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Riren Treatment: The Case for Brent Albright in ROH
When Japanese legend Mitsuharu Misawa was announced for his first American tour with Ring of Honor, fans speculated wildly about whom he would wrestle. Samoa Joe would have been the perfect candidate, especially after his dream match with Kenta Kobashi in 2005, but Joe left permanently for TNA at the beginning of the year. Brent Albright received several recommendations from fans due to his size (ROH has plenty of talented wrestlers, but someone closer to Misawa?s size might have been better for him). Ultimately Misawa wrestled other guys from his home company in critically acclaimed matches, but this discussion opened the floodgate of negative criticism on Albright.
Everything successful has its staunch detractors. Strong style is picked apart for the toll it takes on the body. Technical wrestling is too slow. Piledrivers put guys at needless risk. The same goes for people: AJ Styles forgets to sell; Chris Hero?s antics get cheered more than his face opponents; Dragon Gate guys are all high spots; Necro Butcher can?t wrestle. No matter who or what gets pushed someone won?t enjoy it, so dissent is inevitable. Still, every time I saw a thread about Albright on any forum, it became a lightning rod for negative criticism.
The word ?decent? kept getting thrown at him. His best matches were ?decent,? he was decent at best, or downright disappointing, bland, and not only didn?t deserve to wrestle Misawa ? he didn?t deserve to be in ROH at all.
The use of ?decent? has tapered off as people have seen Death Before Dishonor 5, where Albright had his best match to date against Takeshi Morishima. However, long before that I saw his tag match from Final Battle 2006, Tables match with BJ Whitmer at FYF: New York, technical match with Nigel McGuinness at All Star Extravaganza 3 and his brawl with Homicide at This Means War 2 were are all quite good. Each showed a little bit of what made Albright stand out as a performer.
Unlike the several tag matches he had with Homicide, at This Means War 2 he was left out there to show if he could go alone with the camera on him at all times. He did brilliantly, in some of my favorite crowd brawling of the year. Once in the ring his physical approach and attempts to ground Homicide produced some of the best technical wrestling I've seen out of Homicide in ROH since his match with Jamie Noble all the way back at The Future is Now (though I consider the Noble match slicker and superior). The finish was also brilliant, riding Homicide as the smaller man tried to roll out of his Half Nelson. Fighting to keep a hold or looking for any opportunity to grab a favorite hold is one of Albright?s best traits, something very simple that seriously helped the Morishima match at Death Before Dishonor 5. It?s that same trait that made his match with Tank at the IWA:MS Ted Petty Invitational interesting. Tank is a hardcore wrestler who is admirably trying to expand into other sub-genres, and that match could have really fallen apart if Albright hadn?t played dynamically with his holds.
At All Star Extravaganza 3, Albright also showcased some brilliant false-finish logic, countering the Tower of London into a Crowbar/Fujiwara Armbar in one of the coolest reversals I'd seen in a long time. Outside of McGuinness' Lariats, Albright?s smarter spots got the biggest crowd reactions of the match. His responses to most of McGuinness' stock offense evidenced a greater deal of thought towards his opponents than McGuinness' opponents normally show. Keeping to his own strengths but still reaching out to adapt to his opponents like he did in those big time matches is something I love to watch, and something I would have expected if he had somehow gotten the Misawa match.
Sitting in the crowd for All Star Extravaganza 3, I could definitely say Brent Albright had presence. At times he had more than ROH?s beloved Nigel McGuinness. He carries himself as a bruiser, and through brutality and his sheer size he absolutely attracts attention. In ROH, he?s liked a shaved gorilla, dwarfing most of his opponents, and while he doesn?t have a Chris Masters body, he?s built so thickly that it?s easy to believe he could yank a guy off his feet at will. The only thing he lacked (which he still seems to lack) were strong facial expressions, as he usually went between the stony face of an amateur wrestler (very understandable for the character) and goofily exaggerated fear (which he?s since tuned back a little).
I was not live for Fifth Year Festival: New York, but have watched the DVD with three separate rooms of people, all of whom popped like mad for everything Albright did with Whitmer. The only comparable reaction was to Samoa Joe Vs. Takeshi Morishima, and there is no shame in only measuring up to that one. Based on some of his ROH matches and the bulk of his OVW work I consider him a very sound technical wrestler, but to be able to have such a fun hardcore style match on top of that is very impressive. Little things, like smacking Whitmer with a shard of table or flipping off and stomping through a defective piece of lumber also showed some unusual creativity and passion from him, beyond the normal degrees of roaring and posing that you get from Shingo Takagi or Erick Stevens. If ROH wants to groom Albright as a regular main eventer, they should encourage more expressions of character like that. I?m not sure why he hasn?t pulled them out on his own, but am hopeful with the Hangmen 3?s feud against masked men. If anybody could make Albright flip out or flip someone off, it?s the babbling lizardman.
From his first month in ROH Albright demonstrated talent at the art of the squash. Nobody buys an ROH DVD to see a squash match, but when something as short, simple and fun as the Driven match with Pelle comes up, it?s a bit of variety on the show that can really help a character going into serious matches on later shows. Early on Albright showed a knack for the big-man squash against El Generico, Trik Davis and Pelle Primeau; the recent PPV squash only showed he?s improved at it, measuring his offense and displaying more pride and sadism in success.
I have listed some of his quality singles matches, but he's also shined in tag matches. The Final Battle 2006 tag was an absolutely great way to start a show, and he worked that table in brilliantly. Just like in the This Means War 2 match, he got the table set up, teased it, then let the crowd forget, only to shock everyone with a reminder of sending his opponent through it. This is a timing thing; it's a psychology thing. It slew two crowds and made both matches much better. He gelled magnificently with Jacobs every time they were paired up, which is certainly also a credit to Jimmy Jacobs, but it's still a plus for Brent Albright.
A little discussion of the Morishima match is necessary at this point. I?ve seen some people say he was only cheered because the crowd wanted a title change or was into Morishima. However, the beginning of that match Morishima had a majority of the fans chanting his name. Albright's fans were noticeably fewer and quieter in the chant battle. But by the time Albright and Morishima kicked into high gear, the crowd was cheering Albright like he was Samoa Joe or something. Morishima was a great opponent and had a lot of quality title defenses, but Albright didn?t ride his coattails. Whenever Albright got the advantage he really worked it, keeping in motion when he had a hold locked on and looking to catch Morishima?s clubbing blows, which is the sort of detail you usually only get out of Bryan Danielson. The nearfall on the Superplex and two Half Nelson Suplexes was a work of art, perfectly paced by those guys. Perfectly believable, a great use of the overused fighting spirit, referenced Morishima's past psych-up responses to a Superplex, and it ignited the crowd. At the end just as many people were booing Morishima as had cheered him at the opening. It was anything but a ?decent? match.
Ring of Honor is a little more character-heavy these days. The Age of the Fall have so much material that they need a blog. Sweet & Sour Inc. is almost a stable of talkers. Human Tornado was the only California guy to get called back from the westward doubleshot.
However, it?s not such an entertainment company the Albright has to be a mic master to get or remain over. Bryan Danielson cut a lot of worthless and so-so promos before becoming what he is today, and I never had a problem with him in the main event, not in 2002 or 2007. Homicide cut perhaps one good promo in all his time in ROH (in my opinion, it's the one watching the hospital), and he's one of the godfathers. Roderick Strong has just started to cut passable promos on a regular basis. BJ Whitmer was over like rover in the ROH Vs. CZW feud, but not because of promos. Takeshi Morishima, the current world champion, has barely spoken in front of cameras. Neither did Shingo Takagi, who got "PLEASE COME BACK" chants after several months of touring with the company. ROH books to strengths. If it ever reaches the point where it requires an entire roster of Renaissance men, it will have gotten lazy or gone under new management. Brent Albright is a huge man for this promotion, a very technically sound wrestler with a very entertaining power game and a good look. While he was disappointing at first, his promos leading into Death Before Dishonor 5 showed more thought and promise, and if you absolutely insist on having a large speaking component for him, Adam Pearce can now cover the job in the Hangmen 3 stable.
Especially given his performance in his first real main event-quality match, I?m very excited for Albright in the future. He?s yet to touch Bryan Danielson, which may be a feud ROH is banking on. He?s only wrestled McGuinness in singles once, and tag matches since then have shown them trade some interesting stuff, as though planting seeds for more. Given McGuinness? arm injury, it?s a prime time for Albright to strike. And another match with El Generico is what I?m most looking forward to in the entire Hangmen 3 angle. Albright?s become one of the guys I look for on DVD?s, and will pay to see.
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