Last week as I watched the exciting extra-innings tiebreaker between the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers, I thought about how much more fun sporting events are with something significant at stake. When you watch a baseball game in May you can enjoy it, but in the back of your mind you realize that a loss for your favorite team isn’t going to ruin their season, nor is a victory going to mean all that much. But in the 11th inning of a game in October, with a team’s entire season on the line, every pitch, every swing, every throw, every lead off a base becomes a monumental event, and the entire feeling of the game takes on a new dimension in excitement. That sort of playoff drama reminded me of an event from July of 2007, which created the same sense of urgency in the athletes competing to survive, hoping to advance to the next round as the Twins did before losing to those damn Yankees.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Ring of Honor’s Race to the Top Tournament.
In Deer Park, NY and Edison, NJ on 27 and 28 July 2007 respectively, ROH promoted a tournament designed to elevate wrestlers to the top of the card in a storyline attempt to fill actual vacancies caused by the departures of some key players from their main event scene, like CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and others. Ring of Honor often uses real life motivation as a storytelling device, for example, a newcomer hoping to make a strong showing in a match to earn more bookings and a possible full-time roster spot, which makes the match itself more interesting. In this tournament they did an exceptional job of creating that playoff vibe by imbuing the wrestlers with a sense of urgency thanks to the importance of this two-night affair, and it gave the matches that extra something special.
In a tournament, the grapplers are driven by a need to succeed and the high stakes involved, which adds a layer of intrigue to the in-ring proceedings. That’s part of the reason I tend to enjoy this format, or any other in which the winner actually earns something which could potentially have a significant positive impact on his career, like WWE’s new annual Money in the Bank tradition. Long time readers will recall the numerous times I mentioned a desire to see the big promotions implement a ranking system that could very easily make each and every match important, and how often I’ve raved whenever a promotion accomplishes the exciting atmosphere of something valued and prized by the contestants being on the line.
Before I quit watching the “big two”, I enjoyed WWE’s “Beat the Clock Challenge” matches which took the average, dull SmackDown! and RAW fare and made the matches a lot more entertaining. After all, we know Triple H is going to beat a performer like Funaki, but can he get the job done in less than 4:32? This element adds a tension for Triple H and may cause him to press, which not only makes for compelling wrestling action, but if the story of the match is handled properly, it could force The Game to make a huge mistake at a critical juncture, and if Funaki is on his toes, he might just pull out a miracle. He probably won’t of course, bus as long as the viewer concedes that Funaki might have a chance in this hypothetical match, he’s got an entertaining contest on his hands.
It’s unfortunate that WWE and TNA don’t book more series of this nature because with a few words from the GM a week or two before, a little hype from the commentators, and a single graphic displaying a catchy name like “Beat the Clock Challenge”, so much is added to the same boring, overused match-ups. It’s too good of an idea to leave on the shelf for long periods like the “big two” seem to do.
Case in point: Davey Richards should always beat Pelle Primeau in a wrestling match. The American Wolf is bigger, stronger, faster, and better than Pelle will ever be, and he’s much more seasoned and world-traveled. If they wrestle 4,279 times, the win/loss column should read “Davey Richards: 4,279 – Pelle Primeau: 0”. However, nine times out of ten in a WWE/TNA ring this contest would be a foregone conclusion, and the man in Richards’ position would stomp the guy in Primeau’s slot into oblivion for three minutes and casually end the match with his finishing move, which effectively tells the crowd two things: first, the loser of the match is worthless, and probably shouldn’t even have a job as a professional wrestler, therefore, you should never take him or any match/segment in which he appears seriously; second, the winner didn’t really accomplish much in victory, so again, who cares? These are not the responses a wrestling promoter should strive to invoke in his paying, or potentially paying, customers.
But when Richards and Primeau met in the second round of the Race to the Top tourney, ROH took an approach that was different from the squash that would have been expected in a “sportz entertainment” promotion. You see, Pelle was riding a wave of emotion and momentum thanks to his shocking upset victory over the much bigger, stronger, and more experienced BJ Whitmer in the opening round of the tournament the night prior, and Richards was taking him lightly. It was a perfect dramatic setup: the cocky, arrogant heel who has everything in his favor looks past the plucky, undersized and inexperienced rookie, assuming he’s got everything under control. This being the case, Pelle took Davey’s apathy as an opportunity to strike. He got himself on a roll that caught Richards completely off guard, and the match was suddenly very different from what Davey must have been expecting before the opening bell. And since it was a single-elimination tournament, Richards’ tension and Primeau’s attempt at continued overachieving were at the forefront, keeping things very interesting during what could have been a throwaway match.
Even when Richards snapped out of it and realized he needed to get serious if he didn’t want to become Primeau’s next upset victim, he wasn’t able to simply shrug off the underdog’s offense and head to the pay window. Within the story of the match, Davey had dug himself into something of a hole and had to struggle in order to dig himself out of it. Had Richards taken Primeau seriously to begin with it might not have been much of a match, but since he was overconfident and arrogant he gave Pelle a small opening and the overmatched rookie gave him one hell of a run for his money. Of course Davey won the match, but it was a fantastic way of handling a situation in which the average fan wouldn’t have given Primeau a chance. That’s one of the great things about the indies: they don’t hesitate to allow matches up and down the card to shine. Nobody forced these two to “hold back” for fear of overshadowing the main event later. It’s up to the two men in that slot to perform something memorable, and if the under-card is good, then the finals need to be extremely good to stack up in comparison.
There were several fun bouts in the two-night tourney, such as Quack/Sydal, Evans/Steen, Cross/Albright, and Hero/Stevens, plus a four-way contest for the FIP world heavyweight championship on Night 1 featuring Austin Aries, Roderick Strong, Jimmy Rave and CHIKARA mainstay Gran Akuma. There was also a very unusual $10,000 eight-man tag team match on Night 2 with squads captained by Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness. This match saw the Briscoes on opposing sides and two of the men under McGuinness’ banner (Strong and Delirious) fighting each other, resulting in an unusual and very entertaining affair.
By the time they got to the finals between El Generico and the much bigger, stronger Claudio Castagnoli, ROH had succeeded in setting up a very good story for the main event. The Generic Luchador scratched and clawed his way into the last match, scoring three upset victories and absorbing loads of physical damage along the way. Double C had a bit of an easier road to the end of this tournament, and was primed to end Generico’s Cinderella story once and for all. Throughout the contest, Castagnoli and Generico exploited this tale as Generico fought from beneath, surprising Claudio with his heart, determination, and never-say-die attitude on more than one occasion. In fact he came within a whisper of pulling off a miracle victory, but Double C was just too much for the smaller man to handle on that night. After a wicked exchange of finishers and near-falls, Claudio executed a splash-mountain style Ricola Bomb, planting El Generico into the canvas and securing ultimate victory for himself.
This was a terrific ending to a great tournament which entertained throughout, and that’s all I ask from my favorite hobby. Entertaining matches with reasonable storyline logic will always amount to something I’m willing to pay money to see. For those who are ready to stop hoping WWE and TNA will get it together if you just keep wading through their less-than-satisfying shows, I highly recommend you throw a few dollars in the direction of a strong independent promotion like Ring of Honor; you won’t regret it.
Speaking of purchasing ROH stuff, until Tuesday the 20th at noon E.S.T. they’re offering the huge Big Ten sale which consists of over 100 Ring of Honor DVDs for $10 each (including all in-stock titles from 2002-2006 and more), general admission tickets to November events for only $10, and you save 10% on your next order. Trust me, you can’t go wrong. At around three hours of good to very good action per show, $10 is a steal for a Ring of Honor DVD. Check it out!
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “ Failures do what is tension relieving, while winners do what is goal achieving.” – Dennis Waitley
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears Fridays at midnight on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
Speaking of ROH, Ricardo Rochetti offers 10 thoughts on the most recent ROH on HDNet show.
Michael O’Mahony deftly handles a reader poll on the controversy that is Chris Benoit in this week’s Poll Position.
Speaking of controversy, Daniel Douglas raises some eyebrows in his must-read John Cena Must Die.
Aaron Glazer modestly blogs on Angle vs. Styles from the recent episode of iMPACT! Why even bother, Ace? You know Russo lives to out-think Internet fans, resulting in his stuff having absolutely zero logic whatsoever.
Reader favorite Charlie Reneke offers a way too long review of WWE’s Breaking Point ppv.
Will Pruett discusses the Undertaker and more in The People’s Column.
Andy Wheeler has some WWE thoughts For Your Consideration.
Finally this week, Chris Morgado fondly remembers the late Capt Lou Albano in The Column With No Name.