Once upon a time, Ring of Honor was home to arguably the best pro-wrestling in North America. During their first decade in business, they were more or less the perfect antithesis to WWE. Whereas WWE focused on angles, drama and characters, ROH emphasized wrestling skill, legitimacy and realism. With that philosophy, ROH was able to create a reputation as – depending on whom you ask – either the #2 or #3 wrestling company in America.
But like every wrestling company, ROH has gone through some tough times. The past seven years or so have been largely uneventful for ROH, save for a few special shows that featured wrestlers from ROH’s partner New Japan. With that in mind, I wanted to revisit one of the last big matches from ROH’s earlier glory era, when they were still going strong and had a much stronger presence. It’s the fourth 5-Star match in ROH’s history and the first one in six years.
It’s the big world title match between Davey Richards and Michael Elgin from ROH Showdown in the Sun 2012.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
There isn’t much story leading up to this match. Richards successfully defended the ROH World Title against his former tag partner Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong in a three-way match the night before. There was a lot of hype going into that match because Richards had history with Edwards and both of them had issues with Strong in the past. And after that match, those three men – Richards, Edwards and Strong – were put in random matches for the second night, called ‘Blind Destiny’ matches by ROH. Thus, Richards basically found out the night before that Elgin was going to be his challenger.
This match originally took place on March 31st, 2012.
This is for Richards’ ROH World Championship. The bell rings and Richards rushes Elgin. Elgin withstands a shoulderblock but eats a dropkick and then falls out of the ring onto the apron. Richards follows with a running knee to Elgin’s head and a suicide dive. He takes his time with kicks to Elgin’s chest and goes for a tornado DDT from the apron to the floor but Elgin fights back and goes for a superplex. Richards fights out so Elgin lands a big clothesline from the top rope that drops Richards back into the ring. Elgin pins but gets two.
They brawl a bit and Elgin lands a delayed vertical suplex for another two-count and then lands an Undertaker-style apron leg drop for yet another two-count. Richards escapes a powerbomb with corner shoulder thrusts and charges but Elgin catches him on his shoulders. Richards escapes that as well and goes for a German suplex but Elgin powers out and lands a knee lift. He sends Richards into the ropes and Richards goes for a handspring but Elgin catches him in the torture rack and lands an Abyss-style Shock Treatment drop for another two-count. Richards holds onto the ropes to avoid a backdrop suplex so Elgin starts hammering him with forearms and chops. Richards tries to fight out but gets caught in a bridging Northern Lights suplex that also gets two. Elgin applies the double-arm submission hold for the test of strength and keeps it cinched in despite Richards’ attempts at escape. Elgin sees Richards getting close to breaking the hold so he goes for a back suplex. But Richards lands on his feet and boots Elgin on a corner charge. They trade turnbuckle smashes and Richards lands both an enzuigiri and a diving dropkick for two.
Elgin boots Richards in a corner attack and charges but Richards counters into an Exploder suplex attempt. Elgin fights out and hits elbows but Richards no-sells and asks for more. He and Elgin start trading stiff strikes until Richards gets the upper hand. He lands a flurry of elbows followed by a successful Exploder and pins for two. Elgin powers out of an arm-trap Exploder attempt so Richards answers with running corner strikes. Richards goes for a superplex. Elgin fights back with forearms. Richards answers with head-butts. Superplex connects. Elgin starts hulking up. He no-sells more strikes and drops Richards with an enzuigiri. He goes for a lariat but Richards hits first with a roundhouse kick and a German suplex. Elgin gets up right away but eats a lariat from Richards which gets another two-count. Ankle Lock by Richards. Elgin rolls out of the ring right away. Richards jumps onto the apron and goes for a kick. Elgin catches him and lands a Fisherman suplex to the floor. But Elgin isn’t done. He powerbombs Richards into the steel ring barricade bucklebomb-style. Ouch, talk about brutal. Elgin quickly tosses Richards into the ring to pin but only gets two once more.
Elgin goes to the top rope and lands a corkscrew splash for two. He places Richards on the top rope and goes for a corner spinning powerbomb but Elgin counters with a kimura lock. Richards follows with elbows to Elgin’s neck and tries for a sunset flip powerbomb. But Elgin’s too strong and powers out. Richards keeps trying for a super back suplex but Elgin stays put, so Richards lands another enzuigiri. Richards musters all his strength and lands a dragon suplex from the top rope. Five years before Omega did that to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom. Crazy move. Richards pins but Elgin barely kicks out. Richards with another Ankle Lock. Elgin reaches the ropes by some miracle.
The fans start chanting and cheering for Elgin now as both men recover on the mat. Richards lands some kicks to Elgin’s chest but Elgin tanks them like a boss and gets to his feet. Richards lands Kawada kicks to Elgin’s face. Elgin answers with knees. More Kawada kicks. Elgin repeats his knee strikes in kind. Richards unleashes even more Kawada step kicks and Bryan-style kicks to the chest. Richards charges. Elgin goes right behind him and rolls him up. No, wait, he switches into a Chaos Theory roll-through German suplex. One, two, no, Richards kicks out. Superkick by Elgin. Followed by a gorgeous vertical suplex Rock Bottom. One, two, NO, Richards survives again. Elgin locks in a Crossface. The fans chant ‘please don’t tap’ as Richards reaches the ropes with his foot. Both men collapse exhausted.
Elgin goes for some power move near the corner but Richards counters with a dragon screw leg whip through the ropes. He climbs the top rope and lands a diving foot stomp onto Elgin on the apron. Another brutal move. But Richards isn’t done yet. He goes to another corner and lands a second diving foot stomp. One, two, Elgin kicks out again. Richards lands a corner clothesline and charges again. Elgin goes for a big boot. Richards counters with a discus lariat and another Exploder. Another pin and another kick-out.
Richards goes for a roundhouse kick to the head but Elgin catches his leg, so Richards lands an enzuigiri. He goes for another strike combo. Elgin ducks a kick and lands a Misawa-style rolling elbow smash and an inverted Brainbuster! Wow, what a move. One, two, no, Richards survives yet again. Elgin lands a bucklebomb. Richards answers with a sudden spinkick. Elgin misses one lariat but hits a rebound one. He tries another powerbomb. Richards flips through into an Ankle Lock again. Elgin counters into a crossface. Richards counters into a cradle pin. One, two, no, Elgin escapes. Richards charges but walks into a big kneelift followed by a spinning backfist. Elgin lands the spinning powerbomb. One, two, thr—no, Richards still kicks out. Elgin goes back to the crossface. Richards tries to roll into another pin but Elgin counters his counter and keeps the hold locked in. Richards looks like he’s almost out cold…when suddenly he counters back into the Ankle Lock. Elgin tries to crawl to the ropes but Richards somehow maintains control. Elgin tries to kick Richards off but Richards refuses to let go. Elgin looks like he’s going to tap when he suddenly rolls through, sending Richards into a corner. Elgin tries to charge but he falls forward, unable to hold himself up on one leg. Richards takes advantage with a Shining Wizard. Richards pins but Elgin kicks out at one! Elgin gets up and spits on Richards. Richards answers with a flurry of kicks to Elgin’s head. One, two, no, Elgin still kicks out. Richards follows with one more spinning roundhouse kick. One, two, three! There’s the match!
Winner and STILL ROH World Champion after 26:32: Davey Richards
If there was one word that could be used to describe this match, it would be ‘brutal’. That match was brutal in the sense that it was a non-stop bomb-fest from bell to bell. Both wrestlers went from 0 to 100 in seconds and never really slowed down. It was a crazy indy-style epic war with tons of high-impact bombs. And you know what? It was actually fun to watch, even though the beginning wasn’t like that at all.
During the first few minutes, I actually groaned because I thought this was going to be a ‘pure’ indy match. I expected it to be filled with typical clichés and nonsensical moves done without rhyme or reason. In other words, I expected the match to be all style and no substance. But things turned around for the better soon afterwards when both Elgin and Richards really brought the hate.
Elgin entered this match as the prototypical monster heel that used his power advantage to maximum effect. He manhandled Richards with big suplexes, powerbombs and slams whenever he could, all while targeting Richards’ neck. Meanwhile, Richards had to rely on submission holds and stiff strikes to try and wear Elgin down gradually. Thus it became the pro-wrestling version of The Tortoise and The Hare, with Elgin playing the role of the Hare that wanted to end the match quickly and Richards being the tortoise that wore his opponent down gradually and with smaller increments. And just like in that fable, it was Richards that won thanks to his tenacity and patience.
But it wasn’t a smooth race for either one. Both of them hit each other violently and relentlessly. There was little to no wrestling psychology in this match in the traditional sense. Neither wrestler really worked a limb or used much in the way of ‘rest holds’. Instead, both Richards and Elgin tried to kill each other with the most vicious moves imaginable. Elgin spiked Richards with so many insane bombs and stolen finishers so soften him up for his Spiral Powerbomb finisher. And when Richards kicked out, he looked like the toughest man in the world for doing so. Elgin had so many believable near-falls and Richards kicked out of all of them.
And when he was on the offensive, Richards knew that out-powering Elgin was too risky so instead he transformed into this Kurt Angle/Toshiaki Kawada hybrid and spammed as many stiff kicks and Ankle Locks as he could. And while Elgin was as creative with his moves as he was strong, his power game was no match for Richards’ strike game. Even though Elgin kicked out of countless kicks, knees and a Shining Wizard out of nowhere, it all proved too much in the end. Those stiff kicks to his upper body, coupled with Richards weakening his lower body with Ankle Locks, took Elgin’s power away from him and rendered him unable to defend himself.
Elgin, for all the criticisms people have had towards him, had a career best performance. He started this match as an obvious monster heel and halfway through, people started rallying behind him. More to it, it was actually Elgin, not Richards, that woke up the crowd that was otherwise apathetic during the first ten minutes of the match.
But as good as it was, there were two unshakeable issues with this match. First, both Elgin and Richards copied other wrestlers too much and too often. Richards was obviously channeling the spirits of Angle and Kawada, while Elgin started pretending he was Kenta Kobashi. And as much as I like those three wrestlers and think you should watch as many of their matches as possible on top of watching this one, I felt things got a bit too silly with the copying/tributes here. I got the impression both were trying to recreate a 1990s King’s Road All Japan classic in this match, but it felt out of place doing so. These two wrestlers hit vicious, high-impact bombs on each other much like the 1990s AJPW guys did. But there was another key difference between this match and those earlier classics: this match had way too much no-selling.
That’s one of the things that I think got lost on many post-2000 independent wrestlers who saw The Four Pillars and company wrestle how they did. They thought that King’s Road was all about head spikes and bomb-fests and that’s it. What seemed to be forgotten – as was the case in this match – was how the damage was sold. Misawa would tank a big hit and then struggle to be on his feet. Kobashi was THE KING of selling a beating and being a face in peril.
Only one wrestler was better at selling damage and that was Kawada. He sold the damage he took more realistically than any pro wrestler I have ever seen. He ragdolled himself and mastered the art of delayed selling to make his matches far more exciting and unpredictable. Hell, I remember meeting Bubba Ray Dudley at a wrestling show in Toronto and I was wearing a shirt with Kawada’s face on it and Bubba saw it, pointed to me and said to two Japanese wrestlers sitting beside him, ‘Kawada. Best sell’. They nodded in approval. You’re damn right, Bubba. That statement holds true even now.
So what does that little tangent have to do with this match? Well, all that great selling I just described wasn’t anywhere to be seen here. Elgin and Richards hit all those cool big moves but didn’t sell them as well as they should have. It almost got to the point of comedy how both men were absorbing so much pain and kept getting up shortly afterwards, looking like they had suffered minimal damage. There’s a fine line between no-selling for dramatic effect and no-selling in an unrealistic silly sort of way. And by the end of the match, both Richards and Elgin had crossed from the former to the latter.
Final Rating: ****3/4
This was great as a high-impact bomb-fest but that’s about it. On one hand, it was an intense, brutal and exciting wrestling match filled that got better and better as it wore on thanks to crazy high spots and both wrestlers showing incredible fortitude. On the other hand, both wrestlers came across like they were emulating or blatantly ripping off other wrestlers, which led to this coming across as a bit fan-service-y. And their lack of both psychology and selling made this feel a bit unrealistic and video game-like.
And yet, there was something oddly magical in this match. When the match started, the live crowd was basically dead from the earlier matches. Elgin entered this match as a generic hoss meant to be booed and had the entire crowd cheering for him by the end. With Richards’ help, he managed to take a deflated crowd that was apathetic to him and get them behind him. It was pretty surreal, and more than makes this match worth watching.
Thanks for reading.