This year Ring of Honor is fifteen years old. The promotion has (for better or worse) come a long way since its juvenile years, when it was at the forefront of an independent wrestling boom and had some of the brightest young stars in wrestling at its disposal. I’ll always have a soft spot for those early days, as it was my personal discovery of ROH that rejuvenated my love of pro wrestling at a time when my interest was at an all-time low. ROH felt daring and exciting, a natural evolution of the independent wrestling that had come before it, and authentic in a way the big leagues couldn’t match. So I thought it would be interesting to go back and re-watch the show that first introduced me to ROH, to see if I could determine what so appealed to me about the product and to see if it still holds up today.
Ring of Honor – WrestleRave ’03 – 2003.06.28, Murphy Rec Center, Philadelphia, PA
The show opens with a backstage promo from Low Ki, who injured himself wresting in the UK against Flash Barker. Ki extends an invite for Flash to come to the US for a rematch (Flash didn’t go to the US). Ki turns to The Prophecy, says they have no place in ROH and starts to ramble a bit, super serious voice, motivational platitudes, “it’s not the size of the fighter, but the size of the fight”, etc, before revealing he’s all healed up and ready to go.
Next, we cut to Feinstein halfway through telling Gabe (behind camera) an inappropriate joke. He’s interrupted by Simply Luscious and the camera abruptly moves in on her midsection and up her body before moving back out. OK. Not at all creepy. Luscious wants to know who she’s wrestling, but Feinstein explains that as the imaginatively named ‘The Group’ lost their match at the last show they were forced to disband.
1. The Ring Crew Express (Dunn & Marcos) vs Prince Nana & Jimmy Jact Cash
Prince Nana runs down the fat, inbred fans and says he’s a heavyweight player in ROH (he wasn’t). Dunn & Marcos, looking every bit the dudes out of Detroit Rock City, tell Nana & Cash that they’re gonna rock them, like a hurricane! The Code of Honor is observed, only for Nana & Cash to jump the Ring Crew Express at the bell. A huge ROH Top 5 Ranking System graphic takes over the entire screen. I distinctly remember ROH could never really settle on a ranking system, always seemed to be changing every few months or so. Nana & Cash control for the majority, until Dunn & Marcos get some tag team offence going, picking up their first ever win with an electric chair senton and assisted sliced bread.
2. Alexis Laree vs Sumie Sakai
This one starts off quick. “Not only is she hot, but Alexis can wrestle!”, nice insight there, Gabe. Sumie takes early control of the match and punishes Laree with a series of submissions. She goes for a fisherman buster, but Alexis smartly rolls into a cradle for a nearfall. Sumie comes back and goes up top for a moonsault, but Alexis moves out of the way and hits her inverted DDT for the win.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) March 4, 2017
Cut to the back and Christopher Daniels and The Prophecy are crowing about defeating The Group. Daniels says there’s two bits of business tonight, firstly The Prophecy assassin Danny Maff will take the ROH title from Samoa Joe and, secondly, Daniels will team with Raven to defeat The Secondy City Saints before they become a thorn in Daniels’ side.
3. Tap Out Match: Matt Stryker vs Chad Collyer
Crowd are behind the underdog Stryker, who’s replacing ‘Reckless Youth’ Tom Carter as his wife was in labour. Commentary gets bogged down in trying to figure out what a win or loss will do for either guy in the top 5 rankings. They’re very keen to emphasise that you won’t see this sort of technical wrestling treated with such respect elsewhere, and that they’re after the kind of fans who can appreciate a more methodical style. The match itself is really solid, Stryker does a good job of surprising Collyer with a number of smart transitions and counters, but every time he does Collyer gets vicious in response and that’s what gives him the edge.
4. The Carnage Crew (DeVito, HC Loc & Justin Credible) vs Special K (Izzy, Dixie & Deranged)
Special K rave their way down to the ring with a bunch of hangers on, namely Becky, Hydro (future ROH World Champion Jay Lethal), Angeldust, Lit & Hijinx. They’re followed by the Carnage Crew, who introduce a surprise new member: ECW Original Justin Credible! Special K freak out about the addition, but eventually get the match started. Deranged complains the Justin hits too hard. The basis for this feud is pretty much that Special K are spoiled rich kids who like to party, while Carnage Crew are blue collar toughs who hate their jobs and take out their frustrations in the ring. This isn’t a bad six man tag, Carnage Crew were always a solid tag pairing and the Special K kids have a good deal of innovative offence in their arsenal. All in all it makes for a fun tag match that doesn’t get too chaotic.
Big dives from Special K! pic.twitter.com/zjoQJfvNhp
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) March 20, 2017
5. ROH World Championship: Samoa Joe (c) vs Dan Maff
Commentary explains that Maff’s father passed away the night prior and he’s competing here in his memory. The crowd are aware of this and get behind Maff, in spite of his affiliation with The Prophecy. This winds up being a super hard hitting match. Maff wastes no time, dumping Joe to the outside and hitting a tope suicida. Joe fires back and takes control of the match, but Maff poses a problem for the champion, as he’s one of the few men in ROH who can match Joe’s strength. Suffice to say, they beat the hell out of each other here and the finishing stretch is excellent, Maff almost hitting the Burning Hammer and Joe then doing his damnedest to put Maff away as quickly as possible. Post-match show of respect from the champion, leaving Maff to soak up the crowd’s appreciation.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) March 21, 2017
Cut to the back with Gary Michael Cappetta interviewing Homicide and Julius Smokes. Homicide has a few words for Trent Acid, recalling when they faced six years previously and Homicide smashed a VCR over Acid’s head. Cappetta tries to stir up some shit between Julius Smokes and Low Ki, the latter having said that if Julius Smokes wasn’t at ringside for all of his matches Homicide would be champion by now. Smokes responds, I think I got the general gist of it, but with his promos I always found it hard to tell.
6. Four Corner Survival: BJ Whitmer vs Alex Shelley vs Jimmy Jacobs vs Tony Mamaluke
A match featuring three guys who’d go on to be personal favourites of mine in ROH, and Tony Mamaluke who’s ROH stint wasn’t terribly memorable. This was Jacobs & Shelley’s ROH debuts and, although they’re both only a year or so into their careers, they put on a good display here with some great exchanges on the mat. Whitmer’s excluded from much of the match, before exploding in the later stages with a huge series of suplexes to get the win in a chaotic Four Corner Survival, the sort of match that was a staple of the classic era of ROH.
7. Raven & Christopher Daniels vs The Second City Saints (CM Punk & Colt Cabana)
Raven & Daniels refuse to let the Saints into the ring, and an enraged Punk grabs the mic to address Raven: “Everything you have ever been given you have pissed away, you’re a has-been and you’re a wash-out”. Raven lies down in the ring and Cabana tries to surprise him with a frog-splash, but he rolls out of the way and the match is on. Some vintage tag action from Raven & Daniels early on, with noggin knockers and even a row boat! Then it gets violent, Punk and Daniels busting each other open with chairs before the Saints isolate Daniels and work over his arm. Eventually Raven gets the hot tag and hits the Evenflow DDT on Cabana, but the ref’s down and can’t make the count. Punk then attacks Raven with a chain, choking him out before the ref revives and counts the pinfall. Raven gets on the mic and says their feud has to end once and for all, challenging Punk to a dog collar match.
Hah, row boat from Raven & Daniels pic.twitter.com/mvk2mV7SOQ
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) March 21, 2017
To the back and a bloody CM Punk cuts an impassioned promo, one of his more famous ones from his ROH days, comparing Raven to his drunk of a father and saying that when they next meet he’ll “become a monster to fight the monsters of the world”.
8. NWA World Heavyweight Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Chris Sabin
Commentary puts over what a big deal having the NWA title on the show is, although I remember finding it strange at the time that a belt affiliated with another promotion was placed ahead of ROH’s own title. The match starts at a fair clip, AJ going for the Styles Clash early on, but Sabin manages to squirm his way free. This is a very back-and-forth affair with a ton of innovative offence from both guys, some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but the crowd are into it regardless. The finish, while not abrupt, felt like it ended the match before its time, AJ retaining his NWA title against the then NWA-TNA X-Division champion Sabin.
Post-match and in the back Gary Michael Cappetta admits his shit stirring to Low Ki, who isn’t the slightest bit phased by Julius Smokes’ threat to see him in the parking lot after the show.
9. Fight Without Honor: Homicide vs Trent Acid
Acid makes quite the first impression, looking like a sleazy frat douche as he gets women in the front row to stuff dollar bills into his pants. Homicide enters wearing a BJW shirt and rising sun bandanna. He’s been wrestling in Japan, you see. Unintentionally hilarious line from commentary “of course, Homicide has Julius Smokes in his corner, street name: J-Train” said with the utmost seriousness. Acid attacks before the bell and wastes little time upping the crazy, with an Asai moonsault that sends his shins slamming into the barricade. Ouch. Acid continues the punishment back in the ring, hitting a disgusting blue thunder bomb over a ladder suspended between two chairs. Homicide makes a big comeback, catching Acid with a northern lights bomb before heading up top and hitting a goddamn Ace Crusher to the floor through a table. Madness. Gabe screams his trademark “DANGEROUSSSSS!!” on commentary, most definitely appropriate. Homicide goes for the Cop Killa, but Acid’s tag partner Johnny Kashmere gets involved. Homicide rallies and goes for it again, but Acid counters and rolls through for a desperation pin to get the three count. What this one lacked in structure it made up for in sheer craziness.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) March 21, 2017
The lights go out and when they come back up Special K are in the ring, they put Acid & Kashmere through tables and then kick off an impromptu rave to close out WrestleRave ’03.
Well, that was quite the ride. It’s safe to say that independent wrestling’s come a long way in the past fourteen years, in terms of size, in terms of quality, in terms of the depth of the talent pool at a promoter’s disposal. While today ROH is still a destination for aspiring independent wrestlers, it’s now one of many (and not necessarily the most enticing) rather than the be-all and end-all. Also, back in 2003 the independent wrestling world was still very firmly in the grip of post-ECW malaise, there was still a perceived need to be edgy and extreme, to create controversy and shock the viewer. It’s moments like this that have aged the least well, from off-colour “jokes”, to some of the more dangerous and reckless action on display in the ring. That being said, there’s great a sense of energy at work here. The audience is loud, excitable and appreciative of the talent before them, and said talent come across as hungry and keen to demonstrate what makes them unique. While early ROH could sometimes feel like it was overly ambitious, lacking in focus or just plain trying too hard at times, it’s also exciting and vital. This is an indy promotion in ascendance in the early stages of the big independent wrestling boom, and there’s a real sense that the promotion was at the cutting edge of the wrestling scene.
The matches themselves were a mixed bag, but nothing was outright bad on the show and everything served its purpose. There’s a strong level of variety with the wrestling on display, providing hardcore, high-flying and technical expertise up and down the card. Not much of it has aged badly, either. The Stryker vs Collyer match-up wouldn’t look out of place on an EVOLVE undercard, while AJ Styles vs Chris Sabin was state of the art for the time and a good indication of where independent wrestling (and where wrestling in general) was heading. The ROH title match was a super hard hitting affair that more than holds up by today’s standards, while Homicide & Trent Acid’s Fight Without Honor was a crazy brutal hardcore match that dropped my jaw when I first watched this fourteen years ago. Very reckless, no doubt, but showing a different side of ROH and the great variety their cards could command in 2003. The leaps ROH have made in the intervening years are undeniably large, but it’s also clear that something (perhaps inevitably) has been lost along the way after a decade and half, numerous changes in management and even ownership, and multiple exoduses of talent either via scandal or raid. ROH undoubtedly isn’t the same promotion it once was, but watching WrestleRave ’03 (a fairly middle of the road show by ROH’s standards) it’s easy to see why they were at the forefront of the independent wrestling scene.
If you’re in the UK, DVD’s from ROH & others available HERE