboat, and in that aspect, it succeeded. The video clips were really nice. (Would have made more sense to have a clip from Dustin Rhodes or Ric Flair than say, Tatanka, but all the tributes were heartfelt.)
The match itself really worked. Steamboat’s minutes in the ring were not too lengthy at any given stretch. He wasn’t asked to do too much, but what he did do looked good. This was far, far better than how Ric Flair looked in his match a few months ago, and while not on the same level of fame, far better than the disastrous 20-minute match that AAA asked of Villano III a few months ago. In short stretches with time to recover, Steamboat did really well, and the crowd was thrilled to see him.
Nothing else really stood out. The Briscoes got a day off here, with neither team really doing much until the accidental chairshot. Of the rest of the undercard, I’ve seen Pillman work heel a few times now, and AEW might want to head in that direction for him.
The show clocked in at two hours even.