Fresh off a successful tour of Japan for “Honor Rising,” Ring of Honor returns to the U.S. for its annual anniversary show Friday, February 26th from Las Vegas. Fans can view the show on traditional pay-per-view outlets as well as rohwrestling.com.
Jay Lethal continues his run as world champion, defending his title in a triple-threat bout against Kyle O’Reilly and the man who played Kyle for a fool, Adam Cole. The House of Truth has seen its numbers diminish after the exit of Donovan Dijak, though Lethal has found new allies within the New Japan stable of Los Ingobernables. Lethal has been able to pull out major victories without outside interference as of late, most notably at Final Battle against AJ Styles. The wildcard remains the feud between Cole and O’Reilly. Cole has promised that O’Reilly will never become heavyweight champion as long as Cole stays in ROH. I think Lethal squeaks out a win here due to the O’Reilly/Cole feud, but this is one of the biggest toss-up championship bouts in quite some time.
The television title match combatants have a surprise addition: the hard-hitting new champion Tomohiro Ishii, who shockingly defeated Roderick Strong during the Japan tour. A one-on-one rematch between Strong and Bobby Fish had been previously announced, building off of Fish’s continued verbal provoking of Strong since Final Battle, where Strong tapped out to Fish out of view of the referee. Ishii’s presence gives Fish another reason to lambaste Strong for ducking him in a one-on-one match. While the match and outcome of the Japan match certainly legitimized the Honor Rising shows as must-see, two triple-threat matches at the top of the card disappoints me. It will be interesting to see how the wrestlers differentiate the two matches to avoid redundancy.
The Elite make their first appearance on PPV, defending the newly-formed NEVER Openweight Six-Man Titles (that’s a mouthful) against the exciting combination of ACH, Matt Sydal and KUSHIDA. Kenny Omega and his Elite partners, the Young Bucks, have rocketed towards the top of New Japan, both in-ring and outside of the ring with hysterical homemade videos referencing Omega’s recent IWGP Intercontinental title victory. I assume that this match will get the most crowd reaction, as the Bucks’ antics, combined with the opponents’ high flying abilities and the novelty of Omega’s re-debut will likely please.
What started as a seemingly innocuous tag-team title match between War Machine and top contenders The All Night Express broke down to a brawl that spilled outside of the ring. Since no discernible winner emerged, the two teams will continue the fight in Las Vegas with no disqualification rules. Strangely, this is the identical manner that War Machine started a feud in 2015 with the Briscoe Brothers. Though they have been positioned well since their return, I’m still waiting for ANE to rekindle their chemistry from their original run. Perhaps this will be their night to break out, as they last did in a similar hardcore style match versus the aforementioned Briscoes.
Speaking of the Briscoes, Michael Elgin has challenged the duo, bringing in one of his partners in New Japan, former multi-time heavyweight champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. New Japan recently signed Elgin to a two-year contract, fulfilling a dream of the powerhouse. This deal allows him to continue working for ROH, but how will it affect his standing in the company? Jay Briscoe tends to bring the best out of Elgin, and Tanahashi has a great presence to him that endears him to some of the American fans. This should be one of the more hard-hitting matches on the card.
In other undercard matches, BJ Whitmer (the Eva Marie of ROH?) takes on his disenfranchised former protege Adam Page, with the presence of Steve Corino looming in the background. Dalton Castle has been tabbed to replace Ishii for the match against Hirooki Goto. He will then move on to the television tapings looking to end his long-standing feud with Silas Young. In an interesting, somewhat unexpected non-title affair, Moose takes on the IWGP Heavyweight title holder, Kazuchika Okada. Both will be trying to outdo each other’s beautiful dropkicks, for sure.
Finally, in a match that’s not getting enough talk, Alex Shelley takes on the returning Christopher Daniels. Shelley has been in a one-man war with the members of Addiction, including his former tag-team partner, Chris Sabin. Shelley has been insinuating that this is the start of a bigger plan; it should be noted that Sabin and Shelley have not touched to this point. Also in the back of my mind is Prince Nana, Shelley’s former manager, quietly building a roster of athletes. This is one story line that can go in multiple directions, which makes for compelling watching.
Be sure to check out placetobenation.com after the show for a review by my ROH Nation partner, Dave Musgrave. Look for the hashtag #ROHNation on Twitter to follow our coverage, and you can talk about the card with me @SteveWillePTBN.