Last night (Tuesday, 5/12), I had the opportunity to attend Night 1 of Ring of Honor’s annual joint production with New Japan Pro Wrestling, “War of the Worlds”. I attended last year’s WOTW at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan as well. However, this year’s event was even more special to me for two reasons: 1.) This was my first time seeing a show at the old ECW arena in South Philly. 2.) Since last year’s event, I have had adequate time to familiarize myself with the current stars of NJPW, thanks in no small part to GFW’s broadcast of “Wrestle Kingdom 9” this past January, as well as the stellar NJPW TV show that airs on AXS TV.
As I entered the doors of the 2300 (ECW) Arena and made my way through security, I quickly proceeded to get in line for tickets to get photos and autographs. While I was waiting in line pondering whether I should get my picture taken with Nakamura or Okada, a polite young gentleman put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir.” I then quickly realized that it was none other than Matt Jackson who was making his way over to the autograph table to join his brother Nick and AJ Styles. If he didn’t catch me off gard like that, I would have Too-Sweeted him. Maybe next time…
Tickets for an autograph and picture were $20 for a single superstar and $30 for a tag team. Ultimately, I opted to get my picture taken with the wrestler who first introduced me to Japanese wrestling, none other than the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Liger stood back in awe as I told him that I had been watching him since the first Super J Cup.
After fulfilling my dream of getting my picture taken with Liger, I quickly made my way to the ring area in order to a secure a good spot. Because I had a standing room only ticket, I made myself at home right next to the ROH/NJPW entrance set.
The show opened up with a returning Adam Cole announcing that despite doctor’s orders and the warnings of ROH officials, it was he who would be challenging IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles later that night. At just 25-years-old, Cole is a talent that oozes charisma, and he was heavily over with the die-hard Philly crowd. I will be genuinely surprised if he is not signed by WWE to be sent to NXT sooner rather than later.
In an opening bout that can only be described as the “Battle of the Bookers”, ROH’s Delirious took on NJPW’s Gedo. This was a fun opening match that saw Gedo pick up the win. It is easy to forget sometimes that Gedo is still in amazing shape, since we’re used to only seeing him at ringside as the mouthpiece for Kazuchika Okada.
Next up, we saw “Mr. ROH” Roderick Strong take on one-half of the Time Splitters, Kushida. This was a great match to watch live, and I can’t wait to watch it back on VOD to check out some of the outside spots that I couldn’t see from my position. Roddy proved that he is still indeed the “Messiah of the Backbreaker” after defeated Kushida with a spectacular modified brainbuster into a backbreaker.
The self-proclaimed “Greatest First Generation Wrestler” and current ROH Televison Champion Jay Lethal made his way to the ring, accompanied by Truth Martini. Lethal cut a scathing promo on ROH World Champion Jay Briscoe, announcing that the TV title has more value than the World title because he is holding it. (Lethal has now held the TV title for over 400 days!) Lethal took on NJPW’s Watanabe in a hard-hitting match. Watanabe’s Lesnar-esque suplexes were over big-time with the Philly crowd, even prompting a “Suplex City” chant at one point. However, Watanabe ultimately succumbed to the “Lethal Injection” as Jay Lethal picked up the win. Jay Briscoe rushed to the ring after the match was over to set up a future confrontation between the two. Title vs. Title, perhaps?
Next was the triple-threat tag team match, featuring IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions The Young Bucks vs. ROH World Tag Team Champions “The Addiction” Christopher Daniels and Kazarian vs. IWGP Tag Team Champions “The Kingdom” Michael Bennett and Matt Taven.
This match was predictably entertaining, featuring all of the high spots (and of course, a Superkick Party) that you would expect from something involving The Young Bucks. It was the Bucks who ultimately picked up the win, after delivering a devastating Meltzer Driver to Kazarian. (Note: Maria’s assets were not on display this evening, as she was absent from the event.)
After a short intermission, the show resumed with former ROH World Champion Michael Elgin taking on 2013 G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito. Although Elgin didn’t seem to connect with the hardcore Philly crowd, I found it impressive to watch a man of his powerlifter stature move around in such an agile manner. Naito picked up the win after reversing the Revolution Elgin Bomb into a victory roll up.
With just 3 more matches remaining, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Jushin “Thunder” Liger teamed up to take on former ROH World and IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions reDRagon. This was a fun match, with the crowd popping big when Liger performed his signature surfboard submission on O’Reilly. Fish and O’Reilly picked up the win after hitting Chasing the Dragon on Liger for the pinfall. In a show of respect, both teams shook hands after the match to the roaring approval of the audience.
In what was arguably the match of the evening, IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles defeated former ROH World Champion Adam Cole. This match alone was worth the price of admission and featured everything from AJ hitting a brutal looking Bloody Sunday on the apron to Cole hitting AJ with a picture perfect Styles Clash. I encourage everyone to order this show on VOD when it becomes available just to see this match.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for (and the reason why I drove the 2-hours) had arrived… The Briscoes took on “King of Strong Style” Shinsuke Nakamura and “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada in a dream tag match that more than lived up to expectations. Okada and Nakamura were wildly over with the Philly crowd, and both teams didn’t fail to deliver. The finale saw Okada hit the Rainmaker on Mark Briscoe to pick up the win. On a personal note, it was almost a surreal experience to see Okada and Nakamura walk past me down the aisle and get the opportunity to slap their hands after the match.
All in all, this was a phenomenal show that surpassed last year’s WOTW in New York City. I sincerely hope that ROH keeps their working relationship with NJPW going so that we can enjoy more of these joint productions. For many of us, this is the only way that we are able to see our favorite stars from New Japan live and in the flesh.
Follow Collin Miller on twitter @collinMHW