More than a year after it was originally scheduled to take place, Ring of Honor is set to start the tournament to crown the first Ring of Honor Women’s Champion. The first round starts on Ring of Honor television the weekend of July 31st and the tournament is set to conclude at the Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view on September 12th.
As of press time, a total of fourteen competitors have been entered into the tournament, with one participant (Angelina Love) earning a bye in the first round, and one spot still open. More on both of those later.
Before I look at the competitors themselves, let’s take a look and see how we got here.
The last time Ring of Honor had a women’s championship was the Women of Honor championship, which was active from 2018-2019 and was held by Kelly Klein, Mayu Iwatani, Sumie Sakai, and Angelina Love. Klein was the only person to hold the title more than once and last won the title from Angelina Love at Glory By Honor XVII in October 2019. However, in November of 2019, a dispute between Klein and Ring of Honor led to her speaking out against the company and filing a lawsuit against parent company Sinclair Broadcasting while she was sidelined from post-concussion syndrome. Since Klein’s contract expired while she was still the champion, the Women of Honor championship was deactivated on January 1, 2020.
A tournament was originally scheduled for spring of 2020 to crown a brand new Ring of Honor Women’s World Champion, however the tournament was cancelled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This past spring at the 19th Anniversary pay-per-view, Maria Kanellis-Bennett announced during an in-ring interview with Quinn McKay that the long awaited Women’s Championship tournament would be held in the summer. Shortly after, Ring of Honor launched the Women’s Division Wednesday web series on their YouTube channel which showcased up and coming women’s wrestlers along with other women who were formerly involved in the Women of Honor division. Each episode culminated with Maria Kanellis-Bennett offering a “Ticket to Gold” to one or more lucky competitors, which was essentially an invitation to compete in the upcoming tournament. The brackets were finally revealed at the Best in the World pay-per-view, with Vita Von Starr having been booted from the tournament after she interfered in the Matt Taven vs. Dutch match on the July 2nd episode of Ring of Honor television.
All of that has led to this, a tournament to crown the inaugural Ring of Honor Women’s World Champion. Let’s take a look at the competitors!
Alex Gracia, aka “The Pink Dream”, is a three-year veteran who was trained by Rudy Boy Gonzales at the Texas Wrestling Academy. Throughout her short career, she’s wrestled for numerous promotions such as Shimmer, Stardom, Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling (ROW), NWA, WWN, and AEW. She competed in the 2019 Stardom Trios Tag Team tournament where she teamed with Starlight Kid and Natsumi. Her trio made it all the way to the semi-finals where they were bested by Tam Nakano, Arisa Hoshiki, and Saki Kashima. In 2021, Gracia has appeared on several episodes of AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation along with appearances on NWA Powerrr and ROH Women’s Division Wednesday. As far as ROH goes, she debuted in a loss against fellow tournament competitor Willow on the June 2nd episode of Women’s Division Wednesday on YouTube. She rebounded with a win several weeks later against Gia Scott.
The well-traveled veteran, and current AAW Women’s Champion, formerly known as Sienna in Impact/TNA, has to be considered one of the favorites to win the tournament. The three-time Impact/TNA Knockout’s Champion was hand picked for the tournament by Maria Kanellis-Bennett despite not having to wrestle a match for ROH. Her only other ROH appearances came in 2019 by way of their partnership with the NWA as she won the NWA Women’s Title at the Crockett Cup and then appeared during the War of the Worlds tour and had a successful title defense against Marti Belle. Other titles Kay has held during her career include the WSU Tag Team Titles, a three time SHINE Champion, the GFW Women’s Championship, and the AIW Women’s Championship.
Speaking of former Knockouts Champions, Angelina Love has been a mainstay in ROH since debuting at the G1 Supercard in April of 2019. Along with her Allure stablemate, and fellow tournament competitor Mandy Leon (more on her later), they have pretty much run roughshod over the ROH Women’s division. Love made her name in TNA/Impact from as part of the Beautiful People stable with Velvet Sky and several other revolving members like Cute Kip and Lacey Von Erich. She was also part of Deep South Wrestling when they were a WWE developmental brand and has also competed for numerous independent promotions such as House of Hardcore and GCW. Given her experience and the fact that she earned a first round bye after beating Quinn McKay on ROH TV several months ago, she has to be considered one of the favorites to win the tournament.
A long time freelance wrestler, Holidead returns to ROH for the Women’s Championship tournament. The one-time tag team partner of Thunder Rosa, the two teamed together as the Twisted Sisters during Holidead’s first run in ROH in 2018-19. Working mostly as a freelancer for her career, she’s never really found a home and has competed for not only ROH in the past but also ROW, WWN, GCW, and has even been shown as an enhancement talent on WWE TV. Just within the past month as well, she made her AEW debut on an episode of Dark in a losing effort to Nyla Rose. She’s also held numerous regional women’s championships and is the current Crossfire Wrestling Women’s Champion. Holidead is poised to breakout and having a good showing in the tournament could just be the springboard she needs.
Believe it or not, Mandy Leon has been with Ring of Honor in various roles since 2014. Since joining with Angelina Love as The Allure though, her ascent through the women’s division has been tough to miss. Originally brought in as a backstage interviewer and host, Leon was trained at the ROH Dojo and had her first ROH match in 2014 as a loss to Jenny Rose on a Future of Honor show. In the last few years though, she’s wrestled sporadically and mostly in tag matches with Angelina around the ROH circuit. However, don’t let that fool you. She does have extensive tournament experience, having competed in the 2017 Stardom 5Star Grand Prix and made it to the semi-finals. She was also the inaugural Women of Honor tournament in 2018 but lost in the quarterfinals to eventual runner up Kelly Klein.
Marti Belle has wrestled for every independent promotion you could possibly name. Most of her matches have come as part of the SHINE promotion under the WWN banner where she’s a two time SHINE Tag Team Champion with Jayme Jameson. Belle has also wrestled for SHIMMER and TNA and even has tournament experience from the 2017 WWE Mae Young Classic. She’s been ranked in the PWI Top 50 Female Wrestlers from 2014-2017 and was ranked again last year in the PWI Top 100 Female Wrestlers. The 13-year veteran and Johnny Rodz trainee has never wrestled for ROH aside from one off appearances here and there and could be a big asset to the ROH Women’s division regardless of how she does in the tournament.
Max the Impaler
Perhaps the wildest and most unique competitor in the tournament is Max the Impaler. The Dayton, Ohio native is still young in their career and to date the biggest company that Max has wrestled for is OVW. Max’s accomplishments thus far in their short career is being two-time IWA Women’s Champion as well as holding the prestigious OVW Women’s Title. Max was also a semi-finalist in the CHIKARA Young Lion’s Cup in January of 2020 and was ranked #100 in the PWI Top 100 Females in 2020 and was also ranked #254 in the PWI 500 of 2020. Max is currently undefeated in ROH competition, having beaten both Hyan and Allie Recks in singles action and teaming with fellow tournament competitor Rok-C on the first episode of Women’s Division Wednesday wrestling to draw against Laynie Luck and Hyan.
Mazzerati is a young, up and coming prospect in women’s wrestling. Despite only having a grand total of 51 career matches, she’s still managed to procure the OVW Women’s Championship and is the current FSW Women’s Champion. As far as ROH competition goes, she’s 0-2 thus far on Women’s Division Wednesday, having lost to Angelina Love in her debut match and also was on the losing end of a tag match with Trish Adora against Sumie Sakai and Miranda Alize. She also had two other ROH appearances in 2019, once on an episode of Ring of Honor TV and a match at State of the Art in Portland.
“The Lucha Baddie” has really started to make some noise in wrestling. Not only has she been on the Women’s Division Wednesday show on the ROH YouTube channel, she’s had several matches on AEW Dark and was part of the AEW Women’s World Championship Eliminator tournament earlier this year. Alize got her start in Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling promotion in 2016 and, according to her Twitter bio, was trained by Tessa Blanchard and Daga. Alize has also competed overseas in Stardom, where she wrestled the likes of Toni Storm, Jungle Kyona, Starlight Kid, and Io Shirai among others.
Nicole Savoy, aka “The Queen of Suplexes”, returns to Ring of Honor after being away since February of 2020. Savoy debuted for ROH at Final Battle Fallout 2019 against Sumie Sakai and wrestled several matches for the company in 2020 before the Covid shutdown. Since then, the 10-year veteran also appeared in AEW as Lil’ Swole as part of the AEW Women’s Tag Team Cup tournament in summer of 2020. Savoy has also wrestled for companies like SHIMMER and APW. During her time in SHIMMER, she held the SHIMMER Championship for a record 721 days and was the inaugural Heart of SHIMMER Champion.
Nicknamed “The Prodigy”, Rok-C was the first competitor to qualify for the tournament and is also the youngest at only 19. The Booker T trained youngster has mainly been active in the Texas scene, mostly for Reality of Wrestling (ROW), where she held the ROW Diamond Division championship. She’s also done appearances for Title Match Wrestling, GCW, and Mission Pro Wrestling. Thus far in ROH competition, she’s undefeated with a time-limit draw in a tag match on the first Women’s Division Wedneday episode and then several weeks later coming back with a win over Laynie Luck.
Sumie Sakai could be considered the heart and soul of the ROH Women’s Division. She won the tournament to crown the first Women of Honor champion. Now, she’s back in the tournament as the division resets to crown the ROH Women’s Champion. Sakai has been around ROH since the very beginning and competed in the first women’s match in company history back in 2002. She’s also had tours with JWP and Stardom and has competed in several tournaments in various independent promotions over the years. With her experience, Sakai could be considered one of the favorites to win the tournament.
Trish Adora is the current Pan Afrikan World Diaspora Champion and is a U.S. Army veteran. She was trained at the Team 3D Academy and has been wrestling since 2016. Earlier this year, she beat former ROH TV Champion Tony Deppen in a 60-Minute Iron Man Match for Beyond Wrestling. She’s also made appearances for GCW, Hoodslam, and WWN among other places in her career. Thus far in ROH, she’s 0-2 with a singles loss against Miranda Alize and a tag loss teaming with Mazzerati against Sumie Sakai and Alize.
The final announced competitor for the tournament is Willow Nightingale, going only by Willow in ROH. Besides her two matches for ROH this year, Willow has wrestled for AEW, Beyond Wresting, MLW, and several other independent promotions. Throughout her career, she’s also wrestled for Chikara and New York Wrestling Connection. In Chikara, she held the Campeonatos de Parejas (their version of the tag team title) with Solo Darling. She was also ranked #94 in the PWI Top 100 Women’s wrestlers of 2020.
There is one open spot in the first round still available. Quinn McKay had one final match on the episode of ROH TV that aired over the weekend of July 15th but she lost to Mandy Leon thanks to interference from Angelina Love and a set of brass knuckles. Earlier this week, it was announced that on the ROH: The Experience Facebook page, a fan vote would be held to determine if Quinn ultimately gets that final spot. The ongoing will she/won’t she saga has been one of the best things building to this tournament and I hope that Quinn does finally get that spot (spoiler alert: the “Yes” option is winning by a landslide). As of this writing though, the results have not been officially announced.
With a look at the competitors out of the way, here’s a quick rundown of the first round and some quick picks:
Sumie Sakai vs. Rok-C: This should be a pretty solid match between the youngest entrant and the oldest entrant. Logic would say Sumie Sakai will win this but an upset by Rok-C could set her up for a big run in the tournament.
Mandy Leon vs. TBD: Should Quinn McKay get in the tournament, then this will be rematch from ROH TV that I discussed before. The stipulation now though is that neither member of the Allure can interfere in each other’s matches during the tournament. Should Quinn get in, I could see her beating Mandy here to move on to the next round.
Max the Impaler vs. Holidead: With the winner of this drawing Angelina Love in the second round, it’s a tough call. With Max being paired with heel manager Amy Rose, I don’t think that ROH will do heel vs. heel in the second round so I think Holidead will advance.
Miranda Alize vs. Alex Gracia: This should be the show-stealer of the first round. Both women have had really good showings so far in their few appearances. Alize has a lot of the lucha-libre style while Gracia can also go. These two will be looking to make a name for themselves. I’m fine with either one winning but if I have to pick, I’d say Alize.
Nicole Savoy vs. Mazzerati: Savoy is the ROH veteran in this match and it was looking like she was going to get a bit of a push before the pandemic shut down. I see her advancing to the second round.
Allysin Kay vs. Willow: This should be a pretty interesting match. It’s Kay’s first action in ROH and Willow could prove to be a pretty formidable opponent. I think Kay’s experience moves her forward but I see this being a highly competitive match.
Trish Adora vs. Marti Belle: A tough one to pick for me since I’m not too familiar with either one. Marti Belle has the name value but Trish has been making waves on the indies and is a very in-demand up-and-comer. I’ll pick Trish since she’s kind of a hot property right now.
For my finals predictions at Death Before Dishonor, I’ll go with Rok-C against Allison Kay with Rok-C getting a big win over the veteran Kay and becoming the first ROH Women’s Champion. A wild card though could be the aforementioned Quinn McKay and if she gets in, she could very well win the whole thing.
Overall though, I think this tournament has a good mix of young and veteran talent and it will be a treat to watch it play out over the next few weeks. The first round starts on the Ring of Honor TV that airs over the July 31st weekend with three first round matches … Rok-C vs. Sumie, Alize vs. Gracia, and Savoy vs. Mazzerati.
Here’s the complete TV schedule for the first round (courtesy of ROHwrestling.com)
ROH TV 7/31/21
*Sumie Sakai vs. Rok-C
*Mazzerati vs. Nicole Savoy
*Alex Gracia vs. Miranda Alize
Women’s Division Wednesday 8/4/21
*Allysin Kay vs. Willow
ROH TV 8/7/21
*Mandy Leon vs. TBD
*Trish Adora vs. Marti Belle
ROH TV 8/14/21
*Max the Impaler vs. Holidead
Check your local listings for the day and time and station in your area or watch the ROH TV show every Monday on Honor Club or on the ROH website. You can also watch Women’s Division Wednesday every Wednesday night at 7PM on the ROH YouTube channel to keep up with all the tournament action.