The Future of Honor

The news that came out on October 27th of Ring of Honor going on hiatus shocked the wrestling world. The promotion where stars such as CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, Kevin Owens (Steen), Matt Taven, and Jay & Mark Briscoe cut their teeth could soon cease to exist at all. The news had obviously brought about more questions than answers, so I’m going to try to examine some of the most important ones. However before I get to that, I think it’s important to take a quick look at how we got to this point.

Since the Elite left in late 2018 and announced the launch of AEW in early 2019, the star power in ROH dropped dramatically. The company was left without some of their biggest draws in the Young Bucks, Cody, etc. and was instantly forced into a rebuilding mode. Sure, they still had Jay Lethal as their champion and some of their other established names like Dalton Castle, the Briscoes, and RUSH. They also brought in new stars like PCO and Brody King, who joined in forming Villain Enterprises, which would dominate ROH for the whole of 2019. Their partnership with New Japan was still strong, which resulted in the G1 Supercard show in Madison Square Garden and a successful War of the Worlds tour. During this time they managed to successfully build new talent like Shane Taylor, Joe Hendry, Tracy Williams, and Jonathan Gresham.

Credit: Ring of Honor

Things were looking good going into 2020 with PCO on top as World Champion, Marty Scurll having signed on to help with creative, and new international stars like Slex coming in from Australia. Their partnership with the NWA was rekindled as then-NWA World Champion Nick Aldis made a surprise appearance during the first event of the year and was involved in some of the top storylines. Plus, they announced the return of the Pure Championship and a tournament to crown a new Women’s Champion beginning in the spring. It was going to be a huge year for ROH!

That was until the world stopped.

On March 11, 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world. States began imposing mass gathering restrictions, venues and promotions began cancelling shows left and right. The NBA paused its season when one of its players tested positive. MLB stopped Spring Training. The NHL put their season on ice. International travel restrictions were put in place. Overnight, it seemed, the world completely shut down.

Ring of Honor was in Las Vegas that weekend for a double-header, their 18th Anniversary pay-per-view on March 13 and a highly anticipated “Past vs. Present” show the next night. Both were cancelled in the wake of the pandemic. Soon, ROH cancelled all the other events that were on the books and the company went dark.

They returned several months later but in an unfamiliar format. TV shows were taped in bulk in an empty arena with screens up to hide everything. The international talent was gone due to travel restrictions and a skeleton crew of wrestlers worked the tapings. The Pure tournament was done over two months of TV, the Final Battle PPV was taped, and this format continued until the summer when live crowds returned in July. Only four shows were held with live crowds as of this writing, one in Baltimore and three in Philadelphia. TV was still being taped in an empty arena.

And then came the announcement of the hiatus which leads us to where we are now, a few weeks away from the Final Battle: End of an Era pay-per-view where the current version of ROH will cease to exist. Their next show is scheduled for spring of 2022, the Supercard of Honor show in Dallas to coincide with WrestleMania weekend. Between now and then, what will the future be for ROH? I’m not sure, but I think there are several questions that can be answered and several things to look forward to:

The first question that went through my mind was: is Sinclair Broadcasting looking to sell ROH?

The short answer to this is … I don’t know. I haven’t seen a lot of talk about the company looking to sell but there was a report from Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated. The report came out the day after ROH made their announcement and reported that they were looking to sell their tape library to the “highest bidder”. Then Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that he was told otherwise. If true though, then perhaps Sinclair Broadcasting is potentially looking to either sell the tape library or sell the company as a whole. If someone does step up and offer to purchase the company, then the question becomes what exactly would a potential buyer be getting? Do they want just the tape library? Do they get the trademarks, rights, etc and everything that goes along with that?

There’s a couple comparisons that could be made here in terms of companies who have essentially bottomed out, for lack of a better term. First, let’s look at WCW in 2001. I’m sure everyone has heard the story by now but in a nutshell, Eric Bischoff and Fusient Media Ventures had a potential deal in place to purchase WCW from Turner Broadcasting. I don’t know what the specifics of that deal would’ve included but for argument’s sake, let’s say it included everything the WWF got when it purchased WCW. That means that Bischoff’s group would’ve gotten the trademarks, the contracts of all the wrestlers, the WCW name itself, and other assorted odds and ends that one gets when they purchase a company like that. That deal ultimately fell through though when Turner Broadcasting cancelled WCW programming and the rest is history.

However, I’m reminded of an instance when SEG sold the UFC to Zuffa (Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and Dana White) in January of 2001 (ironically during the same time period Eric Bischoff was attempting to purchase WCW). Soon after the purchase, Lorenzo Fertitta did an interview with Fighters Only magazine where he was quoted as saying

“I had my attorneys tell me that I was crazy because I wasn't buying anything. I was paying $2 million and they were saying 'What are you getting?' And I said 'What you don't understand is I'm getting the most valuable thing that I could possibly have, which is those three letters: UFC. That is what's going to make this thing work. Everybody knows that brand, whether they like it or they don't like it, they react to it.'

That same logic could be applied to ROH. Am I saying that ROH will become the UFC and explode in popularity? No. But what I am saying is that someone can take those letters “ROH” and the name of the company “Ring of Honor” and bring it back to relevancy, much like Zuffa did with the UFC.

That is, of course, if there are any buyers or if Sinclair is looking to sell at all.

WWE or AEW is immediately what people will think of if a full-on sale of ROH happens. The only obvious thing WWE would want are the tapes, but they already have so much footage that they’re sitting on (AWA, Florida, and some Stampede tapes) that they haven’t done much with. Adding another library probably wouldn’t be in their best interest, especially if all they’re going to do it sit on it. The most logical buyer would potentially be AEW as much of the early footage with CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, etc is in the ROH library. Tony Khan has also been reported to have been having discussions with Warner Media about getting an AEW streaming service up and running in 2022 and if they need content for that streaming service, then the ROH library would be a good place to start. Also, we can’t forget “All In”, the precursor event to AEW, took place with ROH assistance and many of the stars of AEW like Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega that made up the Elite left ROH in 2018 to start up AEW. 

Credit: Ring of Honor

Another question is: what does this mean for the current ROH roster of wrestlers?

After the announcement, more news came out about the contract status of the wrestlers. Any wrestler whose contract ended at the end of the year wouldn’t be renewed. Anyone who’s contract went past the end of the year would be paid until March of 2022. They are also free to work for any company they wish effective immediately, in essence the entire talent roster is a free agent right now. Since the announcement came out, several wrestlers have already been scooped up by other companies. Bandido, Brody King, and PCO have all been announced for upcoming GCW shows, along with the Briscoes who are the current GCW Tag Team Champions. The OGK (Matt Taven and Mike Bennett) made a surprise appearance for the NWA at their most recent special, and at the Full Gear pay-per-view AEW announced that they’d signed Jay Lethal, who then had his first match on Dynamite several days later challenging Sammy Guevara for the TNT Title.

Credit: Ring of Honor

Personally, I hope that a lot of the really good up-and-coming stars find a home. I think Shane Taylor Promotions would be great in Impact or MLW, Vincent would be a great fit in someplace like GCW, Mike Bennett has already done the WWE gig but could resurface in Impact and maybe Matt Taven comes along with him? Impact is in desperate need of a refresh in their stale tag division and these two could definitely help liven that up. Jonathan Gresham has already announced his new promotion, TERMINUS, and has done spots for New Japan USA, PWG, and GCW. One trio to keep an eye out for is The Bouncers (Beer City Bruiser and Brian Milonas) with Ken Dixon. These guys will be great wherever they land.

ROH also has a number of up and coming women’s stars under contract as well; Max the Impaler, Trish Adora (who’s been teased in recent weeks as joining Shane Taylor Promotions), Miranda Alize, and the Women’s World Champion Rok-C. All would make great additions to any women’s division. I think that if AEW is going to look at ROH talent, then adding one or two of their women’s stars would be a good place to start. Rok-C is scheduled to defend the ROH Women’s Title at Final Battle but as of this writing, her opponent is yet to be determined.

Talking about their roster leads to the question: what will the “new” ROH look like, who will be there, and what do they need to do to “stand out” amongst everyone else?

Should the Supercard of Honor 2022 show go on as scheduled, then I think it’s definitely time for ROH to re-invent themselves. I think they should even go as far as having a new logo and a new overall presentation for their shows, maybe make it feel a bit less-polished than it is now. 

Jack Cartwheel
Credit: Twitter/@jackcartwheel

In terms of who will be wrestling in the new ROH? I think you’ll see a lot more of the young independent wrestlers, names such as Jack Cartwheel and Dominic Garrini who are trying to make a name for themselves on shows. I’m also guessing that there might be appearances from the current crop of free agent stars floating around, or maybe a legend they bring in for a one-shot deal. I do expect to see some from the current crop of stars they have as well like current Pure Champion Josh Woods, LSG, Dak Draper, and possibly even Rey Horus.

One thing to think about is that ROH has been a complete non-factor in all the “forbidden door” excitement between AEW, Impact, NWA, and New Japan. I would love to see them go outside of their comfort zone and participate in some of that. Imagine Miranda Alize against NWA Women’s Champion Kamille. How cool would that be? Or maybe Rey Horus against Trey Miguel or Laredo Kid in Impact? That’d definitely be a high flying spectacle!

As far as “standing out” right now, that’s a tough question. There are a lot of companies out there in the independent landscape right now who are doing what ROH did at their peak and arguably doing it better. MLW has essentially taken over as the place where up and coming talent gets a shot on a bigger stage. GCW has done exceptionally well in the deathmatch and hardcore wrestling realm and has had a huge year bringing in the likes of Matt Cardona and Jon Moxley. Plus, you have places like AEW where independent talent can get booked on Dark or Dark: Elevation and get exposure.

Credit: Ring of Honor

The one tremendous thing that ROH did from their restart last fall up until now was the Pure Division. It got rave reviews from most everyone in wrestling circles, and even harsh critics of modern wrestling such as Jim Cornette loved it. I do feel at points though, ROH would have a bit of an over-reliance on the Pure Division, dropping random wrestlers together in a Pure Rules match. They also attempted a couple Pure Rules tag team matches, which were a good idea in concept but didn’t quite work in execution due to the convoluted rules.

The Pure Division wasn’t for everyone, having a slower, technical mat based style, especially in an empty arena for TV tapings, where a lot of the action is more high-flying and attention grabbing was possibly a turn-off for some. I think the Pure Division should stay in the new ROH, however a bit less of an over-reliance on it would be nice to have. 

Speaking of the TV tapings, those desperately require reinvigorating. With the TV still being in empty arenas, the product has felt stale and unexciting. TV is taped so far in advance, things that happened at a pay-per-view may not be covered or talked about until 3-4 weeks after the fact. If/when ROH comes back, TV needs to feel fresh and current. Accessibility to the TV show would be another thing. Sure, it airs in syndication on the Sinclair TV stations across the US but it’s always on at odd times. Yes, it’s uploaded to the ROH website on Mondays and it’s also available to watch on Fite TV, but in my opinion, it should also be uploaded to the ROH YouTube page.

But as far as what they need to do to “stand out” more? I think they need to have a complete overhaul…new look, new logo, fresh roster, something that makes people say “wow, this is something that I’ve gotta check out!”

Lastly, let’s think about the question of; what will Final Battle look like this year?

As of this writing, three matches have been announced for Final Battle; Kenny King vs. Shane Taylor in a grudge match, Bandido vs. Jonathan Gresham for the ROH World Title, and The OGK against Jay & Mark Briscoe in a return match from the Death Before Dishonor PPV. I think you’ll see the current roster give it their all in what could theoretically be the last ever event for the company, if the 2022 Supercard of Honor show doesn’t come to fruition. I think you’ll see a passionate crowd and a night full of emotion in one of the most highly anticipated ROH shows in years. 

Regardless of what 2022 brings for ROH, watching and following ROH all these years from the legendary matches and moments to the new crop of stars trying to make a name for themselves, it’s truly been an honor.