Eck's Files: Takeaways From First Round Of ROH Pure Title Tournament, Predictions For Block Semifinals; EC3 Is Coming

By Kevin Eck

With the first round of the ROH Pure Title tournament in the books, here are some takeaways and predictions:

Most impressive victory: Jonathan Gresham over Wheeler Yuta by submission

It was difficult to choose just one, because all the first-round winners were impressive, but I’m going with Gresham prevailing over the young and talented Yuta. Gresham lost to Yuta in their only previous singles encounter on an independent show in 2018, so Yuta certainly wasn’t intimidated by facing one of the tournament favorites. 

Yuta was the aggressor for a significant portion of the match and scored some near falls, but Gresham wouldn’t be denied. “The Octopus” targeted Yuta’s left knee and ankle and eventually forced him to tap out by repeatedly slamming his weakened knee onto the mat. Gresham did not have to use a single rope break during the match, and he made six counters and applied five submission holds.

With this performance, Gresham showed why he is one of the favorites to win the tournament.

Biggest surprise: Fred Yehi defeats Silas Young

This has to be categorized as an upset given Young’s long tenure in ROH and status as a two-time former World Television Champion, and the fact that Yehi has never been under contract with a major company. 

That said, Yehi’s bracket-busting win was anything but a fluke. By going move for move with Young and ultimately pinning him, Yehi showed that his reputation as one of the best pure wrestlers on the independent scene is well-deserved. 

Most controversial match: Josh Woods over Kenny King by split decision

This was the only one of the eight first-round matches to go the 15-minute time limit and be left in the hands of the three judges. Sumie Sakai and Will Ferrara voted for Woods, while ROH Director of Operations Gary Juster went with King.

Even though Woods was my sleeper pick to win the tournament before it began, I agree with Juster, my partner on the “Old School In Session” podcast, on this one.

King trapped Woods in a single-leg crab with 10 seconds remaining, and Woods was not close to the ropes. Would Woods have tapped out? We’ll never know, but there’s no denying King was in total control when the bell rang.

Sakai and Ferrara said they gave the nod to Woods because King used a punch to the face during the match, but I disagree with their reasoning.

The rules state that a competitor who throws a punch to the face gets a warning from the referee, and a second punch results in disqualification. To me, that means one punch to the face is allowed, so I wouldn’t have subtracted any points from King.

Eye-opening performance in defeat: Rust Taylor against Tracy Williams 
 
Taylor came very close to joining Yehi as an unsigned competitor advancing in the tournament. He had Williams on the ropes -- literally.

The independent star from California forced Williams to use all three of his ropes breaks and then trapped him in an elbow lock. Out of desperation, Williams was able to get to the ropes and propel both him and Taylor out of the ring to the floor, breaking the hold.

After they returned to the ring, Williams planted Taylor with a piledriver and forced him to tap out to the crossface at the 14:23 mark. Had the match gone the full 15 minutes, I think there’s a good chance Taylor would’ve been awarded the decision.

Despite coming up short, Taylor undoubtedly impressed ROH officials with his performance.

PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT ROUND

Block A semifinals

Jay Lethal vs. David Finlay: Finlay looked good in his first-round win over Rocky Romero and had a strong showing in the New Japan Cup USA tournament in August, making it all the way to the finals. However, I can’t bet against “The Franchise of ROH.” Lethal will move one step closer to becoming the first two-time Pure Champion.

Yehi vs. Williams: These two have a lot of history together, as they’ve been tag partners and opponents on the independents. They’ve met three times in singles matches, with Williams winning each one. I think the result will be different this time. Yehi’s confidence has to be at an all-time high after beating Young, and Williams suffered a lot of damage to his troublesome left shoulder in his match against Taylor.

Block B semifinals

Gresham vs. Matt Sydal: This is the match I’m most looking forward to in this round. Surprisingly, these two well-traveled veterans have never squared off in singles or tag team competition. Sydal is in fantastic shape and turned in an outstanding performance in scoring a hard-fought victory over longtime friend and rival Delirious in the first round. Unfortunately for Sydal, he now has to face Gresham. If this was a standard match, I’d probably pick Sydal, but I can’t go against Gresham in a pure rules bout.

Woods vs. PJ Black: Woods’ dream of becoming Pure Champion was nearly dashed in the first round, but perhaps it will serve as a wakeup call. Once again, Woods will be at a significant disadvantage in terms of experience -- he was in elementary school when Black made his pro wrestling debut. I’m tempted to pick Black, who was impressive in his first-round win over Tony Deppen, but I think Woods’ background in amateur wrestling and MMA gives him the edge.

To see how every first-round match ended, click here.

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This weekend’s episode of “Ring of Honor Wrestling” features Lethal versus Finlay and Gresham versus Sydal.

You can watch along and interact with the stars of ROH on Twitter Monday at 7 p.m. ET using #ROHPure. To participate in the Twitter watch party, view the episode on ROHWrestling.com or FITE. The watch parties will continue at that same time every Monday for the duration of the tournament.

At the conclusion of the episode, stick around for the wrap-up show with Ian Riccaboni, Caprice Coleman and Quinn McKay on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Check out the preview video for the block semifinal matches.To read more on those matchups, click here, and for the full bracket and schedule of matches, click here.

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Trouble is headed to Ring of Honor.

A video featuring EC3, the hottest free agent in the sport, appeared at the end of last weekend’s episode of “Ring of Honor Wrestling,” apparently signaling his imminent arrival in ROH. I’m very interested to see what type of impact the two-time former world champion can make here.

I first met EC3 nearly a decade ago when I worked behind the scenes for WWE and he was on NXT. He was an affable guy who I saw potential in, but he has far exceeded my expectations for him. 

He’s also a completely different person from the one I considered a friend. Ever since he seized control of his narrative, as he puts it, EC3 has become borderline psychotic. He’s a dangerous competitor in every sense of the word.

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Coleman was my guest on the latest episode of the “ROHStrong Podcast,” which drops on Monday at 7 a.m. ET on ROHWrestling.com and most podcast platforms.

ROH’s color analyst talks about calling the Pure Title tournament, Jim Cornette complimenting his announcing, being trained by the Hardys, Matt Hardy saving him from a dangerous case of mistaken identity, teaming with Cedric Alexander in ROH, living in Kuwait for three years, how being an ordained minister has affected his wrestling career, and much more.

Also, don’t forget to check out Coleman’s column, A Dose of Colemanism, every Thursday on ROHWrestling.com. You’ll be glad you did.

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ICYMI: Juster and I shared memories of the late, great Bruno Sammartino on this week’s episode of “Old School In Session” on YouTube.

A new episode of the show is uploaded every Wednesday. To submit a question for Juster about his many years as a promoter in pro wrestling, send a tweet using #AskGary.

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Beer City Bruiser is featured on the new episode of “ROH Strange,” a weekly YouTube series in which ROH stars share spooky stories and their own paranormal experiences. The episode drops on Saturday at noon ET. 

Also dropping on Saturday is the latest episode of “Roleplay of Honor” on YouTube at 6 p.m.

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More matches from 2008 have been added to the HonorClub archives for Fresh 50 Friday, including: The Briscoes versus LAX; the Briscoes versus Kevin Steen and El Generico; Bryan Danielson versus Kenny Omega versus Tyler Black; Black versus Samoa Joe; and Sara Del Rey versus MsChif.

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Until next time, keep safe and stay #ROHStrong!

Kevin Eck is a veteran pro wrestling journalist who has worked for The Baltimore Sun, WWE and WCW before joining ROHWrestling.com. Eck’s Files appears every Friday