If you’re a Ring of Honor faithful – or a ‘ROHbot’ as they’ve once been called – you can’t deny the truth; it’s been bad lately. It’s not even a ‘lately’ statement, they’ve been bad for sometime. The last two champions that got people truly excited were Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens) and Jay Lethal.
Steen had been on a tear before his title run, he had been suspended from the company, and then started to target the promotion digitally in one of the first successful internet angles. Steen would win the World title from Davey Richards and would then lose it to Jay Briscoe.
This is where problems really started. Briscoe threatened to kill any fan who tried to tell his children that being gay was ok. Obviously this was a bad look, and ROH stripped him of their title but failed to fire him. Jay would again embark on another lackluster title run a year and a half later in 2014.
It was this title reign however that would launch Jay Lethal into title contention and would even create arguably the greatest promo in both Lethal and ROH’s history, the ‘I Made This Belt, That Belt Made You’ promo. Lethal’s run was marked by a strong showing, and even featured him taking on guys like Alberto El Patron and AJ Styles during that time period.
Following these runs, Adam Cole (twice), Kyle O’Reily, Dalton Castle and Christopher Daniels would all go on to unmotivated title wins, and lackluster title runs. Things got so bad with the top title when Cole and O’Reily signed with the WWE during this time period. O’Reily was champion for only a handful of weeks, electing to not-re-sign after becoming champion. Castle’s run was so uninspired he didn’t even headline a few of the top shows when he was champion.
This takes us to current champion Matt Taven. The champion reflects the roster and the champion in ROH in terms of optics sucks. Taven might be the second worst, and second least inspired champion since Xavier back in 2003. Taven hasn’t connected with non-ROH fans, and hasn’t been able to generate much buzz with his title run. Either that lands on him, or on the company; either way it proves my point. It gets worse when you realize he’s got a basic look, isn’t all that athletic and has a very forgettable move set. When you think about the Bryan Danielson’s, Samoa Joe’s, CM Punk’s, and even Jay Lethal’s in the promotoin’s history, Taven feels like a step back from those types of legacy guys.
ROH has a forgettable product right now, and fans are ignoring this reality. The pay per views they put on don’t generate a lot of buzz, and their roster is ever changing. This isn’t 2007 where talent leaving was expected due to the price differences between ROH and other wrestling promotions. They couldn’t afford to keep their talent.
One of the biggest issues for the downfall stems from then booker Gabe Sapolsky leaving to start EVOLVE, before becoming a WWE lapdog last year. Sapolsky was as unprofessional as they come, constantly having tantrums backstage and throwing objects at workers when things went even a little wrong but his talent for booking was never more obvious during the early days of ROH. With his departure they turned to Jim Cornette and Adam Pearce to help mend the tide of upset fans. For intents and purposes, they did a wonderful job all things considered.
It was during this point, after the Pearce years of 2008-2010, that the company was put over sale. In 2011 the promotion was bought out by Sinclair Broadcasting, and was subsequently used as a cheap television product to put on their network of channels. The show became syndicated and up until this year, only aired in about a hundred cities across the U.S.
Since Sinclair bought them the money they’ve put into the product has been downright laughable, with some of the worst presentation in big league wrestling today. There’s really no excuse either, as they’re no longer an indy promotion. Sinclair is a bigger company than the WWE and has more cash available to invest in properties they own than the WWE. So it’s not that they’re cash-limited like IMPACT, it’s juts that they don’t want to invest the money.
Their title belts are glossy images, with no ridges or grooves to be seen. That had to be a cost cutting maneuver, because who wants to win a belt buckle?
This would be the worst thing about any other promotion these days but not ROH. The biggest knock on ROH these days is it’s roster. As mentioned before Taven is the leader of the brand, and that says a lot. They’re unable to keep talent and that’s a pretty clear reason why guys like Taven and Castle were picked to be headliners despite not really being seen as such.
Talent like Mike and Maria Bennett were huge in ROH with Taven and Adam Cole as the first Kingdom. Yet, they left for TNA in 2016. Several months later, a still green Moose left ROH as well for TNA, and remains with the then-TNA, now-IMPACT brand to this day. Keith Lee was another vaunted indy name that they let leave their brand for NXT. On top of them, the Wolves, reDRagon, Cole, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and so many countless others have all since left the promotion. ROH-lifer Roderick Strong even left but why? Why are all these issues coming up?
Well, low pay for one. Despite being bigger than ever before, their rumored deals for mid-card talent and lower are fairly small when compared to the averages around the industry these days. Another issue is that Hunter Johnson, aka Delirious, has been booking since 2010 and has been terrible at it ever since.
The angles are uninspired. Most times wrestling fans who don’t follow ROH on a weekly basis, and really how can you when you don’t even know if the show airs in your market, have no idea what’s going on. This is despite the fact they were on COMET, Destination America, HDNet (now AXS TV, U.S. provider for NJPW), and now Stadium Sports. Yet, it’s so hard to find out when it’s airing still. Say what you will about IMPACT, their decision to move their show to Twitch.TV to make it more wildly available was a smart move. Thousands and thousands of fans who don’t have Pursuit Channel can now watch the show. Plus, for only eight bucks a month they can watch episodes of IMPACT on a four day turnaround via their IMPACT+ app.
Admittedly there’s only so much that ROH-proper can do to get noticed. If Sinclair wanted, they could put them on one night, at one time, across all markets. Yet, it’s up to ROH-proper to deliver. Whether it’s because of bad offers, poor booking or wrestlers being upset with Sinclair’s right-wing leaning propaganda machine, the fact is they’re losing wrestlers and are unable to replace them with top tier talent. Matt Taven in any other promotion is a mid-carder.
There’s rumors that Marty Scurll was supposed to win the ROH World title the night Taven did, but many suspect Scurll is All Elite bound when his contract expires later this year; something that makes a lot of sense. So if the rumor is true, that gives us a reason why Taven was picked to win.
That said it’s rather undeniable that the talent roster has ever been this bad. Firstly the talent that they’re signing that are actually star-worthy are only really signing due to their deal with NJPW. Jeff Cobb, Dragon Lee, RUSH and Brody King are all gems, but are all there due to ROH’s deal with NJPW. For further proof of this and how the company is viewed by the mainstream fanbase, look at how the G1 Supercard event went. Six of the ten matches at the event were NJPW infused or were NJPW stand-alone matches. Each one of them were well received and had fans gobbling the matches up and wanting more. The ROH stand-alone matches? Not as well received.
This is where the crux of the matter comes in, the point of this whole column. ROH is getting a pass for a lackluster roster, piss poor booking and a company that is putting the bare minimum into their product as possible. Why though, why are people giving ROH a pass?
Well, isn’t that obvious? New Japan Pro Wrestling cures all, apparently. Fans and media are giving ROH a pass because of their historical relevance and NJPW’s current approval in the pro wrestling zeitgeist. NJPW is pretty untouchable besides those who hate on the product for the sake of it. So it goes without saying that any promotion that partners with them is going to get a boost from their association. This is part of the issue with holding ROH accountable for a subpar product.
If and when NJPW moves on from ROH, they’ll no longer have Minoru Suzuki, Will Osprey, Kazuchika Okada and the Bullet Club to lean on. Which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that these problems stretched back years, even before ROH went after Cody and the Young Bucks to come in and stabilize their brand. I won’t deny that Cody’s world title run was pretty engaging, especially when he started feuding with Nick Aldis heading into All In. Though, true to form for ROH, instead of giving us a Title vs. Title bout at the event, Cody loses the ROH world title and we go in with less hype than we could’ve had. Why? Because ruh-ROH.
ROH is currently holding on to their credibility by the skin of their teeth, and it’s all because of NJPW. With Don Callis now serving in duel roles within IMPACT and NJPW, there is a push from IMPACT to be in line to partner with NJPW in the near future. With rumors around NJPW’s displeasure with how Cody and the Elite left and how ROH replaced them existing, it’s safe to assume that a brand switch could be possible.
If ROH lost their NJPW deal, Brody King, RUSH, Jeff Cobb and Dragon Lee (among a few others) would bolt from the promotion at the first chance. Scurll’s already half way out the door, and currently their top stars are Jay Lethal, Matt Taven and who? Shane Taylor is getting some momentum but their tag team division, which isn’t great right now, would be destroyed if the NJPW partnership ended. They couldn’t even develop and keep War Machine (the Viking Raiders), who no one seemingly wanted when they were recruited for their Top Prospect Tournament in 2014.
In fact, to show you how bad they are at keeping talent they invest in let’s look at the Top Prospect Tournament. Before the Top Prospect Tournament ended in 2017, there where six winners and six runner ups. That’s twelve talents since 2011. Wanna know how many still wrestle for ROH?
Three. 2013 Winner Matt Taven, 2015 Runner Up Will Ferrara and 2017 Winner Josh Woods.
That means 2011’s runner up Kyle O’Reily and winner Mike Bennett, 2013’s runner up TaDarious Thomas, 2014’s winner Hanson and runner up Rowe, 2015’s Winner Donovan Dijak, 2016’s winner Lio Rush and runner up Brian Fury and 2017 runner up John Skyler. None of whom are there anymore. That’s not even counting the first round participants like Colby Corino and Punisher Martinez (2016), Andrew Everett (2014), ACH (2013), and Adam Cole (2011) to name a few.
If the media was being honest, they’d be slaughtering ROH for their failures to really replace and reload with true stars and not relying on 50-something year old PCO and nearly 50-something year old Bully Ray.
This has been going on for years, but the problem is that reporters, critics and fans still look at them in the same light as if it were 2006. Less pomp and circumstance sure, but none are going in on them as hard as they’ve gone in on IMPACT and WWE.
Yet thirteen years later, the promotion now looks and feels more like the WWE than ever before. With the rise of GCW, the revival of Major League Wrestling, the rise of the UK scene (despite the WWE’s attempts to kill it) among other indys getting more and more awareness, ROH will no longer be able to hide behind their former pedigree. More and more promotions are upping their game these days. More and more are showcasing wrestling that ROH used to way back when.
The WWE has hoarded ROH’s biggest names, IMPACT is on the upward trend of a successful reboot (who themselves have been able to secure their own talent and bring in new top names), MLW is drilling into their audience base, NJPW is getting anxious and now All Elite Wrestling has arrived with some A+ caliber matches; it’s going to be harder than ever for ROH to hide their true face.
ROH is not what it once was, and critics and fans aren’t holding them to the same accountability as other promotions. So don’t be surprised when the tide changes dramatically if and when NJPW cuts the safety net free. ROH will finally be seen for what they are, out dated, sluggish and uninspired wrestling.