Preview: Ring of Honor Final Battle (12/14/18)

Final Battle

In just a few short weeks, hundreds of thousands will descend on New York City to ring in the new year as 2019 is almost upon us. But before the ball drops in Times Square and before Auld Lang Syne is sung, the Big Apple will play host to another year-end event as Ring of Honor presents the 17th annual Final Battle, live on iPPV from the Hammerstein Ballroom.

One of the company’s longest-standing events, Final Battle is the culmination of ROH’s year. It’s where many storylines from the past year are wrapped up and where new storylines that will take us into 2019 are introduced. This year is no exception as Ring of Honor’s 2018 has certainly been full of great moments and surprises. The Briscoes topped 1,000 days as tag team champions, Jeff Cobb debuted with dominance en route to winning the television title, Austin Aries crossed brand lines for two matches while serving as the IMPACT world champion, Women of Honor crowned its first champion in Sumie Sakai, the NWA Championship and its champion Nick Aldis featured prominently on TV for a few months, the Madison Square Garden show was announced, Sea of Honor took place aboard the Chris Jericho Cruise, Mark Haskins won the new ROH International Cup, and that’s just scratching the surface. And let’s not forget, one of the biggest stories that spanned two promotions and much of 2018: the Bullet Club civil war.

In short, it’s been a fantastic 17th year for ROH and it’s not over yet. Final Battle takes place this Friday, December 14 at 8PM and in another big moment, it will be four hours instead of the usual three. There’s a lot of intrigue on the card, especially in the sense of where the rubber meets the road, which could also be said as where kayfabe meets reality. There is a good deal of uncertainty surrounding some of the company’s key players in 2019, meaning in the truest sense of the word, this could be their final battle in ROH.

Let’s dig into the card:

Kenny King vs Eli Isom

Kenny King vs Eli Isom
Credit: Ring of Honor

The biggest beneficiaries of Final Battle going four hours instead of three are the two guys who made it onto the card as a result. Opening the show will be Kenny King taking on Eli Isom.

For Isom, this is one of the biggest matches of his career. Still largely unknown as a wrestler (Isom doesn’t even have his own Cagematch page), Isom graduated from the ROH Dojo in the summer of 2017. Since then, he has been a fixture of Future of Honor and has been used sporadically on TV tapings. While he has worked big cards before, such as Honor For All in July 2018 and Glory By Honor XVI in October, this is Isom’s iPPV debut and it couldn’t have come at a bigger moment. For the young wrestler, this is a great opportunity as Isom is certainly someone ROH can look to in the near future. He’s enjoyed success teaming with Ryan Nova and Cheeseburger as the Shinobi Shadow Squad and recently, ROH has gotten behind him in the form of a video feature talking about his journey into wrestling and his inspiration in the business. Isom is a name to watch for in 2019 and he’ll be even more so if he defeats King on Friday.

And as for the aforementioned King, he’ll be looking to crush the young prospect the same way he’s been picking up most of his wins lately, with a little rule bending.

King’s had an interesting year. In February, he won the television title for the second time in a rematch with Silas Young, who defeated him for the belt at last year’s Final Battle. King would lose the title back to Young in April and after that, kinda went directionless for a while, losing more matches then he was winning. That all changed, however, when Austin Aries made a shock appearance at 16th Anniversary Show to challenge for the one ROH belt he never won, the TV title. At the time of Aries’ appearance, King was still the champion. That changed by the time the two finally had their match at Best in the World in June, which King lost because he refused to go to the depths Aries did.

A day later, King, alongside Isom and Chuckie T fell short in their attempt to capture the world six-man title. It was after this loss, that King took to heart something Aries said to him and decided to learn from his missed opportunity at Best in the World. King took his best friend’s advice and began approaching his matches with a different attitude, often taking shortcuts and utilizing less than honorable methods to pick up victories. This led to King picking up wins over Marty Scurll, Hangman Page, Jushin Thunder LigerChase Owens, Cheeseburger and Christopher Daniels. King, by nature of the victories, earned a world title shot at Global Wars against Jay Lethal. King lost, but his resolve hasn’t changed.

With a win by any means necessary mentality, it will be interesting to see how Isom fares against King, a man who has forsaken his integrity in order to embrace his darker tendencies.

Matt Taven vs Dalton Castle

Matt Taven vs Dalton Castle
Credit: Ring of Honor

This is a one-on-one singles match for nothing more than pride if you ask anybody not named Matt Taven. If you ask Taven however, this is a one-on-one singles match for pride AND Taven’s “real” ROH world championship.

Make no mistake, the ROH world title is currently being held by Lethal and will be defended in a separate match on this card. But believing himself to having been cheated out of the top belt (Taven had Dalton Castle pinned for eight seconds prior to Lethal’s eventual victory in the four corner survival match), Taven has been going around for months declaring himself as the company’s true standard bearer. Oh, and he even has a purple strap fitted with ROH plates to prove it.

For Taven, it all goes back to Castle. Taven was supposed to have a one-on-one title match against Castle but it got canceled due to the champion’s injury. Then, it was rescheduled as a four-way match, which was won by Lethal as the referee wasn’t paying attention to Taven having Castle pinned in the center of the ring. Since then, Taven has declared himself the real and rightful world champion and he certainly hasn’t forgotten what Castle cost him. While no one aside from his Kingdom running mates, TK O’Ryan and Vinny Marseglia actually acknowledge his belt as real, Taven issued a challenge to Castle for Final Battle in order to put to rest once and for all any doubt and to prove to people why he’s justified in calling himself the “real” champ. Taven’s had a great year, winning the NWA World Historic Welterweight title while on excursion in Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre and regaining the world six-man titles. Taven lost his NWA title followed up by losing his hair at CMLL 85 Aniversario, but he still holds the six-man belts, now in his third reign alongside the Kingdom.

Castle’s 2018 started off on a positive note as he entered the year as ROH world champion, having won the title at Final Battle 2017. It was Castle’s first ROH world title run and he held the belt for almost 200 days before dropping it to Lethal in the four-way. Following the loss, Castle took about four months off to heal up from some lingering injuries. He returned to action in October as he was revealed as the mystery partner of Lethal and Jonathan Gresham in their match against the Kingdom. Castle picked up the win for his team and Taven was none too pleased about it. The two then met again on the Chris Jericho Cruise with Castle defeating Taven, thanks to a disqualification. Castle would get yet another win over Taven and the Kingdom when he teamed up with Lethal and Cody to defeat the six-man champs on the most recent episode of ROH TV.

There is no doubt Castle comes into this with all of the momentum even if Taven is the one coming in with the backup. And fortunately for him, you can’t lose a real title or an imaginary one, by disqualification.

Zack Sabre Jr. vs Jonathan Gresham

Zack Sabre Jr. vs Jonathan Gresham
Credit: Ring of Honor

Ladies and gentlemen, get out your popcorn, because this could very well be one of the most technically sound wrestling matches, or to stoke a flame Cary Silkin teased earlier today – by invoking and perhaps teasing the return of the Pure Wrestling Championship– one of the most pure wrestling matches ROH has had in quite awhile. And it’s one, that if given the time, could end up on match of the year lists as well.

On one hand, you have Jonathan Gresham, who over the past year has more than proved his worth in ROH. The 30-year-old Gresham first debuted in ROH in 2014, but it wasn’t until recently that he began to really be showcased with the company. Sure, Gresham has lost more matches than he’s won but he’s been getting ample TV time and the chance to show people why he is what he says he is, the best technical wrestler in the world. After falling just short of defeating Lethal for the world title in an iron man match that Lethal has since said is one of his favorite ROH matches, Gresham took part in Survival of the Fittest, defeating old foe Tracy Williams in the first round. He’ll face another old foe at Final Battle as after Gresham issued a challenge to the best technical wrestlers in the world, it was accepted by none other than Zack Sabre Jr., whose claim to that mantle is every bit as valid as Gresham’s.

It’s hard to believe given his association with New Japan Pro Wrestling and Revolution Pro Wrestling, two of ROH’s partner promotions, that Sabre has yet to step in an ROH ring. That all changes at Final Battle as he’ll be looking to prove that he is the best technical wrestler in the world, not Gresham. Sabre’s resume in that regard speaks for itself as he’s won the Bryan Danielson Award (Best Technical Wrestler) for the past four years. Much like Gresham in ROH, Sabre enjoyed a breakthrough year in NJPW. As a member of Suzuki-gun, Sabre took part in the World Tag League for the first time as well as the G1 Climax for the second time. He opened the year by winning the RevPro tag titles alongside Minoru Suzuki and held the RevPro world title until April as well. Sabre also won the New Japan Cup, becoming the first European winner and only second gaijin in history to claim the prestigious honor.

For Sabre’s debut, there’s perhaps no better opponent than Gresham. Oh and about that fire Silkin stoked? Let’s just say, with these two leading the way, if ROH were to bring back the short-lived Pure title, now could be the perfect opportunity to do so.

Marty Scurll vs Christopher Daniels for Scurll’s Guaranteed ROH World Title Match

Marty Scurll vs Christopher Daniels
Credit: Ring of Honor

“The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” – James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The 48-year-old, 25-year veteran of the industry Christopher Daniels, who took part in ROH’s very first main event in 2002, is a man who has nothing to lose. And it’s made him increasingly desperate. Almost one year ago in Philadelphia, Joe Koff, fed up with Daniels’ threats to reveal company secrets, told the ROH grand slam winner that Final Battle 2018 would be his last, as Koff had made the decision not to renew Daniels’ contract alongside that of SCU running mates, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky. As it would turn out, Koff’s threat was less than an idle one and come Final Battle, the sands in the hourglass for Daniels will have reached their end, meaning so too could his time in ROH.

Outside of the ring, a lot has been made about where Daniels might be headed NeXT but inside of it, he’s just a man fighting to save his job and the story he and ROH have woven as a result has been nothing short of masterful. Daniels spent the better part of 2018 trying to gain leverage over Koff by means of winning a title in the company. After all, there was no way the COO would fire someone who was in possession of one of his belts. For a moment, Daniels succeeded, winning the world six-man titles alongside SCU. But the trio lost the belts and since then, Daniels has tried unsuccessfully to gain gold in the company. Kazarian and Sky did, capturing the tag titles just a few months ago. But those belts weren’t won under freebird rules meaning Daniels still needed a lifeline to save his job. Enter Marty Scurll and one last desperate plea. Scurll and Daniels were the final two standing in Survival of the Fittest, which was won by Scurll. But Daniels confronted him afterward saying Scurll only won because Hangman Page was there helping him out. Daniels, with nothing left to lose, convinced Scurll to put his #1 contendership on the line at Final Battle.

Wrestling for both ROH and NJPW, Scurll has enjoyed a fantastic year in 2018. The Villain received several world title opportunities in ROH, impressing in every single one. In NJPW, used primarily as a junior, Scurll spent part of the year as the junior heavyweight champion, enjoying great matches with longtime rival Will Ospreay and Hiromu Takahashi, and one/third of the NEVER Openweight six-man champions, alongside the Young Bucks. Having signed a contract extension through April 2019, Scurll has been ROH’s face of the G1 Supercard, used in promotional materials alongside one-time All In opponent, Kazuchika Okada. The contract extension also has led many to believe that a world championship run for Scurll isn’t far off. But to get that opportunity, he’ll have to beat Daniels, perhaps in the most desperate state he’s ever been.

Daniels has tried to convince Koff he’s a changed man but nothing has worked and as it stands, he’s staring at a slowly emptying hourglass ready to signal the end on his time in ROH. But as he said on the most recent episode of ROH TV, he’s simply fighting for the possibility of fighting again.

Flip Gordon vs Bully Ray – “I Quit” Match

Bully Ray vs Flip Gordon
Credit: Ring of Honor

Bullet Club had finally accepted him, he became a feature on Being the Elite, the harmless ribs were over. But looking back on it, those harmless ribs were child’s play compared to the torture Bully Ray has put Flip Gordon through over the past few months, all leading up to this “I Quit” match.

2018 was a big year for Gordon in ROH. He won a TV title #1 contendership in February, had a match for the NWA world title, won the Sea of Honor tournament to earn a future shot at the ROH world title and took part in his first Best of the Super Juniors in NJPW. Throughout it all, Gordon also picked up big wins over KUSHIDA, Takahashi, Sky, Gresham, Young, Scurll, Castle, Jay Briscoe and Kazarian. He signed a three-year deal with the company not that long ago and all seemed to be going well for the young star, that is until he decided to stick his nose in Ray’s business.

Coming off being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Ray went from ROH Enforcer to a guy who was not afraid to make his feelings known about the soft style of the company’s young boys. It started with Cheeseburger who Ray felt disrespected by. Cheeseburger enlisted Ray as a partner and he accepted, only to quickly show he had no intent on helping Cheeseburger but rather wanted to embarrass him. And he might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for Gordon, who came to his friend’s aid. Thus began a nearly six-month feud between Ray and Gordon, which has gotten incredibly personal as Ray has stooped so low as to mock Gordon’s service as a member of the Army National Guard.

After splitting their first two matches, the two took part in the All In Over Budget Battle Royale, which was won by Gordon as he last eliminated Ray. This gave Gordon his first world title shot against Lethal, which he lost, and to which Ray proceeded to attack him after the match. This ultimately led to a tables match between the two and their partners, Young and Colt Cabana at Death Before Dishonor, which led to Gordon going through the table. Continuing to target Gordon, things between the two seemed to reach a fever pitch as Young defeated Sandman allowing Ray to brutalize Gordon with 10 shots of a singapore cane.

For Gordon, this is an immense opportunity to finally shut Ray down once and for all. Both men have made a point to say they won’t back down but ultimately, one will have to say those two words, “I quit.”

ROH World Television Championship: Jeff Cobb (c) vs Hangman Page

Jeff Cobb vs Hangman Page
Credit: Ring of Honor

Forget about Hulk smash, in ROH it’s been Cobb smash as Jeff Cobb has wreaked havoc all the way from the Top Prospect Tournament to the ROH TV title scene.

This year’s Battle of Los Angeles winner, Cobb hasn’t been in ROH long, but since making his debut a few months ago, he’s certainly made a huge impact. Wasting no time, Cobb immediately targeting ROH’s Top Prospect Tournament, decimating the competitors one-by-one until he declared himself the winner, saying the tournament was over because he was the top prospect. And it didn’t take long for him to make good on that declaration because in his first official ROH match, Cobb defeated Punishment Martinez in just over 90 seconds to win the television title. Many struck at the champion but none were successful as Cobb fought off a bevy of impressive challengers including Shane Taylor, Daniels and most recently, NJPW’s EVIL.

Having a pretty good year himself that included taking part in his first G1 Climax and winning his first ROH title, the six-man title, alongside the Young Bucks, Page made his intentions to challenge for Cobb’s belt known when he got in the champ’s face and declared himself the #1 contender. Page, who has challenged for the TV title before, certainly is looking at a huge task in front of him. He’s faced Cobb in the past and has picked up victories over the former Olympian, but all of them have been in tag matches alongside Bullet Club. Without his allies this time around and with Cobb still undefeated in ROH, this is no doubt an uphill battle for Page.

ROH World Tag Team Championship Ladder War VIII: Scorpio Sky and Frankie Kazarian (c) vs Young Bucks vs The Briscoes

Briscoes vs Young Bucks vs SCU
Credit: Ring of Honor

Over the course of history (aka 17 years), ROH has had just seven ladder matches or as they call them, ladder wars and only one of them, El Generico vs Kevin Steen in 2012, took place at Final Battle. This year, its a three-way ladder war for just the second time-ever as well, as SCU defends their titles against former champions, the Briscoes and Young Bucks.

If you were looking for a summation of the ROH tag title picture in 2018, you’re found it with these three teams. In March 2018, the Briscoes defeated the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) to begin their record-ninth reign with the ROH tag titles. During the year, the titles have been defended 13 times, four of which involved both the Briscoes and either the Bucks or Kazarian, who teamed with Daniels as the Addiction earlier in the year. Also, during the year, with the exception of MCMG’s three-month run, either the Briscoes or SCU have held the titles for all of 2018. Surprisingly, the Young Bucks haven’t had an ROH tag title reign this year, making it the first time since 2016 that they didn’t hold the belts for even one day in the calendar year. But that all could change at Final Battle as the Bucks are undefeated in ladder wars, winning each of the last two. That being said, no one has more experience in these matches than Jay Briscoe, who will be making his record-setting fourth appearance in a ladder war this Friday.

Much like Daniels, the fate of SCU is uncertain. While Kazarian and Sky hold the titles right now if they were to lose them at Final Battle, they would find themselves gone from ROH as well. The champs might be the ones with the most to lose here as they’ll be fighting with their lives on the line. As for the Bucks, while speculation doesn’t do anyone any good, it’s hard to ignore what has been going on the past few months regarding where the brothers will be wrestling in 2019. Their ROH deals are set to expire soon and what happens next is still anyone’s guess. That being said, all three of these teams are fighting for a huge prize in this industry and they’ll be looking to go all out. No one’s won a ladder war playing it safe and you should expect much of the same come Final Battle.

ROH Women of Honor World Championship Four Corner Survival Match: Sumie Sakai (c) vs Madison Rayne vs Karen Q vs Kelly Klein

Sumie Sakai vs Madison Rayne vs Kelly Klein vs Karen Q
Credit: Ring of Honor

At last year’s Final Battle, Ring of Honor made the decision to evolve their Women of Honor division by actually giving the deserving ladies a title to fight for. A tournament began that January to crown the inaugural champ. Kelly Klein and Sumie Sakai faced off in the finals with Sakai, who wrestled in ROH’s first ever women’s match years ago, taking home the title. Symbolically, Sakai as the first champion opened up the division on a positive note but not much has gone right for Women of Honor since. That all could change at Final Battle however as Sakai faces her biggest challenge yet, defending against three women who all have a great case as to why they should be the new champ.

Of the three, Klein is the only one yet to receive a one-on-one opportunity against Sakai. In fact, she hasn’t received a title match at all, shocking given she finished as the runner-up in the tournament and no doubt should have been first in line. That’s not to say Klein has had a bad year because she hasn’t. After losing to Sakai, Klein picked up victories over Madison Rayne, Deonna Purazzo and Jenny Rose, before heading off to Stardom for two months to take part in the 5STAR Grand Prix. Klein returned to WOH in October and a month later, defeated Rose again to book the final spot in the Final Battle match.

While still an active roster member for IMPACT Wrestling, Rayne made her WOH debut in the title tournament, losing to Mandy Leon in the first round. She returned to WOH a few months later but it wasn’t until June 2018, that Rayne got her first win in WOH. And it was a big one as she defeated Karen Q, Klein and Tenille Dashwood in a four corner survival match to become the #1 contender for the title. Rayne lost but against Britt Baker, she earned another #1 contendership opportunity, this time for a survival match featuring the champion in addition to Klein and the fourth qualifier, Karen Q.

Karen Q also took part in the WOH title tournament, losing in the first round to Brandi Rhodes. Her next match with WOH was in May where she lost to Dashwood. In July, Karen Q got a non-title proving ground match against Sakai, where a win likely would have put her in position for a future title match. She lost and didn’t pick up her first WOH win of 2018 until July, defeating Rose. Karen Q took on Kaitlin Diemond to qualify for the survival match.

There was something special about Sakai being the first champion and to her credit, she’s been a fighting one. But for WOH to really get off the ground, it needs a face and come Friday, we’ll know more about who that woman might be.

ROH World Championship: Jay Lethal (c) vs Cody

Jay Lethal vs Cody Final Battle
Credit: Ring of Honor

In 2016 at Final Battle, Cody made his ROH debut, picking up a tainted win over Jay Lethal by cheating in the match. At Final Battle 2018, Cody and Lethal will meet once again and if Cody’s own words are to be believed, his last ROH match will take place in the same location and against the same opponent as his first one did. It’s all come full circle for the champion and challenger.

Throughout 2017, Lethal and Cody feuded, mostly in multi-tag matches. But in April of that year, the two had their rematch, won by Lethal. A month later, the two enemies both staked their claim to the ROH world title that was held by Daniels, but the champion retained. When Cody won the belt, Lethal got his shot at the RevPro Uprising show just days before the two went their separate ways at Final Battle. And really, in 2018, there hasn’t been much interaction between Lethal and Cody save for a recent six-man tag where they teamed up with Castle to defeat the Kingdom and the four corner survival match where Lethal defeated Cody, Castle and Taven to win his second world title in June.

For the most part, Lethal and Cody have been on different paths this year. Lethal spent the first few months of 2018 a little without direction. He was still winning matches but something was missing and in May, Lethal came to the conclusion of exactly what that was. Having held the world title for 427 days in 2015-16, Lethal admitted that he felt lost without the belt around his waist so he vowed to regain it, going on a crusade of avenging recent losses to get there. So Lethal checked opponent after opponent off his list and finally, found himself back in the world title picture for the first time since March where he lost to Castle at 16th Anniversary. It was really the last loss left that Lethal hadn’t avenged, until June that is. On an episode of ROH TV, Lethal pinned Castle in a match that also featured Taven and Cody, en route to winning back the belt, which he’s held ever since. Lethal’s list of challengers have been impressive as he’s defended against Gresham, Ospreay, Haskins, Young, Sky, Sabin and King.

Cody entered 2018 a little directionless himself. After having held the ROH world title for about six months in 2017, Cody lost the belt to Castle at Final Battle. He opted not to utilize his rematch clause right away, waiting until this Final Battle to finally cash it in. Outside of the title picture, much of Cody’s 2018 focused on the Bullet Club civil war and the role he played in trying to usurp leadership from Kenny Omega. Trying to convince everyone that “Bullet Club was fine,” even going so far as to print it on t-shirts, from February to July, Cody and Omega were embroiled in a feud that included matches against each other both in ROH and NJPW. The two buried the hatchet after Cody failed to defeat Omega for the IWGP title, but just when things seemed fine, part two of the civil war began as the Guerrillas of Destiny rebuilt Bullet Club, kicking all of The Elite to the curb in the process. Bullet Club issues aside, in 2018 Cody won the IWGP United States championship, which he still holds today, and the NWA title briefly, as well as another reign with the world six-man belts. But in two attempts to regain the ROH world title, Cody has fallen short. Well, they do say third time’s the charm…

Much like the Young Bucks, much has been said about where Cody will be wrestling in 2019. No one knows for sure. All that is known is that Cody has said Final Battle will be his last and he’ll be taking the ROH world title with him when he goes. Whether that comes to fruition still remains to be seen but there is no doubt Lethal will do everything in his power to stop it. Less than 100 days away from breaking Samoa Joe‘s record of 645 days combined with the ROH title, Lethal has his sights set on entering the Garden and ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard with the title around his waist. And all that stands in his way is a match with Cody, someone who Lethal certainly has no love lost for.