Final Battle 2009 - 12/19/09
This show not only has the distinction of being ROH's annual year end show, but was also their first ever live broadcast, an iPPV on gofightlive.tv. There were some technical issues at the time of the original broadcast, issues I personally didn't see because I was live at the event, but most of what people complained about seems to have been addresses by the time the DVD ended up in my hands. One thing I did notice is that they appeared to have completely re-recorded the commentary, as Larry Sweeney, who emerged to great fanfare to join the commentary team, was nowhere to be seen or heard on the DVD version of the show. In fact, if you hadn't been there or seen the iPPV live, you wouldn't have even known he was there because the broadcast table was on the near side of the hard camera angle, and you only occasionally saw the tops of their heads. Considering the audio issues that were said to have plagued the live broadcast, I don't blame them for re-recording, but it's a shame that Sweeney got cut.
The show opened with a Four Corner Survival featuring Colt Cabana, Rhett Titus and, opening Final Battle for the second year in a row, Claudio Castagnoli and Kenny Omega. These matches are always a lot of fun and a great choice to open the show, but you never know from show to show whether they're going to use tag rules or no tags needed. This one didn't need tags, but was a lot of fun nonetheless, and the finish came as Cabana had Titus in the Billy Goat's Curse and Claudio bicycle kicked him to the floor, then gave Titus a big bridging suplex for the win.
Match #2 was one of the matches that suffered from the weekend's travel issues, as Bison Smith & Erick Stevens of the Embassy were supposed to face Delirious and Necro Butcher, but Necro's flight couldn't make it into New York because of the storm, so Delirious started the match by himself. Of course he got walloped, and first Pelle Primeau made his return to try and come to the aid of his former partner and was mildly successful, but was decimated and disposed of in short order. Now we get Delirious' real partner, Bobby Dempsey, who came thundering out and tore right through Stevens and Smith in pretty impressive fashion. I love when Dempsey gets his moments to shine like this because you look at him and don't expect a lot out of the guy, but he's got a lot of power and shows it when he tosses guys like Smith and Stevens around the way he does. In the end though, the Embassy was too much and Bison put Dempsey on the top rope and powerbombed him off for the win, a spot that showed the power of post-production because it came off smooth enough on the DVD, but live it took Smith several attempts to get Dempsey on the top rope properly to execute the move. Still, really fun match, even though Delirious, Pelle, and Demspey all had to suffer for a fight that wasn't even theirs.
ROH makes my day with the next match, as my least favorite currently active wrestler, Eddie Kingston, took on Chris Hero in a Fight Without Honor. This is the perfect kind of match to cover for the fact that Kingston doesn't have a talented bone in his body and comes off like a poor man's Sandman, but even in a match like this he looks like crap because he's not even a good brawler per se, he's a cartoony brawler, so if I didn't have enough reasons to not take him seriously, there's another one. Oh, and he's so pathetically out of shape it isn't funny, and I know he's never looked like Conan Chris Walker, but he used to look a lot better than he does now. Hero, on the other hand, has improved so much and turned into such a good worker it's scary, plus he's transformed into a great badass character that comes off as totally legit, which is especially impressive when you consider that he used to be such a goofball, and he's easily one of the top two or three guys left in the company. So what does ROH do to make me love them? If you guessed "have Hero piledrive Kingston off the top rope onto a segment of guardrail that had been balanced on the second rope, then have Kingston kick out, beat up Shane Hagadorn, no-sell the kicks of Sara Del Rey (the #1 women's wrestler in North America) and beat her up too, then steal Hero's golden elbow pad and use it to knock him out and pin him", you win the million dollar prize. You know, heels in the old days had this thing where they'd run down their babyface opponent for being a low class piece of crap and say the fans liked him because they identify with him, and I hate to put it like this, but I can't think of any other reason why Eddie Kingston is as over as he is.
Thankfully, things take a turn for the (much) better in our next match, as Kevin Steen & El Generico took on the Young Bucks. There were two angles going into this match, the first being that Steen had been working on his bad knee for a long time now and was going to have an announcement at the end of this match regarding his future. The second was that Steen & Generico had faced the Young Bucks several times over the course of the year and had beaten the Bucks every single time, with the Bucks getting closer and closer to winning each time out, and this was going to be their final match against one another. Put the two together, and you can see the direction they were trying to steer us with this one. In the end, it was the knee injury that led to Steen & Generico losing this one, as Steen had Nick in the Sharpshooter, but the knee gave out and he had to release the hold, allowing the Young Bucks to hit More Bang For Your Buck. But even that wasn't enough to put Steen away, and in Mike Epsenhart's favorite moment in wrestling history, superkicked Steen over and over again until they knocked him out and were able to pin him to finally beat Steen & Generico.
Now comes the fun part. Steen takes the mic to deliver his announcement, and he says that he always prided himself on giving the fans 100%, but between the knee injury and the weight gain, he couldn't do it anymore. He proceeded to deliver what sounded every bit like a retirement speech, thanking the fans, the wrestlers, Nigel McGuinness, Ross, Syd, Cary, his wife, and everybody else he could think of...and Generico. With blood trickling out of his mouth and tears in his eyes, he gave Generico a long embrace to the thunderous applause of the audience, and when the applause finally died down, Steen let Generico go and said, "I hate your f---ing guts." He kicked Generico in the nuts, went and got a chair from ringside and with a perfect camera closeup, cracked the chair as hard as he could over Generico's head, laying him out cold. Colt Cabana, who had been subtlely portrayed as Steen's buddy in backstage vignettes on recent DVDs, came out to stop Steen and ask him what the hell he was doing, and Steen kissed him on the lips and left. This whole segment was so well done because everyone thought Steen was leaving, and everybody was so into him as far as sympathy and loving the guy and responding to his heartfelt gratitude, and you could almost see the entire crowd's jaws hit the floor in unison when he kicked Generico. The execution on this was so perfect, and it started one of the best feuds so far in 2010.
After that shocking moment, we come back to the ring for a Pick Six match, as (4)Roderick Strong faced Kenny King. Pretty nondescript match overall, and the only really notable thing about it was that King got the upset victory by pinning Roderick on a rollup with a handful of tights.
Up next, Alex Koslov took on Rocky Romero in a singles match that was originally supposed to be a tag match that also included Jack Evans and Teddy Hart, but the aforementioned travel issues prevented them from getting to the venue in time to perform in this match, so instead Romero and Koslov went at it in a singles encounter. This was a pretty good match, and you'd think that they wouldn't have had much time to put it together, but a)these guys have worked together a lot in Mexico, and b)they must have had some idea Teddy and Jack wouldn't make it and had a plan before the night of the show. Good match with an unfortunately fluky finish where Romero got the Diablo Armbar off the top rope, but the bell rang without Koslov tapping or the referee calling for the bell. I'm not sure what happened there, but the finish appeared to have been blown and Romero was officially the winner, but not without controversy. The finish of this match would lead to a rematch between these two on the Wrestlemania weekend events.
We now go to one of our marquee matches of the evening, as the American Wolves defended the ROH World Tag Team Title against Jay & Mark Briscoe. The seeds of this feud go all the way back to Final Battle last year, when the Wolves attacked the Briscoes and injured Mark's knee, putting him out of action for six months. Eddie Edwards gets a huge ovation from the New York crowd, whom he completely won over by wrestling in the Ladder War at Glory By Honor VIII despite having suffered a broken arm the night before. I'm telling you, once you're made in New York, you're made. The interesting thing about Eddie is that I feel like under the previous management, he would have never gotten the shot to break through that he got under Pearce, and that really would have been a shame. Longtime ROH fans often feel like it sucks if Gabe didn't do it, but Pearce has done a lot of great stuff that, as I've said many times over this series, I feel like he hasn't gotten credit for.
As for the match itself, it was exactly what it should have been: a hard fought match with the Briscoes coming away with the win to get their revenge on the American Wolves and regain the ROH World Tag Team Title. I'm surprised that Davey's history with the Briscoes wasn't brought up once during this feud, because throughout 2006, Davey was on the other end of a lot of tag matches with the Briscoes, and lost every single time. It would have been perfect if the attack on Mark at Final Battle 2008 was caused by Davey still being bitter over those losses and wanting to put the Briscoes out to assure he and Eddie's tag team dominance, but it was never brought up. ROH never touched on that history, but they did make my day with the postmatch angle where the Briscoes were celebrating in the ring and Claudio Castagnoli came out to confront them, and while the Briscoes were distracted by Claudio, Chris Hero came out of the crowd and attacked the Briscoes from behind and the two of them beat down the new champions and walked off with their fists in the air. Three years after a split that never should have happened, the Kings Of Wrestling were reunited, and started on a path that would eventually lead them back to the ROH World Tag Team Title.
The show's been great so far, but unfortunately, it all goes downhill from here. The next "match" wasn't really a match at all, as the lights went down and when they came back up, Teddy Hart and Jack Evans were in the ring, having legitimately just made it into the building. There were so many things wrong with this segment that I don't know where to begin, but let's start with the fact that even though these two are supposed to be enemies, and cut a prematch promo to that effect, they were pointing at each other to get the crowd to pop. Next, there was no official match, these two just fought and Julius Smokes, who was in the ring with them, acted like the referee without officially being one. Third, the "match" featured no psychology, as Evans and Hart just exchanged spot after spot until Evans hit his 630 splash on Hart for the "win". This should come as no shock to anybody because neither guy has shown that he has any psychology whatsoever, choosing to just do highspots to pop the crowd instead. Evans in particular is among the worst wrestlers I've ever seen. Sabu was always a crappy wrestler who chose to rely on highspots that he would miss 90% of the time, making it simply look like he didn't know what he was doing at all, but Evans takes Sabu's spot-blowing dexterity to a whole new level because not only does he miss nearly everything he does, he tries to get so cute and fancy with his stuff that it usually takes way too long to set up, and you can almost see Jack going "1, 2, 3, HIGHSPOT!" in his head as he's performing moves as if it were a game of connect the dots. So anyway, Evans "won" and this part was cut from the DVD, but after the match they cut a promo telling the live crowd they were sorry they didn't make it earlier (I wasn't), and then they threatened to come back and have another match at a later date, something which thankfully never happened because this segment came off like more of a backyard wrestling scenario than anything I think I've ever seen.
And this all brings us into perhaps the most controversial match in the history of ROH, as Austin Aries defended the ROH World Title against Tyler Black in what everybody assumed was going to be Tyler's long-awaited title victory. What ended up happening was that Aries would literally spend the whole match running from Tyler, Tyler would chase him, beat him up, throw him back in the ring, and Aries would run back out of the ring and they would repeat this process over and over FOR 60 MINUTES. The interesting thing I remember from being there live was that the crowd turned on Tyler before the match even started and were actually cheering for Aries, and I suppose Tyler had just blown too many opportunities and the fans turned on him, and when the New York fans turn on you, there's no going back. The fan reaction didn't get any better as the match turned into a track meet, and when Aries actually ran to the back and Tyler chased him back there, the fans started chanting "don't come back" at them. As I said, this continued for the full 60 minutes and the match was a time limit draw, which definitely did not satisfy the fans who had braved some pretty bad weather to show up, expecting a war where Tyler would finally destroy Aries and capture the title in 20 minutes or so. In fact, I had my wife with me at this event, and she had come to ROH shows before and usually enjoyed herself, and in fact enjoyed this match up until Teddy and Jack showed their mugs, but after this match, her reaction became "You made me slog through the snow to come here and see this?" And I had nothing, all I could do was tell her I'm sorry and I owe her one and, four chick flicks later, I'm still not out of the doghouse. For as good as the show was up until those last two segments, I don't think anybody felt satisfied leaving the show after this main event, which at the time I called the worst match in company history.
But I am also a fair man, and decided that as with many things, hindsight can change your opinion on something, and made a conscious decision not to write about it again until I had seen the DVD and watched the match a second time. So I did, and it certainly wasn't great, but it wasn't totally awful either. I actually pulled a Green Lantern Fan and watched the clock, the first 10 minutes was all Aries running, then they actually had a solid (if methodical) 20 minutes of wrestling, but then they had 20 minutes straight of Aries stalling to run the clock down, and every now and then one of them would hit a big move, but all it would serve to do was render someone immobile to suck up more time. Finally they got to the last 10 minutes and things finally picked up, and the first five minutes of that was Aries, clearly in desperation, furiously trying everything he could to get disqualified, and I couldn't help but laugh watching him not break chokes on the five count, lowblow Tyler, and threaten to paste him with the belt, and each time Tyler grabbing the ref and begging him not to call for the bell. Once we got to the last three or four minutes, Tyler would further endear himself to the New York crowd by blatantly stealing Bryan Danielson's Cattle Mutilation and MMA elbowstrikes, and the crowd audibly let him know what they thought of that. Finally the bell rings, Tyler beats up Aries after the match, fails to get his heat back by doing so, and the Briscoes come brawling out of the back with the reunited Kings Of Wrestling, and that's the end of the show. Again, the live crowd got a postmatch promo with Tyler giving his wimpy "Well, there's always next time..." speech, and telling the fans that if they didn't like what they just saw, then they're not wrestling fans. Tyler can thank ROH for not saving that moment for posterity.
So overall, it wasn't the complete stallfest I remembered it being because it did have a solid 30 minutes of action, but the flipside is that it also had a solid 30 minutes of stalling, and that drove the crowd nuts because they showed up expecting the match they eventually got at the 8th Anniversary Show, not a slow, drawn out match that would end in a draw. I get the story they were trying to tell, but the problem is that I'm able to look at it with five months of hindsight, whereas myself and 2,000 other people didn't have that benefit watching it live. I think the worst thing you can say about this match when looking at it objectively is that it didn't set the world on fire, but it wasn't quite as bad as everyone made it out to be at the time. It was bad, but not that bad, and it's obvious they had a story they were trying to sell and they were hoping it would hook the fans for the rematch at the 8th Anniversary Show, but it didn't quite work out. It happens.
As for the show overall, as I said right after the event, it was awesome until you got to the last two matches, and then it started going downhill. But for these two events as a single DVD set, I would absolutely say it's worth more than the $20 they're charging for it, so even for the bad stuff, there's a ton of awesome stuff you're going to get for your money, and I would highly recommend this to anyone who is picky about what wrestling DVDs they buy.