Over the summer, Ring of Honor came to Charleston, WV, and I attended the show. It was a television taping for their weekly syndicated show, titled simply “ROH TV”. More on that later.
Ring of Honor formed in 2002 following the demise of World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling the year prior. The “Big 3” of the 1990’s wrestling war had one victor standing tall – World Wrestling Entertainment.
There needed to be an alternative. Some tried and failed, most notably Jimmy Hart and his XWF, despite featuring Hulk Hogan as its top star. In mid 2002, two promotions started at around the same time – Ring of Honor and NWA: Total Nonstop Action. Both recently celebrated their tenth anniversary shows. Both have also undergone several drastic changes in the last decade.
Initially promoted as a place for all of the top independent professional wrestlers to appear under one roof, ROH quickly gained a reputation as a hard-hitting promotion that promoted wrestling over sports entertainment. With its home base in Philadelphia and rabid fans, comparisons to ECW were obvious. While it wasn’t obvious until a few years later, they shared something similar to ECW – all of their top stars were eventually signed away by one of the bigger companies.
The stars of ROH’s early years reads like a who’s who of today’s WWE and TNA main event scene – AJ Styles (first TNA Grand Slam Champion), Christopher Daniels (multi-time X Division Champion), Samoa Joe (multi-time TNA World and X Division Champion), Low Ki (TNA X Division champion, WWE NXT season 2 winner), Bryan Danielson (World Champion in WWE), CM Punk (WWE and World Champion), Austin Aries (TNA World Champion), Tyler Black (NXT Champion), and Claudio Castagnoli (WWE US Champion) to name a few.
One of the problems facing ROH in the last couple years is that it looks like the promotion has sort of been running on fumes lately. Looking at the promotion right now and its top stars, they look like what they are – the top stars in Ring of Honor. They do not look like future stars in TNA or WWE. Let’s look at the last four ROH champions:
Current champion Kevin Steen, while being a good wrestler, is too heavy and not “PC” enough to fit into one of the major promotions. Previous champion Davey Richards has that classic Chris Benoit style (from back when it was a good thing to say that), but is seemingly too small to make it. Eddie Edwards always surprised me as being an ROH Champion. He just never stuck out to me and while he could put on a technical masterpiece in the ring, that was it. I felt like he was flat as a character. Roderick Strong was always a midcard talent at best, and only made his way to the top of the card after everybody else left. He’s a strong hand in the ring, but like Davey and Eddie, that’s about it.
Of the current ROH roster, I can think of only four talents that I feel have a good chance of getting signed by WWE:
Mike Bennett. He created the perfect heel character for ROH – that he is a sports entertainer and not a wrestler. He is charismatic, flashy, and has the size and build that WWE likes. He is also dating former WWE diva Maria.
Mike Mondo. Mondo had a stint in WWE previously, as part of the male cheerleading group the Spirit Squad. Don’t laugh, Dolph Ziggler was also part of it. It took him awhile in ROH to overcome the bad gimmick stigma, but he has slowly started to earn the respect of the hardcore audience and is seen as a credible wrestler.
Michael Elgin. On the surface, he looks like a stereotypical big guy wrestler who can’t do much. But, looks can be deceiving. He took part in two of Ring of Honor’s best matches this year – title matches against both Davey Richards and Kevin Steen. He has the look that WWE likes and also the wrestling ability that WWE often forgets they need.
Jay Lethal. I’m not sure why he hasn’t made his way to WWE yet honestly. Lethal broke through in the early days of ROH as a gutsy, young kid who always gave it his all. He then went on to TNA and became one of their more popular characters. An association with Kevin Nash led to a one-off Randy Savage impersonation, which then turned into the “Black Machismo” persona that lasted for several years before being transitioned into a hilarious Ric Flair impersonation. He then became his own man in the promotion and looked to become a star before abruptly leaving the company and returning to ROH.
Back to my ROH experience over the summer. It was the company’s first trip to West Virginia and the first ROH show I had ever attended. It came off as a very fake, forced atmosphere.
The first thing I noticed was a man walking around carrying around a garbage bag full of streamers passing them around to people in the lobby. A couple of the wrestlers – Eddie Edwards and the Briscoe Brothers – came up to him and started talking to him. There were a lot of nicely-dressed ROH employees around, but he appeared to be a fan. He was wearing a t-shirt and had several tattoos. But the wrestlers knew him.
During the course of the taping, all of the famous chants took place: the dueling chants (Let’s go Elgin! Let’s go Lethal!) the “This is awesome! Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap” chant, several “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants, an homage to Daniel Bryan, and of course the infamous “ROH! ROH! ROH!” chant occurred numerous times.
As the show started, I saw the guy passing out the remainder of his streamers. I got two. One was thrown at Roderick Strong and the other was saved for Steve Corino. I spotted him across the room about halfway through the show. He was one of the loudest men there. I kept watching him throughout the night, and with the exception of a few “Yes-es,” that guy started every single crowd chant.
The event came off like we were all playing the part of ROH fans, not that we were so dedicated that we came out and got into the moment. I’m curious as to whether that is the case at every ROH show now. Are there any dedicated ROH fans left? Is the current apathy toward the product due in part to the lack of future “big time” stars in the company?
Check your local listings or go to http://www.rohwrestling.com for more information on the syndicated “ROH TV”.