Baltimore, MD – 9.11.2020
Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, Ring of Honor had announced a sixteen person tournament to crown a brand new Pure Champion, a title that has been dormant ever since Bryan Danielson unified it with the ROH World Championship on August 12, 2006. All the competitors were announced, and the first round was set to take place in April, but the pandemic resulted in all future ROH events being canceled. In late August 2020, ROH filmed eight new episodes of television in a “essential personnel only” capacity, all of which will encompass the entirety of the Pure Title tournament, crowning a new champion for the first time in over fourteen years.
After a cool new intro, Quinn McKay gives us some history of the original Pure Championship lineage as well as a rundown of the sixteen competitors in the tournament.
Due to travel restrictions, the original sixteen man line-up could not be fully realized. Those originally announced who were not able to compete due to these restrictions include Doug Williams (the first Pure champion), Mark Haskins, Slex, Yuji Nagata, Joe Hendry, and Ren Narita. Marty Scurll was also announced but has been on indefinite hiatus to be investigated for accusations brought up during the #SpeakingOut movement, and Alex Shelley could not participate due to non-wrestling work commitments.
Those who were originally announced still in the tournament include Jonathan Gresham, Rocky Romero, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, Dalton Castle, Josh Woods, Jay Lethal, and two debuting competitors, Fred Yehi and Tony Deppen. The newly announced competitors that make up the remaining slots include Matt Sydal, Delirious, David Finlay, Silas Young, PJ Black, Kenny King, and two more debuting competitors, Rust Taylor and Wheeler YUTA. Dak Draper is an alternate for Block A and Brian Johnson is an alternate for Block B.
Four episodes will each feature two opening round tournament matches. This is the first of those four episodes. All opening round matches have 15 minute time limits. In the case of a time limit, there are three judges who will decide on the winner: Gary Juster, Will Ferrara, and Sumie Sakai.
The Pure Rules are as follows:
*Every match begins and ends with the code of honor handshake.
*Each wrestler has 3 rope breaks to stop submission holds and pinfalls. After a wrestler has used all 3 of their rope breaks, submission and pin attempts on or under the ropes by the opponent are considered legal.
*Closed-fist punches to the face are not permitted. Punches to other parts of the body are permitted, excluding low blows. The first use of a closed fist results in a warning, a second will be a disqualification.
*Any wrestler who interferes will be automatically terminated from the roster.
Pure Title Tournament Opening Round Match – Block A
Jay Lethal vs. Dalton Castle
Lethal has the distinction of being the only competitor in the tournament who was a previous Pure Champion. Jay has also been the ROH World Champion twice, the longest reigning Television champion in history (a title he also held twice), and is currently one-half of the ROH Tag Team Champions with Jonathan Gresham. Castle is also a former ROH World Champion as well as a former Six Man Tag Team Champion. Lethal probably has some confidence knowing he unseated Castle’s World title reign, albeit in a fatal four way. In the pre-match video, Lethal goes as far to predict that he and Gresham will be in the finals of the tournament.
Possibly out of instinct, Lethal uses one rope break just over thirty seconds into the match as Castle grabs a front facelock on the mat. As Lethal tries to tie up the shoulders, Castle rolls Lethal onto his shoulders, making Lethal kick out and both getting back to their feet. Castle fights back from Lethal’s corner attacks with multiple suplex variations, ultimately dumping Lethal into the corner with a belly-to-belly suplex for two. During the commercial break, Lethal takes control with a hip toss into a cartwheel dropkick. Lethal works over Castle’s left leg, wearing it down in the hopes of locking on the figure four. Castle kicks Lethal away when he first attempts the submission. Castle uses Lethal rebounding off the ropes to try the Bangarang. His leg gives out, and Lethal pulls Castle into the Lethal Combination. Lethal fights Castle off the top turnbuckle. He has to jump down when Castle comes charging. Lethal then charges at Castle in the corner, who pops Lethal up into the Bangarang! Lethal wisely spends his second rope break to stop the pinfall. Lethal halts a suplex with a superkick and enzuigiri. Lethal weakly comes off the ropes with a clothesline, which Lethal ducks. He hits the Lethal Injection for the pin at 13:11 (total). This was a very good start to the tournament, with two of ROH’s top stars who also have good chemistry providing the template for the rest of the tournament. I also like that the leg work played into stunting Castle’s offense and led directly to Lethal’s victory, and that they incorporated the rope breaks just enough to remind you of the rule. ***
Pure Title Tournament Opening Round Match – Block B
Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler YUTA
Gresham has been one of the more vocal proponents for bringing back the Pure Championship, and is currently one-half of the ROH Tag Team Champions with Jay Lethal. YUTA is making his ROH debut in this tournament, and is a protege of another tournament competitor, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams. He was trained by Drew Gulak and has toured and trained with Michinoku Pro and wXw.
YUTA puts Gresham on the offensive by getting the better of Gresham with a double knuckle lock and then a bodyscissors. Gresham finds his way free and tries a surfboard, but YUTA flips out of that and into a lateral press for two. Gresham rolls under YUTA to relieve some pressure of a leg hold. Gresham figure fours the legs and drops an elbow on YUTA’s back. Back from commercial break, YUTA sees through a fake out from Gresham and lands a dropkick. YUTA misses a crossbody, giving Gresham an opening to attempt an Indian Death Lock. YUTA resists at first, so Gresham turns over and YUTA instantly uses a rope break to escape. YUTA is so fired up from the pain of the move he uses a closed fist on Gresham, giving him a warning. YUTA and Gresham fire open hand strikes at one another. YUTA sneaks in a few pin attempts on Gresham during an exchange, two off of crossbodies. Gresham stops a kick from YUTA and dragonscrew leg whips him to the mat. Gresham locks on a figure four Indian Death lock. He rolls over to the ropes, and their momentum results in them crashing to the floor! Both men make it inside before the twenty count. YUTA Magistral cradles Gresham for two to avoid his leg being attacked. They switch pin positions on the mat. Gresham stomps on YUTA’s ankle, then the back of his knee, then smashes YUTA’s knee into the mat until he taps out at 10:25. This had an intensity to it the first match didn’t, with a urgency from bell to bell and a real sense that YUTA could pull out a huge upset with how well he had Gresham scouted. They incorporated a lot of the Pure Wrestling rules throughout the match that aided in the story of Gresham working over YUTA’s knee and it made for a very satisfying watch. As someone who is a big YUTA fan, I was really pleased to see him portrayed as Gresham’s equal and think he would fit into the ROH tapestry flawlessly. ***½
Overall: This was an excellent way to kick off the tournament, with two very good matches that showcase the elements of the Pure Wrestling style in very distinct ways. The overall presentation of the show, from the new opening, to very high quality video packages, and the slick presentation of the matches, really impressed me and made the product come off as top tier. I very much recommend giving this episode a watch.