Greg DeMarco starts playing catch-up on ROH as the company makes its return to TV with the Pure Championship tournament, featuring Jay Lethal vs. Dalton Castle and Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta!
If you know me, you know I am a huge ROH fan going back to the “old days” when the company featured stars like CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Kevin Steen (Owens), El Generico (Sami Zayn) and many more. Recent years turned me off of the of the product, but with ROH making a return and focusing on the Pure Championship, I am ready to make my own return…to honor.
ROH episode #469
The company gives us a quick overview of the Pure Championship that was impactful for me–a guy who was already familiar with the product. For someone who isn’t? I think it’s lacking. Then we have Quinn McKay here to present the field to us, in a manner that was downright goofy with the majestic music and all. It doesn’t seem to fit the “pro wrestling” motif they are going for.
They also give us an overview of the rules, and I am left wondering if they simply forgot that the first closed fist earns you a warning, and the second costs you a rope-break if you have any left. If you’re going to bring this back, even using the old belt, let’s do it right!
Jay Lethal promo
We’re doing sit down interviews with each person, and it’s still just…odd. I don’t know if it’s the music, the way it’s lit, filmed, or what. It just seems like I am watching an old show, not something that was released within the past month. Jay Lethal does a good job selling the importance of the championship, but I question calling Brian Kendrick “Spanky.” Yes, that was his name when Lethal beat him, but today’s fan isn’t going to remember this as well. This is a problem similar to AEW. you’re trying to build new fans, not just appease old ones.
Dalton Castle promo
I am on record thinking that Dalton Castle was cheated in his ROH World Championship reign. but his promo didn’t sell me on ANYTHING. And I love Dalton Castle.
Pure Championship Tournament Block A First Round: Dalton Castle vs. Jay Lethal
I love, love, LOVE the stats on the wrestler cards on their way to the ring. Kinda reminds me of another company that was going to focus on stats….and hasn’t. The clock and rope break counter on the bottom of the screen is a nice touch. It’s strange to see if during a whole match, but it’s also something I will get used to.
Jay Lethal was manipulated into the ropes by Dalton Castle early, establishing the importance of the rope breaks. Later Castle used the rope for leverage, allowing Ian Riccaboni to explain to use that that wasn’t a rope break.
Castle went for a Bangarang at the 11-minute mark, seeing his leg give out at the end. Lethal had to use his second rope break to stop the pinfall. Jay Lethal connects with the Lethal Injection at 13 minutes to score the pinfall.
Winner and advancing to the Block A Semifinals – Jay Lethal
Rating – ***
Impression: Great match, cheated out of fan reaction, definitely one to watch.
I really liked his this match established the rules of the tournament, as Lethal used two rope breaks and Dalton Castle used none. Castle was highly effective with his legal closed fists, telling that story as well. This was a good match to kick off the tournament.
Wheeler Yuta promo
I was exposed to Wheeler as part of Dojo Pro on Amazon Prime, but this promo did a good job establishing who he is. Might be worth it to secure some footage of his matches, even if it’s from Dojo Pro. Pictures are great, but footage is better. Wheeler Yuta fits in with ROH, and this promo told me exactly that.
I also really liked Yuta describing his in-ring philosophy as a “decoder.” One who figures out his opponent through film study and the feeling out process of a match, and then “decodes” how to beat them. Break down their tendencies and exploit them. If you want to see wrestling presented as a modern-day sport–this is it.
Jonathan Gresham promo
Gresham’s rise to prominence in ROH came when I wasn’t really watching, so for me this was a great opportunity for me to gain an appreciation for what he means to the company now, and how he compares to those who historically came before him. He ended with a bit of a manifesto on pure wrestling, and it makes me wonder if we could see a pure wrestling vs. non pure wrestling feud of some kind. Not sure it would work.
Honestly my reaction to the Yuta and Gresham promos makes me think I was too hard on the Jay Lethal and Dalton Castle promos. The goofy music didn’t matter as much to me, because I was engaged in both talents. I am literally sold on both after these not-so-short promos.
Pure Championship Tournament Block A First Round: Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta
Love the storytelling of Jonathan Gresham coming to the ring without his World Tag Team Championship, when Lethal did. Gresham was the one campaigning for this title to return, and he is fully focused on it. I love Wheeler Yuta already, but dude we gotta talk about your footwear. You stopped wearing a shirt, and look more like a wrestler. Get some boots! I knew Gresham was shorter, but didn’t realize that was 5’4″. I am going to assume that’s not worked at all, even though many heights are.
I don’t love the amateur wrestler in the background, this is pro wrestling. You don’t want to associate this tournament with a regression in the product–because despite this being a return of a championship after being gone for 14 years, it’s not that.
Wheeler Yuta is 6 feet tall, the tallest of all four competitors featured on this episode. And at 23 years old, he’s already a fantastic storyteller. If he adds size, he can be a big time star–not only for ROH, but in the wrestling business in general.
If you think the first match of this show told a good story, then this one told a phenomenal in-ring story. I can’t even describe the finishing sequence of this match, a punch of rolling pinfall combinations that ended with Gresham pounding Yuta’s knee into the mat until he tapped.
Winner and advancing to the Block A Semifinals – Jonathan Gresham
Rating – ****
Impression: Match of the night, which sounds silly when we only had two matches. But if there were more, this would still likely be on top.
Wheeler Yuta belongs in ROH, and he proved that here. Jonathan Gresham is one of the best in-ring wrestlers in the world today. Hopefully he sticks around.
Overall Impression – 8/10
Ring Of Honor is still a little too “goofy” for my tastes outside the ring, but they more than make up for it in the ring. I am not 100% sure others will agree. It makes me wonder who is producing the non-in-ring elements of the program, and what we have to do to replace them. The in-ring action honestly holds up against any in the world, but the other elements remind me of a high school media project. The talent deserves better.
I do want to talk about the environment. It reminds me of WWE NXT at Full Sail or the Performance Center. Outside of the WWE Thunderdome, I think it’s one of the best environments anyone has created during this “COVID era” of wrestling. I wouldn’t be opposed to piping in some crowd reactions to go along with this action, as there were some great moments in both matches that didn’t land as well without the crowd noise.
Ian Riccaboni makes a great point about how the fans would “come alive” when Lethal and Castle were both down, and he was exactly right. Caprice Coleman, being a wrestler himself, is really underrated as a color commentator. He does a great job adding to the story by adding the wrestlers’ perspective, as well as explaining the technical elements. Riccaboni sounds like a fan who has learned from commentators (not his fault, he’s not a wrestler) when getting technical. Coleman sounds 100% credible and legit.
Putting aside the goofiness of some non-in-ring elements, the only thing I would change here is adding a middle match that is designed to give us a break from the Pure Rules, and introduce (or reintroduce) us to other ROH talent. My 8/10 rating is propped up by the in-ring action, which has to make up for the goofiness otherwise.