Another week, another Athena Proving Ground Match on Dark: Elevation:
ROH Women’s World Championship Proving Ground Match
Athena vs. Tootie Lynn
AEW Dark Elevation #108 – Independence, MO – 3.27.2023
Lynn surprises the champ with a shotgun dropkick. Athena blocks a tornado DDT and scoops Lynn up into a slam. A forearm smash knocks out Lynn cold, but it takes Athena several moments to realize this. When she does, she pins Lynn at 1:10. Hey that’s a pretty effective way to make the forearm smash look even deadlier.
Athena pretends like she is going to help Lynn out of the ring but instead gives her a backdrop on the apron. Athena is too busy setting up Lynn in the corner to notice Emi Sakura has come into the ring and grabbed her women’s title belt. When Athena asks it back and Sakura hands it to her, she pulls Athena into the Smash Mouth. Sakura poses with the title while sitting on referee Mike Posey’s leg and then heads backstage.
Tony Khan would then announce on Twitter the same day that Emi Sakura would get a shot at Athena’s Women Championship that Thursday, with the winner defending the title the following day at Supercard of Honor.
St. Louis, MO – 3.30.3023
Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni & Caprice Coleman
Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) vs. Varsity Athletes (Ari Daivari & Tony Nese)
“Smart” Mark Sterling in the Varsity Athletes corner. I guess Daivari is in the Varsity Athletes now. Aussie Open dominated until Sterling grabbed Davis’ leg. This distracts referee Mike Posey, allowing the Athletes to drive Fletcher back first into the ring post and ring apron. Fletcher evades a splash from Daivari and rolls out of the way of a corner attack of Nese and tags in Davis, who takes down the Athletes with a double clothesline. Nese escapes Davis’ Water Slide drop but is popped up into a powerslam. The Athletes look for a double backdrop but instead succumb to a double kick and double clothesline. Sterling distracts once again when they have Nese up for Coriolis. Daivari and Nese double-team Fletcher once again, almost pinning him after an assisted Ace Crusher and a 450 Splash. Fletcher superkicks Nese, and with Davis takes him down with the Dental Plan. Daivari is planted with the Aussie Arrow, and Aussie Open drives the Varsity Athletes back first into one another on the floor. Davis big boots Sterling, giving Aussie Open the space to plant Nese with the Coriolis for the pin at 9:16. They had a good story going with Aussie Open getting thwarted by Sterling’s distractions until they took matters into their own hands. They have a hard fought win under their belt heading into Supercard, and as unlikely as they are to win in reality, they’re quite strong on paper going in with a 3-0 record. Nese and Daivari are a good pair, but I selfishly want more Josh Woods. ***
Miyu Yamashita vs. Shazza McKenzie
This is the ROH debut for both women. Yamashita is a three time Tokyo Joshi Pro Princess Of Princess Champion, and unsuccessfully challenged for the ROH Women’s title in January at Prestige Wrestling. McKenzie trips Yamashita to stop her onslaught of kicks. She then kicks Yamashita in the side of the head from the floor and re-enters the ring with a facebuster. Yamashita picks up the pace after powering out of a neck crank and nails McKenzie with a Sankakugeri. Yamashita delivers a hard chest kick after blocking an O’Connor roll from McKenzie. McKenzie kicks Yamashita’s knee out and pulls her to ropes so she can deliver a pair of chest kicks and a boot to the side of the face. McKenzie almost pins Yamashita with a crossbody, but Yamashita rolls through it. Yamashita pushes McKenzie away when McKenzie grabs her neck. She then roundhouse kicks McKenzie for the pin at 4:45. An impressive win for Yamashita, who I hope is on the Supercard Zero Hour. McKenzie gave her a solid fight, and that kick to the side of the face she has is nasty in a good way. **¼
The Embassy (Brian Cage, Bishop Kaun & Toa Liona) vs. Dak Draper, JD Griffey & Arjun Singh
This is Draper’s first match as part of the new ROH. He won the 2019 Top Prospect Tournament, and had a memorable outing against Jonathan Gresham for the Pure Championship at the 19th Anniversary Show. Cage gets the better of Draper, and Liona gets the better of Griffey, but it’s the debuting Singh who finds himself trapped in the Embassy’s corner. Kaun gives him a backbreaker on the top turnbuckle, Loa senton splashes him on the ring apron, and Cage polishes him off with a deadlift superplex for the pin at 3:12. A nice warm up for the Embassy before defending their Trios titles the following evening. I really hope Draper finds a meaningful spot in ROH again.
AR Fox & Metalik vs. The Infantry (Carlie Bravo & Shawn Dean)
There was a really scary movie early on when Bravo was dropped on his head out of Metalik’s arms. Fortunately, Bravo was okay, and was able to Snake Eyes Metalik on the top turnbuckle. Dean followed up with a neckbreaker and the Infantry isolated Metalik in their corner. Fox tries to interject and gets his legs wish boned. It’s only when Bravo unwisely places the King of the Ropes on the top turnbuckle when things go awry for the Infantry, as Metalik sunset bombs Bravo and enzuigiri’s Dean. Fox gets the tag and wipes out Bravo with an enzuigiri. He drops Dean with the FoxCatcher and rolls Bravo into an Ace Crusher. Metalik takes out Dean with an Asai moonsault. Meanwhile, Bravo uses the bottom rope to roll himself up and drop Fox with a Complete Shot. Fox surprises Bravo with the Lo Mein Pain, and Metalik polishes him off with an elbow drop off the top rope for the pin at 8:14. The Infantry impressed me on Episode 1 and did so again in this match. There was no way the team with two-thirds of the challengers for the Six Man titles was losing, but the Infantry still managed to stand out against them and get the crowd interested, especially Bravo. **¾
ROH Women’s World Championship
Athena vs. Emi Sakura
Athena has been the champion since 12.10.2022 and this is her sixth defense. Baliyan Akki and Mei Suruga are in Sakura’s corner. Sakura forearms the champion to the apron and crossbodys her to the floor. When she pulls Athena up to the apron, however, Athena shoves her into the ring post and viciously slams Sakura onto the ring apron. She shotgun dropkicks Sakura into the ring apron and then slams Suruga. Athena losing her focus allows for Sakura to knock her down with a chop and crossbody her into the ring steps! Athena trips Sakura as Sakura ascends the ropes. He pulls Sakura down into a tree of woe, but not before kicking her in the shoulder multiple times. She then punts Sakura in the shoulder, resulting in Sakura falling off the buckles and to the mat. Sakura clotheslines Athena to shut down a front flip clothesline. She holds Athena upside down for several moments in a butterfly position before giving her a backbreaker. Sakura lands a moonsault, but Athena kicks out just before the three count. Athena and Sakura get the crowd going with a chop exchange. Sakura looks for the Smash Mouth, but Athena cartwheels through and knocks down Sakura with a boot to the chest. Sakura blocks the O-Face and successfully hits Smash Mouth for two. A Tiger Driver follows, but Athena rolls forward to stop the pin that follows. A surprised Sakura throws open hand strikes to Athena’s face and chops her away. Athena tags Sakura with a forearm smash and pulls her up into the Wrath of the Goddess. Athena fights for a crossface, leading to Sakura tapping out at 8:29. For a title match happening one day before a PPV, that was more convincing and spirited than I expected. The crowd, who was entering their fifth hour of watching live wrestling, really got really into it, which speaks to how successful the match was. Color me impressed, and bring Emi back to more ROH shows! ***½
Athena attacks Sakura after the bell and traps her leg in the ring steps. Athena fights off Mei Suruga who stops her at first, but Yuka Sakazaki runs out and attacks Athena! Ian Riccaboni confirms on commentary that she is facing Athena for the Women’s title at Supercard of Honor as security and officials come out to separate them. Sakazaki leaves Athena laying on the floor, and lays the Women’s title across her chest before heading backstage.
The Lucha Brothers (Penta El Zero Miedo & Rey Fenix) & Top Flight (Dante Martin & Darius Martin) vs. The Kingdom (Mike Bennett & Matt Taven) & La Facción Ingobernable (RUSH & Dralistico)
All of these teams are involved in tomorrow’s “Reach For The Sky” Ladder Match for the vacant World Tag Titles. Alex Abrahantes is in the Lucha Brothers and Top Flight’s corner, while Jose The Assistant and Maria Kanellis-Bennett are in LFI and The Kingdom’s corner. The Rudo squadron pulled their opponents to the floor and beat them down to stop their expedient onslaught. The Kingdom took down the Lucha Bros. back inside the ring, holding onto Penta for when LFI came back to the apron to help them in their beatdown. It backfired, as Penta superkicked Dralistico and tagged in Dante. Dante is quickly overwhelmed by LFI, and the Kingdom are more than happy to assist with their beatdown. Dante backdrops Bennett to escape the Hail Mary and tags Fenix. The Lucha Bros wipe out all of their opponents with superkicks, and Penta wheelbarrows Fenix into a splash onto the Kingdom. Taven surprises Fenix with the Kick of the King. Penta superkicks Taven to stop the Proton Pack and drops Bennett with a Sling Blade. Top Flight fight off LFI. Dralistico ends up taking down Dante with a flying Code Breaker and Darius with a spinning springboard Destroyer. The Bull’s Horns from RUSH pin Darius at 7:31. That was a really fun preview for tomorrow’s Ladder Match, which should be wild. ***
Mark Briscoe makes his way to the ring with his ROH World Tag Team title on his shoulder. Mark says he represents Dem Boys, but that tomorrow night isn’t about tag team action. it’s the biggest singles match of his career – going up against Samoa Joe for the World Television Title. He is not only going to win the title for himself, but for his family, Jay and his family, everybody in Delaware, and everyone worldwide who rose with Dem Boys over the years. He and Joe have known each other and whooped on each other for a long time, but tomorrow is different, as he fulfills his destiny of winning the TV Title. Samoa Joe appears on the tron. He says Mark shouldn’t worry about his destiny, but rather the reality. Joe can’t believe the disrespect Mark is showing him by not talking about survival and what he needs to do in order to defeat Joe. Joe believes Mark has forgotten who he is, and he promises to remind Mark tomorrow night.
Backstage, Jay Lethal is waiting with Dasha Gonzalez. He stops Mark Briscoe and says he’s there because he wanted to be the first person to wish him luck against Samoa Joe tomorrow. He tells Mark he’s “got this” and to bring home the title. Jay sure did seem sincere, but could he want Mark to win the title so he could win it back from him?
ROH Pure Championship
Wheeler Yuta vs. Leon Ruffin
Yuta has been champion since 12.10.2022 this is his fourth defense. This is actually Ruffin’s second Pure Title opportunity, previously challenging Daniel Garcia unsuccessfully for the title in November. 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 Jerry Lynn, as well as AEW Coach Dean Malenko.
*Any wrestler who interferes will be levied a hefty fine.
Ruffin wisely attempts to utilize his agility to best Yuta, but the crafty Yuta pulls him off of the second rope during a springboard and into a German suplex. Yuta damages Ruffin’s shoulder in a Cobra Twist, and Ruffin uses his first rope break to escape. Yuta gets Ruffin to use his second rope break by lacing his legs and bending backwards to apply pressure to his knee. Ruffin gets a reprieve by taking down Yuta with a neckbreaker and a gamengiri. He tenderly bounces off the ropes to evade Yuta, but is caught mid-air when attempting a springboard with a forearm smash. After multiple grounded forearm smashes to the head, Yuta applies a hammerlock crossface and Ruffin taps out at 5:26. Ruffin brought a different dynamic to the match than many of Yuta’s usual opponents, and that dynamic made for an interesting and engaging five and a half minutes. The unspoken role when the Pure title was revived in 2020 was that going to the top turnbuckle was your undoing, and that was true of Ruffin when he attempted the same in this match. **½
Wheeler Yuta says Leon Ruffin’s efforts weren’t enough to beat him tonight, just like Clark Connors efforts weren’t enough to beat him two weeks ago, just like Timothy Thatcher’s efforts weren’t enough to beat him three weeks ago, and like Katsuyori Shibata’s efforts won’t be enough to beat him tomorrow. He says the final sentence while seating himself in Shibata’s signature pose. Shibata’s music then plays, and the man himself makes his way to the ring. Yuta rolls up to his feet and begins to tell Shibata how he’s a has-been. Shibata yanks the microphone out of Yuta’s hands, throws it to the ground, and goes nose-to-nose with him. Yuta rolls to the outsidefirst, and Shibata then heads backstage without saying a word. I am so looking forward to that match.
El Hijo del Vikingo vs. Blake Christian
Vikingo impressed the crowd with a Lo Mein Rain, but hurt his lower back upon landing. Christian took notice of this, and focused his offense on Vikingo’s neck and back. Vikingo rebounded off of the ropes when Christian whipped him into them, and nailed Christian with a tornado gamengiri. Vikingo hit an inside out Phoenix Splash from the middle rope for two. Christian Electric Chair drops Vikingo face first onto the top turnbuckle and German suplexes him. Christian takes him to the apron for another electric chair move, only for Vikingo to spike him with a reverse Frankensteiner. Christian avoided a running shooting star press and gave Vikingo a Spanish Fly on the floor. He quickly sends him back into the ring and lands a springboard 450 Splash for two. Vikingo halts Christian on the top turnbuckle, with both men flipping down to their feet. Christian clotheslines Vikingo inside out. When Christian looks to follow up with a powerbomb, a high speed huracanrana from Vikingo counters and gets him the pin at 10:36. If this was an ROH’s fan’s first look at Vikingo, I can certainly see this making them more excited for his match with Komander tomorrow night. I also appreciate that while Christian has a complimentary style to Vikingo’s, he didn’t just use his high-flying offense to try and one-up Vikingo, but rather took a more methodical approach once he saw Vikingo hurt his lower back. Really fun match. ***¼
Dasha Gonzalez is backstage to interview Blake Christian. They’re interrupted by Prince Nana, who advises Blake Christian to take a night off tomorrow. Christian’s answer to that is “naw naw.” Nana asks if he’s sure before sicking the Embassy on him. Fox and Metalik check on him, and Nana tells The Embassy they will take care of them tomorrow night.
Eddie Kingston vs. Christopher Daniels
This is a rematch from CHIKARA’s King of Trios 2010. Hey, if the rest of this story can be piggybacked off CHIKARA’s LORE, why not mention more of it here? Kingston suplexes Daniels across the ring after a back elbow. He’s poised for the Backfist to the Future after a Saito suplex, but Daniels ducks and grabs a waistlock. He halts Kingston with a neckbreaker, and continues to attack his neck. Kingston kicks out from an STO, and gets his feet to the ropes when Daniels pulls him down into the Koji Clutch. Daniels and Kingston both pull down their respective singlet straps during an intense chop battle. Eddie ends the battle with an enzuigiri and big boot. Daniels kicks Kingston’s hand away when he begins to chop him again in the corner. Daniels clobbers his neck and pulls his straps back up. Kingston ducks a pair of strikes from Daniels and lands another enzuigiri. Daniels ducks the first Backfist attempt, but the second connects and earns Kingston the pin at 7:25. It is good that Kingston got at least one ROH match under his belt before challenging for the title, and defeating a former World Champion is a good way to give him momentum heading into the title match tomorrow night. As commentary put it, it also reminded us that Kingston can wrestle and isn’t just a fighter – could that be important for when he goes up against Claudio? This was a very solid way to end the show. **¾
Claudio Castagnoli makes his way to the ring and holds the title belt in Kingston’s face. Kingston is ready to fight right then and there, and Claudio takes off his jacket and shirt to make it seem like he is also game to defend his title a day early, but he bails before Paul Turner can ring the bell. Eddie Kingston tells the crowd that tomorrow night, he will fulfill his destiny and win a World Title. He more or less repeats his points from his and Claudio’s face-to-face last week until Claudio heads backstage. Kingston goes on to say that he lives through former ROH World Champions Christopher Daniels, Bryan Danielson, Homicide, Xavier, and Low Ki, and that tomorrow night, he will be World champion himself.
This St. Louis crowd deserves a lot of credit for being so into the show, especially the portion of the show filmed after four hours of wrestling being taped. The nearly two hours moved quickly, and did a good job setting the table for the Supercard of Honor PPV tomorrow night. I think you could comfortable skip this and still be totally fine going into the PPV, but I think the two title matches, the Aussie Open tag, and Vikingo match may be worth going back and checking out if you didn’t have the time during the busy wrestling weekend to give it a watch prior to Supercard of Honor.