Survival Of The Fittest 2009 - 10/10/09
The show opened with a Jim Cornette promo where he said he was so impressed with Delirious' performance against Austin Aries the night before, that he's giving him a bye directly into the finals of Survival Of The Fittest tonight. I didn't like that, and I don't think I'm alone in feeling ripped off. I feel like when you sell a show on a tournament format, I'm going in expecting to see a complete tournament, not guys getting byes or, like they did once before, having a first round draw and a five man final instead of six. People don't like when you screw with a winning formula, and if you're trying to get over how impressive Delirious is, you'd be better served by having him win a match than be handed a bye, especially when you know he's not winning the tournament anyway.
Solid tag team opener as the Young Bucks defeated the House Of Truth. Just based on the few times I've seen him, Truth Martini really seems to have the conniving, slapstick heel manager schtick down. The Young Bucks, meanwhile, have the Rock N Roll Express formula down to a T, with Nick Jackson repeatedly coming ever so close to making the hot tag, only to get cut off at the last minute before finally making the tag to his older brother. Normally I think that tournament shows should open with tournament matches and then do the non-tournament matches between the opening round and the finals, but this was a great opener to get the crowd into the swing of things, so it worked for me.
After that opener, we begin the first round SOTF matches with Colt Cabana defeating Kevin Steen. They were really playing up Kevin Steen's bad knee here with it seriously impeding him several times, and it was designed to build to Final Battle where we were all supposed to think he was going to take time off to let the knee heal, but ended up turning on Generico. Interestingly, Cabana ended up getting involved in the Steen/Generico situation pretty much from the beginning, but this match never played into the feud at all. Match was a bit disjointed as they were going for a Colt Cabana comedy match, but it never really seemed to click. But that's fine because it accomplished what they were going for: Steen suffered another tough loss that made him question himself that much more, and furthered the idea that Steen needed a new direction.
Up next, Roderick Strong took on Rhett Titus in SOTF qualifier #2. Roderick cut a great prematch promo where he talked about winning SOTF in 2005 and failing to come through and win the ROH World Title, but now it's 2009 and he's a much better wrestler, and he plans on not only repeating as a SOTF winner, but going on to finally fulfill his destiny and become ROH World Champion. I thought it was a great promo that established Roderick's motivation for the next several months, including his recent title shot in the Big Bang main event as well as his one-on-one match with Tyler in the upcoming New York main event. Titus got a lot of offense in this match and looked competitive with Strong, and I keep saying that, unlike other ROH school graduates, Titus was never slapped with the label of an "ROH Wrestling Academy graduate", and that's why people didn't look at him like a jobber the same way they viewed Pelle Primeau and Mitch Franklin before he became Grizzley Redwood. Plus, the guy busts his ass and wrestles every chance he gets and it's nice to see his dedication to his craft being rewarded in a way it never would have under the previous management. Still, Strong got the win and advanced to the SOTF finals.
So now we're at the halfway point of the first round as we move on to Tyler Black vs Kenny King, and I don't think it was any big secret that Tyler was going to win the whole thing (sorry to spoil it for anyone who didn't already know). Still, like I've said elsewhere, I think that holding off on giving Tyler the title really exposed him as not being anywhere near ready to carry that responsibility. He's got some cool moves, sure, but he doesn't have the ability to carry others to good matches, a fact that is exposed whenever he's not in the ring with someone named Austin Aries, Bryan Danielson, or Nigel McGuinness. He also has no personality whatsoever and, more importantly, no killer instinct, and all these things combine to create a wrestler who obviously tries very hard, but just isn't cut out to be the guy carrying the company. I have to be honest, I think Kenny King's got more goods than Tyler Black, and I can probably think of a half dozen other guys I'd give the title to before Tyler. Still, Tyler was obviously winning the whole thing and even though Kenny got a really competitive match out of Tyler, the future World Champion went over with a superkick to send him to the finals.
Up next, Claudio Castagnoli took on Petey Williams, and the subplot to this match was that Petey had been in the ring with Claudio in multiple-man matches twice previously, and both times Petey had been on the verge of victory when Claudio stole it from under his nose, so this is Petey's chance to prove his superiority in a staight singles encounter. With all due respect to Petey Williams, he's a one move wonder. He's all about the Canadian Destroyer, and furthermore, he was never booked as a serious threat to anyone during his time in ROH, so you knew going in that the chances of him going over a bonafide ROH regular in Claudio were relatively low, and sure enough, Claudio got the duke here. Some people may crud about the way Petey was booked in ROH, but for as much heat as this may get me with the "the only good wrestlers are under 230 lbs" crowd, I can't say I would have done it any differently.
And with that, we come to the final first round SOTF match, and the only one that had any kind of suspense as to who would win, as Chris Hero took on Kenny Omega who, as we saw earlier, got a huge win over Davey Richards just one night earlier. The thing about Kenny Omega is that he has a bad habit of looking like a milliion bucks during most of a match, but having one or two points where he either does something goofy or badly blows a highspot and it makes it hard to take him seriously, and he did that a couple of times in this match. The Hadoken is ridiculous and I hate watching guys who take their craft seriously being forced to sell the move, and also there was a spot where he did some move that was supposed to wind up with him getting dumped onto the apron, but he ended up spilling out so badly that he nearly took out the timekeeper's table. I want to like the guy and usually I do, but he really comes off like he doesn't take wrestling seriously, and if he doesn't take it seriously, why should I care about him? But in any event, he lost the match and the finish looked funky because Hero nailed him with a rolling elbow and Omega seemed to kick out at the last second, but the referee counted the three and called it a match. Kenny Omega is currently the poster child for people who could be big stars if they had it in them to stop screwing around and being determined to get their ridiculous spots into every match they have, and until he grows up and starts taking his craft seriously, he's never going to get anywhere, not in ROH and not anywhere.
So with the SOTF finals set, we go to our non-tournament break before the finals, as Jay & Mark Briscoe took on one half of the ROH World Tag Team Champions, Davey Richards, and the ROH World Champion, Austin Aries. This was a fun match to watch because you had two champions working together as a team, while at the same time continually trying to one up one another. Adding to the subplot of the match was the fact that Richards had a shot at Aries for the ROH World Title coming to him, so there was also that built-in tension between Richards and Aries. They managed to work together well enough through most of the match, but eventually Aries had enough and decided to walk out on Richards, leaving him alone and easy prey for the Briscoes, who hit the Doomsday Device to pick up the win and solidify themselves as tag title challengers while further buildiung an angle between Aries and Richards, leading to their ROH World Title match a few weeks later.
Finally, it was now time for the main event, the finals of the Survival Of The Fittest tournament after the tournament took a one year hiatus. Interestingly, this match included three of the four previous SOTF champions in Chris Hero, Roderick Strong, and Delirious, with the only other prior winner, Bryan Danielson, obviously not included as he had left the company. I liked several things about this match, the first being that a large portion of the early part of the match focused on Hero and Claudio working together against the other finalists, foreshadowing their eventual reunion. You could tell the crowd was into the idea of a reunion as well, because there were a lot of "Kings Of Wrestling" chants going on. I also liked that it was past the 20 minute mark before we got our first elimination, because not much bothers me more than seeing guys getting pinned unrealistically quickly because they're trying to fit a match with a bunch of eliminations into a short timespan. They also didn't do the other thing I can't stand where they have three or four eliminations in a minute or two, because that's just screaming out that they're trying to keep the match short. They also kept it slow and methodical in the beginning, and then the pace started picking up once people got eliminated. Once it got down to Tyler and Roderick, they had a great, dramatic segment and really turned this one match into almost two separate matches, first with the six guys and then the last 10-15 minutes with just Tyler and Roderick, and even though everybody knew that Tyler was going over, there were a lot of close calls where you thought Roderick might score a surprise upset. The finish was genius, framing it like Tyler won the match, but didn't really beat Roderick, and this, combined with the rematch they did which Roderick won, was a great beginning of the slow build to the Tyler vs Roderick main event when ROH returns to New York City in a couple of weeks.
Overall, this was a very well done show that stayed interesting the whole way through and fit some subtle, yet important storytelling elements into a tournament format.