As was noted in my review of Ring of Honor’s Gateway to Honor DVD, it seems that Ring of Honor has been making some subtle changes to appeal to a broader fan base since its association with Sinclair Broadcast Group began a few months ago. This trend continues on the DVD release of one of the company’s marquee annual events, Survival of the Fittest 2011.
Held in Dayton, Ohio less than two weeks after Gateway to Honor, Survival of the Fittest features most of the company’s top talents competing in an elimination tournament that is somewhat like a cross between WWE‘s King of the Ring and Survivor Series concepts. Most of the matches on the DVD are qualifying matches in this Darwinian dance, with no two matches being the same.
For instance, the first match is a tag team match between ROH’s resident bad boys the Briscoes and the young up-and-comers the Bravado Brothers that includes, among other entertaining antics, a series of Bushwackers-like headbutts on the part of Jay and Mark Briscoe.
The next match pits Davey Richards‘ trainee Kyle O’Reilly against Andy “Right Leg” Ridge (who won his spot in the tournament by defeating Grizzly Redwood two months earlier in a match included as a bonus feature on this DVD). This is a great, fast-paced match with lots of big moves, such as a cradle suplex and an over-the-top-rope diamond cutter. You can definitely see Richards‘ influence on O’Reilly, who locks in a guillotine choke on Ridge to advance to the Survival of the Fittest main event.
“The Prodigy” Mike Bennett and “Die Hard” Eddie Edwards put on another great match that ends when Edwards locks in the dragon sleeper hold (foreshadowing Edwards‘ future conflicts with Richards and O’Reilly). This match is followed by something we don’t often see during ROH pay-per-views – backstage promos from Richards and O’Reilly, Tommaso Ciampa and the Embassy (that just further proves that Prince Nana is one of the best talkers in ROH) and the All Night Express.
The next qualifying match is a four-way match between Kenny King, Adam Cole, “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin and Ciampa. For some reason the match starts out as a sort of tag team bout, but eventually the action expands to include all four participants as well as various people outside the ring. Elgin is the most impressive part of this match with power moves such as simultaneously carrying Cole in the front and King on his back before dropping both men to the mat in a combination Samoan drop/fallaway slam. Ciampo also hits an impressive suplex on King off the top rope while his own legs are tangled in a tree of woe. Elgin eventually picks up the win after planting Cole with a spinout powerbomb.
We then see Edwards cutting a promo about how he won the previous Survival of the Fittest tournament and will win it once again. Then we go into one of only two matches on the card that is not a qualifying match. Having been involved in a vicious feud for almost two years, El Generico and Steve Corino clash one last time. And since his recent partnership with Jimmy Jacobs, Corino seems to be a changed man who just wants to atone for his sins against Generico. This match does something ROH isn’t particularly known for, which is telling a great story with little in-ring action. In an effort to prove that he has changed his ways, Corino refuses to fight. This truly is a change of character for Corino, whose determination against Elgin just a few months earlier at Best in the World showed him kicking out of multiple power moves, only to eventually lose the match despite his diligence. But here Corino seems almost defeated, refusing even to apply his infamous thumb in the bum on Generico (while wearing trunks with that phrase emblazoned across his own bum). Despite his refusal to fight, both men push each other to the limit, but in a much different manner than we’ve seen them do before. And this match is one of the most entertaining on the card despite its lack of typical ROH style athleticism and antics.
From there, we return to qualifying action as Roderick Strong faces Rhett Titus. This is another hard fought battle and Strong’s manager Truth Martini proves to be a valuable asset as his interference is detrimental to the outcome of the match with less than 30 seconds remaining. Before we see the winners of all the qualifying matches face off in an elimination style main event, we’re treated to yet another special match that is not part of the tournament. In this champions challenge we see ROH Champion Richards team up with World Television Champion Jay Lethal to take on World Tag Team Champions Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team. This match has everything ROH fans have come to love, and showcases just why these four guys are at the top of the proverbial food chain. From some serious chain wrestling to start the match to a great cartoon-like moment between Richards and Benjamin where they both go for kicks at the same time only to catch each others legs and stand awkwardly in anticipation, this match has plenty of hard-hitting action with doses of comic relief.
The match is dominated by one impressive display of athleticism after another that includes a double leap of faith from Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team that evokes a chant of “This is awesome!” from the audience as all four men get back to their feet. Despite their lack of experience together, Richards and Lethal put together some great teamwork, including a tandem Chris Benoit-like headbutt off the top rope by Richards and a Randy Savage-like elbow drop by Lethal. Though Lethal eventually taps out to the Haas of Pain while Benjamin prevents Richards from making the save, all four men have reason to celebrate after the show they’ve just put on.
Which brings us to the Survival of the Fittest final elimination match, featuring the winners of all the previous qualifying matches. Although it is every man for himself, this match starts out more like a three-way tag match with the House of Truth‘s Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin, both of the Briscoes and O’Reilly and Edwards (whose rivalry is still friendly at this point) forming their own alliances. But with only two legal men at any given time, any active wrestler can tag in any other wrestler, which leads to interesting scenarios.
Everyone is involved early on as multiple face-offs and tags keep things fresh. But after O’Reilly and Edwards find themselves facing each other, they square off with a back-and-forth of mixed martial arts style kicks. When a light bulb seems to go off in each competitor’s head simultaneously, both members of the Briscoes are suddenly tagged in. This really gets the crowd worked up as one commentator proclaims, “It’s not a party until the Briscoes show up.” The Briscoes are surprisingly one step ahead of their opponents, however, as they attack everyone else.
As one of the smaller and least experienced competitors, O’Reilly is the clear underdog in this match. And that’s made all the more apparent as he takes a beating from everyone else in the match. The fight eventually tumbles outside the ring and Elgin, who is clearly the powerhouse in the match, surprises everyone as he scales the ropes and hits a moonsault on all five of his opponents on the floor (followed by a “Holy shit!” chant from the crowd).
Eddie Edwards gets the first two eliminations, as he takes Jay and Mark Briscoe out consecutively. Strong is then eliminated by Edwards, only for Elgin to eliminate Edwards. So it comes down to the unlikely pairing of the “Unbreakable” Elgin and the broken and bruised O’Reilly. Richards makes his way to ringside to support his protege, who puts up a surprisingly good fight against his much larger foe. Though it seems likely that Elgin would make short work of O’Reilly, O’Reilly surprises everyone when he hits a DDT into a guillotine choke on Elgin. It looks as if Elgin might actually submit, but he powers out and goes for a pin on O’Reilly. O’Reilly kicks out , but Elgin finally hits a sitout powerbomb to become the ultimate survivor. Despite the outcome of the match, O’Reilly really proves his worth as a top competitor in ROH. And following the match, there is an intense stare down between Elgin and Richards, implying that we might see a title shot between these two men in the near future.
In addition to the aforementioned qualifying match between Ridge and Redwood, this DVD also includes the Nov. 28 edition of the ROH Video Wire, featuring post-Survival promos from Martini and Elgin, Lethal, Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team and the Young Bucks.
For more information, go to www.rohwrestling.com.