Its professional wrestling without stupid cartoon characters and ridiculous storylines

The Lowdown

This review is meant for fans of professional wrestling. If you are not a fan of the sport, I don’t know what I can say to convince you.

Professional wrestling gets a bad rap with a lot of people these days. It is bad enough that many of the “smarter” people look down on the sport because the matches are predetermined and the moves are all practiced ahead of time, therefore making the entire sport fake. Forget the fact that the wrestlers still have to execute the moves, flipping through the air, flying around the ring, and taking punishment to their bodies while putting on entertaining matches for hundreds of thousands of fans on a weekly basis. Yes, professional wrestling is “fake,” just like movies and other television shows. The difference is on 24, Kiefer Sutherland is not doing the insane stunts that his character is seen doing without numerous forms of protection and stunt men ready to help him. In professional wrestling, Jeff Hardy is expected to climb to the top of a ladder and throw his body through the air, flipping over mid-flight, to land on another man – live for the entire world to see. And he is not expected to kill himself doing so. So, yeah, professional wrestling is fake.

As a fan of professional wrestling since the 80s, I have watched this form of entertainment go through many looks and phases. I started watching when the shroud of secrecy to keep the illusion of reality was integral to the look of the product and I continue to watch today when it is well-known that everything is pre-determined. When I hear complaints now about wrestling, with the exception of the genius’ who cry that it is all fake, I hear either the disgust at the tragedies that have begun to cloud the sport (form Chris Benoit murdering his family to the dozens of men dying young due to the drugs and lifestyle paramount to the sport) or I hear about the fact that it is not really about wrestling anymore. The mantra that professional wrestling was a soap opera for men had begun to move closer to the soap opera angels and away from the actual athletic competition that made the sport popular to begin with.

If you are a person who misses the actual wrestling, then Ring of Honor might be the place for you. Ring of Honor is a promotion based around Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York that opened its doors in 2002, and was focused on in-ring wrestling and not convoluted storylines. The company was founded by Rob Feinstein, who also owned the company RF Video which specialized in the distribution of professional wrestling videos. When RF Video’s biggest client, ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) closed its doors, Feinstein created Ring of Honor and the company has thrived as an alternative wrestling promotion supported almost exclusively through live events and video sales. Unless you lived in the northeast, one of the only ways you could have seen Ring of Honor was if you bought the videos. Recently, Ring of Honor has received a Pay-per-View and Video-on-Demand deal with iN Demand. With this move, they also released these two videos outside their parent company to hopefully garner wider, mainstream attention.

The first DVD is titled Ring of Honor: Stars of Honor and is a very smart way to introduce common wrestling fans to the Ring of Honor product. Every match on the DVD involves a wrestler that is known to fans of the WWE or TNA promotions and takes place between 2004 and 2006. However, these mainstream stars were not always the men to come out with their arms raised in victories. Yes, the famous names are used to sell the DVD, but they are used to highlight the talented wrestlers that are still part of the promotion.

WWE fans will recognize the names Matt Hardy, Brian Kendrick, MVP, C.M. Punk and Jamie Nobel.  Fans of TNA know all about Samoa Joe, Homicide, Christopher Daniels, Jay Lethal and Christian Cage. While some of the men, such as Samoa Joe and Homicide, made their names in Ring of Honor, others just stopped by for a few matches before returning to bigger the pastures of the nation-wide promotions. Regardless of your feelings about the aforementioned wrestlers, don’t judge them until you see how they are allowed to wrestle in Ring of Honor.

The matches are all lengthy, every one of them clocking in over 10-minutes and a couple going past the thirty minute mark. Wrestlers that have seemed a joke in other promotions (James “Jamie Noble” Gibson has never been more than a low card loser in the WWE, and recently Brian “Spanky” Kendrick has not looked like he can compete with anyone on RAW), these guys are allowed to fly on the DVD. Brian Kendrick, known at the time as Spanky, battles arguably the greatest technical wrestler in the world today in Bryan Danielson and they put on an outstanding match. If your idea of a great match is watching two guys pull off moves that make your jaw drop as your only comment is “holy shit,” these two guys pull that off.

Samoa Joe, no surprise, is on two of the best matches on the DVD. In his match against current WWE superstar C.M. Punk, the two put on an almost thirty minute contest that never fails to entertain. It is the third match the two would fight, the previous two ending in 60-minute draws. It is clear when watching the match, that both men would become the stars they are today. The second Samoa Joe match is a tag team battle that pits him and current TNA star Jay Lethal against Low Ki and Homicide. It would be the final match on the DVD and will entertain anyone who misses the classic ECW. I’ll just mention the crowd at one point starts a “You Killed Lethal” chant.

Other matches on the DVD includes a pair of Matt Hardy matches (v. Homicide and v. Roderick Strong), a match between Christian Cage and Christopher Daniels, James Gibson v Roderick Strong, and a match between Homicide and Antonio Banks, who would become the character MVP in the WWE.

Once they have introduced you to their brand and style of wrestling mixed in with the stars of the WWE and TNA, Ring of Honor’s second DVD, Ring of Honor: Bloodstained Honor, leaves the special guests at home and lets the established stars of Ring of Honor show you how they approach the violent, blood-soaked matches. You still get some famous names, like Samoa Joe and C.M. Punk, but they were Ring of Honor before they were anything else.

There are basically three faces to Ring of Honor. The face they like to showcase the most is the pure, scientific art of wrestling. In the beginning, they liked to promote their Code of Honor. The Code of Honor included five rules to live by: you must shake hands before and after every match, no outside interference, no sneak attacks, no harming the officials, and finally do not get disqualified. However, despite this Code of Honor, the second face of Ring of Honor pays tributes to its roots from ECW. In these matches, called blood feuds, the code was not enforced and chairs flew, chains were used and blood flowed freely. The third face of Ring of Honor is the art of the comedy match, but for this DVD it is the blood feuds that are the focus.

The most insane match on this DVD might have been when C.M. Punk and Ace Steel (The Second City Saints) fought The Prophesy. Almost 20 minutes passed and all four men were bloody messes when the bad guys started throwing chairs into the ring. With only that small temptation, almost thirty to forty chairs were thrown into the ring by fans. And the match continued. This DVD is for those wrestling fans with bloodlust. It delivers.

Ring of Honor delivers a style of wrestling you don’t get with the two nationwide companies. You don’t get the soap opera storylines, but you do get some of the best wrestling with some of the hottest young wrestlers in the sport today. These DVDs are a good starting point for anyone who wants to see what the hype is all about. With a look at some of today’s hottest stars when they passed through as well as the young stars that got their start in the promotion, Stars of Honor is a good starting point. For those who miss ECW, Bloodstained Honor is a great next step. Either way, if you are a wrestling fan these are two invaluable additions to your collection.

The Package

Since this company was built on video sales, it is no surprise that the video footage is spectacular. There is some questionable camerawork in some of the older matches, but it looks great. The aspect ratio is 4×3. The sound is a little off to me. It’s Dolby Digital, and the crowd and live sound is really good. However, the announcers sound a little strange audio wise.

On Stars of Honor, there are three extra features. The first is the appearance of WWE star Mick Foley when he interrupts a C.M. Punk in-ring promo. He used his usual shtick where he pimped his new kid’s book before going on to talk about how when he would eventually return to the WWE, he would do everything in his power to take C.M. Punk and Samoa Joe with him. Punk would make it there, Joe would not. The second extra feature is a look at highlights from the C.M. Punk and Samoa Joe 60-minute time limit matches, with commentary from C.M. Punk where he explains why they did certain things during the two matches and the effects the moves had on specific parts of the body. The third feature brought WWWF legend Bruno Sammartino to the ring where he talked about his general disdain for the business of professional wrestling, but had respect for what ROH was doing. The speech would be cut short as three bad guys (Larry Sweeney, Chris Hero and Tank Toland) would interrupt him and challenge him, only for Nigel McGuiness to run in for the save. The crowd would then chant “Thank you Bruno” as he left the ring.

There are no extras on Bloodstained Honor.