A Southern Trilogy: Round Two

Think of your favorite sequel. What sets it apart from the original? For many, it’s the telling of an original story that stands on its own legs while respecting the original and what led up to it.

That’s what the second outing of FTR vs The Briscoes was. A follow-up on a dream match that exceeded expectations and told a sensational story. Two teams that embodied the history and essence of tag team wrestling.

With Supercard of Honor XV in the rearview mirror, Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler went on a momentous journey in the pro-wrestling landscape, having all sorts of dream matches and all-around having a great year working hard: They snagged Japanese tag team gold to add to their collection, defeating Roppongi Vice and United Empire at AEW x NJPW: Forbidden Door for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. They had all but the AEW tag titles, their one missing piece.

Erstwhile, The Briscoes were on their own adventure. Among their appearances on the independent circuit, Mark and Jay were cutting their teeth in the NWA’s 2022 Crockett Cup tournament, winning that cup and debuting for IMPACT Wrestling. it’s baffling that hadn’t happened before, due to how long both have been operating. Dem Boys would appropriately find Impact gold around their waists, stripped from Violent By Design. 

Upon the announcement of 2022’s Death Before Dishonor, fans waited with bated breath for a second round between the teams, and their prayers were answered. With a smaller build than before, the story was quickly made poignant and compelling all due to a magnificent sit-down interview between FTR and The Briscoes. Diplomatically, FTR toasted to their rivals, not for love, but for respect. 

That same respect wasn’t reciprocated. Mark and Jay still had the bitter taste left on their tongue, it had been there so long that the mere presence of FTR sours them; all because of a lucky shot. 

FTR’s babyface momentum around this time was at a high. The pressure of people loving you so much after spending so long laughing at and hating you, it’s a surreal feeling. Shoot or not, that emotion is palpable on their faces during this run. They still, however, believed people didn’t see them as the best tag team in the modern wrestling era. Dax even upped the stakes, and after a story of his daughter fighting courageously for her life with a hole in her heart, he and Cash would fight like an eight-year old girl.

Credit: Ring of Honor

Given the level of anticipation, why not raise the stakes? Why not have each team win two matches in one bout? A two-out-of-three falls match. This would put the odds against FTR yet again, as The Briscoes have never lost a two-out-of-three falls match to this point.

The Briscoes read as people who had re-watched the Supercard match dozens and dozens of times, studying hard to ensure they’d have their bases covered. They’re desperate this time, not just to fight but to win something ingrained in their identity. Their control section on Cash Wheeler speaks as much, but the hot tag moment from Dax is filled with fire that sustains enough heat for this slow-build in this beginning moment. 

However, the steam in Harwood’s Midnight Express runs out as he is isolated, despite his suplexes, strikes and pin attempts. A Doomsday Device by the Delaware brothers secures the first fall in their favor. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the in-ring awareness of the veteran rednecks is on display as Mark points his finger to the outside, signaling to Jay that the incoming Cash Wheeler must be stopped in order to secure this first fall. The advantage entirely in the challengers corner, the champs now face an up-hill battle.

From here, it’s evident the teams must pick up the pace and deliver the big match feel that is demanded of them. This is where your blood gets pumping and nothing exists but the black, white and red, the collision of two forces demanding tag team glory.

The second round of this match is symbolic. Whether or not it was intentional, it was symbolic. 

Dax, still the legal man, suffers abuse from Mark and Jay, who keep themselves firmly between the mustachioed Harwood and the mulleted Wheeler. Isolated and in peril, Harwood remembers that little girl and he fights. No matter the cost, he fights.

The brothers slap and chop away at his chest like it was a redwood, and red it would become, the blood vessels popped and blood trickled from his chest. His heart is vulnerable, yet it flows with adrenaline, heart and passion. The hole in his heart, Cash is helpless to watch. It is Dax’s heart that keeps him alive in this match, propelling him to kick out of multiple big moves including The Redneck Boogie. It courses through his veins as he stands on his own to fight, and as he treats this hole it gains some reprieve as he tags in Cash; the hole is filled.

As Caprice Coleman describes, Cash Wheeler enters the fray with the heart and tenacity of Magnum T.A., and does not let up for a second, though The Briscoes are able to surmount the fresher face. They’re decades into this game, they knew the risk of tactical isolation, they must keep this gate closed from these outsiders of their promotion. After all, they have a reputation to protect. Jay violently slams a bell into Cash’s face and Mark takes advantage with a pin, but only for a two-count. As the grey and black beard and gapped-toothed Mark reacts in dismay, blood flows, echoing the visage of a tree branch stemming from his brown hair.

Credit: Ring of Honor

Dax and Cash refuse to go out so easily, refuse to go softly into the night. Instead, they ride a Big Rig onto Jay and he falls prey to the finisher. Dax goes for the pin, while Cash aims to keep Mark out, ending the second fall as the first had.

The war is not over. Time for the endgame. Anyone can win it now, and both men have bled their soul out tonight. 

The Briscoes from here on fight with caution and anxiety, but with the poise and focus they require to match their counterparts. The match is slowly slipping away from them, despite their streak in this style It’s an all out assault on each other until Dax misses a swing and inadvertently incapacitates the referee, changing the dynamic of the match. Everyone stands in shock, until the experienced Mark surgically removes Cash from the scene, to which Jay takes advantage during the outage to stun Dax horizontally. All for naught, however, as his sought-after pin reaches the would-be count of ten before he gives up. While the referee is still incapacitated, The Briscoes try two Doomsday Devices, both of which are stopped by Cash Wheeler, the second of which gives life to FTR.

Following a devastating Big Rig, the pin on Jay is prolonged before the referee can finally start the three count. Seconds pass until he starts the first count, broken at the second. The crowd roars at this, in disbelief that someone has finally kicked out of the Big Rig!

The big fight feel lives up to its sensation in this portion of the match. Neither team gives an inch. 

Credit: Ring of Honor

At last a Doomsday Device lands, but valiant to the end Dax kicks out to the rapturous roar of the crowd. Blood on the face of everyone, yet amid the sea of crimson there lays fatigue and shock. The slobber-knocker continues, to the point that the famous DIY/Revival hold spot is recreated; Dax and Cash holding hands to lend strength and power to survive a submission, refusing to tap out, and this time it works as they reach the ropes to break the hold.

Mark and Cash lob offense at each other like a volleyball until they’re both sent through a table, leaving only Dax and Jay who unload every clip into one another, but the chase goes on high; a crescendo to a song before the final note is played.

Dax Harwood gains the upper-hand and delivers a nasty piledriver to Jay Briscoe and finally, finally gets that final three-count. The streak of The Briscoes’s two-out-of-three-falls victories comes to an end to a worthy and formidable opponent in FTR.

In jubilation Dax and Cash celebrate with the fans, hugging and drinking beer, soaking in the merriment. But in the midst of their high, they call, no, demand Mark and Jay join them in the ring to receive their flowers from the fans. 

The wrestling fan base was given a treat on this night, so much hype and love given to tag team wrestling. That’s what makes this trilogy so special. But it’s not over. The textbook has thus far been scribed in blood, it’s only fitting that the final chapter be overwhelmingly drenched in it for future generations to understand its magnitude. 

This is what wrestling stories are made of. The heart sold by the promos, the changing of the guard, be it losing a streak or having someone kick out of your finisher that no other has kicked out of. These are the stories that stick with us.

Credit: Ring of Honor

This is where the article initially ended. This is where I wanted it to end. I wish I was not here to write any further on this, but following the announcement of Jay Briscoe’s death, I had to say my piece here.

We all know that horrifying, heartbreaking feeling that we won’t see the people we look up to and our loved ones ever again. They’re here and then they’re gone and the world just feels darker and quieter. There’s no avoiding it, the shadow of death. But as it visits, in our tears and grief, we must celebrate. Celebrate the life that was brought to everyone that knew the departed.

Immediately after the news broke, there was an overwhelming outpouring of love. Amid the worry and the drama that comes from a passing, stories were told and photos were shared. Matches were recommended. Fans spoke of how monumentally important The Briscoes were to tag team wrestling and to Ring of Honor, and that can never be understated. The industry is going to be difficult without Jay. Meanwhile, the stories told by those backstage and in the ring, as well as close friends and family attest to the character of Jamin Pugh, the man behind the redneck.

Jamin was someone who would give the shirt off his back for his friends, kind-hearted and giving. Open to learning and open to changing in a world that never ceases to evolve. He was the tree that gave and the air that breathed life in an industry that at some points tried to reject him and Mark. Consistently, Mark and Jay have put on classic matches, and when it seemed to many that they were winding down, The Briscoes told a story with FTR that, on the microphone and from bell-to-bell, will never be forgotten.

Though the sky may have had a star dimmed out, its brightness will never be forgotten. 

I’ll end my tribute with this: keep on, keepin’ on. Toast to Dem Boys and the Top Guys, and to the memory of Jay. 

Dem Boys, out.

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