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By Stu Carapola on 2/14/2012 10:26 AM
Survival of the Fittest is one of my favorite shows each year, partly because I've always been a mark for tournaments, but also because it's the show where, each year, someone gets the chance to break out of the pack and earn the chance to permanently move into the main event level. Past winners like Bryan Danielson (2004), Roderick Strong (2005), Tyler Black (2009), and Eddie Edwards (2010) have gone on to win the ROH World Title, but even good performances that ultimately ended in defeat have resulted in people making a name for themselves. While it hasn't ever been presented as one of the "big" ROH shows like Final Battle or Glory By Honor, there's been a lot of great moments and surprise upsets over the years that have made Survival of the Fittest a must see show.

ROH Survival OF The Fittest 2011 - 11/18/2011 in Dayton, Ohio

The show kicked off with a tag match that doubled as a first round match in the SOTF, between the Briscoes and the Bravado Bros. They're done this before, and I'm not a fan of non-standard matches as first round tournament matches. I think that if ROH wants to present itself as more of a sport than entertainment, then they've got to keep the playing field level, and if everyone else has to win singles matches to advance, then these guys should too. Regardless, this was pretty much all Briscoes, they dominated the Bravados and hit the Doomsday Device to get the win. Jay cuts a promo after the match saying that even though they're brothers, he won't hesitate to knock Mark's head off. This leads to the two of them shoving and headbutting each other, but it was all good fun for the Briscoes.

The second match in the first round saw Andy "Right Leg" Ridge taking on Kyle O'Reilly. Ridge had to beat Grizzly Redwood to even qualify to get into the tournament, a match that's included as a DVD bonus, but it's hard not to look at this like an easy trip to the finals for O'Reilly. It turned out to be a pretty fun match to watch because they turned it into a sort of martial arts showdown where they just pounded on each other, including one part where they just traded spinkicks to the ribs until both of them dropped. No surprise in the end, Kyle O'Reilly gets the front guillotine choke and Ridge taps.

Last year's Survival Of The Fittest winner, Eddie Edwards, tries to make it two in a row as he faces Mike Bennett in the next first round match, and this may have been Bennett's best match since coming to ROH. I said in the Gateway To Honor review that there's two Bennetts, one that sleepwalks through his matches and puts people to sleep, and another that works his ass off and has good matches. The second one showed up tonight, and he had an excellent match with Eddie Edwards. Eddie did hit the dive through the ropes that messed up his shoulder last year, a fact Kevin Kelly pointed out on commentary, but he came away from it fine this year and then they went back in where they did a crazy finish with Bennett going for a Box Office Smash (aka the Side Effect) off the top rope, but Eddie moonsaulted through the move, landed on his feet, and then caught Bennett in the Dragon Sleeper for the tapout win.

After several backstage promos (including one where Davey Richards spoiled the finish of the next match when he told Kyle O'Reilly he'll see Michael Elgin in the finals), we go on to another non-standard opening round match with Elgin, Tommaso Ciampa, Adam Cole, and Kenny King in a four way, one fall match. This match was awesome, you had four of the best guys in the company just destroying each other with one big move after another. I've been saying for a while now that Ciampa needs to get in the ring with better opponents, and he got the chance here to mix it up with guys he normally wouldn't get the chance to wrestle. In particular, I enjoyed watching his interaction with Elgin, as they both drew the line in the sand went at it briefly, and it even played into the finish where Elgin went after Cole while Ciampa was caught in the Tree of Woe and unable to stop Elgin from hitting the sitout powerbomb and getting the win. I like the way they teased a future Elgin-Ciampa war, I thought this was a great match, and I enjoyed the whole thing so much I almost forgot it was a qualifier for the SOTF finals.

Before the final first round match, we have a bonus match between Steve Corino and El Generico, and Jimmy Jacobs cuts a really good prematch promo saying that even though the guy he can't name (aka Kevin Steen) thinks that the road to redemption means "cutting your own balls off", that's not what it's about for Corino and he needs to show that he's still as tough as he's ever been. Corino and Generico have a tense staredown before the match, and I loved seeing it because I think it's really stupid when you watch other companies and guys who practically killed each other suddenly wind up best buddies because they're both babyfaces or both heels now. I love the attention to detail, and the story of this match was equally well told because Generico clearly didn't trust Corino and expected him to wrestle dirty, but Corino absolutely refused to do anything but wrestle a 100% clean match. Generico refused to shake Corino's hand several times, and it almost came off like Generico was the heel here because he kept slapping Corino around and Corino wouldn't punch him, he wouldn't cheat, and he wouldn't even do the thumb in the bum. There was a great sequence at the end where Corino got laid out on the floor and Jacobs yelled at him to stay down, but Corino still rolled back in even though he was nearly defenseless and Generico hit a half and half suplex and two brainbusters, but Corino still kept kicking out and Jacobswent to throw the towel in for Corino, but Corino told him not to. Generico went for one more brainbuster, but Corino countered to the Snowplow just as time ran out.

The postmatch stuff was great too, as Jim Cornette came out to check on them and Jacobs got the microphone and says that everyone there in Dayton saw it, Corino had every chance to cheat but he wrestled 100% on the level. Cornette backed Jacobs up on that and said that this is sportsmanship and this is what ROH is all about, and that led to Corino and Generico finally shaking hands and seeming to put everything behind them. Then we went to a backstage promo as Jacobs told Corino that what just happened out there was incredible, and Corino says that he hopes the fans got it, but now there's just one thing left for his road to recovery, and that's the destroy the monster he created and face Kevin Steen at Final Battle. This match and the aftermath was very well booked and it did a great job of telling the continually evolving story of Generico, Jacobs, Corino, and Steen.

Now we move on to the final first round match in Survival of the Fittest as Roderick Strong, who won SOTF in 2005, takes on Rhett Titus. Titus did a backstage promo earlier in the evening talking about how Roderick beat him in the first round of Survival of the Fittest 2009, but now he's had two more years of experience and is a different wrestler, and that's going to make for a different outcome. Titus was certainly a lot more competitive than he was the last time, because Strong pretty much dominated the early part of the match, but then Titus started coming back and got several near falls on Roderick, including one that came after a scary spot where Titus tried to hit a hot shot on the top turnbuckle, but misjudged and ended up dumping strong face first on the mat. Truth Martini distracted Titus and gave Strong the opportunity to hit a pair of leaping enziguiris and the Sick Kick for the win.

Okay, we're through the first round and the six men who have fought their way to the finals of Survival Of The Fittest are Eddie Edwards, Roderick Strong, the Briscoes, Michael Elgin, and Kyle O'Reilly. That's a pretty serious field, and probably the strongest field we've seen in the finals of SOTF since the first one.

But before we get to the main event, we have a unique attraction in the Champions' Challenge match that features every champion in ROH in one match, as ROH World Tag Team Champions Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin face ROH World Champion (and one half of the NJPW Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, another belt he brought with him) and ROH TV Champion Jay Lethal. The idea behind a match like this is to see whether the two top singles champions are able to beat the top team in the company, or wheter the tag champs' chemistry and teamwork is able to prevail. Haas & Benjamin controlled the early part of the match, but then Davey and Lethal were able to trap Benjamin in the ring and smartly worked over his injured ribs, with Davey firing off kicks into Shelton's abdomen while Lethal got him in an abdominal stretch. Benjamin made the hot tag and then all hell broke loose as all four men destroyed each other, with one great segment where Davey and Shelton went toe to toe and just pummeled each other with forearms and kicks until they both went down. Lethal and Richards hit a flying headbutt/flying elbow combo on Benjamin, but Haas broke up the fall and went after Lethal, forcing him to tap out to the Haas of Pain. It's never easy to properly book babyface vs babyface matches, but this came off really well and the right team won because the tag champs are supposed to be the best team in the company, even when faced with two great singles wrestlers. Everyone was a good sport and shook hands afterward, and Richards got on the mic and said that the people chanting it have it right, that they and the people about to come out for the next match are the best in the world.

Speaking of which, this brings us to the main event of the evening, the finals of the 2011 Survival of the Fittest tournament. For those who have never seen it, it's a six way elimination match with the winner earning a shot at the ROH World Title at some undetermined point in the future. We have two built in alliances coming into the match with the Briscoes making it to the finals, as well as Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin, both members of the House of Truth. For the first time, the winner of SOTF will earn a giant trophy that's sitting next to the timekeeper's table at ringside. Roderick and Eddie are both former SOTF winners, and the only two still working for the company. They did a couple of interesting sequences where Eddie and O'Reilly, who really don't like each other even though they're both friends of Davey Richards, shook hands and had a clean back and forth sequence that ended in a stalemate. They tagged out to both Briscoes simultaneously, but instead of fighting each other, the Briscoes went after everyone else in the match. All hell broke loose after that as everyone went nuts hitting big move after big move, including Elgin moonsaulting to the outside onto everyone else in the match.

Edwards was a machine for the next several minutes, hitting the Die Hard to eliminate Mark Briscoe, then tapping Jay Briscoe out to the Dragon Sleeper only seconds later. Edwards and O'Reilly actually wound up working pretty well together, but Edwards went after Truth Martini when he got onto the ring apron and sent him flying into the ropes, knocking O'Reilly off the top and through a table at ringside. This left Eddie alone against both members of the House of Truth, but Eddie rolled Roderick up and pinned him as well in short order and dramatically increasing his own odds of winning, but Elgin broke his momentum and pinned him after a pair of spinning backfists and a running lariat.

This brought it down to Elgin and O'Reilly, the two most junior guys in the match, and literally the entire second half of the match was just Elgin and O'Reilly. O'Reilly dragged himself into the ring and was clearly in a lot of pain, and ended up in even more pain after taking a severe pounding at the hands of the much bigger, stronger Elgin. O'Reilly finally countered a move to the guillotine choke, the crowd went nuts because they thought O'Reilly was about to win and even Davey Richards came out to cheer him on, but Elgin managed to get out of the hold. O'Reilly kept up the pressure, but eventually Elgin started no-selling his kicks and took control again, but they wound up fighting on the ring apron until O'Reilly tried a sunset flip to the floor, Elgin tried a vertical splash to counter, but O'Reilly moved and then hit a back suplex to the floor. O'Reilly was re-energized and hit Elgin with the crazy running dropkick off the apron, but then he rolled Elgin back into the ring and went for a top rope dropkick and Elgin countered to a powerbomb. Elgin picked him back up and hit the sitout powerbomb to become the winner of the 2011 Survival of the Fittest tournament. Richards came in to check on his protege, but then he turned around and found himself face to face with Elgin, and they had a tense staredown before Richards escorted O'Reilly to the back and left Elgin to celebrate in the ring with Truth Martini and his giant trophy.

* * *

Excellent show, not only was there a TON of great wrestling, but they told a lot of great stories in Corino's quest for redemption, Eddie Edwards trying to become the first back-to-back SOTF winner, Kyle O'Reilly fighting his heart out to win SOTF, only to end up losing to the dominant Michael Elgin, who became the first man in ROH history to go through eight men to win SOTF instead of six. There wasn't one thing on this show I didn't like, and is an easy thumbs up.

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