“…the pro-wrestling world will be the Era of the Global WWE Coalition vs. Anti-WWE Alliance.”, Takaaki Kidani, President of Bushiroad (Parent Co. of NJPW), December 16, 2016
The Great War is upon us.
And not the Great War that Broken Matt Hardy speaks of. At least, not in the way he’s imagined it. With the WWE expanding its global brand into the UK, China and Japan, they fired the first shots by signing away many of Japan and Europe’s top stars, as outlined part one of our expose on The Great War, “The Silent War Between WWE and New Japan”, back in May of 2016. Last week, we looked at recent events and comments from New Japan Pro Wrestling in “Elitism: Kenny Omega, Young Bucks and NJPW Start New War” in our second look into the unfolding battlefront. In our third look at the burgeoning global battle for pro-wrestling dominance, we look at the second member of the ‘Anti-WWE Alliance’, American indie promotion Ring of Honor (ROH).
As 2016 began to wind down, many questioned whether ROH still had the balls to compete in the pro wrestling world with the same dominance it had shown for years prior. Ring of Honor had been the breeding ground of such WWE Superstars as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries and more. Seemingly stalled in developing the new stars it was so famous for, while losing many of it’s bigger named faces, many wondered if in 2017, ROH would still even be a factor in the North American indies. And it wasn’t just the names they lost, it was the rampant rumours of some of the remaining ‘name’ stars leaving once their contracts ran out at the end of 2016 or early 2017.
Ring of Honor lost a lot of their more recognizable names in the past year, including several World champions.
MICHAEL BENNETT & MARIA KANELLIS, TNA: The former leader of the ROH faction The Kingdom, along with his Queen and former WWE Diva Maria, Mike Bennett left ROH at the end of 2015 and made his debut in TNA in January of 2016 on the company’s debut on Pop TV. Now known as ‘The Miracle’, Bennett has become of one TNA’s top heels, while Maria has dominated the headlines of the Knockouts division.
AJ STYLES, WWE: AJ successfully returned to Ring of Honor in 2014 following his departure from TNA after a decade, assuming leadership of the Bullet Club in both ROH and NJPW. When he departed for the WWE in January of 2016, he took two more members, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. But the vacuum created by the trio allowed Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks to gain more prominence in the faction.
AUSTIN ARIES, NXT: Shortly after Styles landed in WWE, Austin Aries arrived in NXT. Much like Styles, he had returned to ROH following a long tenure in TNA, but his return lasted barely a year. He suffered a major facial injury at year’s end and is on commentary for 205 Live and the Cruiserweight matches on Raw, but he’s made his intent known: he’s gunning for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship when he’s all healed up.
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, WWE: In May of 2016, ROH lifer Cedric Alexander departed for Evolve before joining the WWE in the summer for the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic. His inspired performance against Kota Ibushi lead to Alexander’s signing with the WWE, where he began in NXT before springboarding to Raw’s new Cruiserweight Division, as well as on 205 Live.
RODERICK STRONG, NXT: Long regarded as the heart and soul of ROH, Strong left ROH in June of 2016, and one month later, departed PWG as well. By the end of summer, he was in NXT, reuniting with his former ROH tag partner Austin Aries in the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Classic. Since Aries’ injury, he’s returned to singles action and is in the hunt for the NXT Championship.
MOOSE, TNA: It was no secret that former NFL star Moose was leaving ROH when his contract expired in July of 2016, but all bets were on NXT or WWE. But some past history arose and the WWE interest waned, but TNA scooped up the massive hulking brute known as Moose and quickly inserted him into the main event picture, where he won the TNA Grand Championship.
TRUTH MARTINI, Unknown: For 6 years, Truth Martini and the House of Truth was arguably ROH’s most dominant faction. Just the past year, Martini was the manager for the ROH World and TV Champion, Jay Lethal. But after suffering a kayfabe neck injury earlier in the year, followed by months of inactivity, Martini quietly left ROH in September. He continues to run his House of Truth Wrestling School in Michigan, but has remained quiet as far as his next move promotion wise.
ACH, Evolve: Another athletic star who never seemed to get to the top of ROH, ACH departed Ring of Honor in November of 2016 and began working his trade in the indie circuits. It was recently announced he would begin working for Evolve in early 2017, which could indicate he’s being groomed for a position in NXT or 205 Live, like such Evolve stars as Johnny Gargano, Drew Gulak, Cedric Alexander or Tony Nese.
VEDA SCOTT, Unknown: Much like Cedric Alexander, Scott was a product of ROH from her start in 2012. And with ROH promoting Women of Honor with more regularity, it seemed the homegrown Veda was a natural to be the face of WOH. But in early December, it was revealed that Scott had asked for her release from the company. Could she be heading to Shine or Shimmer, or perhaps even the WWE for the rumoured World Women’s Classic in the WWE?
MICHAEL ELGIN, NJPW: Michael Elgin was a huge part of ROH over the past several years, but by the fall of 2016, he seemed to fall out of favour with ROH management. He seemingly quit ROH by Twitter at one point, only to re-sign in November. But in the past few weeks, it appears that Elgin is no longer an employee of ROH and is now exclusively an employee of NJPW. While he could still appear in joint shows between the two, his days of regular appearances in ROH are over.
KYLE O’REILLY, Unknown: It was rumoured for days, but it wasn’t revealed until today by Pro Wrestling Sheet. Just before Wrestle Kingdom 11, weeks after winning the ROH World Heavyweight Championship, Kyle O’Reilly rejected an ROH contract and was now a Free Agent. Was he heading back to PWG like he had before? Full time NJPW? Or was he heading to NXT?
THE YOUNG BUCKS
They are arguably the hottest brand in pro-wrestling not in WWE. And with the on-line knowledge of their deals with ROH and NJPW expiring at the end of 2016, the world of wrestling took a collective gasp knowing they may finally jump to WWE. But they didn’t. They re-signed with ROH, this time for two years, and pledged allegiance to the Anti-WWE Alliance. They were staying to fight.
A year ago he was the greatest Champion in wrestling. Ring of Honor’s World and TV Champion. But he lost them both and was recorded in interviews admitting his desire to head to WWE. With the impending news his contract was up in early 2017, most assumed Lethal was WWE bound. On December 28, it was rumoured he’d re-signed for 2 years, and on January 2, he confirmed it himself. Lethal was staying in Ring of Honor.
He became the face of the ROH TV title the past year, after impressing the world as one half of reDragon with the departing Kyle O’Reilly. Many assumed both would depart to NXT as a tag team, but Fish shocked the world when it was unveiled days ago he’d re-signed for 2-years.
Keep in mind, ROH lost a lot of familiar faces, but they kept a lot of huge ones. Dalton Castle is one of wrestling’s greatest characters; War Machine, Motor City Machine Guns and The Addiction bolster perhaps the best tag team division in pro-wrestling. Caprice Coleman assembled The All-Night Express (Rhett Titus and Kenny King) as The Cabinet; Donovan Dijak has emerged as the next potential Mike Awesome; and Cheeseburger may be what exactly what Eugene, Gillberg and James Ellsworth have alway strived for (did you see the Rumble at #wk11?). Add in the re-signing of Silas Young, the perpetual loyalty of Jay & Mark Briscoe, the return of Colt Cabana, the emergence of WOH and suddenly, it doesn’t look so bad. Ring of Honor has kept a great nucleus.
The New Blood
It was revealed in November that one of the world – and by default, WWE’s – most sought after prospects, the UK Superstar Will Ospreay, had spurned Paul Heyman‘s offer to join Evolve and chose ROH as his North American home base. One of the most entertaining and adaptable wrestlers, he’s left a trail of epic matches in 2016, from his showdown with Ricochet, to his Twitter finale with Vader, to his series of amazing showcases with Martin Kirby in WCPW. A huge signing for ROH and even more so for the ROH fans who are unaware.
Much like Ospreay, those who know, know. If you don’t, he is simply one of the most entertaining personalities in the world of pro-wrestling today. In August, he left Evolve and signed with ROH, finally finishing off commitments by year’s end. A 2x Progress World Champion, wXw Unified Heavyweight Champion, RevPro British Heavy and Cruiserweight Champion, 2016 PWG Battle of Los Angeles Champion, and reigning ROH TV Champion, Scurll is the real deal.
He turned on favourite Jay Lethal in perhaps the best heel turn of 2017, joined the Bullet Club, and carried out the indie road trip of Legend. In one year he appeared in the main PPV for WWE (Wrestlemania 32), PWG (BOLA), TNA (Bound For Glory), ROH (Final Battle) and NJPW (Wrestle Kingdom 11). His siding with the Bullet Club ensures more appearances in NJPW and ROH, which means he’s going to be taking an elite level position in the Bullet Club.
The Question Mark
Heading into 2017, Cole was in the same conversation as Lethal, Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega. Was he going to finally jump to WWE? The other four showed the answer was no. But for Cole, we still don’t know. But wait, you say. Cole just regained the ROH World title from a departing O’Reilly. Surely, that means he’s staying. Maybe. Maybe not. After all, Cody Rhodes hasn’t had his dream List match with Cole yet. And the Bullet Club loves to kick members out with a public bang. Cole could be the last minute change to take back the belt if O’Reilly is leaving. Then Cole drops it to Cody in a dream match with Cody taking over a mantle of leadership in the Bullet Club. Cole was cool joining, but he never won the world over like other members. Rhodes would be a better North American figurehead than Cole and Cole could move on to NXT. Or he could have re-signed and Rhodes is the one kicked out. Time will tell.
The Ideal Recruits
The roster is solidifying nicely. They’ve kept a good core, added some top tier talent – but what else? Here’s two names they should add to make ROH the best indie promotion in North America.
Yeah, yeah, we all know he’s great. But he would be a game changer if he signed with ROH instead of WWE or NXT when he’s finally able from Lucha Underground. He already works NJPW and PWG, two promotions ROH has an active agreement with. He has legendary feuds with Will Ospreay, and if you missed his recent Over The Top match-up against Marty Scurll in Ireland, you missed the essence of pro-wrestling. He’s as good as they come. As soon as he’s free, he’ll be the most sought after Free Agent in some time. It would benefit us all if he joined the ROH battlefront.
Rumours suggest he was a WWE plant in Evolve from the UFC world, but in the past year, he’s become an indie darling. He’s adapted better to sports-entertainment than Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock or Dan Severn ever did, combining athleticism, combat sport knowledge and a willingness to put their character on the line like few have. WWE clearly wants him, but the opportunities for his next stage may lay in ROH than Evolve.
For years, many questioned if Delirious could follow in Gabe Sapolsky’s footsteps. After all, Gabe created the champions of today. But in many ways, Delirious has proved his naysayers wrong. He never built guys good enough to leave. He created characters good enough to stay.
THE GREAT WAR, Part 1: “Blood on the Sun: The Silent War Between WWE and New Japan”, May 28, 2016
THE GREAT WAR, Part 2: “Elitism: Kenny Omega, Young Bucks and NJPW Start New War”, December 30, 2016