Two of my favorite wrestlers. Hard belly meant for punching, long hair meant for pulling and dragging. Give-and-take to the bitter end. An escalating number of two-counts. This match between Mike Bennett and Adam Cole from early last year is very nearly heaven for me. At the time both were still new as solo wrestlers at ROH, but already the crowd hated Mike's guts and worshipped at the feet of Adam.
About midway through the match, the fight seems to turn decidedly in Mike's favor. Like a lion he starts to swat at his prey with deadly playfulness, wearing Adam down by degrees. Then, suddenly, Adam rouses and launches a series of assaults that knock Mike off balance, at one point nearly putting the big heel to sleep with a rear naked choke. But Mike slams Adam against the ropes, and the odds again even out.
Adam grimaces intently; Mike's tongue lolls contemptuously out of his mouth. Tensions mount. Adam flies off the ropes, but Mike is too powerful, at one point catching the Florida boy in midair and smashing him to the mat. It's a wonder Adam survives this power move. Gamely, Adam speeds up his attacks, but in the end Mike puts him away with a sit-out side slam that ends in a pinfall.
The same scenario has played out many times. What counts for me is the hotness of these two wrestlers at their peak. Well matched, yet distinct in style. The crowd's enthusiasm for this moment in the two men's careers gives the match its emotional charge. In retrospect, it was also probably a pretty shaky time, business-wise, for the promotion, having (a couple of days previously) lost its spot on HDNet. It's one of my favorite ROH matches, and the beginning of big things for two men whose potential I had followed since their early days in small independent promotions in Massachusetts and Florida.
Also of note: a terrific battle between Kenny King and Kyle O'Reilly. Nothing I anticipated when I ordered the disk, but this fight rocks! Sweaty, strenuous, close competition. Both men are phenomenal. As for the main event, an eight-man imbroglio too complicated by far for me to keep track of and an unsatisfying (for me) mishmash of performance styles, with Roderick Strong, Christopher Daniels, and the Kings of Wrestling battling Davey Richards, El Generico, and the Briscoe brothers, the best part for me is Strong trying unsuccessfully to dodge a facedown with Richards. Here, sweet anticipation and shameless cowardice keep the drama fresh.