ROH Generation Next 5/22/04 Philadelphia, PA
1. Tag Team Scramble: Izzy & Dixie vs Kevin Dunn & Kirby Marcos vs Buff E & Mace
"I am. Alex Shelley. I do have, talent on loan. From god." --Alex Shelley (actual spoken punctuation)
The contrivance du jour is that the show has an extra-clearly stated card with an added gimmick of fans voting on who most impresses them. This presentation exists only so the newly named Generation Next (Shelley, Aries, Strong & Evans) can hijack the show, which they do straight away by mugging the faux-homosexuals and the Ring Crew Express. The reasoning, as explained by Shelley, is because he knows he and his cohorts have talent, they refuse to let the fans or anyone else decide their future. Special K comes on down and a match so impromptu it features a referee, opening bell and commentary commences:
1. a-Austin Aries, b-Roderick Strong & c-Jack Evans vs c-Izzy, a-Dixie & b-Angel Dust (7:57) pinfalls (a. 450° Splash, b. Gory Special Backbreaker, c. 630°)
Angel Dust is working with a neck brace, selling it like his head is about to fall off at any moment. Naturally, Generation Next savages the injury, though overall the match is just a typical style exhibition with an obvious emphasis on Aries & company. Special K, meanwhile, do what they always do: vapid acrobatics. In that department - which is the bulk of the match - Jack Evans actually had the most entertaining application, while Angel Dust easily the least. Strong was portrayed as a brutal power fighter even though he's of virtually identical size to the flying squirrels. All three Generation Next members use their finishers in what was supposed to be (but was not) simultaneity, all three cover, and the referee counts all three. It doesn't make sense, but then neither does four guys mugging four other guys and being allowed to book their own match on the spot. *
2. o-Alex Shelley vs x-Hydro (7:30) Border City Stretch
So blithely disguised was this enhancement match for Shelley that he actually used his reverse STO finisher (the Shell Shock) to set up his Border City Stretch submission. Just like the first match of the card was for the other three guys, this was exclusively a crash course in Alex Shelley. His psychedelic grappling style becomes particularly pointless when the opponent is allowed a bare minimum of offense. It takes the appearance less of working towards a win and more base egomania and pretention. This match would be acceptable if ROH had a weekly television show. It is unforgivable on a full-price dvd. *
3. o-Trent Acid, MASADA & Danny Daniels vs x-H.C. Loc, Tony DeVito & Justin Credible (6:34) pinfall (Kenka Kick)
Not since the question of "who shot J.R.?" has there been a mystery more captivating to the American public than "who crapped in the Carnage Crew's bag?" Well, we can all stop yanking out clumps of hair in anxiety, for we know at last: it was Danny Daniels! Naturally, the Crew are enraged, they brawl, but the match is just to begin a feud no one cares about in the first place so we're now three for three on pointlessness that belongs on territorial television. Trent Acid was especially annoying. Of all the matches getting jettisoned from the card by Generation Next, this is the one that's kept? ø
4. John Walters vs Jimmy Rave
Generation Next attacks en force once more, declaring that they have taken Rave and Walters' "spots." Post-beating, the show immediately moves ahead to:
4. x-Jimmy Jacobs vs o-Nigel McGuinness (9:22) London Dungeon
Jacobs is still on the Berserker kick (which still isn't funny) so McGuinness targets the Huss Hand with Midwest-style, blame-Chris-Hero-for-everyone-doing-this-stuff British wrestling. Despite this being neither particularly dedicated nor ferocious, for much of the match Jacobs sells his arm as being completely inoperable. So, the story is supposed to be a courageous display of heart as he even scores 2.5 nearfalls and kicks out of a finisher while wrestling one-armed, but this amounts to nothing as he taps to a submission applied to the damaged limb. Reducing this to the lowest common denominator, then, Nigel devoted the whole match to working on a body part and won because of it, rendering Jacobs' role irrelevant - which sums up the match nicely. Still, it was a nice respite from Alex Shelley talking.*
5. ROH Tag Title (9th,1) - No DQ: o-© C.M. Punk & Colt Cabana vs Dan Maff & x-B.J. Whitmer (19:19) pinfall (Pepsi Plunge)
Independent professional wrestlers operate under a credo that could be delineated as wrestle as much as you can wherever you can, even if it is for nothing more than - as C.M. Punk would later say - "a hotdog and a handshake." As the cliche goes, "writers write," so of course wrestlers wrestle. And as they so go forth, beating up and down county roads, working in front of occasionally (and quite literally) no one in dangerous, contaminated amateur rings in disgusting venues in one-horse towns with no air conditioning and no showers, sleeping in cars, acquiring insomnia and neuralgia, drug addictions and venereal diseases, injuries they can't afford to treat and friends they don't even want, these intrepid dreamers find themselves always faced with one more match. That next match may need to be worked hurt, hungry, drunk, jet-lagged or worse. So how on Earth are you to amp yourself up for the 20-minute match perpetuating a blood feud that weird little egomaniac insists you're a part of? In this case, the answer is simple: you don't. At least, not for the first full half, anyway. No DQ? Those chairs hurt, so let's just do the same crap we do in our sleep for at least the first half, then whip out the real match later and the dumb marks who actually pay money to watch us play at our hobby won't even notice how much of it we dogged. If anyone notices that the referee is counting and demanding we stay in our corners while B.J. gets wailed on without offense, we can just go online and insult them by saying they don't understand wrestling. After all, a person who observes something from on high can't possibly have a wider perspective than the drug-addled, sleep-deprived individuals doing it!
Once the actual match began, delayed by some ten minutes, all four worked spectacularly well. Well enough to even wake up those of us who were put in a deep, Rip Van Winkle-like slumber by their insufferably lazy first half. Maff and Whitmer nail stereo tope suicidas, they brawl savagely through the crowd, swinging chairs at heads with ruthless abandon, Punk effortlessly twists a Whitmer Exploder into a cradle then gets catapulted by his partner into a beautiful frankensteiner on Maff. Smooth, stiff, effortlessly coordinated spots and sequences progress with boiling acceleration to a creative, unusual conclusion: all four men ascend the top rope in one corner. Whitmer headbutts Cabana to the floor, but Punk elbows Maff off and through a table, leaving Whitmer to the mercy of the Pepsi Plunge, which has none. The Saints make their first title defense in a brilliant fifty percent of a match. Give us this quality for 19 of 19 minutes and you may enter Match of the Year territory. Leave things as they stand, though, and the operative word is ambivalence. **¾
6. o-Jay Briscoe & o-Mark Briscoe vs x-Diablo Santiago & x-Oman Tortuga (4:42) pinfalls
Routine jobber squash. Mark uses his Cutthroat Driver on Tortuga and Jay uses the Jay Driller on Santiago, then each pins the other's victim. Afterwards, Generation Next resurface to steal the Briscoes' spots. Rave and Walters show up to back them up, so:
7. Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe, Jimmy Rave & x-John Walters vs o-Alex Shelley, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong & Jack Evans (41:22) Border City Stretch
Professional wrestling is not instructions issued by bookers or writers. It is not innovation for its own sake nor staunch defense of tradition for the same. Pro-wrestling is not speeches by performers or hyperbole by commentators. It is not the volume of noise produced by spectators. No. Professional wrestling is - and only is - like any other form of performance art about one thing and one thing only: the performers themselves. Not as crude chessmen on a board hewn roughly by some guy behind the scenes for his own gratification, but the wrestlers themselves pushing themselves to the limits of their abilities and beyond to produce a work of art that exists on its own. In this regard, even failure is acceptable so long as the striving was there and the attempt made.
Here, at last, the fetters have been struck from the ankles of ROH wrestlers. But make no mistake: the booker deserves no praise for this. Deliberately holding back effort for months on end then allowing it to take place is not a positive. Wrestlers should always be allowed to work to their abilities. If anything, Sapolsky's repeated, intentional dumbing down of cards perhaps shows a remarkable lack of confidence in the men he hires to wrestle. If the thought process is what it appears, that deliberately manufacturing D-level matches will make the C-level ones, produced at the extremity of current abilities, look like match of the year candidates - an old-as-the-hills sociopolitical dialectic that in fact does work wonders with constituents of below-average intelligence - the ironic fact is that, given what was witnessed in this match, such fears and analyses of individual and collective potential are utterly unfounded!
The most critical aspect to this match, the core element to its success that cannot be understated is its idiom. While the basic move-to-move style exhibited here was very much in keeping with the slightly updated sports entertainment anachronism of late 1980s American professional wrestling both booker and many performers grew up enjoying as fans, the actual idiomatic construction knelt deeply at the altar of mid-1990s All Japan Pro-Wrestling. It wouldn't be inconceivable to picture Gabe Sapolsky shoving an armful of tapes into the arms of these eight in the days leading up to this event, as the very name "Generation Next" seems to be a conscious pilfering of Misawa Mitsuharu's Chousedaigun unit - a name that literally means Super Generation Army. Even that aside, it is unquestionable that the legendary tag epics between the Chousedaigun and Jumbo Tsuruta's group were studied in depth - if not for their precise style, then absolutely for their organic drama and fast-tagging rhythm.
A typical Ring of Honor tag match is an exercise in somnabulism. Regardless of personnel, nine times out of ten, if a match in this company is two on two, three on three or four on four, you're going to see a short, fast opening and a short, fast finish sandwiched between a random member of a team being isolated and beaten by half-hearted savagery without any reciprocal offense for up to 75% of the total match time. Here, though, like in the Misawa-Jumbo clashes, tags are very fast so pairings change almost constantly. In this way, no one's deficiencies can be fully exposed. Even with the "feeling out" phase lasting some 15 minutes, the rapid personnel rotation and the well dilineated uniqueness of each man's move set allowed for not a single dull moment without fear of gassing out or making mistakes. Better still, no one rested on this idiomatic potential but raised themselves beyond "main event" level effort to "match of the year attempt." With potential disasters Jack Evans and Mark Brisoce largely held in reserve and brought forth only for sharp flashes of the recklessness they're genuinely good at, the match in total had every booking and performance ingredient to succeed at a masterful level. Whereas a typical ROH match has one guy get cut off forever, here, that concept was specifically avoided within the story of the match and only took place much later in the action when particular body parts had been targeted and focused on. Thus, such actual tactics took the form and substance of genuine teamwork and effort to win and not simply monotonous sketches and walkthroughs.
Although the finish seemed a little nervy, Rave and Walters exhibited some clunkiness and poor timing and Strong demonstrated a hilarious inability to correctly implement even the most basic submission holds, the achievement here was perhaps 90% of the way to perfection. Across 42 minutes, the action was non-stop, the energy at maximum and the effort even beyond some of the performers' potential (Rave looked spectacular during a couple sequences). So incredible was this match that it left the territory of "strong minor league effort" and invaded the soil of genuine big league professional wrestling as performed by the masters. A portent of things to come? A promise of a new vision for ROH? Sadly, not by any means, but in this singular time and space, after John Walters tapped to Alex Shelley's Border City Stretch, everything was summed up by the honest response of the fans who witnessed it: A standing ovation and chants of "thank you" and "Match of the Year." ****¼
Never having understood the idea of "quitting while you're ahead," after our non main event match of the year candidate, Gabe decides to waste everyone's time with a "confrontation" between wrestler C.M. Punk and non-wrestler Ricky Steamboat, complete with entrance themes and ring introductions. But it isn't a match, it's a confrontation - meaning way too much talking for no reason all leading to the inevitable heel beating of Steamboat by Punk, Cabana & Ace. This is a feud that'll have an epic blow-off down the line, what with Steamboat being retired and unable to ever wrestle again due to a neck injury...
8. ROH Title (3rd,17): o-© Samoa Joe vs x-Homicide (20:00) pinfall (suichoku rakka-shiki brainbuster)
As we've already seen once on this show, "no disqualification" in ROH means not so much anything goes but that the referee will threaten to disqualify wrestlers ten times more often than in a normal rules match, even when those matches feature just as much chicanery and weapons use as the no DQ one. The referee here bitched and fumed and puffed himself up like Mr Toad of Toad Hall at the slightest bit of rule-bending, even admonishing Homicide with Old Testament fury for using a closed fist in a fucking no disqualification match. His ferocious desire to enforce the rules in a match without any even lead to Homicide distracting him so manager Julius Smokes could choke Joe. Faces, please meet palms.
This had some interesting individual moments, including a psychotic trade of no-touch headbutts, Homicide using his fork to bust Joe open (to which Joe didn't even bitch like a schoolgirl!), Joe countering a diving swinging DDT attempt with a mid-air STO and a stiff, spirited exchange of nearfalls leading to the finish. Unfortunately, there was an equal amount of laughably bad and even downright stupid moments, the most notable being a sequence where Homicide gained a stretch of momentum from nothing whatsoever after Joe violently wailed on his back for some minutes. Homicide hits a weak enzuigiri, which Joe sells by sprinting comically across the ring and flinging himself through the ropes to the floor. Homicide looks to follow with his tope con giro but Joe "dodges" (he wasn't in the path of the move in the first place) and Homicide just so happens to crash through a table that had been propped up at the beginning of a match. What awful luck he must have! Almost as bad is the fact that Homicide clearly is not strong enough to hoist Joe into the Copkiller, so even teases of the move looked terrible - equally terrible, in fact, as Joe's deeply misguided attempt to do a Muscle Buster off the top rope, which generally speaking is categorically impossible. Finally, though Homicide kicked out at 2.99 to a number of moves, the final brainbuster for the finish came with zero drama whatsoever.
All things considered, Homicide and Samoa Cena do work pretty well together considering their personal limitations and the tripwires of poor booking, but this simply wasn't a well plotted match. The good ideas where mostly superceded by the dumb ones and the overbearing and utterly illogical performance by the referee placed this closer to bad sketch comedy than to good professional wrestling. **¾
The annoying execution of generally well thought booking can perhaps be forgiven by realistic personnel considerations. Should Alex Shelley have talked ten thousand times on one show? No, of course not (unless, perhaps, that show were an old 7-hour WWF television/home video taping). But his role as Generation Next mouthpiece fell upon him by default. At this point in their respective careers, Austin Aries is about as adroit on the mic as Bryan Danielson, Roderick Strong ostensibly a deaf-mute and Jack Evans an inspirational story of overcoming Down's syndrome. Thus, upon the peak of this gently sloping curve we come upon Shelley. We have no choice but to forgive his lisping, Quincean elocution and endeavor to appreciate the finer points of an amateur production within sufficient proportions of editorial consideration.
One final point to consider, though: Gabriel Sapolsky's self-fellating, intelligence-insulting commentary during this show was absolutely unlistenable and unbearable - even by his own standards - to the point where the matches themselves are completely ruined unless you watch them with your television muted. Fans who bitch and moan about how awful Michael Cole is have obviously never watched a full 2004 ROH show.