There weren’t many bigger fans of Ring Of Honor in the United Kingdom than me in 2006. Having been hooked in late 2003 thanks to coverage in Power Slam magazine of the likes of Low Ki, Samoa Joe, Homicide and most importantly, the CM Punk/Raven feud, I’d become the definitive hardcore ROH fan. I spent thousands of pounds on DVD’s, merchandise and most expensively – trips to America to go and see the product live. One of those trips though, was a freebie – coming as a result of the raffle at The Wrestling Channel’s big super show, International Showdown in 2005. ROH being a big part of the station, were funding a first prize of paid for flights to America, to see any ROH show of your choosing. Perhaps that I was decked out head to toe in ROH gear helped, or maybe it was dumb luck, but wouldn’t you know, of all people, I picked the winning ticket.
The show I chose was naturally, the recently announced Joe vs Kobashi in New York. I spent much of that trip being ferried around by different ROH staff, from Syd Eick to Gabe Sapolsky. I’d push all of them, and ROH owner Cary Silkin – asking when was ROH going to do a tour in Europe. When I returned in March 2006 for that years Wrestlemania weekend, Cary asked me – “Hey Benno, you’re from Liverpool, what’s the wrestling scene like there, are there many wrestling fans?”, I didn’t realise why he was asking and told him “There’s not much of a scene to be honest, most of the better promotions are down south”. He looked disappointed at my answer. I found out a week later, ROH would announce their first UK tour. Liverpool was the first stop.
ROH would go on to do three shows in the famed Liverpool Olympia in 2006 and 2007 – I went above and beyond as Liverpool’s resident hardcore fan, trying to help with promotion, flyering and even organising a bus trip for fans on that first tour to get them from Liverpool to the next days venue Broxbourne. In an Alex Shane moneysaving idea, unbeknownst to them, the ROH wrestlers were booked to travel on my bus trip, with the fans. I don’t know what was dafter – that they had me, a 21 year old idiot fan having to go to the local Premier Inn and wake up – and break the news to, the ROH wrestlers at 8am (after most of them had spent the night drinking and erm, socialising with some of the lovely ladies of the “grab a granny” Grafton nightclub next door to the Liverpool Olympia) – or that I was solely responsible for getting them to the other side of the country on my hastily organised bus trip, while simultaneously ensuring they were left alone by some of the more eager fans on the bus.
Thankfully it all worked out, and the shows were in the main, a business and critical success. The abiding memory I think most of us have, is that first show in Liverpool. Unified – featuring a title unification match of Nigel McGuiness and Bryan Danielson. I was first row for that, inches away as the both of them head butted the ring post with probably the most sickening thud I’d ever hear at a wrestling show. That match is sadly likely to have contributed to the health issues that led to both men’s premature retirements, but on that night, I joined in with the “This is Awesome” chants. We all thought we’d seen something special.
Fast forward to 2016, and a very different Ring Of Honor returned to Liverpool – just over 10 years since they did that first monumental show at the very same Liverpool Olympia. The difference was stark. In contrast to what felt like historically significant packed, rowdy houses 10 years ago, the Olympia was just over half full, maybe two thirds. I’d estimate an attendance of around 600-700 people, with the entire upper balcony taped off and lots of empty seats on the floor. We had balcony seats and were upgraded to the floor on the night. ROH was running a mile and a half away from UK promotion Preston City Wrestling in Liverpool’s Fusion Nightclub. The bust up between the promotions that led to this happening was public and I think it did hurt the attendance of both shows. I know of a few people who had tickets to both who were forced to choose to miss out on one.
Still, the 2016 ROH setup in this aged but still magnificent looking building, with video walls and polished entrance way looked great. The full crew was here, Bobby Cruise on the ring announcing, Todd Sinclair sharing referring duties with locals Joel Allen and Chris Roberts, with Steve Corino, Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness doing commentary in person for DVD/VOD release. There were some minor issues with lighting (the ring lights going out temporarily during one match) but the big problem that reared its head all night was the ring. It looked to be a ring custom made for the event with ROH logo turnbuckles and ring apron, but there were major issues with the ropes coming loose, making springboard moves dangerous and difficult to pull off, and wooden ring posts that looked to be slowly caving in towards the ring all night. Between each match, the ring crew would attempt to fix the issues with minimal success. The 2006 ROH fan in me was very disappointed that none of this Ring Of Honor crowd of today, shouted for Dunn and Marcos.
Lio Rush vs Frankie Kazarian
This was a serviceable enough opener, although the crowd and the wrestlers were definitely effected by the increasingly loosening ring ropes throughout the match. At one point Rush took an incredible bump into the corner, spilling to the floor through the slack ring ropes. If that wasn’t an accident due to the ring issues and was a spot they came up with as it appeared to be, kudos to both men. Rush pinned Kazarian with a Frog Splash.
Nigel McGuinness came out after this match, talking generally about the card but in the main he was there to talk about his memories of working the building with ROH. The fans reacted well to Nigel being back at the scene of arguably his most famous ROH matches.
Donovan Dijak vs Joe Hendry
This is the first time I’ve seen Joe Hendry live. He had his usual Local Hero theme song deal with altered lyrics to reference ROH in Liverpool. They didn’t win the crowd over which was particularly quiet for this match. Dijak went over with Feast Your Eyes. This match was also subject to one of the better deadpan fan shouts I’ve ever heard. “Lads, there are other jobs you know?”. Brutal.
Jay White vs Christopher Daniels
Things picked up somewhat here. Jay White looked particularly good, but despite his attempts to be heel, Daniels was the overwhelming crowd favourite. He worked over the midsection of White and repeatedly used the ropes to stand on White as the referee counted. This was met with chants of “one more time”. In a house show setting like this, I don’t think there’s any reason to go against the grain, so Daniels played it up and became defacto babyface. There was a particularly stiff suplex here where Daniels landed on his head, but seemed OK after. White pinned Daniels with a roll up.
Jay Lethal vs Chris Sabin
A solid match. Considering Jay Lethal was ROH’s TV Champion and World Champion for most of the last couple of years, much of the crowd seemed to only want to see him do his Ric Flair and Randy Savage spots. They worked some of that into the match, although it felt like it never really got going. Standard house show fare, with Lethal pinning Sabin following a Lethal Injection.
Marty Scurll vs Dalton Castle
This was the first match after intermission and where the show really picked up. Scurll and Castle changed the mood in the building, just two fantastic characters. Castle had local wrestlers working as “the boys” and was super over with this crowd. Scurll got arguably an even louder reaction and his presentation here in his first ROH match was top notch. He had a full custom entrance video and a decent theme song which fit him well. Castle was really impressive live, hitting some of the better deadlift German and Gutwrench Suplexes you’ll see. The crowd sang the Bayley “DJ Otzi” song at Castle “I wanna know if you’ll be my boy” which was pretty clever. Scurll pinned Castle after an Umbrella shot behind the referee’s back for the win. Great stuff.
ROH TV Champion Bobby Fish vs Will Ospreay
Ospreay here, and Scurll in the previous match, got two of the loudest reactions on the show. That’s a very positive difference to ROH 10 years ago, where Nigel a US based wrestler aside, you couldn’t have put put equivalent British based wrestlers in the position of Scurll and Ospreay and gotten that level of reaction on their debuts. This was a fantastic match that I’m excited to see a replay of. Ospreay went over with a roll-up for a huge reaction, winning the TV title. They played up Fish being frustrated that this wasn’t scheduled as a title match until earlier this week, but both men shook hands at the end. Another great moment in a career year for Will Ospreay.
Kyle O’Reilly & The Briscoes vs Adam Cole, Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson
This was incredible fun from start to finish. It was the first time I’ve seen the Young Bucks live and it’s an experience you have to do. Just all action and a legitimate party atmosphere as the spots built and built to a crescendo. O’Reilly went over with a Brainbuster on Nick Jackson, assisted by the Briscoes after they put away the other two with a double Doomsday Device. This fit in with the ongoing TV and build to O’Reilly’s Final Battle World title match against Cole.
In the spectre of three massive shows for Independent Wrestling at this venue a decade ago, the attendance was discouraging but my lasting memory of this show will be the insanity of the main event and the two huge debuts for Ospreay and Scrull. Despite a very flat first half and with ring related problems all night, this show rebounded hugely in the second half with three very different, very strong matches. I’ll be looking for the VOD for those last two matches particularly.
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