Two ROH related matters took place AEW since Episode 2. The first was the day after on Rampage, where Mark Briscoe announced that he would be vacating the ROH World Tag Titles, and that the new champions would be determined in a “Reach For The Sky” Ladder Match. He also revealed that the Lucha Brothers are the first team entered into the match. That should be wild.
The second was Athena wrestling in another Proving Ground match on Dark: Elevation:
ROH Women’s World Championship Proving Ground Match
Athena vs. Inder Mundi
AEW Dark Elevation #106 – Sacramento, CA – 3.13.2023
Mundi is also known as Samara, and this is her AEW debut. She goes for several quick pinfalls as soon as the match begins, which Athena puts an end to with a hard forearm smash to the face. Mudi briefly stops a corner attack by getting her knees up, but Athena swings her to the second rope and drops her with a neckbreaker. Athena has a nice jig and laugh after driving her knees into Mundi’s chest. After a spin out chokeslam, she slams Mundi’s head into the mat three times before pinning her for the three count at 2:41. She then superkicks Mundi and drives her face into the title belt for good measure. Athena shows a ton of physical charisma in such a short period of time, and it’s great.
Orlando, FL – 3.16.2023
Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman.
ROH World Championship Proving Ground Match
Claudio Castagnoli vs. Willie Mack
Commentary clarifies that either a victory or lasting the ten minute time limit will earn the opponent a future title match. Mack shows proficiency to start by tripping the champion and sending him to the floor with an inside armdrag. Claudio unloads with jabs to the stomach and uppercuts after back elbowing Mack in the corner. Mack kicks out from a lariat and a double underhook suplex. Mack breaks free from a side headlock and drops Claudio with a Samoan Drop. Mack recovers moments later and follows up with a standing moonsault for two. After a Rydeen Bomb, Mack looks for a frog splash. Claudio moves, but Mack is able to adjust and roll up to his feet. When he does, Claudio buzzsaws through him with a running European uppercut for the pin at 7:13. This was an impressive showing from Mack, getting a chance to hold his own against the World champion and win over the Orlando crowd. This gives the champion some momentum heading into Supercard of Honor as well. I am glad they’re utilizing the Proving Ground concept once more. **¾
Dante Martin vs. Mike Bennett
Darius Martin is in Dante’s corner, and Matt Taven and Maria Kanellis-Bennett are in Bennett’s corner. This came about as the Kingdom are still salty over Top Flight defeating them at Final Battle. As the aggression picks up, Martin wipes out Bennett with a pescado and sends him crashing into the ring steps. A distraction from Maria gives Bennett some time to recover. After a rebound forearm smash off of the ropes, he gives Martin a piledriver on the entrance ramp! Darius and the crowd energize Dante enough to make it back into the ring on his own accord, where is met with a divorce court from Bennett. Martin uses the bottom rope to flip over a charging Bennett and kick him in the head, and he scores a nearfall with a springboard crossbody. Another nearfall is secured after a package Tiger Driver. Bennett comes back with a Death Valley Driver and applies the London Dungeon until Martin gets to the ropes. Martin is also able to counter a super Death Valley Driver into a Frankensteiner, following that up with a frog splash for two. Bennett gets him in a kimura lock, which Martin turns into a modified jackknife pin to escape. He then drops Bennett with a half-nelson spin-out powerbomb for the pin at 10:03. Taven attacks Dante after the bell until Darius chases him off. This was a good continuation of the rivalry between the two teams. Bennett and Dante’s differing styles worked well together, and I feel as if more unique offense was utilized by each man due to this styles difference. ***
Blake Christian & Metalik vs. The Trustbusters (Ari Daivari & Slim J)
“Smart” Mark Sterling is in the Trustbuster’s corner. This match is a result of Christian saving Metalik from a post-match beatdown by the Trustbusters last week. Christian also needed to save the match for Metalik who was beaten down and isolated by the Trustbusters. Slim J shut down Christian’s stride by pulling him to the floor and slamming him onto the floor, and he also succumbed to a Trustbusters beatdown after the fact. Christian knocks down Daivari with a back handspring enzuigiri and tags Metalik. Slim J dropkicks him out of mid-air to avoid a crossbody, but misses a moonsault. Metalik successfully pulls off the moonsault but Daivari breaks the subsequent pin. Christian sends him outside with a standing double stomp and pulls off the Fosbury Flop he looked for earlier when Slim J pulled him out of the ring. This gives Metalik the space to hit the Metalik Driver on Slim J for the pin at 8:51. To no surprise, Christian and Metalik make for a very exciting and solid team. We’ve been inundated with the Trustbusters these first three episodes, but they were good opponents for Metalik and Christian to play off of. **½
Ian Riccaboni voices over a great video discussing Mark Briscoe’s history of unsuccessfully challenging for the TV title, and the career of the current champion Samoa Joe. We then cut ro a pre-tape from Mark Briscoe, where he informs “Smart” Mark Sterling he still holds a grudge against him for interrupting his first AEW promo. He will take down everyone Sterling represents as revenge. He’s already taken down Josh Woods, and next week he’ll take on Tony Nese.
Eddie Kingston vs. Jeeves Kay
Claudio Castagnoli takes a front row seat for this match. They end up fighting in front of him, and Kingston sends Jay crashing into the barricade, and Claudio’s coffee spills all over him. Claudio is angry, but instead decides not to retaliate and head backstage. Kay surprises Kingston with a suicide dive and a frog splash for two. Kingston then dumps him on his head with a Saito suplex and submits him with a Dragon Sleeper at 2:34. The coffee thing could be seen as a cliche or overplayed, but because Claudio is so associated with coffee, it worked more than it would’ve with someone else. It got some more tension going between Claudio and Kingston, so I’ll take it.
“Smart” Mark Sterling is with the Trustbusters backstage. He tries to convince us that their two losses tonight were actual victories. Daivari then says he wants a six man tag with Metalik and Christian, challenging them to find a partner to face off against himself, Slim J, and Jeeves Kay.
ROH Women’s World Championship Proving Ground Match
Athena vs. Hyan
This is Hyan’s first ROH match since May 2021, though she challenged Mercedes Martinez for the Women’s title in AEW last May. This followed Athena’s typical formula for a little bit. She blasted Hyan with a forearm at the start, Hyan went for several pin attempts, Athena brought her down to the mat in a spinning chokeslam, and Hyan got in a solid comeback. Athena then powerbombed her off of the ring apron, threw her into the steel steps, and submitted her to a crossface at 4:44. This was basically an extended version of Athena’s usual Proving Ground match, including smashing Hyan’s face into the title belt after the bout, and I have no problem with that. Hyan also looked much better than she did in the Mercedes match. **
Blake Christian and Metalik accept the Trustbusters challenge to a six man tag team match, revealing AR Fox to be their partner. Christian also says the three of them should keep a close eye on the Six Man Tag Team championship match happening later tonight.
Silas Young vs. Marcus Kross
This is Young’s first match in this era of ROH. He is a two time Television champion. Kross scored a few nearfalls in the early going, with his closest pin occurring after a high crossbody. After kicking out, however, Young cracked Kross in the face with a knee strike and landed the Pee Gee Waja Plunge for the pin at 3:08. Not much to say about this, other than that it was an effective re-introduction for Young. Young then tells us it’s been over a year since he stepped into an ROH ring. He calls himself the most dominant Television champion of all time, which brings out Shane Taylor. He challenges Young to a singles match next week to prove he is the most dominant TV champion. Sure!
Athena asks Lexy Nair where Yuka Sakazaki is. She wants to know why Sakazaki is still wrestling in Japan if she went home to take care of the injury she sustained at her hands. Athena claims Sakazaki is scared of her, and is so confident of this that she challenges Sakazaki to a title match at “Supercard of Honor.” She says if Sakazaki shows up, she will make her disappear. I’m glad this feud wasn’t shelved for long! This match will rule.
ROH World Six Man Tag Team Championship
The Embassy (Brian Cage, Bishop Kaun & Toa Liona) vs. Dalton Castle & The Boys (Brandon & Brent)
The Embassy have been champions since 12.10.2022 and this is their first defense, winning the titles from Castle and the Boys on that date. Prince Nana is in their corner. Cage becomes the difference maker for his team when he knocks Castle off of the ring apron and Loa throws him into the ring steps. From here, the champions bash Brandon in their half of the ring until he evades a corner attack from Loa and kicks away Kaun when he grabs his foot. Castle is still hurting when he tags in and tosses Cage and Kaun. When Kaun comes back into the ring, Castle gives him a slingblade bulldog for two. Nana grabs hold of Kaun’s hands from the apron to save him from Castle’s Bang-A-Rang. Cage superkicks Castle and Brent, and then drops Castle with an F-5. Liona gives him a Samoan Drop and Kaun takes out Brent with an inside out clothesline. Kaun and Liona waterwheel slam Brent onto Brandon, and Kaun pins them both at 10:20. I am all for the champions having a decisive, dominant win, but this illuminated for fresh teams to make these titles seem more meaningful. Fortunately, that will be remedied shortly. I wonder what comes of the Boys and Castle now that this customary rematch is behind them. **½
The Embassy continue their beat down on the former champions until Fox, Metalik, and Christian ran out. Christian holds up one of the Six Man titles to make it known that they’re coming for them. Bold move when you consider they’ve yet to have a trios match.
Madison Rayne vs. Trish Adora
Adora back elbows Rayne repeatedly in the corner. Rayne scores with a basement dropkick, but another back elbow from Adora takes her down. She stretches out Rayne in a Cerebro Lock. Rayne DDT’s Adora before she can attempt Lariat Tubman, and gets two with the Clout Cutter. She also gets two with a crucifix driver. Adora avoids a drive by kick. Rayne then ducks a backfist, but Lariat Tubman connects to get Adora the win at 5:14. We’re setting up Adora as a viable Women’s title contender, and I am all about that. Good match. **
Lexy Nair asks Top Flight how they’re feeling about Darius Martin facing Matt Taven next week. Dante says he’s nursing his arm after an attack from a team he thought they were done with. He also says Darius is going to light Taven’s ass up next week, while Darius adds that the Kingdom is there’s for the taking.
Christopher Daniels & Matt Sydal vs. The Outrunners (Truth Magnum & Turbo Floyd)
Former ROH tag champions Daniels and Sydal reunited last week, and this is their first match as a duo since March of 2007. The Outrunners are an 80s throwback team and this is their ROH debut. They sneak attack the former champions shortly after the bell. Daniels escapes their grasp and tags Sydal who wipes out Magnum with a Frankensteiner and several kicks. Floyd breaks up Sydal’s pin after Sydal drops Magnum with a fisherman’s buster. Daniels takes out Floyd with an STO. Daniels drops Magnum with the Angel’s Wings, and Sydal punctuates that with a Lightning Spiral for the pin at 2:42. Like the Silas Young match, this was effective in reestablishing former champions in the new ROH. Aussie Open then came out and called Daniels and Sydal outdated in so many words, challenging them to a match next week. Daniels agrees. I am looking forward to that.
ROH Pure Championship
Wheeler Yuta vs. Clark Connors
Yuta has been champion since 12.10.2022 this is his third defense. Connors answered Yuta’s open challenge to the New Japan LA Dojo last week, after Yuta defended the title against Timothy Thatcher. The Pure Rules are as follows:
*The competitors are to obey the “Code of Honor”, shaking one another’s hand before and after the match.
*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.
*This match has a 60 minute time limit. If the match goes past the time limit, three judges will determine the outcome. The judges for this match are ROH alumnus and former champions BJ Whitmer and Colt Cabana, as well as AEW Coach Dean Malenko.
*Any wrestler who interferes will be levied a hefty fine.
Connors catches the champion with a pair of shoulder blocks and an uppercut in the opening exchange. Yuta blocks an overhand chop and pulls Connors down into a hammerlock neck crank, resulting in Connors’ using his first rope break. Connors surprises Yuta with a vertical suplex for two. Yuta cuts off Connors’ Trophy Kill (Gore) with a punt and then applies Connors in a Cobra Twist, which Connors uses his second rope break to escape. Yuta takes off his wrist tape and throws it to the side. While referee Mike Posey disposes of it, Yuta blocks Connors with a closed fist. Despite Yuta attacking his shoulder, Connors pulls off the Trophy Kill with the same arm when Yuta uses the bottom rope to roll himself back into the ring. He sets up for a second Trophy Kill, which Yuta evades by sending him into the middle turnbuckle with a drop toe hold. Yuta then takes Connors down with a flying forearm smash. Connors lands on his feet out of a German suplex and surprises Yuta with another Trophy Kill. Yuta dropkicks Connors after Connors sends him into the ropes, and Yuta pummels Connors’s left arm before wrenching the elbow joint and shoulder. Connors uses a closed fist on Yuta to escape his grasp and is issued a warning. When Connors gets to his feet, Yuta attacks him from behind and purposefully uses his closed fist right in front of Posey. Connors escapes both Yuta’s hammer and nail elbows and the Pain Thriller and gets Yuta in an ankle lock. Yuta uses his first rope break to escape, but Connors stays on top of him with a German suplex and powerslam. Yuta flips out of another slam and locks Connors in the hammerlock neck crank. When Connors is about to get the ropes, Yuta transitions into the Skayde Special to pin the Wild Rhino at 9:56. This match primarily focused on Yuta continuing his flirtation with dishonor, with a couple of winks and nods to New Japan with the use of a Cobra Twist (Shibata) and enzuigiri (Inoki) during his offense. Last week Yuta faced someone who was as technically proficient as he is, and this week he had to take a different approach to put away a relentless powerhouse. That dynamic for me and the crowd, who grew split on Yuta based on his actions, which made the match more enjoyable too. Another good defense from Yoots. ***½
Yuta says two weeks ago he told us that the Blackpool Combat Club has the best training in the world. Clark Connors comes from the LA DOJO, which supposedly also has some of the best training in the world. He thinks it’s now time to go for the teacher. He sits cross legged on the mat and says that he will not rest until he defends his title against Katsuyori Shibata. Yuta folds his arms, just like Shibata, and a proud Claudio Castgnoli comes out to the ring to celebrate Yuta’s victory and his challenge.
This felt more like Episode 1 in that it was a slog, and featured primarily glorified squash matches. It also occurred to me that Supercard of Honor is two weeks away, and while we can see the card begin to take shape, this would’ve been a good time to press down the gas pedal and confirm many of the matches for the PPV. I hope now that more of these individuals will be established as we head into the second set of tapings we can get more killer, and less filler, and maybe some shorter shows! To put it succinctly, “AEW Dark, but Red!” is not a show I’m interested in continuing to watch.