We’re going to take a delayed dip into ROH’s Pure title tournament now – with the promotion kicking off their return to TV with a throwback to the past.
This was the first “new” ROH TV show since late March, having had to cancel TV tapings right before the pandemic hit. While they recorded stuff at their cancelled 18th Anniversary weekender, none of it aired, as instead we got best-of and themed shows.
You can catch this episode for free through Fite TV.
ROH Pure Championship Tournament – First Round – Jonathan Gresham submitted Wheeler YUTA in 10:25 (***¾)
Quinn McKay hosts the show, giving us a brief recap of the first run of the Pure title that was around for two and a half years between 2004 and 2006. It was retired in August 2006, but ROH revived it… only for the scheduled tournament in April to be called off because… y’know.
McKay tells us that ROH are following Maryland State Athletic Commission protocols, with no fans in the arena, and only essential staff on hand. In the tournament are Jay Lethal, Matt Sydal, Jonathan Gresham, Tracy Williams, PJ Black, David Finlay, Silas Young, Josh Woods, Kenny King, Rocky Romero, Delirious, Dalton Castle, Tony Deppen, Wheeler YUTA, Rust Taylor and Fred Yehi. That’s a hell of a field, with alternates in Dak Draper and Brian Johnson.
As for the rules, they’ve split this into two tournaments: a red block and a silver block. Block quarter-finals (or first-round) matches have a 15 minute time limit, block semis 20 minutes, block finals 30 minutes, while the title tournament final has a 60-minute limit. Someone’s going to think that’s a tease for this to end in a time limit draw, eh?
They’ll have three judges for each match, with Pure rules being enforced – three rope breaks per wrestler, but once they’re exhausted rope breaks don’t count. Closed fist punches to the face are banned, and they’re putting in a two-strikes warning system. They retain the 20-count, and they’ve thrown in a “you interfere, you’re fired” rule too, which keeps things, erm, pure.
Commentary comes from Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman from the empty UMBC Event Centre in Baltimore.
Before the match, we’ve sit-down promos. YUTA tells us he turned pro at 16 and has travelled the world – and excelled in various sports. There’s photos of YUTA training “in Philadelphia” with Drew Gulak, along with his time in Japan with Michinoku Pro and in Germany with wXw. YUTA calls himself a decoder – someone who can figure out his opponent and beat them that way. He suggests he’ll bait Gresham into breaking rules and using rope breaks, which he can then use to his advantage.
Of course, there’s a rebuttal from Gresham. His amateur past was seen as a road to pro wrestling, as Gresham noted the myriad of different wrestling styles in the ROH of old… something he needed to match if he were to be as good as them.
Gresham brings up a promoter – unnamed, of course – telling him he’d never be seen as one of the world’s best technical wrestlers… and that’s his big thing now, looking to prove them wrong. Gresham brings up his first appearance in ROH in 2011, and how he’s come back stronger after having travelled the world to hone his skills. He’s currently one half of the world tag team champions with Jay Lethal, which may well be a predictable final given they’re in opposite blocks…
ROH Pure Championship Tournament – First Round: Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler YUTA
We’ve got on-screen graphics showing remaining rope breaks and time elapsed, which is a nice touch to the presentation for newer fans. It’s a ROH debut for YUTA, who’s in the silver block here. That’s apt given his past. Gotta watch him like a hawk. YUTA’s previously fought Gresham before – beating in on a Beyond show in March 2018 – which ROH bring up.
We get going with knuckle-lock as Gresham’s bridged back to the mat for some early two-counts, including some from broken neck bridges until Gresham came back with a monkey flip… only to land in some body scissors. YUTA tries for a cross armbar, but ends up in a leg lock as he tries to roll free and pin Gresham in the process.
Gresham just rolls back… and tries to pin YUTA as the leg lock turned into body scissors. Gresham muscles out and rolls through in with an ankle lock, then transitioned into a bow-and-arrow hold… but YUTA flips free and almost got the quick pin. Another knuckle lock led to YUTA rolling down Gresham for a half crab attempt, but instead he turns it into a key hold… before Greham again rolled through and reapplied the leg grapevine as they cut to break.
We’re back as Gresham sandbagged YUTA’s Irish whip attempt, then leapt up for an armdrag and a faked-out dropkick… but YUTA hits it at the second attempt having scouted Gresham before. YUTA misses a crossbody out of the corner as Gresham ducked, and now it’s time for an Indian Deathlock attempt as Gresham strained YUTA’s knees.
It eventually forces YUTA to dive for the ropes at the six minute mark, but Gresham “is trapped” so he needs the referee to break it up. That angers YUTA, who just clocks Gresham in the face as he gets his warning. Gresham tried to get his shot back, but the referee stops him before the pair unloaded with a flurry of palm strikes. A missed enziguiri from Gresham led to a crucifix for a two-count for YUTA, before a back suplex is countered into a crossbody for another near-fall. YUTA goes for more springboard crossbodies for a near-fall, as Gresham looked to be having trouble dealing with aerial assaults.
YUTA goes for a powerbomb, but Gresham armdrags his way free before landing a Dragon screw. A Figure Four follows, with YUTA trying his damndest to block it, but he needs to roll into the ropes for a break. Gresham just keeps on rolling though, as both men splat on the floor while still in the hold – and I guess that means YUTA saves his rope break. If he’s able to continue, that is.
They take their time, using the 20-count, to get back into the ring, where YUTA tries to end things quick with a roll-up. Gresham has the same idea though, as back-and-forth pinning attempts ensue, before Gresham busted out a ‘rana, rolling through into stomps to the leg, before he made YUTA tap as he repeatedly drove the knee into the mat. It’s an unorthodox finish, but damn effective as Gresham’s high-impact work on the knees paid off. A ten-minute sprint that told a good story – and while YUTA looked to “decode” Gresham, in the end the code was still uncracked. ***¾
Back in 2004, when I was really getting hooked on ROH (to the point where I was regularly receiving parcels from Pennsylvania with the latest ROH releases), the Pure wrestling title was one of my favourite things. The subtle but effective changes in rules made for a completely different vibe – and as we all know, variety is the spice of life.
The division’s return in 2020 is doing just that, and while the field of 16 is sprinkled with some names who perhaps don’t fit the bill, a lot of the intrigue will come in how they adapt – and also how the newcomers perform as well. We may have lost YUTA in round one, but hopefully this is the start of something for him as ROH continues to spin up again…