Since 2002, Ring of Honor is the company has long been regarded by fans as the working wrestler’s promotion. ROH has always put the focus firmly on the in-ring action and less on the drama taking place outside of the ropes. Stars such as CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens all cut their teeth in ROH and the company has indeed become a breeding ground for future main event legends.
But over the past year, the ongoing narrative surrounding ROH has changed. It began as a whisper, but that whisper has grown louder as the months have passed. Suddenly, Ring of Honor is a company at a crossroads and its immediate future is in serious doubt. But the promotion’s current problems may be directly linked to the very thing that made it special to begin with.
Ring of Honor should be a highly successful pro wrestling entity. That’s especially true in 2019, as a large segment of the audience has become so enamored with the art of professional wrestling. The days of the campy and colorful circus of the 1980’s WWF have disappeared. So too have the gritty, Rated-R exploits of The Attitude Era. Today’s fanbase is wowed by the sheer athleticism of the men and women between the ropes.
There’s no disputing that ROH’s loyal fan following continues because of the way the product is presented. For those fans, Ring of Honor is the perfect promotion and the drama that often comes with the WWE presentation is just too much to endure. But somewhere along the way, ROH indeed seems to have lost a step.
Watch ROH World tampon Matt Taven talk about his title run!
That’s due to the fact that no matter how great the wrestling is, it’s the characters that make it successful. The infamous “workrate” ROH has thrived on for so long is not enough and needs something more in this modern era. Ring of Honor needs the men and women on the roster to be the real attraction because it’s the characters that make the wrestling important. Ironically enough, ROH already has those characters in place.
This is the real issue with today’s Ring of Honor. The locker room is not filled with nameless, faceless talents that no one knows. If it were, the problem would be easily identified. Instead, the roster is rife with personalities that should be drawing fans in and selling out every building the company runs.
Chief among them is The Villain, Marty Scurll. Scurll remained with ROH even after his Elite cohorts, The Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega and Hangman Page, left to begin AEW. Scurll chose to take his own path and make his own way independent of his former alliance. At the time, the move seemed like a curious one but for ROH fans, it was indeed great news.
The loss of Rhodes and The Bucks hurt ROH at the time, there’s no denying that. But the trio tended to dominate the headlines and as a result, Scurll was often in the background. However all of that changed when he formed Villain Enterprises with Brody King and PCO. Scurll took the main stage as the leader of his own faction and that faction got over with the ROH crowd from day one.
Watch Villain Enterprises before Honor For All!
— ROH Wrestling (@ringofhonor) August 26, 2019
Brody King is an extremely athletic big man with a unique presence and aura that is all his own. He would have been a monster heel in the territory days and he is a benefit to ROH because of everything he brings to the table. PCO is a man that many believed would never have had a chance in 2019, but he has experienced a career resurgence. PCO is a madman bent on self-destruction and the Ring of Honor fans cannot get enough of him.
Therein lays a problem, because as much as Scurll and company attempt to heel out, they’re undeniably babyfaces. It’s clear that ROH wants them to be heels as well and usually books them as such, but Villain Enterprises has become much bigger than just a rule-breaking stable. The group has taken on a life of its own is arguably the hottest act in the industry today. The addition of Flip Gordon, who was unfortunately injured on his first night with them, was a great move by the company and he should be a perfect fit when he gets healthy.
Then there’s Dalton Castle, the man that brought flamboyancy back to the business in a way that hasn’t been seen in years. His rise in popularity came at the perfect time for Ring of Honor, which needed a character to rise to the occasion. But since he lost the ROH World Championship, he just hasn’t been the same. Rather than elevate him as the upper echelon of ROH, Castle is instead a man trying to find himself.
RUSH, Bandido and The Briscoes round out the top tier of highly marketable characters that set ROH apart from every pro wrestling promotion in operation today. Jay Lethal is in the conversation for best wrestler in the business and he’s surrounded by extremely capable talents who can deliver main event performances whenever their numbers are called.
Watch the former ROH World champ Jay Lethal!
#DefyOrDeny @MattTaven @RealJeffCobb @KennyKingPb2 @TheLethalJay in the main event tonight in Nashville! #HonorForAll Streaming LIVE On #HonorClub NOW!https://t.co/vS7fcMBTTh or download the #ROHApp pic.twitter.com/D9eRubbz6K
— ROH Wrestling (@ringofhonor) August 26, 2019
That short list includes Jonathan Gresham, Jeff Cobb, Mark Haskins, Tracy Williams and Silas Young, just to name a few. Even Matt Taven, who is perhaps not the most beloved ROH World champion of all time, is a hard worker in the ring and the biggest heat magnet on the roster.
The talent is there. There’s enough good things about ROH to keep fans coming back for more. But when it comes to truly being great and once again becoming the primary source for the industry’s best pro wrestling, that mantle has now passed to New Japan. The biggest flaw for Ring of Honor in 2019 lies with the company’s booking, which has been the case for WWE and just like Vince McMahon’s empire, things will only turn around for ROH when that issue gets resolved.
What can Ring of Honor do to book its top talent in such a way that fans can’t wait to see them live? Has the time come to pursue a high-profile TV deal with a major cable network, as AEW did with TNT? Should ROH perhaps go outside of its own walls and court some big names from outside the company? Or should Ring of Honor do what it’s always done and just stay the course? Will that be enough this time?
The fact is that Ring of Honor deserves a fighting chance at survival. Despite reviews to the contrary, the events themselves are delivering and the talent involved are stepping up their game every night. But the company must firmly get behind the product and try to find a way to regain that special connection that hardcore fans are longing for.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes,YouTube, iHeart Radio, boinkstudios.com and live every Friday at 12pm EST on Wrestling Rumors Facebook Live