Bryan Danielson to the WWE? I don?t know why this surprised anyone. Anyone who has followed the career of Danielson knows that making WWE has been his goal from day one. It was why he originally trained under Shawn Micheals and led to him shortly beginning a stint in MCW, when it was a WWE developmental. This is the smartest move he could ever make career wise and as of this moment in time, truly the pinnacle of what has already been a promising wrestling career. Danielson is a rising star that has yet to truly grab that national stage, and while his star is rising the company that helped shape him into what he is today: Ring of Honor; is sinking. How did this innovative and popular promotion find itself on the ropes? That’s where I come in. Join me for a little history lesson on ROH, how did it get here, where is it going, and what can it do? You?re reading ?Wrestling Rumblings?.
I have to tell you guys, although I have been critical in the past of the decision making that has been made in the past, I am a fan of Ring of Honor. No, I am not a ?ROHbot? and no I don?t prescribe to the theory that anyone in ROH is necessarily a better worker than the cr? me de la cr?me in WWE and TNA. You see the best workers are the ones who draw money and well if that was the case here there wouldn?t be an article to write right now would there? However I did subscribe to the idea of something different, something unique. More often than not independent companies tend to just try to imitate what they see in WWE without truly understanding that wrestling fans desire alternative. If everyone wanted WWE they would be watching the WWE. All you have to do is look at ratings numbers and see that there are millions of fans who all of a sudden gave up on wrestling when WWE became the supreme being of the wrestling universe in 2001. Ring of Honor gave them an alternative. It was an attempt to bring Japanese strong style wrestling to the United States to appeal to the tape trader and smart fans that are fans of the overseas wrestling as well as appeal to fans who were becoming disenchanted with wrestling for MMA by giving them a style that was more smash mouth and ?real? looking. In other words, it was targeted towards a niche audience.
Of course it was a typical independent company that would run monthly and sell DVD’s?only problem with that was ROH became more than a typical independent company. T hey became a super indy, as they started to import talent from all over the country. ROH would become the independent company all others became compared to as many fans in the northeast, where in my opinion independent stars come to truly shine were becoming familiar for the first time with wrestlers such as Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and CM Punk. Ring of Honor tapes and DVD’s (at the time there were still many fans getting ROH on VHS if you can believe that) were outselling other independent companies by a wide margin and any wrestler lacing his boots and struggling on the indies considered ROH his Shangri-La, a place where they could raise their profile and solidify there fanbase, as well as enable themselves to raise their stock amongst other independent promoters. It was after that first year in 2002 that it just made sense to expand the number of shows that were being held. After all more shows, means more DVD’s and more DVD’s meant more money in the coffers of then ROH owners RF Video. So the shows nearly doubled from 12 to 21 however in all fairness outside of one co promoted England show ROH stuck to promoting in the north east and still reigned supreme. While they battled CZW and 3PW that year for control of Philadelphia, they managed to bring their product to New York where the independent scene was already slowly beginning its decline and to Connecticut which was starving for a big name group at the time, it made inroads in New Jersey which helped them out greatly as they were already using stars such as Jay Lethal, Homicide, and Dan Maff who had cut their teeth out there for most of their career at that point in time, and of course now they were able to expand to Ohio and Maryland as well. It was an ambitious but productive year as the company was rolling along so well that they were able to import Japanese stars such as The Great Muta who hadn?t been seen at that time wrestling on American soil since the demise of WCW. It truly seemed like the best was yet to come.
As 2003 gave way to 2004 though ROH suffered its first major setback as RF Video owner Rob Feinstein became embroiled in a publicized legal dispute. The backlash was so strong that many at that time predicted the company would not last, even though Feinstein never was actually charged with anything he was pressured into giving up his stake in the company in order to save it from an unfortunate demise. Enter Cary Silkin, up until becoming the head honcho in ROH; Silkin was a relative unknown in the industry. His only involvement had been with Spanish language wrestling magazines, however he was touted by many as having strong financial resources and was considered the best fit for the company to survive and move forward. Booker Gabe Sapolsky20would be given total control of the product from that point on and with Sapolsky controlling the creative direction and Silkin having a strong financial vision, the company regained strength and put out 23 shows in the year 2004 and now made inroads in the Midwest with shows in Chicago, Wisconsin and Wyoming. At the time many questioned these moves as the company was already doing good business northeast and there really was no need to expand the company any further but Silkin was convinced that the product was in demand by more than just northeast fans as DVD sales were good and using simple DVD sale demographics it was determined that this was the next step in getting their product out there. It would be hard to argue against that logic as 2004 had some of the best ROH matches ever in the promotions entire history as that was a year dominated by the historic reign of a then fledgling Samoa Joe who would have epic encounters with CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Homicide that were praised by internet fans all over. 2004 was really a banner year in the history of the company and as it gave way Samoa Joe dropped the ROH title to a young up and comer in Austin Aries. However 2004 while successful will always be remembered in my opinion as the year ROH became noticed by WWE and TNA.
In 2005 the company in many ways found itself reinventing itself. There biggest star Samoa Joe started competing simultaneously with TNA wrestling and was slowly making that his top priority as he was now becoming noticed on a national stage. Of course the man considered Joe’s greatest ROH opponent CM Punk was altogether finishing up with the company as he would soon depart for WWE developmental. Austin Aries was having great matches with whomever the company put in front of him but quite honestly was stuck trying to fill the unfillable shoes at the time of Samoa Joe. It was an unenviable position to be in trying to be the guy that replaced Joe as the champion and I?m not sure anyone else could have done better but that’s just the way it was at the time. The company needed a buzz and tried to gain more mainstream recognition by involving stars such as Jim Cornette, Ricky Steamboat and Mick Foley. They would also develop their initial relationship with NOAH and Dragongate which would lead to the importing of many talents from the orient. They also tried to use the specter of Punk leaving to WWE to create interest in there championship as Punk would go on to win the championship in what many ‘smart? fans assumed would be his last match for the promotion. Leading to an atmosphere that led ROH fans to believe the title could change hands literally at any time as the departure of CM Punk was imminent. Despite a lackluster title run by forme r WWE star and Cruiserweight champion James Gibson (Jamie Knoble) the title appeared settled around the waist of one of ROH’s founding fathers in Bryan Danielson by the end of the year and throughout the year remained still doing great business in the north east having run 36 shows, three times the number of shows they ran from their first year of business in 2002.
Sadly in my opinion that was the last strong year of the company. 2006 would lead to ROH doing what most independent companies looking for attention would do; have an angle with another independent company in CZW. It was a great angle for the company but helped to lower its stock amongst wrestling fans who considered it an equal to WWE and TNA. It was also the year in which touring took on a whole other meaning as ROH really started to expand beyond the northeast and tour other countries starting with England. The concept of every show having meaning started to really be tested as matches that while considered classics were repeating themselves over and over again and struggling to be fresh. All in all 2006 proved to the busiest year ever for ROH as they held 44 shows that year.
In spite of all of this ROH still surged forward, saying goodbye in 2007 to stars like Samoa Joe and Homicide to TNA wrestling leaving a relative unknown in the US in Takeshi Morishima to carry the promotion. The company was ambitious in marking its debut in PPV. The whole idea was stated to bring about interest and increase struggling DVD sales. The PPV’s while raved for having great matches were considered financial failures; still the company was determined to expand even though there were already rumblings of possible financial issues. Everyone was told to relax as the company was spreading to new markets and now touring not just England but also Japan as well. 2007 was also the year of the Briscoes and Nigel McGuinness as the tag team and the untapped former WWE developmental star were carrying the promotion as they tried to succeed to the next level. Despite injuries that were occurring to their stars from the burdens of having to work the ROH style so often; ROH still managed to hold 40 shows.
With the company on PPV many fans began to feel really good about the company, a national DVD deal that would distribute ?best of? compilations ha d many feeling ROH arrived on the big stage. However 2008 was the year in which the wheels started to fall of the bus but no one really knew it yet. Despite putting out more PPV’s the company was not really gaining any new fans or increased exposure. Touring expanded more aggressively than ever before and the crowds were getting smaller and smaller. The company looking for ways to get noticed tried working on a relationship with the NWA to use their titles on shows. However the NWA name was faded and worn and failed to help the situation. Instead of cutting back the company was convinced that it needed to surge forward and instead of seeing the situation for what it was blamed the current financial situation on booker Gabe Sapolsky. While it may have been true that Sapolsky had horrible person to person skills, and may have even been burned out the truth of the matter was it was extremely difficult and impossible to provide fans with 40 shows a year at the standard that they had accustomed fans to shows. How many times could you see Bryan Danielson vs Nigel McGuinness after all? Changes needed to be made and instead of scaling back Gabe took the fall.
That brings us to 2009 and the present. ROH scored a deal to be HD Net but at the same time lost its PPV deal and national DVD deal as well. Of course while the HD Net deal was considered at the time by many (not me) to be brilliant, they struggled as because of the low visibility of HD Net they had a hard time letting fans know there show existed. Crowds continued to dwindle even more as the company tried everything from becoming associated with the Wrestler movie to putting their title on former ECW World Champion and current aging star Jerry Lynn and now here we are today. I have heard as recently as a month ago from very reliable people about checks bouncing in ROH (readers who email me regularly about ROH can attest to me telling them this at times myself before reports ever became public). At the time I hoped it was untrue but can see with recent reports that came out this week that the company is once again in peril. I am not going to announce the company to be on its deathbed like many already have, but it is time for changes.
I chastised the move to TV when it was first made. I am still convinced it is not the best option for them at this time. The truth of the matter is HD Net is not giving them any visibility at all that they didn?t already have and some could argue that because they are giving away the matches that t hey have on HD Net it creates less of a market for the DVD’s. As for the DVD’s there is just too many of them. We are in a recession and anyone who wishes to collect 40 ROH DVD’s a year would be wasting 800 dollars on DVD’s from an independent company (figure was reached by face value of ROH DVD’s $20 although it should be noted that ROH does often have sales on its DVD’s that would decrease this number). When you consider that most ROH fans despite what they say do follow WWE and TNA more than they follow ROH how can they possibly keep up in this economy? Truth of the matter is because every show that ROH runs is not the typical throwaway house show and means something it also has been killing the live house. While Tyler Black and Nigel McGuinness have fantastic athletic performances (I won?t call them matches?wrestling matches have psychology) how many times are people going to be willing to pay for it live? Don?t even get me started on some of the additions to the current ROH roster, I won?t name names out of respect for the wrestlers but some of these guys just aren?t ready for prime time (don?t email me names I won?t answer) and don?t belong on the stage that they are on right now. When I see some of these guys I just don?t wrestlers who are talented or charismatic enough to sell tickets worldwide, DVD’s or any merchandise and with the costs of doing business in today0s economic climate, that’s just not healthy.
It’s time to get off T.V and scale back shows. Why compete with WWE and TNA when you know you can?t. ROH can argue all it wants but a national distribution DVD deal, PPV and a T.V. deal is going national and when you attempt to go national you compete with the big boys and if you are not ready to be a big boy yourself, you die a slow agonizing death. ROH is, was and always will be a cult niche promotion. There is nothing wrong with that. I enjoy it, many of you reading this enjoy it, but the fact remains that unlike WWE or even in some ways TNA, it is not a product that appeals to everyone. If you can?t appeal to everyone, you shouldn?t market towards everyone as it’s really just a waste of money, time and effort. There have been independent groups that have been in existence for years that have been critically acclaimed for having some of the best in ring action on the independent circuit. The ECWA has had many of the greatest wrestlers ever come through its doors in its 42 year history. Wrestlers that have gone onto WWE, TNA and ROH like Simon Diamond, Scoot Andrews, Christian, Christopher Daniels, Xavier, Amazing Red, Austin Aries, The Haas Brothers and so much m ore that I could spend a whole column naming. They are still here because they knew their role as an independent wrestling company. Ring of Honor should do the same.
With that being said I am going to get off my soap box and wrap this week’s edition up. Of course you can send your questions, comments, and whatever else is on your mind to firstname.lastname@example.org. I may not respond the same day but I do my best to respond to each and every email. Of course as usual, next week I will try to do better and until then, I am out.