A Southern Trilogy: Round Three

Above all the noise made in 2022, conversations about professional wrestling in the ring centered around the story and performance told in the FTR/Briscoes trilogy.

You had Gunther/Sheamus, the MJF/CM Punk feud, Pentagon Jr/Villano IV, the emotional storytelling between Jun Kasai and El Desperado – Above all that noise, however, was this damn trilogy.

It was conceived from Final Battle, birthed at Supercard of Honor XV, grew at Death Before Dishonor and rested at Final Battle. We watched this storyline evolve and mature. Time is a beautiful circle that draws us with its swirl.

There’s a natural progression in the story, each match bringing something different that sets itself apart yet evolves the four men involved. The builds started to become fleshed out, the matches being inconspicuous. The third match, however, was to be the most dramatic one of all, a crimson tide washing over what we thought tag team wrestling could be.

The builds became smaller, to the point the finale was built just off of Colten and Austin Gunn announcing FTR to face off against perhaps their wrestling soulmates. To up the ante, the stamp on the envelope of one of wrestling’s greatest rivalries in recent history was a Double Dog-Collar Match. It started and would end at Final Battle.

Greg Valentine vs Roddy Piper, CM Punk vs Raven and Cody Rhodes vs Brodie Lee were about to have company in the pantheon of this brutal gimmick.

This match felt less like a tag team fighting for the love of the sport or to become champion. FTR/Briscoes III gives me chills to think about. The hairs on my arms stand on end and blood is pumping with adrenaline, so much so that I can almost hear it flow around my eardrums. 

From the moment the collars were pressed against the necks of the competitors, they were not the same men. They were rabid, ravenous beasts, feral and baring canines, ready to rip each other to shreds. Animals that roamed and wandered, hunting for the blood of others. In this, they bleed the same blood of professional wrestling until it is bled away, soaking the gritty, sweat-soaked mat. May God have mercy on anyone in its vicinity.

Credit: Ring of Honor

Who would have thought that Dax, Cash, Jay, and Mark would reach for the stars with red hands and pluck down star after star? This match is still talked about, both as though it’s a relic from a bygone era and as though it happened only yesterday. Given the transpirations of life as it is, it’s easy to see why, in what is sure to be regarded as a timeless classic. All born from a dream. A beautiful bloodbath baptism.

The Briscoes and FTR enter the ring, not with the hunger of the first battle, nor the wariness of the second, but with the feeling that this was the endgame and there needs to be a better man once and for all. They enter to see if they are truly alive.

With the collars wrapped around both teams, there’s a breath of certainty – there’s no going back now. The bell rings, and hard metal must clash with human skin on this night.

Immediately there’s a frenzy; each tag team member is after their counterpart; Jay with Dax and Mark with Cash. It isn’t long until Mark is busted open, the chains are brandished and whipped. Dax and Jay are swallowed by the crowd while Mark endures abuse from Cash. FTR are firmly in control in the early goings. 

This dream scenario is too unbelievable and the crowd chants “This is awesome!”, as carnage is wrought in the arena. In contrast to Death Before Dishonor, where the crowd seemed very pro-AEW, the crowd tonight shows love and respect to the challengers, as told by their “Dem Boys” chants.

Jay has Dax in his sights, shooting for every weak spot, costing the champ a tooth and some blood trickling from his forehead.

Meanwhile, Cash gains enough leeway to hang Mark to the ringpost; Dax joins him for two-on-one violence. These headshots in fists laced with chains is enough to give me a ringing headache. It doesn’t help that Cash’s arm, ornamented with his chain, collided with Mark’s in a stolen Doomsday Device, a middle finger to the Delaware boys. 

The family of the Guerreros are called upon as Cash Wheeler stretches Mark Briscoe in the Gory Special, while Jay helplessly watches between strikes from Dax as he hangs on a far-away ringpost, made worse with the top rope separating his brother from the floor. Jay, now free from the ringpost, is flung into the rope that hung his brother. Both men are decorated with crimson now, but that’s nothing to them – they’ve got two outside boys to whoop.

Caprice Coleman and Ian Riccaboni elevate this match on commentary, elevating it to a fucking experience, as there was naught to do but watch as the devastation unfurled. They bring this wrestling outing to another level, as they had the entire night of Final Battle.

The metal and brutality are not enough, and won’t be enough, as evidenced by Cash kicking out at the last second from a chained elbow drop from Mark, himself stung by the sword he brandished as he unwrapped the chain from his arm. Each four men are willing to go to infinity and beyond to get the win.

Credit: Ring of Honor

Instead, Jay and Dax butt heads like animals, shedding blood while tables and chairs are introduced on the outside. Dax fights off Jay, throwing caution to the wind and wrapping the chain from his leash around his head. He soars from the top rope, wind rushing through his ears and crashes into the defenceless Jay with a deadly diving headbutt.

There’s a sense of passionate malice, something beyond, yet not adjacent to hate in the eyes of Dax, that The Briscoes need to be put to bed tonight. Unfortunately in a match of this scale, with venom rife in the air, referee Paul Turner falls victim to the proceedings and is immediately replaced by another referee.

Without pause, Jay and Dax break each other until they can’t get up – the same couldn’t be said for Cash and Mark, with a table ominously set in place aside from a landfill of chairs. From the top rope, Mark is flung to the mass of seats, immobilized as Ian hauntingly reminds listeners of what is all at stake here, what these men are leaving on the line – is it worth it? The determination of the fighters seem to prove so.

Each time I’ve watched this match, I swear I could smell the putrid stench of blood permeating through the air, coagulating with the sweat in the air, as the weaponry fails everyone over and over again, with victory constantly, constantly within grasp, yet lightyears out of reach with just the span of seconds.

Cash delivers multiple chairs with spiteful demand to Dax, splattering blood everywhere each time he torments Jay. With the assist from Mark, Jay is able to fight of Cash like a wounded animal, temporarily rejuvenated with life and vigor. Cash is trapped by Mark but still risks his own life and safety to try and reach his partner in peril. In sheer desperation, fingertips away, he can only watch as Dax succumbs to the agony at the hands of Jay, choking the life out of Dax.

Fittingly for FTR, it ends on a note reminiscent of Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1997, as he gargles on his own blood and is put to sleep. He never tapped, but the bell rings.

For The Briscoes, the course has been corrected and honor is reclaimed. They have finally, at last, regained the Ring of Honor Tag Team Championships. The brothers embrace and a release is over. All four men’s rage has subsided and they are human once more.

Credit: Ring of Honor

With The Briscoes departed, the Gunn Club seek to take advantage of the beaten FTR, but their run-in is cut short by the returning Briscoes. They might not have known it going into the rivalry in 2021, but Dax and Cash would be like another couple of brothers, family bonded in bloodshed. 

Though the titles have been lost, both teams won. A gorgeous, yet tragic period to the end of this story’s final chapter.

As we live in a post-Jay Briscoe world, we don’t know what will happen going forward. But this is for certain…

This story was one we were lucky to witness. It will be shared reverently in its historical and cinematic nature for generations of wrestling fans to come. 

In life, we are given but one chance. 2022 saw FTR and The Briscoes live it up, giving career highlights while standing toe-to-toe with any and every feud or five-star match that is held in everyone’s hearts. 

We’ve seen many memorable stories take place in Ring of Honor, but this match is the culmination of all of that and more. The spirit of old school, southern professional wrestling created a beautiful symphony with the essence of what made ROH what it is.

Even now as I write this, the sound of the crowd, the clanging of the chains, and the painful bumps taken ring in my ears like the strumming of a beat up old guitar and a choir of angels. Another brilliant display of fighting and fighting even if it destroys your body and breaks your heart. Encapsulated in three matches, etched forevermore in the pantheon of professional wrestling.

We won’t be able to visit this moment as it was ever again. You can’t return to how you felt in this time, in the moment. But you can return to this match; you can return to tag team wrestling at its finest and remember it for that.

Remember it as you reach for the sky.