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Ring of Honor: Nashville

December 7, 2008

Note: an earlier draft of this ran on the Wrestling Observer website today. I've since spruced it up and bit and added new material. If you don't like pro wrestling, this probably isn't the best article for you.

Last night I went to the Ring of Honor show in Nashville. These are my thoughts from the show:

-Forget online estimates of the crowd at 600; I pegged it at closer to 250 or maybe 300. There were people from Vanderbilt staff there and a surprising number of people working the show for ROH (in support staff), so even my estimate might be inflated.

-The local promotion for this show was HORRIBLE. Had my friend Gary Graham not tipped me off to it, I might have missed the show altogether. I remember Shane Douglas complaining about WCW circa 1993 doing this sort of thing with no local promotion and how he could have gone out and papered the town himself and gotten more fans there than what WCW had. At least in the internet era the hardcore fans knew about it, but it's pathetic to go to the effort of setting up a live show and bringing in all the talent they brought in for the show (it was a very full lineup) and then to do nothing to promote it. That really needs to be addressed by the company. I want them to do well.

-It was a young crowd there with plenty of people in their 20s. I'm 31 and felt old compared with the median age from what I saw. I wasn't quite sure what to expect; my days of going to USWA shows at the Fairgrounds more than a decade ago exposed me to the crowd that I believe Dutch Mantel once compared to the bar scene in the original Star Wars movie. ROH didn't have that, and it didn't have the overtly redneck/uneducated audience that I saw at WWF and WCW shows in the 1990s in town (e.g. chanting "USA" as a bizarre show of support for German wrestler Alex Wright at Starrcade '94 at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium when Wright was taking on Jean Paul Levesque, of course now known as HHH).

Ring of Honor: Castagnoli vs. Danielson
This was my view of the show.

-There was quite an interesting mix of hardcore wrestling fans with I'm guessing some Vandy college students at ringside, including some attractive women, which was nice and not particularly expected. Per capita there were more hot women at the show than I've seen at any wrestling show I've ever been to, from tiny indie shows to WrestleMania XV in Philadelphia. I didn't bring my girlfriend along because I really didn't know what to expect, but I think she would have enjoyed it, at least enough to not complain.

-Up in the bleachers (which was wisely utilized to handle seating beyond the four rows at ringside) there was the more typical pro wrestling audience, lots of kids there too, but also a couple with a young boy who sat in front of me who I heard speaking only Spanish.

-Sal Rinauro had a bad night, with two badly blown spots in the opener. The crowd groaned at that, then hit him with chants of "You fucked up!" I felt uncomfortable with the profanity flying then and later with there being so many kids in the audience, and that sort of thing generally doesn't bother me at all. The crowd was small enough where people could yell things and EVERYONE could hear them if it was loud enough, and that's despite Vandy's gym being a huge place that has hosted the SEC basketball tournament, NCAA men's and women basketball tournament events, etc. It's not like a small building, which made it even more unique to a degree.

-As for the match, it baffles me that you'd have two world-class wrestlers on the show in Jay and Mark Briscoe and give them hardly any ring time. I hope there was a good reason for this decision.

-Between Rhett Titus and Delirious/Jimmy Jacobs there was way too much "gay undertones to get heat" stuff early in the show. That sort of thing falls into the Things that I'd be embarrassed for friends to see after I suggested going to the show category. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't invite my girlfriend along after all.

-After the match they threw a Rhett Titus storyline at us, which made little sense with the product having no regular TV exposure here save for their PPV events. The crowd hated it. HATED IT. Despite his stripper gimmick being a turn-off, I was actually impressed by Titus as far as his presence goes, and I could see WWE making a play for him if he gets on the sauce, err, I mean if he adds 20 pounds of muscle through hard work. Somehow I think Vince would make him change his "The thrust is the must" catchphrase.

The only good thing about the post-match angle was the humor in Titus admitting to being a virgin, but overall this is the sort of thing I don't want from ROH. Save that shit for backstage when they can do retakes. And, really, if I wanted that crap I'd watch Total Nonstop Skits (also known as TNA).

-The SHIMMER match was enjoyable. Not great, but decent. Sara Del Rey hit a powerbomb on Ashley Lane where Lane landed head-first on the bottom turnbuckle in the corner. I don't think that was a planned spot. The ref carried Lane to the back after the match, though my guess is that it was selling the exploder/t-bone suplex that Sara hit on Lane for the finish (which was obvious coming from a mile away with Daizee Haze & Serena Deeb outside the ring). Deeb has ridiculously huge tits, which of course drew comments from the crowd (like "Give her the motorboat!" as if she'd use her breasts as a weapon).

-I hate three/four person matches where the first pinfall ends it. The psychology is horrid. It's a shame that Heyman's ECW style of elimination matches (vs. first fall wins) didn't make the leap to other promotions like some of his other ideas did.

-Davey Richards had some great ring work with both Brent Albright and Erick Stevens. Larry Sweeney played the wimpy manager in a tag match role to perfection, with his pink ring outfit fitting with his Adrian Adonis hair and the crowd going bonkers to see him finally take a beating.

-Bushwacker Luke Williams looks very old. Seeing Dave Crist hit an asai moonsault on Luke was the most unexpected move combo since seeing Hulk Hogan take a huracanrana from Billy Kidman in WCW.

-"Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode was a great entrance song for Butcher/Aries. I've known that song since it first came out but never thought of it in a pro wrestling entrance sense, but it worked well.

-Tyler Black has the look of someone Vince would want to steal for WWE. Austin Aries was over big, though Black looked great and arguably even better than Aries and he can really move well for a big man. After all the blown spots early in the show, Black was impressive and crisp.

Keiji Muta
Keiji Muto set the bar for blood in a match.

-The double countout finish in the Jacobs/Black vs. Aries/Butcher match sucked. The only positive was letting me use my favorite Bret Hart word (schmozz) in a loud shout at the ring. I don't like Butcher (his work was minor league looking compared with the other three guys in the match), yet him doing a dive with a 360 from the top rope to the floor was spectacular. I suppose it makes sense to a degree since without any countout finishes then there is no drama if a countout is teased, but it comes across as a shortcut since so many pro wrestling promotions have abused it in lazy/cowardly booking for so long.

-Claudio Castagnoli vs. Bryan Danielson was fantastic. Danielson's blade job was pretty severe. I had to look up the Muta blade job vs. Hase (online here) and it wasn't on that level on juice, but it was still serious enough to where Danielson was wearing a substantial crimson mask. The crowd was into him big time, and you could tell those who reacted to him vs. those who didn't as the hardcore ROH fans vs. the wrestling fans who happened upon the show. The use of the referee's belt (literally taken from his pants by Castagnoli) as a weapon was violence to the point of being disconcerting to me. They were laying those shots in there stiff. Danielson hit three planchas on Claudio, with one knocking Castagnoli into the first row (shades of ECW, La Parka, etc.) but on the fourth he did a plancha into a surprise chair shot from Castagnoli, which was the catalyst for the blade job.

-Nigel McGuinness vs. Jerry Lynn was a great match and also a wonderful job at storytelling. DVD doesn't do McGuinness justice; his work is solid but his presence and ability to draw heat was outstanding, some of the best I've ever seen in person. How is Nigel not in WWE or TNA? He certainly has the height and "the look" -- everything about him is major league. It's to ROH's credit that they have him as their champion.

-There was a vocal section of fans in the crowd who got into the storyline of Lynn being from Minnesota but "now making his home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee" and Nigel for being a non-American. Nigel played it brilliantly, taunting the Lynn fans when he got the edge of offense. "Where are your chants now?" he asked, drawing major heat from the loud Lynn section.

-It wasn't all offense, and Nigel's selling was tremendous. Lynn hit the cradle piledriver and a diamond cutter in getting 2.9 counts from clumsy ref Todd Sinclair, and Lynn had other near falls on Nigel. The fans were popping big.

-As I mentioned, if you yelled loud enough everyone could hear you, even the workers. Some smart fans one section over from me shouted "Tower of London" and Nigel gave them a quick point with his hand as an acknowledgment. Nigel's post-match dressing-down of Lynn was strong, saying he's not only washed up but that he "not only doesn't have it" but that he "never had it", which drew nuclear heat. Fans threw trash at him, kind of like 1996 nWo pissing off fans (in a good way) in WCW.

-Lynn made sure to acknowledge the loud section cheering for him in the stands before he left the ring. If ROH comes back to Nashville (no announcement that they would, unlike St. Louis on Friday night) they could have a money program with a Lynn/Nigel rematch. Give comp tickets to a few Vandy students to paper 21st Avenue and the area around the school, maybe buy a few radio spots on sports talk stations (we have two on FM in Nashville) and perhaps even get a local paper to write up the Lynn in Murfreesboro connection and, voila, 250 could turn into 1,000. Word of mouth from the show should be strong with those great last few matches.

-One guy had a sign that said he drove 8 hours to see the show. I believe it, noting that (besides the Orlando shows) this is the furthest south the promotion has ever gone. I hope they come back here when they make the run through St. Louis again, but we'll see about that.

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