We fire up with our opening animation and then head inside the Nashville Fairgrounds, where Kevin Kelly is with Steve Corino and Prince Nana. Everyone is excited because AJ Styles returns to ROH here tonight. And with that, we kick off the show with the second semifinal in the Top Prospect Tournament.
Hanson vs. Andrew Everett – Top Prospect Tournament Semifinals
Hanson is out first with some banging music and with each passing week, I become a bigger fan of the guy. Everett knocked off Romantic Touch in round one, which seemed like an upset for me. KK puts over how special Everett is. I think Nana just called Hanson “a butch”. Welp. Everett tries to take to the air strike quick and it works as he knocks Hanson to the floor with a dropkick. He follows with a corkscrew dive, but Hanson catches him and sends him flying into the ring post like a javelin. Great spot there. Hanson starts to maul Everett in the ring as KK runs down the upcoming tour stops, including San Antonio. Everett makes a comeback and is finally able to take Hanson off his feet for the first time. He follows with a springboard dropkick for a near fall. Corino talks about how nerves can set in for these guys based on the stakes and sold out crowd. Everett floats out of a suplex and gets a roll up for two, but Hanson recovers and clotheslines him to the floor. He then gains some speed and tries for a suicide dive (!) but Everett dodges him and the big man crashes to the floor. Everett slides back in and then flies back out with a great moonsault. The fans are rocking now. Both of these guys are tremendous and should be ROH mainstays in 2014. Everett tries to springboard again but Hanson kicks him in the chest and picks up the win to advance to the finals, where Ray Rowe awaits. That was a heck of an opener and both of these guys are on the 2014 JR Watch List for sure.
Michael Bennett vs. Cedric Alexander
This is Bennett’s first match since Final Battle and KK reminds us that Bennett can no longer use the piledriver as a result of his loss to Kevin Steen. He also tells us Maria took a Package Piledriver at that show but she looks to be recovered. Oh, and hey Maria! I really lov…well, just hi. She grabs the mic and talks about how Steen touched her in a vile way and then picked up an undeserved victory. She knows she may be in harm’s way at ringside but she believes in equality and is afraid of no man, including the disgusting Steen. She found someone who is down at Steen’s level that can take care of him instead. Also, Bennett has now developed a new finisher. Maria’s promo skills have really come tremendously far. She would be great in a feud with AJ on WWE TV, if given the time, freedom and platform (unlikely, natch). Corino talks about CA’s chance to really break out as a singles star and make a name for himself. CA gains the early advantage, landing a dropkick and some kicks. Corino notes that CA is a brand new dad, so congrats there. Bennett turns the tide, using his power advantage to crunch CA in the corner and then snap him over with a suplex for a near fall. KK correctly notes that Bennett needs a couple of wins to get back into contention here. CA starts to use his speed to dart around and trip up the slower Bennett, knocking him to the floor.. Maria runs some distraction, but CA doesn’t care and just flies over her and down into Bennett with a somersault senton dive. Bennett is rocked, the crowd is rocking and we are at a break.
When we return, Bennett has recovered and is hammering away at CA on the floor. Maria talks sexy about Bennett right in KK’s ear and somehow he didn’t pass out. Corino nearly did. My man. CA blocks a charge with a kick as they continue to battle on the floor. CA charges, but Bennett catches him and slams him across the apron with a spinebuster. Gross. They finally make it back inside, where Bennett misses a charge and crotches himself in the corner as a result. Bennett comes back with a huge right hand that rocks CA, but CA catches Bennett off a whip and sends him over with a backdrop. CA stays hot, hitting a clothesline off the top rope and a huge jump kick to the face, but Bennett stays alive. CA has looked very good here. Bennett…I don’t know, he is just missing something. He always seems a step off to me. I think he could be good in the WWE with their style, but he seems out of place here. CA comes off the top but Bennett meets him with a spear and a sidewalk slam for two. He hoists CA up but can’t hit the DVD, so CA spins free and kicks Bennett into the corner. He follows with his finisher, but Bennett is able to roll to the floor. Maria again distracts CA, causing him to miss a splash. Bennett takes advantage and locks in the Anaconda Vice for the victory (!) and yeah, wow. Corino is great here, claiming Bennett created a new move, but KK knows better. Nice little nod there to those who know. Bennett tells us the name of the move is “Go Back 2 Japan”.
Roderick Strong vs. AJ Styles
Nigel McGuinness has joined KK and Corino on commentary and they chat about The Decade as Roddy hits the ring. The fans are rabid for AJ and I will give ROH props for having his return in Nashville, where he dazzled TNA fans for years. Styles soaks in the pop as streamers fly into the ring and this definitely feels like a big moment for the promotion. AJ’s bangs a are a bit much, but to each his own. The fans are really juiced here as KK gives Nigel props for putting this one together. They work the mat early as Corino actually references SCUM for the first time while talking about The Decade and asks Nigel if he may be targeted by The Decade because he is someone who left and came back, which is the type of person they are aiming for. Nigel thinks their attention will be elsewhere. Corino really putting over the promotion big time here an crediting guys like Styles, Chris Hero and Nigel that come back home after time away. Great stuff by Steve. AJ has controlled most of the action until Roddy smacks him, leading to some trash talking between the two. Corino puts over Roddy as a master of psychology. The mat work and teases continue as the fans bust out our favorite PTBN chant “This is Wrestling”. Corino admits to be in straight up mark out mode here, and he wonders how AJ will adapt from a promotion that features shorter matches to one that usually sees longer contests. He is putting on an analyst clinic here tonight. Roddy is knocked to the floor and AJ crashes into him as we take a break.
When we return, AJ is wrenching the neck of Roddy, wearing him down. AJ tries to head up top, but Roddy dropkicks him, knocking him back down to the apron. Roddy heads outside and drags AJ down before whipping him into the barricade twice. Back on the apron, AJ slugs Roddy to the mat, but Roddy block a baseball slide, hook AJ up and spikes him into the ring apron as he starts to target the back. Back inside, Roddy goes to a reverse bear hug, but AJ elbows out as the crowd chants on both men. They both hit the ropes, ending in a midair collision that wipes both out. Both battle back up, but AJ strikes first with a forearm off the top rope. He follows with a neckbreaker for a near fall, which takes us to break.
After commercial, AJ is trying for the Styles Clash, but Roddy wriggles free to avoid it. He takes AJ over with an Olympic Slam to slow AJ up just a bit. Roddy crashes into him with a running knee and clothesline, followed by a backbreaker for a near fall. AJ tries for a pop up moonsault, but Roddy fights him off and kicks him back. AJ shakes it off and hits an inverted DDT for two. You can tell AJ is a bit rusty, but still looks good. Corino thinks a win for Roddy here would add some credence to his argument and goals with The Decade. AJ heads back up, but Roddy stops him yet again which is a good sign of homework and preparation. Roddy takes AJ off with a huge superplex but can only get a near fall. KK tells us that ROH returns to Nashville in June for Best in the World. AJ slips out of a Tiger Drive and hits the Pele Kick and brainbuster but Roddy kicks out. AJ heads out to the apron and tries for a slingshot splash, but he looked to have dinged up his knee on the way over. That looked awkward. AJ is hobbling and he drags Roddy to the corner and heads to the middle rope but Roddy meets him and slows him down again before taking him down with a backbreaker. He tops that with a double knee gutbuster for a really close near fall. Both men are up and trading blows, leading to AJ hooking in a leg submission that Roddy turns into a near fall by rolling him over. They both get backup and once again trade heavy blows. Roddy hits the ropes and crashes into AJ with the Sick Kick for another great near fall. AJ blocks a backbreaker but eats a knee that he shakes offend follows with a clotheslines. He grabs Roddy and crunches him with the botched Styles Clash for the win. That was 100% on Roddy, who tucked his head for some reason. Thank God Roddy was OK after that disaster. The Decade hits the ring and jumps AJ until some of the locker room empties out and makes the save. That was a really fun match with tons of action and a hot crowd. The botch was ugly and Roddy is lucky he was OK, so no harm, no foul. It is good to see AJ back, but I look forward to him integrating into some storylines and not feeling like a legend swinging in for a brief run.
Well, that hour had lots of wrestling and a red-hot crowd, so no complaints from me. Nashville gets big props for staying hot throughout that whole taping. Next week, we head to Pittsburgh and until then, take care and always respect the code!