ROH Throwback: Road To The Title (22/6/02) Review
There are no good photos from these shows. Credit: ROH

Right, I vowed not to leave it another year between these reviews because I would quite like to get to the point where ROH is actually good, so here we go again! We’re onto Ring Of Honor’s fourth show, and it’s built around a tournament to crown their first-ever champion.

For reasons unknown, we opened on Low Ki getting inspirational sweet nothings whispered in his ear before punching a wall. Even in the bizarro world that is early day ROH that was weird. We are improving, though, as that was the only backstage nonsense.

American Dragon defeated Bio-Hazard in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

Bio-Hazard is another graduate of Shawn Michaels’ school and is still wrestling to this day under the name Jaykus Plisken. Hopefully, he’s got a new haircut because he was rocking a very nu-metal barnet back in 2002.

The match itself was surprisingly fun considering one of the men involved was called Bio-Hazard. The nu-metal cosplayer came out fast, trying to catch Dragon off-guard, but it didn’t take long for the favourite to regain control, chopping the fuck out of the newbie. A lovely Reverse Suplex was enough to set him up for Cattle Mutilation, and this was done in two and a half minutes.

Despite the short runtime, I enjoyed that. Even in 2002, Dragon is just a joy to watch, so I will happily watch him do quick, sharp sprints every show.

Verdict: Everything It Needed To Be

Spanky defeated Paul London in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

These two came through HBK’s school together, would wrestle countless times and had the highest-profile runs of their careers as a team, so it should be no surprise that even back in 2002 they had good chemistry. It’s a shame that Donnie B was more interested in blabbing on about this not being sports entertainment than calling the match.

Spanky has been getting the star treatment on recent shows, so London was playing the underdog and did well in the role. There was a cool moment where London just shoved Spanky away when he tried to leap up and join him on the top rope. You’d think we’d see counters like that all the time, but we don’t, and it brought a degree of realism to proceedings.

Of course, you also got plenty of high-flying with both men taking off at various points. There was also a very awkward spot where Spanky was going for a Superplex and, well, something happened. The camera got knocked, and we didn’t get a good view of it, but it looked dangerous either way. Looking past that, though, this was a strong match between two people who know each other well. They also kept it under ten minutes, which I love to see.

Verdict: Good Stuff

Doug Williams defeated Jay Briscoe in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

I’m going to assume everyone knows who Doug Williams is? He was already a nine-year veteran by 2002 but was still a relatively fresh face in the US indie scene.

The lack of a name didn’t stop ROH using his veteran status perfectly, as they had Jay dominate a lot of this roughly six-minute match. The story was that Briscoe caught Williams off-guard, putting out a strong performance before being hit by a Chaos Theory to put him out.

That was a match which wouldn’t have felt out on of place on a Japanese wrestling show with Briscoe playing the rookie and Williams the veteran. With Doug’s NOAH experience and the fact he’s a student of the game, I’m sure that’s what they were going for, and they pulled it off.

Verdict: Is This Show Actually Good?

Jody Fleisch defeated Jonny Storm in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

The British veterans are all over this show, and Fleisch vs Storm was the perfect match to shove in this spot. It may only have been 2002, but they’d already been in the ring together a million times. One presumes ROH just told them to go out and do their thing.

If that’s what they wanted, they got it. A couple of awkward spots aside, this was a frantic flying sprint that felt like a High Speed match without the psychology. These two were interested in nothing except showing off, cramming as much shit into the seven minutes they had as possible.

Which might sound like a complaint, and in other circumstances it would have been. However, the fact it was seven minutes saved this match. It was a wild seven minutes, with these two doing all sorts of insane shit and I can’t imagine not enjoying that. Will I ever watch it again or even think about it? No, of course not. However, while it was on, I had a lovely time.

Verdict: Sprints Are Great

We got a Christopher Street Connection backstage segment with Jerry Lynn which was at least not horrendously homophobic but did revolve around a banana, so you can imagine what that was like.

Low Ki defeated Prince Nana by knockout in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

Nana attacked Low Ki while he was making his entrance and started beating him down. He was surprisingly great in that portion of the match, unleashing a convincing assault as he outsized and overpowered Low Ki.

However, in perhaps my favourite ROH finish so far, that would all come crashing down with one vicious kick. Low Ki practically kicked the poor bastard’s head off, with a ferocious strike that knocked him out instantly and forced the ref to call off the match.

I loved that. Nana looked like a beast until one perfectly aimed strike pivoted the match in Low Ki’s favour. It left Low Ki looking like the hardest cunt in the room as ROH sold the crap out of the idea that he’d murdered Nana. Fuck, this show might actually be good.

Verdict: Brilliant stuff

We got a second Jerry Lynn backstage segment, this time with Xavier and it seemed to be an advert for Relapse Records? Now, don’t get me wrong, Relapse are fucking awesome, but eh? Was that intentional, or just fucking random?

Amazing Red defeated Xavier in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

It turns out that the way to have a good wrestling show is to put on a bunch of fun sprints. So many wrestling companies could learn from this.

Xavier came into this match as the favourite, and there were moments where he was tossing Red about. However, Red is exceptional, and ROH knew that. He came flying back into the match with that incredible high-flying offence and managed to stun Xavier for long enough to get the three.

That was another enjoyable match which did everything it needed to do.

Verdict: This Is Flying By

We got a random backstage video with Scoot Andrews being introduced to Sumie Sakai. I had no idea she turned up in ROH this early, so that was mildly interesting, but in a vacuum, this made little to no sense.

Christopher Daniels defeated Scoot Andrews in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

Pre-match Daniels introduced Simply Lucious as the first member of Prophecy.

We didn’t linger on that long as Andrews charged the ring, kicking off a solid slugfest. This was easily Scoot’s best match so far, as he got to toss Daniels around the ring for a couple of minutes, continuing the theme of the show with another sprint.

Sadly for him, he eventually ran into an STO which Daniels followed up with a Uranage and the Best Moonsault Ever. Look, I imagine that a lot of people will bash this show for being full of short matches (there is a time where I’d have done similar), but I love it.

Verdict: Keep ‘Em Coming

Post-match Lucious slapped Scoot and asked him to hit her back. Instead, he called out his new pal (at least that explains why we saw them meet) Sumie Sakai. We’ve got an impromptu match.

Sumie Sakai defeated Simply Luscious

Ugh, just as I was starting to enjoy this show, Corino decided to make Jerry Lawler look like the world’s greatest feminist. He was a disgrace during this and can fuck right off.

I wish I could rave about the action, but sadly it was pretty awful. According to Cagematch, this was Luscious’s fifth match, and it showed. Sakai was a step up from her (and I am no fan of hers), but Aja Kong would have struggled to make this good.

It was short, so that was something, but it made WOH look like AJW, which is quite the feat.

Verdict: If You Watch It, Do It On Mute

AJ Styles defeated Jerry Lynn in the ROH Title Tournament First Round

Our first match to be given the time to breath was a generational battle between Lynn and Styles. They had wrestled before, facing off in what was then known as NWA TNA and for WWA during a tour of Australia.

Having been slightly underwhelmed by Styles vs Low-Ki on the previous show, this was a match more to my taste. Lynn felt like a calming influence, slowing the action down and preventing things from getting too silly. I was about to say he played the veteran role to perfection, but that’s what he was, and I think it smoothed some of Styles’ rougher edges.

That’s not to say this was some slow-paced slog. It was still a fast match with Lynn showing no issues when it came to keeping up with Styles. The difference was that it looked like they’d planned it out, Styles attacking Lynn’s arm and managing to control the action. It felt like they’d specifically gone out to make AJ look like he was the equal of the more experienced wrestler, as capable and as ring savvy as a man with a lot more matches under his belt than him.

That was summed up by the final moments where Styles was able to slip out of a Lynn attack and transition quickly into the Styles Clash, driving him into the mat and getting the three. That was a decent match, which I enjoyed a lot.

Verdict: Good Stuff

Two nerds (Dunn and Marcos I think) showed up during intermission claiming to be the top tag team in ROH. Da Hit Squad made it very clear that they didn’t agree, beating the shit out of them before claiming they were, in fact, the best team.

We weren’t done yet as Divine Storm and The SAT hit the ring for a wee brawl. Well, it started out wee. Eventually, Christopher Street Collection (so we got our daily dose of homophobia), The Natural Born Sinners and The Carnage Crew all got involved too, as this ended up being longer than most of the matches on this show.

It ended with Da Hit Squad and Natural Born Sinners teaming up to put The Carnage Crew through a table, so that was nice. Sadly, their wee alliance wouldn’t last long as Da Hit Squad claiming to be the best team, again, pissed off the Sinners and presumably set up a future match.

That went far too long, and commentary got their usual homophobic nonsense in, but aside from that, it was a good segment. A lot of the people involved are experts at beating the shit out of people, so they nailed that.

Spanky defeated Jody Fleisch in the ROH Title Tournament Second Round

I should probably mention that this is a weird tournament, with a four-way final happening on the next show, so the winners of the second round matches go straight into that.

This was all about Spanky as he was sent out there to dominate Fleisch. On commentary, they tried to tell the story of Spanky being the hard-worker who’d devoted his life to wrestling while Fleisch was more into having fun. It was a weird structure, especially as their whole thing up until now has been that Spanky is a fucking weirdo with no respect for others.

Either way, Fleisch was lucky not to break his legs as a Springboard Moonsault to the floor saw him smash them into the barricade. The thing fucking bent, and yet he was up on his feet a few seconds later, getting on with things. In the end, though, his high-flying got the better of him, and he crashed and burned, setting Spanky up to hit Sliced Bread #2 and earn the win.

That was a solid little high octane sprint that put Spanky over strong. Fleisch looked good in an out of control way, but Spanky is clearly one of ROH’s guys, so the result was never in doubt.

Verdict: High-Flying Fun

Doug Williams defeated American Dragon in the ROH Title Tournament Second Round

Unsurprisingly, this became quite a technical encounter, with both men taking the chance to show off their grappling. Some commentators would have used this as a chance to show off their wrestling knowledge, but Donnie B loudly declared he’d never seen an Indian Deathlock before, so he wasn’t one of them.

Much like the Styles vs Lynn match, these two were presented as equals despite Williams having a vast experience edge. At one point, they literally rolled out the ring together while both were holding onto a Heel Hook, two men stubbornly refusing to let go as they crashed to the ground.

And even though he lost, they made sure to keep Dragon strong. He kicked out of a Chaos Theory and only lost when Williams powered out of Cattle Mutilation, hoisting Dragon into a Suplex from a Dragon Sleeper and then forcing him to the mat with a Cravat for the pin.

I enjoyed that, although I suspect that both Dragon and Williams could do more under different circumstances. Still, for both men’s second match of the night, I don’t think you can complain.

Verdict: Strong Technical Wrestling

Low Ki defeated Amazing Red in the ROH Title Tournament Second Round

You know those intricate reversal sequences that Ospreay and Ricochet love? Well, there was a moment in this match that was like those, but better. Red was desperately trying to avoid a flurry of Low Ki kicks, and it looked like something out of a martial arts film as Low Ki appeared to be trying to kill the wee man.

It all played perfectly off of Low Ki’s match with Nana, as there was a feeling all match that one big kick from Low-Ki would murder this kid. Impressively, Red was using that too, wrestling in a more aggressive style and looking to beat Low Ki as quickly as possible. He knew his opponent had more firepower, so was doing everything he could to avoid it.

And when Low Ki did connect, Amazing Red sold it like he’d been shot. There was a pair of Rolling Kappa Kicks, one of which sent Red into the turnbuckle and the other one out of the ring into the barricade, and I’ve seen Powerbombs that looked to have less impact. That combination of pure intensity and those hellacious kicks is incredible.

In many ways, Red was the perfect opponent for him. He bumped around, selling his ass off and had a move-set that works towards attempting to steal the win. There was one dodgy Poison Rana which looked nasty, but they recovered, and you quickly forgot it when Low Ki hit a Ki Krusher into the corner which sent Red flying to the floor.

If I was to complain, I’d say that it went a bit long. I would have had one of the first of those awesome kicks be the killer. However, that’s a gripe rather than an actual complaint. The action that followed was a shitload of fun, and the Avalance Ki Krusher that got the win looked great.

Verdict: Brilliant Stuff.

Brian XL turned up and said something (the audio was shite) before attacking Red. Thankfully, The SAT were there to make the save, hitting the Spanish Fly and giving the crowd something to get excited about.

Backstage, Natural Born Sinners challenged The Carnage Crew to a Bunkhouse Match. ROH never even tried to maintain the real sports theme it was claiming to represent, did it? We also saw Brian XL have a big falling out with Divine Storm.

Christopher Daniels defeated AJ Styles in the ROH Title Tournament Second Round

After two matches where veterans younger wrestlers matched their elders, this was an example of the more experienced man doing everything he could to get the win.

AJ was impressive in this match. He hit a shitload of awesome moves and looked great throughout. When push came to shove, though, it was Daniels who was the one taking control. He was the one who busted AJ open and who had an answer to everything Styles threw at him.

In the end, he countered AJ’s Springboard Moonsault into the DDT, slipping out and hitting Last Rites for the three and while this didn’t quite hit the level of Red vs Low Ki, it was a really well wrestled match. They had a story, and they stuck to it, with Daniels heading into the final as the smartest man in the company.

Verdict: Good Wrestling

Post-match Donnie B revealed they were going to be on High Impact TV (it was a short run that, as far as I can tell, featured matches from the shows we’re looking at). They then showed off the title belt which kicked off a fight between the four men in the final, a fight thay ended with Low Ki choking Daniels out.

Overall Show

Other ROH shows peaked higher than that, but I didn’t enjoy them as much. The undercard being packed with short, punchy matches made all the difference in the world, as it flew by. Then, when they got longer, they all felt like they’d earned it with Amazing Red vs Low Ki being the highlight. It was good wrestling and has done a lot to rejuvenate my interest in this project.

Top Three Matches In ROH History So Far

1. American Dragon vs Low Ki, Round Robin Challenge

2. Low Ki vs Amazing Red, Road To The Title

2. American Dragon vs Low Ki vs Christopher Daniels, Honor Begins

If you enjoyed this review, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi, even the smallest amount is appreciated.

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