If you’re a fan of indie pro wrestling, I’m sure that you’re already fully aware of the two mega events coming to us, courtesy of the deal brokered between indie darling Ring Of Honor (ROH) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). For those who may not be fully aware, but are curious, allow me to quickly fill you in: ROH and NJPW have come to an agreement that allows us, the wrestling fans, to truly get the best of both worlds as promotions collide. The best of ROH talent face off against the best of NJPW talent in two separate events across two weeks; the first, Global Wars, took place this past Saturday, May 10th, at the Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto, Canada. The second, War Of The Worlds, takes place this coming Saturday, May 17th, and comes to you live over the internet, courtesy of uStream, from the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
It’s always amazing when promotions cross and worlds collide, it’s the only way to see potential dream matches become reality, especially as the choking monopolisation of the WWE continues to roll ever forward. It’s no secret I’m a huge pro wrestling fan, and I am a fan of the WWE product, even some of the PG era stuff, but I will always have a fond place in my heart for the indies, the foremost promotion being Ring Of Honor.
I have had on again, off again, experience with NJPW (having reviewed a few of their events in the past for the website), and have found the one, major, sticking point that took me out of the action being the lack of English commentary. Without direction, all I had to appreciate was solid, exciting wrestling. Which was awesome, but I found myself frustrated with the lack of understanding as to WHY these two people in tights were beating the shit out of each other. The commentary team of ex-wrestler Steve Corino and Kevin Kelly do a fantastic job of filling in the curious blanks for the more inquisitive of new fans; constantly providing details as to who the Japanese talents are, their strengths, talents and, importantly, where they stand within their NJPW roster. Fan friendly comparisons for example are made between Tanahashi and John Cena, allowing you to make an immediate connection as to what kind of personality they are. It really does go a long way in furthering your understanding, as well as deepening the appreciation for the participants in each match up.
The night was filled with exciting action, as it to be expected from a ROH event. It’s always been an interesting point for me that, even the most mundane of ROH matches, is usually still of such a high standard you can’t help but be entertained. It’s enough to spoil a fella. Introduce a newbie to the ROH style, and you’ll find them unable to believe the magic performed every night in that ring; those who have been watching for a while will have become slightly jaded, not because the wrestling is subpar, but because it’s all so good. A match has to be particularly poor, or boring, to really stand out on a typical ROH card. From my experience, the same is true for an NJPW card.
The card was stacked from top to bottom with an interesting array of talent and match ups, but Global Wars lacks the plethora of ROH vs NJPW match ups that makes War of The Worlds so intriguing, instead pitting a lot of ROH vs ROH or NJPW vs NJPW talent against one another. No bad thing in places, especially when it gives you an insight into the characters (via the commentary, as mentioned earlier) for wrestlers like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Kushida, etc, but it couldn’t help but take away slightly from the ‘dream match’ element they were trying to promote.
The majority of the card was ROH heavy, utilising the previously titled Border Wars, now Global Wars, as a means to continue pushing their main story lines. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that; however, when trying to buy interest by promoting it as part one of two epic clashes between promotions, it may, at worst, leave some disappointed and, at best, leave you wanting more.
Key performances include Cedric Alexander vs Roderick Strong, in a pay off match for their recent feud; one that has allowed Cedric Alexander the opportunity to begin establishing himself as a main event player. There’s no one better, or more consistent performer, than Roderick Strong, so pitting the two together in order to elevate Alexander made perfect sense. What follows is a strong match where, though a winner is inevitably crowned, neither men leave the ring a loser.
My personal Match Of The Night goes towards the exhilarating three way tag team match up for the NJPW Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, which saw defending champs, and ROH regulars, The Young Bucks, go up against the formidable team of Forever Hooligans and NJPW tag team Alex Shelly and Kushia, otherwise known as Time Splitters (awesome name). High spots galore really help elevate this match; the fast pace of all the men involved and fluidity of movement, going from spot to spot, let alone the build up leading to the breathtaking finish help keep this match at the forefront of a fans mind come the end of the PPV.
Tanahashi/Liger vs Chaos members Jado and Nakamura is a fun match up, and the first all Japanese match on the card, happening deep within the second part of the PPV. I love the concept of the large factions that exist within Japanese wrestling; Chaos and Bullet Club being major representatives on the ROH/NJPW cards. The added context helps exponentially in appreciating everything that unfolds. A fun match up, that does a good job of pushing the talent involved, in order to help build towards War of The Worlds: with matches like Adam Cole vs Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Nakamura vs Kevin Steen and Tanahashi vs the criminally underrated Michael Bennett on the card, you know that the history lesson provided during Global Wars will pay off come this Saturday.
The Bullet Club/Chaos match up was also highly enjoyable, with the ever enjoyable AJ Styles representing the foreign-centric stable Bullet Club. An awesome name, filled with awesome talent.
The final match up of the night, Adam Cole facing off against the incomparable Kevin Steen, sees both men wrestle a full contact match up, bringing with it a mixture of early comedy before it segues into something much more serious. ROH has done a great job in building this feud over the past year; a long haul commitment though, admittedly, one that fell into their laps, rather than coming around by grand design. Steen, having lost his championship to Jay Briscoe last year, was never issued a rematch and, while Adam Cole grew into a main event player, Steen would go on to feud with heel faction SCUM; this word keep him busy, and unfortunately away from the title scene until this feud with Cole led him back into the main event. A great match (but given the wrestlers involved, that's is no surprise) that is only slightly mired with a surprisingly weak ending.
A solid event, full of interesting match ups of ROH vs NJPW talent, though not as heavily focused as one could hope. All aspects that may have let down any fans, and those people would truly be looking for things to fault, will surely be amended with Saturday’s War Of The Worlds. With ROH main event stories getting further pay offs, coupled with even more focused ROH/NJPW action, War Of The Worlds is shaping up to be an unmissable event for professional wrestling fans, and will continue to push the relationship that exists between the two promotions. If this is your first experience with NJPW, it’s a good one; if it’s your first impressions of ROH, it’s a great one, and should be enough to bring any fan, especially if you’re used to only WWE style PG action, back for more each and every week. With the deal between the two still in its relative infancy, the sky is the limit for the kinds of feuds and cross overs we can expect to see develop over the next few months. All I know is, as a wrestling fan, I can't wait: this is truly the start of a beautiful friendship.
Steve "The Other Guy" Russell // @stevetendo