What a long, strange trip it’s been to end up back here where I started…..
Ring of Honor was my favorite promotion for years, back to the RF video days, and it was pretty much the first show I ever recapped on this here blog. I was the ROH recapper for a few years on the BOD, but the promotion changed with the departure of the Elite and went in a direction I didn’t want to continue following. With the advent of AEW and spending more time on New Japan, I periodically checked in with ROH but didn’t really spend a lot of time with it like I used to.
But one innocuous question on ROH’s twitter account changed everything for me, and that was “Should we bring back the Pure title?”
Oh. Hell. Yes.
The Pure title, ROH’s version of a more sport-driven professional wrestling championship, had been unseen since Bryan Danielson unified the title with the ROH championship against Nigel McGuinness in 2006. Pure title matches are contested much like professional wrestling matches, with the following caveats:
- Each wrestler gets 3 rope breaks, either to break up submissions or pins. Once all 3 have been exhausted, making the ropes will not result in a break; rather, the pin will be counted as normal or the submission will remain in place as if legal.
- Closed fists to the face are not allowed. Closed fists to the body are allowed, with the exception of low blows. Open hand slaps and chops to the face are allowed. The first use of a closed fist to the face will receive a warning, whilst the second will result in a DQ.
- Should the match go to the time limit, there are 3 judges at ringside that will decide the winner.
- 20 count outside the ring.
- Each match begins and ends with the Code of Honor.
- (This is my favorite new rule and I love it) If a wrestler interferes in a Pure match, that wrestler will be TERMINATED FROM THE ROSTER.
This brought me back to ROH, so let’s see what happens.
Tonight! It’s the first round! We’ve got two matches on tap – Jay Lethal will take on Dalton Castle, and Jonathan Gresham will face Wheeler Yuta!
Quinn McKay, the Ring of Honor host and best advocate for females wearing bow ties since Marlene Dietrich, welcomes us to the show. She runs down the history of the Pure title, with footage of AJ Styles defeating CM Punk to win the first title in 2004 and footage of Danielson uniting the titles in 2006. She tells us that this tournament was supposed to start in April, but due to COVID had to be pushed back to now. She talks about the medical standards that ROH is adhering to in accordance with the Maryland State Athletic commission, including no fans in the stands, then runs down the lineup for the tournament, which is:
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. And if one of the competitors is unable to compete for any reason, there are two alternates for either side of the bracket: Dak Draper for Block A, and Brian Johnson for Block B.
Single elimination event, Quarterfinal matches have a 15 minute time limit, Semifinal matches have a 20 minute time limit, Block finals have a 30 minute time limit, and the Tournament Finals between the Block A and B winners has a 1 hour time limit. Quinn goes over the rules and with that out of the way, we head to some great ads!
We’re back with a video on Jay Lethal. He runs down his past in ROH, including his Pure title reign. He goes in-depth talking about learning from Samoa Joe and other guys from his years in ROH; he points out that there has never been a two-time Pure champion before, and now he has the chance to be the first one to do it. He segues into talking about Dalton Castle, talking about losing to Castle in Las Vegas with the Ring of Honor World title on the line, and how it plays into his thoughts about not having lighting strike twice again. He says that he won’t lose to Castle in the first round, and, in fact, makes a bold prediction that it will be him and his tag team partner, Jonathan Gresham, facing off in the Finals of this tournament. He’s not OVERLOOKING anyone, he stresses, but he knows what they bring to the table, and he looks forward to wrestling Gresham in the Finals.
Over to Dalton Castle. “My name is Dalton Castle, I’m a professional wrestler for Ring of Honor, and I’m really good at it.” Castle talks about wrestling in high school and how much he enjoyed it, complete with footage of Dalton from his high school days on the mat, him winning meets and photos of him with medals around his neck. Two national titles and representing Team USA at World followed his NCAA days, then he became the Ring of Honor World champion: “I haven’t just wrestled for 23 years, I’ve been great at it.” He thinks that the Pure tournament rules are right up his alley, because it’s about raw wrestling talent. His first round will be the first time he’s been in a ring in 5 months, but he’s been wrestling more than half his life, so he’s not worried about turning it on, because he can’t turn it off! He and Lethal have gone round and round and they’ve both had victories over the other, but where they differ is that Lethal is a former Pure champion and Castle isn’t, so he knows what Lethal brings to the table. This tournament feels like a way to show people that there’s more to Dalton Castle than they’ve seen so far – he’s been entertaining, sure, but he fears that people are starting to forget that he’s dangerous. He wrestled for over a year with a broken back to win the ROH World title, and he didn’t let that slow him down from ascending to the main event. He looks fun and sparkly and entertaining, but it drives him nuts because he’s never forgotten how dangerous he is, and this is his opportunity to show the world that he’s so much more.
This whole segment was spectacular, as it was treated completely straight. It was almost like watching a UFC show where they run down the history of the fighters before they go out there to actually fight, and if you knew absolutely nothing about both guys, they gave you a history, footage of their characters to establish the bonafides, and reasons that both guys think they’re going to beat the other. There’s a bit of a personal history here, there’s pride, there’s desire, and it all came together in this segment. I think I’m going to enjoy this. And with that, let’s enjoy some great ads!
We’re back to the music of Dalton Castle! He gets stats coming out, as we note that 11 of his last 13 singles wins have come from hitting his finisher, the Bangarang. A quick cut to our announcers show us that we’ve got Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman on the call for this one. Lethal is out next, and his stats tell us that he’s 3-0 against Dalton in their last three matches and has won 88% of his ROH singles matches in Baltimore, so he apparently likes Maryland.
Jay Lethal vs Dalton Castle – 2020 ROH Pure tournament, Block Quarterfinals
Code of Honor is, of course, followed. Castle outwrestles Lethal to start and rolls him into a front facelock into the ropes, which immediately eats up one of Lethal’s rope breaks. Very nifty because Lethal didn’t try to escape the hold since they were in the ropes, so his instinct was that the hold would be broken; as a result, he loses one of his three one minute into the match. There’s a timer and an indicator of how many rope breaks each guy has left running at the bottom of the screen, another nice touch.
So Lethal goes back at Castle and tries his own front facelock, which Castle escapes into a hammerlock and then, in a brilliant bit of match storytelling, Lethal reaches his leg towards the ropes…..but yanks it back and escapes the hold on his own to avoid losing another rope break. Castle with a single-leg, Lethal escapes with a throw. Castle pushes off the ropes to escape a Lethal hold, thereby using the ropes but not for a break, and takes Jay down with a headlock takeover. This is catnip to me, y’all. Back to their feet and Lethal sends Castle to the corner, but runs into an elbow from Dalton and a deadlift suplex to follow. Another one puts Jay down again.
Lethal back up with an enzuigiri, but that misses and Dalton hits him with an open-handed slap. Throw into the buckles gets two, and Ian throws us to a break to watch these great ads!
We’re back with Lethal in control working the leg of Castle, as we see that during the break, Jay took the advantage with a seated dropkick and has gone to work on the leg of Dalton. And work on the leg he does, with elbowdrops, kneedrops, cough drops, whatever he’s got. Lethal slaps Dalton to the back of the head and fires fists to the midsection, then chops him down. Lethal with a kneecrusher after Dalton briefly fights back, and Castle is hurting. Forearm battle, but Lethal kicks him in the knee to put him back down. Figure-four attempt is kicked away by Dalton, same with a second one, and a third boot from Castle puts Jay down.
They slug it out with ten minutes left and Dalton goes for the Bangarang, but the knee is gone and Lethal escapes into the Lethal Combination. Slam and Lethal goes up, Dalton cuts him off and Jay leaps over him to escape. Jay charges Dalton in the corner, but Castle catches him and hits the Bangarang…..but his knee gives out on the final spin and he doesn’t totally complete the move. He covers, but Lethal goes to the ropes to stop the pin, using another one of his rope breaks, so he’s down to one.
Castle with a gutwrench, but he can’t lift him as Lethal fires shots at the knee. He finally powers through it but has to set Jay back down, and that allows Lethal to hit a superkick! Enzuigiri! Castle has one last back elbow left, but Lethal ducks a clothesline, Lethal Injection! 1, 2, 3! (Jay Lethal over Dalton Castle, pinfall, 13:11)
THOUGHTS: ***1/4. Excellent first match to start us off here. Lethal and Castle are both wonderful professional wrestlers and we got a wonderful professional wrestling match as a result. Since the pure rules lend themselves to mainly in-match work, I’ll probably go a little harder on the star scale than I normally would. So, the match had a few distinct threads running through it, mainly that Castle was winning the match when they went to ground on the Greco Roman side, while Lethal had the advantage with kicks and him targeting a body part to work through. Castle’s selling of the knee was mostly great, with a few lapses that you could easily argue that the adrenaline was allowing him to work through. I would have preferred a finish that focused more on the knee to pay off all the work, but it could easily be argued that Dalton’s knee and his lack of movement made it easier for Jay to hit the Injection for the pin. Lethal worked subtle, subtle heel here, with him using the ropes for the breaks while Dalton didn’t, and him going to the knee to escape holds. Now, it could certainly be argued that it made Jay the smarter wrestler and not the heel, and that type of thing will be made clearer in the weeks to come.
Post-match, the Code of Honor is followed. And now we’ll follow these great ads!
We’re back with Wheeler YUTA! He’s got himself a bitching Mustafa Ali style facemask. He played every sport he could think of in high school including wrestling, but all of it was to become a pro wrestler someday. He went to Villanova in Philadelphia for college just to be able to train with Drew Gulak and Tracy Williams. It was hard, but they teach you how to be prepared in any situation. He’s been to Japan, to the Michinoku Pro Dojo, and with nothing else to do, all you end up working on is your craft. His mother is Japanese, so connecting to those roots were important. He also toured with WXW in Germany, and we see a picture of him with WALTER. He calls his in-ring style ‘decoding’, where he tries to figure out his opponent’s style and beat them that way. He takes inspiration from guys like Colt Cabana, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, the ones who traveled and tried to better themselves. He calls Jonathan Gresham “the best technical wrestler in the world” which, well, yeah. He thinks that Gresham has been thinking about everything but Wheeler, and Wheeler has been focused on beating him, and he knows exactly how he’s going to do it.
Jonathan Gresham is up next, and in case you weren’t reading my old ROH recaps (which, to be fair, is pretty much everyone), I LOVE me some Jonathan Gresham. It will be a travesty if he doesn’t win this thing. He rips off his awesome octopus mask and talks about his history with Ring of Honor, how he fell in love with the company in 2004 when he saw that there were so many styles under one roof working together. So he had to be just as good as they were and that’s what he did. He had to prove himself over and over, to the point where a promoter he worked for once told him to his face that he would never be known as one of the best technical wrestlers in the world. We see a clip as he talks about his first match in ROH being in the 2011 Top Prospect tournament against KYLE O’REILLY. DEAR LORD, why have I never watched that? It’s like my literal thirst trap of wrestling matches. He lost that match, but it told him how to move forward – travel, train, and learn from the best pro wrestlers in the world, so that’s what he did. From Japan to Germany to England to Mexico to Canada to Hong Kong to Taiwan to now, where he and Jay Lethal are the ROH World Tag Team champions. He thinks that Jay understands this tournament is bigger than anything else to him. He talks up Wheeler YUTA a bit, saying that he learned from Catchpoint in EVOLVE, and he’s looking forward to using his technique and his Octopus Stretch that he’s perfected to win. He’s here to restore the honor to Ring of Honor that was lost long ago, and he’ll bring the title home to the Foundation. Pure wrestlers are the foundation of Ring of Honor, and with the title comes the influence to reshape this company and make it what it should be!
You know what else should be? You paying attention to these fine ads!
Wheeler YUTA vs “The Octopus” Jonathan Gresham – 2020 ROH Pure tournament, Block Quarterfinals
Gresham comes out without his tag team belt, because right now he only cares about one belt and he’s going to prove it. Code of Honor is followed. Double wristlock controlled by YUTA and they go to the mat for some two counts. Gresham flips out, but YUTA puts him in a bodyscissors and pulls guard. Gresham blocks the cross-armbreaker attempt and wraps up Wheeler’s ankle with his legs to start working it. Wheeler chinlocks him to escape and goes back to the bodyscissors by crossing his ankles, then rolls Gresham over for some two counts. Gresham breaks into a cloverleaf rolling into a surfboard, but YUTA flips that into a two count.
Back to their feet and let’s go again. Double wrist control allows Wheeler to roll Gresham to his back, where he traps the leg and goes to a half-crab. Gresham rolls through that and takes Wheeler back down into the cloverleaf on the ankle. Wheeler gasps in pain as we need to take a break to gasp at these great ads!
We’re back with Gresham in a YUTA wristlock. Gresham escapes with his usual smoothness and goes for the fakeout kick, but Wheeler had it scouted, blocks it, and hits a dropkick to take Jonathan down. Cross-corner whip is reversed and now Gresham with the takedown as he goes back to the leg, wrapping Wheeler up in a spinning toehold and working that into an Indian Deathlock. He rolls that back over into a more painful version and YUTA is forced to use a rope break to escape, so one down. Gresham takes a moment before breaking and Wheeler takes umbrage; as soon as the hold is broken, he hauls off and NAILS Gresham in the face with a closed fist! The ref issues the warning as Wheeler yells at the ref for not breaking the hold fast enough! This is tremendous.
The ref breaks them apart and now they’re both pissed the FUCK off at each other, and they go at each other with open palm strikes. Forearm from YUTA drops Gresham, who pops up and gives him the finger, then promptly misses an enzuigiri, allowing YUTA to roll him up with La Majistral for two. Suplex attempt by Gresham is reversed to a bodypress for two. Crossbody from Wheeler gets two. He goes up and fakes Jon out, then hits an even bigger crossbody, again for two. YUTA’s knee is bothering him as he hoists Gresham up, and Jon takes advantage to armdrag out of it. YUTA goes for a kick, but Gresham catches it and whips him over on the bad knee, then applies a figure-four.
They roll to the ropes and end up rolling out of the ring, slamming into the floor hard. Wheeler’s knee is gonzo and Gresham is hurting there now too, as the commentators talk about alternates being available if for some reason someone has to drop out. The ref begins the count and both guys struggle to their feet and make it in at 17. They trade roll-up after roll-up, from cradles to sunset flips, and Gresham hits a ‘rana into a jumping stomp onto Wheeler’s ankle. Gresham with another jumping stomp to the knee of Wheeler, and then, in an unbelievably great finish, grabs Wheeler by the ankle and slams his knee into the mat over and over, 9 times in all, until Wheeler quits. (Jonathan Gresham over Wheeler YUTA, submission, 10:25)
THOUGHTS: ***1/2. The match had multiple angles to dissect here. First off, Gresham gave Wheeler a ton in defeat, making YUTA look great. The match proceeded as a limb work showcase, with Gresham working over the leg the entire match to ensure that his finish made sense. And what a finish! Instead of wrapping him up in a hold, they paid off the fact that Gresham was still angry enough to just go to the more base way of winning, pounding the leg until Wheeler couldn’t stand it any more. Meanwhile, Wheeler got to get over his character’s ability to adapt to and counter Gresham’s moves, so it made his proclamation about his style being one of decoding have some merit and weight to it. Notice how he lost his temper but quickly adapted it to gain the advantage over Gresham briefly, showing he had scouted Jonathan’s reaction to anger. In short, this ruled the earth and I would have watched 20 more minutes.
Despite the flareups, the Code of Honor is indeed followed post-match to wrap things up. And that’s going to do it for this week.
Next week, it’s Rocky Romero vs David Finlay and Delirious vs Matt Sydal as the first round continues!
FINAL THOUGHTS: Ring of Honor promised something that wasn’t currently being done in the world of professional wrestling and they lived up to that promise. This was exactly the type of thing that Ring of Honor needed to separate itself once again from the pack. You can watch all sorts of different companies, but no one is doing THIS – treating pro wrestling as a completely pure sport without all the usual bullshit that comes with it. While that isn’t what a lot of people want from pro wrestling, telling the stories in the ring purely on the strength of the ring work, it’s DIFFERENT. It’s something you can only get here.
This was ROH declaring itself to the wrestling world that it is back. It was watching a symphony come together to play a piece that required the dedication of each member, a unique composition being played in no other proverbial concert hall or squared circle right now. And by God, the music was beautiful.
I don’t know if I’m back on this the whole way, but I’ll stick with it until the Pure tournament is over for sure.
Welcome back, ROH.
If you want to watch this, which, you really do, it’s available on the ROH website right here: https://www.rohwrestling.com/watch
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@MrSoze on Twitter
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