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Final Battle 2023 Preview



Ring of Honor Wrestling returns this Friday night, exclusively on Honor Club (), with our annual year-end tradition, FINAL BATTLE! Every year since 2002, ROH has put a bow on its year with this event, and every year it has featured some of the best in-ring action of ROH's near 22-year existence!


This year will be no different as, for the very first time, the Survival of the Fittest Finals will take place with a championship at stake, in this case the ROH World Television Championship that Samoa Joe vacated to focus solely on his pursuit of the AEW World Championship at WORLDS END. In addition, ROH Women's World Champion Athena will put her title on the line against her former minion Billie Starkz in what is sure to be one of ROH's most heated main events!


In addition, “All Ego” Ethan Page will look to put his rivalry with “The Premier Athlete” Tony Nese to rest in an “I Quit” Match, former partners turned bitter enemies will lock horns when Shane Taylor takes on “Limitless” Keith Lee, and “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson returns to ROH for first time since 2009 as he leads The Blackpool Combat Club into battle against FTR and Mark Briscoe, all in tribute to the late Jay Briscoe who we lost tragically on January 17th. 


All this action, and more, is going down exclusively on Honor Club beginning at 8pm ET/7pm CT, with a special ZERO HOUR presentation beginning at 7pm ET/6pm CT only on the official ROH YouTube channel! Honor Club is not only the home for FINAL BATTLE 2023, and the weekly ROH ON HONOR CLUB program that drops every Thursday at 7pm ET, but also the place where Ring of Honor's rich professional wrestling history lives! With classic events dating back to 2002, all the PPV events since the dawning of the New Era of Honor, compilations of ROH Legends, interviews, and exclusive matches, there is no other place in the world to immerse yourself in the history of the most influentical professional wrestling promotion of the century!


ROH WOMEN'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH...

“The Fallen Goddess” Athena(c) vs. Billie Starkz



At FORBIDDEN DOOR 2023, Billie Starkz had the opportunity to take on ROH Women's World Champion Athena in a Quarter-Final bout of the Owen Hart Foundation Women's Tournament. It was one the biggest opportunities Starkz had since first coming to AEW, but little did she know that this loss to “The Fallen Goddess” would change her life forever.


Shortly thereafter, in the aftermath of a victory over Robyn Renegade during ROH ON HONOR CLUB, Athena would inexplicably save Billie Starkz from an assault by both Renegade sisters. At first it seemed the ROH Women's Champ had done so simply so she could attack Starkz herself, but when Athena had Billie in the position to do just that, the champ let Billie go unharmed.


A week later it would be Athena on the receiving end of a receipt from The Renegades, leading Billie Starkz to return the favor ahead of her match with Charlette Renegade, a match that ended in victory just like the one with Robyn, and also ended with an attempted assault on Starkz. This time Athena was on the spot as soon as the attack began, and from that point forward, Billie Starkz was always at the side of “The Fallen Goddess”, complete with her own Minion number of # 400,237 and ¾.  It seemed like Athena was creating her own little unit consisting of Starkz, Athena's Minion-in-Training, and her Bestie Lexy Nair (Athena's label not Lexy's).


The problem was that no matter how much success Billie Starkz experienced, it was never good enough for “The Fallen Goddess”. Despite Billie earning eight straight singles victories since coming under Athena's...tutelage...and being part of two tag team victories alongside the champ, Athena focused on the losses to Diamante and Mercedes Martinez in their Tornado Tag, as well as the tag loss to Marina Shafir and her surprise partner Ronda Rousey.


Whatever Athena expected from Billie Starkz seemed like an unattainable goal, as “The Fallen Goddess” heaped praise on Lexy Nair while dismissing Starkz at every opportunity. “She still sucks” were the words oft repeated by the ROH Women's World Champion, and nothing Billie could do was good enough for Athena to acknowledge as success.


It all finally came to a head after Billie defeated Marina Shafir in a singles match during ROH ON HONOR CLUB # 40 and “The Fallen Goddess” elected to hold a Minion Graduation Ceremony, named Lexy Nair the Valedictorian of the MIT Class of 2023, and ended the ceremony with no acknowledgment of Billie's accomplishments. That cold cruel dismissal, after enduring such abusive treatment for months on end, proved to be the final straw for Starkz and she tossed the champion headfirst into the steel guardrails surrounding the ring.


Oddly, this seemed to be exactly what Athena was hoping to bring out of Billie Starkz as the champ laid there, clutching her head, and laughing hysterically that she'd finally pushed Starkz to her breaking point! Apparently Tony Khan agreed that Billie Starkz was ready for “The Fallen Goddess”...



Unfortunately for Billie, after her first victory since walking away from Athena, “The Fallen Goddess” would attack her former-MIT, sending Starkz a message about what to expect from their match that Athena would reveal as the main event for FINAL BATTLE 2023! But Starkz clearly learned a thing or two from her time under Athena's wing because, just last night on Honor Club, Billie left Athena face down in a pool of her own blood with a shattered nose for a receipt.



It all comes to a head this Friday night in the main event of FINAL BATTLE 2023 when Athena defends her AEW Women's World Championship against Billie Starkz! That's six months of humiliation and abuse waiting to be paid back in full, and Thursday night was just a preview of what Starkz has in store for “The Fallen Goddess” once the bell rings. As Women's World Champion, Athena  has been utterly dominant, scoring 17 successful defenses over the course of her 370+ day reign, turning away 25 Proving Ground/Eliminator hopefuls, and winning 45 ROH-related matches (43 of them singles bouts) since defeating Mercedes Martinez for the championship at FINAL BATTLE 2022! Athena has been utterly unstoppable for the last year, but with as close as Billie got to her the last six months, does the 19 year old prodigy hold the key to finally ending the “forever reign”or will she end up another piece of porcelein shattered beneath the boot of “The Fallen Goddess” Athena?


ROH WORLD TELEVISION CHAMPIONSHIP SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST....

Dalton Castle vs. Kyle Fletcher vs. Lee Moriarty vs. Komander vs. Lee Johnson vs. ???



The Survival of the Fittest tournament has been part of the ROH landscape since June 24, 2004 when “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, in one night, beat Jack Evans in an eleven minute Qualifying match, and then survived for forty-two minutes against five other competitors before defeating Austin Aries to win the inaugural tournament. That would lead Danielson to a failed ROH World Championship bid against Samoa Joe at MIDNIGHT EXPRESS REUNION, and set the pace for all Survival of the Fittest tournaments to follow! 


The link included above is a great educational tool for those unfamiliar with the history of the tournament, but suffice to say its winners have included Danielson, Tyler Black, Roderick Strong, Chris Hero, and Jay Lethal, just to name a few, and some have even parlayed their SOTF victory into a ROH World Championship reign. This time around the six competitors involved in this Six-Way Elimination bout aren't fighting for a future shot at World Title, but rather to be crowned the new ROH World Television Champion! This marks the very first time ever, fourteen tournaments since 2004, that a championship has been at stake in the Finals of the tournament, meaning the twelve individuals who began this journey all had their opportunity to make history.


Dalton Castle was the first man to qualify, defeating Evil Uno during ROH ON HONOR CLUB 40, with Komander following that path later in the evening at Gringo Loco's expense. Lee Johnson would be the next to qualify, defeating former ROH Pure Champion Josh Woods during episode 41 of ROH, with Lee Moriarty becoming the next to qualify that night thanks to a victory over former ROH World TV & Tag Champion “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, and Kyle Fletcher became the fifth man in the field by beating Gravity.


We found out during ROH ON HONOR CLUB last night that the sixth entrant into SOTF would be revealed at FINAL BATTLE 2023, making it incredibly tough for the other five men to game plan accordingly in a situation that is already difficult to prepare for. Will it be a new acquisition for Ring of Honor? Someone with Survival of the Fittest experience? Or perhaps someone who failed to make the cut getting a second opportunity? We will have to wait until Friday night to find out about the sixth man, so just looking at the five men currently set for the finals, only Dalton Castle has ever participated in the Survival of the Fittest tournament, making it to the Finals in 2016 but eliminated in his Qualifier two years later, which makes this a whole lot of uncharted territory for the other four men who've qualified! As for their respective ROH resumes, here's the breakdown:


Dalton Castle

(2X) ROH World Six Man Tag Team Champion (07/23/22 – 12/10/22)

ROH World Television Champion (11/19/21 – 12/11/21)

ROH World Champion (12/15/17– 06/30/18)

ROH World Six Man Tag Team Champion (06/23/17 – 08/20/17)

2018 Survival of the Fittest Tournament Participant

2017 ROH Soaring Eagle Cup Winner

2016 Survival of the Fittest Tournament Finalist

ROH Debut: DRAGON'S REIGN (5/11/13)

2023 ROH Record: 14-7


Kyle Fletcher

ROH World Tag Team Champion (w/ Mark Davis) (07/21/23 – 08/27/23)

ROH Debut: HONOR UNITED: NIGHT 2 (5/26/18)

2023 ROH Record: 15-3


Lee Moriarty

ROH Debut: DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR 2021 (9/12/21)

2023 ROH Record: 13-8


Komander

ROH Debut: SUPERCARD OF HONOR 2023 (3/31/23)

2023 ROH Record: 11-5


Lee Johnson

ROH Debut: ROH ON HONOR CLUB #8

2023 ROH Record: 3-10


And with entrant number six to be named at FINAL BATTLE, it remains to be seen what kind of ROH record they bring to bear for the fight! Will it be one of these five individuals that becomes the 31st ROH World Television Champion to close out 2023, or will the mystery entrant rise to the top to be crowned champion? The only way to find out is by joining Honor Club so you can see FINAL BATTLE 2023!


TRIOS TRIBUTE TO JAY BRISCOE...

FTR (Cash Wheeler & Dax Harwood) & Mark Briscoe vs. Blackpool Combat Club (Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli & Jon Moxley)




On January 17th of this year, the professional wrestling world tragically lost Jay Briscoe in an automobile accident, saying goodbye to the man who fought Amazing Red in the first official Ring of Honor match, one-half of the greatest tag team in the modern era, as well as one of the best in pro wrestling history, a 13-time former ROH World Tag Champion with brother Mark, a former 2-Time ROH World Champion, and former ROH Six-Man Champion as well. That day, friends and family lost Jamin Dale Pugh, an amazing father, husband, son, brother, and friend, beloved by his entire community in Laurel, DE, and one of the most genuine, caring people to be found anywhere. 


To this day, eleven months later, fans will see members of both the AEW and ROH locker rooms wearing their black and white “Reach for the Sky Boy” wristbands in Jay's honor, making sure his place in our hearts, and in the hearts of the wrestling world never fades. 


With that in mind, and with Jay in their hearts, six men who loved and respected the man will enter into Trios combat just a few days removed from the one year anniversary of Jay's last Ring of Honor match. On one side of the ring will be The Blackpool Combat Club of Claudio Castagnoli, Bryan Danielson, and Jon Moxley, which in itself is a milestone unit given their respective histories, or lack thereof, with Ring of Honor. 


Just looking at his recent past, Claudio Castagnoli is a 2-Time former ROH World Champion who absolutely dominated as the top man in the company until he was dethroned by Eddie Kingston at DYNAMITE: GRAND SLAM 2023, but his history with ROH from 2005-2011, well that is a different kind of story. Though he experienced great success as a singles competitor, challenging multiple times for the ROH World Championship and the ROH Pure Championship, Claudio's greatest triumphs came as one-half of The Kings of Wrestling alongside Chris Hero. The two were, pardon the pun, kings of the division on two occasions, and their second reign was shaped a great deal by their blood feud with The Briscoes. From their BIG BANG bout where KoW first defeated The Briscoes, to their violent bloodbath at DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR VIII, to their Trios fight at FINAL BATTLE 2010 that included Shane Hagadorn and Papa Briscoe, their rivalry redefined tag team wrestling in ROH.


As for Bryan Danielson, twenty years ago at FINAL BATTLE 2003, while so many were waiting with baited breath for The Great Muta's arrival in the main event, and Mark Briscoe was waiting to challenge Samoa Joe for the ROH World Title, “The American Dragon” was opening up the evening in his lone singles bout with Jay Briscoe. That December 27th fight still stands as one of the greatest opening matches in ROH history, and though they'd fight in multiple matches over the next five years, Bryan and Jay would never meet in another singles match, while Dragon and Mark would never fight one-on-one. Another amazing factor involved in this match is the fact that this Friday night will mark the first time Bryan Danielson has competed on a ROH event since his 9/26/09 farewell at the GLORY BY HONOR VIII: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN event! The closest the ROH Hall of Famer has come was his pair of ROH World Title fights during Chris Jericho's reign, but both of those took place on AEW programming, so Danielson's involvement alone makes this a historic contest.


Then there is Jon Moxley, a man who has never competed on the main card of a ROH event, despite having fought dark matches on a trio of events between 2007 and 2009, including at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton, OH where Mox cut his teeth. He's also the only man in this contest who never went to war with Jay Briscoe during his career, and actually only just had his first outing with Mark on the Thanksgiving Eve DYNAMITE this year. 


The opposite side of the ring is filled with three men overflowing with emotion where Jay Briscoe is concerned. Over the course of three matches in 2022, FTR and The Briscoes engaged in some of the most memorable tag team bouts of the last twenty years, and in each the ROH World Tag Titles were on the line. With a lineage as loaded as the ROH World Tag Titles, it is a weighty proposition to suggest they were the best championship matches in ROH tag team history, but what Dax Harwood, Cash Wheeler, Jay Briscoe, and Mark Briscoe did over those 90+ minutes in the ring was unforgettable. Between a traditional tag, a 2/3 Falls bout, and a Double Dog Collar fight, those four men bled together, and bonded over the violence inflicted upon one another. That's why, a year removed from the Briscoes 13th and final ROH World Tag Title victory, Mark, Dax, and Cash are coming together for this fight with The Blackpool Combat Club!


I QUIT MATCH...

Tony Nese (w/Mark Sterling) vs. “All Ego” Ethan Page



That video package embedded above lays out the story of just why Tony Nese and Ethan Page are going to war in an “I Quit” match. From the moment he returned to ROH after a nine year absence, Ethan Page had made it clear that, in his mind, this was an opportunity to start fresh, to regain something he'd felt he'd lost, and rebuild the ego that fueled the successes of “All Ego” throughout his career.


The move to Ring of Honor led Ethan to five consecutive victories in five weeks, capping it off with a win over ROH Grand Slam Champion Christopher Daniels, and leaving Ethan feeling like a ROH championship match, be it Television Title or World, was a real possibility. After all, the promise to become a champion was something Page made to his daughter when this ROH journey began, and it seemed like it was just on the horizon.


Then in his sixth match, Ethan ran into Tony Nese and “Smart” Mark Sterling, and the two used their numbers advantage to rob “All Ego” of adding another win to his resume. Not only that, they heaped mockery onto the embarrassment of the loss, offering Ethan a spot at their side to take place in Nese's training routines. Page's response: to throw a little distraction Tony's way and cost him a bout against Serpentico a week after he and Sterling conspired to cost Ego a match against Josh Woods. 


The escalation reached its peak as this bout, one in which Mark Sterling will be handcuffed at ringside but one also contested under “I Quit” rules, came to fruition when both men signed their names on the contract. It seemed that cooler heads would prevail as long as ROH President Tony Khan was on-hand to oversee the signing, but as soon as TK left the ring, it blew up with a shaker full of protein powder tossed into Ethan's face, and “All Ego” laid out in the remains of a table.



But Nese and Sterling made a crucial mistake, they left Ethan Page breathing and still able to fight this Friday night at FINAL BATTLE 2023. Even after further aggravating his rib injuries in that COLLISION bout with Kenny Omega, “All Ego” is still coming after Tony Nese with everything he has in his tank. Ethan Page will make Tony Nese scream “I Quit” if it takes everything he's got left in his battered body, and then he will continue his quest to claim championship gold in Ring of Honor whatever that takes. But what if he doesn't? What if Ethan Page fails this Friday night on Honor Club (www.watchroh.com) and he's the one forced to utter those two words? What does he do then and what does he say to his kids about the promise made months ago?


A LIFETIME IN THE MAKING...

Shane Taylor vs. Keith Lee



June 28, 2014; that is the first date on record that Keith Lee and Shane Taylor teamed up for a NWA: Houston event in Cypress, TX. The next date that pops on their mutual record is just shy of a year later, May 29th of 2015 in Amarillo, TX, and its where everything began to change. ROH's ROAD TO BEST IN THE WORLD 2015 saw the two men defeat Ken Phoenix and Andy Dalton in tag team action, and it would mark the beginning of a nine match winning streak that came to an end at ROAD TO BEST IN THE WORLD 2016 against ANX. The loss was the result of a DQ stemming from Shane Taylor hitting Rhett Titus with a chair, retaliation for Rhett doing the same to Keith Lee, but referee Paul Turner only saw Taylor's actions.


The Pretty Boy Killers, as the pair were collectively known, would hit another five match streak before a few bumps in the road ended that. PBK had just a few more matches under the ROH banner against the War Machine team of Hanson and Rowe, as well as The Briscoes, and then after UNDISPUTED LEGACY on 2/3/17, Keith Lee just...left...Ring of Honor. The two men would unite a handful more times in 2017 before hitting their last bout together on September 16, 2017, and would never lay eyes on one another inside the squared circle until FINAL BATTLE 2022. 


That night Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland would defeat Shane Taylor and JD Griffey in tag team action, but that didn't mean the issue was dead, definitely not for Shane Taylor, and over the course of the last few weeks, it has risen back to the surface as FINAL BATTLE 2023 approached. Shane Taylor has pushed the issue hard, looking for that fight with Keith Lee to be able to put this all in the past!


For all the times they fought side-by-side, these two warriors have never gone to battle with one another, but that all changes this Friday night in Texas, one year on from their last ROH collision, and it seems with both men, hopefully for the last time. Shane Taylor needs this to move on with his life, while Keith Lee is willing to acquiesce to prove he made the right decision six years ago when he walked away from the Pretty Boy Killers. Who will have their hand raised in this battle of hard-hitting super heavyweights?


AAA MEGA CHAMPIONSHIP...

El Hijo del Vikingo(c) vs. Black Taurus


This past Wednesday night on DYNAMITE it was announced that El Hijo del Vikingo, the second longest reigning AAA Mega Champion in history behind Kenny Omega, would put his championship on the line as part of FINAL BATTLE 2023! It's not the first time Vikingo has defended the title as part of a Ring of Honor event, he bested Komander at SUPERCARD OF HONOR 2023 earlier this year, and since that night Vikingo has become the most successful holder of this title in history. With 20 defenses to date, not one previous holder is remotely close to Vikingo's record, but this Friday night he's going to have one of the toughest challenges of his 741 days. 


Black Taurus, an eighteen year veteran whose roots first began to grow in CMLL, is someone with whom El Vikingo is quite familiar. Though they've only fought in a pair of one-on-one bouts, and split them with one victory each, they have shared the squared circle on at least the 42 occasions on record. They've battled in three ways, four ways, and wild multi-man fights, as well as trios and eight-mans and all sorts of intriguing match formats, and Vikingo even defended the AAA Mega Championship against both Taurus and Komander in a Three Way less than twenty-four hours before that SoH 2023 match for Ring of Honor.


For those unfamiliar with Black Taurus, he is a former AAA Latin American Champion, a former AAA World Trios Champion, winner of the Men's Lucha Libre World Cup 2023 Final alongside Penta and Laredo Kid, as well as a participant in the 2019, 2022, and 2023 Battle of Los Angeles for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He is a hard-hitting force inside the ring, and with this bout will be making his debut for Ring of Honor! Will the ROH faithful see El Hijo del Vikingo's epic run come to an end in Texas, or will he continue to press forward towards breaking the 765 day record?


ROH PURE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH...

Wheeler Yuta(c) vs. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor

Wheeler Yuta made history once when he defeated Daniel Garcia at FINAL BATTLE 2022 last year in Arlington, TX to become the first 2-Time Pure Champion, and then proceeded to do it again a few weeks ago on RAMPAGE when he ended the 239-day reign of Katsuyori Shibata. To be fair, it wasn't as if Yuta achieved the victory in the most honorable fashion, but for him it was a personal milestone as he took the Pure Championship back from the man who ended reign #2 at SUPERCARD OF HONOR 2023. 


That victory only served to further bolster the already expanding ego of Wheeler Yuta, one exacerbated by his Blackpool Combat Club affiliation, and which has also led him to an impending FTW Rules fight with FTW Champion HOOK. But before that grudge match comes to fruition, Yuta has to make the first defense of his third reign against the head of Team Filthy, the incomparable “Filthy” Tom Lawlor!


Given Lawlor's mixed martial arts background, his pedigree as a 3-Time NCWA National Champion at 235 lbs, and status as the first-ever NJPW STRONG Openweight Champion, this will no doubt be one of the toughest tests Yuta has ever faced. The BCC has absolutely put the young man through the ringer with trainer since he joined the unit, but has any of it prepared him for what Tom Lawlor brings to the ring? Or, for that matter, what Lawlor brings before he even gets to the ring? Though “Filthy” Tom has all of that training in his background, he's also known for being a bit eccentric in his entrances and his choice of ring attire, and it all can used to throw an opponent off his game.


So will Lawlor make a huge splash in his Ring of Honor debut and end Yuta's reign in his first defense? Or will Wheeler score another victory that further boosts his ego as he heads toward that FTW Rules fight with HOOK?


ROH WORLD SIX-MAN CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH...

The Mogul Embassy (Brian Cage, Bishop Kaun, & Toa Liona)

vs.

TMDK (Bad Dude Tito, Kosei Fujita, & Shane Haste)



On November 20th, the first night of NJPW's World Tag League 2023 and just a few weeks after The Mogul Embassy regained the ROH World Six-Man Championship from The Elite, The Gates of Agony lost to the TMDK team of Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste. Though neither team would ultimately win the tournament, Gates of Agony netted four points while TMDK lost to El Phantasmo & Hikuleo in the Semi-Finals, the fact remains that The Gates lost to TMDK, and that victory, along with their 11/19 Trios win over The Gates and Yuto Nakashima has brought three members of that unit to Ring of Honor this Friday night in hopes of claiming what belongs to The Mogul Embassy!


Bad Dude Tito and Shane Haste first appeared for AEW at WRESTLEDREAM: ZERO HOUR where they, along with Mikey Nicholls challenged The Acclaimed for the AEW World Trios Championship, but Kosei Fujita is an unknown entity. At just 21 years of age, and brought into wrestling through the NJPW Dojo, and later under Zack Sabre Jr's tutelage, Fujita is making his second-ever trip to the United States for this contest after two fights back in August. 


This is the sort of international conflict that ROH has prided itself on from the very beginning, just like at FINAL BATTLE 2003 where Great Muta came to Ring of Honor, FINAL BATTLE 2005 where KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji made their debuts, or FINAL BATTLE 2008 where Takeshi Morishima and Bryan Danielson had one of the greatest Fight Without Honor battles in history, fighters from Japan have been coming to ROH since the Era of Honor first began in 2002, and this year at FINAL BATTLE that tradition continues with this six man fight!


The Von Erichs (Marshall & Ross) vs. The Outrunners (Truth Magnum & Turbo Floyd)



ROH FINAL BATTLE 2023 comes to fans exclusively on Honor Club as part of your membership plan! A new ROH World Television Champion will be crowned in Survival of the Fittest, the ROH Women's World Title will be on the line between Athena and Billie Starkz, and The BCC takes on FTR & Mark Briscoe in a Trios Tribute to Jay Briscoe! Plus, Ethan Page and Tony Nese will attempt to make the other say “I Quit” while Keith Lee and Shane Taylor aim to rid themselves of the other! It all begins at 8pm ET/7pm CT on Honor Club, with a special ZERO HOUR presentation beginning at 7pm ET on the official ROH YouTube channel!



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