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Ring Of Honor: The Past and the Future: A Roundtable

On April 1st, a new era of Ring Of Honor commences. Under the stewardship of new owner Tony Khan, Supercard of Honor will restart a promotion that for 20 years has helped shape the landscape of American wrestling. So what happens to ROH?

We have gather some of our great writers at Pro Wrestling Musings to put their opinion on what happens next and also to look back at the company's legacy so far and reflect on it's greatest matches in the past two decades.

So thank you to the following-

  • Samuel Preston @BigBadaBruce

  • Joe McCaffrey @GoodvsBadGuys

  • Gareth @Eno // Garuf

  • Peter Edge @PeterEdge7

Q1- If Tony Khan DM’s you tomorrow and asks you to help him make a plan for the new ROH, what do you advise TK to do?

(Sam Preston): There are several things that instantly come to mind, the first thing would be to bring back ROH’s weekly 1 hour show to allow a focus on the matches. In order to prevent oversaturation, I’d cancel AEW Dark: Elevation, and either have it that ROH appears on YouTube for free, or preferably, as a Network-only special, similar to AEW’s own version of NXT.

I’d keep it simple with just four titles (ROH World, ROH Pure Title, ROH Tag Team and ROH Women’s), combining the TV Title with the Pure Title and rebranding the Six-Man Tag Title as an AEW Title, with the current champions getting an automatic bye to say, the Quarter-Final of a tournament.

I’d also have ROH keep their current six PPVs (Anniversary Show, Final Battle, Death Before Dishonor, Supercard of Honor & Best In The World) spaced out every two months but keep the events to a maximum of 2.5 hours, akin to TakeOvers, to help differentiate from AEW.

Finally, I’d have several members of the AEW roster who aren’t being used as much (Cage, Kip Sabian, Riho, Frankie Kazarian, Tony Nese , Angelico & Jack Evans) move to ROH as the veteran regulars who help keep the legitimacy of the titles, while allowing younger stars like Brock Anderson, Lee Moriarty, Anthony Ogogo, Daniel Garcia, Abandon, Kiera Hogan, to appear more frequently in stronger roles.

[Joe McCaffrey @GoodVsBadGuys] Production Quality, Live Event Fan Experience, and Digestibility. Those would be my priority focuses for a new Ring Of Honor, because those were the 3 things that kept a “hardcore” fan like me who has paid to see live events for WWE, TNA, ROH, NXT, PROGESS, AAW, Freelance, MLW, AEW, and Warrior Wrestling, Ring Of Honor was the worst live event experience in terms of production set-up & overall live event fan atmosphere. The seating set-ups for sightlines at one I saw in Chicago Ridge + the way camera rigs blocked entire sections that are in most of my photos and videos from the ROH/NJPW show in Villa Park are 2 examples. The other end of that live event experience is their fanbase. A phenomenon I experienced with ROH fans was an unwelcoming snarky attitude that seemed to be full of what I think people on twitter would call “gatekeepers”. To solve this problem I would take an approach used by PROGRESS with Jim Smallman, where someone sets the stage for what the vibe at the shows should be if you want to grow your audience. Colt Cabana seems like an ideal fit in that host role if he has extra time. The other thing would be video quality. If there is any way to improve audio and visual aspects of the archive footage without great expense, that should be prioritized. Lighting the shows and the crowd better than ROH did would be another suggestion. OTT shows have better VOD quality than most of ROH’s library at a fraction of the scale and budget. Lastly, digestibility. I wouldn’t produce too much content. I’d suggest going with a one hour show format for the first while, with 4 big shows throughout the year that don’t happen during the same months as the big AEW shows, where then ROH can have smaller shows attached to some big AEW weekends without drawing away focus.

[Gareth] I would merge the AEW and ROH rosters. Not to the extent that they're jumping back and forth constantly. But a lot of talent in the men's singles, tag and women's divisions could really benefit from more experience. You don't need an official merger, but regular cross-overs would be very fun. Just imagine Tay Conti with the WOH World Championship or Ricky Starks having a run with the ROH World Championship, for example.

I don't want ROH to be purely developmental the way NXT was. Obviously it's only realistic that it will develop a lot of talent that will end up in AEW. But I do hope ROH keeps its own structure also.

Have some ROH exclusive talent such as Jonathan Gresham and perhaps Claudio Castagnoli. Wrestlers who can become staples of the brand whilst others go in and out of the brand.

I've been saying for a while that North American wrestling needed a third major company, slightly smaller than AEW. It was a hole that Impact, MLW, NWA and the previous ROH regime couldn't step into. Not quite "big time" enough for the sways of talent WWE releases who deserve great opportunities.

If Tony Khan's version of ROH could fill that void, I'd be very happy. That's ultimately all I want. Also a focus on work-rate and simplistic, sensible storytelling. ROH could easily become my favourite wrestling product if Tony plays his cards right.

[Pete] There are a lot of cards that Tony can play with ROH. First off, there are a lot of wrestlers on the AEW roster (89 males and 21 females that have a render on the AEW roster page have wrestled a match in 2021) so those that haven’t got a lot of experience or haven’t featured often on AEW TV could find ROH a nice place to get reps under their belt. Someone like Anna Jay who has wrestled just once on Turner television since that New Year’s Eve belter when she teamed with Tay Conti against Allie and Penelope Ford would thrive in ROH for an extended period of time. AQA, who has potential, would also be perfect for a one-year run in ROH.

Second, the amount of wrestlers that are free agents after the multiple rounds of cuts in WWE especially in NXT who could be interesting fits in a national promotion could be a round peg in a round hole in ROH. Blake Christian who was TAFKA Trey Baxter in Orlando is someone who is a great example of this.

Thirdly, if I had TK’s ear I would tell him that while ROH is a nice asset to have, AEW should be his bread and butter and that ROH should always be a testing ground for the future of AEW with the best example being television deals.

In a couple of years, AEW’s television deal with the Time Warner networks TNT and TBS will expire and while those networks will want to extend their relationship with AEW, others could be interested in a show that has done great numbers in the 18-49 demo. AEW is one of the youngest skewing sporting entities with the NBA, the English Premier League and Formula One keeping them company in this stat, which in a world where linear television is up against streaming services is vital when it comes to ad revenues.

In the last 6 months, we have seen two of America’s biggest sports leagues, NFL and MLB sign deals with streaming services Amazon Prime and Apple TV respectively and with others expected to follow so if I was Tony Khan, I would get on the phone to the likes of Amazon, Apple, Netflix or Time Warner owned HBO Max and ask the question, would you be interested in a wrestling companies weekly show on your service?

Should a ROH show work on a streaming service, it will open up new avenues for AEW when it comes to negotiations for their next tv deal.

Q2- 20 years of ROH 1.0 ended with Tony’s purchase of the company. What is the lasting legacy of the company in its two decades?

(Sam Preston): For me, I’d say its lasting legacy is that for a generation, it offered those unlikely to get a chance in WWE an opportunity to legitimise themselves as professional wrestlers. It was a shining light and alternative option at a time when you had only WWE’s more neutered stage and Impact’s insanity. It reminded audiences that there was still a place for the story to be told between the ropes, not in skits or promos, where clean finishes were the expectation and not the abnorm. And while ROH is unlikely to ever be the force it was in its heyday, the inspiration it has served for thousands of wrestlers, millions of fans, and one crazy billionaire who just wanted to make wrestling rewarding again, is impossible to deny.

[Joe McCaffrey @GoodVsBadGuys] I view Ring Of Honor as an Ivy League wrestling school. If you hear that a wrestler was a champion in ROH, it gives the kind of credibility bump someone gets for having a degree from a Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc. ROH never gained the mainstream following in numbers of viewers that ECW or TNA did, or the following AEW has now, but fittingly for a product that put respect on a pedestal, they earned a reputation for housing some of the best wrestlers and in-ring wrestling anywhere on the planet. This is where future WrestleMania and All Out main eventers were learning and perfecting their craft in front of a fanbase with a high standard for in-ring action.

[Gareth] I always saw Ring of Honor as wrestling's innovator in North America. It pushed wrestling forward and whilst it made arguably more of today's stars than any other promotion since its inception, it also evolved North American wrestling in its style.

Traditions were kept alive whilst also innovating new techniques and styles of wrestling. Combining traditional grappling with lucha libre, Japanese strong style and the more athletic form of wrestling we see is popular in the modern age.

You could name names who wrestled on the ROH mat, but really it's bigger than any of them and that's why I'm really glad Tony Khan has bought ROH and will keep its legacy alive. But not just that, I do really hope he keeps it as wrestling's innovator.

[Peter] It’s legacy in my eyes is that it helped launch the careers of some of the biggest stars in the last decade. CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Adam Cole and Hangman Page made their first impact in the wrestling fans consciousness in ROH and while despite the great matches that TNA would put on would be deserving of being on all-time lists, it was still TNA and while ROH might have struggled with its production values at times, from bell to bell it was the company that was the gold standard at times and would be the study case for what was to come.

Q3- With the tape library in the hands of Tony Khan and with a chance of a wider population accessing ROH’s archive if the HBO Max theory comes true, what match would you recommend for a first time ROH viewer?

(Sam Preston): Holy shit, what a bastard of a question! Guarantee if you asked ten different ROH fans, they’d name ten different matches they’d recommend. However, I think if you want to introduce fans to ROH for the first time, then you need to go back to the very first main event where you see Low Ki, American Dragon and Christopher Daniels in a brilliant Triple Threat match.

The match accomplishes so much, it introduces the concept of the Code of Honor, which is so integral to what helped legitimise the company, the grainy camera work shows its simpler, more underground style, it demonstrates the importance of amazing wrestling and clean finishes, but best of all, it’s the moment after the match. It’s Christopher Daniels refusing to abide by the Code of Honor and shake hands, and seeing the heat generated by such a simplistic decision. You realise that ROH was going to focus on wrestling, in-ring storytelling, and the integrity of competition, keeping its stories simple but impactful. If that doesn’t make you want to watch more, then there’s nothing I can do to help you.

[Joe McCaffrey @GoodVsBadGuys] CM Punk vs Samoa Joe II. Ring Of Honor first caught my attention as something worthy of buzz and extra attention in 2004, and these two were prominent rising stars at the time. This is a match that would appeal to fans on either side of the Wednesday Night Wars of NXT vs AEW who weren’t familiar with early 00’s ROH. This trilogy seemed to be aiming for an independent wrestling version of Flair vs Steamboat, even involving Ricky Steamboat in the feud. This was the match in the trilogy that I rated the highest at 4.75 stars and Dave Meltzer rated at 5 stars. A testament to the quality of the match is that I rated it this high considering the length of it. I prefer matches in the 15-30 minute range, with anything going longer than that typically causing me to start to tune out or want to fast-forward. Joe was a dominant champion that was gaining tall tale status on message boards, and CM Punk was in the early days of cultivating his cult-like fan following. To add to the overall aura and energy of the match, it took place in Chicagoland, and you know what to expect when you get Bret Hart matches in Canada or CM Punk matches in or around Chicago. I won’t spoil this match any further than that.

[Gareth] Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi and Bryan Danielson vs. Nigel McGuinness are the two best ROH matches I've ever seen. Absolute classics. I think CM Punk will also be a very popular entry into the search engine if that streaming service were to happen.

But for me, I'd be looking to dive into various different matches and wrestler's careers who maybe I'm not so familiar with. It can be an educational tool as much as a nostalgic one, such is the depth of that archive.

[Peter] My top two are the same as Gareth but I just need a couple of paragraphs to talk about how much I love Joe vs Kobashi.

It’s the perfect match for the 750 strong crowd in the New Yorker Hotel Ballroom who just love Kenta Kobashi (who doesn’t). Kobashi unleashes his greatest hits as the pair just beat the hell out of each other. Kobashi’s knees might be so brittle that should they be touched they might evaporate quicker than Peter Parker at the end of Infinity War but he produces one last classic. Samoa Joe absolutely holds up his end. He puts in a performance worthy of his standing of being in the top three in the world at that time but the show belongs to Kobashi.

It was released without commentary so we can hear the crowd (the third man in this match) in its fullest and hearing the 750 fans go crazy makes the experience of watching this match so much greater.

The match is free to watch on YouTube in two separate videos (18 matches in 18 years and 3 brutal Samoa Joe matches) and is must-see if you want to delve into the collection of greatest matches ever.


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